Portland woke up to about 9 inches (23 cm) of snow yesterday, with snow continuing to fall, and I had a chance to watch a bit of the transport situation.
Unfortunately, that morning I was booked to fly out to a client visit in Southern Oregon, so I had to do the ritual of going to the airport so that I would be there in the unlikely event our flight wasn’t canceled at the last minute. When I checked my options at 8 am, with snow still coming down hard, Lyft was nonexistent, Uber had a 20+ minute wait with 2.5x normal pricing, but a bus was coming soon. I had a small adventure carrying a heavy suitcase through snowdrifts, but once on the bus everything was fine. The driver even had to stop for a minute because he was running early. Drop-down chains are great!
I connected to light rail, and because of snow operations I had to connect again within the light rail system, but it all worked fine. Each station I visited had a friendly transit employee with a snow-shovel. I got to the airport in about 1.2 times the usual travel time, faster than would have been possible by any other mode of transport. By then, many freeways were partly blocked by abandoned cars, including some especially dimwitted truck drivers who thought they could get over our highest bridge without chains.
It was funny to hear some people grumbling, as though the snow were the transit agency’s fault or their staff weren’t obviously doing their best. Remember, everyone who’s at work at 7 am in a snowstorm somehow got out of their houses at 4-5 AM. Levels of heroism should not be underestimated. Our agency, TriMet, did an amazing job. So, as you must do when you see staff working heroically, I sent a tweet:
— Jarrett Walker (@humantransit) January 11, 2017
Of course, it was not so easy for everyone. The transit agency had pre-designed “snow routes” for buses that avoided most steep hills. (If you live on a hill, this is a “feature” of your location choice!) Trees were an issue; some trees bowing under the snow touched the catenary of the light rail and streetcar downtown, shutting them down for a while. “Only so many arborists,” @pdxstreetcar tweeted sensibly. (Another city might cut down trees that presented this risk, but you just don’t do that in Portland.)
So we got what you expect. We had made some local value judgments (not cutting down trees) that reflected our values but caused some trouble yesterday. Most people accepted that consequence of their values. And the transit agency staff really were amazing. In situations like this, I make a point of thanking every transit or city employee that I meet. On a snowy morning, a good greeting is: “Hey, I realize you got out here at 5 AM, and I really appreciate it.” Adjust to taste, but don’t say nothing. And as studies of gratitude have shown, this will actually help you feel better about your own inconveniences.
Finally, do not use the words “apocalypse” and “armaggedon.” Your parents and grandparents got through snowstorms without needing those words, so they mark you as a hysterical kid. Those words should be reserved for nuclear war, the Rapture, climate-induced civilizational collapse, and snow for those thin-skinned drama-queens in Seattle.