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November 23, 2010 at 8:13 AM

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Tales from the commute

Posted by Seattle Times staff

West Seattleites talk about Monday's commute

Readers share their memories about commutes from hell Monday evening. (Go here to add your story, and read even more accounts from tired drivers and bus riders.):

Hokey777: I left east Lake Union around 4:30 to pick up my wife at Terry and Mercer. Getting to Terry was not a problem in our Nissan Murano AWD, but while on the way, I could see that getting on I-5 South was going to be difficult because Mercer was a mess. Almost everyone wanted to go I-5 North, and for some reason the express lanes were closed so 4 lanes down to one. We left Terry at 5:15, and with some mad driving skills and a proper course laid in, I weaved in and out of the cars that were getting no traction, and within minutes we were on our way in the carpool lane heading home to Kent East Hill.

Traffic started slowing at Boeing field and then came to a halt and we were going nowhere. ALL LANES BLOCKED at the Duwamish curve about 2 miles ahead. We were trapped and for the next 9 hours, we would move a couple car lengths in an hour. Finally, around 2am, and a 1/4 tank of gas later, things started to move at about 2 mph.

Once we reached the elevated spot where all of this occurred earlier, cars and trucks were still sliding everywhere. A semi was spinning his wheels blocking left lanes and numerous cars were abandoned on the right. But we made it through and it was smooth sailing from there. We turned down our street and into the garage we went and the time was 2:32 a.m. 10 hour commute!

The Beast: Left Renton at 11:00 am. Figured I'd pick my kid up at her bus stop since it was let out. Went down Maple Valley tried going up 140th went about 100 yards knew my two drive truck wouldn't make it turn around went back into Renton. Headed for old Benson road, only problem was a Mercedes going to slow. Went around her when she spun out. Cut across SE 168th without a problem, to 128th to Petrovitsky thinking I was home free. the last little hill was jammed with car unprepared or without knowledge to drive in snow. I knew I could take the hill with a running start but couldn't with all the cars in my way. So I turn onto 134th wide open side street out of the way I parked. Walked up met my Daughter and had my wife in the 4x4 take us home. Logged on and finished up working from home. People if your car won't make it get it out of the way. Went out and got my truck home late Monday night.

KikisDad: Wow, I'm so glad it was my birthday yesterday and that I had already planned to work a half day! I left Microsoft campus at 1pm, picked up the ham for Thursday at Honey Baked in Bellevue and then drove over an empty 520 and I-5 S to RePC in SoDo to have a wander around their computer museum. Taking Airport Way and then Swift, I was back home near the Othello light rail station by 2 p.m. What a difference 2-3 hours made.

Cyndi2: My son left work "early" at 4:00 pm from N. 85th in Seattle to head home to Renton. I received my first text message from him at 7:45 saying he was only near Boeing Field. At 9:00 he was still sitting in basically the same place. Cold, hungry, tired, and frustrated but thankfully with a full tank of gas. He had one guy yell at him when he turned off his engine and exited to pee - but no one was moving anyway. At 11:45 pm he was still near Boeing Access having moved only about a mile. Final text was at 3:00 a.m. saying he had finally arrived home. An 11-hour nightmare commute! Smart enough to stay home today,

Umpire66: All these horror stories. I must be very fortunate or living a blessed life. Left work in Ballard @ 3pm for usual 1 hr 15 min commute home up north. Cruised most of the way until Everett and crossing the Trestle on Hwy 2. Got home at 5:10pm 2hr 10 min. Not bad. No complaints. Here's the kicker. Drove into work this morning. Left at usual time 4:20am. Pulled into work in Ballard @ 5:40am. Roads had patchy spots, but otherwise I was bombing down the road doing 40+. I drive a Front Wheel Drive Ford Focus ZX3.

Mutts: It took 10 hours, 46 minutes to get from South Lake Union to Southcenter.

It took one hour to get down Fairview Avenue to I-5 South. From there, it was a crawl until somewhere around Boeing Field when traffic just stopped. I lost track of time. We didn't move for 3 or 4 hours, maybe?

Apparently, although I haven't heard officially, the Duwamish Curve was a hellish sheet of ice. We had to wait while two semis and three cars were untangled, and then for plowing and sanding.

One thing irritated me more than anything: The traffic reports couldn't tell us what was happening. They kept saying that southbound was a mess from Seattle but after the Duwamish curve it "eased up". They made it sound like you could get through; that it was inching along. Total BS. That's the LAST time I listen to any traffic report...

Kudos to my fellow trapped peeps who kept their cool and didn't get all psycho when traffic started again!

Seattle Times Online Development Manager Joel Hartshorn, as told to Matt Ironside:

Joel thought he was leaving work early to beat the worst of Monday’s snow. He headed out to catch a Sound Transit bus back to his Gig Harbor home shortly before 4 p.m. After waiting in vain for a bus to arrive at his usual stop, he and a group of fellow commuters used phone calls to Sound Transit to guide themselves from the stops at 9th and Stewart to 4th and Lenora before finally catching a Sound Transit 595 on 2nd Avenue.

He went from the frigid streets to a toasty warm bus at roughly 5 p.m. Monday. It took the bus roughly 30-40 minutes to get to the I-5 onramp, which turned out to be just the beginning of the slowdown. Passengers turned to their electronic devices early in the trip.

“The buses were absolutely packed,” said Hartshorn, who pulled out his laptop to kill the time at first, but easily burned through his remaining battery charge before the bus reached the north end of Boeing Field. He went to his phone to listen to music at first, but later decided it might be best to conserve his battery power. The passenger seated beside him played World of Warcraft on his laptop. When he gamed away his first battery he pulled out a spare, but it wouldn’t last ‘til the end of the ride.

Meanwhile other passengers were getting desperate. The bus was creeping along so slowly that they could hop off the bus to relieve their stressed bladders on the side of the road, before climbing back on. Some gave up and started to walk, but Hartshorn heard about a Tacoma pedestrian being struck and killed and decided it was safest to stick with the bus.

He saw other passengers calling friends for help and leaving the bus to walk to places to stay or get a ride. At one point he saw four passengers leave the bus, crawl over the I-5 center barrier and climb in a pickup going in the opposite direction.

By midnight most people’s phones and laptops were drained and the bus was only beyond Boeing Field. Passengers were beat and the frustrated driver steered the vehicle in the direction of a little relief. She took an exit south of Boeing Field and expertly steered the bus through the maze of abandoned cars, fender benders, and jacked-knifed semis to a Chevron station. When she reached the end of the ramp, nearly the entire bus applauded. The station gave passengers a chance to use toilets, buy snacks and stretch legs.

After consulting a police officer on the best routes, the bus then used alternatives around Highway 99 and Marginal Way to bypass as much of I-5 as possible. Hartshorn was impressed with the driver’s dedication to her passengers.

When he was the last passenger off the bus at roughly 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, he had a lot of praise for the driver who never got much of a break through the 10-plus-hour ordeal. The driver told him that she was probably headed for the foyer of one of the Sound Transit buildings to try to get some sleep. In thinking back over the trip, Hartshorn had one major regret.

“You know,” he said, “I should have asked her name.”

Elder Dawg: Left downtown Seattle at 3:00 P.M heading home to Gig Harbor. I made it down I-5 to the Southcenter hill which quickly turned into a parking lot. I made a smart choice to exit at Orillia Rd heading for Rt 99. The exit was clogged with a jack-knifed semi and many stuck vehicles. It took about 30 minutes to get through the stuck traffic to 99 and another 30 minutes to go South through the SeaTac area.

Highway 99 worked fine for me after that. I came into Tacoma through side streets, went down Ruston Way to avoid hills, and then back up Pearl to Hwy 16. Then, back over to Gig Harbor through slow traffic.

I am so glad I purchased 4 new snow tires and had them studded on Saturday! That, and driving a Saab is the main reason it only took me 3 and a half hours to get home. I am very thankful.

Dons Comments: It was the worst commute I've had in 30 some years but at only 3 hours I realize how lucky I was.

We went North on I-5. It took us about an hour to get on the freeway in downtown then an hour or so to get past the trucks and buses that were stuck on the ship cannel bridge.

When you drive over the bridge in normal weather you don't realize what an arch it has to it. That coupled with it being a bridge made it an ice rink that the heavy vehicles and the light rear wheel drive pickups just couldn't manage.

And for those who are blaming WSDOT and those who are blaming other drivers, don't forget to add in the economics and terrain that are the other parts of the dynamic of winter weather in the Puget Sound.

Vegemite: Left Spokane at 10 a.m. Solid ice, both in town, and on I-90. Multiple accidents on black ice at Indian John Hill. Chains required in the pass. White out conditions. Thankfully, few idiots in the pass, apparently they were all stuck in the commute in Seattle. More white out and ice on highway 18. Total gridlock where 18 meets 167. Tried to put chains back on, but white knuckled scared people driving erratically scared us off after getting one on. Made it home with one chain. Total time: 9 hours. Doesn't sound so bad after reading these stories.

Gearheadruss: Left Northgate Mall area at 4:00 p.m., south on I-5 to MLKing exit, got home to Skyway at 3:05 AM. 11 Hours to get home.

Chris Robbin: Well let me tell ya ... I work in Tukwila, got off at 4 pm. Head to Seattle (Queen Anne )after pulling off to the side for about two hours because of fear of running out of gas and traffic was not moving. Arrive at my place at 3:10 am. It was truly a very long day.

Konasutra: Left downtown Bellevue at 5:00 PM riding my bike. Got home in Tukwila (18 miles) at 7:30 PM. It took about an hour longer than normal. Traffic on the surface streets downtown, in Georgetown and everywhere else was completely gridlocked, so I rode on the sidewalk the entire way. I passed all of the vehicles that were sitting on Airport Way and West Marginal due to I-5 being closed. I had no traction problems on the way in or on the way home. Love my studded bike tires.

Wisher: My son left Third and Jackson at 3:30PM on a Sound Transit bus, heading for Lynnwood. He got on the freeway about 7:30PM, the bus jack-knifed at the Lynnwood Park 'n ride at 10:30, arrived at the Ash Way Park 'n Ride at 12:00 midnight. That's 8 1/2 hrs for a normal 1 hr ride. Need to get some bathrooms on those buses.

Seattle 10: Very close call on yesterday's first northbound No. 355 bus. The bus driver was unaware that the express lanes were closed to northbound traffic, so entered the on-ramp at 5th Avenue. A few passengers knew it was closed, so let the driver know, but there was nothing he could do. The announcement from Metro came about 5 minutes after we'd entered. Thankfully we didn't encounter oncoming cars in our lane on the blind curves. The road was icy, so the cars that had to swerve out of our way did so at great risk. The bus driver stayed calm and we were very lucky, but it could have been a very bad situation.

Tom in Bellevue: Had a 3-hour delay out of Denver after trip to New Orleans for the game. Arrived at 12:30 am. Hardest time was getting the shuttle to the parking lot. Took about 30 minutes to get from airport to Bellevue on I-405 at 35-40 mph. Everyone was going the same speed. Didn't try taking my friend home to Magnolia until 5:30 am. Turned out to be the right move. Had no traffic. Trip took 60 minutes round trip from Bellevue to Magnolia. This time in a Tahoe which was much easier.

Seattlite8407: From my perspective, working in the SODO district and Living in Wallingford I figured roads would be okay. Driving a 1997 Outback with fresh tires it was time to see what it can do after driving in previous years' snow storms piloting a 95 Camaro.

I used common sense: Avoid Elevated Highways, Freeways in general, stay away from the steepest hills. It took me about 1 hour and 30 minutes to make it home (10 miles via the route I took); not even trying to go up the hill I live on.

The most gridlocked strech I hit was Elliot Ave. Between Broad and Denny. 4-5 cars in each lane were making it through the light. The back up was bad again approaching the Ballard Bridge. Luckily, the right most lane wasn't heavily travelled and I exited to Nickerson.

Nickerson was tough for anyone heading west. There were people helping out some stuck cars right around the Seattle U. campus. An officer was on the scene, but I don't know what he was doing besides standing there. The rest of my drive was free and clear of heavy traffic - though it was very icy and looked as though it had never been plowed.

r@b1dr@bb1t: Two hours from the onramp at Marginal Way to the Orillia Rd. exit. 4 hours total commute time, Seattle to Olympia. I guess, after reading some of the other stories, I am actually rather lucky.

Kerfoker: I and two coworkers left 16th Ave/E. Olive St at 3:30 pm heading west on pine but after gridlock at Broadway we circled back and managed to return and park truck at work at 6:00 pm. We then hiked from there to 105th St/Greenwood and got home a little after 8:00 pm.

Relena: It took me six hours to get from Kent to Seattle; unfortunately, that seems to be typical. However, I don't think we can entirely blame WSDOT and all those involved. They were working very hard and through two nights; Seattle has weather like this MAYBE once or twice a year; to invest more money for one day's horrible commute is a complete waste and moreover, most of the delays and problems were from drivers with an inability to pay attention and realize that they need to slow down, downshift rather than slam the brakes, and a better preparation.

Penpencil: I left work at 5 p.m. and decided to take 99 to Marginal Way to 4th Avenue to get home to Capitol Hill. Turned out to be the best choice among a variety of bad, bad choices. I drove slow, around 5-10 MPH the whole way since the streets were just sheets of ice. It was hairy, and I was scared, but I made it home -- in four hours. Lots of traffic in front of the airport and at the Marginal Way/Tukwila International Boulevard intersection.

I've lived in the Midwest and am originally from the East Coast. Many people have said it before, but I'll say it again: it is shocking how poorly local our municipalities deal with snow and ice.

NWNativeSon: I left downtown Seattle 5th & Jefferson at 3:45, released a bit early from work by our manager. I previewed all the available traffic maps (for City of Seattle and WSDOT) and chose to stay off the freeways.

I took Dearborn to Rainier Avenue and followed it through the Valley and down past Lake Washington making it into Renton by 4:35pm. An hour later (5:45) I was still waiting to cross Grady Way to go uphill on Talbot Road (the northern end of SR 515). I observed lots of patient folks letting others merge - and quite a few not-so-patient folks forgetting their basic rules of the road (like "don't enter an intersection if you won't clear it before the light changes" and "slower traffic, keep right").

It took another 30 minutes to reach the top of the grade at Petrovisky Road and the Benson Highway (SR 515). This delay was caused entirely by folks leaving their non-winterized vehicles where they stalled, tires spinning, unable to navigate the gentle grade.

South of the North Benson Plaza area multiple cars with traction problems were being helped by a group of young men, out in traffic without any reflective clothing or thought of their own personal safety (who had parked their own vehicles blocking traffic).

I made the last two miles home by 6:45, safe and sound to the relief of my sweet wife. I attribute the primary reason for my three hour commute to people out on the roads with ill-equipped vehicles and/or no experience driving in extreme winter weather.

Ally Avery: Got on a bus at 5:25 at Olive & Terry and got to Mukilteo at 8:30... so ridiculous. It took an hour just to get to the I-5 on-ramp.

Jessie Asp: Brother left Mercer Island at 5:30...still on I-5 stuck in Lake City mess. It's now 10:40.

Charly McCreary: Got on the bus downtown at 5:05 p.m. At 8:00, we had only made it to 1st & Lander (by Home Depot) so I got off and walked to Delridge Way SW where my car and husband were awaiting me. Made it home by 9:00. I wonder if the rest of the folks on that bus are home yet. What a night!

Matt Boblett: I left Greenlake at 3:30 p.m. to pick up a friend at SeaTac. I arrived at just after 6, and we returned to Greenlake at 11:05 p.m. In all that time, I saw exactly ONE snow plow, and it was on a mostly-cleared road, not plowing or anything.

The ... fact that I-5 itself was not plowed (certainly by the U District) and such major roads as 5, 99, 520, and the like were never kept clear, demonstrates a remarkable inability by our community leaders to execute an effective plan. This is ineptitude of the worst kind; if these leaders are not able to come up with an effective plan in the next two weeks, they all need to step down in shame or be fired and replaced.

Andrew Fickes: I agree with Matt Boblett. My wife left work at 4 p.m. from South Seattle to drive home to Auburn. She is still making her way home along I-5 southbound at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. WSDOT, state patrol and government leaders, etc., are all to blame for this mess we're in. Everyone: write your representative and tell them how you feel.

Colin O'Connor: Three-hour commute from Laurelhurst to Kirkland via 520 and 405. I thought this would be the safest bet given that they are both major thoroughfares. I checked the traffic map and the alert section of wsdot's web page before I left at 6 p.m. and saw no signs of any trouble. An hour into the journey, I was being pushed into the left lane so that I could get by about six disable vehicles. An hour after that I made my way into a Juanita curb after skating down 124th and a half mile from home was again pushed by some good Samaritans who just happened to be strolling by. I understand these weather conditions can come on fast, but the complete non existence of any kind of emergency assistance vehicles, snow plows, salt/sand trucks and the obvious lack of preparation by wsdot (come on, guys, this happened no less than 2 years ago!) is absolutely deplorable. What is wrong with our government services? A Big Rave to the woman on 520 who helped me get back in my lane and the 3 others who got me moving again. They had pushed 30 others by the time they got to me. I never once saw a state patrol car and the one Kirkland Police who stopped to 'observe' told me there was nothing she could do to help - besides call a tow truck, of course! My thoughts go out to those stuck on I-5 for 6+ hours and the bus commuters stuck with a 5 hour commute to West Seattle. Something is really wrong here. I'll be spending a good amount of time tomorrow (since I am now ice bound) calling and writing whoever needs to know.

Mallory Robbins Triplett: ‎90 minutes from South Downtown Seattle to UW Seattle Campus...almost got stuck on the Ship Canal Bridge (with others) as the wet road turned to icy road during that time...then 45 minutes from UW Campus to I-5 after picking up my daughter, then 20 minutes from 45th to Mukilteo--wide open at 5:30 p.m...weird.

Manage Quote: I was leaving downtown around 6:45 p.m. to go northbound on I-5. What a mistake! It wasn't moving at all for hours. Around 10 p.m. I was at the mercer/ seattle center exit on the left and I moved over to take it because just like the people on the freeway I was tired, exhausted and needed to strech myself out. It had been three hours and all I had travelled was maybe a mile. I took the exit and downtown was deserted. Denny Way was blocked but by using navigation I was able to find Aurora Ave North and get onto highway 99. Traffic was moving freely and not at all like I-5 was blocked. I even stopped for a pizza and got home to mountlake terrace at midnight. Not a great distance in miles to be going but I-5 proved to be a disasterous choice. (I-5) was parking-lot traffic from 7 pm to 10 pm maybe even longer. After this experience I can tell you I will be avoiding traffic times and not going out around 4 to 6 oclock. But this was parking lot traffic probably up till 11pm. If I hadn't gone out of there I would have gone insane.

Peter Turner: After over four and a half hours on the Route 522 bus from 6th and Pike starting just after 6:00 pm, the bus was not able to make it up the Lake City off ramp. After trying for about a half hour, the driver let those of who wanted to leave off the bus and I set out to walk the couple of miles to our home on NE 120th street in Lake City. I made it home just a little before midnight. I have to commend our bus driver for keeping his cool and trying his best to get everybody home. The walk/run through a winter wonderland was invigorating to say the least and quite welcome after standing all those hours on the bus.

K.C. Procter: I was stuck on an articulated bus with 150-200 people for 10 hours traveling down I-5 last night. Got home at 2 AM.

Quartus: Four and a half hours to get from Beacon Hill to Queen Anne Hill, seven miles. Not one plow, salt truck or cop in sight the entire time. 1st Avenue was a parking lot, Harbor Island a disaster. Note to our Mayor; when it snows, plow, salt & repeat. Don't try to paint a bike lane on it. Your incompetence allowed the city to become paralyzed by conditions that other cities go through and handle every time.

DonoStan: I left downtown Kirkland at 4:15 pm, bound for the Seattle waterfront. I figured since schools and businesses were letting folks out at noon that traffic would be light. Yeah, right. All was fine until the SR-520 onramp, where wall-to-wall traffic found us averaging under 5MPH all the way across the bridge. 90 minutes later I was finally at the Western highrise, a ltitle worried whether I'd be able to get up it at such slow and/or stop and go speeds, but it was okay. I saw more of the same ahead, so elected to bail onto the Montlake exit. I negotiated the exit, across the Montalke bridge, and left onto Pacific. I thought I was home free now, flat along the shores of Lake Union all the way to Fremont. I turned right up Nickerson figuring to get on 15th and find my way into the city and the waterfront. But as I approached, there were 30+ sets of tailights on the gentle hill leading up to 15th. I knew if I got stopped there I probably would not get going again. So I turned around and headed down Westlake. Here again I encountered a wall of traffic starting around KCPQ that simply was not moving at all. I tested my traction. Poor. I thought about the fact my car was still in one piece. With that and the frustration of the past two hours, I pulled into the big parking lot at 1818, parked it, and started walking. I walked along the nearly 1 mile backup to Mercer, down under and out the other side. The snow was coming down pretty good and the wind drifting it across the deserted side streets. Brrr. I lit out across the landscape on Cedar to 1st Ave. From there I turned South. The Cyclops beckoned, I'd always intended to stop in for a pop there someday, so today after 30+ minutes into the blowing cold was the day. 15 minutes and a Boundary Bay IPA later I was back on the sidewalks and hoofed it the rest of the way to the waterfront (Ivars). Now I gotta go fetch my car sometime today, before somebody tows or vanadalizes it.

Shelk: So i left work early at 4 PM out of Tukwila. I got to I-5 and the first few miles were pretty smooth... THEN PARKING LOT GRIDLOCK. 6 HOURS AND 15 MINUTES LATER I was home in North Seattle. That is only because i took the Mercer Exit and went back roads. If I were to have stayed on I-5 I would have been out there past midnight. That was a MESS!!!!!!!!!! Why does I-5 get so bad? it makes no sense.

Healingspoonful: Our 747 touched down at SeaTac after a long trip of turbulence and cramped legs, coming from a balmy 60 degrees in NY to a frigid 25 in Seattle. I called my father, hoping he had arrived. From the air, thanks to new WiFi, we had learned of bad traffic conditions and icy roads. But I didn't anticipate what my father told me: it was impossible to even get to the airport; he had tried for 2 hours before learning that I-5 southbound was closed near the airport. No cabs were leaving. They even called the airport hotels: nope, all sold out. If I took the Light Rail downtown I might have a chance at a room, but they were going fast. So, minding the prickles on the back of my neck, I leaned towards the perfect stranger sitting across the aisle. I had overheard that he was driving home. I hadn't spoken a word to him en route, but he looked nice, bearing no resemblance to my stereotype of a homicidal maniac. I asked where he was headed, and while learning that our paths didn't align perfectly, he still offered to take me to Northgate, where my father could pick me up. Shortly thereafter, we were in his car. I learned his name and introduced myself as well. We left the airport at 9:45 pm. From the conditions, I expected it would be an hour, maybe two, tops. But from the outset, I realized how wrong I was. Going southbound, I could see an endless curl of bumper-to-bumper cars, unmoving, stalled by a jack-knifed semi. We crawled northbound behind a monster line of cars, trucks and semis. Our creeping slowed to a standstill. We chatted aimlessly about the KEXP music we were listening to, and I yawned surreptitiously, as it took two hours to crawl two miles. All the while, I kept in touch with my father, who updated me of the miserable conditions. My father took a nap while we sat with our fellow commuters for the next hour in an unrelenting traffic jam. Finally, many yawns, gritty eyeballs, and a full bladder later, we reached the James St exit (164A), where we were diverted around the accident. From there to Northgate, it was gloriously open roads, despite the few anxious drivers that were still crawling forward, barely more than coasting. We reached Northgate, and did a terrific doughnut in the fresh parking lot snow. All in all, it took 4.5 hours to reach my father, with the bulk of those 4 hours spent going less than 4 miles. I am happy to be home, finally. Snowed in, tired, but still happy to be here.

Do you have a harrowing tale from your commute in this week's winter storm? Share your stories here.

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