Downtown Fremont is a busy place for transit. The Fremont Bridge is the gateway to much of north-central and northwest Seattle, and Fremont itself is a bustling urban village which attracts excellent ridership throughout the day. With about 16 buses per hour in the peak, 12 per hour midday, and 8 per hour in the evening, it’s a place where prioritizing transit over parking doesn’t require justification based on future demand — it’s already overdue.
The essence of the problem is shown in the photo above and map at right. There are two bus zones on Fremont Ave, just north of 34th, with parking immediately to the north of them. The zones are roughly 80′ long, enough for a 60′ articulated coach, but barely enough for two standard 40′ coaches. Parking is prohibited in the peak period, peak direction only (AM southbound, PM northbound), but at all other times, there is parking in the northbound direction, and drop-off/daytime loading zones in the southbound direction. I work in Fremont, and I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe how these parking spots affect bus and traffic operations.
Northbound buses, when they try to pull out of that stop, are trapped by traffic behind the parked cars, usually for at least one signal cycle. Southbound buses have to swing wide of the parked cars, into the center lane, and then turn sharply in to the zone. Drivers are almost never able to bring their buses perfectly into the zone during weekday traffic. Artics in particular usually end up with their back end blocking at least one lane, and the back door several feet away from the curb. Drivers often won’t open the rear door in this case, which makes for very long dwell times at this extremely busy stop. When multiple buses try to serve either of these stops at once, it’s a giant mess. None of these problems occur at times when the relevant parking is prohibited.
For the sake of a few parking spaces, thousands of transit riders per day are suffering significant delays, and in the case of the southbound loading zones, this is spilling over to directly impact general traffic. Taking away parking has some costs, real and political, but in this case, the problems caused by these few parking spaces are vastly out of proportion to any benefit they could plausibly be claimed to provide. The obvious conclusion is that Seattle needs to take away these parking spaces and extend the bus zones.
More after the jump.
SDOT and Metro could do more, though, and they should, both to further improve transit rider’s experiences, and potentially make the parking removal more palatable to adjacent businesses. As can be seen from the photo above, the sidewalks in this area are not particularly wide given the volume of bus riders and passing pedestrians, who are also obstructed by large tree pits, utility poles, bike racks, and newspaper racks. Southbound, the curbside lane is oversized, and northbound, SDOT has squeezed in three very narrow (probably sub-standard) travel lanes. It would make sense, for all street users, to rebuild and extend the sidewalks by a few feet on each side, and repaint two normal-sized lanes in each direction.
By virtue of it being a transit crossroads, Fremont is a great place to put real-time arrival signs and maps. I suspect neither agency has anything like the money required to install an outdoor realtime arrival sign such as those used on RapidRide; however, a couple of SDOT’s 3rd Ave bus signs could work perfectly here, at a fraction of the cost. At the southbound stop, riders naturally congregate underneath the awning outside Peets; the window of that coffee shop would be the perfect place to install a realtime arrival sign. It might also be possible to install such a sign at Tawon Thai or the new Chase branch that’s going in across the street.
Finally, if the sidewalk were extended, this would be a great place for Metro to figure out how present their awesome new system maps on the street. Metro has recently refreshed its bus signs, but the new style of bus sign only includes a map display on the very largest signs, with more than 17 routes, which basically only happens on the street in downtown Seattle. This probably made sense back when the system map was borderline useless and unreadable, but maps such as this one should be made ubiquitous at major stops and transfer points. Maybe call it a “pilot project”, but Metro and SDOT should figure out some way to get that map out on the street.