Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The snow in Boston.

Coming from Portland, where it doesn't snow very often, to Boston, where it snows every winter, and has already started in early December...I have some observations about the behavior of the people in the two cities when it snows. See, right now, in Boston, it has been snowing or sleeting intermittently for about three days. The entire city of Portland would be almost completely dysfunctional with the amount of snow on the ground and how frozen the ground is even where the snow has been cleared. In fact, the snow probably wouldn't have been cleared at all, but I'll get to that in a bit. In Portland, the only thing that generally still runs is Tri-Met, but even that's iffy - buses are late, Max might have some trouble if the tracks are frozen...in general, it's really best for everyone if it just doesn't snow.

But here. The ground is frozen and kind of icy. Snow is piled on the grass and not going anywhere. Yet...life goes on as normal. Why are the two cities so different? Part of it may be that the drivers prepare themselves as we head into the winter months. They buy snow tires, they make sure those tires are installed in early November - I remember seeing many advertisements for sales on "winter weather" tires in late October and early November. Those who walk and take public transportation are also prepared. Huge down coats that go all the way down to your feet. Warm boots with good traction.

I think, however, that a big part of it is that the CITY is prepared. Most of the trains are subways, so it's easy to quickly de-ice the tracks in the few places that the train is above ground. I'm thinking the buses probably have snow tires, because they're not driving around with chains like the Tri-Met buses do on the rare occasions that Portland gets snow. So they don't have to drive a lot slower just because the ground is frozen and a bit icy in some spots.

Aside from the public transportation, there are other things the city, and people who live here, do to deal with the snow. The other day I saw some snow plows driving around. Portland doesn't keep snow plows on standby so that they can come out and clear the road the one time it snows. Basic cost-benefit analysis says, that doesn't make sense. Also, the sidewalks appear to get shoveled on a regular basis by whoever owns the property next to that stretch of sidewalk. Everywhere. There aren't patches where someone felt like "being nice" and shoveling the sidewalk, and patches where clearly no one even thought of it, or if they did, they don't want to leave the house now just to get a snow shovel. So all the paths people need to travel on are clear. And then there's salt on the ground. Everywhere. Again, Portland doesn't keep salt lying around to salt the roads with. I think they dig it up from somewhere if it gets really bad, but it's really sparsely distributed, mostly on the bridges. And no one puts it on the sidewalk. Here, there's salt on the sidewalks, on the stairs up to my building, on the stairs of the buildings at school.

So, it's not that Portlanders just don't know how to drive in snow. I don't think any Bostonian would be able to drive in this if they didn't have snow tires, and if the city didn't have snow plows regularly clearing the roads, and if there wasn't salt on the roads to keep the ice from getting too slippery. It's just that the city knows what's coming, and prepares for it. Just like how so many people in Portland know the many benefits of having Aquatread tires, and know how to come out of a hydroplane without skidding.

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