Ending the 164th Street crosswalk dance

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

By Mike Allende

In fifth grade, I was a master break dancer (according to me). I’ve also become a skilled line dancer (again, according to me). And like many pedestrians, I’m skilled at the crosswalk dance.

You know the crosswalk dance. It’s like the hokey pokey: you put your right foot in, then out, then in, then out again. All the while, you try to figure out if that car is going to turn into the crosswalk or not. Hey, I never said it was a fun dance.

We will extend the traffic islands at the 164th Street Southwest on-ramp
to I-5, eliminating the HOV merge and making it safer for pedestrians to cross.

Well, we’re trying to end the crosswalk dance – and the guessing – at the busy ramp entrances on 164th Street Southwest and Interstate 5 in Lynnwood.

A project beginning soon (we need dry weather) will simplify the merge from 164th Street to I-5 by reducing the number of lanes that can make the merge from two to one.

As it is now, 164th Street has two lanes in each direction that can turn onto the I-5 ramps. The far right lane goes directly onto the freeway ramp, and the lane next to it can either proceed through on 164th Street or turn onto the I-5 ramp as a HOV. While all vehicles are supposed to signal their intent, we know it doesn’t always happen, and that’s where the crosswalk do-si-do comes in. Are they turning, or aren’t they?

This project will improve safety at the crosswalks by extending a pedestrian island that will essentially block I-5 ramp access from the lane that allows HOVs to turn onto the I-5 ramp. The remaining far right lane will be the only one where drivers can merge onto the freeway, simplifying things for pedestrians. The HOV lane will open to vehicles after the crosswalk. We’ll also be adjusting signage so drivers are aware of the change.

We will improve pedestrian safety at the crosswalk of  164th Street Southwest
and I-5 in Lynnwood by taking away the HOV merge lane.

This is the first of two parts of this project. In the future, we’ll also add pavement markings to make it a marked crosswalk and extend the islands even more. To further grab drivers’ attention, there will be a flashing warning beacon on signs that a pedestrian can activate by pushing a button at either side of the crossing.

Even with these changes, it’s important that pedestrians wait for a safe opening in traffic or for vehicles to clearly yield before stepping into the crosswalk. We don’t want people to have to dance their way to safety while dodging vehicles.

Clear it if you can steer it

Thursday, March 26, 2015

By Mike Allende

We receive a lot of questions about what someone should do if they are involved in a collision:
                  “Should I stay put and wait for help?”
                  “Should I move, and if so, where to?”
                  “Stay in the car or get out?”

While our Incident Response Team (IRT) and our friends at the Washington State Patrol respond as quickly as they can, even they can find themselves at the mercy of traffic conditions from time to time. So we went to Trooper Mark Francis of the State Patrol and IRT member John Perez to find out just what you should do if you’re in a collision.

If IRT arrives to help, listen and trust them to help get you to safety.
What’s the first thing a driver should do if they’re involved in a collision?
MF: The first step is making sure no one in any of the vehicles involved is injured. If they are, call 911 immediately. If everyone is OK and the vehicles are still operational, limp the cars off to the next exit, or at least over to the shoulder.

But don’t we have to wait for the police to investigate?
MF: Only if there are serious injuries. If it’s a minor collision, we can investigate it from another location such as a side road, a gas station parking lot or the shoulder. Once you’re safely off the road, then call 911, take photos if you want to, exchange your information and wait for the State Patrol to arrive.

If your car his mobile, find a shoulder, gore point or other safe spot
to drive to before exchanging information.
Don’t stop in the lane of traffic.
How can a driver help the State Patrol get their jobs done once off the highway?
MF: Staying in your vehicle always helps. Have your information ready like your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. And be prepared to either give or write a brief statement.

What if a car can’t be moved?
JP: It happens, and the best thing to do in that case is to listen to us and trust us. We know how to help, how to get you to safety and how to get traffic moving. Now and then a driver doesn’t want us to push them because they think we’ll damage the car. Our trucks have a layer of Teflon on the front so the most damage will be a black smudge that can be wiped off. Just put the car in neutral, stay off the brakes, listen to our instructions and we’ll get you and your vehicle to safety.

These cars quickly moved to the shoulder
after colliding on I-90. Moving to the grass on the
other side of the wall would be a great next step.
MF: Also be sure to activate your hazards so approaching vehicles know. Then safely exit your vehicle and find a safe spot to call 911, like the side of a hill or behind a retention wall or another large, sturdy object from where you can keep an eye on your vehicle from a distance. If there just isn’t a safe place to wait, stay in your vehicle. That will give you better protection than just standing near the roadway.

Anything else drivers should know that would help?
JP: We understand that collisions happen, stalls happen. We’re not there to judge you; we just want to help you, get you to safety and keep traffic going. So be honest about what’s going on and trust us to get things cleared quickly.

You don’t have to wait for the State Patrol to arrive
before moving to safety. If you can steer your car,
clear it off the highway as quickly as possible.
MF: People don’t get in collisions all the time so it’s easy to forget what to do in those situations. Plan ahead and be prepared. If everyone does their best to clear minor, fender-bender collisions off the freeways and highways, we can have a large impact on the amount of congestion they cause.

Weekend roadwork on SR 99 and I-90, and Seattle area events

By Mike Allende

One of the great things about living in the Seattle area is the number of big events we have. Whether it’s a large sports game, festival or convention, there always seems to be something going on in our area.

That also makes it tough to get roadwork done. Between major road and bridge projects and ongoing maintenance needs, there is a huge amount to do, and limited time to do it. When possible, we do work during off-peak driving hours such as nighttime weekday closures. But some work can only be done with extended closures, and those typically need to be done on weekends to avoid disrupting people’s work-week commutes.

When we have weekend-long work, we try to plan around events as much as possible to minimize traffic disruptions, but it’s impossible to close lanes for any extended period without it affecting people’s plans. It’s also pretty much impossible to do a full weekend closure without it coinciding with several events in the area.

In those cases, we look at a number of factors: expected attendance, anticipated traffic levels, where a particular project is in its schedule and what other work is happening in the vicinity. We know major sports events like the Seahawks (68,400 average attendance), Sounders (43,700) and Mariners (25,500) are going to have a large group of people going to the same place at the same time and while we do still have closures on game days, we try to avoid major work affecting traffic near the stadiums.

Traffic patterns are a bit different for most weekend-long events. In those cases, while we see a spike in traffic in the hour or so before the start of the event and near the close, we see traffic more spread out than we do with single-day events.

Let’s take a look at this weekend. Westbound I-90 will be detoured to the express lanes and the SR 99 Viaduct will be closed, along with other parts of SR 99, for a variety of work. Meanwhile, Emerald City Comicon is happening at the Washington State Convention Center, a Pro Bull Riders event is at KeyArena and Taste Washington! is at CenturyLink Field’s Event Center.

We know that we’ll see heavy traffic near the I-5 exits to the Convention Center leading up to the 10 a.m. opening of Comicon followed by more dispersed traffic throughout the rest of the day. But, a look at last year’s traffic volume chart for the Saturday of Comicon shows that traffic is basically the same as it is on any other Saturday. The only time we see any kind of real spike over normal Saturday traffic is on northbound I-5 in the 11 a.m. hour and around 5:30 p.m. as people arrive and leave. Traffic on southbound I-5 is basically the same as it is on any other Saturday.

A look at southbound (above) and northbound I-5 traffic on a
 normal Saturday compared to on last year’s Comicon Saturday.

Closing lanes at any time – especially when there are events going on – is never ideal, but it’s necessary to get work done to improve our infrastructure. The best way to maximize your fun and avoid being stuck in traffic is to adjust your travel plans, try to get to your event early or avoid the heavy traffic at the beginning of the event and get there a little later. Some planning ahead could be the difference between a long wait in traffic and a long wait in the autograph line.

Bridge inspections make sure drivers stay safe

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

By Tom Pearce

We’re going to clean and inspect the Deception Pass and Canoe Pass bridges beginning March 30, which got me thinking about our bridges and bridge projects. With 3,286 bridges – including overpasses and underpasses – that are part of the Washington state highway system, our crews have a big job maintaining, cleaning and repairing them to keep them in good condition.

What keeps our bridge staff so busy? We inspect every bridge at least once every two years. In fiscal year 2014 WSDOT inspected 1,892 bridges. Our crews look for cracks, rust and other deficiencies. We look at the paint, deck, rivets, expansion joints, bearings, moving parts, anything that could need repairs.

Using two UBITs on the Deception Pass Bridge,
as we did in 2009, helps complete the inspection
more quickly.
Some bridges are fairly routine to inspect, like freeway overpasses where a lift can be used from the street below. But cleaning and inspecting many bridges can be challenging for both our workers and for drivers. We may need to close a lane to stage our equipment, so we do our best to choose times when traffic is at its lowest level, often mornings and weekends.

A bridge like Deception Pass can only be reached from above, so it requires what we call a UBIT – an under bridge inspection truck. As you can see, it has a long arm with a bucket that can go under bridges to show our inspectors what they need to see. These can also be used to make repairs. Often hovering over water more than 100 feet in the air, this is not work for the faint of heart.

That’s not the only challenge with our Deception Pass bridge work. Using a UBIT requires us to close a lane, but with only two lanes there, drivers will have some delays while flaggers control traffic through the only open lane. And given the size of the bridge, this is no quick and simple job. We’ll take two weeks to inspect the Deception Pass and Canoe Pass bridges, so drivers should start planning now. Crews will be on the bridges from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays beginning March 30. They’ll finish at noon on Fridays, with the last day set for April 10. The good news is we’re combining efforts with the city of Oak Harbor, which has its main water line on the bridge. They’ll inspect the water line at the same time we inspect and clean the bridge. If we did it separately, that could mean four weeks of lane closures instead of two.

Inspecting bridges with a UBIT often means blocking a lane,
particularly on a narrow bridge like Deception Pass.
 With so many bridges to inspect, it takes a lot of coordination to check all of them every two years. As the weather improves, you may see our crews completing more inspections. It may cause minor traffic delays, but regular check-ups can catch things that need to be repaired early, when they’re easier to fix. That beats a major delay for an unexpected problem any day.

Students draw attention to first wildlife overcrossing east of Snoqualmie Pass through social media contest

By Meagan Lott

We team up every year with the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition to educate students about safe wildlife passage along the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East corridor through different contests.

This year we are launching a social media contest asking students to show how they “Heart I-90 Wildlife” on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

A design visualization of what the I-90 wildlife crossing
will look like when completed in 2020.
Students grades K-12 interested in entering can visit the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Web page, choose one or more species of wildlife native to the Cascade Mountains, illustrate the wildlife and take a photo of it to post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #iHearti90Wildlife.

Awards will be given in several categories including: best classroom collection; best mammal or bird; best amphibian, reptile or mollusk; most creative entry and people’s choice. Prizes include a GoPro HERO, a customized #iHearti90Wildlife T-shirt and an REI gift card.

The contest runs March 25 to May 11. Winners will be announced in late May.

This summer, we’ll start building the first wildlife crossing over I-90 which is located about 10 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass and is part of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project.

Featured Flickr Photo

Natural avalanche on Chinook
Natural avalanche on Chinook

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