Public works departments in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline have coated area streets, sidewalks, and paths with a thick layer of salt in anticipation of an underwhelming snowfall earlier this week. The result is sodium-caked public spaces throughout the region. Vehicles kick up clouds of salt as they pass by, providing a burning sensation in the noses and throats of people nearby – as if the icy temperatures weren’t enough to deal with.
City officials will tell you this is all in the name of safety – and that you’re better safe than sorry. But at what cost? The environmental impacts of salt are well documented, particularly with respect to water supply. Salt in our drinking water is a concern especially for individuals with high blood pressure. Not to mention the impact on our pets and wildlife, both through ingestion and on their paws. And then there’s the direct financial cost of salt’s corrosive affect on vehicles and infrastructure.
This is just one example of the “windshield perspective” that afflicts so many decision-makers. Even in relatively progressive Cambridge, the Public Works Department’s actions assume everyone gets around inside a glass-enclosed, climate-controlled vehicle. It shows utter disregard for the pedestrians, bicyclists, dog-walkers, and water-drinkers among us. It’s the same mindset that plows snow into bike lanes and spends millions keeping streets clear while leaving sidewalks in the hands of conscientious neighbors.
Let your mayor, city manager, and council know that their obligations extend beyond simply accommodating motorists. Even in winter we spend time outside and we shouldn’t be subject to salty aggravation.