BTA: The winter of our studded-tire discontent continues

By Rob Sadowsky, Contributing Columnist

Every time I hear the sound of a car bearing studded tires, I cringe. Part of it is the sound for me, and part of it is the wonder of why. Why use them? There are other solutions. Part of it is the knowledge that studded tires are creating additional wear and tear on roads at a time when we are cutting maintenance budgets. It is why we don’t allow studded tires year round.

I recently learned that studded tires are only minimally effective in doing the job they set out to do. Drivers can gain better traction with snow tires and get better fuel efficiency.

According to an Oregon Department of Transportation estimate, studded tires cause more than $40 million of damage annually on roads across Oregon. The state spends about $11 million per year fixing that damage.

Jeff Bernards is organizing a campaign to prohibit studded tire use in Oregon. He has established a petition drive to ban studded tires at http://www.preservingoregonroads.org. Here are some of the simple reasons Bernards points to for the campaign:

“Science & technology have made the new snow & ice tires outperform studded tires. Recent tests have shown drivers have a safe choice when choosing a winter tire. The ruts caused by studded tires create unsafe driving conditions on our bridges and highways. They also create unfunded infrastructure damage, which is a long-term burden to all people who depend on our roads. Our food comes down that road, it’s in our best long term interest to protect our roads.”

For example, a typical 30,000-mile studded tire will destroy between one-half and three-quarters of a ton of asphalt during its useful life. Given that there are questions about the efficacy of studded tires to begin with, it should be a simple step to take to ban the tires, right? Well, Oregon loves its studded tires as we brave our icy roads. We also love our civil rights, our sense of individuality that asks government to get off our back. I wonder if we can continue to afford the damages that studded tires cause.

The campaign first needs to gather enough signatures to get on the Oregon ballot. You can learn more about the campaign and get copies of the petition online along with finding out more details about studded tires as well as alternatives.

There are other routes to an outright ban included requiring permits, raising fees on their purchase and reinstallation, and restricting the locations that studded tires can be used. The campaign has much work to do. I remember very vividly the images of cars sliding down hills during the winter of 2009. It is easy to sympathize with residents of the West Hills who fear their daily commute on cold mornings. Yet I find it hard to believe that those residents of the West Hills would have any trouble with switching to snow tires. The tire industry should embrace the change and not fight it. After all, people will need to upgrade to snow tires, creating an economic boost.

While the battle might be an icy uphill battle, my hat goes off to Jeff Bernards for the effort. He truly is Don Quixote facing a mighty windmill that we should all be inspired by.

Healthy Streetbeat is a monthly column for Street Roots written by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA). Our contributors are Rob Sadowsky, executive director, and Margaux Mennesson, communications director.

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