Update: Not two minutes after this post went out, someone emailed this from Art Thiel, which makes the same points, plus additional ones.

Every time it snows in Seattle, you get quite a few people complaining about the response. This time even the LA Times chipped in their derision this time. Complaining itself isn’t a bad thing – we can always do better and improvement is by definition good – but the largest complaints are often about inability of the drivers (especially buses) to adequately cope with the situation. I’d like to quickly explain why our local governments might be doing the right thing, and why local drivers (especially bus operators) aren’t actually worse than those where ever the complainers think good drivers and good snow responses are.

Seattle is extremely hilly. I’m sure you’ve noticed this. Queen Anne would be practically the highest point in Illinois or Michigan (not really, but you get the point). Denver’s totally flat in the city proper. Driving in the snow or ice, whether you are operating a snowplow, a bus or a car, is much more difficult on hills than it is on flat ground. For obvious reasons, there are few large cities perched on steep hills in places where it snows often every winter. None of the traditionally “snowy” cities in America (or really anywhere that I can think of) are very hilly. In Seattle it snows just often enough that we can make do with the hills we’ve got, but the tall, steep hills become a real problem for motorized transport in ice and snow. Yes, I’m sure bus drivers in Minneapolis, Chicago and Denver can handle the snow, but could they handle the hills as well? I doubt it.

Snow is relatively infrequent in Seattle. I know it snows every year, or at least seems to. And big storms come every few years. But these events aren’t frequent enough to warrant investing the huge amounts of money that it would take to weather them (see what I did there?) successfully. Lots of places take this same strategy, for example, London does this (the money shot is that satellite near the bottom), so does Tokyo. This isn’t bad decision making by idiots or misanthropes; it’s balancing investment in high-impact, low-frequency events against the day-to-day. Maybe the climate’s changing and these events are becoming more frequent, but it’s not as if we have infinite resources.

So we trade some snow response for better service the rest of the year. This might be a good idea when you know you’re not going to do that well in the snow anyway, you might as well not overinvest in that eventuality. Which is why a lot of Seattle drivers do not put on chains, and why so little of Seattle is plowed by snow. Imagine the youtube video of the snowplow crashing down Queen Anne.

Boren and Pine snowed over
Boren and Pine snowed over, photo by Oran.

There are always things that we could do better. In the Seattle Metro Region’s case, I think a single place online to go to get information would be pretty nice. http://snow.washington.gov or something. Obviously, we can’t even accomplish a single web portal even for buses, so chances may be slim of that happening for transportation and services in general. Still, it might be a nice idea to publish the snow protocols that the cities, county, and transportation agencies use. Even if you know where the plows go, do you know their start conditions and the frequency? Where do you go to find information about waste removal? These answers could be very obvious to everyone if we tried.

Finally, clearer posting on snow policies on bus stops may be in order. I took the 71 to work on Monday and waited for 25 minutes before a kindly gentleman told me I had misread the map, and the bus would not come to the stop I was waiting at, where (obviously) I thought it would. I walked down to where the bus would come, and on my way explained what I had learned to the people at each stop. By the time we reach the first “real” snow stop, I had gathered a posse of nearly two dozen people. Everyone of those people was either 1) not sure snow rules were in effect or 2) not clear on how snow rules affected their bus route. This is simply an information problem, and shouldn’t be too difficult to solve. Especially compared to driving a city bus up an icy, steep hill.

I’ve read lots of good ideas in the comments. How do you think we should improve? What really is different about transit, driving, etc. in the snow in Minneapolis, Chicago and Denver?

98 Replies to “In Defense of Seattle (Snow Edition)”

    1. This would be awesome, although I have to temper some of the enthusiasm by pointing out that the cables a gondola would ride on can get iced over too. Check out this video from Mt Bachelor in Oregon. Obviously quite a bit more extreme than the icing we just had, but clearing it is not an easy task and takes some time.

      1. For some reason the video’s not working for me.

        That’s a strange reason that keeps coming up against gondolas – that they can’t handle cold weather. Gondolas handle far worse weather than we’ve ever had in Seattle, every day.

      2. Not sure why the link isn’t working, but search YouTube for Mt Bachelor ice and you’ll find it. It shows the process the ski patrol and lift maintenance people go through to remove gigantic amounts of rime ice from their lifts.

        In practice I’m totally with you on the reliability of gondolas in cold weather. Heck, I’m a skier and Crystal Mountain’s gondola is just as reliable as any of their chairlifts, which is to say it hardly ever breaks down, and even then it only takes 10 minutes to fix. Outside of severe icing events or sustained high crosswinds, gondolas have high operational reliability.

      3. There is one interesting point in that video…the tow truck clearly shows that some vehicles can perform on hills and in snow!

        I have suggested that in the case of extreme snow, the 2 to 3 days every 3 years…Metro could operate a small fleet of Humvees or Snowcats to get those who absolutely must get back and forth to work can do so.

        In fact, it could be a small business if someone wants to make the investment, and bet on future snow/ice situations. You’d have to charge exorbitant prices…$25 a ride? $50 a ride…more…

        Used Snowcats for sale:
        http://www.safetyoneinc.com/snowcat-vehicles.html

  1. I thought things were much better this storm than the previous one a couple of years ago. It was pretty obvious all of my bus routes were on snow routes, but even then, I felt like I got good information from Metro’s webpage and from their tweets. (I still think Metro can take few lessons from WSDOT insofar as communication, websites, and transparency.) I have lived in other places where it snows more frequently, and in most of them, the valley floors are flat, they use a ton of salt, and quite honestly, their buses don’t attempt the level of service Metro tries to maintain. For example, in Salt Lake, when the roads are bad, UTA just doesn’t go up into the foothills. Their routes end where the hills begin – end of story. And their plow response is nothing spectacular either – after one storm, I waited 5 days for a plow to come through the neighborhood. When it finally did, it left mountains of snow and slush in front of everyone’s driveways and it took hours to dig that out so people could get their cars in and out of their driveways. Major thoroughfares like 700 East were also not plowed for several days, and with poor transit service and such a spread out city, it was actually much harder to get around and get supplies without venturing out in a vehicle, which then exacerbated the mess. Give me Seattle any day. (Though the Trax service and Front-runner in SLC are pretty nice – if you can get there.)

    1. They did ice more streets compared to 2008, which made a difference. This wasn’t nearly as much snow as that one was, though. That also makes a difference.

    2. I thought Metro did great this time. I even got pretty good info from their Tracker app and One Bus Away. I was mostly on the 16 and 26 and found the service generally pretty reliable and the drivers great.

  2. In general the arterial streets are OK and the sidewalk walkable but the crappy point is when you have to cross a side street at an intersection – it just a goopy mush of snow and muck – no fun to walk through.

    1. Intersections take a lot of time to clear properly. Plowing leaves a ridge of snow along the side of the road, so an intersection ends up with 4 ridges of snow through it. You really need front loaders to clear up after the plows, but that takes time and costs money.

    2. Yeah, University Bridge was fine until the plows galloped through and sprayed all the snow up into the sidewalk.

  3. Ban parking on designated “Snow Arterials” Post signs each fall: “Snow Route – No Parking December 1 – March 1 when Snow Emergency In Effect” and announce those bans on all media 6 hours prior to enforcement. Government subsidised “free” parking, especially on critical transit and emergency arterials is NOT a right.

      1. And pretty much everywhere else. It allows for a true and thorough clearing of arterials and transit routes, the likes of which not a single road in Seattle sees.

        This is the major flaw in Art Thiel’s “Seattle is worst for snow for reasons entirely out of our control” spiel.

      2. Seattle drivers suck in moderate-to-heavy rains as well.

        I was once when a freak August downpour resulted in a 2-hour trip to Auburn… using the HOV lanes.

        This certainly meets some sort of definition of “irony.”

      3. “and pretty much everywhere else” is correct. Every snowbelt city has special winter parking rules to enable snow clearance.

      1. Thats not the same as snow emergency signage which is much easier to understand and plan for that nearly every major/minor/incorporated city that gets snow does. (in fact some cities then don’t bother to post it because duh, it snowed)

      2. Not nearly good enough, and often too little to late.

        There SHOULD also be designated Sledding Hills where any drivers attempting an incursion will be stopped and thicketed for about US$150. These hills, one each in every major neighbourhood, area would be havens where people of all ages homebound by our infrequent …pocalypses/geddons could go and safely have fun! We’d need bunny hills and steeper slopes for the more advanced/suicidal in our midst.

      3. Thre is a de facto sledding hill, Denny Way between Melrose and Stewart. It closes whenever there’s a snowstorm.

  4. (1. Queen Anne/Volunteer Park/High Point are indeed higher than the highest points in Delaware and Florida.

    (2. What people don’t understand is that we generally only get snow under one set of conditions: arctic air colliding with a Pineapple Express in just the right way. Usually when we’re cold we’re too dry for snow, and when we’re wet we’re too warm for snow. This makes our rare snowstorms very wet, with dense snow and temperatures repeatedly oscillating above and below freezing. Combine our topography with repeated freezing/melting cycles, and no wonder we have trouble. Anyone tempted to compare Utah’s champagne powder to our sludge, just because both are ‘snow’, is silly. I’ve lived in lots of snowy places (Coeur d’Alene, Denver, Boston) and Seattle is a just a tough place to be in snow, period.

    1. I hate it when people say snow is “rare” in Seattle. It is not the normal weather, and is somewhat uncommon, but definitely not rare. Snow is rare in places like Sacramento, CA, Houston, TX, New Orleans, LA….but considering the climatological mean snowfall for Seattle proper is over 10″ per year, it is not rare here. I’m not saying we should invest massive amounts of resources for dealing with snow, but we should at least expect it every winter.

      And, Seattle actually gets significant snows under more than just overrunning events (like a pineapple express over arctic air). Our most notorious snowstorms involve a polar/arctic low spinning down the BC coast with an associated arctic frontal boundary. Often these lows “pause” just off our coast and let the snow pile up (a minor version of this happened Thanksgiving 2010) until the arctic front passes. For snow lovers, these are the best scenarios since the snowfall is followed by several days of below freezing blue sky days.

      1. The problem is that it’s not rare, but also that it’s not frequent enough to justify spending the capital for a full force snow removal fleet.

        For example, I am staying here in Fort Collins this weekend where, surprisingly it’s 50 and sunny! However, they have very frequent, storms where in a typical night it can dump 6 or 12 inches.

        Yet, the snow removal is so efficient that even the suburban street outside the apartment where I am staying is cleared — and I mean plowed and sprayed and made bone dry — in a few hours!

        However, the cost of doing that is assumed or people would have weeks and weeks of immobility.

    2. Zach,

      I could not agree more.

      Plus, with the internet, people are able to whine way more. I drove in the winter of 1969. A darn ’59 Austin-Healey 100-6 with rear wheel drive in hilly Kirkland, for chris’sake. You just did not hear the whining back then. Perhaps people figured if they were not prepared, ie, tire chains, snow tires, etc., it was their own damn fault.

  5. In Nepal they have large urban populations on snowy hills, but they use yaks for much of their transport. Maybe Seattle needs yaks?

    Or maybe we just need a real transit system that connects our hill neighborhoods without having to deal with ice.

    1. Ya, but the Maiti Nepal event scheduled for tonight has already been canceled – maybe Capital Hill needs to import some real yaks…

  6. In addition, because it snows/ices so rarely and because of our streetcar/cablecar history, we built a grid on steep hills where other cities would have used switchbacks. Our grid would be totally inappropriate if we had frequent snow and ice.

    1. IIRC, the grid on hills was partially due to lot plotting having been done by someone not in Seattle who had never been to Seattle.

    2. The grid was a Congressional mandate. Denny’s downtown grid (northwest-southeast) was actually illegal because it was supposed to go straight north-south, east-west. I think I read that in “Sons of the Profits”.

      The grid is not surprising, it’s just the style of planning that was predominant in the US in that era, based on the New York precedent. Put streets straight over hills as if they weren’t there, like San Francisco. That gets a little ridiculous at times. But overall I like having a grid, and I like having every address fit into an imaginary grid. I don’t like it when numbers start wherever the street begins without regard to the neighboring streets or the city overall.

    3. Even despite this, we do a good job of breaking up the grid when it’s required. I once overheard some people on the 49 actually complain about not being able to find their way around because Seattle supposedly wasn’t gridded like Manhattan. On the other hand, Queen Anne Ave between Mercer and Galer is insane.

  7. To answer the post’s question about Denver, where I lived for a time, you are correct in your analysis of Denver proper’s flatness. Snow in Denver is often much drier and more powdery than in Seattle, due to the drier climate. This means less ice. The snow compacts less and can be plowed aside more easily. One of the greatest problems for Denver area highways are ground blizzards. This happens when high winds roll of the mountains and onto the open prairie like landscapes bringing huge snow loads with them. This causes whiteout conditions that close highways. Drivers do go off the highway in Denver too, so more snow doesn’t necessarily translate to perfect snow driving.

    No metro area deals with snow perfectly, but many are more used to its negative impacts than Seattle is. This infrequence may be the greatest reason for the volume of our complaints.

    1. However, low-land Texans in rentedSUVs fresh off the airplane, enroute to the ski resorts, having had a few too many on the flight are a constant and amusing reminder for Front-Range residents as to the need to slow down.

  8. I’m always perpetually annoyed at people who say “Seattle drivers suck” because it’s just so glib. When I lived in San Francisco, everyone there complained about Bay Area drivers. Go to LA, everyone complains about LA drivers. Go to New York, same thing.

    If you’ve got such a problem, it’s probably you.

    1. Hear hear. I get tired of this too – every city I’ve lived in, it was “The drivers here are the worst!”. Blah blah blah.

      1. Yeah, it is quite funny. Its just more of a knee jerk response to drivers not behaving as you would expect them compared to where you’re from originally.

        Example: LA drivers will tailgate perpetually in traffic and won’t let anyone in unless someone aggressively cuts into the lane which causes other drivers when merging to all try and merge in one mass instead of using the zipper method of every other car.

        Seattle drivers will let you in most of the time and also while merging try to space themselves out most of the time.

        So you have LA drivers who say Seattle drivers suck because we won’t move into the lane when there’s not enough space for the car because they’ve come to expect all drivers to do so. And you have Seattle drivers who say LA drivers suck because they are too aggressive and cut people off all the time with not enough space or violate the unwritten rule of every other car while merging..:)

    2. Having seen Seattle, LA, New York, Chicago, Bay Area, Boston, etc. drivers, I can say honestly:

      BOSTON DRIVERS SUCK.

      Everyone else is OK.

      New York is terrible to drive in, but not because of the drivers, who are actually quite good. It’s just incredibly congested, prone to gridlock; it’s hard just to change lanes from one side to the other side of one of the Avenues in Manhattan without going many many many blocks.

      Chicago drivers are fine on the streets, but scary dangerous on the expressways. Everyone tailgates and cuts in front of you on the expressway, leaving not nearly enough stopping space, so any accident on the Chicago expressway is likely to be a 40-car pileup. This happens in a lot of other cities too, such as LA, and most of New Jersey, but it’s particularly bad in Chicago.

      But Boston drivers are just bad period, even on the ordinary streets.

  9. Minneapolis guy checking in here, agreeing in part with Lloyd: Snow emergency routes with parking restrictions are the key in here Minneapolis. You set an expectation that certain key streets will be cleared and that gets you through the first 24 hours. Then, as the shock of the storm subsides you attend to the side streets. With lesser resources (as one should expect) in a generally snow-free city like Seattle, this gets you the most bang for buck. I would imagine Queen Anne and such should have special attention paid to them so that they do not become stranded in those first 24 hours when most of the bad stuff goes down.

    1. Actually the most bang for your buck is having folks just stay home for the two or three days every other year.

      1. I’ve loved every minute of every snow day we’ve had – and regret the one snow day I went in to work for. That said, there’s always the argument that medical workers need to get to work, and that fire engines and ambulances need to get around. One arterial per hill should more or less fix that.

      2. Got to agree. Snow removal is great if it will stay for weeks or months. If the snow is going to melt by the weekend, just sit back and enjoy.

        The buses seemed to do pretty good this year. More folks seemed to be leaving their cars and taking the buses that were running.

  10. As I said in another thread, I think SDOT did a rather excellent job with the roads this year and I applaud their efforts. The type of snow we get is difficult to deal with, we don’t get snow frequently enough to justify major equipment investments, and the hills are a major problem. Overall I think SDOT, Metro, Sound Transit and others have a tough job to do during snow/ice storms and I’d give them at least a ‘B’ this year.

    I was disappointed to see all the service problems with Link, although I understand the sequence of events that resulted in service interruptions. I’m surprised they have the special ice trains with pantograph heaters! Too bad the train stranded in Beacon Hill tunnel allowed ice to build up.

    As for suggestions, perhaps individual bus stop signs need to somehow indicate they are not a stop when a particular bus is on snow routing. Maybe they could indicate where the nearest snow-route stop is for that bus. I realize this could complicate the signs and would require a fair amount of work to implement.

  11. Perhaps bus signs could say “snow route” or “not snow route” the same way our current signs have the ADA symbol or “no lift.”

    1. My partner, who is a relatively new ORCA and transit user, made a similar suggestion yesterday after waiting at various bus stops around West Seattle yesterday for a couple of hours trying to find a bus back home after working.

      At a minimum, for those that are Smartphone enabled, it would be great if applications like OneBusAway would be able to update to say that a given stop is or is not a snow route stop. Seems like this should be reasonable to code if there was some time and investment made in it.

      1. Yeah One bus away will actually lie to you and say the bus is going to a stop that is off the snow route. that happened to me, too.

      1. Looks like that discussion was more about the Headsigns on the busses themselves — something that would be nice too, but scanning the previous discussion looks like it may not be possible with the current programmable ICs that are used in the busses.

        What at least I was referring to, and think possibly Daniel and Brent before me, was the actual physical signs at the stops (i.e. the ones on the posts/shelters). Making custom signs for the specific stops that are automatically missed when snow routes go into effect may not be possible, but couldn’t some simple stickers with a snowflake symbol be added to existing signs next to the route number to indicate if that stop is skipped when snow routes are in effect? Looking at the snow route maps online at the Metro site (as I did yesterday) does not always give enough detail view to see which stops are being skipped.

        The more high tech Smartphone app programming I was referring to was within apps like OneBusAway where when you click on the stop you want / are at, it would show if it was a stop skipped during snow routing. Seems like with the right info this could be programmed in. (Yes, I know OBA is a separate tool from Metro, ST, etc. so just theorizing about this for those that may know more).

      2. That’s a smart signage idea. Signing all the snow routes at stops makes perfect sense.

        But hey, you’re ahead of the signage in parts of Minneapolis as of a decade ago (where, at least some of the bus stop signs just said BUS STOP, no route indication).

    1. I’ve been to Pittsburgh, it’s actually quite lovely. I was surprised to see they have a light-rail subway, too. It’s one of just a few with Seattle, SF and Boston.

      1. Like SF, Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland, Pittsburgh managed to hang onto its “first generation” streetcars long enough to convert them to light rail.

        Like all of these cities this was mainly due to the presence of tunnels on the streetcar routes — in Pittsburgh’s case this was the Mt Washington tunnel. (In the case of Boston, Philadelphia, and Cleveland the tunnels were downtown tunnels; in the case of San Francisco it was the Twin Peaks tunnel).

        Since the light rail conversion, the Pittsburgh system was extended across an old railway bridge into the ‘Golden Triangle’ and into a downtown tunnel there. It is being extended again underneath the other river to the ‘North Shore’, a good idea which unfortunately has repeatedly blown its budget. This will get the Pittsburgh LRT system across both river bottlenecks and one of the hill bottlenecks; unfortunately it doesn’t cross several of the other hill bottlenecks in the area, due to a curious decision to build busways.

      2. In any case! It seems that the actual problem with Seattle’s light rail is one of trains “stalling”. Which should not happen; manufacturer’s warranty, anyone?

      3. Nathanael: What do you mean exactly? The Tremont St Subway has been around since before 1900. The Green Line still has street-running segments. There’s been lots of gradual change, but not really any “conversion” I can think of.

  12. They’re not necessarily transit related, but some here may enjoy reading some of words in the Seattle Times back in 1943 when there was a lot of snow to deal with:

    http://classifiedhumanity.com/post/16146244641/seattle-snow-war
    http://classifiedhumanity.com/post/16180253755/seattle-not-snow-sissies

    More transportation related, here’s a clipping from 1916 about using boats to transport people from Madison Park to Ballard since the snow was messing with the street cars:

    http://classifiedhumanity.com/post/16120239817/february-3rd-1916

  13. I actually wish Metro would outright cancel more routes and focus on those services that it can operate with some degree of reliability. Waiting an hour for a bus in below-freezing temperatures doesn’t make a route very useful for most riders. If the route is cancelled, at least people could make alternative plans with the knowledge that buses were not an option.

    I walked along the 3/4 route from Queen Anne to Belltown on Wednesday night (gave up on the bus after 15 minutes) and saw no buses in either direction after 40 minutes of walking. During my walk, I should have seen at least four buses based on the regular schedule. Taylor Ave N was very driveable – I rode a 4 up the hill earlier in the evening. If Metro could communicate that the route was operating at severely reduced headways or was cancelled altogether, I would have just walked from the start.

    1. Aleks makes a worthwhile point. Why not cancel the hilliest peripheral routes so that you can serve core routes more reliably? That’s actually the same as what some ppl think Metro should do anyway: consolidate everything to a network of frequent routes rather than spreading mediocre service everywhere.

      The answer is that nobody knows ahead of time where the bottlenecks will occur. If Metro is having to override its snow routes on an hour-by-hour basis, with things like “#73 can’t do the Jackson Park loop” and “RR B can’t do parts of its snow route”, and “#10 is sometimes on Pine, sometimes on Broadway/Jackson”, then there’s no hope of just cancelling the unreliable routes.

      Also, I think it’s politically impossible to cut off upper Queen Anne completely, which would be the sensible thing to do under a “no buses on steep hills” policy.

  14. I do think SDOT did a decent job this time around. The arterials were as clear as could be expected.

    But I have to point out that while Chicago has nothing like the Counterbalance, it does have plenty of places with the same gentle slope as Blanchard between 1st & 2nd, where yesterday I watched the driver of a chained-up D60HF struggle to make it up for 5 minutes before giving up and calling for a tow. Ironically he probably would have had better luck if the road was covered in hard-packed snow instead of slush. Then you have this problem. Just another problem with “buy a ton of articulated buses” being this city’s idea of high-capacity transit.

    1. And make sure they are rear-engined “pusher” artics instead of mid-engines where the middle axle is powered. Like the MANs were.

  15. What’s different in Seattle is no alternate public transit like a subway system. The snowy cities (Chicago, NYC, etc) all have them, why can’t Seattle have it, too? Even phoenix has such a system. Sigh. What a funny town!

    1. Phoenix doesn’t have a subway … they have 1 light rail line using the same kind of LRVs that Link has (albeit shorter).

  16. Communication was better, enjoyed the email updates.

    somethings they fail at which is frustrating because it’s a big duh! For example, plowing major transit stops. It’s Friday and the slushy mess is still hard for buses. Again, why no plows? Can’t they hire local landscape companies to be on call during snow?

    anyone know why Sounder doesn’t have heated switches? Link has them, right?

    1. Because Sound Transit (Sounder) doesn’t own the tracks, BNSF (the freight RR) does. If it was worth the investment for a few days out of the year in preventing delayed shipments, they would install them.

      Sound Transit does own Central and Tacoma Link ROW.

      1. Heated switches were in the long-range plan for Amtrak Cascades last I checked, but *first* Cascades and Sounder are double-tracking, triple-tracking, relocating tracks, relocating switches, replacing signals, etc.

        It doesn’t seem advisable to invest in heated switches when you’re just going to move them in a couple of years. I wonder if the new Lakewood Extension / Pt. Defiance Bypass section will have heated switches, since that’s part of the planned final configuration. Likewise, I wonder if King St. Station will get heated switches after the massive rearrangement of switches (which is still scheduled to take several more years) is finished.

    1. The LA Times telling us we are Snow Wimps is like us telling them they are heat wimps when large numbers of Los Angelinos succumb to heat stroke during a heat wave. Stick to what you know, folks…

  17. I saw a Metro truck with a snowplow on the front plowing streets in Bellevue yesterday. I’ve never seen that before. It was driving on 112th Ave SE near SE 8th street. I’d like to see more of that. And why couldn’t Metro, with the permission of local towns, contract with private plows (the type who plow shopping center parking lots) to plow and salt problem streets for transit.

    And it was welcoming to see a large organization like Metro be flexible enough to immediately scrap a RapidRide snow route when some buses got stuck trying to make the hill on Willows road, so they switched the buses to Redmond way. Willows road was the old 253 snow route, but those were 40 foot buses, and Metro didn’t anticipate that articulated buses would have more difficulty there. But they made the switch right away, and updated their online RR B snow route to show the change.

      1. These were brand new when I took the picture. I think they were purchased immediately after the last snowpocalypse that unseated the last Mayor. There was talk about Metro plowing certain areas themselves to keep transit moving but I don’t know the details. The blades come off of these trucks so these may just be replacement push trucks for downtown with a snow plow upgrade… Again, I don’t know the details other than the fact that Metro has them at the ready.

  18. yep, its hilly here; yep, we can’t afford to stock fleets of snow removal equipment for (maybe) one big storm a year….

    but to me the #1 reason seattle gets walloped in snow storms is because of what falls out of the skies and develops on the pavement around here.

    [ as quick background, in “previous lives”, I grew up in the northern mid-west; lived multiple years in northern Montana; and spent a year driving city busses in Colorado — so yeah, I have some experience driving on snow and ice-covered roads ]

    Anyway, I have never seen anywhere that gets such icy roads. at least once or twice a season the snowy days we get are right on the heels of some rainy wet (imagine that!) weather –or– the first segment of a snow storm here takes the form of a deluge of slush……. and then the deep freeze arctic blast hits and turns all that wetness into the most gawd-awful slippry streets anywhere. (and glare-ice is damn near unplowable too!)

    THAT’s the #1 reason why winter storms paralyze this region.

    are we “wimps”?

    nope — but we don’t like ice skating on our thoroughfares either…..

    1. Pretty much it. Our temperatures are typically right around freezing which means a layer of water over ice and compact snow. Also our humidity is such that water tends to condense on things rather than evaporate. Dew point has been only 3-4 degrees below the temperature this week leaving relative humidity around 90%. I remember watching a pile of snow melt in Salt Lake City and it didn’t even cause a puddle in the parking lot the air was so dry. Add to that the water content of our snow (heaviest snow on earth) is about 4X what they see in Utah or Colorado with their foo foo “powder” :=

    2. Look on the bright side. At least it’s not below zero. And the snow isn’t there for 6-9 months out of the year.

    3. “at least once or twice a season the snowy days we get are right on the heels of some rainy wet (imagine that!) weather –or– the first segment of a snow storm here takes the form of a deluge of slush……. and then the deep freeze arctic blast hits and turns all that wetness into the most gawd-awful slippry streets anywhere.”

      We got that in Ithaca two weeks ago, rain turning to snow (and back to rain and back to snow) making for lots and lots of ice. It’s clearable if you have a sufficiently large snow and ice clearance fleet. Here in the snowbelt our towns generally do. But you folks don’t get enough snowy weather to justify the number of large plows, salting trucks, and even *dump trucks to carry away excess snow* which even a small town in upstate NY will invest in.

      On the other hand, we don’t have the massive humidity levels you do. When the snow melts, it does evaporate.

      Over there, I think you should forget salt, which just turns snow into water, which will not help if humidity is too high. If you were to do a “gold standard” job you’d probably have heavy plows scrape the ice, have a backhoe move the ice and snow into dump trucks for removal, and sand what’s left. (Minnesota uses sand rather than salt because salt doesn’t work at Minnesota temperatures, but the fact is if melting the snow isn’t helpful, you want sand.)

  19. Personal snow strategy – stay home.

    Couldn’t do that totally because the wife works in health care on the graveyard shift and doesn’t drive. Metro, which has little night service anywhere near her destination isn’t an option. The first night she walked – its only a mile but then she works and 8 hour shift and walks home. (She’s still macho woman, grew up in the Mountains of northern California and slimmed fish in Petersburg AK for several years!) But the second night I chained up the car (VW Jetta with 5 speed — a very good snow vehicle, especially with chains) and drove her. Right around a stuck un-chained Metro bus on Melrose near Pine.

    Only real issue — that sledding hill at Melrose and Denny — I had to time crossing on Melrose to not run over the sledders.

    Next morning (Friday) I picked her up after work, came home, took off the chains and drove myself to work on mostly wet streets.

    Transit works, I wish we had more rail, far more rail but I use it all the time. But sometimes, like getting a heath care worker to work in lousy conditions requires a car.

  20. FYI: I’ve heard that the first Orion Hybrids, despite being delivered without traction control, handled the snow relatively well. I can’t say that none were stuck but no operators have been heard griping about them which is actually relatively high praise.

    Going forward, future deliveries of Orion Hybrids will have traction control installed and the ones that don’t have it will be retrofitted. (My understanding is that one of the suppliers didn’t have the necessary parts – hence the need for the retrofit.)

    All of this is subject to the standard Metro rumor mill disclaimer…

  21. I think trying to maintain most service on snow routes doesn’t work – it doesn’t match where other things are at. If schools are closed and other government services scaled back then Metro should activate its core route system. It seems logical that during snow the hills would lose their transit service or have it reduced to one or two key corridors that could be constantly plowed. I think transit reliability is key during the snow storm we receive every couple of years – and the core routes make sense — and I’m guessing would have worked better this past week.

  22. Simple solution for folks who know their car will be one they’ll need in any potential snow…

    Get All-Weather tires !

    I’ve seen people stuck in vehicles that are perfectly capable of navigating this stuff, but they only had highway (high-speed) type tread on the tires.

    Other simple rules:
    Don’t overdrive your vehicle. Know its limits.
    Take this off-roader quote into consideration- “Four wheel drive allows the owner to get his truck stuck farther out in the woods than the guy with two wheel drive.”
    ABS (Anti Lock Brakes), don’t stop the vehichle any better. ABS allows you to steer out of a situation where locked wheels would have you in an uncontrollable skid. Translation: Don’t go down that hill !

      1. In any situation ABS is active, it means that the system is sensing wheel lock-up. A wheel skidding isn’t stopping. Even on dry pavement, when the wheels lock up, the vehicle will skid a greater distance than if the driver (or ABS) applies just the right pressure up to the threshold of where the tires would start skidding.

        ABS is intended to allow the driver to steer out of the situation, since a rotating wheel will have the higher coefficient of friction needed to make the avoidance maneuver.

        Add a downhill slope to the equation, and Gravity trumps ABS !

    1. Seattle has so much rain, I’m startled *anyone* uses “summer tires”, which are bad in the rain.

      All-weathers are what we use in the *summer* where I live. In the winter we get snow tires.

      1. There is no such thing as “summer” here.

        All weather tread can be a bit noisier than “Summer tire” tread, so if folks buy on that premise, plus some high-performance, or really neat wheel rims can only fit those low-profile tires, “all weather” might not be an option.

        However, I sure wouldn’t be driving my nice car in the snow.

        Plus, the summer tires can also be the cheapest ones available, so that might be why a decision is made.

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