Massachusetts is renowned for education, and this winter its residents are all getting a PhD … Piled Higher and Deeper. (More)

The Winter of Our Discontent, Part I: Piled Higher and Deeper

This week Morning Feature surrenders to winter. Today we begin in Massachusetts, where residents brace for yet more snow, because education. Tomorrow we’ll see the nation’s midsection, where residents chip ice, because music. Saturday we’ll conclude with the Midwest, where residents wear thermal scrunchies, because history.

“We are convinced they are never going to back to school”

The Bay State is renowned for education. For example, Bay State children learn that Massachusetts is really a commonwealth, but it’s called the Bay State because of Boston’s trendy Back Bay, or because they kept witchcraft at bay, or because there were bays around. Plus the Cape State would sound like it was full of superheroes – which it is now, to the chagrin of sports fans from everywhere else – but it wasn’t back then, except for the Tea Party, which was nothing like the Tea Party.

The point is, long before Paul Revere hung that famous lantern on Sarah Palin’s back porch, Massachusetts was big on education. The Boston Latin School was founded in 1635, making it the oldest school in the U.S., and seven years later Massachusetts required all towns with 50 or more residents to have public schools. It’s also home to our nation’s first university, first museum, first novel, first free municipal library, and first Valentine and Christmas cards. The Space Age began in Massachusetts. So the chocolate chip cookie.

And that tradition continues. Last year a study found that Massachusetts tops the nation in education. Or it did, until this winter:

We, the people of Boston, urge you to release the third season of House of Cards one week early. We need this. Our cars and fences have been swallowed by snow. The MBTA has surrendered. Dunkin’ Donuts is closed. Whole Foods is sold out of kale. For two days, we’ve only eaten Campbell’s tomato soup. We’re in our pajamas. We’ve been in them for days, making sock puppets and shoving crayons and Twinkies at our children; we are convinced they are never going to back to school.

Kat Gonso of Boston’s wonderfully diverse Jamaica Plain penned that plaintive yet grammatically brilliant appeal – note her proper use of the semi-colon, rather than the more common but incorrect comma-splice – and the city council agreed:

Kat Gonso for Mayor.

Clearly Bay Staters recognize the value of education.

“So we started mobilizing”

Take engineering, for example. I don’t have to tell you where the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is – unless you attended the Sarah Palin School of History – so we shouldn’t have been surprised when Boston cyclists took it upon themselves to construct some infrastructure:

Along the Malden and Mystic Rivers sits the Wellington Greenway, a hiking and biking path that leads users from Boston’s inner harbor into Medford. It’s quite popular with commuters at the Wellington Station T stop on the Orange line. However, snow removal efforts by the MBTA blocked the path with a gigantic mountain of snow, rendering it all but accessible. That is, until a few local cyclists took matters into their own hands.

Ari Goldberger, a Berklee ’07 graduate and local guitarist, first noticed the hazardous snow pile during his daily work commute.

“One night I’m coming home and suddenly there’s this huge mountain of snow in the way,” Goldberger told BDCwire. “So I carried my bike over it and took a picture with the bike in front for comparison.”

Goldberger took his photo to the MBTA, who told him the snow was piled up by the parking lot operator, who told him it was piled up by the MBTA. Deciding he’d rather pedal his bicycle than bureaucrats, he talked to other cyclists:

That’s when Goldberger’s friend Shadron Davis responded with a “weapons-grade-crazy” idea: “Get some friends together and tunnel through it.” The response was originally a “facetious” one, Davis admits, but the more she thought about it the more she liked it.

“I messaged him again to say, ‘You know what? We should go for this.’ So we started mobilizing.”

A few days and a few beers later, the crew of Big Dig II had completed a 40-foot bicycle commuter tunnel:

I know what you’re thinking. But these cyclists were educated in Massachusetts:

“The guys did a great job,” says Doug Washer, CEO of Head-Line Mountain Holidays, a Vancouver-based luxury adventure provider that builds “snow hotels” for clients. Without the chance to feel the snow with his own two hands, Washer can’t guarantee the tunnel was solid, but based on videos, he’s impressed. The use of an arched roof shifts the weight of the overhead snow onto the walls of the structure. It was no wider than it needed to be, which also was smart.

The fact that Goldberger’s crew managed to dig the tunnel without it falling in on them is a good sign in terms of load testing, says Paul Kassabian, a Boston-based structural engineer and lecturer at MIT. “Tunnels work very well as a structure based on how good the material around them is,” he says. And snow is a pretty good building material: It naturally compacts over time, making it more solid (until it melts).

“They’ve completely missed the point :facepalm:”

Of course someone knocked it down:

The tunnel helped the cyclists avoid a dangerous intersection nearby, but someone ruined the fun by collapsing the tunnel Saturday night, so the cyclists gathered again Sunday to clear the snow from the path.

Goldberger suspected the MBTA, but no one knows for sure. Still, he tried to find the bright side:

The tunnel has been knocked down, but they’ve completely missed the point :facepalm:

And his intrepid band went back to work. Just a day later, they had the path cleared down to the pavement:

This is what happens when you a 350-year tradition of education, several weeks of snow, several days of shoveling, and a few chilled beverages. It’s gotta be worth a PhD … piled higher and deeper.


Happy Thursday!