Seattle Snowpocalypse 2010 by Dave Lichterman (CC: Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivs 2.0 Generic)

This is a repost of mine from the Snowpocalypse 2008. Although the particulars are different I think snow storms like this help us experience first hand what a more local, non-motorized and sustainable transportation system looks like, and how our choices do or do not support that.

Here is a question posed by Diane Sugimura (Director of Seattle DPD) a few years ago at the Urban Sustainability Forum. What do you think a sustainable Seattle will look like? Answer, a snow covered one. It might sound odd but think about your experience over the past few days.

More after the jump.

When it snows Seattleites go out and walk as a means or transportation. They say hi and look each other in the face. They stop and talk to their neighbors. They are kind to each other, helping out random strangers. Life slows down. Seattleites shop at local stores. Seattleites reclaim the streetscape, transforming it into open space for life, joy and people, not cars. The city becomes peaceful. People walk to work. They walk to see friends. Cars are parked. Everyone stays closer to home.

Essentially we are forced off carbon intensive transportation. If you can’t walk there it is probably too far. This includes buses too. They help but transit really isn’t the solution, land use is.

This was the scene on Capitol Hill and lots of other neighborhoods around the city. Hugeass and the SLOG already touched on this. Snow blurs the streetscape and allows for a more democratic allocation of space. Cars are forced to slow or stop and people take over. People stop simply passing through space but rather become participants in that space. They engage the space and become invested in it. Everyone gets a better appreciation of distance. You learn that “far” places you don’t usually walk to aren’t really that far but how incredibly far trips you make every day in your car really are.

Yes I know the analogy doesn’t completely hold true but I think it is very instructive in how we need to think about sustainability and transportation. The boundaries need to pushed even more. Next time you think about these topics ask yourself, is this something that I could imagine in a snowy seattle?

31 Replies to “A Glimpse of a More Sustainable Seattle”

  1. Adam, I definitely think you hit on something with this piece 2 years ago. As we were forced off the #2 yesterday due to impassable hills, 10 of us (complete strangers) stood around and talked for 5 minutes, trying to collectively determine the best walking routes home. There was a strange and subtle euphoria to it all. Today, rather than enduring my 45-mile commute, I’m quite happy to be working from my laptop and supporting just about every local business within a 2-block radius of my apartment. Life should always be so kind.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, in retrospect. However, wonderful as it was in Madison Park 2 years ago, and it was delightful to see thriving neighbourhood businesses, I hated being trapped w/o bus service for more than a week and having to rely on the generosity of a great neighbour and his 4X for rides to/from downtown.

      1. Agreed. Courtesy of my coworker, my bicycle and I got a ride to Tacoma Dome yesterday in the largest 4×4 truck I’ve ever seen, and boy was I grateful.

      2. Doing things for others and the generosity of our fellow man is part of what develops and builds a cohesive society.

  2. Kindness of strangers: amen to that. During the Snowpocalypse 2008, one of my neighbors shoveled snow away from both my home bus stop and my snow-route bus stop (in both directions, 4 stops total) so the operator could use the wheelchair lift for me

    It’s random acts like that – especially when they go unmentioned – that makes things so much better

  3. Seattle managed to make it through this whole ordeal relatively unscathed. SDOT and the Mayor’s Office have done an awesome job getting things sorted out on primary roads, Sound Transit has kept the trains running on time and there’s a lot of soul-searching going on.

    I hope that soul-searching finds lots more people supporting a comprehensive in-city subway/elevated system.

    1. I live and work in the Northgate area. I could have easily walked to work this morning, but the roads were quite navigable in my two-wheel-drive sedan.

      On the subject of the post, however, I did take a walk around the neighborhood at noon. Families are sledding down the middle of the side streets. Everyone seems to have a smile on their face. A lot more walkers than normal . . . but I haven’t seen the usual dozen bike riders going up 5th Ave, for some reason. Hm…

      1. There are definitely bikers out there with studded tires. Snow and ice biking are bigger than most realize, we just don’t get very much snow in Seattle for it to be practical monetarily to own a set of studded tires for your bike. However, I did seriously consider it this year….

    1. My personal hope is that this will get more people behind the lightrail – at this point, we either expand Lightrail to be our transit system (via elevated and subway routes) or we don’t get one at all. Lightrail all the way!

  4. I emailed to find out when the 36th ST ‘bridge to Microsoft’ is opening. It sounds like there is a 90% chance it will be December 15th. They’re announcing it next week. It will be interesting to see how the new bridge affects the Overlake neighborhood; I can’t wait to step foot on it.

      1. A century ago the population was 25% of what we have now and half the population lived on a farm.

        You wanna live on a farm? Live on a farm. Me? No bloody thanks.

  5. Love it, and so true! I have never been in a city like this that bands together during times like this. Remember the WTO riots and how people came out and cleaned up the city in the aftermath? It’s an amazing city that gets a false rap for being “ice” rather than “nice”. I heard so many stories of people yesterday on buses that were calm, collected and got along with everyone else. There were no horror stories of violence and panic. That was the true story yesterday.

    Even on I-5 in that miserable back-up from MLK Way north, people got out of their cars and started talking to each other. I understood people were giving people food and drink if they were hungry or thirsty. The nicest thing I saw was today all the people walking to stores and coffee shops, smiling and greeting each other. I honesty believe that this happens more often in this city than we give people credit for, but we seem to always touch on the negative.

    It’s nice in the light of something like this snow event, that we can see the goodness that lives here in Seattle. It’s here even when there aren’t crazy weather situations going on like this, we just forget about it and don’t appreciate what we have everyday (rain, snow or shine) in this very amazing US city.

      1. yeah, what fun is there in talking about something that is working fine when you can talk about horrendous traffic, stuck buses, and crashes galore.

        However, I do think that the local press/SDOT/ST/Metro did this region a big disfavor by not being more pro-active in pointing out to the populace that there was a transpo mode that was basically unaffected by this snow “disaster.”

    1. I’ve been waiting for years for the local media to report on Sounder and Link–something like: I-5 backed up from Southcenter to Downtown and from Lynnwood to downtown; Sounder trains and Link light rail running on schedule.

      1. When it snows Seattleites go out and walk as a means or transportation. They say hi and look each other in the face. They stop and talk to their neighbors. They are kind to each other, helping out random strangers. Life slows down. Seattleites shop at local stores. Seattleites reclaim the streetscape, transforming it into open space for life, joy and people, not cars.

    1. but also about land use: yes the light rail seems to be working well, but Monday night the freeways to the sprawl-ville/way/wood were closed down. Seattle suffers in the snow largely becuase it’s infrequent but also because of its hills. To the extent that Seattle thrives in the snow it’s because of its walkablity (and probably becaseu we mostly have a lot of outdoor gear we like to wear…)

  6. I’m always happier and more friendly on days I don’t have to go to work, especially if it’s a surprise day off. People have a lot more time to engage with their space when they’re not stuck at a desk all day.

  7. I have a co-worker who recently mentioned that we could build a light rail route elevated above the central median of I-5 from downtown to Everett, stopping at the transit centers along the way. If we used carbon-fiber reinforced concrete we could do it with fewer columns and just go right over the traffic.

    I work in a civil engineering firm, and my co-worker’s family works with the carbon fiber (it is his uncles idea, actually), so I have some sense of the practicality of building it at least. It sounds a little extreme at first, but I think it’s got real potential. (just potential for NIMBYs)

    Of course, I really want to see more east-west routes – a Ballard to Woodinville (with stops in between), connecting to the Northgate or U-Link then to the I-405/Bellevue route would be awesome, for instance.

    Great post! Love the community-building snow!


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