Upcoming SDOT Open Houses: Aurora and Mercer

Aurora & 65th improvements diagram

The Seattle Department of Transportation has a pair of construction open houses tonight and tomorrow, both of which will be interesting for transit.

First, tonight, from 5:00 to 6:00 PM, at the Bitter Lake Community Center, will be an open house on RapidRide-related transit improvements for the northern section (within Seattle) of Aurora Ave, from about 85th to 145th. Elements of the project include RapidRide stops and stations (with associated ORCA card readers and realtime arrival signs), new sidewalks and curb ramps on streets which provide access to stops, a new pedestrian signal at 95th, and an extension of the current BAT lane from 115th down to Green Lake. You can read the whole flyer here.

The resulting BAT lanes will be essentially continuous in both directions from the Aurora Bridge to Aurora Village Transit Center, except (I think) for the Linden Deviation taken by northbound buses; southbound only, the BAT lanes pick up again just south of the bridge and continue down to Roy St. The last I heard, which was a while ago, the BAT lanes north of the bridge will be peak-period, peak-direction only, due to pushback from the Aurora Merchants Association against full-time lanes.

Meanwhile, SDOT is moving ahead with improvements on the Linden Deviation. The diagram above shows the sidewalk and stop improvements to be built in the vicinity of 65th St. Southbound E Line buses will stop at a new station on Aurora, while northbound buses will continue to deviate onto Linden. Longtime readers will remember this as a compromise between the two-way Linden and two-way Aurora alternatives originally suggested by Metro; concerns about ADA access on the east side of Aurora, and the safety of the occasionally-scary 68th St crosswalk, scuppered the idea of northbound buses avoiding that deviation.

For a route of this importance on a principal arterial, part-time BAT lanes are a really unfortunate cop-out by Seattle. Nonetheless, these improvements, along with the new signal priority Metro has installed, will make buses a little faster and the pedestrian environment a little less awful, and are thus very welcome.

Let's make sure this isn't our next missing link.

Let’s make sure this isn’t our next missing link.

Further south, SDOT and their contractor are gearing up for the main phase of the Mercer West Project, as the Mercer East Project finishes its final phase on Valley St and 9th Ave; the open house is Thursday, from 4:30 to 7:00 PM, at Seattle Center Rainier Room. Mercer West will totally remake the interface between South Lake Union and the east side of the Seattle Center and Uptown: dramatically improve the environment for pedestrians and bicyclists; make room for the new SR99 north portal at Republican; and open up for development the mostly-desolate nine-block square of the city between Denny and Harrison currently blighted by SR99. This slideshow from WSDOT is the best way to understand what will be done and when.

Mercer West will take several years, until about 2016, with a long period where SR99 will be reduced to two lanes each way. Nonetheless, to the city’s credit, the southbound Aurora BAT lane will be maintained throughout. I plan to be at the open house to ask about the bike connection to the recently-funded Westlake cycletrack that will end around Aloha. With Mercer West creating major new cycletracks on 5th Ave N and the north side of Mercer, a safe, direct, frictionless bike connection on those few blocks between facilities will be essential to realize a full return on our investment.




Comments

  1. Peak-only BAT lanes are disappointing. Even when traffic isn’t especially heavy (and the BAT lane isn’t causing the bus to bypass long lines of stopped traffic) there’s a real difference between the 358 in Shoreline with a lane and the 358 in north Seattle without. Off-peak without a lane we’ll really be relying on TSP to speed up the route.

    I’m also sort of surprised there aren’t more sidewalk improvements on Aurora itself. There are still significant sidewalk gaps on Aurora in north Seattle!

    • Bruce Nourish says:

      Yeah, the sidewalk situation up there is beyond lame.

    • Agreed. The merchants’ association’s demands for on-street parking make zero sense to me. There aren’t that many businesses without parking lots on Aurora, especially north of 85th. And the side streets have plenty of parking, I mean, we’re not talking about Wallingford or Capitol Hill where it is genuinely an issue finding on-street parking on side streets. You would think they would see how this has played out in Shoreline and realize it isn’t going to destroy businesses to lose a few on street parking spots.

  2. Mercer West will flood Queen Anne with traffic. More accidents including fatalities. [ad hom]

    • Ryan on Summit says:

      Nowhere to go but up in that area right now.

    • stevesliva says:

      I tend to think restoring the grid across Aurora at Thomas, Harrison, and John streets will help somewhat. The big issue there was that Aurora creates huge E-W bottlenecks at Mercer/Broad/Denny. Those will get worse before they get better.

      However Seattle Center still creates an N-S bottleneck…what would help is one lane southbound on 2nd Ave through Seattle Center, (Weekdays only, speedhumps, whatever) so that in addition to 5th Ave, there’d be one more option for traffic to turn south before hitting the center of lower Queen Anne. Or they could just make QA Ave and 1st 2-way. Not sure why they’re one-way right now.

      • Ryan on Summit says:

        Oh dear that’s a terrible idea.

      • Bruce Nourish says:

        I’ve been told that buses can’t make some of the turns on QA and 1st in a two-way configuration.

      • One-way hate goes too far sometimes. When streets are narrow and corridor volumes are high, couplets can be very effective at moving traffic through — including bus traffic! They make it far easier to synchronize traffic signals over meaningful distances.

        I think making QA and 1st N two-way would create more harm than benefit.

      • As a Lower Queen Anne resident… no no. changing the one way would not be good, nor are these streets large enough.

      • stevesliva says:

        I buy light synchronization and signal cycle time minimization at Mercer and Broad streets more than any other argument for a one-way couplet on QA and 1st. The streets aren’t that narrow. And yes, articulated busses on their way to Ballard that shouldn’t even go through LQA probably need huge room to turn.

        I was reacting to the supposition that LQA will be gridlocked by lower eastbound and higher westbound capacity on Mercer. A left turn queue from the new Mercer westbound to sounthbound QA Ave is just about all that could cause that. Hopefully I-5 traffic to Belltown turns at 5th, but they’re really going to want to turn south farther west in LQA.

      • “what would help is one lane southbound on 2nd Ave through Seattle Center”

        Not many things would compel me to lay down in front of a bulldozer – This horrible idea is one. I assure you, I am not the only Seattleite who feels this way.

      • “I’ve been told that buses can’t make some of the turns on QA and 1st in a two-way configuration”

        Yeah, making that left turn on the 8 or D line would be a bear. We *can* do it, but it would likely slow things down as we’d have to watch our rear wheels to make sure we’re not crushing a car that’s too close/over the stop line. The way it’s currently setup, we can move through relatively quickly. Two-way couplets have their place and this is definitely one of them.

      • 2nd and 4th make complete sense to me but why can’t 5th be turned into a 2 way street like 3rd?

      • stevesliva says:

        Seattle Center is an urban desert on weekdays. What good is a pedestrian mall with no pedestrians? Allowing slow traffic through there on 2nd Ave on weekdays might actually make it better than worthless, which is what it is 5/7ths of the time now.

  3. That slideshow is great to look at. We really are reclaiming a bunch of now unusable territory for normal urban uses.

  4. Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says:

    This map shows unbuffered lanes on Roy and 9th.

    But then this graphic doesn’t show any particular facility to connect those lanes to the trail. Instead it looks like they’re designed to connect to lanes on Valley Street(?!).

    • Bruce Nourish says:

      Yes, those maps are the cause of my concern. There’s not much point having a bunch of great new protected facilities connected by shitty bike lanes.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says:

        Well really the Mercer cycletrack is just an artifact of Roy being interrupted by Aurora and the concession that no one without a death wish would ride in traffic on the new six-lane Mercer. The lanes on Roy west of 5th are buffered, but that’s it, and the ones on 5th don’t appear to be buffered at all.

        And honestly I don’t think Roy will have much car traffic. That diagram shows a bus island NB at Dexter and Roy which makes me suspect that right turns will be banned for cars there, and it only shows one SB lane, so I suspect left turns will be banned too, meaning there’s no way for cars to head east on Roy unless they made a suicidal right turn off of Aurora.

        Though they show a left-turn lane from WB Roy to SB Dexter, which I don’t think makes much sense. They should just have one lane with a bike box for WB traffic.

      • Bruce Nourish says:

        5th will eventually have a cycletrack as far as Thomas. It’s not shown on that map because SDOT is expecting SPS to rebuild Memorial Stadium at some point, and when they do, that block will be totally chewed up by construction.

        If we’re going to have cycletracks on Mercer and Westlake, I think it makes sense to connect them with cycletracks where possible. Transitioning from a cycletrack to a lane will, half the time, require crossing an intersection at a signal. While Roy and Valley will not carry many cars compared to neighboring arterials, they’re not likely to be truly low-stress streets like residential non-arterials, and more separation than paint may induce more ridership.

        Even if they do turn out to just be lanes, there are other details that need to be in place, e.g. every signal needs to be bike-actuated, so you don’t have to get off your bike. This is exactly the kind of detail we habitually f*** up in Seattle.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says:

        Ah, yes, the Lake-to-Bay Loop.

        I think SBB may have read too much into the Google Map on the PSRC website. This is what the project description says:

        “The cycle track will form part of the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop
        trail. It will provide cyclists with a physical separation from both motorized and pedestrian traffic sidewalk between the Ship Canal Trail and Fremont Bridge at its north terminus and downtown Seattle on the South terminus.”

        That seems to imply it will go farther south. If they’re building a cycletrack on that section of Westlake, my vote is to extend this cycletrack along Mercer to Westlake and not dick around with Roy at all.

      • I’d much rather have all one (cycletrack) or all the other (bicycle lanes); I’ve been dealing with the sad state of Linden now and again, and having to cross the road when heading southbound where there are breaks in the track for construction is really annoying.

        I don’t know if there’s enough space around Seattle, and I’m sure others have raised the point time and time again, but I’d be happy with something that involves posts separating the bicycles from the cars.

    • I think the point of the Valley/Roy bike lanes is as part of an east-west route between SLU and Seattle Center.

      I bet most people heading south on the Westlake cycletrack will continue down the west edge of SLU Park, where there’s no shortage of paths, and turn right onto the bike lane on Valley; from there it’s Dexter to go downtown, Dexter to Mercer to get to Seattle Center.

      The second worst part about using Dexter to bike into downtown is south of Denny, where traffic from 7th Ave (coming from Aurora) merges across you. That’s going away entirely. The worst part about using Dexter to bike into downtown is the badness or lack of downtown bike facilities, and that will take longer.

  5. Matthew McCauley says:

    Has there been any discussion of an overhaul of Aurora south of 85th? I would love to see the grid restored at least to the Aurora Bridge and lowered speed limits. Not to mention real sidewalks and bike lanes. The lack of crosswalks and traffic signals is a major barrier for pedestrians (and cars too) that need to get across the corridor.

    • I’d rather see several European-style subterranean pedestrian crossings. Fully restoring the grid there would badly hurt travel times not only for car traffic but also for RR E. We don’t need another bus route as slow as the 5…

      • @David L: Without the ability to cross the street at all it’s a pretty inconvenient place to live. Without reasonable vehicular access from both directions to both sides it’s a pretty bad place to put a business. Connecting the grid is about making short commutes more likely, not making long commutes easier.

        If there’s never any intention of encouraging commercial development along Aurora south of 85th pedestrian crossings are probably sufficient. One at Aloha might be nice; from Galer up to the Ship Canal the extreme grade west of the road limits the usefulness of crossings, but improving/repairing the existing crossings and sidewalks would help.

        North of the Ship Canal I think there’s a pedestrian crossing at least every quarter-mile except where one side of the road is a big park or cemetery… except between 41st and 46th, which is almost a half-mile.

        The wacky street layouts between Woodland Park and the Ship Canal sacrifice legibility, general access, and safety for pedestrians and cyclists for peak-of-peak capacity that might not be necessary at all if we turned toward less car-dependent land-use patterns. I mean…

        – Say you’re in a car at 43rd/Fremont and you need to head north on Aurora. How do you do it? Many apparent answers are illegal or dangerous, or implausible in heavy traffic. This would be much easier with simpler, smaller interchanges and without the diagonal arterials.

        – Say you’re on a bike pretty much anywhere on Woodland Park Ave and you want to ride to Woodland Park. How do you do it? This should be easy but it isn’t.

        – Say you’re out for a run and, through poor planning, you end up at the intersection of Green Lake/Stone/50th and you have to cross kitty-corner. How much time do you have to stretch?

        Connecting the street grid should be about fixing all this.

    • I would settle for wider sidewalks on the Aurora bridge over the ship canal. If you ignore the traffic, it’s a great way to get from upper Fremont to Queen Anne without having to do too much down and back up again.

      Also, while the Aurora bridge currently has 3 lanes per direction, those lanes are extremely narrow. Buses routinely straddle two of them, so the real capacity of the bridge is more like 2 lanes per direction. A restripe from 3 narrow lanes to 2 wider lanes with shoulders would still leave plenty of room for wider sidewalks.

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