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Instant City Wide Snow Removal

Melting snow instantly with large-scale street heaters installed throughout the city.
  (+2, -11)(+2, -11)
(+2, -11)
  [vote for,

This would require implementation on a wide scale. The current armada of snow ploughing, blowing, removal, transportation, disposal and storing would eventually be replaced by this system. Here are some of the advantages: 1) Snow and ice would be disposed with almost instantly. No more waiting that it becomes safer to venture on the roads or be able to find parking. 2) That would minimize traffic jams and other related complications resulting whenever there is a snowfall, including the lack of parking space, which can go for days. 3) This would translate in huge savings in time, productivity and energy for local populations. 4) That system would turn snow into water instantly, which should minimize the need for sand or salt sprinkling on the roads in order to make them safer. 5) The city would save lots of money, which it usually has to pay to have the streets sprinkled, partially cleared and cleaned eventually. The heating part taking a few minutes to only a few hours at the max, depending on the duration of the snowfall, would no doubt be costly in terms of energy expenses. However, it is bound to be less costly then what is currently spent, especially that there are numerous ways to make the heating and melting process more efficient. 6) The need to use, find, rent and waste land space to store snow for the duration of the winter would be eliminated. 7) Also, no more ugly snow piles, mounts or muddy snow slush that make the streets look like a dirty waste dump. 8) Likewise that would mean much much less wear and tear on vehicles which are known to rust several times faster than in hot countries. 9) As a bonus, this system could also be used just to warm up streets during the winter.

The system would be controlled centrally somehow in the same manner electric grids are controlled throughout cities. Different areas could be turned on and off at will. In addition separate controls would be possible for main streets and highways. Sewers would be equipped as well with this system to insure that the resulting water reaches its intended destination without freezing.

The type of heaters employed would depend on the location. Preferably, it would be central heating for specific areas of the cities. Electricity, natural gas, oil, heat pumps could be used for the purpose. One could use water pipes running under sidewalks and road pavements. When turned on, hot water flowing into those would do the trick. But a more interesting alternative would be to use radiant heaters, which warm objects directly instead of the air. This would eliminate the need to dig and install pipes under the pavement. Instead, the heaters could be installed at ground level along sidewalks and would heat up the snow directly. Similarly, sidewalks could be heated by installing another line of radiant heaters along sidewalks on the side opposite to the street. That means that there would be two lines of heaters on each side of the street and both aimed toward the center of it. One at street level. The other at sidewalk level. Both would be slightly aimed at an approximate angle of 15 degree toward the ground. Melted snow would behave similarly to rain and flow down gutters and through the sewer system, where appropriate heating methods would be used as well to prevent freezing. A monitoring system could be installed as well to inform whenever snow starts or stops falling in particular areas of the city; and if the melting process has completed successfully. Monitoring could simply be done by patrolling the streets; or by camera; or even by humidity sensors, if not snow and ice sensors. That’s a feat for another technological development. Implementation of such a system could be done in phases, street by street, and even be used simultaneously with the current ones until it has been perfected.

manes, Dec 18 2005

Electrically conductive concrete http://www.conducti...ductiveconcrete.htm
Maybe there is something to this idea after all! [bungston, Jan 18 2006]


       something else to add to global warming - great. In some places the snow and ice are retreating at such a massive rate, that melting it artificially won't ever be problem - there simply won't be any. Time to wake up manes and apply your creative mind to stopping Bush's oil baron fascists that are busy wrecking our planet's climate.
xenzag, Dec 18 2005

       Let's see. Suppose a plow-truck gets 5 miles per gallon. At 135 megajoules per gallon, that truck expends about 27 MJ to plow a mile of road. Suppose we want to *melt* a layer of snow over that whole mile? Well, 27MJ will melt only 81kg of ice. Spread out over a mile-long highway lane, 1600m long by 4m wide, 27MJ can melt a layer of ice 10 microns thick. That translates into 50-100 microns of snow.
bm-gub, Dec 18 2005

       Oh my gosh loook at that math. [bm-gub], I am so glad you unlurked to provide some numbers for [manes] first idea. Stuff like this is often met with much less useful replies.   

       Welcome, [manes]. An earnest and serious first effort. There are places that do have built in heaters where the cost is worth it - Chicago's Miracle Mile is an example. To do it citywide would not be an effective use of energy dollars.
bungston, Dec 19 2005

       What about microwave? :) Like radiating the snow to heat it and melt it?
mrak, Dec 19 2005

       //...minimize traffic jams...whenever there is a snowfall...This would translate in huge savings in time, productivity and energy//

In the context of traffic, I would dispute that presumption. A couple of years ago we had a relatively heavy snowfall; for the south of England that is, so obviously not enough to actually stop the traffic moving; that made the roads somewhat treacherous to drive on. It was quite remarkable that, despite everyone being forced to drive more slowly and with more caution, travel times were not affected in the slightest. The normal rush-hour traffic jams didn't happen but were, instead, replaced with a steady flow of traffic proceeding in an orderly, and energy-efficient, manner.
DrBob, Dec 19 2005

       I'd imagine you'd suffer from flash flooding after each snowstorm. [-]
Honduras, Dec 19 2005

       Plus fricassed road-kill [-]
coprocephalous, Dec 19 2005

       /What about microwave? :) Like radiating the snow to heat it and melt it?/ - herein lies the beauty of math, and why I was so pleased that [bm-gub] brought a little. That number (27 mj of energy melts 81 kg of ice) assumes perfect transfer of energy to ice. It is never perfect. But whether you apply the energy via microwaves, infrared radiation, or flaming flatulence, the number is the same.
bungston, Dec 19 2005

       i had actually been thinking of giant hair dryers attached to the front of my car.
xandram, Dec 19 2005

       Plus fricassed road-kill [+]   

       (just kidding--apologies to [coprocephalous])
5th Earth, Dec 19 2005

       Also, everything you melt would end up refreezing somewhere else downstream. It might clog some sewers with ice. Pushing the ice around would allow you better control of where it ends up.
sophocles, Dec 19 2005

       //There is no need to worry about global warming, as the latest global warming trend has caused a change in Atlantic gulf stream temperatures which is causing Europe to enter into a new ice age// Oh, so that's alright then.
coprocephalous, Dec 20 2005

       pa've - Thought you were smarter than this, but thanks for the info. on oil products. Here's me thinking my computer was made out of dried banana husks, and next time I go out to pull up some carrots I must remember to put on my diesel powered tractor dungarees.
xenzag, Dec 20 2005

       I'd dispute the effect man is having on gloabal warming. Since we came out of the little ice age, the planet has been warming up as part of it's natural cycle. Some people may claim that if that is true then why do all our records show the earth heating since we started industrial activity? I would answer that our data is both unconclusive and not extensive enough, we have an ice age every 100K years or so (according to a quick source I found on google, it's a long time anyway). Since we don't have 100K years of data. I defy anyone to conclusivly say that we are changing the trend.   

       Finally I would remind people that there is evidence that the CO2 levels have been rising since long before the industrial revolution, and whilst this evidence may be wrong, it does exist, and is often ignored. People claim that the only data suggests human caused global warming.   

       EDIT: By the way, [-]
Germanicus, Dec 20 2005

       Bm-gub, it would be more appropriate to try and consider at least all of the known factors and variables to get a better picture. Just to name a few: 1) Truck maintenance versus heater maintenance. Trucks having much more moving parts obviously break down much more often and are more costly to maintain. 2) Plowing a road is one thing. Sprinkling salt, sand or gravel to make it safe is another one. 3) Then comes the cleaning part, i.e. when large snow blowers fill up trucks with snow in order to move it elsewhere. 4) Then follows the transportation part of that snow. The cost of all those must be considered. 5) Then there is the storing. The city might have to rent space for that. Nonetheless it will probably be wasted for better uses. If it were sent to a ski resort, for example, that would be an elegant solution. Except the problem of snow turning into ice chunks during the process, which in fact compacts it, would have to be solved. 6) And now comes probably the most expensive: salaries or contractors fees depending on the case. A fleet of trucks, snow blowing, plowing machines, bulldozers, etc, are operated by people who usually get quite well paid. Every major snowfall, the whole process usually cost at least several million dollars for a large urban area (i.e. when that whole process is fully completed). 7) Speed is also a factor. Having to wait several days to have the street cleared has its repercussion on the city’s functioning and people’s daily life, efficiency and productivity, stress level, etc. There are deep ramifications that can’t be guessed or assumed that easily. 8) Let’s also consider how rust affects vehicles when snow turned into mud combines with salt, which for some reason is preferred in various areas. The related maintenance costs needed to fight rust and all associated problems is one of the major long-term scourge that shouldn’t be underestimated. 9) We must also take into consideration the location. If let’s say a small town gets only 1 or 2 snowfalls per year. One pick-up truck equipped for plowing might make more sense than this new system. Especially if temperatures don’t stay low for long and the snow melts on its own within days. However if a major urban area has a major snowfall every two weeks and it doesn’t melt before a 6-month winter then it’s another story. Here, like everywhere else the context is a major factor that can’t be ignored. For example, local driving styles, or street design would make a difference in this regard too. 10) The heating and melting process can definitely be perfected to be made more efficient over time and experimentation. But for the sake of the argument, even if it couldn’t, it is still a fact that there are things that are worth paying for. One could go for the cheap or for the expensive and high quality. And this is what this newer system offers: quality as in quality of life. The argument might be set on whether it is cost-effective but there is no doubt that it is a much better product and service.   


       And let’s not forget that it’s an idea that has a wide range of ramifications and repercussions especially on the long term. In fact, a detailed computer simulation or a pilot project in a selected area might help figure out the viability and shed a better light on all the questions, given that this is not limited to one field but involves a wide array of context related factors including city planning, weather trends, social habits, and even aesthetics and better living etc.
manes, Dec 20 2005

       Nice try, but still a fishbone for you. If you get frequent snowfall, then you'll either flood the drains or the heating system will be overwhelmed (this is going to take several power stations, btw). And if you don't, then what's the point? Welcome to the HB, though.
moomintroll, Dec 20 2005

       This went very technical very fast, but what no one has realized yet is that this is baked. In Toledo, Ohio, USA, there were city-wide steam pipes that were used for moving large amounts of water vapor. Essentially, they sold steam. The steam was used for heating in closely-packed buildings, and was really energy efficient and more environmentally friendly - it meant one coal-fired boiler in one building, rather than 30 or more buildings with their own heating apparatus. Keep in mind, this was around the 1920s through the '50s. The steam pipes went under the sidewalks - this meant that all the sidewalks were heated, essentially, through the conduction of heat from the pipes. They were nevver icy or snowcovered, as the water ran off into the storm drains. Great system - worked well, and was only abandoned because the steam wasn't needed. So, baked, but good idea, and I, for one, toss a baked good in your general direction [+].
roleohibachi, Dec 20 2005

       There are plenty of heated streets in the world (downtown Toronto, Ontario; Vail, CO; Copahue, Argentina; and many others).
bristolz, Dec 20 2005

       About the flooding issue, that’s probably the least difficult to consider in order to implement this idea. Sorry I didn’t cover it as I thought it was straightforward. Among a wide number of solutions, the simplest would be to proceed the way that system is actually intended to operate; and start the heaters as soon as snow falls, melting it away as it lands with heat intensity automatically adjusted to the rate of falling snow. Proper monitoring would synchronize the process in accordance. Besides, snowfalls and rainfalls can be considered almost as similar in terms of resulting H2O volume. In fact, since snow takes more space the volume of water would be less than that of snow. The amount of rainfall an area can take without floods should allow figuring out the rate at which falling snow could be melted without floods as well. In that regard both can be considered as similar, except that with rain reducing the water flow isn’t as simple as just lowering the heat. Waiting that a snowfall stops and big banks of snow have already accumulated clogging the streets and sidewalks before starting to get rid of it would defeat the purpose. That’s thinking in terms of the old or current system. The new one is supposed to clean snow instantly and keep streets, roads, highways and sidewalks clean at almost all the time. If let’s say that system operates in a city where at a one point there’s a very heavy snowfall rate that can’t be handled fast enough then this would suggest that it would need to be beefed up. In the meantime, for such rare occurrences, arrangements should be made for sand, salt or gravel sprinkling trucks, which would be available as an emergency backup to patrol and minimize the adverse effects on traffic due to exceeding rate of falling snow and ice formation.   

       About the urban area that have heated streets or had, that’s good to know that there are examples that such a system actually works, and with minimum heating of sewers as I assumed since there are below ground. However, is it really the same system and does it melt snow on roads as well as sidewalks? Are those current systems intended to help keep pedestrians warm or actually clean the streets? Knowing that steam pipes actually do the work and at low cost is a great proof of feasibility. I guess that heating the sidewalks in Toledo was just a bonus while the main purpose was to transport steam to the buildings that needed it and when building-heating technology evolved that disappeared as well. Radiant or infrared heaters, which warm surfaces instead of air, like the sun does, would be easier to implement on a wide scale and also take care of the risk of pipes breaking under pavement and potholes issue. And that also shows that they are many sources of heat-generating energy that are suited for this concept.
manes, Dec 22 2005

       Melting the snow on a road or surface isn't as good an idea as you may think. What they do here in Wisconsin is salt the roads profusely which turns the snow into slush, then back into ice, in the form of Tire Tracks, and then salted again, and then back into tire tracks, and finally into one very salty road. The salt ruins cars around here. When I clicked this idea I hoped it wasn't an idea to have lasers in orbit burn away all the snow (And potentially the town to) and guess what, it wasn't!
EvilPickels, Dec 22 2005

       I see what you mean. But, if we are to melt snow off the roads to only come up with slush then it obviously wouldn’t be working. Salt doesn’t melt snow enough to achieve the desired goal described for this system. To work efficiently it should produce water, like rainwater flowing down the gutters, through the sewer and all the way to the used water treatment plant, or where else intended… and of course no salt in the process… or lasers, unless...
manes, Dec 22 2005

       How about, just having areas where plows can push the snow and then have it melt. Perhaps ends of streets or corners.
Antegrity, Jan 18 2006


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