UPDATE: Portland’s snow shame

Photo Credit: OPB

Since I wrote about the city’s lack of preparedness for snow following this week’s bout of bad weather, quite a few people responded with negative comments on Twitter.

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 “No self responsibility” and “astounding entitlement” were a few of the criticisms leveled at my plea to city officials to do more to make Portland’s streets safer when it snows.

I would like to point out in response to Bike Portland’s tweet that I am a year round bike commuter and would have cycled to work this week had the roads not been downright dangerous to ride on. If the city had done more to clear the streets of snow and ice my first choice would have been to bike.

Another reader responded that I should consider taking public transportation when it snows. I did take the bus into work this week and would add that Trimet did a good job of keeping the buses going. But I am lucky that I can take a bus. Many people live out in the suburbs and do not have good access to public transportation. If the city’s public transit network were more widespread throughout the metropolitan area, fewer people would have had to resort to driving in dangerous conditions on Wednesday night.

In a separate note, the Oregonian reports that the state’s Department of Transportation will begin using rock salt to melt ice on roads across the state. This change of policy is a step in the right direction to increasing public safety.

See my original post below.

If you live in the Portland metro area I am sure you either experienced hell getting home during last night’s snowstorm. Or you know of someone who went through hell.

Like my husband’s colleague who had to spend the night at our house after getting stranded driving the 10 miles home from Portland to Beaverton in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or my neighbor who was forced to abandon her car because of dangerous road conditions and walk the rest of the way home in the freezing cold with her three-year old son.

It snowed one to three inches in the Portland metro area last night. Not a mountain of snow. Just a few inches. And yet this caused commuting chaos as slick roads slowed traffic to a standstill and forced thousands of people to abandon their vehicles.

I am not the first to criticize the city’s lack of preparedness when it comes to snow. But it is ridiculous that officials do so little to make the roads safer. The fact the city has so few snowplows is irresponsible. It might only snow a few times a year, but when it does, the lack of plows to remove snow from major roads is a danger to public safety.

It also crazy that Portland does not use rock salt to melt snow on roads and pedestrian walkways. Rock salt is costly to use, store and can cause corrosion to road infrastructure. But should this extra expense come at the cost to public safety? Preventing fatal multiple car pile-ups by spraying the roads with salt is tax dollars well spent in my opinion.

The lack of preparedness is also a blow to the local economy. Business flow is interrupted when workers have to stay at home because it snows a little. With climate change causing more frequent weather events in future, the cost to businesses from increased snow days could be a real burden.

And the way a few inches of snow paralyzes the city is a not a good sign for the chaos that could ensue when the big earthquake hits. As Oregon Business editor Linda Baker asks: “How are we going to handle a massive earthquake if we can’t handle a few specks of snow.”

Portland is no longer the backwater it used to be. Its population is growing quickly and so is its economy. It is time for leaders to come up with a strategy for dealing with winter weather that befits a city of its stature.