SDOT’s Three Levels of Service During Winter Weather

Here in Seattle, winter weather can be like the roll of the dice – we never know what we’ll get – heavy snowfall and/or no snow accumulation at all. For that reason, we may use trucks for paving streets one day and deicing the next. Any greater investment in snow fighting equipment would not be a good value for the taxpayers year to year.

Nevertheless, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has 26 plows and four anti-icing/de-icing trucks ready for action. These trucks have been GPS-enabled with automated systems that report in real time the truck’s location and critical snow-fighting data such as application of material and plow blade position. The data will be displayed in the Charles Street Operations Center in real time and are archived for analysis and accountability.

Seattle’s steep topography, like the Queen Anne Counterbalance, First Hill and the intersection of 35th Avenue SW and Avalon, add to the difficulty of our snow response. Hills can consume a great deal of our time and effort and still may not be drivable. Also, just a few stuck cars can tie up important arterials for hours.

In any city, snow fighting is complicated by urban factors such as parked cars, pedestrians and narrow roads. Cities with regular heavy snowfall often have winter parking restrictions that make it easier to plow streets. Since we don’t have regular significant snowfall in Seattle, these sorts of parking restrictions are not practical. In addition, Seattle has an intricate system of trolleys with overhead wires that cannot be rerouted.

So, what if it snows?

Know the routes on the Winter Weather Map! SDOT commits to clearing snow from identified routes throughout the city within a specified time frame. The snow map can help you know what to expect.  SDOT and King County Metro worked together this summer to ensure that our snow removal routes match their bus snow re-route network.  People will be able to get around the city by bus, making it easier to leave their cars at home. SDOT also worked with the Seattle Police Department, Seattle Fire Department, universities, hospitals and major employers to align our routes with the most important needs of the community.  The routes were identified and selected by using the following criteria: the most heavily used streets that connect neighborhoods with downtown or within the greater Puget Sound region; streets used by the transit agencies even in harsh weather; streets used most frequently by public safety agencies; and streets deemed important to public institutions (e.g., schools, universities hospitals) and Seattle’s major employers.

In advance of a predicted snow storm, SDOT crews pre-treat  these  routes.  You’ll notice the snow map shows the streets and their service levels. (The Downtown streets are shown in an inset on the map.) Download the map here   SDOT has established a treatment service level for each snow route in the city. This is not a priority system, but rather describes the level of treatment we will provide on a route. You’ll see that Service Level  1 and 2 will be treated at the same time.

    • Service Level 1 – bare and wet from curb to curb
    • Service Level 2 – bare and wet in one lane in each direction
    • Service Level 3 – deicing treatment on curves, hills and stopping zones.

SDOT has special emphasis patrols to address emergencies and trouble spots.