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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

December 23, 2008 at 4:10 PM

Dashing through the snow



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Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

A Metro driver peers around his stranded bus while passengers begin to unload Monday. The bus’ southbound route on Lake City Way at Northeast 85th Street stalls near the Maple Leaf area. This bus lost traction despite the chains.

It’s about health

and safety

Editor, The Times:

As a local University of Washington physician, I am not prone to tirades. But, I am so angry at Mayor Greg Nickels and his lack of leadership in the face of what amounts to a snow emergency [“Seattle refuses to use salt; roads ‘snow packed’ by design,” Times, News, Dec. 23].

His legacy should be reflected in his complete and utter failure to lead the city at such a paralyzing moment.

It’s not simply an inconvenience issue. This is a health and safety issue.

When I see the number of selfless, hardworking health-care employees risking their lives and property to try to get to work to help save the lives of others, it makes me seethe at his complete and absolute ineptitude to clear a street.

Nickels had a golden opportunity to keep this city moving. That moment is long gone and in my eyes he will forever be the mayor who could not plow the streets — in front of the local hospitals on First Hill, let alone downtown.

Plowing the streets is not a complicated concept. His leadership here has been utterly abysmal.

— Eric Stern, Seattle

Our NaCl is better than yours

Mayor Greg Nickels has shirked his sworn duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Seattle.

The inmates running the asylum of Seattle City Hall would prefer to have kids get hit by sliding cars, massive property damage to vehicles and city property, and the huge loss in sales revenue the week before Christmas rather than let salt get into Puget Sound.

Salt, the stuff that they take out of saltwater.

Isn’t Puget Sound saltwater?

I guess we need a $1 billion salt-extraction facility so that we can get “native” Puget Sound salt since our NaCl is different from the NaCl used in every other big city on the planet.

Nickles needs to look at the picture of that bus that almost killed everyone aboard and change this insane policy.

— Apollo Fuhriman, Bothell

No action required

I know it doesn’t snow here very often and that’s why there are only 27 plows. Quaint, isn’t it?

Come on, this isn’t exactly rocket science. You go out and buy a few hundred plow blades and stick ’em in a few warehouses around the region. If there’s going to be a lot of snow, you stick the blades on garbage trucks and push the snow off to the side of the arterial roads and streets. I’m sure the garbage-hauling companies could be persuaded to earn some extra cash doing it.

It costs too much, you say? Even if it only happens once every decade or so, how much does it cost to shut down Puget Sound for a week?

How many stores lost how much business? How many restaurants are closed?

What about emergency services that aren’t delivered? A lot of people are going to lose a lot of money this week, and a few might lose more than just money.

Hey, forget I ever mentioned it. Or better yet, remember that I mentioned it and spend the next 20 years debating it. That’s how we do things here, right?

— Charles Pluckhahn, Seattle

The new half-pipe

The current Seattle snow raises the obvious question: Can Seattle be trusted with a new elevated viaduct? It might just be a tribute to our school system — how we Seattle drivers see snow and need to test the laws of physics. An SUV in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by a bus.

That being said, isn’t an elevated viaduct just one big ski jump? As a citizen strictly opposed to dangling buses, I say stick to the surface option.

— Frank Lufkin, Seattle

Here comes the Schwinn

Having grown up in the unforgiving terrain of upstate New York, I was raised amid snow storms, ice storms and blizzards. At least two times every year, cars were buried, power went out and schools were closed.

Which is why its interesting that the first time I saw chains that were intended to be wrapped around car tires was when I moved to Seattle in 2002.

When and if it snowed, would there not be the logical (and lifesaving) salting of the roads or adequate plowing?

What I was told blew my mind: There was sand, not salt. Salt, I was told, was harmful to the roads and to wildlife, should they ingest the remnants of it maybe once a year. Even the accepted sand, according to your story, is now frowned upon because of a “dusting” factor that affects air quality.

And the plows that Seattle uses to clear the streets have rubber blades to minimize street damage? Why don’t you just send out a little girl on a Schwinn with a broomstick? It would be just as effective.

I am now in Manhattan, where I can jog down the street the morning after a blizzard, knowing the ice has been salted away for my safety and my neighbors’ safety.

I have nothing but respect for Seattle’s pioneering attitude toward aggressively respecting the environment and wildlife. It’s part of what makes it such a unique and beautiful place to be. But at what price?

I received numerous phone calls and e-mails from friends in Seattle this past week who were literally trapped — couldn’t go to work and go holiday shopping to contribute to the fledgling economy.

I saw news footage of car wrecks with people injured and trapped. While you were spinning, did you stop and silently thank your city’s government that at least the wildlife won’t have to ingest a minute amount of salt?

What’s more important, human life and the economy or the small possibility of one salting a year having an unsubstantiated effect on the environment?

It doesn’t have to be this way. We get a lot more snow here and get through it painlessly with the help of adequate, non-rubberized street plows and, the most crucial element, salt.

You can go to work, you don’t need chains on your tires and no one has to die.


— Kathleen Laux, Manhattan, N.Y.

Get real

Based on a weather forecast that predicted snow, possibly as early as 3 p.m., the Seattle Public Schools shut down last Wednesday.

SPS officials say they were acting with excess caution. However, they acted in the face of a rapidly retreating forecast and foolishly caused us to have three snow days instead of two.

The problem for parents is that although SPS can panic and unnecessarily cancel school, other workplaces are generally less skittish. Parents cannot take a “dry-pavement snow day” without consequences, leaving parents to scramble to find safe child-care options. SPS needs to work more closely with weather forecasters to understand what the real risks are. It also needs to work with its transportation vendors to provide safer options for winter bus service.

What about chaining those buses, training drivers for winter driving, and working out alternative snow-bus routes ahead of the storms?

These lowland winter storms are not rare anymore, and SPS, the city of Seattle and all of us need to stop acting like we live in San Diego and start learning to deal with the reality of life in a northern climate.

— Kathleen Barry, Seattle

Dunce cap for Alaska Airlines

At a time when Seattle is having severe weather problems, Alaska Airlines chose to quit communicating with their longtime customers about flight availability and flight cancellations. I was shocked to receive their phone message today that their lines were busy and if I wanted to communicate with them I needed to go to their Web site or send a flight cancellation to customer service.

My flight was available today for check-in at 11 a.m., so I printed my boarding pass and drove three hours to reach the Boise airport — arriving five hours early. I was informed that my flight was canceled and that the earliest flight I could expect to possibly be confirmed was the next day at 9:30 p.m.

Alaska has my phone number and it would have been so much better if they had thought to hire some phone representatives to call their to let them know there were weather-related delays.

— Cheri Watson, Hailey, Idaho

Common sense, anyone?

Here we are, under a lot of snow and ice. But we had plenty of warning. One of the weather services advised of an impending storm “of notable and historic” proportion.

Wouldn’t you think that the ferry system could have stockpiled enough fuel? That Alaska Airlines could have purchased extra de-icer? That Amtrak could have been prepared to deal with the inevitable ice?

Instead, we are faced with idle ferries, trains that can’t go anywhere, and a major chunk of air service out of commission — wonderful examples of how much we can depend on public transportation when it really counts.

One would think that each of these agencies would have enough foresight to have emergency checklists, and people assigned to act on these checklists.

God help us if we need a new series of laws in order to compensate for what appears to have been a total lack of simple common sense.

— Richard Karnes, Mercer Island

Paying it forward

On Monday the 22nd, after spending two frozen hours at a bus stop on First Avenue, a kind Samaritan stopped to ask if anyone needed a ride to West Seattle. My husband gladly accepted the offer. It turned out that the Samaritan had been the recipient of a similar gift the previous Friday and wanted to return the favor.

This person had been rescued by a Vashon Islander and the person they rescued on that wintry Monday was another Islander. The Samaritan lived two blocks from the ferry and gave my husband a ride all the way to the dock.

My thanks to my Island neighbor, whoever you are, for the kind act that paid forward in a most unexpected way and to the West Seattle Samaritan for being a great Santa’s elf.

Bless you both. Have a merry Christmas and a great New Year.

— Karen Pruett, Seattle

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