by Jack Russillo
With Seattle’s biggest snowfall of the winter slated to strike this weekend, Mayor Jenny Durkan gathered virtually Friday afternoon with regional partners from Sound Transit, King County Metro, Washington State Department of Transportation (SDOT), and other department directors to provide an update on the city’s preparations and advice on what Seattlites should do to stay safe.
“If you can stay home, please do,” said Durkan during the virtual press conference. “I know that over the last year we’ve been staying home mostly, but it’s really important to stay off the roads and not drive unless it’s an absolute emergency. ”
She said that staying home keeps roads safer for buses and, especially, first responders during emergencies. She directed people to Alert Seattle to find current information on road closures, the weather, and updates on city services.
Durkan also said that businesses and households were responsible for shoveling their own driveway and sidewalk in front of their property.
All of the speakers at the press conference echoed her call to stay off the roads unless an emergency arises and to continue to practice social distancing.
SDOT began treating roads on Wednesday night and has continued to work since then to monitor and pretreat along primary transit arterials and routes to COVID-19 test sites. SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe said that, as of Friday afternoon, all of the arterial snow routes are clear. Zimbabwe added that SDOT will continue to pretreat bike lanes, stairwells, overpasses, and curb ramps that are not near private property. A map of the routes that are plowed by SDOT can be found here. Visit SDOT’s website for information on measures the city has taken to prepare for the snow storm.
“We can’t be everywhere at once and there may be icy conditions out there,” said Zimbabwe. “There was ice out there this morning. Please continue to use caution, take it slow, watch out for others, and don’t travel if you don’t have to. As the snow starts to fall, we will clear it as quickly as we can. The fewer people that are out and about, the easier our jobs will continue to be.”
Zimbabwe also noted that sledding in the streets is not allowed and that the Lake Washington Boulevard closures that were scheduled for Feb. 13 will be delayed until Feb. 15 “to enable snow clearance.”
“We will not be plowing every road in every neighborhood,” said Durkan. “We will be focusing on our most important routes … to keep transit moving.”
Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) reported that four neighborhoods — Rainier Beach, Seward Park, Greenlake, and Wallingford — had delays in their waste collection services. SPU asked that residents of those neighborhoods whose waste was not collected leave out their containers until Saturday night to allow for more time for SPU to service all customers. If waste bins are still not collected by Saturday night, then households are asked to put out their containers on their same scheduled day next week.
King County Metro Deputy General Manager Michelle Allison spoke about Metro’s ability to install chains on its buses, deviate from normal route paths, and even adjust its daily schedule. She encouraged Metro users to check MetroWinter.com to make sure that scheduled trips and regular stops will still be available in the conditions.
Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff recommended that users sign up for service alerts that can provide real-time updates about operating information. He said Light Rail and Sounder Commuter Rail might be the best ways to commute during the storm since they will be operating continuously and keeping the tracks free of snow. He cautioned that riders should bundle up before taking public transportation because some stations are exposed to the elements.
“We have crews on standby ready to roll,” said Seattle City Light General Manager Debra Smith. “We’ll assess as the day wears on whether we just keep folks on or if we call back but we are ready.”
Helen Howell, the interim director of the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD), said that the City is operating three severe weather shelters through the morning of Feb. 15. The shelters can accommodate 164 guests and 90 of the 164 beds were occupied on Feb. 11.
On Feb. 11, HSD partnered with Seattle Parks and Recreation to open shelters at the Garfield Community Center and Bitter Lake community Center, which can hold 41 and 45 individuals respectively. The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) will operate both locations with support from HSD and SPR staff. Operation: Sack Lunch will provide three meals a day and showers will be available for shelter guests. Service animals will be allowed at both community center locations.
On Feb. 9, the City also opened Fisher Pavilion at the Seattle Center. Fisher Pavilion has capacity for 78 adults, accommodates all genders and is operated by The Salvation Army and Compass Housing Alliance. Overnight guests at each of the shelters may remain during the day, but there are no family-specific shelters currently in place by the City. For families, Howell recommended that they call the King County Family Shelter Intake Line at 206-245-1026.
A new permanent shelter will also be opening at 8 p.m. on Feb. 12 at the First Presbyterian Church on First Hill. For women only, the shelter will be operated by WHEEL and can accommodate up to 60 clients from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. with showers and dining space.
“If the weather forecast is accurate, we’re looking at a ‘snow-nami’ that we haven’t had for a while, where we have a great accumulation in a very short amount of time,” said Durkan. “If you see neighbors that are experiencing homelessness that need help, please make sure that they have access to and know where to get help.”
Jack Russillo has been reporting in Western Washington since 2013. He covers the environment, social justice, and other topics that affect a sustainable and equitable future. He currently lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Featured Image: A snow-covered block in north Beacon Hill during the February 2019 snow storm (Photo: Anatol Steck)
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