The Parallax Brief

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

Moscow on Ice

Moscow’s refusal to use salt or chemicals on the pavements in winter to aid deicing and snow melting is crazy. These proven and safe methods would make a huge difference to the walking conditions in Moscow, which have at times this winter become so impassable that good old treacherous becomes a halcyon memory.

Yet despite knowing that each year the streets will be covered in snow and ice for a large portion of the six-month Russian winter, and that only a very small number of days will be too cold for salt and chemicals to work, the city still refuses to bow to common sense. Why? Well, of course, because salt damages shoes.

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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.

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