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Johnson '11: Walk a mile in my waterproof boots

It starts with a sinking feeling in your chest that moves all the way up to your throat. You're not sure whether to cry out in despair or to stoically weather the embarrassment. After a few seconds, a chilling throb of pain seizes your foot, making it seem to weigh six tons. What is drowned beneath the inevitable string of unspeakable words that flow from your pursed lips and clenched teeth is the stunning reality that you have just stepped in the deepest sidewalk puddle imaginable.

It's winter in Providence, which brings with it the entire gamut of precipitation from snow to pouring rain. The temperature hovers just over freezing, ensuring a mysterious wintry mix blankets our fair city in inches of sloppy goo. And despite the weather patterns being fairly fixed since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, Brown and the City of Providence seem powerless to prevent pedestrian puddle production.

Granted, Brown hasn't been around since the last ice age. The University only has had about 240 years of evidence that proximity to the ocean leads to as much sleet or rain as it does snow. It is understandable, then, that the sidewalks around campus are continually covered in slush that at night re-freezes into that slippery substance we call ice. Perhaps it is not until a hapless student slips on the ice and breaks an arm or leg that an adequate snow-removal policy will be enacted.

Still worse, students attempting to avoid the inconvenience of soggy shoes and frozen metatarsals take to walking directly down the street, because that is where one can actually see the asphalt rather than the translucent culprit of the concrete. Drivers that are already upset by the snow-narrowed streets must now slalom their way around bustling students, all the while watching for black ice.

At the risk of sounding patronizing, the solution to all these winter woes is simple. The storm drains are clogged with snow. Rather than funnel the snowmelt and rainwater down the gutters of the streets to the bay to our south, they are rendered powerless by hastily plowed snow. The prowling backhoe that I have seen around campus would perform marvelously in this task, lifting snow off the storm drain and piling it onto the snow bank. If we do not own that wandering piece of equipment, we should buy one. Should storm drains be cleared and sidewalks plowed of any residual slush, the sidewalks would be dry, safe and filled with happy pedestrians. Traffic would flow smoothly, unburdened by the stressful and hazardous crossings near the J. Walter Wilson and Barus and Holley buildings.

As I prepared for the storm that crushed the Midwest Feb. 1 and made its way toward Providence, I noticed that the temperatures would be above freezing. As such, I unpacked my umbrella and prepared for the coming rain. But it seems that such logic was lost on the University, as the sidewalks remained slushy as Tuesday turned into Wednesday. The lower layers froze, the upper layers melted, and as the rain continued to pour down on our hapless heads, students skidded and sloshed their way to class, lucky to have all their bones in proper order.

It is true that the rain portion of the storm did not receive as much air time in the press as the blizzard conditions that marched from Kansas to Michigan and up into northern New England. It makes sense: "Big Rainstorm Hits Providence — Again" is not as flashy as "Blizzard Strikes Snow-Weary Northeast." But this is no excuse for ignoring the thermodynamics of water and the physics of spatial relation. Instead, the University cursorily plowed and dumped piles of sand everywhere. If there is anything worse than slush, it is mud.

Frigid water is just as good as snow at causing frostbite. Steps can become slick inside of buildings as well as outside when students must wade through two inches of standing water to cross the street. While I count the University fortunate that a leaky roof in the Ratty was the only indication of an ice storm that knocked out power to thousands, the University should count itself fortunate that no one was seriously hurt.

Every student pays exorbitant tuition to come to this school. We do so in the understanding that we will be protected while in attendance. The shoddy display of road and sidewalk clearance Feb. 1 and 2 makes me wonder where the money is going at a college in a historically snowy environment. The weather is nothing new, and sadly, the University's inability to cope with it is just as old. I just hope that it does not take a lawsuit or potentially grievous injury in order to see tangible change.


Mike Johnson '11 is sick of stepping in cold puddles.


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