After a three-year pilot program, SDOT has deployed its expanded 24/7 response team throughout Seattle in an effort to keep roadways clear and congestion down.
The SDOT Response Team (SRT) started out with two trucks working to respond to traffic collisions and roadway obstructions in the north and south portions of the city, evolving over time as the city eyes an upcoming “Period of Maximum Constraint.”
The full rollout increased the number of units to five and added staff, said SRT supervisor Patricia Westsik.
“It didn’t use to be a 24/7 program,” she said. “It is now a 24/7 program.”
Two units will be operating continuously in the north and south areas of the city, using data to determine where responses are most likely to be needed, Westsik said, such as north of the Battery Street tunnel and near the West Seattle Bridge.
The response team has responded to more than 4,000 incidents so far this year, said Rodney Maxie, SDOT interim deputy director of maintenance operations, and most of those were collisions. Thirteen percent of the responses were for stalled vehicles. Maxie added the team helped out more people who had run out of gas than the department had anticipated.
Westsik said SRT will handle everything from stalled vehicles to trees and other debris in roadways, and will also address potholes that could negatively impact traffic.
Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said he can see these units being useful in other situations, such as parades, marches and sporting events.
SDOT is using pink signs to differentiate road hazards from construction areas, which use orange signage, Westsik said. The SRT trucks also have dynamic message boards on top, allowing crews to customize what people see as they approach an affected area.
“If nobody’s hurt, we’re getting things out of the street,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan during an Oct. 24 news conference that coincided with the SRT launch.
Crews demonstrated during the conference how they can use GoJaks car dollies to lift up vehicles and push them to the side.
“We are going to be continuously rebuilding Seattle in the next several years,” Durkan said of upcoming transportation and large-scale construction projects in Seattle. “When this all comes, the traffic is going to be even worse than it is today, and it won’t be the mayor’s fault.”
The permanent closure of the State Route 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct is slated to occur on Jan. 11, and WSDOT expects it to take three weeks to realign the highway with the new SR 99 tunnel, which will be tolled starting later in 2019.
Construction of the Washington State Convention Center Addition, which will double space for WSCC, is also expected to take a major toll on traffic.
“I want you to know that this is going to be very, very challenging for a number of years,” Durkan said of the coined “Period of Maximum Constraint.”
SDOT launched its 24/7 Transportation Operations Center on Oct. 10, which will provide real-time traffic information.
Durkan said the city plans to share its construction and traffic data with private partners like GPS navigation app developer Waze, to help people get around easier. She said real-time data can also be used to improve signal timing when necessary.
The Seattle City Council is currently hashing out next year’s budget, but Durkan said she’s looking at investing more in transit.
Following its 2017 dockless bike-share pilot program, the city plans to issue permits to four vendors for up to 20,000 bikes later this year. Durkan said new contracts have a provision that bike-share companies allocate bikes throughout the city and at all major transit hubs.
King County Metro launched its Ride2 shuttle to the Eastgate Park & Ride on Oct. 23, which is meant to provide a car-free connection to the transit hub.
“We will be expanding Ride2 in the city of Seattle,” Durkan said at the news conference — first in West Seattle and then in South Seattle.
The mayor said plans are also to expand the West Seattle Water Taxi service.
“We know we need to get as many people out of cars and into transit as we can,” Durkan said.
The city is working with Seattle’s major employers in Downtown ahead of that maximum constraint, Durkan said, encouraging those companies to allow for more flexible work schedules and telecommuting. Each employer will be provided a different reduction target for single-occupancy vehicular travel, the mayor said.
The City of Seattle will appeal to the state Legislature to approve its use of traffic cameras that can be used to catch and fine drivers blocking intersections — known as blocking the box — as officers pulling over vehicles to ticket them just causes more backup, Durkan said. She said she doesn’t think lawmakers will hold up the request, because they understand how important navigating Seattle is for commercial transit around the state.