New Seattle snow plan: “Bare pavement”; salt before & during

In that bag held by SDOT manager Charles Bookman – little rocks of salt, scattered a few inches apart. That was a prop he used while briefing us (during a series of media interviews) about the new snow plan that SDOT is unveiling – completely overhauled, the department says, from last year. Instead of the “sand and plow” strategy of the past, Bookman explains, it’s all about getting to “bare pavement” – and they’ve mapped out which streets are to be completely bare within 8 hours of a lull in the storm, plus which ones will have one “bare” lane each way. The “Snow and Ice Readiness and Response Plan” we were given is not online yet, nor are the maps (4:07 update – the map is now online), so bear with us as we give you the quick highlights of the hourlong personal briefing we just got (including a snowplow ride!) downtown – as well as information on public meetings where you can get the briefing firsthand (and ask questions) – read on:

After making our appointment for today’s briefing, we asked in the WSB Forums whether anyone had particular questions they wanted to be sure we asked. One, from “lighthouse,” involved additional equipment. The city has bought two more “small” snowplows to add to the previous fleet. Our biggest question was regarding communications. They showed us their “situation room” – where Metro and Seattle PD will each have reps at desks (photo above), along with SDOT managers moving in and out of the room, which is equipped with video monitors showing where their vehicles are as well as traffic cameras around the city. (Among them, public information officer/s, who will be sending information out by Twitter and “blogs.”) Here’s video of Bookman explaining the situation room to us:

They also plan to staff an additional dispatcher in the dispatch center:

Their communications methods have changed dramatically, Bookman says – they will communicate with snowplow drivers by text message as well as by radio, and they will use GPS to track their locations – we rode in a GPS-equipped snowplow at the end of our briefing and will add that clip later.

In addition to having Metro “in the room” as the situation is discussed, they also have changed their plan for which routes get plowed, to align with Metro’s snow emergency routes. “We want people to take the bus,” Bookman emphasized. Their past plan, as it became painfully obvious last year, did NOT align with Metro’s snow routes.

So what’s their strategy for achieving “bare pavement”? According to Bookman, “If we get a 50 percent probability of snow within the next 24 hours, we will pre-treat.” They have roads classified by levels – “Level 1” includes the West Seattle Bridge and 35th SW, and those are to be completely “bare pavement”; “Level 2” includes California and Admiral Way, with 1 lane in each direction to be bare; Level 3 streets will be sanded for traction.

They’re changing the materials they use, too – what you’ll see coming out of trucks like these:

For “anti-icing” ahead of a storm, according to Bookman, it’ll usually be liquid salt brine, 25 gallons per mile (what they used in the past, Geomelt, won’t be used much this time around – salt brine is supposed to be as effective if not more so); the arsenal also will include “aggregate salt, pre-wetted” – what’s used will depend on whether it’s raining before snow is forecast, etc. During a storm “granular, pre-wetted salt” is the primary method, 150 to 300 pounds per mile. If you’re still worried about those environmental concerns, Bookman says they worked with Seattle Public Utilities environmental scientists and got the “green light.” In order to deal with the change in materials, the liquid-storage capacity in the SDOT yard has been quadrupled (the city stores materials at 4 locations, including a facility by Westcrest Park) and there have been “plumbing changes” on the trucks, to deal with the need to “pre-wet” salt before it goes onto the road. (The big “flusher” truck shown above, by the way, can cover 2 lanes at a time while going 20 mph, Bookman says.)

After a storm, they will tend to pedestrian areas as well – according to Bookman, 25 “hand crews” will get out to as many as 1,000 intersections within “a day, day and a half” of a storm to clear walking routes. He says the priorities are synched up with the city’s new Pedestrian Master Plan.

Another question posed when we asked WSB Forum members what they would want to know involved street closures. With the different strategy for “bare pavement,” Bookman expects fewer will be necessary, though he says some streets will remain almost impossible to clear, such as the Queen Anne counterbalance area. They’ll still distribute the “street closed” signs this year – within a few weeks – as they have in years past, but “if we don’t need them within a year or two, we may stop that.”

We asked about a price tag for the big change – the year-to-year budget remains about the same, Bookman said, but he did mention a $400,000 “one-time investment” covering added equipment and technology.

Next step: Four public meetings, including one in West Seattle, where you can hear the briefing for yourself, see the maps, and ask questions. The WS meeting will be at 7 pm Wednesday, October 21st, at Delridge Community Center; you are also welcome at any and all of the other three meetings – Jefferson Community Center on Beacon Hill 7 pm 10/20, Queen Anne Community Center 7 pm 10/27, Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall 3 pm 10/28.

And SDOT promises the full snow plan, maps and all, will be online soon – the maps hopefully by day’s end – we will add the links as soon as that happens. We also will write a followup report later, as we intend to read the entire plan (about an inch thick), plus we have video of our ride in a snowplow with West Seattle native Will McMurtry. 4:07 PM UPDATE: The map is online now – it’s linked from the right side of hte page here.

23 Replies to "New Seattle snow plan: "Bare pavement"; salt before & during"

  • 37Ray October 6, 2009 (3:49 pm)

    So long to our city’s status as a place where so many classic cars never seem to rust… In other news, Car Wash owners citywide will be holding a champagne and stinky cheese celebratory gathering this evening…

  • mike green October 6, 2009 (4:14 pm)

    I have a great idea !! Maybe the city of seattle could
    actually coordinate(in an emergency) with local TV and radio and internet so we (the people) know whats going on !!!

  • WSB October 6, 2009 (4:17 pm)

    They do say they will be working harder to get info out – I mentioned it briefly in the story but do expect to have several more detailed followups – the snow plan itself is an inch thick and was handed to me during my visit – I wrote this story quickly to get out the basic toplines. I also have followup questions I will pursue regarding how specific they will get with online info during a storm – one thing I did not mention, the supervisors who will be following the crews along arterials will post their reports before each commute period – TR

  • Smitty October 6, 2009 (4:17 pm)

    Thank goodness that common sense finally prevailed.

    I am assuming we won’t get any snow this year as a result, however!

  • Jo October 6, 2009 (4:28 pm)

    Wow, you got to ride in a snowplow!
    I’m totally impressed.
    And I was excited when I got to ride in a bread truck!
    I think you win!
    And, thanks for all the info. You guys are the best.

  • Darren October 6, 2009 (5:19 pm)

    So all of us that live in Arbor Heights have to dig ourselves out all the way to Barton St. GEE, how nice of the City of Seattle to do that. 35th should be salted a lot further than Barton. WTH !!

  • lighthouse October 6, 2009 (5:45 pm)

    “bare pavement” approach — about time. If everyone here had studded tires, the “packed snow” strategy might work, but hardly anyone has their vehicle set up like that. Even with chains, I saw buses getting stuck and sliding all over the roads in the storm, so the bare pavement approach has got to help with that. (And maybe buses can actually stop and start on hills instead of making everyone walk half a mile to the top or bottom bus stop.)
    Hopefully the plan will cover how SDOT and county/state DOT are coordinating work. If 35th and Roxbury are bare but Ambaum is undriveable then none of the buses that start at the Burien transit center will ever make it to the bare streets in West Seattle.
    For the concerns about rusting cars, the Washington state DOT already uses a salt mixture ( However, it’s not a high concentration of salt like is used in the midwest.
    And thanks to WSB for staying on top of this topic. It’s easy to forget about the snow 10 months later.

  • BadBrain October 6, 2009 (5:47 pm)

    @ 37Ray:
    I second that!
    The “brine” will be NaCl (simply salt) added to some minor content of water in order to liquify.
    I am always amazed how things get adopted here, whereas they are banned elsewhere. The use of NaCl is banned in many European cities and states. Reasoning is based on the decades of research and proof of massive environmental impact. To name a few: The Salt will be flushed into the ground where the overload of natrium and chloride ions has a very negative impact. This is also unfortunate for the vegetation – especially sensitive are several street trees, such as Tilia, Acer and Chestnut. The salt will also reach our below grade water corridors and will be flushed into rivers, lakes and the sea where it will also cause significant damage to flora and fauna. Besides, the salt is known to cause paw inflammation for pets as well. Let alone the damage to concrete and steel structures as well as to our cars.
    Therefore, alternatives are being used. Such as urea based litter or ammonium sulfate (although, the latter may be seen as a fertilizer overdose).
    There are several other ways, but hey, let’s do it the cheap way, we will see the impact only years later and who cares now, right?

  • Jose October 6, 2009 (5:53 pm)

    Welcome to the TWENTIETH century, Seattle.

  • 37Ray October 6, 2009 (6:43 pm)

    Hey everybody it’s all good, we know what year it is (contrary to popular belief/urban legend…)

    I own a classic (sorry guys I am NOT trading in on a bicycle, no matter how much the city restricts traffic flow) and I never drive that in foul weather anyhow, so in that regard most won’t be impacted anyway, but, a *LOT* of classics are also ‘drivers’… what this means is those owners better develop a habit of washing their car much more often during winter…

    besides all that I also just like to rant ;)

  • LB October 6, 2009 (9:41 pm)

    Agree with the other posts about salt’s impact on cars, roads, infrastructure and the environment.


    There are alternatives, but Seattle politics and our lame duck Mayor being as they are, we get to watch the CYA road (salt) show.


    Agreed as well we will not see a single flake of snow this winter. lol.

  • Marc Bowers October 6, 2009 (10:53 pm)

    A simple 4 letter word solves the problem “Jeep.” I didn’t have any trouble getting around and was able to assist a number of fellow west Seattle residents as a result. Seems like perhaps the real problem here is that people don’t plan for a bad snow event in a city of hills and minimal snow removal equipment. At least that will get you to the newly plowed and salted arterials.

  • Michael October 7, 2009 (1:11 am)

    Keep in mind that this will not allow you to drive freely in a 20-year storm like last year’s.
    And enjoy the salt while you can, because Mayor McGinn will be kind of against that sort of thing.

  • Sue October 7, 2009 (6:38 am)

    Now if only we could do something about making sure property owners clear their sidewalks after a snow event like in other cities, then we’d be all set.

  • CMP October 7, 2009 (8:35 am)

    Geez, some of you act like the roads will be salted for four months straight. I went to college in Kansas and my old car was totally fine when it came to rust…didn’t have any and I certainly wasn’t washing it constantly. I’m not worried about the affects of salting at all, I just want the roads to be driveable for everyone, not just those with AWD. I’d also like the plow drivers to not push all the snow into the middle of the road like last year. I couldn’t make a left turn anywhere on California except at Fauntleroy (barely). I agree with others that it probably won’t snow at all this year, but at least we’ll be prepared.

  • grr October 7, 2009 (11:26 am)

    exactly…whining about a little salt….sheesh…a few days of some salt will NOT do much damage. I’d rather have plain salt than chemicals….Last I checked..Puget Sound was salt water…and it evaporates…into the air…onto cars….just sayin’…

    I do find it odd that Thistle isn’t on the ‘dry’’s the main arterial, not Holden..I think…

  • ken October 7, 2009 (12:23 pm)

    Did you see the bright new shiny trucks on the SDOT site. Bellevue must be drooling to get them cheap in two years. Then Seattle will have the broken down trucks with only one plow as shown on the Snow Map page.

  • 37Ray October 7, 2009 (5:45 pm)

    Guys, I just lived in another part of the country where you could walk up and poke your finger through the metal on any car ~10 years old thanks mostly to the road salts used in winter. I did not say we have lost a perfect time capsule (cars do rust far more slowly here than other parts of the country however) nor was I ‘whining’ (?) just stating a point that classics may wish to consider based on experiences seen elsewhere.

  • grr October 7, 2009 (11:32 pm)

    Pretty sure most people with ‘classics’ aren’t driving around in the snow with them. And, we’re not talking about 4 months of constant salt on the roads. A few DAYS…to keep traffic moving. I’ll deal with a little salt if it means not being STUCK inside for a freakin’ week.

    and, …you want to complain about something, go after the Golf Courses. The amount of chemicals used there will blow your mind. Not to mention the massive waste of water to keep them ‘green’.

  • BadBrain October 8, 2009 (12:25 am)

    “Last I checked”: The salinity of the pacific ocean is about 3.5%. About 1% is what we call salt. What will be thrown on the streets is over 90% salt.

    No one is whining, the outcome is a fact. Just prepare.

    Without a doubt, the (to be expected) success will guarantee widespread and preemptive use – as already announced. Which in turn will increase the duration of use in general and so forth. Will end with an annual use of several thousand tons in the greater Seattle area. Then we will likely debate alternatives and also realize that salt has long been replaced elsewhere even before we started…

  • grr October 8, 2009 (9:20 am)

    we agree to disagree..I simply don’t think that a small amount of salt that we MAY need for a FEW days to deal with a freak snowstorm will damage anything, especially compared to all the pesticides and fertilzer used on local farms, lawns, golf course, etc.

  • dawsonct October 8, 2009 (10:44 am)

    The presence and potentialy greater harm caused by another pollutant doesn’t negate the harmful effects of the lesser one. If there are substances that work while creating a smaller environmental impact, we should absolutely look into them.

    Marc B., “Jeep” is an okay idea, as long as the snow doesn’t happen during one of it’s frequent trips to the mechanic. Maybe if you have two of them, or three.

  • Look4wrd October 9, 2009 (8:06 pm)

    “they will communicate with snowplow drivers by text message”

    What!?! Drivers texting while driving a giant snowplow in a snowstorm. Of all the possible communication methods they choose tho text the drivers?

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