Snow Detour

Over the course of the last few days, the Spokane area saw the first real snowfall of the season. So I figured now would be a good time to talk about an important snow-related topic: The Snow Detour. The fact of the matter is that the Spokane area gets snow. There’s no avoiding that. Sometimes, that snow accumulates enough to start making roads impassable. For people that ride transit, particularly those who are absolutely dependant on it, this can have serious implications.

The good news is that Spokane Transit has designated snow detours for 17 routes (more than half the routes in the system). On each route with a snow detour, the route map has the following info:

Pre-planned Snow Detours: Many bus route have sements that become blocked during snow-ice storms. Hills and narrow streets are the most common problem areas. Pre-planned detours (such as the one shown on this map) have been created so customers can plan accordingly. Detours will only be in effect as needed and for the minimum time possible. The STA wesbsite will always have the most up-to-date information on snow detours. You can also sign up for detour notices via Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, or SMS text messaging at www.spokanetransit.com.

On that same route map/schedule, the specific snow detour(s) for each route are shown, with a short explanation of what street(s) the bus will drive on during the snow detour, and in select cases a more detailed explanation of what street(s) will not be served during the detour. A special notation is also seen on the maps for Routes 60 and 61, which bypass the Browne’s Addition neighborhood during snow detours, but retain service through a snow shuttle.

As noted earlier, snow detours only stay in effect for as long as needed. STA and the City of Spokane have worked together to make sure that the roads travelled by STA buses are on the priority list of roads that need clearing. From what I’ve been told by operators and riders, this plan usually works out okay, but it’s not always guaranteed. During a record-setting 17 inches of snow in 24hrs back in 2008, nearly all bus service was brought to a halt, but so was the rest of the region.

Below is a list of all 17 routes that have snow detours, and along with a map showing the regular route and snow detour route (seen by clicking the route numbers), I’ll try to explain the reason for some of these detours. I apologize in advance for my lack of familiarity with some of these routes.

Route 2 – Southside/Medical Shuttle
It’s largely because of topography that Route 2’s snow detour is the way it is. There are a lot of tight turns and steep inclines along the route, particularly around the Sacred Heart Hospital campus. It can be a difficult route to operate under normal conditions, but it would be much too dangerous when the streets are covered in snow/ice, hence the detour.

Route 20 – SFCC
As noted on the route map, the snow detour eliminates regular service on both branches of Route 20, the 20C via Clarke Ave/Peaceful Valley and the 20R via Riverside Ave/Browne’s Addition.  East of Government Way and west of Browne’s Addition, Riverside Ave is a long narrow road with inclines in both directions. Reportedly, the bridge over Latah Creek gets icy very fast too. With Riverside Ave and Sunset Blvd being the only roads that can connect a bus from Government Way to Downtown (without crossing the Spokane River), Sunset Blvd wins out as the safer option for a snow detour.

Route 22 – Northwest Blvd
Hills are the reason why Route 22 has two snow detours. In the case of the first detour, G Street is a narrow road with a small but long incline. If trying to go north up the hill, the bus could lose traction and get stuck midway. If trying to head down the hill, the bus could hit ice or slick snow and lose the ability to stop the bus. In the case of the second detour, Rowan Ave east of Driscoll Blvd is a short steep incline, gaining 80+ feet in elevation in just 4 blocks. Just like the first detour, the hill creates problems for the bus when heading up or down. It’s important to note that the second detour is also the way it is because there still has to be a way to get each route’s passengers as close to their usual stop as possible.

Route 23 – Maple/Ash
With three separate snow detours, Route 23 does a lot of shuffling around. The first detour, which is only in effect for buses heading northbound, bypasses Broadway Ave and instead heads north on Monroe and then west on Boone Ave. It does this so the bus can avoid the tight squeeze at the right turn from Broadway onto Maple. I’ve been told that this segment of road (which is disconnected from the main strip of Maple Street on this block) doesn’t get plowed very often, hence the detour.  The second detour is the way is it because of the North Ridge. If you look on the map, you’ll see where Maple and Ash are next to each other (at the “23” marker). This is where the road climbs 50+ feet in just a couple blocks. To say it’s dangerous for buses to traverse this section of road in winter conditions would be an understatement. To bypas it, the bus deviates west to Alberta/Cochran, where it still has to climb the ridge but at a much gentler and safer rate. The third detour is in place to avoid the hill on Belt St. Again, elevation is the key factor, as this hill climbs about 40 feet in about two blocks. Alberta is also on this hill, but the incline is much gentler, and again much safer.

Route 24 – Monroe
Just like with Route 23, Route 24 has to make a detour to avoid the North Ridge. While Division St is also on a steep incline at the North Ridge, it’s important to note that Division St is also a state highway (Highway 2 and Highway 395). It’s for this reason and the usual high traffic levels that Division St often gets high priority for plowing and salting/sanding, making it safe for all traffic.

Route 27 – Hillyard
While topography isn’t a major problem for Route 27, narrow roads are, which is why it has to detour off Cook St. This snow detour is among the shortest in the system, so it doesn’t have a major impact on the route. I’ve also heard that it’s pretty rare to see this particular snow detour activated.

Route 33 – Wellesley

Route 39 – Mission

Route 42 – South Adams

Route 44 – 29th Ave

Route 45 – Regal
Though it may not look like much, the incline of Perry St between 17th Ave and 18th Ave is the entire reason for this short snow detour. Though the incline really only affects buses heading southbound towards South Hill P&R, it’s better to err on the side of caution and make sure it’s safe for passengers and operators alike.

Route 60 – Airport/Browne’s Addition and Route 61 – Highway 2/Browne’s Addition
To explain the reasons for the Browne’s Addition snow detour, we have to go back in history. Often described as Spokane’s first “streetcar suburb,” most streets in Browne’s Addition were built at a minimum width designed for the small cars of that day, and it was rare for a house to have a driveway (which still holds true today). For this reason, most residents with vehicles have to park on the street. As it has the highest population density of the entire city (2,578 residents in an area of 0.407 mi²; 6,341 per mi²), that makes for a lot of cars. And all those cars make it difficult to plow the streets. The City of Spokane’s snow removal plan designates 18 zones for plowing, but Browne’s Addition is a special exception zone. At least 72 hours beforehand, the city will announce the days that Browne’s Addition will be plowed. This way residents have the chance to find a place to move their vehicles and avoid having them towed, as the streets need to be totally cleared before plowing can be done. The process takes two days, starting at 9AM each day with north/south streets plowed on the first day and east/west streets plowed on the second day. Worthy of note is that this policy does not apply to Riverside Ave, an east/west arterial along the northern edge of the neighborhood, as it is on the priority list of roads to be plowed throughout the city.

As both Route 60 and Route 61 run through Browne’s Addition via roads that are not plowed immediately, they have to bypass the entire neighborhood. One option would be to pass through via Riverside Ave, but as noted earlier in the explanation of Route 20’s detour, that can’t be done. So the only option is to pass by via Sunset Blvd. To get riders to their usual stops, STA runs a supplemental snow shuttle in the neighborhood when Route 60 and Route 61 are on the snow detour. The bus will have chains on it so that it can pass through the streets in Browne’s Addition, and it will connect riders with the detoured routes on Sunset Blvd. A specific location isn’t listed anywhere on STA literature, though presumably a central location like Rosauer’s would be used.

Route 66 – Cheney/EWU and Route 68 – Cheney Local
Articulated buses are part of the reason for this detour, which only affects the EOL next to Pence Union Building (PUB) at the EWU campus in Cheney. When it’s snowing, it can be especially difficult for “artics” to climb inclines, including the incline on Elm St in Cheney, as the engine and transmission are located in the “trailer” (back half) of the artic. To mitigate this issue, the EOL for both Route 66 and Route 68 get moved from the PUB to the stop on Elm St between 9th St and Erie St (on the south side of Elm St.) The loop though the parking lot at the PUB can also get icy, so even if a bus managed to get up the incline on Elm St, they would still face the hazard of hitting a parked car, or even a pedestrian.

*Note that while it is not mentioned on the route map, Route 165 can also be affected by this snow detour. With the exception of the first trip in the morning, all Route 165 trips arrive in or leave from Cheney as a Route 66, so it doesn’t impact riders too much.

Route 94 – East Central/Millwood

Route 124 – North Express
Just like Route 24, Route 124 also has to avoid the North Ridge. Whenever the snow detour goes in to effect for Route 24, it also applies to Route 124 and vice versa. Reportedly, a couple years ago Route 124 would turn into a local route when a snow detour went into effect (boarding and alighting passengers at all stops), but this doesn’t seem to be the case now.

As I’ve mentioned multiple times already, STA only keeps the snow detour(s) in effect for as little time as possible. Riders are urged to use STA’s social media accounts or email/SMS notifications to keep up to date on the latest changes. Local media tends to also do a good job of updating on conditions, but they also rely on the updated info that STA puts out for the public. At times, it is possible that a route without an official snow detour may also be revised due to road conditions, so it’s always best to be ready for the worst. Dress warmly, have a backup plan, and be patient. It might take longer than usual, but STA will do everything they can to get you home as safely as possible.

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For more information:
Spokane Transit Call Center: 509-328-7433 (Mon-Fri 6AM-8PM, Sat 6:30AM-8PM, Sun 8AM-6PM)
Paratransit reservations and info: 509-328-1552 (7 days a week 8AM-5PM)

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