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 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.”
By ruling out salt and some of the chemicals routinely used by snowbound cities, Seattle has embraced a less-effective strategy for clearing roads, namely sand sprinkled on top of snowpack along major arterials, and a chemical de-icer that is effective when temperatures are below 32 degrees.
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. . .
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.
Spector and snow-control experts in four cities said sand is typically mixed with salt and used for trouble spots.
“The occasional application of salt is probably not going to have a lasting effect” on the environment, Spector said. But she cautioned it’s highly dependent on where it’s used, how often and how much is applied.
Seattle’s stand against using salt is not shared by the state Department of Transportation, which has battled the latest storms in Western Washington with de-icer, 5,800 tons of salt and 11,500 cubic yards of salt and sand mix, said spokesman Travis Phelps.
Many cities are moving away from sand because it clogs the sewers, runs into waterways, creates air pollution and costs more to clean up.
Its main attraction is that it typically costs less than one-fifth the price of salt, according to Spector.
Fake environmentalism, which lowers quality of life while not actually helping the environment, is par for the course in Seattle today.