ANCHORAGE, Alaska-An upcoming conference on the problems faced by far northern cities may further jeopardize the already shrinking market for studded snow tires, according to a major distributor of tire studs. The Winter Cities Conference, slated for Anchorage March 5-10, will feature a seminar on the pros and cons of studded tires.
Bruno Wessel, president of Bruno Wessel Inc., Sarasota, Fla., one of the scheduled speakers, fears the ``cons'' will far outnumber the ``pros'' at the conference.
Some 500 mayors and city officials from around the world will attend the event, according to Mr. Wessel, and the state of Alaska has already made ``a crude attempt'' to influence them.
``They went into the middle of the airport and set up a display showing a studded tire wearing down a patch of pavement,'' he said. ``Any engineer would scoff at it; among other things, tires don't go over the same patch of road over and over again. But it's impressive, and it shows the direction they want to go.''
Currently, Alaska allows studded snow tires Sept. 30-April 15, or Sept. 15-May 1 above the 60th parallel. The state's new commissioner of highways, however, has said he wants to ban studs, for the same reason 10 other states have banned them: the alleged damage they cause to road surfaces.
Mr. Wessel has enlisted Jim Johnson, of Johnson's Tire Service in Anchorage, Alaska's largest tire dealer, to rebut anti-stud debate at the conference. He also traveled to Sweden to gather data on the effect of studded tire use on highway surfaces and highway safety.
The Swedish data, according to Mr. Wessel, demonstrates the savings studded tires create in preventing vehicle accidents far outweigh their cost in road damage. Unfortunately, he added, the most recent U.S. studies of studded tires are about 30 years old and involved outmoded tire and highway technologies.
Over the last 20 years, the U.S. tire stud market has shrunk drastically, from 2 billion units annually in the 1970s to 160-170 million units today, Mr. Wessel said.
``The total business is not enough to justify advertising, but it's still strong in places where people need them,'' he said.
The Winter Cities Conference is held every two years. In the past, it has been held in such cities as Sapporo, Japan, and Montreal.
Officials of 50 cities worldwide participate in the conference, according to Frank Nyman, an Anchorage civil engineering consultant and a volunteer organizer of this year's event.
Mr. Nyman set up the transportation portion of the conference program. There is so much interest in the studded tire seminar, he said, it may be presented twice.
``A lot of legislative people in Alaska and Washington state are interested in it,'' he said. ``Currently both states are dealing with studded tire legislation.''
However, Mr. Nyman thinks Mr. Wessel is wrong when he says the presentations will jeopardize studded tire use in those areas. ``I don't know very many women in Anchorage who'll back out of their driveways in winter without their studs,'' he said.