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Stop parking on highway shoulders when you’re having fun

(Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)

What should you do if you find the trailhead parking lot or the few spots for your favorite river float are full? You should find another place to go. What you shouldn’t do is park on the highway.

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Parking on the shoulders of the highways has become such a problem this year that it’s making an already dangerous road even worse.

We all know that Highway 2 between Monroe and Stevens Pass is one of the most congested and most dangerous spots in the state. It provides close-in access to a lot of great hiking, swimming, and recreating areas, but trying to head west on a Sunday is nearly impossible. There are so many people that neighbors often get trapped in their homes, unable to get out of their driveways because of the traffic.

This year it has become even worse, especially near Eagle Falls, where people are simply parking their cars on the shoulder, sometimes two cars deep, in what is a clearly marked as a no-parking zone.

“Troopers are seeing just about every type of way of parking,” State Trooper Anthony Reese said. “Diagonal parking, pulling straight in, pulling in horizontally, people double stacking — it’s pretty insane.”

A lot of the parked cars stick out into the highway, forcing drivers to veer into oncoming traffic to get around them. People are carrying kayaks on the highway. Children are running across the highway. And this is a 60 mile an hour zone.

“It used to be a kind of quiet, secluded sort of spot where locals only knew about it,” Trooper Reese said.  “Over the years, it has gotten more and more busy — 2020 has definitely, by far, been the worst.”

And social media is driving the attention. There are so many videos of people having fun at the falls that its popularity has just exploded.

This has also caused problems for emergency vehicles responding to Eagle Falls. One person died in the rapids and falls earlier this year. Last week, another man disappeared and is presumed dead. With people blocking the shoulder, there is no place for medics to park, so they have to block the highway.

Trooper Reese says they’ve tried the nice approach so far, educating drivers instead of just ticketing them. He says ticketing can be difficult because they don’t want to just ticket the car, they want to ticket the actual driver. It’s a waste of time to hike down to the falls just to hand out a ticket.

Now, it’s towing time. But that adds congestion too because the tow trucks have to block traffic to get the cars from the shoulder.

The state Department of Transportation has added large “no parking” signs along Highway 2, but no one seems to be paying attention. It is also trying to find spots with a wider shoulder where it can make parking somewhat safer.

If you’re heading out to your favorite spot, just follow one simple rule: If the parking lot is full, go somewhere else. We have plenty of great spots to check out in Washington state. And for no reason should you ever park on the shoulder of a highway, unless it’s an absolute emergency.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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