Tips on What Driving Is Like in Seattle

Traffic on a inner city highway in the heart of Seattle downtown district

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How exactly much driving in Seattle sucks is a widely debated topic. If you’ve driven on the East Coast or in other countries, chances are driving in Seattle is no big whoop. However, Seattle, Washington has managed to land itself on a few lists—at the very least, it regularly appears on the list of cities with the ​worst traffic in the country.

While drivers may, in general, be considerate, Seattle drivers face a number of unique challenges: hills, narrow streets and, of course, the fact that no one seems able to drive in the rain here despite the fact that it rains all the time.

Here’s a list of tips to help you battle Seattle’s unique driving challenges.

Rush Hour Is a Fact of Life

Like most cities, rush hour in Seattle is no walk in the park. Traffic tends to get worse the later in the week it is (Friday is the worst), but it’s not uncommon to get stuck any day of the week. If you drive any route regularly, you'll figure out where those stuck spots will be on a regular basis.

Expect Bad Mergers

Seattle is filled with people who wait until the last minute to merge—getting onto freeways, on the single/double-lane roads, or anywhere else where two lanes become one. These mergers have no shame. They will force their way in front of you and appear to believe they’re merging correctly. 

Even if you’re merging correctly, if you turn on your blinker, it’s not uncommon for people not to let you over—or even to speed up when they see your blinker on. Be patient. There's always someone kind enough to let you in a few cars down the line.

Don't Expect Amazing Driving in the Rain

You might think rain driving would be a piece of cake in a city that has consistent rain through about nine months of the year. Don’t expect that. About half of Seattle slows way down on rainy days, causing traffic and delays. The other half speeds up and gets aggressive toward the slow drivers. It’s a match made in heaven and mostly results in patches of traffic.

Watch for Cyclists

Seattle has a ton and while many are responsible and obey the rules of the road, others only obey the rules when the rules suit their purposes.

Don't Miss Your Turn

Parts of Seattle are filled with one-way streets. Seattle natives are used to the one ways and know where to go, but if you’re new to the city or just visiting, it’s worth using a GPS or studying the maps ahead of time. If you miss your turn, correcting the issue may be as simple as looping back around and making a second go. In some spots, you’ll pass no left turn signs galore and may end up discovering new parts to the city.

Expect a Variety of Driving Styles

Seattle is a city of diversity in all ways, including in its drivers. For the most part, drivers are polite here but expect a mix of incredibly passive drivers and painfully aggressive. It keeps things exciting.

Don't Get Stuck Behind the Bus

Don’t be the car right behind the bus. Look ahead and see a bus? Move over. That bus will stop and if you’re the car right behind it, you’ll be stuck while everyone behind you whips into the other lane while you’re trapped waiting for passengers to board.

Watch for Unexpected Lane Changes

City and residential-area streets alike often go from one to two lanes. Sometimes streets have room for parking and a single lane of driving but might look suspiciously like a two-lane road. If you don’t see a stripe down the middle, don’t assume the traffic is two cars wide, but you’ll see drivers who think there are two lanes when there’s only one. Keep an eye out for them suddenly merging into the single-lane flow when they realize the error of their ways.

Get Ready to Pay for Parking

If you’re a cheapskate on paying for parking, you might want to skip Seattle altogether. Almost all parking in Seattle is pay parking, from street parking to pay lots. If you head downtown on Sundays, parking is free on the street. After 6 p.m. on weekdays, many lots offer discounted rates. It's a good idea to carry cash in small bills for parking lots without staff or credit card machines.

Sometimes the Streets Don't Have Room for Two-Way Traffic

Many neighborhood streets in Seattle will have cars parked on both sides of the road, which turns a two-way street into a single-lane street with room for one car at a time. Look ahead. Whoever has room to pull over and let the other car ​by should. Most drivers are courteous in these situations because there aren't a lot of options.

Know Your Snow Limits or Take the Bus

Seattle and the rest of the Puget Sound don’t get a lot of snow. When snow does hit, it often melts and refreezes into treacherous ice. Sure, there are a lot of jokes about Seattle not knowing how to drive in the snow and the entire city seizing up due to an inch or two, but with so many hills in the area, driving in the snow can be downright scary. Be cautious. Know your limits and your car. If you’re one of the people who doesn’t know how to handle snow and ice, take the bus!

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