I’ve lived in Minnesota for over 11 years, and one thing people get expert at in a hurry here is snow and traffic. This area has snow abatement down to a science, and they use all the tools at their disposal. We don’t turn up our noses at road salt, and we therefore make driving safer in the Twin Cities. Seattle apparently has other priorities (via Michelle):
To hear the city’s spin, Seattle’s road crews are making “great progress” in clearing the ice-caked streets.
But it turns out “plowed streets” in Seattle actually means “snow-packed,” as in there’s snow and ice left on major arterials by design.
“We’re trying to create a hard-packed surface,” said Alex Wiggins, chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation. “It doesn’t look like anything you’d find in Chicago or New York.”
The city’s approach means crews clear the roads enough for all-wheel and four-wheel-drive vehicles, or those with front-wheel drive cars as long as they are using chains, Wiggins said.
And why do they leave a hard-packed surface? Seattle has abandoned the use of salt to clear snow:
The icy streets are the result of Seattle’s refusal to use salt, an effective ice-buster used by the state Department of Transportation and cities accustomed to dealing with heavy winter snows.
Why? They don’t want salt water running off into Puget Sound. It’s apparently so harmful to the environment that they’re willing to sacrifice a few drivers instead.
Here’s why we use salt, even in enviro-friendly Minnesota. When snow gets packed down onto roads, it turns to ice underneath, and even the best tires can’t find a purchase on it. Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water, allowing the ice to break apart and snow plows to pull it off the road. Gravel also helps, but gravel on ice doesn’t provide nearly enough traction by itself.
I drive on snow-packed roads all winter long when the plows haven’t made it through that road yet. It’s not fun, and even with a full-wheel drive vehicle like mine, spinouts are inevitable. Seattle has discovered the same thing:
“Sunday was full of car crashes, even after several pleas from State Patrol and local police to stay off the roads.
The State Patrol responded to 157 collisions Sunday in King County. …
Between noon and midnight on Saturday, the State Patrol responded to 246 collisions … in King County.”
I’m sorry, but that’s ludicrous. Many of those accidents might have been avoided had Seattle used well-tested and available snow abatement processes that included salt. Instead of begging people to stay home, maybe officials should stop trading the safety of its citizens for an opportunity to pat itself on the back for its environmental sensitivity.