Art Thiel, the former sports columnist for the Seattle P-I, has written a pointed response to the LA Times story painting Seattle as a city of "snow wimps" who freak out irrationally at the first sign of white flakes. (LA, of course, is a city well known for its frequent and heavy snow). Thiel argues that there are plenty of reasons---good reasons---why Seattle residents, drivers especially, have trouble navigating our occasional snow.

In addition to the fact that Seattle is the hilliest city in the US to get regular snow, Thiel argues that it's the nature of our snow---wet, gloppy, and compacted---that makes our roads so treacherous. Unlike dry snow, Thiel writes,
Wet snow doesn’t drift. It gets compacted onto road beds and sidewalks. Plowing and salting helps, but 90 percent of the streets in a metro area as large as Seattle will never see a plow or a salting truck. Seattle cement can only wait for warm rain to wash most of it away. [...]

The problem is compounded by the freeze-thaw of snowfalls that typically happen between temperatures of 28 and 34 degrees. In the Midwest, Plains and Northeast, weeks can go by without melt and refreeze, making driving more manageable. As we’ve seen this week, the mild Pacific Ocean temps keep us guessing among snow, rain, freezing rain.

Finally, Thiel notes, it makes little sense to invest in massive snow preparation in a city that gets, at best, one or two good snowfalls a year. Northern cities may spend millions on plows and salt, but here, that would be a waste of money
In a time of shrinking tax revenues, I get why Seattle doesn’t armor-up for winter. Or has everyone forgotten last winter’s snow-free mildness? While I understand the city’s snow removal crew requires more than a retiree with with a push broom, a city, like most people stuck with common sense, tries to prepare for most things knowing they can’t afford to prepare for everything.

If anything, the city decided to overinvest in snow response after former mayor Greg Nickels failed, in the public's mind, to respond adequately to a major storm in 2008, when Seattle was more or less shut down by more than a foot of snow. After Nickels was ousted, largely because of his snow response (he gave the city a "B" when most commuters would probably have given it an "F"), new mayor Mike McGinn vowed never to repeat Nickels' mistake.

As a result, the city increased the amount set aside to deal with snow from $1.2 million to about $2 million a year---at a time when the department of transportation, which is responsible for the city's snow response, was facing $6.5 million in cuts. I'm certainly glad the city, from Lake City to downtown to Southeast and West Seattle, is being plowed, but I'm not sure the extra millions couldn't have been better spent elsewhere in the city's struggling budget.

 
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