Trooper Rick Johnson (Twitter)

Ok, so we’re definitely not ready for the Big One. The ‘quake’ that was felt in Seattle on Monday was due to a single tanker truck, overturned and leaking butane at the I-90/I-5 interchange. At 10:30 Monday morning, the overturned truck caused a closure of I-5 in both directions that lasted until after 7pm. Crews worked to upright the tanker but also kept the scene clear for safety reasons.

20 months after we rage-laughed at ourselves on behalf of a salmon truck bringing us to our knees, this closure was far worse. Throw in a bitterly comical coup de grâce of thundersnow, and we truly had a meltdown for the ages. I-5 traffic was dead stopped for 8.5 hours, and southbound drivers’ only respite was to exit onto downtown surface streets, leading to intractable gridlock. Buses quickly fell behind, many of them two hours behind, the First Hill streetcar gave up and stopped operating on Broadway, and at one point there were twelve RapidRide D coaches bunched between Denny and Mercer in Lower Queen Anne. The West Seattle Water Taxi was turning people away on each run, and streets like Stewart were wall to wall with idling buses and cars. Normally placid side streets on Capitol Hill such as Belmont and Boylston – where I tell people I live in ‘the eye of the storm’ – were also gridlocked.

Aside from knock-on delays from tunnel bus unpredictability, Link light rail performed swimmingly, almost as if nothing at all was happening. We received two reports from Eastside commuters who had no trouble traveling from Kirkland to Capitol Hill at 4pm via bus and Link. Twitter was abuzz with frustrated souls wishing ST3 had been finished yesterday.

What was your experience like Monday? What did you notice? Below are a selection of reader-submitted photos.

113 Replies to “Scenes from a Meltdown”

  1. Looks like we need a basic dedicated bus network to complement our proposed basic dedicated bike network and funded, but slow to build basic dedicated train network. Cause general purpose lanes fail everyone.

    1. Where was SDOT today?

      Did they do anything out of the ordinary (besides tweet) to respond to this extraordinary situation?

      As soon as it became clear that WSDOT had closed I-5 and was detouring traffic onto city streets, SDOT should have swung in with an emergency operations plan.

      I though after the fish truck incident, SDOT and Scott Kubly had learned about the fragility of our transportation system and taken some steps to mitigate it.

      But apparently not.

      1. What’s SDOT supposed to do when WSDOT is unexpectedly detouring 100,000-200,000 vehicles off two limited-access highways onto a surface grid not designed to handle anywhere near that many vehicles? The answer is there isn’t anything any agency can to do prepare or mitigate for something like this since excess capacity elsewhere simply does not exist.

      2. I mean, what is SDOT going to do, when your main arterials to downtown, one that carries almost 250,000 cars per day and the other, that carries almost 125,000 cars per day, are completely closed down? The best thing they could have done was tweeted people to leave early. Our local grid just isn’t designed to handle that many cars.

      3. You’re both right. The downtown street grid is at capacity on a normal day (that’s why they’re doing the “One Center City” plan and why they got 95% of the new downtown commuters out of cars). So it can’t handle eight solid lanes of freeway cars that suddenly have to divert without warning. At the same time, it’s legitimate to ask what SDOT did during the event. And now that we have a snow plan (a list of plowed streets and snow routes), and an emergency snow network on top of that, it’s worth asking if we can have an emergency freeway-closure plan too. Which could mean, for instance, temporary transit lanes.

      4. Kubley is a tool. Saw him speak once and if it didn’t involve a bicycle he had no clue. I doubt plans exist for the situation when our interstate defense highway system is shut down. Of course I also think it would be difficult to plan for anyway.

      5. The authorities should realize that a plurality of downtown commuters are traveling by bus, so if they can keep the bus routes clear, the pain of the “shutdown” will only be felt by a third or so of the people who drove cars or were detoured off I-5.

        A few things that could be done:
        – Enforce block boxing and bus only restrictions
        – Create emergency bus lanes through bottlenecks
        – Tow parked cars to create emergency extra travel lanes
        – Change traffic light timing (or use cops to direct traffic) to maximize through flow.

      6. The “defense” part of interstate highways was a sham to justify federal spending. Even if the military needed high-quality highways it didn’t need all of them or eight lanes each. And what about defense public transit? A high-capcity train or a fleet of buses could evacuate people more effectively than thousands of cars stuck in gridlock, where the number of persons to square feet of vehicle and space between vehicles is vanishingly small. What if that defense high-capacity transit could also double as ordinary commuter transit on normal days?

      7. @Chad:

        – Enforcing block boxing and transit only lanes is something that desperately needs to be done on a daily basis. And regardless, that’s an SPD issue, not SDOT.

        – SDOT has done ad-hoc bus lanes before, on Westlake, when Aurora was shut down to put those toll signs in. That took a lot of planning and effort to implement…in advance. I just don’t think it’s humanly possible to wrench in bus lanes on a moments notice, when all the streets are already gridlocked.

        – Tow parked cars. While I agree that movement of traffic should always trump parking, you can’t just go and start towing cars. The bad publicity and lawsuits will last a lot longer than the memory of this tanker truck.

        – Considering it’s costing a cool million to change the new stretch of Mercer to be on an intelligent timing system, coupled with the fact approximately 100% of downtown Seattle’s lights are on dumb timers that probably need some a computer from the 60s physically wired into the cabinet to change, makes an ad-hoc traffic timing system a no-go. Add to that the fact that even the most intelligent signalling system cannot handle the amount of traffic that was vomited into downtown yesterday.

        I understand there’s a lot of emotions from yesterday and a lot of ideas, but that was a freak, almost worst cast scenario incident. Pointing fingers only gets people upset over nothing. If anything, get mad at the truck driver, who was (self-admittedly) not driving like he was a literal fuel bomb on wheels.

        Looking forward, the mayor needs to sit down with SPD and have some emergency bus lane and intersection enforcement plan in place to ensure the buses and trains run smoothly. This is about the only thing you can do in this situation.

  2. Isn’t there some level of bus-only ROW to and through downtown? There’s the SODO busway + 3rd Ave as transit only, right? Since busses don’t actually use that segment of I-90, I would imagine that they wouldn’t be so preposterously delayed. Or are there just enough gaps in the bus-only ROW that are enough to bring the system down?

    1. There is no bus-only ROW during the day in Downtown Seattle. There are a couple blocks in Belltown (Battery Street) and Westlake Ave in SLU, but the bus lanes on 2nd/3rd/4th are open to general traffic during the middle of the day, and they just never cleared before the peak hour. Readers reported standing on 2nd avenue for up to an hour before any buses arrived. And if the I-5 access ramps back up enough (say, at Spring or James), then the overflow can fill the entire downtown grid. Buses have no hope in such a scenario.

      1. Got it – in the one center city plans I hope the idea is once the buses leave the tunnel the 2nd/3rd/4th/5th st bus lanes would become permanently transit only? Do you think if they had been transit only all-day that the bus network would have retained some semblance of service?

        Even if the cross streets get backed up I would think people relalize they can’t block the box forever…

      2. “Even if the cross streets get backed up I would think people relalize they can’t block the box forever…”

        Where are they supposed to go? Turn on their propellers and fly like a helicopter?

    2. 3rd, our “dedicated” bus ROW for peak commuting was clogged with people in cars who decided the laws do not apply to them.

  3. Its amazing how one incident like this, can shut the whole region down. Now imagine if you will, the “big one” earthquake hitting, how would we fare than? Probably not good if a overturned truck can cause this much problems.

    1. It wasn’t just one incident. In addition to the overturned truck, which caused tons of traffic to divert to 405, it snowed hard on the Eastside for about an hour right at the leading edge of rush hour and left a couple of inches of snow on the roads. Everyone tried to leave at once and it was gridlock everywhere.

      1. Snowed hard in downtown/Capitol Hill as well at the same time, and as Capitol Hill was where many people were diverting in order to avoid I-5 and the freeway, it quickly bollixed everything up there as well.

        I saw TWO commercial trucks block boxes N-S in situations where it was going to be a long time for them to clear, and at locations where E-W traffic was still moving. These are trucks that would require a CDL to operate; i.e. “professional” drivers. Grr.

      2. Sometimes when driving Large commercial vehicle in good traffic you have to block the box, otherwise you will never move. It’s a sad truth.

      3. I will say I only do that when the queue the next block ahead of me fills up and remains full during my green cycle and clears out when I have the stop and fills back up with traffic on the cross street. If things are not moving at all it’s pointless to block the intersection

    2. When Link had the mishap that shutdown the trains for a few hours, the Seattle Times echo chamber, that is the comment section, had a heyday:

      “$54 billion for a toy train that has to shut down for hours because of a bad part?” they quipped. I think irony is an understatement for what happened yesterday.

  4. I gave up on the 8 bus tonight. No sightings on OneBusAway, given how bad it is under normal conditions seemed it was a complete shitshow.

  5. 1 hour and 45 minutes to get from CH to Northgate via public transportation. I usually walk to Convention Place and catch the 41. I ended up on a northbound link at westlake and a super slow 67 from the UW to Northgate.

  6. I took the Link and 44 at 4pm and I had no idea this happened until I logged onto my computer.

    It’s like, grade separated transit really works or something.

    1. I did the same at 5:30-6pm and it was pretty bad. Link worked ok, although the dwell times are incredibly long when the trains are crowded. Lucky for me it was a 3 car train so there was slightly more room in the 3rd car.

      The 44 however had capitulated by then.

      At UW Station, 3 scheduled 44 trips never materialized. The first 44 that did arrive was immediately mobbed and left dozens of people behind. I finally got on the 2nd 44 which was also crush loaded. About 50 minutes longer than a usual commute for me.

  7. Nights like this are when I’m profoundly grateful that walking is an option for me. 50 minutes in the slush isn’t a Super Happy Fun Time but it beats the pants off the scenes above.

    My regular bus is the 2S. By coincidence, when I left my office at 3rd/University there was one sitting at the light. By the time I had walked to 12th and Union, that same 2 was still showing at 5th and Spring on OneBusAway.

  8. I saw Metro’s emails about several routes being on snow route. Despite it being bare and dry at home, I’m glad I stayed there due to the ensuing chaos.

    1. Me too. I was planning to take the bus to First Hill for dinner after work, but between the meltdown and the thundersnow, I decided to walk home instead.

      Meanwhile, my roommate took about an hour to drive home from work, on a commute that normally just takes fifteen minutes.

  9. I commute from Federal Way to SLU, but I bike in from Kent (and ride the Sounder home in the evening) a few times a week, and today was one of those days. The cross town ride was a few minutes slower than normal, and the Sounder was a few minutes later than usual, but otherwise no problems.

    Rail travel is more resilient than buses or cars …

    1. Craig: it is not the mode (rail), but the degree of exclusivity the mode is provided that matters. Note the two streetcar lines are rail but failed.

  10. My normal walk from work this evening, which normally takes 30 minutes, took a whopping 30 minutes tonight! I’m sure glad I don’t live in Federal Way anymore.

    My co-worker, however, who lives in Tukwila and takes the Link in the afternoon to work, had no trouble at all on Link. He literally had no idea about the accident on I-5 until I showed him through the window.

    1. My Pronto/Link/65 bus got me home at my normal time. Everyone else at my office left hours before me. By comparison, the fish truck turnover stranded me for hours. Link moves so many people reliably, but resilient last-mile options including the restructure that decoupled the 65 from downtown routes do make a difference.

      1. My Pronto commute worked perfectly last night as well. It was fun riding past all the parked cars, but also frustrating/infuriating to think that Mayor Murray is closing one of our only redundant systems in 4 weeks.

  11. I walked from Mercer and Terry (start of the C) to 2nd and Columbia to catch a bus on a fringe of the mess. I counted 9 C line buses parked on Westlake alone and the SLU street car also looked like it just ‘gave up’ and parked with the doors open. This was around 6pm.

    The striking part was- as soon as my bus got on 99 South, it was smooth sailing. Total commute: 1.5 hours of walking/bus ride to W Seattle. Complete system failure; the lights and egress points just were not working.

    Worst part is I usually bike, but took a rest day after Chilly Hilly. So…riding tomorrow.

    1. Yep, I saw an SLU streetcar that gave up too. waited a long time at 2 different stops in SLU and didn’t see a single bus or streetcar come through. Luckily my fiancée drove to work today or else I would have been trapped for who knows how long…

  12. I had to get from Magnolia to a meeting at One Union Square at about 4PM. Somewhat randomly chosen experiences …

    Abandoned #33 bus (as the thundersnow wound down) just short of Elliott and Harrison after it took ~15 minutes to move about 1/3 mile.

    Walked from there downtown, essentially following the bus route. I passed a number of buses; the only ones which passed me, I passed within a block or two.

    A FedEx truck was perfectly box-blocking the 3rd at Lenora intersection. Absolutely nothing could get by in either direction on 3rd.

    Lots of SOVs ignoring the closure of 3rd to SOVs.

    After the meeting, decided to go to my favorite Indian restaurant on Broadway, in hopes of waiting it out.in gastronomic comfort with some chai and veg korma. Took Link. The 2-car train I took was as close to Delhi-crowded as I ever expect to see in Seattle (though well short of Mumbai-crowded). Some people left on platform at Westlake.

    I think I passed 4 #49s, a #60, and a #9 while walking the 3+ blocks up Broadway from station to restaurant.

    The restaurant owner checked her phone, and passed along the unwelcome news that I hadn’t succeeded in waiting it out. Remembering the crowds at the 3rd Avenue bus stops I passed on my way into downtown. I decided to try going back to Magnolia via the UofW and the #31 (I hoped the gridlock would be less awful north of the Ship Canal).

    The horde getting off the Link train at Capitol Hill station roughly matched the horde getting on.

    The strategem worked pretty well, whether by pure luck or not I don’t know. A #31 came by in about 10 minutes, and I even got a seat (though it was pretty well filled with standees for a while after Campus Parkway). Delayed probably ~15 minutes in Fremont, but otherwise made reasonably decent time, all things considered.

    Conclusion: Bad as the transit mess was, it sure beat driving. It gave me the opportunity to walk when that was the fastest option, and to use Link when available (which was just about the only way to get around anywhere near the central city with dispatch),

  13. My commute from first hill to Queen Anne took 2 hours. Here’s how it broke down:

    Walk to CHS: 15 minutes.
    Wait+ride to Westlake: 10 minutes.
    Wait for bus on 3rd: 45 minutes.
    Walk from 3rd to upper QA: 45 minutes.

    After seeing a single (crushloaded) D line bus in 45 minutes, I gave up and walked.

    The most infuriating part of all this was watching ~30 SOV drivers inch by on 3rd while thousands of people crowded the sidewalks waiting for buses. SPD should have been handing out tickets on today of all days.

    Can the transit police issue citations? That might be a way to get more consistent enforcement.

    1. Can the transit police issue citations?

      They are KC Sheriff’s Deputies driving vehicles that say “Transit Police”. There’s no reason other that differing priorities that prevent them from making traffic stops and writing citations.

      1. Didn’t even need to do a traffic stop this time around … just walk on foot from car to car handing out tickets!

      2. I saw several cars using the bus lane to get through the Valley and Mercer intersections on Westlake. Would have loved some bus lane enforcement last night. Luckily, I was on my bike, and other than a bit more weaving through cars and watching out for angry drivers gunning it at the first chance they get, my commute was pretty normal.

  14. This highlighted my pet peeve: Box Blocking. I really wish we’d get aggressive on addressing people who drive their vehicles into an intersection without being able to fully exit the intersection.

    I’ll give the drivers of 60′ vehicles a little slack, since usually they’re carrying lots of people, but if you can’t figure out if there is enough space for your 12′ car on the other side of the intersection, you shouldn’t be driving it.

    Oddly my commute was actually pretty good. This morning my 522 was sort of empty and made it downtown in record time for that hour of the day. (Just over 20 minutes from 137th to 6/Union, although this was pre-I5 closure.)

    And on the way home, I walked back to 4/Madison, as I had to visit a Bartells and a Red Box. I did end up waiting until just after six, and I skipped getting on the 312 that was being run with a 40′ coach and already had standees for a 522 that came a few minutes after. Got a seat, but it was packed and we probably left people at 6/Pike.

    1. I agree. They should have been out ticketing intersection blockers last night. As you said, it makes traffic much worse.

      I don’t give slack to any vehicles, large capacity or not. Just like busses blatantly running red lights (see it at least twice a day). They shouldn’t get slack, as there is a specific reason there is a law in the first place.

    2. I agree. This city needs a no right on red zone something awful–the reason you see a lot of box blocking is that vehicles going straight through an intersection will proceed when there’s no room, as otherwise a turning vehicle will “take” their place. It works to get them through the intersection, but messes it up for the other ones.

      1. I completely agree. I’ve crossed into intersections on green to fill an open space only to have a right-on-redder slam on the gas and take the space from me leaving my ass blocking the intersection.

      2. That’s what I was concerned about. It may look like there will be a space but when you get out the car in front stops or another car fills the space. Raging at people because they can’t predict the future seems wrong.

    3. Local news and the Stop Tolls crowd would have a field day with the story about ‘predatory’ traffic enforcement.

      Heaven forbid we enforce the rules when it matters most. Of course they will have a point if they claim entrapment because we set a precedent of never enforcing such traffic rules before.

  15. I got by easy, only a 30 minute extra wait for NB 150 in Kent Industrial, as only one SB 150 came by in 45 minutes to turn around in Kent. However, I thought about taking 180 north, but OBA kept giving only scheduled arrivals for that bus too. How could the 180 be affected by this?

  16. I left work (Fred Hutch, SLU) early at 3pm as I still recovering from a cold and knew about I-5 mess. As soon as I got to my usual NB #40 bus stop (Westlake and Mercer) for a bus to Bsllard the hail and snow started. One Bus Away told me that the next 40 was 19 mins away and 20 mins late and I knew then it would be full and not pick me up whenever it arrived. Walked across the street to take a 40 or C in opposite direction to 3rd & Virginia and the thundersnow started really coming down. Got a bus but it crawled so walked to 3rd and got a D to Ballard and feel lucky to have made it home in 2 hours, mostly on a warm bus! Hey, sometimes on an average evening it takes me 90 minutes from SLU to Ballard.

  17. 26X was pretty fine until it got on Third about 2, and then stopped and inched forward. Finally got off about three blocks early (drivers were letting anyone off as long as they were in the right lane).

    I know there are a lot of blocks downtown to cover, but the police presence was essentially zero, meaning it was entirely a free for all. Cars were pulling into the intersection and blocking the crosswalk (which was particularly obnoxious when it was freezing rain) with no sense that anything but an SOV had any rights at all. People standing in the cold and rain? To hell with them.

    Whenever something like this happens, Third in particular should just become transit only, with signs and cops.

  18. I left my office at 4:30. Took the first thing in the transit tunnel south to run an errand. After the errand, took the first northbound in the tunnel back to the office. Finished work a bit later, and I took the train southbound home.

    Personal impact of today’s snow and gridlock: 0.

    Grade-separated, dedicated RoW is worth fighting for!

    1. I agree with you completely. But admittedly, this was done at the last minute, without giving anyone any warning to alter their plans, and while also making all I-90 traffic exit at Rainier, and before completing ST2.

      Plus, there was a snowstorm.

    2. It would be completely different if:

      1) People knew ahead of time and had a chance to plan accordingly,
      2) We had a more complete transit network with enforced right-of-way,
      3) There were a complete street grid put in place where the freeway is, and
      4) The freeway were removed only in the downtown core, where it’s just as slow as surface streets, instead of adjacent to downtown where it starts getting faster.

      Even with just #1, the Alaskan Way Viaduct closures went much better than this.

      1. Most importantly, Viaduct closures are (usually) known about ahead of time, so people can adjust their plans accordingly.

    3. No one is suggesting “Hey, let’s remove I5 and then do nothing else different”

      As Eric says, any plan to remove I5 would be coupled with a massive investment in transit to absorb the lost capacity from I5. In a little as 6 years the region’s network will look very different, with ST2 built out, 520 finished (Montlake Lid), many more Sounder trains, dedicated center-running bus lanes on at least 1st Ave and Madison Ave if not more streets, etc.

      It would require a major reorganization of how people move in and around Seattle (which is the whole point), but I still think it will be feasible.

  19. I normally take the 586, but as soon as I heard about the mess, I knew I’d be taking Link+Sounder. It took about 20 minutes longer than scheduled to get to Tacoma, but that was probably due to unrelated rail congestion, because Puyallup-Tacoma, which is scheduled for 12 minutes, took 20. My Link trip (leaving HSS at 4:51) was the first time I’ve ever seen transit in Seattle as packed as my regular commute to school was in Quito, Ecuador. Crossing Jackson and 4th to get to Sounder, I saw a bus waiting in the intersection (on 4th, northbound) for a car that had just turned right from Jackson to finish merging out of the bus lane, and just as the bus starts moving forward, another car darts out into the bus lane. The bus driver honked, and I shouted at the car (even though the driver couldn’t hear me). I’d like to be able to say I chased the car down and firmly explained what a bus lane is, but my train was about to leave, and I didn’t think of it until later.

  20. Even the 255, with its tunnel routing downtown, was not immune, probably because the path between I-5 and the tunnel was clogged with cars. I didn’t start leaving work today until almost 7. When I did leave, all the 255’s had no real-time arrival on OneBusAway, except for one bus, which had already left way before me, and was registering a 58-minute delay. After about 5-10 minutes of waiting, I read the tea leaves and decided to try the Google bus, instead, even though it would have been a considerably longer walk on the Seattle side. When that didn’t show up either, I gave up summoned an Uber, the first time ever that I had used the service, or any similar service to get home from work.

    In hindsight, considering the mess that buses were going through, it was probably the right call. The driver came in about 10 minutes, during which, I got to wait indoors, and even get a little bit of work done. By the time I actually got into the car, the usual afternoon traffic on 520 had all but evaporated, and we cruised home on mostly empty roads. The cost wasn’t nothing, but it’s important to put it into perspective – even if I did own a car, the same amount of money as today’s Uber ride would have covered just two days of round trip gas+bridge tolls – which doesn’t even include the cost of the car, itself.

  21. As someone who works downtown and lives in Ballard, I seriously thought about taking Link to UW and the 44 to Ballard. Instead, I had an adult beverage and caught a 15X about an hour later. Are there any Ballardites who tried the Link/44 route? Would it be noticeably faster with Rapidride (or whatever they are contemplating for the 44)?

    1. Grabbed dinner on 45th in wallingford and saw a crush loaded 44 heading west at about 7:45. You made the right call.

      1. I see from above on the thread that my decision to have a beverage was a wise one. As to Brando’s comment on Ballard to UW light rail, I just shake my head for the future traffic messes 10 years from now, when Ballard through Interbay is under construction, and people ask “Why didn’t we build Ballard to UW again?”

    2. I’ve tried it a few times. Never has worked out (as compared to waiting an extra 10-15 minutes for a 15/17/18).
      What typically happens is you just miss a 44, then you get one that’s a little late, then it gets crush loaded, oh and 45th WB to get to I-5 is a slog, then wallingford isn’t too bad, but is just slow.

      All the while you’re watching on other 15/17/18s arrive into Ballard before you.

      I would say only in circumstances like yesterday would it make sense to guarantee your out-of-downtown trip, but it sounds like the 44s were a mess anyways.

      1. I work in northern SLU and live in western Ballard and the #40 should be the best commute, however, in the evening NB #40 is often crushloaded with Amazon employees before it gets to my stop (Westlake & Mercer) and I am often passed 2 or 3 times before a bus with room arrives – it can take 90 minutes to get home. I have started taking a C or 40 in the opposite direction to 3rd and Virginia where I can get a D, 15, 17, 18, or even a 29 and get home sooner.

        I would love the C to continue on to West Ballard rather than turning around in SLU!

  22. Days like today and potentially worse disasters are a good reason to keep some sensible shoes, wool socks, and good outer layers (even if they are from a thrift store) under your desk if you have the option of walking home or to a closer friend’s house.

    1. Let us not *ever* bad-mouth thrift store *anything.* Thrift stores are great places to get pre-owned merch at terrific prices.

  23. I came from UW Bothell and the 522 didn’t even show up on OBA when I left lab at 5pm. I took the 372+link and everytime we stopped the bus driver would let the people know at the stop that the 522 was delayed by at least 30 minutes and if they wanted to get downtown this plus link was their best bet. When I got on link at uw, it was full, but nothing compared to what I saw as I got off at westlake. There were hundreds of people on the platform waiting for the 550. As I got off I asked how long they had been waiting and one lady said that she had been waiting for a 550 bus for an hour. She asked if I had srevive and knew of any updates and so I pulled up sound transits mobile app and helped her figure out what was going on. Pretty soon like 50 people were asking me what was happening and how they were supposed to get east if the 550 was delayed… in the heat of the moment all I could think of was that if they took the link as far south as they could they could probably find buses going east around the the mess through Redmond or go north to 520 via uw. I felt bad for them because they all looked pretty desperate and miserable. Sure would have been nice if ST2 was done already!

      1. 405 was jammed, too. It’s almost never a good idea to go around the south end of the lake if the destination is anywhere north of Coal Creek a Parkway. Link to HSS and a bus from there is the best option.

    1. Best option probably Link to UW and then catch a UW to Bellevue buses, as those should have been mostly unaffected by the downtown mess?

    2. A few regular 550 riders in my office commented after several problems in the last few years that it should be standard Sound Transit policy when 90 is obstructed for more than a few hours between the Mercer Island PR and downtown to run the 550 in reverse or using the routing used when 90 is closed for construction.

      They envisioned going over SR-520, down 405 exiting at NE8th and then running the inbound route to Mercer Island PR and then back. It might require people to miss a bus until they get the news they need to be on the opposite side of the street but it would actually get people home. Of course this is all moot in the near future with East Link.

  24. Note to Metro and ST: When a major accident shuts down I-5 in the middle of Downtown occurs, every street is jammed and no relief is anticipated for hours, just start truncating buses at Link stations and run extra short-distance Link trains to carry the increased loads.

    Link should be our transit savior for an incident like this! Things for transit could have been much better if something like this was implementable:
    (1) Mount Baker Station transit center as the temporary end for I-90 buses
    (2) UW Station as the end for 520 buses
    (3) Rainier Beach Station as the end for I-5 South buses
    (4) UW Station (soon Northgate or Roosevelt) as the end for I-5 North buses
    (5) SODO Station as the end for West Seattle buses
    Maybe we should designate these locations (or other locations, especially as new stations open) as “Downtown Emergency Access Remote Transit Hubs” (DEARTH?? haha) stations when buses can’t realistically move Downtown and thus can’t serve riders. With each designation, we could then have pre-made emergency signs to create more bus layover spaces saved in storage at each station that could be posted in minutes. Drivers could be trained to know about this.

    Then the way that riders get information on what to do would have had to be done. That’s when agencies need some sort of cooperative directive for non-emergency staff in City and County offices to be sent into the field to provide rider directions as needed when we have things like this. SPD would need to have the ability to create loading areas as needed.

    Of course, the way to best prepare for these things is to have better emergency protocols. Frankly, senior management needs to be required to practice a few days each year on how to quickly adjust to transportation crises in all sort of unanticipated situations — from major roadway shutdowns because of traffic accidents or tipped building cranes or bridge failures or sheets of slippery ice to large and sudden giant protests or evacuations to even major explosions because of terrorists or major flammable occurrences. Is this being done now?

    Although maybe not like anything of this magnitude, we will always be having emergency situations arise several times each year at major pinch points in our transportation system. We can plan solutions better; we already have a pretty responsive system that handles a Link shutdown quickly. We just need better ways to quickly respond to other kinds of incidents — based on size of impact area, duration of impact and number of persons affected by the incident. For starters, having a contingency plan for each major corridor if it’s blocked would be very useful!

    1. Link doesn’t have the capacity to carry everyone heading northeast of UW, east of the lake and south of RBS at this time. You’re idea will work when more trains are on hand, though.

      1. Given that Link has midday trains that are not in service, there is additional Link capacity available to handle emergency situations outside of the peak hours, and ST could probably squeeze an extra train or two during peak hours if emergency conditions arose.

        I’m not suggesting a fundamental regular service change, but an emergency response solution. More importantly, I’m suggesting that we need a process to accompany a solution. In a crisis mode, all operating trains should be providing service!

    2. ST# underestimated the ridership surge with U-Link so doesn’t have extra trains for demand spikes. That’s why it’s running alternating 3- and 2-car trains at peak, instead of all 3-car or 4-car. The North Link trains are coming around 2019.

      1. The crisis was day long. There were several idle trains during the midday that could have been put into service during those hours. There even may be an idle train or two that could be used during the peak hour that ST normally doesn’t use.

        I’m not suggesting a service change. I’m suggesting a contingency plan on how we could quickly implement solutions in an emergency situation.

    3. I think your idea is a great starting point for a “plan B”. The City and County knew at 11am this would be a long term problem. Staging buses out side of the CBD for the rush hour is a good solution. They had several hours to message the change. Many eastside transit riders walked to Sout Jackson and 4th to get on a bus and get a seat. The 3 522s that we saw at 4th and James were SRO when they pulled out. SPD would have to take control of several intersections to move cars back to the freeway rather than allow the traffic engineers model of good signals moving traffic.

  25. The worst bad luck dealt to us by events like this is how seldom they happen. Once every few years, everybody can bear. But what rhymes with “three times a week?” And also “The Sooner The Better?”

    Because when ordinary people realize that the cars that always used to liberate them now frequently leave them trapped, there’ll be a lot less resistance to some near-term measures while we’re building out LINK.

    Network of seriously enforced transit lanes with signal pre-empts, local arterials and freeways, Seattle and suburbs alike. A week’s trial one one corridor under real passenger loads- worth every free ticket printable- could show an election-winning number of commuters first-hand that freedom now means transit.

    But for this positng, pictures and stories of people waiting two hours on a bus stop are more maddening than saddening. Wish people knew meaning of “Civil Defense” anymore. Like a whole pre-planned informal emergency shelter program operated by Chamber of Commerce as well as the authorities.

    Not tents, but cafe’s, restaurants, public building lobbies and hallways, libraries…would-be passengers and drivers warm, comfortable, and buying things including coffee. Priceless introduction to attract new customers.

    Since thousands of cars won’t be able to move for hours or more, owners and passengers can be helped to shelter (think cafes or lobbies, not tents) or transit, and their cars essentially parked where they stopped, under police guard ’til their hour of liberation.

    At which time the authorities will call owners over smart-phone apps when they know that a departure route for their section will soon be clear. If whole citizenry knows the drill, most won’t have to be towed- as is often now the case.

    But here in ‘quake country, whole program could have much larger purpose than jam-clearance. The most dangerous problem described in this posting wasn’t missing emergency equipment, but so few people, police or civilians, organized and trained to take charge.

    Citizens could come to look at these situations the same way: training for their own participation in whatever’s needed next, any form, any reason. My own definition of “Homeland Security.”

    Mark Dublin

  26. I took the light link from SoDo to Westlake at about 430PM. The link took about 5-6 minutes of delays and slowdowns, so it was certainly affected. Normal commute home is about 32 minutes door to door, and yesterday was 38. Impacted my commute by about 19%, then. Significant, but could have been far, far worse. I am quite glad I was able to take the link.

  27. Last night I took link @ 4:45 from Pioneer Square to CHS, visited a sick friend for 2 hours, took the 65 back home to Lake City. Noticed a lot of extra riders to link heading south, no buses in the tunnel, extra traffic in CapHill, but I moved pretty efficiently. Link was a lifesaver.

  28. Link will always provide relief for a limited few. Relying on Metro will always leave you subject to delays like this. Blaming a few vehicles for blocking an intersection or bragging about your swift ride on link has no impact to resolving an issue like this. Seattle has too few of routes to use as alternatives when major routes get clogged up. SDOT is completely responsible directing resources, planning for, and managing for these exact situations. SDOT has completely failed the city of Seattle. Seattle is a transportation mess, only getting worse.

    1. Seattle has so few transit lanes; they don’t go all the way across the city; so buses are subject to congestion and many neighborhoods have no congestion-free way in or out unless they happen to have a bus on a small residential street in a direction commuters don’t usually go at that time. But really, what causes the congestion and gridlock? SOVs. SOVs are blocking the way, and it’s their privileged position that leads to no transit lanes. Unlike Paris or other cities that put transit first, and have no problem taking a parking lane or SOV lane for transit. Who needs a parking space when the metro and buses stop everywhere and go everywhere all the time? Lastly, let’s remember the recent Husky games, where all the northeast Seattle buses were routed away from UW Station, and a shuttle to the station ran only once every ten minutes. That’s like the storm in miniature.

    2. Or, Seattle didn’t build the infrastructure before the economic boom so that it would be ready. In response to the 1970s oil crisis the US and Europe went opposite directions. The US doubled down on highways and airports and SUVs (and that’s the same thing Trump’s infrastructure plan proposes and the Republican Congress talks about). But Europe invested heavily in transit so that it wouldn’t be as vulnerable to oil-supply shocks or recessions or population increases. So they’re more resilient when they do occur. Forward Thrust was the same way although it was a year before the oil crisis. The highway and other measures passed but the high-capacity transit one didn’t.

  29. Took me 2 1/2 hours to get from 3rd and Spring to Shoreline. My normal bus was over an hour late so I went into the tunnel hoping to get a 41. There were more people in there than I had ever seen before so I went back up onto 3rd. After a while I saw a NB E jumped on that and it took almost an hour to even get on Aurora.

    Miserable experience.

  30. I walked 15 minutes to the monorail, then transferred to Link. Aside from the added walk, I got home faster than normal.

  31. I think many heading to Greenlake and Greenwood had the same idea as me: Link to UW, then the 45. The bus was completely full before we left Pacific St. It’s such a slow slog on that route but probably better than an Aurora bus, as third ave was not moving at all

  32. Why do trucks full of butane just tip over? Isn’t this a major safety issue? I heard the driver ran into 4 other cars,why? Does the driver/company bear any liability in this type of incident?

    Also why didn’t the media announce how awful the gridlock was and advise people to stay home?

    1. NPR was covering the traffic basically every 5 minutes. I’d assume the local TVs stations were all over it.

      The problem was everyone was at work and wanted to be home…

    2. What part of “all lanes of I-5 are closed” and “I-90 terminates at Rainier” doesn’t imply awful gridlock everywhere, especially for people who remember past snowstorms and accidents?

    3. I’ve certainly witnessed bad behavior from truckers but the far-more likely scenario is a selfish, impatient, and reckless SOV driver decided to cut the truck off because they thought it would save them 2 seconds on their commute.

      Traffic enforcement isn’t just about safety. These preventable incidents spread misery far and wide. Too bad our deep commitment to car culture makes us blind to this obvious tragedy of the commons.

    4. I prefer not to guess the cause or assign blame until we know, like in the car-Link collision a week ago. But we can say that putting trucks carrying hazardous materials on the same streets as thousands of amateur drivers who may do anything at any time is a bit strange. Pipelines seem so safe in comparison, and even trains to a lesser extent, where the main problem is level crossings.

  33. Took Link up the hill from Westlake to Capitol Hill just before 5pm; the platforms were fairly full but when the train showed up a couple of minutes later (a 2-car consist), everybody got on. Walked over to catch the 11 and at that time OBA showed the next one 12 minutes late. There were a couple of people waiting already and one of them, an older lady, was confused about when the next bus would be there…all I could tell her was what OBA said but that it was pretty clear to me that it might be much longer just based on the weather and all the traffic on the hill trying to bypass I-5.

    I walked home, about 2.5 miles over the hill, and was never caught by an 11 (to be fair, this happens sometimes when there is no weather, because that bus is never on schedule!). Checked OBA for fun when I got home and the same bus was 59 minutes late. I hope that the woman waiting at 10th was able to get something warm whilst waiting or that she found another way home. Unfortunately in situations like that there is no way to know when the bus will actually arrive, so you have to wait there.

    Madison actually was flowing relatively well east of 14th, and they were plowing it. Link was marginally helpful to my commute in that it saved me the walk up to Broadway, but other than that transit was useless to me last night…although walking was certainly superior to being stuck in my car!

  34. Just emailed the powers that be (SDOT, mayor, city council, metro) to say that yesterday shines a light on what is true five days of every week: that we need fully exclusive bus lanes, 24 hours a day, on which buses can get through the downtown core.

    This starts with third, then the rapid ride lines, then the others. If just third and rapid ride could continue to run, there would be reliable ways to get from downtown to NE, NW, SE, SW, and north-central Seattle.

  35. Walked out of UWMC at 6 pm to see Pacific a parking lot going east. Somehow caught a westbound 44 within a minute and made it home on schedule!

  36. In my SOV, I was able to leave my office in Fremont/Ballard at 6:10pm. Here is the story of my commute:

    Took EB 39th to SB Greenwood to fill up my gas tank at the 7-11, because I expected a long commute. After fueling took NB Greenwood back up to EB 39th. There was a utility truck at the corner with Evanston and the power was out ahead. The power outage meant that the light at the 5-way intersection of 39th/Fremont Ave/Fremont Way was flashing red. Two SPD cars were on site, with officers directing traffic. In the time I sat at that intersection they seemed to be biasing towards letting EB Fremont Way go. SB Fremont Ave was mostly stopped, with the officers only letting 4 cars through while I could see. I turned onto NB Fremont Ave, and it was wide open to EB 46 and NB Greenlake Way. NB Greenlake Way seemed to have the normal (1-2 blocks) of backed up traffic waiting for the 5-way intersection of Greenlake Way/50th/Stone Way. I turned onto EB 50th, where there was no traffic at all, and it was completely free-flowing through the on-ramp to SB I5. SB I5 was surprisingly wide open until about the middle of the ship canal bridge, where the right lanes were backing up. I took the left exit onto EB 520, which was similarly wide open and I ran into no issues again until I took the ramp onto SB 405, which was a parking lot. Instead of merging into that traffic, I exited onto EB NE 8th, which again was wide open until I turned onto SB 148th. At this point, it was only 6:45, 35 minutes after I had left work, and I had even had time to stop for gas.

    SB 148th was crawling, but not stopped. This was the first real traffic that I had hit since I had gotten out of Fremont. There was a disabled vehicle blocking the left lane where in the vicinity of SE 20th Ave, and traffic cleared up for a few blocks until I reached the Bellevue College area, where there was a 2-3 block backup approaching the Eastgate Way intersection. The ramp to EB I90 had two KC buses and a semi truck pulled off on the left shoulder, but they were well clear of the travel lane and traffic was flowing clear. EB I90 was maybe slightly lighter than typical 7pm traffic from Eastgate to 17th Ave, where I exited to grab some dinner at Five Guys on Gilman. After eating, I headed on EB Gilman towards Front St. SB Front St was completely stopped, with a couple blocks of turning traffic backing up onto Gilman, but the left turn lanes onto NB Front St, and the ramp to EB I90 were wide open. I didn’t hit traffic again until I got past exit 20 (High Point Way). It was crawling from there all the way up to exit 25 (SR 18/Snoqualmie Pkwy). Some cars started using the right shoulder as an extra exit-only lane to exit 22 (Preston/Fall City). Semi-trucks started pulling off after exit 22 to chain up, and abandoned vehicles started appearing about two miles before exit 25. Traffic spread out a bit in the last mile before exit 25, but speeds were under 10 mph. I took exit 25 and turned onto NB Snoqualmie Pkwy, there were dozens of abandoned cars. I finally made it home at 9:40, a full 3.5 hours, to the minute, from when I left my office.

    One report from about 6:00 this morning counted 45 abandoned cars on the Snoquamie Parkway between SR 202 and I90. For periods of the evening yesterday, the Snoqualmie PD had to completely close all of the Parkway to clear abandoned cars out of the path of the snow plows.

  37. To Governor Jay Inslee who has no recognition of biblical level Traffic issues in his own State? Yesterday “We the people” were in the worst traffic jam in our history.. how many people died because Emergency vehicles were also stuck in complete grid lock? No really; We want you to look investigate and determine if anyone died because our public services could not get to them in time.
    Yesterday 110 lanes of traffic were closed… 100 of them by the the City of Seattle & King County over the last twenty years..The other 10 from an accident.
    The $53 billion dollar rail system will not fix our traffic. There are 3.7 million people in our Metropolitan region only 200k work DT.
    Do the math.
    Enough is enough. Stand up against the bullies who have robbed our forefathers estates.. because They are turning over in their graves. We the People want THEIR money back for the huge fortunes spent spent to construct the now hijacked traffic lanes for Cars, commerce, Buses & Emergency vehicles.
    We want the lanes re-opened.
    Speaking of Trump, Maybe We will now have to ask for Federal Help on this?.. if the Public elect & appointed will not knowledge their oath to We the People’s “Rights”, among them “Life” The life of people needing public services, “Liberty” enough said there.. (we can not even go visit a park nowadays in this traffic let alone try to run a business) & “Happiness” & how can we be Happy stuck in this traffic?
    Maybe then, Seattle/King County should be aware of the Federal D.O.T. mission statement? https://www.transportation.gov/mission/about-us

    1. If 100 lanes had indeed been re-allocated to transit, wow, now that would be a dream–don’t pinch me! And I would submit that Link IS a “fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system” which is obviously consistent with the DOT mission. It was after all one of the few things that was resilient enough to still work yesterday. Even busses stuck in traffic took up the footprint of a few cars instead of dozens of cars. Finally, if bus lanes were actually *gasp* kept clear of cars, and we had more of them, perhaps the emergency vehicles would be able to use them to get around. Hmmm….100 lanes sounds about right. Funny how the argument goes: we need roads for emergency vehicles, law enforcement, deliveries and such, but how little priority we actually give these critical services when push comes to shove.

    2. Awww, poowwww widdle baby boy. Does Snookums miss his ’59 Olds? Does he miss the times when he could cruise for bobby soxers at the Drive-In?

      Hey, Mr. Suit, I was in Tulsa just last summer and there’s LOTS of room for your land barge. And they all agree with you. Sounds like a smatch [sic] made in Daytona.

  38. My boss let us leave early due to snow, so I walked past stopped employee shuttles for 30 minutes to King Street Station, and got on the last train headed north. Got to Edmonds right on time! North Sounder being the ONLY thing running on time felt like opposite day! ^^;

  39. Just so you Seattle people can feel our shared pain :)… while I-405 didn’t have any tanker spills, the snowstorm that hit Bellevue around 4 paralyzed traffic in the city. There were cars stuck on all the arterials and side streets, some lining up for miles to get to 405 and 520, and many people couldn’t get out of their office building garages at all for hours. It was a nightmare to get anywhere.

  40. Hey, yesterday was nice. i live right above I5 and the quiet was, well, stunning. Watched the same truck for an hour or so — moved all of 30′. Lets have more of this, I can do with the sleep.
    Seriously I was planning on going out — right into this mess but thought better of it when I heard what had happened and where. Link might have been an option if it had been absolutely essential to go but then I’m retired and it wasn’t essential.

  41. My wife usually takes the 545 from the downtown Federal Building to Redmond. I’ve been trying to sell her on Link+542, and thankfully yesterday she gave it a try. It worked perfectly – she had no idea how bad the gridlock was until her co-workers filled her in.

  42. I don’t understand why people didn’t realize what a cluster*(&k it would be and leave work early (if they are lucky enough to be able to). I told my husband about it, and he decided to leave work early and work from home the rest of the day. There was no delay in getting home at 1PM. I had no issues ‘commuting’ since I live and work in W. Seattle.

  43. I made a poor choice and wore non-snow-friendly shoes, so I knew that walking home (Lower Fremont to UQA, 35 min) wouldn’t be an option. I stayed at work until 7:10, at which point I started trying to call Lyft. Seeing that every car was getting stuck on westbound Northlake Way, I walked across the Fremont bridge and called a Lyft from there. I got picked up almost immediately, and thereafter it couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes.

    In summary, a quicker but more expensive commute than usual.

  44. To prevent gridlock elsewhere, what if WSDOT and SDOT worked together to provide as short an emergency detour route as soon as this incident occured to replace the loss of I-5 SB? Would such an detour have prevented the gridlock from spreading beyond the general vicinity of the overturned truck?

  45. One issue is there was ZERO traffic control in place outside of Airport Way.

    People were blocking intersections in every traffic light cycle, driving up on curbs, etc.

    A simple plan to convert certain streets to one way (doubling capacity of each road) would have helped solve the gridlock.

  46. Are we going to talk about the Link disruption the next day? I was stuck in the tunnel between stations for an hour. If that had happened 24 hours earlier, think about how much worse we would’ve had it…

Comments are closed.