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:
This is a call to action for #SEAbikes : if you are able-bodied and have access to a snow shovel, head to your local trail and clear a path through the remaining snow/ice – I’ll be shoveling on the Green River Trail since there are still unrideable spots, will post pics after pic.twitter.com/pZ3OSf5FeL
— Robert Svercl (@bobco85) February 18, 2019
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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:
Unfortunately our staff and equipment for snow removal is on loan to King County Roads to assist in keeping roads clear as a top priority at this time.
— King County Parks 🐿️ (@iheartkcparks) February 17, 2019
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:
— City Mercer Island (@mercergov) February 18, 2019
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.