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December 23, 2008

Seattle's Roads Covered in Slick and Dangerous Packed Snow "By Design," Because They Daren't Use Salt to Clear the Snow for Fear of Hurting Salt-Water Puget Sound

Packed snow is 90% of the way to ice. But that's what they're driving on Seattle.


Driving in a Winter Wonderland Frozen Hell
of Packed Snow and Collided Cars

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."

Nope. You can drive in 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.

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.

"If we were using salt, you'd see patches of bare road because salt is very effective," Wiggins said. "We decided not to utilize salt because it's not a healthy addition to Puget Sound."

...

Seattle also equips its plows with rubber-edged blades. That minimizes the damage to roads and manhole covers, but it doesn't scrape off the ice, Wiggins said.

That leaves many drivers, including Seattle police, pretty much on their own until nature does to the snow what the sand can't: melt it.

The city's patrol cars are rear-wheel drive. And even with tire chains, officers are avoiding hills and responding on foot, according to a West Precinct officer.

Between Thursday and Monday, the city spread about 6,000 tons of sand on 1,531 miles of streets it considers major arterials.

The tonnage, sprinkled atop the packed snow, amounts to 1.4 pounds of sand per linear foot of roadway, an amount one expert said might be too little to provide effective traction.

"Hmmm. Six thousand tons of sand for that length of road doesn't seem like it's enough," said Diane Spector, a water-resources planner for Wenck Associates, which evaluated snow and ice clearance for nine cities in the Midwest.

Well, you can't use too much sand. That might pollute the beaches of Puget Sound with non-native sand.

Even the cop cars are frozen up.

911. What is your emergency?

-- There's an intruder in the house! What should I do?!

Are you near a hill?

-- Yes.

I would suggest "reverse psychology," then. Start yelling "Oh I hope someone home-invades and rapes me," and see if that discourages him.

And what's the result of this policy?

Utterly unexpected:

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.

Someone's going to die. And those who love fish but hate people will call it environmental justice.



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posted by Ace at 04:31 PM

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