Thursday, January 7, 2021

Enjoy the snow and the outdoors - but please don’t park or walk along roadways

By Barbara LaBoe

Winter's here and outdoor activity is a good option during a pandemic – so we know why so many people are flocking to the mountains right now. But we're also seeing some serious safety and access issues with travelers parking and walking along roadways near crowded areas.

Winter activities aren't new, but we're seeing much higher numbers as people seek out new outdoor activities or just a chance to get out of their house. Those higher numbers mean more crowding at popular recreation areas and this poses serious safety concerns. It also is preventing our crews from clearing some roadways and passes. With several more months of winter ahead of us, we're asking all travelers to help us keep everyone along our roadways, exit ramps and interchanges safe.
An increase in people looking for winter recreation has led to a dangerous increase in vehicles parking alongside
a highway and sledding on interchanges right next to the road.

Highway shoulders are not parking lots – or walkways
On multiple mountain pass roadways, ramps and interchanges across the state, we're seeing vehicles parking along shoulders when parking lots or other areas fill up. This also means people walking along the highway, often carrying bulky gear that obstructs their view of vehicles around them, or wearing snow gear that may affect their mobility.  This is a tragedy waiting to happen – just as it was this summer when we saw similar practices. Now, however, we have lower visibility and snowy/icy roads in play as well – and we've already seen close calls in areas.
Cars parking on the side of highways makes it hard for snow plows to maneuver and get through to treat and clear roads.

In the past few weeks, we also saw people using highway interchanges as sledding hills very close to active traffic and areas where crews are clearing snow. Again, this poses serious dangers, including the chance a sledder will shoot out into open traffic. Interchanges and other highway right of ways are not designed for pedestrian use or recreation and they're simply not safe for those activities – even if covered in snow.

Vehicles parking along the shoulder also slow down traffic and increase the risk of crashes as passing vehicles have to maneuver through the now-narrowed area. That's the last thing we need during busy travel times or winter weather.

Help keep our snowplows moving
In addition to the safety factor, vehicles parking along shoulders at interchanges and other areas are also causing problems for our plows and the crews working hard to keep the roadways open.

On Snoqualmie Pass, plows couldn't make it into storage areas for additional salt and supplies recently due to vehicles parked on shoulders and blocking access. In some cases, there also wasn't enough room to turn around a plow to do their return runs, or barely enough space for large plows to move through roadways that people decided to turn into parking lots. Our partners at the Washington State Patrol ticketed some of those vehicles, but they don't have the staffing for such widescale parking enforcement.
A snow blower works to clear US 2 Stevens Pass while in the distance people walk on the highway,
creating potentially dangerous situations for them and vehicles.

During heavy storms these delays could lead to more road closure as crews aren't able to keep roadways treated or cleared. It can also affect emergency crews being able to reach crash sites. We hope everyone keeps that in mind when looking for safe, legal parking options.

So, what can you do to help lower these risks?
  • Plan your trips ahead of time – and have a Plan B if your first choice is full. Simply driving until you see snow isn't always safe, especially if there is no designated parking area. Some areas also may not be developed due to avalanche or other risks that aren't immediately apparent.
  • Find safe places to recreate. State parks as well as local parks can be a good option to explore the outdoors – check state park sites and safety tips online. If visiting ski areas, check ahead to see if they have limits or new safety procedures due to the pandemic.
  • Check conditions and know your limits. Heavy snow can increase avalanche dangers. Check the Northwest Avalanche Center for forecasts and alerts and be sure to carry safety supplies with you. If you're not used to outdoor snow activities, research risks and needed skills, or consider a less risky alternative.
  • Do not park or walk along highway shoulders. Hate to sound like a broken record here, but this is not safe for you or passing motorists.
  • Pack extra supplies. Whether it's due to a road closure, vehicle trouble or other issue, it's always a good idea to have extra food, warm clothing and other supplies during winter travel. Not sure what you need? Check out our online winter supplies list for suggestions.
Illegal parking alongside highways puts everyone in potentially dangerous situations.

We know many Washingtonians enjoy outdoor winter activities and we want everyone – members of the public as well as our crews – to be safe when they do so. Please keep these tips in mind to help ensure all of your outdoor adventures are safe and fun.


... said...

Build more access and parking lots then

WSDOT said...

In general there aren’t safe areas in these locations that could serve as additional parking areas, these are highway shoulders and on- and off-ramps. The shoulders are needed for emergency vehicle access, room for plows to go through, room for plowed snow, etc. And WSDOT can’t create parking lots on land that’s outside of our right of ways. The existing parking lots in these areas are often full with the increase in numbers we’re seeing this year, which is why travelers may need to have a couple of destination options when they head out.

Unknown said...

Is there a list or criteria to determine what places do allow parking? For example, just east of Stevens Pass on hwy 2 there is a plowed pullout at Smithbrook road. It seems to be an established parking location that is deliberately plowed, but I don't recall signs that specifically allow parking there. How can we know where we can park?

Beth said...

"And WSDOT can’t create parking lots on land that’s outside of our right of ways." You sure can - this is what snow parks are. Federal property plowed by state departments. There are MANY parking lots that could be plowed that are not - kendal catwalk/PCT trailhead parking, SE Denny creek road & attached parking lots, smith brook road, just to name a few. Snow parks are almost all full every winter weekend with consistently increasing use - where does that new money go?

WSDOT said...


Thanks for the question. In general it’s best to seek out designated and marked parking areas. Highway shoulders and access ramps are not designated parking (and are not safe for vehicles or pedestrians). The area near Smithbrook is a turnaround area for our plows and is plowed for their use, not parking – thanks for checking! We know parking can be difficult when areas are crowded, which is why it’s a good idea to try and plan your trip ahead to identify designated parking and other location options if your first choice is full.

Darrel Ferguson said...

This activity will continue to grow as more people are moving to WA. Just informing them that parking on the shoulder won’t be enough to deter them. Plowing existing state owned parking lots or partnering with private establishments to increase parking sounds like the way to go.

Katie said...

This is not the only year snow parking has been an issue. Can we please increase access?

WSDOT said...

Katie, thanks for your comment. You're correct that this has been an issue before, but it's in much greater numbers this year – likely due to the pandemic and more people seeking out outdoor activity.
However, the increased demand doesn't make highway or ramp shoulders a safe or legal place to park. That's why we're suggesting people have nearby back-up locations in mind before they head out -- so they have options if their first choice is full.
WSDOT doesn't own recreation parking lots – nor are we funded or staffed to create new ones – so we're focused on sharing the dangers of the activity we're seeing on the roadways.

WSDOT said...

Darrel, WSDOT does assist in plowing some existing sno-park lots but is not funded or staffed to create new parking locations – nor would we have authority to create then on land not owned by WSDOT . We want to alert people to the dangers of parking on the shoulder and suggest they look for back-up locations before heading out so they have options if their first-choice is full.

Unknown said...

There isn't room? Have you driven the pass it's nothing but roads and trees it would be smart to build a few parking lots to park for sledding besides hiking for the summer and have the plows maintain as needed it's not like we don't pay enough to use the parks trails and lakes in the summer

Unknown said...


Thank you for your hard work and dedication to a dangerous, essential, and apparently thankless job. It's unfortunate to see people ignorant of what you are funded to and/or are capable of doing. I wonder how many people criticizing the DOT are willing to pay for the necessary amenities they desire...

I travel on I-90 a fair amount, and seeing you out there doing the hard work you do in hazardous conditions to keep up our invaluable infrastructure makes me thankful for our public workers and public servants who make it possible for America to be great. Thanks again.

"Give 'Em A Brake"

Unknown said...

If we just keep clearing land and building more parking lots, where does it end? Many are too young to remember the Joanie Mitchell song, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Hmmm, sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

There are other winter recreation activities and locations that aren’t crowded where people can go if their initial destination is full. Not forcing their way into someplace that is already full is practiced, learned behavior that many parents, apparently, need to consider, especially when parking illegally is doing nothing but teaching their children to ignore the law ~ as long as it’s something that they really want then it’s okay? No, it isn’t okay. So, the kids are going to be disappointed. Hopefully, it can become a teachable moment for the parents, i.e. get up early and get going if you want to go sledding or tubing because the parking lot fills up fast!

I understand that WDOT doesn’t have the manpower to enforce parking regulations along these roads. How about “No Parking” signs? Or better yet, put up “Towaway Zone” signs and give the contract to a local towing company? While it may be a harsh lesson to strand the parents at the snow park with their kids, I doubt if they would park illegally next time. If WDOT officials object to that, there are plenty of boulders in the mountains that could be strategically placed next to the roadway to block people from parking on the shoulder.

Personally, I like the towing option. The law against parking on the shoulder of the road was made for a reason, and that reason isn’t so it can constantly be ignored by parents who think it doesn’t apply to them.

If you didn’t get there early enough to nab a parking spot, next time get up earlier! Or go somewhere else.

Jennifer said...

Hear, hear. More thanks and gratitude to WSDOT for managing a very difficult job. This past weekend we drove over Blewitt and Snoqualmie passes and witnessed all the cars lining both sides of access roads and the highway. Then, as pedestrians, these same motorists were darting across roads (dropping their gear along the way) without a thought for cars coming off and on the highway ramps. How unbelievably reckless. If there isn't parking space, there isn't parking space. End of story. Regrettably, WSDOT bears the brunt of such inconsideration. Our road crews deserve far better.

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