Hello all. In my long-winded post last week I talked about the unexpected snowstorm we got on Wednesday February 22nd. While the forecast said there was a chance of flurries, instead we got ten inches, the biggest one-day total in about 80 years. Any snow in Portland grinds the city to a halt, but it’s much, much worse when a) it’s an actual real amount (real in the eyes of those in snowy climes) and b) it’s unexpected. There were reports of people stranded in cars for hours, many of these vehicles abandoned when the drivers realized they’d be better off walking.
This got me thinking about transportation resiliency. Portland often gets touted as a place with good public transportation, but that’s only in comparison to other mid-sized American cities. It doesn’t hold a candle to New York or cities in Europe or Asia, where people can still get around on transit if it’s snowing. And there’s just the culture of driving that’s pervasive in town, even though you may have this image of us being all left-wing granola eaters who bike everywhere. There’s still a lot of progressives that drive everywhere. And during snowstorms this has the ability to bite one in the arse. For example, someone I know had a five-hour drive from Beaverton to NE Portland on the eve of the storm. They worked at Beaverton City Hall, which has a light-rail station right in front of it. If they took the MAX, they would have been home a lot sooner. (There were delays with MAX, but nowhere near as bad as the highways.) But since their default way of travel was a car, they instead got to sit in a freeway parking lot for hours. If our transit system was more robust, they may just use light rail instead, or the bus. The buses for a few days were pretty hopeless.
I try not to get too smug about this stuff, though. I’m lucky that “work-from-home” means I didn’t have to go anywhere. I just watched the snow as it came down and shoveled my walk after it stopped. This is not something that is common here. On my walk around the neighborhood on Friday the 24th, there was maybe a half-dozen houses that shoveled. Just like any place where it snows regularly, we are supposed to shovel when it snows. But there’s no enforcement, and more importantly there’s no culture. Instead, I saw comments on one PBOT (Portland Bureau of Transportation) Instagram post wondering why we have to shovel as we “don’t own the sidewalks”. Another comment called for the city to deal with shoveling. The city? The city can barely plow the streets. You want them to shovel as well? The city doesn’t shovel in places where it snows regularly, either. Some people are so out of touch, or they just want to avoid doing the right thing.
Anyways, the snow was beautiful for a hot second, even if it wasn’t necessarily appreciated by me. (It didn’t help that I left to go visit a place that was even snowier.) I’m also not into snows that happen past Valentine’s Day, as I’m more in the mood for spring by then. During the first dozen or so years I lived in Portland, I did not see any significant snows in February, if we got anything good, it would be in December or January. (We also had only a couple of significant storms then, in 2004 and 2008-9.) Then we got a good storm in February of 2014, and late season snows became more and more and more common, and more and more later, like the freak April snow last year. I’m still fine with a nice snow or two a season, but there’s a reason I moved to a place where snow is infrequent. And for a few years I embraced the idea of snow biking, but now with “work-from-home” I’m more likely to just hang in the house and walk where I need to.
Please enjoy some snow photos below via the dynamic flickr album, or click here.
We have much better public transport here and it works in snow. But people comply about the shoveling in the same way…
We’ve just had a couple of days of heavy snow and, while we do have a good public transport infrastructure (including light rail / trams), the fact that snow is relatively infrequent here means that it still causes chaos.
People here will complain that this sort of disruption doesn’t happen in Norway, or Sweden, where snow is much heavier generally, but that misses the point that it benefits those places to invest heavily in suitably resilient infrastructure and public preparedness as it is pretty much a guaranteed occurence every year. The same people who complain about things grinding to a halt as soon as we see a flake of snow here in the UK, would no doubt also be complaining if the local authorities spent millions on snow preparedness which then barely got used.
You can’t win. 🙂
Yeah, that’s the same thing that happens here!