As reported by West Seattle Blog and Publicola, Metro’s ongoing effort to choose a post-2016 pathway for SR99 routes to enter downtown Seattle has turned its focus to the Columbia Street pathway, which brings buses to 3rd Ave via Colman Dock, rather via Main St (or a Main/Washington couplet) in Pioneer Square. Yesterday, I had a chance to sit down with Metro staff working on the Southend Transit Pathways project, and discuss in more detail the work they’re doing.
The most obvious item is that already mentioned in Publicola: while either Pioneer Square option would be expected to deliver adequate reliability, and the projected travel times in the image above, with no changes to the city street grid or signals, to do so on the Columbia pathway will require much more work. SDOT has not yet committed to provide peak transit lanes in both directions on Alaskan Way, which Metro regards as essential to maintain speed and reliability in any service there. Another is the signalization of Columbia: SDOT will need to provide strong signal priority to keep buses moving reliably in both directions.
We had a great discussion on the network-design merits of the two alignments. Columbia obviously could provide West Seattle riders the faster trip into the central and north downtown, but Pioneer Square travel times would be much better with a Pioneer Square alignment; I suggested that publishing a single travel time number for the whole of downtown didn’t really capture the many destinations people travel to in the central city, and the different effects these pathways would have on their travel times. Pioneer Square is already a major employment center, and it has a great deal of room to grow, even at the current zoning.
More after the jump.
The City and Metro seem keen to turn Colman Dock into a transit hub, complete with good wayfinding and realtime arrival signs, etc. Long term, the current layovers of the 16 and 66 near the dock will go away, and the commuters who use those routes to access Belltown and the north of downtown* will need another way to get there; the Columbia pathway provides that with front-door service to Colman Dock. Metro is also interested in extending the Madison/Marion trolleybus wire down to Western; the city is pushing for a further extension all the way to Alaskan Way via a loop on Western and Columbia.
Just as there’s a value judgement implicit in preferring faster rides into the north of downtown over access to the south, there’s an analogous judgement in preferring better connections for ferry riders. Are we building RapidRide to facilitate less car-dependent living, providing access to dense employment centers and residential centers like Pioneer Square, along with King Street Station, from which you can go places that are navigable without a car? Or are we building transit to move commuters and visitors from outside the city to their jobs and other destinations? My preference has always been to put the buses where the people are, even if it slows them down a little; Metro got the alignment (if not the priority treatments) right with the Uptown deviation on RapidRide D.
Unfortunately**, but par for the course in Seattle, any informed debate over how best to spend our transit money will likely be superseded by our small-town politics. The well-connected Pioneer Square neighborhood activists who fought so hard for a quarter-mile extension of the First Hill streetcar (from 4th Ave S to 1st Ave S), an extension which provides so little additional mobility as to be a waste of good rails, have fought just as hard to push buses out of Pioneer Square, first by pressuring Metro to reduce layovers in the area, and now by arguing that the (federally-protected) historic character of their neighborhood will be wrecked by buses; this is, of course, a brickwork façade for NIMBYism.
Frankly, if the Fall restructure has shown me anything, it is that Metro is helpless in the face of any decently-organized opposition, regardless of the demonstrable merits of the proposal in question. While Metro staff insist (and I believe them) that they continue to study both pathways, I’m pretty sure I know already which the chosen alignment will be.
* You can see them in the spike in the blue line near the bottom of the right pane of this chart.
** And to be very clear, the rest of this is all my opinion, not that of Metro or its staff.