Sunday, February 13, 2011

More Freezing Wet Weather and Urban Observations

Spent much of last week and this outside in the snow walking around downtown, as can be seen from my last post. I would like to add a couple of more.

First, it is clear from the surface where the pedestrian tunnels begin. Unlike sidewalks placed over the earth, the snow and ice doesn't melt as easily over man-made structures. Like the signs on the highways say, watch for ice on bridge, a similar occurrence happens here. In order to avoid a lengthy scientific discussion, the geothermal effect is in play. This is a natural heating from the ground. It can be absorbed energy from the sun or from within the Earth's crust. In the case of the tunnels, this heat dissipates in the basement, rather than at the street level, melting the ice.

This is dangerous, since it can easily refreeze and when it does, it becomes like a skating rink. The slipperiest ice was in the areas where something was beneath.

To be certain, this doesn't apply to just the pedestrian tunnels. Many of the older buildings and a few of the new have basements that exist under the sidewalk to give them more space. A subway tunnel would have the same occurrence and I think we can all agree that I don't think that is a negative.

However, as planners we are supposed to consider all alternatives. Obviously this is very hard, if not outright impossible and has been a common critique of the profession for decades. And since a freeze happens once a year for a couple of days and like the past two weeks every two to four years, is it really that necessary? I am merely pointing out an impediment to the walking environment that I think needs to be considered.

As for snow removal/remediation, Dallas does something that I haven't decided if I like. Most cities that face the type of snow regularly that we had use salt and plows. Dallas used dirt, which helps for traction when walking and biking on the sidewalk and biking and driving in the streets. Environmentally, I like it better than salt, since it has less negative side effects than salt. However, after the melt, everything turns into a big dust ball. This means those out walking and biking tend to get a big mouthful of dirt every so often (I speak from experience) and cars just are filthy. Windows have a dust layer and buildings turn brown. I am torn and if anyone has anything to add about other effects or processes of snow removal/remediation, please do so.

I bring this up because they have quantifiable effects on walking. Planners need to take things like snow in mind when working. What they do now and the decisions they make will effect every pedestrian on into the future.

As an aside, can we put to rest the idea that people move to the sun belt for the weather. In the summer everyone complains that it is too hot, in the winter, it is too cold and at least once in the winter months, everyone complains that it is too icy. In the spring it is too rainy and in the fall it is too windy. Only April and September seem to be "good" months. That doesn't seem like a resounding affirmation of our weather.

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