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Some trails still slick a week after the snow stopped + Lessons for future freezes

Even though most streets in the region are clear following the massive snow fall last week, trails that are far from salt-treated roads can still be icy in spots. Much like the wonderful people who have volunteered their time in recent weeks to clear bus stops and curb ramps, folks like Robert here are biking with shovels to clear trail sections that still have snow and ice:

Of course, these trails are public property and are important transportation facilities, so it shouldn’t fall to kind, able-bodied individuals to do this work. When asked why Parks was not clearing trails, this was their disappointing response:

In the immediate aftermath of a major snow event, it is unreasonable to expect agencies to clear everything. In fact, it would be very wasteful to invest too much to be ready for such a rare weather event in this region. And with limited resources, it certainly makes sense to prioritize bus and emergency vehicle routes first.

But it has been a long time since the snows, and many curb ramps, sidewalks and trails are still unmaintained. This is an impediment to able-bodied people on foot and bike, but it’s especially difficult and dangerous for people who rely on accessible sidewalks and curb ramps to get around.

And while trails certainly don’t need to be the top priority, they should be on the list somewhere.

There are some good examples of agencies working to clear bike routes, such as SDOT clearing the Westlake and 2nd Ave bike lanes in the early days of the snow emergency or Mercer Island clearing their section of the Mountains to Sound Trail:

But the response has not been comprehensive. And in the case of the MTS Trail, some agencies made their sections a priority while others let theirs stay frozen. This created a frustrating patchwork of slick and cleared trail depending on who was in charge of which segment. Perhaps agencies need to partner to share the work in the future to make sure the trail treatment is consistent.

And since trails are often far away from roadway salt (for good and bad) and may be in places that don’t get much direct sunlight, they need more attention ahead of future freezing events. Even before the snow storm, there were days where key problem spots on regional trails froze over night. There’s the curve at the north end of the Westlake Bikeway and the Burke-Gilman Trial rail line crossing near 6th Ave NW, to name a couple of the biggest known problem spots. There are also various spots along the Ship Canal, Mountains to Sound, Green River and Alki Trails (really, probably every trail) that are known to freeze when temperatures drops into the 30s overnight.

Perhaps agencies should collect a list of these freeze-prone segments and create a  prevention plan that kicks in whenever overnight freezing is likely. Because while a major snow storm is a rare event, overnight lows below freezing are not. As more people rely on biking for transportation year-round, agencies have a duty to take action to fix known problem spots to keep people moving safely.

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18 responses to “Some trails still slick a week after the snow stopped + Lessons for future freezes”

  1. Two observations:
    The protected bicycle lanes that we find comfortable to ride in (e.g., Ravenna) were not plowed, as they were separated from the main road by pylons.
    The door-zone bicycle lanes where we’re basically riding the white line to stay out of danger were snowed in, making it much more justifiable to the average car driver why we are controlling the lane. I understand that pedestrians benefit greatly from road diets, but let’s road-diet with protected bicycle lanes/cycletracks or with ordinary bicycle lanes and NO adjacent parking. Down with the deadly DZBL!

    1. Nico

      Oh! That’s a another great reason those pylons are a nuisance. Aside from trapping cyclists.

  2. Joseph Singer

    The Broadway bikeway was also plowed with the mini-machine.

  3. Skylar

    The BGT west of campus had huge patches of ice days after the snow ended. This is a portion of the trail that’s adjacent to an arterial and seems like it would be trivial for SDOT to salt/plow once a day. Is the problem that the BGT is a weird hybrid of park and transportation, so no one wants to take responsibility?

    1. jh

      It’s the fact that less than 2% of the population bikes – duh. Take metro until it melts. I truly believe you will survive during the interim.

      1. Gary Yngve

        What about people who need to bicycle to get to Metro?

      2. Ballard Biker

        Take metro until it melts.

        On the Tuesday after the big storm weekend, the BGT was a sheet of ice, so I biked Leary and Westlake to get to work, since they were plowed, deiced and in excellent condition (kudos to SDOT), essentially shadowing the 40 route.

        I didn’t see one single SB 40 bus. What I did see were throngs of people waiting at each stop, meaning even if a bus comes, you are less likely to get on, the further along the route you are.

        So no thanks, I’ll stick to my bike, since I know I’ll get where I’m going, even if it means taking my time.

        It’s the fact that less than 2% of the population bikes – duh.

        Got a source for that?

  4. Q

    Taking the lane on plowed main roads got me most places, 2.5″ wide tires with low pressure took me everywhere else. Low automobile traffic during the worst of it made the riding quite tolerable. Sailing past packed bus stops of stranded transit riders did occur.

  5. Kirk

    Shout out to Shoreline for plowing their portion of the Interurban trail.

  6. I think while getting agencies to work together is the best solution, a suitable 2nd best solution could be more community-based. I didn’t mind shoveling by myself for 4 hours yesterday on the Green River Trail, but I think with a team of others, the work could be done much faster and more efficiently.

    Is there a regional map of which trails get plowed and by which agencies in the greater Seattle area? Combining that with community-reported information on which sections of trails freeze first would be huge in solving this problem.

  7. Lars

    Wanted to report that the section of the SRT between Wilmot Gateway Park and marymoor is mostly OK. Some large ice patches still exist, I would say it’s 20% ice and shrinking. Safe enough for me to run on with caution, but saw a couple cyclists walk their bike thru the worst of it. Also, 5% geese poop currently!

  8. Que

    A much bigger problem than isolated icy patches is the enormous amount of debris that has ended up in bike lanes everywhere that isn’t going to get swept up. It’s a mixture of gravel, tiny broken glass bits and tiny metal wires and is perfect for flatting tires.

    1. You raise a good point. The “priority” given to the clearing of the driving lanes shouldn’t leave cyclists at additional risk when the ice has melted. Clearing it should be a priority. We have street cleaning machinery.

    2. R

      Yes, multiple flats for me last week sucked.

  9. Nico

    What a surprise. Classic seattle snowflakes complaining about snowflakes. I don’t find King County Parks response as “disappointing” as I find it to be quite “expected”. We are cyclists. A small population. Cyclists’ sense of entitlement is getting out of hand. It barely ever snows in Seattle. A week off the bike is not going to kill you. And if you really need action bring a shovel, I like that. Inspires me to do a portion I-90 trail next time it snows.

    1. R

      Really? For me a week off my bike either means a week off work without m pay or walking an hour each way to/from work. Fortunately I was a couple of blocks from plowed streets where I could just take the lane.

    2. Andrew Sapuntzakis

      Since motorists are so numerous, they can easily plow their own ROW. Bus riders can shovel stops and dedicated bus lanes, pedestrians can handle the sidewalks. I hope they coordinate so the snow piles aren’t constantly moving back and forth. While they’re at it, they can fix their own potholes, install curb cuts, do some traffic signal and streetlight maintenance.

      1. Nico

        Haha, not a bad idea!

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