A choreographed snow response

A snow topped city looking south out of the Seattle Municipal Tower.

Last week’s weather was a bit wacky – remember? Meteorologists kept changing their predictions of when & how much snow would be coming.

Here at SDOT, we take winter weather seriously. It’s our job to clear the roads and help keep the city moving.


We learned a lot from the unprecedented snow and ice from February 2019, and we put those lessons into good use last week. We worked together, were proactive, and successful in keeping the city and its residents moving all week. How did we do it?


The whole city chipped in.


Snowy feet. Photo by Jeanne Clark

You shoveled, stayed off the roads when you could, & helped out your neighbors.


Thank you! People across the city pitched in and were out shoveling sidewalks and curb ramps.


We had about 15 inspectors out and about in various neighborhoods where they monitored sidewalk conditions and educated property owners and tenants about their responsibility to clear the sidewalks adjacent to their space.


Street Use Inspector Jaime Young enjoyed her work with the public

“For me it was a positive experience to be out interacting with the community in a different way”, shared Street Use Inspector Jamie Young.


“People were sometimes a bit paranoid to see an inspector in bright orange show up, but then were disarmed when I told them the reason I was there. Many were very appreciative and said so, and there was a sense of solidarity in that they wanted to be part of whatever SDOT was doing to try and keep things in good order on the sidewalk.”



Crews after a long night driving plows streets.

About 350 employees from SDOT, Seattle Public Utilities, and Parks and Recreation worked together to keep the city moving.


Starting noon on Sunday, January 12, plow and pre-treatment teams patrolled the roads. They worked 24/7 in back-to-back 12-hour shifts for four days in a row.


To maintain access to essential services, we prioritized clearing the most critical routes for transit and emergency response vehicles first. These are the streets used by the most people and which lead to hospitals, schools, and emergency services. As the snow continued to fall, it was necessary to continuously monitor and often re-treat the same roads, sidewalks, curb ramps, and bike lanes many times in order to ensure they were safe to travel on.


Over the course of four days, our crews monitored 15,900 lane miles for snow and ice, and plowed and/or salted 3,800 of those lane miles.


Mini snow plow working to clear protected bike lanes

We also prioritized protected bike lanes & pedestrian access.


One thing that we did differently this year is we had a designated team for treating and clearing protected bike lanes along with a separate team to treat and clear curb ramps and pedestrian paths on overpasses.


Our bike crews focused on protected bike lanes in the Central Business District, Capitol Hill, and Westlake. We have smaller plows for the bike lanes, but much of the work this week was done by hand where snow depth wasn’t enough for motorized vehicles. Over the four days, our team of eight inspected, treated, & spot cleared 46 miles of protected bike lane. The cleared lanes were appreciated and used. Our bike counters showed that hundreds of people continued to bike over the Spokane Street Bridge and thousands over the Fremont Bridge last week.


Each day around 50 workers hand-shoveled priority curb ramps and sidewalks on overpasses. This labor-intensive work also involved hand delivering salt where it was needed. Over the four days, they monitored, treated, or cleared curb ramps about 3090 times.


City, county, & statewide collaboration.


It’s not just people who live in Seattle who rely on our roads. Neighbors outside Seattle’s city limits were hit with heavier snow than many areas inside our city. We worked closely with Washington Department of Transportation, King County Metro, and Sound Transit to help keep our region moving. We also coordinated with Seattle Public Schools to update them about road conditions and monitor arterial routes near schools.


Snowplow and cars on Capitol Hill from 2019 snow. Photo by Tim Durkan

It’s never too early to prepare for the next bout of winter weather.

If you found yourself without a shovel or salt, now’s the time to get them!