SounderBruce (Flickr)

After multiple warm winters and a few false starts during this cold one, the Seattle metro area finally got a substantial amount of snow Sunday night. Nearly a foot has fallen in places like Bonney Lake, with 2-3 inches here in Seattle. Metro is reporting numerous cancellations and serious delays throughout the system this morning, and buses are running with chains and on snow routes. Thought there is method behind the appearance of madness, riders are often left bewildered by the snow-related changes, so we thought it would be a good time to repost our Snow Route Refresher from December. Here’s the relevant section:

It’s a good time to refresh your knowledge of transit snow operations in Seattle. The first thing you should do is sign up for alerts. MetroSound TransitCommunity TransitPierce Transit, and WSDOT all provide thorough information on road closures and reroutes. Being a Twitter user often gives you a leg up too; follow @seattledot@kcmetrobus@SoundTransit@MyCommTrans@PierceTransit, and @wsdot_traffic.

Route 62 Snow Route

Route 62 Snow Route

In major Seattle snow events, there are a few basic reroute principles:

  • First Hill: no service west of Broadway. Trolley routes such as #2/3/4/12 detour all the way down to the International District.
  • Queen Anne: No routes travel up the Counterbalance, with routes 2/13 getting a tour of Kinnear/10th Ave W along the way instead.
  • Capitol Hill/Central District: Route 8 is basically an entirely different route, using 8th, 9th, Pine, and Union between South Lake Union and the Central District. Route 11 skips the steepest part of Madison east of 23rd. Routes 10, 48, and 49 operate normally.
  • SE Seattle: Link usually hums along normally, and Route 7 runs normally except skipping the Prentice Loop. Routes 106 and 107 skip Skyway, staying along Lake Washington between Renton and Rainier Beach.
  • NE Seattle: No service on NE 65th street east of 35th Ave NE. There is a convoluted shuttle system for Wedgwood and Ravenna, and new routes such as Route 62 detour all the way to UW Station.
  • West Seattle: All routes skip the Viaduct and the high bridge, using 1st/4th and the Spokane Street Bridge instead.
  • NW Seattle: The least disrupted area in Seattle, most routes operate normally. Exceptions include Route 5 (no Fremont Ave) and Route 26 (no NE 40th St).

In 2010’s Snowmageddon, Link was the only mode that didn’t fail, With the ULink extension, Capitol Hill and UW riders can now join the ranks of the snow-immunized.

44 Replies to “For Once, a Real Snowstorm”

  1. The shuttle that literally only connects people from my neighborhood to the Sounder was running. Multiple Sounder trips were cancelled though. Seriously?!?!? Was there a jackknifed bus on the railroad tracks or something? What’s the excuse? Nobody around to answer phones and tell them to cancel the bus so people aren’t standing around waiting for a train that’s never going to come???

    1. Poor communication between BNSF (who runs Sounder) and Pierce Transit (who runs the shuttle)? An explanation, but no excuse…

    2. Wow. That’s terrible. I was planning on taking Sounder this morning thinking it would be more reliable than the 590, but I saw the 0455 train just pulling in to Tacoma as I was parking at 0515 to catch the 0530, so I took the bus assuming there was an issue with Sounder.

      Sounder has been having a lot of reliability issues.

      1. Single-tracking around Auburn Station third-track construction will be wrapping up soon. That should help immensely. But plan to take the bus around Presidents’ Day weekend.

        Part of today’s delays are staff just trying to get to work so they can transport the masses. Even Washington State Ferries is (or was) being delayed by the snow. These modes have to wait for a full crew, not just get one operator in to work.

  2. Routes like the 62 & 255 which run both a short snow route plus a shuttle route to connect the rest of the route are interesting. It does splits the failure points, so a wreck in the middle of Kirkland doesn’t kill a bus that crosses 520. But I’m curious how resources are allocated to these routes, especially with Metro’s driver shortage crisis. For riders, they might he looking at the equivalent of a randomly timed transfer between two hourly routes. At least with the 62, the effect of the 62 shuttle is more route 75 trips to UW station.

    1. Schedules go out the window when it snows, so the bus will show up whenever it does. There have long been shuttles in Queen Anne and other places. Your best bet if you’re reasonably close to the main bus stop is to skip the shuttle and walk to it. And as always, take the first bus that goes vaguely your direction, because your bus may not show up. I’ve never ridden the shuttle routes so I can’t say whether they’re more reliable than the regular part of the route.

      1. This is why TriMet switches to distance displays when the buses are thrown off schedule too far for the GPS time display estimate system to work right. It at least gives some sort of indication of if a bus is coming or not.

        Though, it doesn’t work very well either in some situations, it at least prevents people from waiting in the snow for long periods when there isn’t anything coming.

      2. OBA worked just fine for me today (granted, I was using a regular bus line with a relatively normal route)

      3. OBA works on minor holidays. They fixed that a while ago. Also it can give riders reassurance that their bus is coming. Just not when if on the other side of a reroute.

  3. I admit, I’ve cursed Metro many times for telling me that taking the 48 across Montlake to UW station was an acceptable replacement to the 43 for trips downtown. But it was right on time this morning, not even with chains on. And I remember the great disaster of 2010, I lived in the CD at the time and all 6 bus routes east-west I could walk to were canceled for 5 days, so admittedly having a way of getting across Capitol Hill that’s not surface street dependent is crucial in the snow.

  4. Transit agency, City, County, State, the USA- for our level of technology, condition of our communications systems is going to kill more people than bombs or falling rubble.

    And I think it’s time we the passenger public had a serious talk with both ST and BN about the Sounder. Delays over track-work, unavoidable, and in a good cause. Freight delays? Incentive to get our own track. But still less delay than one strategically placed I-5 fender-bender.

    Mechanical breakdowns, different story. Along with elevators and escalators, essentially brand-new equipment broken out of the box. As riders and taxpayers, we need a straight story about the problem, and some choices how to fix. For instance: how much train service would we have to lose to afford making the rest of it work?

    For me personally, standing train ride will be a lot more affordable than present 50 mile per direction drive to Angle Lake- in any weather.

    For snow, bus, agency, or individual passenger, worst thing is having to flail around in it, getting nowhere but exhausted, furious, wet, and cold. Except for flat straight wide arterials, transit snow-route should be one space in the yard per bus, and bed to kitchen, or desk, or local sledding and skiing, #Ballard-and back for passengers.

    For critical hands-on personnel without snow qualified cars, on-site lodging at work worth the cost to employers. Also “eating” the cost of a false weatherman alarm. And on the State of Washington scale, some form of emergency unemployment compensation for both employers and workers.

    That ribbon of stopped tail lights might as well be a pipeline same width- of red ink. Would like to see cost presented in giant red figures across every headline and screen in the State. And every transit agency should also be required to publicly report the cost of service lost to blockage by crashed or stalled non-transit vehicles.

    A chained 40′ bus, either diesel or trolley, can keep moving all night like a little tractor. Until it encounters a double-trailer tank truck slid across whole width of Rainier Avenue. Or a regional wrecking yard of everything else. That’s the real definition of a snow-route. The “snow” part should mean skis, sleds, and snowmobiles only.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I honestly can’t tell whether this is sarcastic or earnest, considering that so many people’s belief that autonomous tech (and a presumed shift from distributed to centralized vehicle ownership) will solve a bunch of transportation problems that have more to do with the dimensions and energy requirements of cars. This is opposed to safety and accessibility concerns that autonomous tech would naturally address, or parking space issues that a reduction in private vehicle ownership might address, though possibly creating other problems along the way.

      Considering Uber’s general allergy to transparency, a reasonable “null hypothesis” would be that their autonomous vehicles handle snow even worse than the average west-coast human driver. And it’s clearly that company’s responsibility to prove otherwise before their vehicles are unleashed into the public realm, at the full weight and speed of cars, right?

      FWIW, my bike ride to work this morning, with few cars on the road, and people driving more slowly and politely than usual, was sort of nice. It would have been a lot worse if I’d been fighting through a traffic jam of Johnnycabs!

    2. I do think about driverless cars when I encounter poor driving conditions. Yesterday I drove on streets where there were no visible lines. I swerved around trees that were blocking half the roadway. People were walking in the roadway because the shoulder was deep, wet snow. Earlier I saw a truck go almost sideways as he powered up a slippery slope. I got nearly stuck in a parking lot before I got up enough momentum to get out of my spot.

      And then the traffic lights. On a rural road the traffic light was out and though I came to a complete stop other cars were just driving through as if didn’t exist. I encountered complex patterns at some out lights where people had figured out a way to take turns. Then a different pattern at the next. One light went out while I was waiting at it, then rebooted before I had a chance to go through. Not everyone seemed aware it was back on so cars were still taking turns while other traffic had a green light.

      1. There are a lot of things automated cars could theoretically do well in adverse conditions. A good automated vehicle could have better sensory ability than a human driver, a better understanding of how to keep the car under control, better reaction times, and could avoid the impatience that comes with human frustration.

        I just don’t trust Uber to be the company to deliver those things.

        And if the ultimate result of the Johnnycab future is that there are more vehicles clogging up city streets, particularly in snowy conditions, I don’t see that as a positive result. Not for urbanism and not for the environment.

  5. Remember, we can’t get Link service through the night because ST needs all trains off the track for 5 hours a night so they can turn off the SCADA system. So they need the trains off the tracks. So how can they run ice trains then?

    1. They don’t have to do it every night, and I doubt the workers would do regular maintenance in snowy conditions anyway. They run trains at night I understand to keep the tracks from freezing. Regular maintenance isn’t every night but it’s often enough that ST doesn’t want to commit to owl service and then have to periodically interrupt it. Some including me have suggested running owl service Fridays and Saturdays, and that would give five out of seven days when they can do their maintenance work. I also wouldn’t mind periodic nighttime interruptions. NYC subway lines close for a weekend when they want to do maintenance, and they fill the gap with express trains, diverting the trains to a different tunnel, or bus shuttles.

      1. If maintenance isn’t every night, ST still isn’t moving an inch toward any form of partial-week night-owl service. They want every night reserved for maintenance. They wouldn’t even run night trains after New Year’s eve, a date that they could have scheduled no maintenance for well in advance.

      2. The New Year’s service is doubtless a budget issue; they’d have to pay extra hours, night shift, and holiday pay. They could run the 97 bus if they want to keep the precious tracks clear.

        At one point ST had a long-range list of things it might do in the future, and it said that 24-hour Link would inevitably be necessary someday as ridership grew. But I haven’t been able to find this list recently so I don’t know if it was rescinded or taken offline or is just somewhere where I can’t find it.

      3. I would be reasonably happy if the last trains left their respective termini at about 1am, both directions; in addition to serving more of the late night crowd, this would allow a reasonable chance to plan for using transit when flying, as the current schedule means that if there’s any sort of minor delay the train becomes impossible when arriving on the late bank of flights. Even worse is Sunday, a day where many people are arriving in the late evening and can’t possibly catch the 11:19pm last northbound departure even with no checked luggage.

        I was on a flight that arrived nearly 30 minutes early a couple of Sundays ago and was on the inter-terminal train by 11:10pm; a helpful Port of Seattle police officer was telling a couple of visitors how to get to Link and when the last train was. Unfortunately being a Sunday, his info was incorrect and I had to tell the visitors that there was basically no way they were going to make the last downtown train–and that even if they decided to go to Beacon Hill on a later train and catch the bus downtown, it wasn’t a timed connection and they’d be waiting there 20-30 minutes. They decided to cab or Uber or whatever…which cost them several times more than the train would have.

        It’s silly that the 9th busiest airport in the country terminates its rail service to the downtown area at a time when there are a large number of arriving flights…particularly on Sundays. Either make the last downtown/UW departure 1am–at least on Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday–or at the very least find a way to run the last two trains of the day all the way to UW and terminate them at SoDo on the way back to base rather than terminating them at Beacon Hill.

      4. It’s really difficult to imagine that the budget for New Year’s eve was unjustifiable. If you could choose just 1 day per year to have late night Link service, it would be that. And it’s not like it has to be frequent; they could have an easy schedule like “leaves westlake at 1:30, 2:00, 2:30.”

        And, as justification for night-owl service cost goes, Metro justifies the cost of two trips on special 80s night-owl routes, and night service on routes 7, 120, 124, 36, 49, A (yes, to Federal Way!), C, D, and E every single night. So it would be crazy if night service on the busiest night of the year, on the busiest single transit line in the region, was somehow unjustifiable.

      5. Metro doesn’t justify it anymore, the night owls were zeroed out of Metro’s budget in the first round of cuts in 2014. The Seattle city council passed a measure to prop them up with city funds (separate from Prop 1). Metro may be paying for the C, D, and E. The A, 180, and 574 have unusual schedules skewed to the early morning because of airport workers.

      6. And in the summer, flights to and from Alaska go on throughout the night. Which is kind of a big deal.

      7. London seems to have frequent night and weekend reroutes so they can do maintenance. I assume people get used to it and know to check the signs when they are travelling later in the evening.

      8. London has a web of rail and bus services that allows one to relatively painlessly alter one’s route. (A notable exception is the fact that TfL likes to shut down rail service for maintenance or construction over the holidays (!), which this past year meant at least from where I stay in Bayswater/Notting Hill to Heathrow there was no Heathrow Express service, no Heathrow Connect service [Paddington was closed completely for four days], and no direct service on the Tube due to works on several lines.) Even so, if you gave yourself enough time you could make the trip by taking the Central Line all the way to its terminus at Ealing Broadway, transfer there two stops to Acton Town, then transfer again to Heathrow. It actually worked reasonably well as you can plan an alternate path…although the trip planner didn’t find it (!!).

        The Tube isn’t open 24 hours except for the addition of some night tube services recently on Friday and Saturdays, which run on 10/20 minute headways even out to Heathrow. The maps are cool too, clearly indicating that you’re looking at night services! TfL says they are able to offer it due to “modernisation of the lines,” shouldn’t be such a problem for us as ours are already modern.

        With Link the most reliable way to get around in the snow there should be more emphasis on its ability to do more heavy lifting with as many snow bus routes as reasonable terminating at a station rather than continuing their journey.

  6. A few questions regarding the Emergency {Service,Snow} Network:

    1. Is the S supposed to be Service or Snow? Metro is inconsistent with their terminology.

    2. Was the ESN activated last night? Many of the snow reroute alerts (e.g. for the 44) said that it was, but the Service Map was all red, rather than blue.

    1. Not according to my alert. “At the start of service on Monday, King County Metro Transit is operating all buses via designated snow routes in all areas until further notice.”

      The Emergency Snow Network has never been activated to my knowledge. “With the ESN is activated, the Service Area Map on this page will show blue.” The ESN has a small number of routes running, with a “Route 90” shuttle in Belltown, Downtown, First Hill, Capitol Hill, and the CD. The only regular routes in east Seattle in the ESN are the 3 (rerouted to Jackson), 10, and 48.

    2. This morning Link seemed to be working fine. I noticed the 10 was re-routed back to its historic route– contrary to its published snow route. While I waited to cross 3rd Avenue, 5 northbound 3/4 coaches passed while I waited for the light to change. But that’s all pretty typical for snow day service. If your bus doesn’t arrive within 30 minutes, it’s usually best to take any bus going in the general direction you’re heading and plan to hike the final mile.

    3. I overlooked that in the ESN: the 10 is on its traditional Pine-15th routing.

      Pine Street is the flattest street in the area; I can walk from Pike Place to 14th easily in the snow; the only problem is the freeway bridge which gets icy first. So it’s not surprising the buses are routed to Pine. In past snowstorms the 47 has been routed to Pine-Broadway, although it supposedly isn’t this time.

      1. The 47 is a very flat route in general, but I think the worry is the turnaround on Belmont.

      2. Nice to see the trolley wire on 15th south of John street isn’t being completely wasted.

      3. I think the issue is that Summit is a residential street that’s not on SDOT’s plow list. I lived off the alley west of Bellevue between Thomas and Harrison during the Snopocolypse and there was more snow then than there was yesterday. I couldn’t get out of my apartment for a few days because the alley and streets immediately around were so icy and steep, and the 14 was on Pine-Broadway,. so the 43 must have been on Pine too?

  7. Can the 75 snow route to Link be the real route? Went down Sand Point, then Montlake and stopped along NE Pacific.

    1. If there was a bus lane there, then absolutely. Traffic on that road is horrible though because Montlake boulevard is the only main road that connects NE Seattle east of UW to 520. This is one case where I think the cancellation of the Thompson freeway really left a hole, and where Link will be a major asset after Northgate opens.

  8. Only in Seattle would this be called a “real” snow storm. But weak as this event was! It does illustrate just how fragile our rubber mitre do transit system is. Thank gawd we have an expanding Link LR system.

    1. Seattle’s problem, Lazarus, that we’re trying to run Seattle as if it were in Kansas. Should definitely have as much weatherproof transportation as we can. Including grade-separated transit where other cities can get away with cars. Until there are so many of them that they’re all stuck someplace flat 24-7-365 in weather from Noah’s Flood to a Solar Tornado (Almost Live, about 20 years ago.)

      Meantime, as I said above, what we need to do is quit pretending Seattle is flat. Since this last several days’ worth of snow happens pretty much once a year, best thing to do is be prepared at all levels, to stay where we’re war and safe until the roads clear.

      Smart phones, iPads, and laptops work a lot better at home, where you don’t have to do touch screens with your mittens on. Like WC Fields in “The Fatal Glass of Beer”, playing his zither and singing a song to a visiting RCMP constable about how his son became an alcoholic.

      And the money we and our transportation cost when we’re trapped by the weather, figure out an emergency “workman’s comp” system to remove last excuse and temptation to go freeze halfway to work. Though short-term fix could be to have kennels-full of St. Bernards roaming the streets with barrels of brandy on their collars.

      But gotta say, really cheers up a dark cold day to think about Archbishop Homer Simpson discovering that his ceremonial hat is made out of a tire. Except shouldn’t that be “Doh!” ?


  9. Should probably just leave”War” and safe” alone, since survival measures are pretty much the same. I think medicine and theology agree that your body temperature doesn’t have to fall very far for very long before you’re precisely as dead as from any other life-ending cause.


  10. On Monday around 7:40am, I saw the 628 in the ditch off the left shoulder of I-90 eastbound, half a mile or so west of the Snoqualmie Parkway / Highway 18 exit. A tow truck was already on site.

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