All fixed route buses have been equipped with flashing yellow strobes on the rear of the bus and the bus operator turns them on when preparing to stop at a bus stop along with the four-way flashers. This has resulted in a reduction of rear-end collisions.
Snowfall in Anchorage begins in October and averages 60 inches over the year. During severe snowstorms, snow clearing crews concentrate on main thoroughfares and secondary roads can wait for as many as four or five days before they are cleared. Often the snow is plowed to the side creating large berms that narrow the streets. That in turn reduces visibility and maneuverability. Buses are forced to travel slower through the neighborhoods and passing cars are often required to pull into a driveway. Our operations staff works with the street maintenance department to report problem areas, and hires a crew of youth to dig out bus stops and unbury benches covered by snow.
Monthly safety meetings keep our bus drivers alert to winter driving hazards. Many of our drivers have years of experience driving Alaska roads, and nothing can substitute for their experience and skill. Each driver is issued ice grippers for their shoes to eliminate slips, trips and falls outside the bus.
Out of 119 accidents and incidents logged in 2006, only 33 accidents were preventable by our operators. Most damage occurred to vehicles running into our buses. Our maintenance staff includes a body shop team of three who repair everything from replacing windshields and other minor damage to major accident damage reconstruction. We quickly repair vehicle damage to maintain a good looking fleet. In addition, the snow and sand on the road make a mess of the bus exterior and it must be washed every night.
Our current clear, sunny weather tends to lull me into a false sense of safety — that the weather will be friendlier to us than the beginning of winter — yet I recall the 36 inches of snow we got on Saint Patrick’s Day a few years ago. They are calling for freezing rain tomorrow and spring is almost two months away, but there really is nothing more beautiful than fresh snow blanketing the landscape. It’s a challenge, but Anchorage is up to it.
In the Pacific Northwest there’s a saying, “If you don’t like the weather, stick around for ten minutes and it will change.” Although the area is best known for its rainy yet mild climate, there is the occasional storm that gets our attention. Since mid-December of 2006, the Puget Sound region experienced major flooding, two wind storms and two snowstorms. These harsh weather events occurred with very little notice.
The flooding in lowland areas of some routes required using emergency routing and in some cases, curtailment of service.
The windstorms were more disruptive. Flying tree branches and falling trees created dangerous driving conditions. Many roads were forced to close until trees were removed from the roadway.
The most considerable disruption came from the two snowstorms. Our local geography of hills and the fact that we don’t get regular practice driving on snow and ice-covered streets can cause a number of problems.
The agency response is directed by a comprehensive “Snow Plan” that is updated on an annual basis. Agreements the agency has with local municipalities are also reviewed on an annual basis.
The challenge for a transit operator during a snowstorm is negotiating the steep hills as they head into and out of town. To complicate the matter, due to the infrequency and short duration of snowstorms, local municipalities have limited investments for snow removal machinery. The equipment they do have is immediately put into service clearing the designated priority streets, although the recent snowstorms overwhelmed them.
When operators or field supervisors report dangerous driving conditions to the Communications Center, they immediately activate the snow plan system-wide and broadcast a directive to begin using designated routes. Supervisors continue checking the condition of the roads until they determine it safe to return to the regular route.