Friday, December 26, 2008

50-year storm

Seagulls in from the stormWhite Christmas
Woodpile and iciclesDahlia in snow at night

This has been a strange winter in Seattle. For those of you not living here, I'll give you a quick recap. It snowed, then sleeted, then snowed, then snowed, then froze, then flurried then snowed then rained then snowed. Presently, the clouds are dropping an indecisive snowy sleet-like frozen rain. Clearly this weather front has been in Seattle too long, and is picking up the passive-aggressive nature. Please leave!

The blogosphere has been rife with picturesque icy photographs and red hot flames about the city's response. So, being that I've got nothing better to do because I still feel snowed in (once the temperature drops below freezing at night, I do not trust the wet, slushy roads), let me expound on why I think we're in this snow drift, and why I don't think it's a bad thing.

First, it does not snow like this in Seattle more than twice a century. Given we clean out our city counsel and mayoral office every couple of elections, the political decision horizon trends towards the quarterly or yearly outlook; not a whole lot of very long term planning happens (evidence our non-existent mass transit system; our lack of sidewalks; our crumbling bridges and viaduct; our two-city suburban sprawl; our unlinked architecture; et cetera). So, who's going to vote for a teacher pay cut to invest in a dozen plows we're only going to use once a decade, at most? Come spring, everyone will be complaining about sidewalks, crime, schools, traffic, and potholes again. Frankly, those perennial Seattle issues impact each of us on a far greater scale.

And voting. Don't get me started. From what I can tell, any nut case with a few followers or million dollars can get an initiative on the ballot. That means we can hamstring the city government when they pass unpopular laws. Long term vision is almost always unpopular -- take a look at what the mayors in Chicago and New York City went through as they fought crime. (They're now regarded as, in some circles at least, heroes; heck, one ran for president. Sort of.) So let's say the mayor does feed more money into snow-removal and ice-prevention systems. I there would be an initiative blocking that funding faster than you can say "Where's my monorail?"

I won't claim (as a few have recently) to understand all the facets to the road-salting dilemma. Our mayor has decided to err on the side of environmental safety and not salt our roads; apparently there is risk of damage to the Puget Sound. Fine with me, frankly. There are other alternatives (though more costly) and the salt is bad for cars. It's possible we'll do more environmental damage fixing all our potholes that are due (in large part) to snow tires and chains (on buses, rigs, trucks, and even yuppie Priuses). But, when the math gets that hard, I can promise you this: there's no right answer. Fuzziness begets waffling begets status quo. Maybe China had it right: mandate everyone off the road for the good of the people (and the city) for a short time.

So, Seattle, you couldn't do all your Christmas shopping this year. You might have been forced to cancel your travel plans. You might get a little cabin fever. You might even have to walk to the cafe in your own neighborhood for once, instead of driving to Ballard or Capitol Hill. The "badness" in all of these inconveniences is all in our mind. The price we would pay to guarantee we'd never be faced with such hardship again is very high. I say, put on your boots, walk down the street for a cup of joe and a gallon of milk, and spend a little time with your family. Maybe if you're lucky, the power will go out and you'll actually get to talk to each other.

Then again, I'm just a punk blogger. And if we've learned anything new this century it's this: don't trust what you read in the blogosphere.

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