Friday, January 11, 2019

Against the wind - Picking up bicycling ahead of the viaduct closure and the Seattle Squeeze

By Bart Treece

It's cold. It's dark outside. It's frequently wet and rainy. This is my reality as a bike commuter during the winter months in the Pacific Northwest. There are days when it's more of a mental challenge to get out the door due to the conditions, but when I finish my trip, I'm glad I did it!

With the extended closure of State Route 99 in Seattle beginning Friday night, Jan. 11, getting around town is going to be difficult – not just for the three-week closure, but for several years due to construction and changes around town during the Seattle Squeeze. To keep the regional transportation system moving, we need folks to help us out by making different choices to how and when they travel because, well, everything is connected. Although incorporating bicycling into your commuting repertoire can seem a little daunting this time of year, kick-starting a new healthy habit could help you power through tough traffic for years to come.

It can be done. Some riders from West Seattle recently took a spin and posted a video to show how it works.

Want to try it out? Here are some tips to get you going.

Where the rubber meets the road – Making sure your wheels are in good shape
There are several different bikes for several different purposes. Don't worry about having a road bike vs. an off-road bike, vs. a gravel bike, etc. You just want it to be in decent condition for your regular route. A trip to your local neighborhood bike shop can help you determine what, if any, work is needed for a reliable ride. Unless you know how to change a flat (it takes some practice), know where the transit routes are and carry an ORCA card. If you haven't loaded a bike onto a bus, here's a nifty video that shows you how.
Gearing up
As the saying goes, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." The reality is that you don't need fancy new bicycling gear to get on a bike. You do need to be comfortable. That means the rain or ski gear that you have now will probably be just fine on the road – basically what you wear to walk the dog on a misty day.

Visibility is "in"
Always remember to think about visibility and line of sight for the driver whose job it is to make sure they leave appropriate passing space or stop in time. Can you see the driver coming? Can they see you? That means bright white headlights up front and red ones in the rear. Research tells us that the most effective use of lighting or reflectivity in your clothing is to use "biomotion" — put those reflective strips or lights at knees and ankles. The motion of your feet and legs moving resembles walking and is more reflexively recognized as human movement by the brain of the driver. Reflective strips are now built into some outerwear, but more is better. This fall, I started using the reflective running vest I picked up for Hood to Coast. It's fairly inexpensive and adds more visibility on dark rides.

It should go without saying, but worth repeating, use hand signals (pdf 2 mb) for turning and stopping. Be predictable! Good communications on the road improves safety for everyone.
Left: Riding a bike for your commute takes some planning and getting used to, but can be a great option to avoid traffic, especially during the SR 99 closure. Right: Being comfortable and having a bike
in good working order are two keys to a good bike commute.

Getting around when the Viaduct closes and the new tunnel opens
A frequent question we've been asked: "How will people bike along Alaskan Way when the viaduct is closed?" The answer is, much like they do now. The route has changed slightly along the waterfront, but it will not be affected during the three-week closure of SR 99. Outside of special events like the Tunnel Ride, it will be closed to bicyclists. Later this year during demolition, there may be marked detours on the route.

How biking became my go-to choice
Looking back, picking up bicycling as a commute option was gradual for me. It was February 2011. I first tried one day a week, then two, then three, then I wanted to see how many days in a row I could keep it up. The tough hills eventually got a little easier. The more I did it, the more confidence I had to tackle longer distances for both commuting and for fun. Sure, the weather is better in May, but with several months of regular riding, the spring and summer became a welcome reward.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Connecting communities - New SR 518 off-ramp opens in Burien

By Nicole Daniels

The new eastbound SR 518 off-ramp to Des Moines Memorial Drive in Burien officially opened to traffic at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 10.
New opportunities are about to become available for Burien travelers. On Friday, Jan. 11, a brand new two-lane off-ramp from eastbound State Route 518 to Des Moines Memorial Drive is scheduled to open.

Quick history lesson for anyone unfamiliar with the area: For years, travelers could only access Des Moines Memorial Drive through city streets and a westbound SR 518 off-ramp. Drivers headed eastbound on SR 518 had to exit the highway and use local streets to access Des Moines Memorial Drive. Streets that weren’t designed for the heavy vehicle and truck traffic.
This new ramp will channel traffic away from those local streets and provide a more direct route for vehicles and trucks moving goods between the city of Burien’s Northeast Redevelopment Area (NERA), the Port of Seattle and the greater Puget Sound region.

This is one of the first Connecting Washington projects to be completed in western Washington. Connecting Washington is a 16-year, $16 billion program designed to enhance and maintain the state’s transportation system. Projects are scheduled through 2031.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Sustainable Transportation: Preserving, restoring and revegetating habitats

By Meagan Lott

As part of a sustainable transportation system we not only strive to support the economy, enhance equity and quality of life in our communities, but preserve the environment.

Across the state we are integrating habitat preservation into roadside development and operations as well as including other habitat features into project revegetation and restoration plans.
We’re replanting native vegetation in the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project area to restore habitat impacted by the project.

One example is the work done earlier this fall at the Scatter Creek Rest Area off of Interstate 5 north of Centralia. A variety of seed mixes were planted utilizing a seed drill for the rest area and a variety of soil preparation methods with hand seeding at nearby research plots. This site will be monitored for successful establishment and flowering of plants and pollinator activity. As a result, soil preparation and seed mix performance will inform restoration and maintenance practices to provide future habitat for pollinators along our roadsides.

Another example is the work to provide improvements to Edgecomb Creek under State Route 531 near Arlington. As part of the latest fish passage project, vegetation was installed to provide bank stabilization, high flow roughness mitigation and shading and habitat for juvenile salmonid.
Vegetation installed at Edgecomb Creek near Arlington provide slope stabilization and shading and habitat for wildlife.

On I-90 just east of Snoqualmie Pass, we teamed up with the US Forest Service to collect native seeds and cuttings from the Snoqualmie Pass East project area to grow at local nurseries. Once the plants matured, we planted them along the project area to restore the habitat we impacted during the first phases of the project.
We’ve teamed with the US Forest Service to collect native seeds and cuttings from the Snoqualmie East project to grow at nurseries and re-plant in the area.

Through these innovative methods to preserve and restore native habitats we are providing a more reliable, responsible and sustainable transportation system now and into the future.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Chute safety: Preparing for avalanche season

By Andrea E. Petrich

The rain was pouring down along SR 20 in Newhalem and the only place you could see patchy snow was high on the mountains towering over the small Whatcom County town on the day I rolled in for Highway Avalanche Search and Rescue (HAVSAR) Training this past December.

While there wasn't snow there, plenty had already fallen in the mountains. So much – along with some rain – that backcountry avalanche warnings were already in place. That risk had reached some of our highways too. The SR 20 North Cascades Highway closed for the season on Nov. 27, when its avalanche chutes became unsafe for crews to plow the area.

At the HAVSAR training, about 30 of us gathered in the holiday-decorated hall on the Seattle City Light campus. Our group consisted of our avalanche and maintenance staff, Seattle City Light first responders, Border Patrol, Northwest Avalanche Center forecasters, North Cascades National Park rangers and members of the Whatcom County Sherriff's team – all people who would respond and be part of highway clearing efforts if an avalanche slides across SR 20.
First responders from agencies around Whatcom and Skagit counties gather for avalanche training

One of our avalanche forecast and control specialists, Harlan Sheppard, refreshed us on types of avalanches, what to look for in hazard areas and what can trigger one. We saw fresh pictures of avalanche chutes along open stretches of our highways and talked about risk reduction strategies. This includes proper training, low-cost markers along highways (you may have seen red-wrapped poles on US 2 indicating a no-stop zone for crews) and adding weather stations to increase accurate forecasting.
Harlan Sheppard, a member of our agency's avalanche team, leads the Highway Avalanche Search and Rescue Training

Once we were done in the classroom, everyone bundled up in their gear to head outside for beacon, probing and shoveling practice. This trains first responders how to locate someone buried in an avalanche as well as the best way to rescue them while still keeping yourself and other first responders safe. With little snow, we did the best we could and the participants kept the scenario as real as possible while probing for a paper bag in a downpour.
Crews from multiple agencies practice beacon use during avalanche training

Our crews always try to forecast avalanche risk early and bring down risky chutes safely, but there are times when the mountain has its own ideas and slides come down unexpectedly. When that happens, we work quickly to make sure everyone in the area is safe while being careful to assess the risk. Often it's not just one avalanche you'll see, but secondary ones that could trap emergency responders if we aren't careful. Sometimes that means waiting a day or two before it's safe for crews to move equipment in to clear a highway.

The risk is also why we hold HAVSAR training every year – we want to keep our skills sharp and also ensure as many first responders as possible have a chance to attend.

What's that mean for you? It's vital that anyone who travels on mountains passes in the winter needs to be prepared. Extreme weather events can happen with little warning and delays and closures could mean long waits. Always plan to bring enough supplies (medication, contacts, socks, etc.) to get by in case of unexpected closures. And, especially during storms or changing weather, stay informed about conditions as you travel. You can do that by calling 511, downloading our mobile app, following regional social media accounts or checking our travel alerts page. (Never use electronic devices when behind the wheel, have a passenger check or wait until you can pull over to a safe spot).
Attendees at our HAVSAR training practice shoveling technique during avalanche rescue training in Newhalem

With new shovels and probes and fresh batteries in our beacons, this group of first responders is equipped, trained and ready for winter along SR 20. Help them help you by making sure you're also prepared anytime you travel across a pass.