Everything with SR-520 has been moving at a fast clip over the last few months and for the first time it seems like consensus is starting to build around a single design. To me this consensus is emerging because city leaders have finally asserted themselves and WSDOT and state leaders are finally making meaningful changes (but not necessary concessions) that are good for neighbors, transit, and non-motorized users.
The Seattle City Council and Mayor have taken a very active role in this project since the last election. In April the Council laid out what needed to change and last week’s revised design in some ways goes beyond what the Council asked for. To his credit, most of what the Council asked for was discussed in the Nelson/Nygaard Project Enhancement Report McGinn commissioned. While the city has been engaged for many years it feels likeit has only recently taken a proactive role. More below the jump.
In many ways I think the Council’s letter got it right. First they insisted on performance standards for the transit/HOV lanes with associated triggers and mandatory actions when their performance drops below a certain level. They also called out WSDOT saying “The High Capacity Transit Plan for SR-520 lacks specificity with regards to service availability, particularly mid-day… as a result, we believe more specific commitments and transit service investments need to be sough from Metro and ST.” Essentially Metro and ST need more money and since WSDOT is eliminating the flyer stop WSDOT and the state need to step up and help pay for operating hours. Finally the Council insisted on better connections between LINK, SR-520 buses and the UW saying “One of the council’s primary goals for this work is to identify ways to reduce the walking distance between all the transit modes that will serve the Montlake Triangle”. The Council and Mayor need to continue to push for these things.
Conversely, WSDOT has finally learned than it can’t just throw in a lid here or “transit improvement” there. This has always been a complex and urban multi-model project but WSDOT simply has not acknowledge this until now. Only recently has the debate over this project broadened from neighborhood specific impacts and number of lanes to bus operations and priority, transfers to Link and the pedestrian and bicycle environment. These are important details that can’t just be added on afterwards, and probably wouldn’t in light of WSDOT’s poor leadership on these issues so far. This shift is probably due to WSDOT and state leaders realizing they have to make some meaningful changes to take the wind out of their opponents sails and the Project Enhancement Report clearly showed what was needed and viable. And of course it doesn’t hurt that they saved money by removed the I-5 lid and Arboretum ramps.
The Project Enhancement Report was overshadowed by the light-rail report, but I think it is much more important. The report focused on 3 city goals, improve transit operations, improve the pedestrian and bicycle environment, and improve the neighborhood environment. Many of the recommendations in that report like the two-way busway and bus stop on a single large lid, westbound freeways exists at 24th Ave, urban style interchange, narrowed and 45 MPH speed limit Portage Bay crossing, UW triangle pedestrian bridges, etc. were key features of the revised design released last week. These are all things that WSDOT hasn’t give enough attention until now.
The report also shows that the 3 goals mentioned above sometimes conflict, with the second Montlake Cut bridge being the issue the Montlake Community Council seems most intent on fighting. As someone who writes for a transit blog, I certainly think that HOV/Transit only lanes on a second bridge are necessary. Today 594 buses a day cross the cut and that number will significantly increase in the future. I would like to see the City Council and the Mayor stand up and say that this is a critical transit connection that cannot be sacrificed because of community opposition.
For me the take away is this. Everything looks much better than it did a few months ago but the devil is in the details, and there are still a lot of missing details.