Urban vs. Rural: it's the little things

Steve Bucknum

DrivinginsnowYesterday, it snowed again here just outside of Prineville. Today, the first outside temperature I saw was 28°. Yet, Monday was the day the State required studded tires to be removed or you could be fined.

It is commonly said in Central and Eastern Oregon that 'the passes run one-way'. This means that there is an expectation that when statewide groups or associations meet, the meeting will be held in the Willamette Valley. It is variously amusing, tiring, and frustrating to hear that 'the passes run one-way'. It is very insensitive to hear in the winter, 'we can't drive over those passes full of snow' when Central and Eastern Oregonians are expected to do exactly that. Often when confronted on this, the comment back is 'well, you are used to the snow and ice'.

Ironically, because Central and Eastern Oregon do get more snow and ice, and we are generally better prepared to drive on snow and ice - we don't get recognition for this. In every legislative session for as far back as this author can remember, there has been legislation proposed to reduce or eliminate the use of studded tires. In the winter in 'snow country' studded tires are a safety device much like a seat belt. Staying on the road is after all a safety issue. We get snow well into April, and sometimes May. But, the statewide law requires studded tires be removed at the end of March. (ODOT can extend the date due to weather.)

So, when living in the eastern 2/3rd's of Oregon, there is much head shaking and wonderment regarding Willamette Valley Oregonians who don't understand the size and scope of the State, who seem afraid to drive here, and who don't give recognition to conditions here.

Democrats are generally considered an urban party in the rural parts of Oregon. I, of course, disagree with that perception. However, to make progress in the Oregon Legislature by electing more Democrats to the State House and Senate, Democrats have to learn the politically correct nuances of supporting rural people. We need to stop doing the things that reinforce negative stereotypes of Democrats in rural Oregon. If Democrats are to make progress, understanding of the simple geography of the State has to take on a level of 'political correctness'. It is one beginning point for the Democratic Party.

  • Jonathan (unverified)

    While I appreciate the general point you are making, is there some reason ou have for believing that it was democrats who imposed the date for removal of studded tires?

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    This session, it was a Democrat that introduced the latest bill to deal with the studded tire problem, by imposing a fee per tire. I have omitted the name of that Democrat so as to not create embarrassment.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)


    I'm glad you've become a guest columnist. It's wonderful to get a Central Oregonian take on things. I hope you'll consider becoming a regular contributor.

  • (Show?)

    Regardless of whether it was a Democrat who proposed the silly studded tire rule, the broader point is an important one: If Democrats are going to become a majority party in all 50 states (as Chairman Dean has proposed should be our goal, if not necessarily an achievable future) then we've got to find ways to connect with rural people.

    Many people wonder why it is that a majority of rural folks vote against their own economic interests - and the answer is that Democrats aren't connecting in cultural ways.

    Now, sometimes that's about big issues - but more often than not it's about little things; like John Kerry going hunting in the midst of a campaign wearing LL Bean gear and refusing to carry the goose he killed. Just stupid.

    This is, btw, the central thesis of Western Democrat - another group blog that I've launched that's trying to help the Democrats find their way in the West.

    (Keep in mind that if we win Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico - we don't need Ohio, and we don't need Florida in 2008. Interesting, eh? Oh, and don't forget Montana. Governor Brian Schweitzer is kicking butt and taking names. We could all learn a few things from him.)

  • (Show?)

    Steve, I think you make a great point about studded tires being a safety device like a seat belt. I suspect you wouldn't find a single cop in central or eastern Oregon that would ticket someone for studded tires post April 11 when the snow's falling. That being said... we know April 11 is a semi-reasonable date for removal on the cost and in the Willamette Valley, but clearly not elsewhere in the state. So why not create zones with staggered dates for removal? Sure there are enforcement issues ("But officer, I live in Bend and we don't need to remove these until May 15!") but I think it's something to consider.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Tim -

    Many of us in Central and Eastern Oregon would love to have the regulations allow us to use studded tires later than the rest of the State - but alas Article One, Section 20, of the Oregon Constitution says,

    "No law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens."

    For other reasons, I really like the affirmative wording of this clause, and would NOT advocate its being taken out, but still, I don't like sliding over the Ochoco summit on my way to Wheeler County.

  • andrew kaza (unverified)


    Drive carefully, and keep on posting! Kari, you are right about Schweitzer - any word on how his campaign to bring the state's National Guard troops home for summer is faring?

  • (Show?)

    I just don't think Article I, section 20 is going to prevent the state from staggering studded tire dates throughout the state. First, it's not really a privilege in the sense that being able to get a marriage license is. Second, there is a compelling reason for the change: non-snow residents tear up the road when they leave their studs on while snow residents are in danger if they don't. Third, staggered stud change dates is a narrow way to solve the twin problems of studs without discriminating in any other way. In short, I really think the state could constitutionally do this if it wanted to.

  • Dan (unverified)

    "No law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens."

    Could it not be argued that with the law being unilaterly applied to the state, eastern Oregonians are being stripped of their right to have safe driving conditions? The studded tire dates ought to be based on common sense and recognize the different weather conditions around the state.

  • (Show?)

    Yes, studded tires are a safety issue here in the valley, because they create dangerous ruts in the roads that fill up with water, encourage hydroplaning, and generally rip up the roads.

    Drive down 99E anytime and the ruts are amazing.

    Steve, I guess the question I have is this: I understood there were non-stud alternatives that are just as safe as the studded tires and don't create the road damage.

  • Adventuregeek (unverified)

    There are new non studded snow tires (such as the Bridgestone Blizzak) that provide the same or better performance as studded tires in the snow and ice without damaging the roads. Additionally studs are LESS safe on dry or wet roads since steel doesn't grip as well as rubber on exposed pavement.

    Studded tires are an anocronism and should be banned on both sides of the mountains due to the enormous cost and safety issues. This really isn't an urban/rural issue it's an old technology vs. new technology issue that many drivers aren't aware of.

  • (Show?)

    I'm no lawyer, but it would seem to me that we could any Section 20 problems by simply saying that ALL Oregonians can use studs in XXX counties until a later date, while NO Oregonians can use studs in these other XXX counties until only April.

    I don't care where you live, I care only where you're driving.

    As to the question of better tech, well, I'll leave that to the folks who do more snow-driving than I do.

  • (Show?)

    Paul and Adventuregeek,

    I've been hearing this "as good as or better than" crap since these so called studless traction tires came out. I've also bought a set and run 'em on our car. They don't work as well as studs. Not even close.

    Reminds me of the Abraham Lincoln question: "How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?"


    BTW: Although I currently live at 1500 ft elevation SE of Sandy, I was raised in Central Oregon, and spent two seasons driving a ski bus for Black Butte Ranch back in the mid '70s.

    If you want to impose a fee on studded tires for the damage that they do to roads, I'm there, but let's remain in the reality based community on the usefulness of the latest tech.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Ah, Kari -

    What if I want to visit my brother in Portland? Do I go to the Frog Lake wayside, and change my tires as I cross the divide into western Oregon? I guess I could take four tires and a jack. Maybe someone could set up a cottage industry changing tires at the pass.

    I think a "get out of Jail free" card might work just as well.

    But seriously (the above was not), this is often what we run into when we start to look at these sorts of problems. Oregon is a darn big place, and our problems and the solutions to them sometimes just don't match up across the State. Issues such as water use, septic system design, transportation, air quality, and land use have different problems in different parts of the State; and a solution in one place might cause a new problem in another.

    Often times the lesser populated parts of the State are left out, ignored, or not listened to when we solve State wide problems - or at least that is our rural perception. Sometimes, well intended people attempt to solve our problems for us, creating new problems.

    It just isn't easy. As a recent fortune cookie of mine said,

    "You will be rewarded for being a good listener."

  • Aubrey Russell (unverified)

    Republicans control the House, as they have for years. They controlled the Senate until last session. Republicans represent rural Oregon. So how is it that the Democrat "valley people" are responsible for laws that are insensitive to rural Oregon's perspectives?

    If the point is that Republican leadership in the House has resulted in bad policies (in most all areas) then I am in agreement. If the point is that Portland, the 800-pound gorilla of state politics, calls all the shots in Salem to the detriment of Eastern Oregon, this is simply not an accurate reflection of Portland's "power."

    It is telling that we talk about studded tires as an example of . . .how the massively arrogant urban Oregon imposes stark pain on rural Oregon. Studded tires? As an example of a major failure of urban law-makers to advance critical rural policy priorities, this is weak tea.

    Also, I don't think that this example demonstrates any malice on the part of urban law-makers towards rural interests. Yet there is malice, I think, in Republicans' stance on some issues important to urban areas, Portland in particular. And I sense that this ill-will is fed by the repetition of stories such as this one about how arrogant urban folks have got it wrong on (gasp!) studded tires.

    The rural/urban divide exists. I know that there is a "rural perception" that rural Oregon suffers the consequences. The resulting anger towards urban interests is affecting policies in Salem, and they are not as easy to fix as extending the deadline for removing studded tires.

  • Gordie (unverified)

    There are some areas where the state sets different rules for parts of the state. For instance, the small tract forestland timber taxes are lower east of the Cascades (at $3.03/MBF) than west (at $3.89/MBF).

    With most of the forests there growing timber more slowly than in places like here in Josephine County, that makes sense...though I'd rather pay the lower rate.

  • Jerry (unverified)

    Come on folks...

    Studded tires are worthless for 99% of the weather either Western Oregon or Eastern Oregon faces.

    They're great for freezing rain and sheet ice, but practically worthless in snow.

    Get a good set of chains and learn how to put them on and quit tearing up the roads on either side of the mountain. I've lived in this state for nearly 60 years and have never had studded tires and have managed to survive both Western Oregon and Eastern Oregon winters.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Responding to a couple comments above -

    Aubrey Russell wondered why if the Republican control the House, and until recently the Senate, the Democrats get the blame in the studded tire debate. Good question.

    The answer is rather simple: No change has been made in our studded tire law for years and years. Each session it is brought up that either 1) studded tires should be banned, 2) studded tires should have fees imposed upon them, or 3) studded tires should be otherwise limited. These proposals have always come from Democrats, and are defeated by Republicans. From a rural perspective then, the Democrats are in a threatening mode on this issue.

    RE: Debate on effectiveness or lack thereof on studded tires.

    Right now I drive a full time 4-wheel drive vehicle with a studless alternative. It is not as good as studded tires, but I was forced to it because I end up driving on snow and ice after the deadline every year due to the nature of my work. Whoever said that studded tires are worthless in snow is misinformed. Snow on highways is compacted by traffic very radiply. There is no substitute for studded tires on true ice. I will not bore you with war stories on this point, but I have been at the edge of the road without studs wondering how to get enough traction watching vehicles with studded tires breeze by me. I have on many occasions in the Cascade passes zigged and zagged around all sorts of motionless or out of control vehicles with perfect traction due to studs.

    And yes, I recognize there is a problem with wear on the roads, especially those Willamette valley roads mainly in the Portland/Salem area that get heavy traffic. I don't know what the solution is, where the balance lies - but this debate misses a point.

    I threw out studded tires as an example. Democrats in the Legislature each session propose bills that would place the burden of the studded tire problem onto those that live in the snowy parts of Oregon. There are two issues as this debate has shown - studded tires are a safety device on icy/snowy roads, and they are a problem for road wear when they are used when not needed on rainy roads. These are conflicting problems with conflicting solutions. I merely point out that Democrats get a black eye when they appear to come down pro-urban, anti-rural in their approach to problem solving.

    Most Democrats I know bend over backwards to be balanced, fair, and reach real solutions - when they fully understand a problem. This then gets to the issue of listening and the perceptions that surround listening.

    I'll leave it at that for now.

  • asdf (unverified)

    "No law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens."

    How about no studded tires below 2000 feet elevation after April 11th. Police will use their own disgression if they find a fellow from La Grande wearing studs in Portland on April 12th.

    I'm guessing heavy semi trucks dominate the road damage regardless of studs. This is a separate fight that deserves (but will not get) an open airing.

  • (Show?)

    The date requiring studded tire removal was set far before my tenure in the Oregon House of Representatives, and it may need to be revisited to ensure safe driving conditions.

    But I must disagree about studded tire fees. If studded tires cause damage to Oregon roads -- which even Les Schwab agrees they do -- then I think it's fair for those who use those tires to pay a small fee. Rep. Terry Beyer and I have introduced legislation to add a $10 fee for studded tires to be paid at time of purchase. It's just a one time fee. And all the proceeds would pay for road repairs.

    ODOT has estimated that a $22 fee per tire would fully cover the damaged caused by studded tires, but we wanted to be reasonable by proposing a $10 fee.

    I'm happy to pay more gas taxes when I drive more miles on Oregon roads in my car. Trucks pay more weight/mile taxes when they drive more miles -- and therefore cause more damage. Those who drive with studded tires should be willing to do the same.

    I am happy to stand up against those who would like to BAN studded tires in Oregon -- but requiring a modest one-time fee seems pretty reasonable to me.

  • (Show?)


    Good to see you in the fray here. I've got your back on the fees for studded tires, but that doesn't negate Steve's central theme (I know that wasn't your intent).

    Bottom line is Dems do pay the perception price, but the proposal sponsored by you and rep Beyer seems sensible and fair to me.

    ASDF: Heavy trucks that are within the law on load size don't do any measurable damage to concrete roads like I-5. They do damage asphalt roads, but not nearly to the extent that studs do. The ruts on 26 between Sandy and Portland (and on the freeways as well) are spaced for passenger vehicles, not 18 wheelers.

  • Sandy (unverified)

    I don't think the poster was particularly talking about studded tires. Rather, it was an example of the kind of disconnect that exists. Just as all the events being held in Portland or Salem, as if the rest of the state doesn't exist. I'm in a rural part of Oregon too, and we had people ready to get to work all last year. When the campaign finally decided to pay attention to us, they sent a paid staffer from the valley. Total lack of respect. Rural issues were never part of the state campaign, and the state has to figure out how to take the national platform and focus it to specific areas of the state. State people are supposed to know the regions of the state.

    From where I sit, I wouldn't count too much on a western strategy if the idea of running a western campaign is to run away from the national party platform. The national party platform, I said, which will be the same no matter who the candidate is. You can bash the candidate all you want, it doesn't change the fact that what rural states are looking for doesn't match the national party platform. There are huge gaps that have to be crossed and it does no good to ridicule "gasp" issues that are important to rural voters.

connect with blueoregon