Saturday, January 14, 2017

Portland Fails To Clear Snow and Ice: Seattle SDOT Comes to the Rescue

After a major snow event earlier this week, with 6-15 inches over metropolitan Portland, primary and secondary roads are still in bad shape around Portland.  A few ODOT cam shots illustrate what I mean (click on them to expand):



It appears that the Portland road folks (PBOT), have followed the ineffective snow removal approach of Seattle's past mayor Greg Nickels, who lost his job because Seattle was unnecessarily crippled for over a week by impassable, rutted roads covered with ice.   Specifically, they did little pre-treatment before the storm and importantly did not use salt.   And Portland did not have enough equipment (only five decing trucks for example) and had to appeal to Seattle for help.

Seattle learned the hard way in 2008 that salt is really useful, particularly as a pre-treatment of roadway surfaces.  It can melt light snowfalls and prevents the development of a bonded ice layer for heavier snow...thus, making it easier to plow off.  If you want to view a very amusing analysis of the impacts of Seattle's reluctance to use salt and the positive effects of applying it, check out these videos by the "salt guru."



After the 2008 debacle, which probably cost Seattle tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and lost economic productivity, a new mayor (McGinn) oversaw a radical change in Seattle snow practices,  using salt, aggressive pretreatment, acquisition of lots of equipment (e.g., plows, spreaders), changed removal practices (using metal tipped plows, pushing snow to the side of the road), putting in roadway temperature sensors, and working with the UW to build SnowWatch, the most advanced local snow/temperature guidance in the nation.   Mayor Murray has continued these investments.

The results of Seattle's new snow preparation approaches were dramatic, with subsequent snow events having far less impact.

During the past few days, Seattle has sent massive amounts of snow removal equipment to Portland (a dozen heavy salt-spreading trucks and plows, an aerial lift truck, a chainsaw crew and wood chipper truck, along with an additional four light duty salt and plow vehicles.)  Seattle residents can be proud of this assistance...but in some sense it was too late:  without sufficient pretreatment with salt or other deicers, the ice layer had bonded to the surface already, making it nearly impossible to remove.


This idea of regional assistance is a powerful one:   it is very, very unusual for BOTH Seattle and Portland to get major snowstorms at the same time.  Thus, it makes sense to have a regional pool of pretreatment vehicles and plows that could be moved around as needed.

Portland's Mayor Wheeler and his staff at SBOT need to understand Portland's meteorology:   the cold air gap flow coming out of the Columbia Gorge makes Portland particularly vulnerable to roadway icing from freezing rain and partially melted snow.  It is time for Portland to rethink is approach to dealing with roads and snow, or Wheeler might experience the unfortunate fate of Greg Nickels.

Scenes like this in Seattle in December 2008 show 
the costs of poor snow removal

47 comments:

Bob said...

Cliff, that was very thoughtful of you to send kudos to Seattle for helping Portland. With weather, we are ultimately all in it together, and helping each other sets a very positive tone, and is just common sense. It's great to see government acting this way. Here's hoping that Portland leaders hear your tips on doing it right. A great post, Cliff!

Garry Klouzal said...

That was a great history lesson. I had no idea.

Here in south Snohomish County they put down de-icer early but I've not ever noticed salt

Mosier Fire Chief said...

Cliff, much of the Northwest is preparing for a major atmospheric river event in the coming days.

Locally (Columbia Gorge), we are primed for a major disaster, with damaging freezing rain followed by torrential downpours, all in the context of several feet of snow on the ground already. This was the set-up for the horrific 1996 floods.

As an emergency services provider, I would appreciate your insight into these forecasts, and a best guess as to what to expect.

Scott Souchock said...

And Oregon needs to get that coastal radar too as you've mentioned!

John said...

Here in Spokane,we have both the good and the bad snow removal policies.The main arterials receive preventative treatment with de-icers,sand,and salt.They are continually plowed as needed,and are usually clear.However,it's a different story for the residential streets.There has to be a six inch snowfall, with more snow forecast,for the plows to be activated.Consequently,snow and ice builds up from a series of lesser snow events that don't meet the city's plowing qualifications.I've just had my street plowed for only the second time this winter,although I've received over 33 inches of snow, and the depth is currently 15 inches.The compacted snow and ice layer on streets actually extend above the sidewalk curbs in places.The storm drains are pretty much invisible and inaccessible under all the snow and ice.With a heavy rain event forecasted,a major urban flooding event may be inevitable.As SharplyFocused previously mentioned,a city's inadequate snow removal policy could lead to an avoidable mess and potential disaster.

SharplyFocused said...

Cliff, I couldn't agree more. As you and I have discussed, I'm really surprised by how little attention the media has shown to the state of our roads. But anecdotal evidence in my discussions with peers indicates that people are getting fed up of not being able to get to work or having to be home to look after children who aren't allowed to go to school because of the state of the roads. And it doesn't look like it will end anytime soon either. This mess will be around until Tuesday at which point it will be replaced temporarily by an even bigger mess of water floating on top of thick, rutted ice that is solidly bonded to the roads. This will produce an even greater hazard to life and property and was avoidable. Regional pooling is a great idea that I've often wondered about.

jayemarr said...

I also remember the utter hilarity of people expressing concern about the salt going into Puget Sound, which of course already contains far more salt than Seattle could ever sprinkle on its roads.

lhsouthern said...

We were stranded in hood river for 2 nights because of the weather. But in hood river our chains on the camry got us around

Jim White said...

Portland has recently reported an uncontrolled experiment with three stretches of highway treated with NaCl (thanks, Seattle!) versus other roads traditionally treated with MgCl. No difference, they say.

We do appreciate the equipment and personnel from Seattle. I assume we're paying the freight.

Thanks,
Jim
Portland OR

Harrison said...

Well put Cliff. There will definitely be major ramifications from the Portland snow fiasco with the impending atmospheric river event to hit early this week. The water on top of the bonded-ice to pavement will make for treacherous conditions until the ice-pavement bond can be broken. Only the salt would have prevented this. Pooling resources is a great idea, yet as you alluded to, it's just far too late now in the game for Portland. They really messed this one up. And one can't say that the 1-4" amount which was forecasted was to blame vice the 8-14" that they received. They should salt regardless if it would have been 3" or 13," especially when the Mayor and his staff should have known that it was not going to warm up significantly for an extended period. If it was a normal overrunning event, where 10" fell and then turned to warm 50 degree rain 12 hours post snowfall, perhaps no salt was needed, maybe just de-icing fluid, but they knew cold air and sub-freezing temps would remain in place for the foreseeable future (next 4-5 days). It's a failure of really epic portions with lost commerce on local, regional, and to a national level as well, with many cargo flights diverted to Sea-Tac airport. I can't begin to imagine how much this has cost Portland. The mayor should lose his job after knowing the face Seattle faced in its own debacle in 08' as you so poignantly pointed out above. Good riddance to the Portland city council.

Phil Rutledge said...

Very well stated !!

France Davis said...

Salt corrodes concrete and steel, damaging roads, bridges, and your car. It also runs off into streams, lakes, and wetlands (before it gets to Puget Sound) where it negatively affects water quality, native vegetation and wildlife, killing them at high enough concentrations. All these negative impacts for a few snow days a year? Doesn't seem worth it to me.

John K. said...

No mention of what salt does to cars? I grew up in the Midwest and they use a lot of salt.. and they go through a lot of cars because nothing will destroy metal quite like a nice wet salt bath. I'm all for preparing the roads to avoid ice, but salt is a car killer.

JeffB said...

Well said Cliff. Let's also not forget the why. Like Seattle in the Nickels era, Portland has an aggressive green lobby that pursues a no salt policy. Even though this small amount of salt compared to all of the rain that we get and all the salt in the water around the Sound for that matter is not an environmental problem, greens still seize on it as an issue because they need issues to stay in their grievance business. It's disgusting and not an example of Progress at all when greens put human life at risk for their causes. C'mon Portlandia,get a grip! Even Seattle was able to figure this out, and this is the city where diversity of ideas means two Democrats on the ballot.

Nick Wiley said...

Yes, and how does that salt get into Puget Sound? Through groundwater and fresh waterways. Check out https://goo.gl/nRbL1d for some other impacts of using road salt (negative effects on wild birds mistaking salt granules for seeds?!). I personally agree that road salt is the right choice during ice and snow events, but let's not pretend that there are no negatives.

Greg Robbins said...

Salt is a short-term solution with a long-term cost, so it's a disservice to present it as a panacea to road icing issues.

This video is more balanced than the ones in Cliff's post: https://youtu.be/eQ1HjKliot8

Eric Blair said...

I've already stated this previously, but once again it bears repeating - when a city and a region intentionally ignore basic infrastructure needs over the past decades in lieu of ancillary actions it leads to just this kind of widespread incompetency and dereliction of duty. It doesn't matter which person is in charge (we get a new one every election), the underlying issues are never resolved - but oh yeah, the taxes keep going up exponentially every year, you can be damn sure of at least that much.

RLL said...

Unfortunately for snow plans, but fortunate for the citizens, we can go even 10-15 years without a major snowfall. At the end of such a snow 'drought' managers have never in their working career experienced a snow storm. Transportation and Emergency Managers ought to be sent off every five years to a city which is about to experience a snow storm. Preferably it would be a city not too different from Seattle or Portland.

John K. said...

Except, salt destroys cars. I grew up in the Midwest and they use a lot of salt. Those folks go through a lot of cars because nothing destroys a car faster than a nice, wet salt bath.

Senge said...

If only the situation were so simple as the rearview mirror indicates ...

First, thanks to Seattle for the help. Hopefully, we won't have to repay you for many years. And the regional idea makes a lot of sense and cents.

Second, Portland's Mayor just started office this year so he will be excused - in part - for this.

And lastly, it wasn't just a 1-4" forecast that turned into 12" that caused problems.

The storm was supposed to hit a little later - so the metro area population, unwisely, thought they could do a normal day of work. When the storm hit harder and earlier, motorists clogged the transportation system with abandoned vehicles ... Interstate freeways were blocked for up to 12 hours ... and those 12+ inches of snow fell without crews even being able to get to the freeways to plow.

Also remember that for the east side of the Metro area, we still have ice on the ground from an ice storm a few days before the snow storm. The suburb where I live did in fact pre-treat - before and after the ice storm and snow storm. With sustained winds 20-30 and gusts to 45MPH almost all of the past two weeks, even treated roads dried, then new snow blew on top creating a never-ending cycle of clear and re-clear. Add in blowing winds continuing to add snow onto sidewalks, driveways, and walkways - and it all starts to look a lot more complex than pre-treat with salt, buy more plows, and fire the Mayor.

In my opinion, people need to be educated to know that you don't wait until the hour before a forecast snow to be out of its way. We had a very similar event in December where Interstates were blocked for most of the storm by abandoned vehicles. We were all thoroughly lectured through media that you can't wait until the last minute to avoid a storm ... yet in less than a month the population repeated exactly the same mistake.

Another thing that came as a surprise in this storm was all the downed trees and branches blocking roadways and cutting off of power. We'd already been through two ice storms and thought all the weak trees had already come down. Pictures of downtown Portland showed old trees down blocking traffic - it wasn't just the forested areas with downed trees.

I would like to do a shout-out to all the people who worked crazy hours clearing out roads from ice, snow, cars, trucks and trees to allow us to even use chains. I would also like to ask if we can determine the economic losses - that perhaps we look at a variety of cost-efficient ways to deal with some of this. Maybe one is to require all vehicles carry chains (during the snow season). And before the hundred reasons on why that's a bad idea (there are many!) ... my actual point is that the public also bears the responsibility to be prepared and make good choices.

And now that we know the Pineapple Express is about to hit; why don't people know to go clear their nearby street drain of snow and ice? ... there are a lot of things an educated population could be doing in its neighborhood to prepare for the next storm. Remember that we bear a responsibility to help if we can, especially while sitting at home waiting for the storm to pass (to the next one). It is a two-way street between government responsibility and public responsibility.


Fortunately, these kinds of storms are the exception; why not use them as emergency preparedness drills? *If we can't get through a week of snow on the roads; how on earth would we manage an earthquake or other disasters?*

Jon Kahrs said...

Whenever I see the word "salt" and icy roads I shudder a bit. Not because salt on roads is necessarily a bad thing, but because sodium chloride, the salt most people think of, is probably not the best de-icer for Portland since our temperatures will drop below 25 degrees readily due to the gorge effect -and salt is not as effective at lower temperatures. To avoid confusion I would say "de-icing chemicals" as there are many possibilities.

As a side note, the freeways were terrible and dangerous far too long and there was no excuse. Portland gets freezes every year, sufficient snow storms every 3 years and large snowstorms once every 10 years (OK, my guess). PDOT should have known better.

Cliff Mass said...

All... a few of you have expressed concerns about the environmental concerns regarding use of salt. From my study of the issue, there is really no evidence that the use of salt on roadways a few times in a year will have any real environmental effects...none. And modern cars can handle a brief exposure to road salt..cliff

windlover said...

I think that was the most intelligent, well spoken comment/explanation/suggestion I've read in an extremely long time! Thank you!!!!

Al M said...

Uh, I have been associated with Massachusetts for 63 years and the last I looked everything is OK over here and we've been using salt the entire time so I don't know what all this anti-salt hysteria is really about

Rivrdog said...

Cliff, the envirowhacko fix was in for the salt trucks, and PBOT trotted out a naysayer even before they finished spreading it. Regarding the coastal radar, there already is one: NOAA has a large ship berthed in Newport which looks to have a decent atmospheric radar aboard (as opposed to a navigational radar, this one looks to have a dome similar to the WSG88D). If that is, indeed a serious radar, why is is not operating at least during the times where specific obs are required to accurately track weather features offshore?

The Deacon in Blue said...

Excellent post, Cliff. I drive a bus in Portland and it has been a month of horrendous conditions, and we've had to navigate it all to keep the city moving. Each time we get hit, I see the same crap: "What lessons have we learned from this storm and how can we improve?" Yet our city fails every time. Thanks to Seattle for its valuable assistance. Now I have to figure out how to float my bus through the next storm.

Tommy Matala said...

What a bunch of crap - SDOT bails out Oregon, yet Buried and the south West Seattle area residents get trapped with ice roads for a week, and we don't see a single plow nor a grain of salt or sand???

Where is the logic???

JeffB said...

Nick Wiley. No. Salt comes from that big water body to the West. Stick your tongue in it. It's salty.

Jonn-E said...

Dr. Mass I normally appreciate and learn from your writings but this topic is getting out of hand and I'm going to have to vigorously disagree with you and apparently every other commenter here.

Spreading granulated sodium chloride (rock salt) on roads is making a deal with the devil. As you hail from the east coast I figured you'd know this, but here you are championing salt. I'm going to preface my next comments by saying that pre-treatment by anti-icing solutions that feature less sodium are a wonderful compromise that I fully agree with, with use based on road sensors and snowatch. All those things are good. However now you are just supporting flinging rock salt everywhere, and SDOT is listening.

What's happening: I emailed SDOT about their overzealous use this winter and a reply was sent to me that they use soluble chemicals for anti-icing and rock salt for selective de-icing once snow has formed, citing 2008. Hogwash. SDOT has been PAVING downtown and south seattle streets with an accumulating layer of rock salt. I've watched trucks in the past weeks flinging rock salt on dry roads in the middle of high-pressure events. The only places that get brine solution anymore are the West Seattle bridge and select onramps. Everywhere else gets a thick mat of rock salt. How bad is this? Bad. Steep streets downtown looked like they had snow accumulation, but it was just mounds of rock salt. There has been so much salt that accumulations in pavement joints and manhole covers has survived several rain events. That's just astonishing. All of that is doing no favors on our city's ferrous infrastructure and has a real up-front cost too.

But let's talk environment, because that's my profession. Heavy salt use has a real, damaging effect on the local environment, particularly small urban streams like Longfellow Creek and Ravenna Creek, harming benthic invertebrates and riparian flora. It also impacts local groundwater. Here is an article stating as much by the Smithsonian:
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-happens-to-all-the-salt-we-dump-on-the-roads-180948079/

And then I must bring up safety and personal accountability. First the safety issue: SDOT wrote me that public safety is their #1 concern and the reason they salt. However, that does not take into account that salt is extremely corrosive to automobiles and will compromise their safety over the span of 5-10 years. Critical components will wear out far quicker then expected which can have very real consequences. People on the east coast combat they known corrosion to their property with the utterly HORRIFYING concept of the "winter beater". How is driving around a crappy old jalopy with less safety equipment and failing components due to corrosion a net safety gain?

And finally, personal accountability. I'm going to use the "salt guru" as an example here, as I noticed he was plowing his driveway. He's driving a late-model Hyundai, pretty new vehicle, shiny. But I noticed in the middle of his praise of salt he kept the camera on him, and we never got to see the underside of his vehicle....I wonder what that looks like? Constantly buying new vehicles because the current one is rusty and worthless is very expensive and a widespread increase in vehicle purchase frequency is not doing the global environment any favors either. Looking at the video closer,it is obvious from the tread that the tires on his AWD Hyundai SUV are all-season. And the vehicle doesn't have chains on it either. He wants his city, county, and state, to spend vast sums of money and harm the environment so he doesn't have to go buy $600 worth of snow tires or $70 worth of tire chains like a responsible adult. And this is Seattle, nay America, in a nutshell.

Brett Rogol said...

Agreed. The inch of ice that remains on our city streets could have been avoided had roads been salted pre snowfall and again the evening the storm hit. The packed layer of snow would have frozen more slowly giving plows enough time to effectively clear the roads. ...and the argument that salt damages vehicles is moot when you consider the cost of a tow out of a ditch or front end damage repair from sliding into a tree.

TVN said...

Senge, I LOVE your post. I am reading Soul of a Citizen right now about people becoming active in their own communities and your comments fit nicely with that theme. It is indeed incumbent upon all of us to do what we can and not just sit on the sidelines. A better forecast would have helped thought in terms of convincing people that they couldn't go out the day of the storm.

You should run for office. ;)

ecogrrl said...

Not sure we can say there is "no evidence" of environmental impacts from road salt, which often includes additives that are harmful to pets, wildlife and aquatic ecosystems. Even if we don't use it often here, it's disingenuous to say that any application of rock salt is some kind of risk-free panacea. When I lived in Chicago, the city had successful pilot projects of a beet byproduct that worked well. Might be interesting to see if we have a similar agricultural byproduct from WA that we could use -- maybe the leftover waste from small-scale urban breweries?

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-happens-to-all-the-salt-we-dump-on-the-roads-180948079/

http://www.des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/wmb/was/salt-reduction-initiative/impacts.htm

http://www.clm.com/publication.cfm?ID=321

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_green_lantern/2010/02/salting_the_earth.html

Matt said...

Everyone in the midwest and East Coast who wants to say salt is fine, sure it is, in the ecological wasteland of most of your cities. Listen, your water quality environment is complete garbage in your major cities. Chicago River, Potomac, Ohio, Maumee, Cuyahoga, Hudson..and that dear Charles River in Boston "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_River#History_of_pollution_and_remediation_efforts" you can't even legally swim in it, for your own protection. You do not have salmon runs, steelhead, or trout with fry in local streams. You've got lots of carp and largemouth bass. Fish that fair well to poor water quality. So maybe it is difficult for you to understand why people don't want salt from roads going into our local creeks and rivers, it's because we have an environment that hasn't been entirely trashed for hundreds of years.

One thing that isn't mentioned either, is people who operate plows need to be trained in their operation. If you have a major snow event every 5 years how good is your snow-plow training going to be? I imagine like driving a bus, or big rig, there is specialized knowledge and it would be pretty easy to damage the equipment or property if not properly trained.

Case in point: Before our first snow-event in December, people cross country skied beyond a winter gate on Larch Mnt (4,000ft), they got to the top and planned to ski down back to their vehicle. Turned out it had been plowed while they were at the top! Why? Because Multnomah county needed to get their plow driver(s) some experience before the snow came. One thing to consider.

Jon Kahrs said...

Rivrdog: Is "envirowhacko" a scientific term? As a side note, A vessel with radar is not substitute for permanent radar. If the vessel did have the appropriate type of radar with the appropriate range, the vessel has other functions and does not sit in Newport consistently -hence if it could not provide consistent results. In addition, a permanent radar would allow forecasters to study weather features year round in an integrated fashion.

Cliff: I basically agree with you. Given our typical weather situation (Not snow or ice) you are probably right that the salt would not affect the wildlife -but unless you can site a study you cannot say for sure that it is OK for the environment (In particular, the salmon which are very sensitive to chemicals). Salmon face a myriad amount of obstacles right now and the addition of too much salt could be another one. Note also that some of the other salts are less toxic and more effective. However, they are more expensive.

Eric Blair said...

The commenter bewailing the horrible abuse his or her car will allegedly receive from just one or two saltings of the roadways per year (if even that much), is either utterly ignorant or being willfully obtuse. I have a car here in Portland that spent over a decade on the streets of Chicago. Tons of ice, snow and sludge have been dumped on it for years, yet despite the rusting of some of the undercarriage, it looks fine. Get over your bedwetting about a few rounds of ice per winter, if you're that worried about your car keep it locked up in your garage and...never use it. The cost of lost labor productivity and the lost minutes for EMT's, the police and fire personnel attempting to get to their emergencies far outweigh the costs to someone's car and the antiquated bridgework here that should've been replaced decades ago. This place is a cartoon for human behavior, that much is quite clear.

iamlucky13 said...

Cliff Mass
" there is really no evidence that the use of salt on roadways a few times in a year will have any real environmental effects...none.

^ This! Seattle and Portland are not Minneapolis, Detroit, or New York. Our local deicer use (salt or otherwise) is far lower volume, and our watershed throughput far, far higher than areas that receive regular, heavy snowfall.

I'm sure there are published studies backing this up, or at least environmental assessments by moderate salt-use cities like Spokane, but just as an intuitive start, keep in mind the Columbia River flowing past Portland has a water volume measured in thousands of tons per second. Even the Mississippi River pales in comparison in its early stages where it flows through Minneapolis.

Even if we did use as much salt as the entire Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro area per year (almost 1/4 million tons), the Columbia flow rate would dilute the runoff to below levels below levels of known harm for freshwater organisms* in 1-2 hours. Seattle has a smaller effective watershed with lower throughput, but still far more efficient drainage than Minneapolis, and even since the 2008 changes uses only 1-2% as much salt as Minneapolis.

To make things worse for places like Minneapolis, it's not uncommon to see the temperature never rise above freezing for a month or more. Even when it does warm, the thawing can be minimal before the next cold spell. That means the salt just continues to accumulate for most of the winter until a major thaw, so local streams can get huge spikes in salinity. In Seattle, a week below freezing is rare, and continued snowfall during that cold spell even rarer, so the salt gets applied once or twice, then a complete thaw washes almost all of it away before the next application.

In short, don't conflate concerns about the heavy salt use in other locations with the considerations for light salt use in the Pacific NW>

* My estimate here is based on 800ppm - a few species may be more sensitive, but as the overall numbers above make obvious, we're orders of magnitude away from major concerns.

PDX 7890 said...

This is a fascinating discussion. Glad to see that I'm not the only one in Portland who read's Cliff's excellent blog.

I grew up in Seattle and have lived in Portland nearly a decade. A big part of the problem here in Portland and Oregon is what I call a 'culture of austerity.' Anti-tax measures passed in the 1990s and early 2000s have systematically starved local and state government of the resources needed to carry out the most basic functions of government adequately. Besides public and higher education, this means our physical infrastructure has deteriorated substantially from under-investment, including transit, roads/streets, and everything road-related, including snow removal equipment.

I think all this creates a context of learned helplessness where otherwise progressive, well-meaning politicians and bureau heads go into a defensive crouch and claim that all is well, we're doing the best we can, nothing to see here folks--while in reality it's a disaster. PBOT's press release this week says they tried a road test with salt and that didn't work any better than their existing practices...but they applied it *after* the storm. (Portland also has a poor news media that doesn't facilitate important public debates--if you haven't seen at The Oregonian lately, take a look.)

Seattle and WA have a better tax base and, frankly, a more open and innovative political culture. It gives me no pleasure to say this. Still, Seattle was also making the same mistakes on snow/salt over and over until 2008, and they changed...so perhaps there's still hope for Portland.

I also lived in the midwest where road salt is applied constantly for 3-4 months of the year. We don't need that here. I accept that there are environmental costs to salt, but a few days of application each year would be utterly insignificant in terms of vehicle rusting or local ecological impacts. But it would make a huge difference in terms of human safety and basic urban functioning. A foot of snow should not bring the city to a standstill.

It's now Day 5 after the storm, and our arterials and local streets are treacherous ice skating rinks. We're not even seeing the normal sand/grit spreading that the city sometimes does.

Portland city council and Mayor Wheeler--let's learn from Seattle and figure out how to stop repeating the same mistakes.

crf450ish said...

This is what you people get for living in a liberal city that hardly ever sees significant snowfall....

What else did you expect? The powers to be are probably still sitting in an office committee discussing how to solve this.

Smart... wait till it happens then plan how to fix it.

Megan Ramey said...

2 of my favorite porn: transportation management and weather.

The governor and Portland's mayor needs to order a driving ban tomorrow. With freezing rain on the docket tomorrow, this has a potential for an epic catastrophe.

iamlucky13 said...

"Not sure we can say there is "no evidence" of environmental impacts from road salt, which often includes additives that are harmful to pets, wildlife and aquatic ecosystems."

Without having gone digging for studies yet to back me up, I'm fairly certain we can. The old adage "the dose makes the poison" is largely true, and as I previously argued in this thread, the amount Seattle and Portland need is trivial overall. Dogs licking it off the streets before it washes away is a separate matter, but there's even more obvious reasons why pets should not be running loose on the road.

As I understand it, the beet byproduct is one of the "alternatives" that has been tested by either SDOT or WSDOT for light icing conditions, but it's just not as effective as salt, hence why Chicago also still uses almost as much salt as they did before - in 2014 they reportedly used 370,000 tons! A lot of the liquid alternatives are slick, too. If you mistakenly over-apply salt, it's not problem. If you over-apply liquid deicers, it can and has caused accidents in Seattle.

"A big part of the problem here in Portland and Oregon is what I call a 'culture of austerity.'

I lived there for a decade, too. Portland very plainly does NOT have a culture of austerity. To stay relevant to the topic, if they did, among other changes, they'd be using the most cost-effective ice control method available, which is salt.

You're onto something with your phrase "learned helplessness" though. If nothing else, able bodied persons spending an hour or two shoveling at intersections near their homes would collectively improve safety massively. I've done this before, but I can only clear so much. Nobody else ever joined in the effort. Most people don't even shovel their own sidewalks.

"Everyone in the midwest and East Coast who wants to say salt is fine, sure it is, in the ecological wasteland of most of your cities"

The salt they use is a tiny factor in that. Far, far more was involved in the sterilization of their rivers.

Eric Blair said...

"Anti-tax measures passed in the 1990s and early 2000s have systematically starved local and state government of the resources needed to carry out the most basic functions of government adequately."

This is yet another false argument that has no basis in reality. The property boom that's been ongoing for almost a decade in Portland at this point has filled the city's tax coffers to overflowing, and you would know this just by looking at your tax bill's annual increases. The utility bills for water here are astronomical, and there's literally billions of gallons of fresh water everywhere. We also pay additional fees and taxes for governmental boondoggles such as as an "arts tax," which go right down the governmental sinkhole. If the city was so broke as you claim, then why did they allow the rioters to spend a week trashing the downtown area less than two months ago, resulting in millions of dollars in needless damage?

Matt said...

I'll cede that salt is a tiny factor in the sterilization of midwest and eastern seaboard rivers. But the total lack of any environmental ethos arises from a lack of any tangible and accessible interaction with unmarred environments. If they found out arsenic melted ice better than salt and their kids and pets didn't get sick, they wouldn't have a second thought putting that on the road in Toledo, Dayton, Milwaukee, Lexington, Erie, Rochester, Albany, DC, Boston, etc..

Joe Kraus said...

"I'll cede that salt is a tiny factor in the sterilization of midwest and eastern seaboard rivers. But the total lack of any environmental ethos arises from a lack of any tangible and accessible interaction with unmarred environments. If they found out arsenic melted ice better than salt and their kids and pets didn't get sick, they wouldn't have a second thought putting that on the road in Toledo, Dayton, Milwaukee, Lexington, Erie, Rochester, Albany, DC, Boston, etc.."

I think you generalize too much. While larger industrial cities have their fair share of problems, you act as if the only environmentalists live out west. I'm from Wisconsin, the state that brought you Aldo Leopold, John Muir (they both went to UW and started one of the nation's first wildlife ecology programs, Gaylord Nelson (founder of earth day and involved in the creation of earth day), the Green Tier Program, and the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship fund. And for the record, Milwaukee's rivers also have salmon runs, steelhead, and trout.

Midwest and east coast cities certainly have plenty of factors that have led to pollution of their rivers. Most notably that their cities were more developed during the industrialization of this country and they are in climates that require a lot more salt. But you might also want to remember that Portland has a huge superfund site running through its main river downtown.

Unknown said...

Excellent. Our government is seldom more intelligent, rational, nor responsible than we choose to be.

Unknown said...

In the SE when salt was applied and then the snow had disappeared, we just went to the car wash and sprayed clean the underside and wheel wells.

Matt said...

Joe, I refer to modern environmental ethos, and I'm definitely generalizing. I know there are people who care everywhere and great things have come from decrepit places.. While I haven't lived in the Midwest in 10 years, growing up there, maybe the inertia has changed but a lot of the rust belt, the average person really isn't engaged with the environment in a very meaningful way, simply because there isn't much meaningful connection to be had. In the PNW people who don't even heavily engage with the outdoors still seem to place a high value on the concept of nature and that there are prized areas worth protecting. People here to a larger degree seem to be willing to be actionable with their connection to the environment. Less so in Ohio. Or Indiana, or Michigan, etc.

Harrison said...

I lived in Kansas City for years. I will say that MODERN day vehicles stand-up to OCCASSIONAL salt use JUST FINE. Portland and/or Seattle's occasional use of salt is NOT going to harm the environment. If we went 3-4 months with massive amounts of snow and ensuing rock salt, then, yes, it would take a toll on cars (and even then, modern day cars are quite remarkable in what they can tolerate); modern days cars are now more resilient than ever before. Those bashing Cliff over this salt issue makes absolute no sense. Would we rather save human lives, increase productivity, lower economic costs; or, would it make more sense to not spread any salt at all, thereby having an ensuing mess like Portland has had to deal with (rutted roads, ice rinks, etc. I guess if you don't want salt, move to Portland). Out here in Gig Harbor salt was used SPARINGLY and it made all the difference when we had two separate snows of just 2" each this winter. Chronic use of salt? Sure. We're not talking chronic use of salt. Salt is not contributing to the so-called decline of wild chinook and coho salmon. The BLOB is much more to blame for that than any "salt residue" to enter local streams. And that blob, we may have more to contribute to that than any excess salt spread on area roads.