Cars / Taxis / Motorhomes, Seattle
Yes I'm sure you've heard about the 'terrible traffic' in Seattle and I must say it's definetly gotten worse over the past 20 years but my suggestions if you happen to be driving in or around Seattle is to:
1) During the week days avoid I-5 South from Northgate to past downtown between the hours of 3-5pm and avoid I-5 North from Boeing Field past Northgate from 4-6:30pm. If your here on vacation you probably are not too worried about the early morning hours if so just send me an email.
2) Watch the news for any updates about Sonics games, Seahawks games or UW football games, the city is definetly affected by such happenings.
3) If you want to check out downtown and the pike place park at the bottom of queen anne near Tower records and Mercer and take the monorail. It's only $3 a person round trip and it will save you money on parking and perhaps even a head ache from the traffic.
Any other questions I always check my email here at VT and I'd love to help!
Interstate 5 is apparently the main traffic artery for Seattle.
When I was up in the Space Needle I could see the commuter's traffic jam on I-5 and the TV reporter in the helicopter reporting on it.
We did have some folks in the course in 1994 who were commuting from the Olympic penninsula by car.
In 2011, when we drove back to the airport, the driver did not use I-5
A great way to see downtown Seattle from the Harbor - and also visit an interesting coastal Seat tle neighborhood in the process - is to take the Water Taxi (really, it's more like a Water Bus) from downtown to the West Seattle neighborhood. It departs from Pier 51 - roughly every twenty minutes during the workday, with diminished frequency in the evening. $4.00 for a one way ticket, the "crossing" takes just 11 minutes. Also - there is free shuttle bus service from the landing dock to the main commercial district of West Seattle. You could walk along the coastline - it's a very pleasant walk - but it's good to know that there is a free bus as well.
Seattle has a reputation for snarled traffic. It's deserved, but blown out of proportion by some.
If you rent a car during your vacation in the Seattle/Tacoma area, here are 5 important tips that will make your car vacation hassel free:
1) Avoid Interstate 5 during commute times - 6-9 am and 3-7 pm. You can try secondary highways for shorter trips during peak periods. Locals use highways 99, 509, and 599 to move north/south, avoiding I- 5 traffic.
2) Plan ahead - Stay in the heart of the city. There are afforadable hotels and motels along Aurora Avenue near the Queen Anne neighborhood. If you need to travel on interstate 5 or 90, or highway 520 during peak periods , make sure you plan extra time.
3) Use the HOV lanes. If you're on vacation, you're probably not alone. Seattle has one of the most extensive carpool lane networks in the country. Use it! All HOV lanes require 2 people in the car, except for Hwy 520 which requires 3.
4) Use the Express Lanes. During the morning, extra lanes on I-5 are opened to soutbound traffic from the north section of the city into the dowtown core. During the afternoons, the same lanes are reversed and reopened to northbound traffic. Interstate 90 also has express lanes across Mercer Island and into the Mt. Baker Tunnel. They too are open toward downtown in the AM and out of town in the PM. This is ideal for folks in suburban hotels wanting to come into downtown to visit tourist sites. Generally, the lanes switch direction around 12 noon.
5) Avoid the freeways if possible. Many of Seattle's best sites are in the core of the city. If you are staying in the city and not in the suburbs, you can easily use surface streets to get downtown or to other sites like the zoo or the Museum of Flight. Plus, you'll actually see more of the city if you take your time and follow surface streets like 15th NW, Roosevelt, Rainier, or 4th Ave S. Those of us who live in the city find surface streets are best for moving about within town. We use freeways only when commuting to the suburbs.
Attempting to find a place to park in downtown Seattle can be painful and expensive, and public transit being reasonably frequent in most areas a tourist would want to visit. Therefore, for the most part I suggest using transit especially in the downtown area. This is even the case when considering places somewhat far outside downtown, such as Ballard or Fremont. These are places that are very popular to visit and have no limit on most parking places. Thus, parking in those free areas can be just as painful as in pay to park areas.
However, there are a few things to think about if you do try to park on a street in Seattle:
+ Carefully read the signs. There are some really complicated parking regulations in some parking spaces, such as no parking in a certain spot unless you have a specific permit or unless it is between certain hours. See photo 5 for an example. You have to read through the entire sign to know what is going on here: No Parking East of Here is obvious (so you should know what direction east is before parking near the sign). Then, realize that you can park here for 2 hours from 7 am to 8 pm, unless you have a zone 27 permit and then you can park as long as you want to. However, from 8 pm to 12 am you can not park here at all, unless you have a zone 27 permit (see bottom sign). So, to use some parking places you need to know the time you will be there, the directions of the compass, and keep in mind that the regulations change from one time of day to the other.
+ Almost all streetside parking as well as some surface lots have electronic pay systems where you purchase a parking slip from a machine that can take credit cards, and then you put the slip in your car to prove you paid. Many locations allow you to pay for your parking spot by mobile phone, so that if you need more time on the meter you can simply run the process on your mobile phone. However, paying for parking this way adds a $0.35 transaction fee. This is also available in a number of private parking lots and garages.
+ Flags in certain areas indicate how many hours maximum it is allowed to have a car parked in a particular location. The more popular the location, the shorter the time allowed, in general.
+ There are some parking areas along the waterfront that are accessed from Alaskan Way. Some of these seem to be somewhat slow in filling up, but some of the more open ones are subject to debris falling from bridges above (including bird defecation and road dirt). Of these, the parking area near Pike's Place Market seems to fill up the fastest, of course. There are also private parking garages here. These areas are your most likely prospects for finding parking along the waterfront.
+ On Sundays, parking is free in many locations, but there is also usually a time limit associated with this. You have to read the signs.
+ Parking is not allowed in some areas during peak travel times.
+ There are several parking garages in the downtown area. These are a bit expensive but if you have to park downtown and are unable to find a spot along Alaskan Way this is your best option. A map of the private parking lots and garages in downtown Seattle is available on the Downtown Seattle web site:
Photo 1: shows a typical parking receipt machine with a flag attached to it that indicates the maximum amount of time allowed at this location. In this particular example, the maximum time allowed is 10 hours.
Photo 2: shows a detail of the display and workings of one of these machines. From the top you see a solar panel that provides power to the machine, basic information on the parking spot (how long you are allowed to leave a car here, days that free parking is allowed and other information about this location), then there are instructions on how to use the machine and the various buttons and displays required to use the machine.
Photo 3: shows the detailed instructions on how to use Seattle's parking system, a few parking regulations, and other such information. These are posted on the side of the new parking machines.
Photo 4: parking meters in some parts of Seattle only take coins. These are the older, traditional style parking meters, and may be replaced by the time you read this. They are being replaced by the newer machines as time goes on.
Photo 5: you already know about this one. This shows that parking can be interesting in the Seattle area, even in places well outside the downtown area.
If you are considering driving through or to Seattle, I highly recommend something else. Find an alternate route, or maybe plan your schedule to avoid Seattle at all peak periods, is one possible solution to avoiding the traffic.
Seattle is crammed onto a narrow strip of land between Lake Washington and Puget Sound. This means there is limited room for huge highways, and all the support structure they require.
The result is that traffic in and around Seattle can be quite terrible at times, and even during non-peak periods you can get stuck in traffic for very long periods.
Traffic patterns here have some other eccentric features. Some of the carpool and HOW lanes change direction based on the time of day, and therefore some of the freeway entrances may go one direction during part of the day, and the other direction during the other part of the day (see photo 2 for one such entrance that comes out of the side of a building in the middle of downtown Seattle). Check the signs to make sure that you are not headed for an entrance ramp you thought was there, but has turned the other direction!
Another oddity: on a number of highways the traffic congestion is so bizarre that different lanes of traffic can wind up with different speed limits, and there are actually signs in various places on the highways and freeways that are changed with various traffic conditions. Therefore, one day at one hour of the day the speed limit on Interstate 5 coming into Seattle from the south may be 60 mph, but if conditions are bad the next day it may only be 45 mph. You can't always depend on speed limits being constant.
If you are traveling with others, keep in mind that the carpool lane may be used if you have other people in the car with you.
If you are just visiting downtown Seattle, keep in mind that a number of the hotels have charges, in some cases $40 or more a night, for keeping your vehicle in the parking area.
Interstate 405 goes far to the east of Seattle, but can be quite congested even on Saturdays. It may, however, be a good alternative to Interstate 5.
There is an ongoing traffic mess on the south side of Seattle, as highway 99, which used to use the Alaska Way viaduct, is being converted to use a tunnel under Alaska Way. This can create some severe traffic tangles.
Pay close attention to what the radio stations are saying, and consider your alternatives:
+ Amtrak service goes right to downtown Seattle
+ Washington State Ferries go right to downtown Seattle from Bremerton and Bainbridge Island
+ There is free transit service on most King County Metro buses (but not SoundTransit or the several other transit agencies) in the core of downtown Seattle, meaning that if you want to visit only the downtown area of Seattle you may be better off leaving the car at home.
No matter if you are walking, biking, driving, or taking the bus, you need to have street names in order to get around.
In many cities here in the northwest, this can be quite complicated because streets change names and intersect at strange angles. This is caused by a combination of topography, rapid groth that has forced streets to widen to the point where intersections are intermixed, and old roads that followed traffic patters that no longer exist.
Seattle has done a much better job of trying to deal with the situation, and you will find that many intersections have signs that indicate street name changes. The street signs may look very complex at certain intersections, but at least they are marked in a fairly clear fashion. This is a lot better than the alternatives.
You will want to pay close attention to these as you move about the city and look for your destination.
I have a big problem paying exorbitant $$$ for downtown parking so what I frequently do is book a hotel at a great rate on Hotwire.com, drop off my luggage at the hotel, and then park the car in the Queen Anne area where there is enough free unlimited parking to accommodate.
One can then take a taxi or bus ride back downtown, though I always walk back to Seattle Center and catch the Monorail because, with my camera in hand, nothing is more enjoyable.
Plane, train or automobile. If you do drive know that there isn't always great parking. Some places are worse than others. If you don't have a car but are planning to trek all over the city it's smartest to take the bus. It's a fairly efficient and easy system. Cabs charge an arm and a leg. Downtown is very walkable if that's your target area.
If you are into excersice, rent a bicycle. You will be in fabulous shape when you get home due to the hills.
Seattle drivers aren't too horrible, they tend to go way too slow, if it starts to rain they will drive as though it's the first time they have seen rain in years so beware for traffic if it's drizzling.
Many Seattle attractions are easily accessible by public transportation or walking, depending on where you are staying. Yet other attractions/destinations are best reached by car. To avoid high valet and overnight parking fees at many hotels, think about joining zipcar (used to be Flexcar), a sort of car-on-demand service. That way you could have access to an automobile when you need it, but not be saddled with it when you don't. See www.zipcar.com
Shopping for car rental rates online and with help from a few VTers, we decided to go with Fox, who was a whopping $300 cheaper than the big boys. We got a suzuki automatic 4 door and had absolutely no problems. It was scratched all to hell, but they noted them all before we paid and the turn in at San Fransisco was easy as well. Both places are off-site from the airport but shuttles are often and clean. I would use these guys again.
8 day rental from Seattle to San Fran totaled $415.21 including a fillup at the end.
Interstate 5, passes through downtown Seattle, connecting it to other major West Coast cities including Vancouver, Portland, Sacramento, LA, and San Diego. This 1,381 mile interstate that is the primary West Coast north-south route, is also the only US interstate that connects to the borders of both Mexico and Canada.
Built primarily in the 1960s, I-5 stretches across 276 mile of Washington state, and it follows much of the route of the original US 99.
The first segment of I-5 formally opened in Tacoma on December 21, 1960. The last temporary stop light was removed north of Everett in May 1969, marking the completion of I-5.
take a cab! this is not a good place to have a car (and not altogether necessary.) Downtown is a confusing mess of one way streets that not even the locals understand. If you stay in downtown, most things are within walking or cabbing distance anyway and you can always take the monorail to Seattle Center.
Getting here all depends on where you're traveling from! :-)
Traffic is unsightly in the Seattle area. Major thoroughfares, such as I-5 and 405 are often stop and go and bottlenecked for no clear reason. The best advice I can give is to be patient when driving anywhere here. Parking rates downtown can also be rather expensive (day rates of $5-15 for all day). The metro (bus) system is pretty easy to get around on and travels throughout Seattle and the east side (Bellevue area). There's the new Sounder train that travels from Tacoma/Kent/Auburn to Seattle, but my friends that ride that note that the times are limited (e.g., if traveling from Tacoma to Seattle in the morning, the last train leaves at something like 7am not necesssarily conducive to tourists). Travel from downtown to the Seattle Center (or vice-versa) on the monorail is a short trip (~90 seconds), but it beats the dozen blocks you'd have to otherwise walk. Taxis are also a fairly dependable way to get around. You'll find that most Seattlelites drive, bicycle, take metro, or walk in the downtown area.
Traffic Trouble Spots: Unfortunately, there are many. Seattle's topography means that new roads and transit are very difficult to build; the lack of a rail system means that most people rely on their cars. Although horrible traffic jams can happen anywhere, anytime, there are some particular spots to be avoided:
I-5 southbound in the morning; the section between about NE 80th and the Ship Canal bridge is congested almost all the time.
SR-520 both ways, during the morning and evening rush hours. The westbound backup in the evenings is the worst.
I-405 between Renton and Bellevue (northbound in the mornings, southbound in the evenings).
I-405 between the I-5 interchange in Lynnwood, and the I-90 interchange. (northbound in the mornings, southbound in the evenings).
Montlake Blvd. through the UW campus. Southbound is usually worst. If there's a game at Husky Stadium, forget it.