Finland Special: Snow As Traffic Calming Device

Ian Sacs's picture

Very snowy holiday greetings from Finland, everyone!  While here visiting my in-laws and friends, I wanted to take a quick moment and share an interesting observation about the way Finns handle the incessant layers of snow that blanket their chilly winter country.  It seems that aside from limited access highways and some primary arterials, the Finnish standard for snow treatment is to plow to a reasonable depth, but not worry too much about an inch or two of snow base layer covering streets.  Some streets get sand treatment as well, but salt is used very, very sparingly.

The result?  Careful, responsible, sensible, slow moving traffic that does not take any chances - even on exit ramps!  As we all know, the problem with salting is that it is a relentless maintenance effort and results in tons of unwanted salts polluting our waterways.  Also, driver expectations for clean, black streets opens the door for many accidents in weather hovering near freezing where seemingly clear streets are covered with so-called "black ice", unbeknownst to drivers travelling at merely wet (as opposed to frozen) street speeds.  This can be confusing and dangerous. With black streets, the message is unclear and covers too broad a set of conditions to always expect drivers to travel at frozen street speeds.  With white, snow covered streets, the message is unquestionably clear: Drive Slow!  I have been happily observing on my various trips on buses, trams, and in cars here in Helsinki and other regional cities how this likely unintended side-effect of a more practical and environmentally friendly approach to winter roadway maintenance works so well, and offers a beautiful white street to boot!

As promising as this seems, I am of course skeptical about such a policy stateside.  As is the case when we attempt to implement other sensible transportation measures from Europe, we often run into the wall of the polar opposite legal framework whereby in Europe, the onus is on the individual to take proper care in any enviroment, whereas in the States, it´s always someone else's fault.  Alas!

Happy New Year!

Ian Sacs, P.E. is a worldwide transportation solutions consultant based in Finland.



Alternatives to Salt for Icy Roads

I'd like to learn if anyone out there has had success with salt alternatives. The topic of water pollution is increasingly relevant.

Here is an article I just came across re the use of sand:

This is getting a bit off-topic from the original article,

but to answer your question, calcium and magnesium chlorides are sometimes used. They are more expensive, but work at lower temperatures than sodium chloride. They are still chlorides, with the resultant corrosion problems.

Another option is calcium and magnesium acetates (CMA). I don't know much about them, except they are less toxic and corrosive than chlorides, but also more expensive.

Lastly, there are ways to reduce salt usage. One is anti-icing, rather than deicing. This means applying salt or brine early to keep snow and ice from sticking, This allows it to be more easily removed with a snowplow, rather than de-icing, which is using enough salt to melt the ice. Also, additives are used to pre-wet the salt, so it sticks to the road, rather than bouncing off into the gutters and ditches. These can be brine, or an organic liquid, like byproducts from beet, molasses or beer manufacturing. They also help the salt work faster, since brine melts ice. Dry chemicals have to get into solution (form a brine) first to work.

This is getting a bit

snowy city = human city

Thanks Ian your good snowy point! If I combine your post with the one about the mobility also just recently posted here, I would say that snow is in deed a wonderful "instrument" to open up the streets for pedestrian..

This is precisely what like in winter up here in Finland! Snow transforms accessibility of streets from car users to foot users! Mobility is "wider" and scale is much more "old-school-urban" during the winter times. So as an architect (and snowboarder) I kind of looking forward to having those rainfalls of climate change up here as/if it means more snow!

Ian Sacs's picture


NRDC offers a few suggestions:

It has been snowing for a

It has been snowing for a couple days now where I live. It took extra time to get my car warmed up and on the road this morning, but I too appreciated the slow, safe ride into work. The roads haven't been cleared very well yet and everyone was driving very slowly. I felt a lot safer! Blizzard like conditions such as we are having are not safe to go the normal speed limit in: manitowoc ice machine/midwest-battered-as-blizzard-warning-spans-8-states/19757012

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