A City Built on a Hill · 25 January 2020

When you build a city on a hill, you can expect people to see it for miles around. But what you cannot expect is that people can get anywhere or do anything when it snows.

I am sure people who live in snowy places wonder why people in the Seattle area panic when it snows. They wonder why the place shuts down with just a dusting of snow. Or at least why it used to. The answer is simple. Because there are so many hills and because people are not prepared for the winter driving conditions.

While cities and towns around the area have beefed up their preparedness for snow and ice, people still cannot get around the area very well. There are just too many hills and too many side streets that do not get plowed. And even if the cities stay open, there are plenty of towns around the cities that often get more snow and have less infrastructure to move that snow. So people stay home and the cities are not quite as bustling and vibrant as usual.

The small towns where I live and work were not hit as hard with snow as they were last year. (At least not yet.) Still, our school districts closed because it was not safe to transport students. Or to expect students to get around safely. The district where I work had a five day weekend followed by a one-day work week followed by a three-day weekend. Crazy in some respects. But we are there for the kids. And we want the kids to be safe. On and off the roads. So our district was prudent and the kids were excited to have the snow days off. (Until they remember that they need to make them up in the summer.)

I have been driving in snowy conditions since I first learned to drive. In fact, my dad took me out driving in the snow and helped me figure out that motor vehicles are not toys. At least not on roadways where other people drive and beside which people walk. He showed me that it was not worth it to mess around in the snow on the streets by just having me do small things to show me the big risks of messing around with cars and snow.

The first time I had to drive in the Seattle area in a big storm, I was fortunate to have studded snow tires. Sure, I was driving a rear-wheel drive car, but regardless of my experience and my equipment, I was not prepared for Seattle in a snow storm. Traffic was snarled all over the town. Hills were icy and roads were closed. I was downtown and wanted to get home. So I traveled on back roads. And then, I found myself on the top of a hill. The way down was treacherous, but I made it. Ever so slowly. I kept the car in first gear and kept my foot off the brakes. And I probably went right through the stop sign at the bottom of the hill without stopping. Even though I probably had probably tried to stop. I made it home safe and sound, but I realized that I should not have gone down that hill.

All these years later, I still remember driving around Seattle during the middle of that huge snow storm. I still remember that hill. I realize now that the Seattle area is not the place to be driving around when the snow hits. Regardless of how much driving in winter conditions you have done. And I realize, that while cities built on hills present beautiful skylines, they are not so fun to be driving around in when it snows.

© 2020 Michael T. Miyoshi

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