The Parallax Brief


Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Icy Moscow Streets Cause Break in Coverage

Readers of the Parallax Brief may have noticed that there have been no updates since Thursday night. Alas, my beloved slipped on ice near our apartment in Moscow and fractured her right fibula in three places, so I’m sure you’ll all understand if I confess that my priorities lay elsewhere over the weekend.

Ironically, I was actually considering writing about the situation on the pavements (sidewalks) here in Moscow, which of late have left treacherous a distant speck in the rear view mirror on their remorseless drive toward impassable.

Moscow seems to have entered a climatic netherworld too cold to melt the ice and snow completely, but not cold enough to keep it frozen all day. We have a slow, incomplete melt during the day, exposing a core of perma-ice made diamond tough by four months of compacting, which is then lubricated with a thin film of water from the day’s melt.

Walking becomes an exacting challenge, to say the least.

Yet shockingly for a country where this happens every year, the authorities – certainly in Moscow – refuse to put salt on the ground. Salt would allow the ice to melt at temperatures below freezing. Mixed with grit, it would provide grip, too. But instead, the Moscow City Government has an army of workers put down grit only, along with the occasional blob of what looks like wet aggregate, to provide grip. Of course, even in the center, it’s woefully inadequate.

Why no salt, I hear you ask?

Unbelievable as it may be, the Moscow City Government does not salt the pavements because it believes salting would ruin shoes.

As reasoning goes, that is one of the most risible lines of thought I’ve heard in a while – even by the standards of Russian bureaucracy – but it seems the authorities actually wear their refusal to put salt on the streets as a badge of pride. If you shoes get spoiled, a Moscow official apparently told the Moscow Times last year, bring them to us and we’ll replace them.

So, hey, you may need to have a gymnast’s balance and the reactions of a mongoose to escape the Russian winter without a tumble or seven, but at least the damage to your shoes will be restricted to that caused by water, grit, and massive amounts of slush and mud.

Are they insane? Have they never heard that a spoon of vinegar in a cup of water removes salt stains from leather? And quite apart from the whys and wherefores of old wives’ tales about shoe care, surely public wellbeing takes priority over shoes?

When my girlfriend was admitted to hospital, she was told by an administrator that already that day that one facility had administered treatment for over 160 fractures – and it was only 3pm. Imagine how much it costs for the x-rays, bandages, casts, beds, hospital utilities, and staff wages to cope with that volume of traffic.

Even if one is immoral enough to believe that shoes are more important than the misery, pain and suffering caused by slipping over, surely the cost to every tax payer of treating all those fractures (and probably strains, sprains, bone chips, bruises, cuts and ligament damage, too) that would be prevented had pavements been salted is greater than the cost to the same taxpayers of replacing the shoes that wouldn’t have had to have been replaced without the supposed salt damage.

It’s a simple equation: cost of treatment minus cost of shoe replacement equals START SALTING THE STREETS, LUZHKOV.

Filed under: Russia, , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 Responses

  1. I confess I did see a worker in front of a neighborhood restaurant, sprinkling the ground with a TABLE SALT.

    He isn’t the only one: I noticed today that individual businesses are using salt. But not “The City.”

  2. parallaxbrief says:

    Yes, I noticed a chap at outside the hospital yesterday sprinkling salt.

    People do it on a piecemeal basis, which tells me that they’re more bothered about having to negotiate the ice than having to wash their shoes in the evening.

    I’m going to buy a huge bag of salt and de-ice my dvor in preparation for Mrs Parallax’s return from hospital, because she’s certainly going to have to negotiate the area in crutches.

    I shudder to think what it’s like for the old babushkas.

  3. Luna says:

    I do hope Mrs. Parallax comes home soon and heals speedily.

    I think the old babushkas have acquired a knack for ice-walking. Never saw one of them fall. Luna’s dad slipped last year and dislocated a finger. A native Muscovite friend of ours broke a rib during a fall this winter.

    Instead of salt try cat-litter, it seemed to work pretty well in our neighborhood. (Also, it’s more paw friendly for unsuspecting quadrupeds.)

  4. parallaxbrief says:

    Thanks, Luna. You’re right about the Babushky, though — and I think it’s a talent present right from youth. I walk down a steep bank to get to work every morning, and as you can imagine, when it’s icy it can be very difficult.

    Even in my Caterpillar boots, I have to shuffle down in the morning like a drugged up patient in a mental institution, yet I get passed constantly by young ladies racing down at 10 times my speed wearing stilettos.

    It is obviously a talent that lasts through into old age.

  5. NeRashan says:

    Para, old chap, I wonder if the ban on salt might also just, per chance, be linked to the fact that snow removal is a lucrative contracting business in Gorod Luzhkova? They spray stuff on the roads, don’t they? I’ve heard many a complaint about what this does to shoes.

  6. parallaxbrief says:

    It really could well be. The roads are certainly clear all the time.

    Do you have any firm information about snow removal and who the contractor is?

  7. […] just as I thought I had grown accustomed to the system, my girlfriend’s time in hospital after she fractured her leg delivered an ugly education in just how deep the rot has […]

  8. Kyle & Svet says:

    I live in Moscow and they salt the streets and the side walks all the time. They also use calcium chloride on the streets in liquid form. (that messes shoes up and hurts the dogs feet.)

    Yes they also use a grit which is fantastic for traction and works the best of all.

    I was amazed at how much better the streets and sidewalks are here (Moscow) than in the USA. I grew up in the country and never saw roads plowed we had to plow our own with the tractor.

    Kyle & Svetlana

    Sorry about Mrs. Parallax hope the leg gets better.

    • parallaxbrief says:

      Well, I’m not sure if you read a more recent post on this matter, Moscow on Ice, but in that I link to a Moscow News story in which it clearly states that it is official Moscow City Government policy to avoid the use of salts and reagents. In fact, according to the Moscow News, any City worker caught using salt would be instantly dismissed, by order of Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov.

      Now, that’s not to say that this winter there hasn’t been salt used, but I’ve only noticed used a couple of days when it gets really bad, and I live near-ish the centre. My friends who live in the suburbs have nothing like the cleanup efforts we do.

      Like I said in the Moscow on Ice page, I don’t want to be too critical, because they do a wonderful job here cleaning up, but it could be better, in my view.

      On Ms. Parallax Brief: she had her plaster removed on Monday gone, and is still on crutches trying to get back full mobility. It’s been a slow process, poor girl. I shall pass on your best wishes, thank you.

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