Plan of bus stops on Montlake Lid
Location of bus stops on the Montlake Lid (WSDOT)

Yesterday, the SR 520 ESSB 6392 Workgroup held a meeting to discuss draft recommendations on various aspects of the SR 520 replacement project. Transit supporters will be disappointed to learn that very little has changed from the last meeting regarding bus stop locations and transit flow from Montlake Blvd to the UW Triangle. The second Montlake bascule bridge is thrown further in doubt with the Seattle City Council representative expressing concern with its construction timing and the need for a second bridge, while WSDOT staff are developing transit travel time and pedestrian/bicycle level-of-service measures that would trigger construction of the bridge. The bridge is expected to be the last piece of the project to be constructed, sometime around 2016-2018.  If you haven’t already, read Martin’s writeup on the changes coming to Montlake Blvd and the presentation from the meeting.

Analysis of the transit proposal and its impact on transit operations will be detailed in a technical report to be released on Monday, September 13. That same day at 2:30 pm, the Seattle City Council will convene a special committee meeting on SR 520. The public will be able to comment on the report and technical white papers until September 24. The next and final workgroup meeting is tentatively scheduled for November 18, 2010.

In attendance were representatives from WSDOT, SDOT, the University of Washington, Sound Transit, King County Metro and the Seattle City Council.

More details after the jump.

Additional Information and Discussion

Kerry Ruth, the SR 520 I-5 to Medina project manager, gave a presentation of the Technical Coordination Team’s recommendations on roadway operations, transit connectivity, accommodating light rail and urban design. She said that the team agreed that the left turn from 24th Ave to the Arboretum is necessary to maintain transit reliability through Montlake and that it still reduces traffic through the Arboretum compared to the No Build scenario. If that left turn is prohibited, Montlake Blvd would need to accommodate an additional 480 vehicles during peak period. There is a possibility that left turns will be allowed only during peak period and prohibited other times.

The reversible HOV ramps from WB 520 to the SB I-5 Express lanes will require taking a lane from the express lanes to accommodate the ramp. David Hull, service planning supervisor at King County Metro, would like to see another HOV ramp to the north. Such a ramp would be built in a future I-5 project instead of as part of the 520 project.

The location of bus stops in Montlake and the UW triangle remain largely unchanged, though it looks like nothing has changed when the presentations from this and last meetings are compared. The EB/WB 520 stops are moved closer to Montlake Blvd and the NB stop which could have sight distance issues. Hull made a remark that this arrangement does not replace the Montlake Freeway Station’s functions. The SB stop remains near the Hop-In Market, further south from the existing island stop.

SDOT representative Bob Powers raised questions on how transit operations will be affected without a second Montlake bascule bridge. He asked whether any modeling has been done and how the lack of a second bridge will impact transit mobility north and south on Montlake? A WSDOT staff member responds that the process of developing trigger measures and analysis will show any impacts.

As for accommodating future light rail across the bridge there are two options: converting the center HOV lanes to light rail or keeping the HOV lanes and adding separate light rail tracks. Both options would require supplemental stability pontoons to handle the additional weight and permission from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to reduce the shoulder widths from the standard 4 feet inside and 10 feet outside and keep within the 115-foot width.

Public Comments

Six people made public comments at the meeting. First was Paul Locke, a frequent sight at public comment periods, who somehow related streetcar driver wages and related it to the need for an driverless system like the failed Monorail and Sea-Tac Airport inter-terminal trains. He also expressed concern about toll revenue not covering the cost of maintaining the bridge.

Second was STB commenter Brent White, who echoed our concerns with the current proposal’s inadequacy in ensuring a fast and reliable transit connection from SR 520 to the UW Link station. He said money should not be wasted on duplicate service to both downtown and the U-District and that Link should be fully realized as a transit spine to save bus service hours. He also suggested putting the NB bus lanes on the outside, not on the inside.

Third was Mark Weed, from the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, who thinks difficulties will arise with transit and freight mobility resulting from a lack of capacity without the second Montlake bascule bridge. Personally, he sees no sense in delaying construction of the second bascule bridge.

Forth was Virginia Gunby, representing the Ravenna Bryant Community Association. She supports giving transit preferential treatment through the area and using tolls to encourage transit use and reduce auto trips. She pointed the need for a corridor management agreement, not simply a plan, to keep transit moving.

Fifth was Jorgen Bader, with the University District Community Council, who concurred with Gunby’s comments. He stated that the second bascule bridge is needed. He reiterated that according to Paige Miller of the Arboretum Foundation that left turns from 24th Ave would be allowed only during rush hours. He also commented on the urban design aspects, calling the 520 bridge pillars “brutalist” and Montlake lid “sterile”. He said the lid should serve its purpose as a connection to the Arboretum.

Finally, John Niles, from the Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives (CETA), cited mode share figures from PSRC’s computer modeling for Transportation 2040. He said that by 2040, rail boardings will increase 40 fold and bus boardings will double, however, bus boardings will outnumber that of rail 4:1 despite a large light rail network. He stated buses major role and that it is important to keep buses flowing.

55 Replies to “Yesterday’s SR 520 Meeting”

  1. Failed Monorail?

    Dude, seriously, the Monorail won 4 votes, and it wasn’t until the Billionaires and Millionaires and their comrades Downtown spent tons of cash to defeat it that it was killed.

    Talk about revisionist history – what’s next, are you going to call the Seahawks, the Mariners, the Storm, and the Sounders failed teams?

    1. It failed to be built, that’s the point.

      I think you’re reading too much into my statements. I still have my “Let’s Monorail” window sign and buttons, a full page newspaper ad with a map proclaiming “on track to break ground this fall”, etc. and I’m still waiting.

      1. I bet if McGinn pushed to revive the monorail, he’d get reelected in a landslide. Wouldn’t hurt to try, would it? Especially since it’s very easy to make the argument that Seattle is getting the shaft in terms of in-city transit.

      2. I hope you’re being sarcastic. I’d love for him to endorse the idea, since it would be a sure path to losing the election.

      3. There is nothing the monorail could have done, that RapidRide cannot do.

        What is more, at this point, since it can use I-5 and HOV lanes, it actually has a less cumbersome route from the exurbs to the city than LINK…which is forced to meander a “milk route”.

      4. That’s absolutely absurd, of course — the benefits of grade-separated transit cannot be replicated by RapidRide. Though there is obviously no particular reason to build a monorail rather than an ordinary automated elevated train line, and the monorail plan never had realistic cost numbers anyway.

    2. Talk about revisionist history–the monorail failed due to the SMP’s arrogance and ignorance–they simply over promised and didn’t have the competency to pull it off. There was no plot by mysterious billionaires, the public simply lost confidence in a poorly managed project.

      1. The monorail was doing fine until some businesses on 2nd Avenue (where it would have run) mounted a big campaign against it. They took a routine financial document (that said the final cost after bond interest would be larger than the amount nominally raised — as is the case with everything financed including home mortgages), and convinced people it was outrageous, and they voted it down after was it three or four yes votes.

  2. Monorail to Ballard is dead until no one can remember the failed vote. About another 10 years in my estimation.

    Then the benefits of the two technologies will be evaluated, the Light Rail and the Monorail both of which people can see and hear in action. Then Monorail shines as an all elevated system. And for an In city route it’s probably the right technology. Although one can argue that maintaining two dissimilar sets of vehicles is not cost efficient, but then that argument could be applied to street cars and Light Rail cars and buses, and electric trolleys.

    And I too have my Monorail tee shirts in the back of my drawer waiting for the right time. Now is not it.

    1. How is the Monorail a better technology than light rail ? Even when taking an all elevated route into account. This is an honest question.

      1. They’re slow and cumbersome, overall a huge maintenance problem, and it’s not entirely impossible for a train to run through an adverse switch from the wrong direction. Uh-oh, no beam to straddle.

      2. Not to mention it rains a lot here, and concrete just looks oh so lovely when exposed to unyielding moisture. That’s why everyone loves brutalist architecture.

      3. Number one is it was promised as the technology of the future at the Seattle Worlds Fair. It is quieter (pneumatic tires) and requires less of a foot print. It is, I believe quieter which is one of the major objections to elevated rail. This is just an honest guess to your question.

      4. It’s not that much quieter than modern elevated rail designs (well, if they don’t screw up on their rail alignment like Link did!).

        And it requires exactly the same footprint as other elevated rail now, since side escape walkways are required.

        You want an elevated automated system? Well, I can’t really argue against that, as Docklands Light Railway and SkyTrain in Vancouver are pretty successful. Monorail is just silly though, being much more expensive and proprietary for no good reason. I suppose it seemed like a good idea back before escape walkway legislation.

      5. Well, SkyTrain is pretty much proprietary also, but it is a bit more widely disseminated than most monorail systems. Certainly, even if Bombardier goes out of business, lots of places are going to need replacement stock for awhile.

      1. Ballard to Downtown (Ballard is already in Seattle) is not well-served by the proposed Sounder station. Everyone would have to drive down to the already-congested Market St and overload Seaview Ave to get to the station.

        The only crowd well-served by the Sounder station would be people living on the sound (Mukilteo, Edmonds) who have jobs on the north side of the ship canal.

    2. The advantage of monorail is it cannot be built on the surface, and so cheapskate board members would have not been able to build an MLK segment even if they wanted to: it would had to have been elevated or underground. If the ST board had promised, “No surface segments”, that would be the same thing, but I was really afraid we’d get a light rail like Portland/San Jose/San Diego/Dallas/Jersey City: mostly at-grade to minimize up-front costs, which is fake rapid transit.

      Still, Link is what we’ve got, and it’s worth supporting for that reason. And it does have more elevated/underground segments than most light rail systems, hooray. Now if we build something in Ballard, it makes sense to stick with the same technology we have, so that means more light rail.

      1. If you wanted “it cannot be built on the surface”, either a third-rail-powered system (no grade crossings allowed in new construction) or a fully automated system (no grade crossings allowed period) would have given you that.

        Hooking it to proprietary monorail technology was a big mistake from day one. :-P

      2. But, Link can also have much less expensive at-grade alignments where it can go plenty fast, like along the SODO busway. Light rail has the flexibility to be able to do something like that, while monorail must always be elevated.
        There is a portion of the Brown Line in Chicago that goes at-grade with a third-rail, just without the third rail when it’s crossing streets (there are always plenty of connection points to the third rail at other places along the train). It can be dangerous though, and I don’t know if it’s done elsewhere.

      3. “But, Link can also have much less expensive at-grade alignments where it can go plenty fast, like along the SODO busway.”

        That’s a disadvantage, not an advantage. It condemns the route to go 35 mph in those sections, and to suffer traffic lights and accidents, and prevents the possibility of driverless trains which would allow it to run twice as frequently for the same cost.

  3. Even if the second bridge is needed, can it possibly overcome community opposition, or does WSDOT need to plan now for what it will do if it can’t build the second bridge?

    1. Let’s just widen the current bascule bridge. Far smaller property take, so less damage to the community and the environment. Rebuild the east tower farther east, widen the foundations, rebuild the lift mechanism, install wider leaves to accommodate 6 lanes of traffic instead of only 4, and voila, done!

      1. I don’t think that’s technically feasible; certainly not cost effective. A good question to ask is what is the expected useful life of the current bridge. Perhaps the prudent thing to do is wait (since there’s currently no money) and then replace the existing bridge with a six lane bridge if it turns out that’s even required. I think the best solution is devoting half the existing lanes to transit and HOV use and making the ramps to 520 transit/HOV only.

      2. Yeah, but if it’s falling apart what do you do? It wasn’t built to last forever and wouldn’t meet current highway standards. Thing is; we shouldn’t expand current highway capacity through that corridor. The goal after all is to reduce the number of trips into the UW campus!

      3. Damn, no edit. Trips good, SOV trips bad. Yes, we want to make it easy to make a “trip” to the UW. Best way to do that is improve the ROW for transit which already provides a great alternative.

  4. Oh, I have an idea. Why don’t we let the community opposition convince WSDOT to not build the second bridge. This will completely cripple transit connections in the area (as well as other traffic of course), which will make a lot of people mad. Then, we can convince those mad people that the only effective solution would be to build light rail on the bridge! It’s a win-win!

  5. I’m disappointed in the John Niles comment. This sounds like a great opportunity for BRT advocates to show that they’re not just anti-rail, pro-road, and using buses as their false front. This could be a natural bus to rail tie-in point to bring people to work in a fast and efficient manner, but instead will be used as early ammunition to keep rail off 520.

      1. Well, there are four obvious freeway routes across the lake. Remove one and you aren’t left with a “single point” of anything, since there are three remaining.

      2. huh? I thought we were talking about LK washington? There are currently 2 routes, unless you count going around the north or the south ends…

      3. I count going across the North and South ends.

        The distance that a car has to travel to go around the Lake is not that significant.

        Yet it avoids all the engineering difficulties a “floating bridge”.

        Sometimes when I look at it, to me it seems like having any floating bridges is a bad idea.

        Imagine if instead of a Lake, you simply stretched out the highways that run around the Lake into a straight line. You’ll only be adding a few miles to people’s commute — hardly worth the difficulties of the bridges.

        What is more, I strongly believe (based only on observation) that the 520 bridge is the single biggest roadbload to laminar flow in the Lake Washington ring.

      4. I have to agree with counting going around the north and south ends. They’re pretty busy, aren’t they?

      5. Bailo is right on this. The single biggest transportation problem between I-5 and Lake Sammamish is the 520 bridge. If it hadn’t been built, Eastside sprawl would have been dampened (especially in the Kirkland/Redmond area), and we might have gotten a subway on I-90 decades ago. Now the bridge is there and it’s at the end of its life, so the option of dismantling it should be on the table. Of course there’s no way in hell that would happen, but it’s still worth determining whether 520 is the main problem for transit in the area. The current bridge is pedestrian/bicycle-hostile, and that has shaped trip patterns and residential patterns in the area. The new bridge will fix that but it still has diffuse destinations at both ends, making it impossible for one rail line to serve all those destinations. (With I-90, the largest percentage is going to Bellevue, and other destinations are smaller.)

        If there were no auto bridge, a transit-only bridge or tunnel could be built a la Vancouver and San Francisco.

        The reason removing the bridge is off the table is that entire legislative districts in Kirkland and Redmond would oppose it, and these are affluent districts. That may be the immovable object we have to work around, but that doesn’t counteract the fact that in an ideal world, the bridge would be removed and the money for its replacement spent elsewhere (e.g., frequent-transit corridors within the Eastside).

  6. This whole project is turning out to be a Jon Stewart “clusterf%#ck to the poor house”.
    Link is building a 2 billion train to a station, located on the fringe(nothing to the east but water), with bus zones scattered all over hell, and no plan nailed down to entice riders to continue their journey via rail.
    Work continues on the station with no real plan for pedestrian/bus riders, tolling will commence in a few months on a bridge that is still 2 bil, unfunded, and the construction contracts are being signed for portions of the damn thing.
    There’s a huge ass lid that seems to serve few, if anyone, costing umpteen millions, except the community wanted it for ‘lid envy’, thanks to Mercer Island. Where’s the cost/benefit on that little enhancement.
    And in the end, bus riders get the scraps.
    Stiff upper lip Old boy! You’re used to it by now.

    1. “…and no plan nailed down to entice riders to continue their journey via rail.”

      What journeys are being continued? Until 2020, your journeys are Eastside to UW, Eastside to downtown (which would be satisfied by an Eastside to downtown direct bus), UW to downtown, and UW to Capitol Hill.

      Why would the light rail station be a transfer point for any of those trips?

    2. “Link is building a 2 billion train to a station, located on the fringe(nothing to the east but water), with bus zones scattered all over hell, and no plan nailed down to entice riders to continue their journey via rail.”

      Unfortunately the car-oriented mentality is still strong. Everything in the project is to increase the flow of cars. BRT is provided only because they know they “have to”. But they won’t make it effective; they’ll just give the appearance of comprehensive transit.

    3. I agree, the bus connections aren’t going to be stellar. Luckily, bus riders make up a very small percentage of who’s going to use the station. The station is across the street from the University of Washington Medical Center (second largest office building in the world after the Pentagon in terms of gross square footage of office space), so it will serve thousands of daily commuters throughout the year. It is right next to Husky Stadium and Hec Ed Pavilion, so it will serve possibly up to tens of thousands of people on gamedays. It is also right next to the campus of the University of Washington, and could get thousands or tens of thousands of students using it every day during the school year to get to and from at least the SE quadrant of campus. It may even be faster to walk or bus from any part of campus to UW Station then go Downtown instead of taking the bus from the Ave.
      So, this station doesn’t suck.

      1. Luckily, bus riders make up a very small percentage of who’s going to use the station… So, this station doesn’t suck.

        Sorry if I’m making it look like I’m taking you’re comment out of context. Just reading the blockquote it does appear that way. First, I think the Stadium Station is a “lucky” outcome of the reroute forced by UW Physics Dept. (at least they’re the ones most often blamed/credited). You are absolutely right that the station is a great location in it’s own right. However, I don’t think that it’s in any way “lucky” that decent bus transfers, of which I think the Flyer Stop is an integral part, are being precluded. I find it extremely unfortunate (stupid beyond believe really) that we the public are not demanding that this tremendous expansion and investment in already decent transit isn’t directly eliminating an equal number SOV trips through Montlake. We have the chance to improve the Montlake Neighborhood, enhance the quality of the UW campus and retake the Arboretum. Instead the plan is to bulldoze the neighborhood to increase the amount of vehicle traffic, turn the campus into a transfer center requiring more bus service to hours to maintain existing options and reroute half of the Arboretum traffic over one of the few decent bicycle routes through this mess.

  7. How can we get MT & ST to take their advocacy role for transit service more seriously, and to insist that proper functioning for transit is an essential requirement of the design of this $4 billion project?

    I remain convinced that there is an engineering solution available to retaining a Montlake Flyer freeway station within the footprint of the proposed freeway, permitting Eastside buses to make a transfer stop on the way downtown.

    Further, that it is possible to create a reserved transit lane which permits both north & southbound 43 & 48 service to move through the area on a free-flowing reserved lane and make transfers to 520 service.

    Enabling these two movements quickly and reliably, with easy transfers, is far more valuable than the direct route for 520 buses to the U-District for the following reasons:
    – far more Eastside riders are headed downtown than to the U-District. Direct U-District service is only viable in peak periods
    – it doesn’t make sense to build an extensive transfer facility at Husky Stadium because that is only a temporary terminus for Link, and there simply are not efficient routings for buses to serve that station and then continue
    – the area around the Montlake Triangle, Pacific St, Montlake Blvd, and the Montlake Bridge are destined to remain congested forever, due to geometry, the natural bottleneck of the Montlake cut, the fact 2 corridors (Pacific St & Montlake Blvd) must merge, etc. It doesn’t make sense to plan an extensive number of new buses into this congestion
    – Routing of Eastside riders headed to downtown to make a forced transfer to Link won’t work and will only reduce the viability and usage of transit by choice riders. It would add 10 minutes just to have bus work its way across the Montlake Bridge, cross streets to the Link station, have to transfer several levels, introduce the unreliability of bridge openings, etc. Neither the roadways nor transit service were designed to redirect Eastside routes here, and it wasn’t a design goal.

    I don’t think ST & MT ever communicated clear goals to WSDOT or the design process for what their needs were. They should be for a fast, conflict-free north-south route, a fast, conflict-free east-west route, and a transfer station that works for riders.

    Instead we have a muddle mess which eliminates the existing transfer station and provides neither reliable pathways for transit, nor good stop locations. It’s just not an acceptable design.

    1. The I-90 corridor provides hourly, rich and dense transit already.

      Yet, it is jam packed with cars going in and out of Seattle, Factoria, Bellevue.

      As in the case of Seattle itself, and its neighborhoods, where there are high volumes of cars even on the most transit dense streets (45th), one can only say that something is tragically wrong in the thinking of planners.

      People want an effective and speedy Person Transit System that includes more roads, access to free or low cost parking, more and cheaper taxis (the traditional way for getting around an urb) and more and better bicycle and pedestrian facilities (20 percent of road revenue according to some national surveys). Facilitation of sprawl should be a goal, so that cars can have lower traffic per road.

      1. I don’t follow you. Sprawl creates unattractive development with huge swaths of parking, it becomes unwalkable, ties you to your car, and ultimately is a contributor to America’s obesity epidemic.

        The goal is attractive environments for people (not designing for cars) and yet still provide mobility.

        I use car, but it’s a necessary evil, not an end in and of itself.

      2. Not too long ago John discounted the obesity argument by saying people in the suburbs got enough exercise doing chores around the house. I don’t think you’ll find reasoning with him about the livability of sprawl to be a productive endeavor.

  8. So not only are the honchos not addressing the problem, they’re pretending it doesn’t exist. Is there any way we can get them to at least respond to the issue head-on? They have with the flyer stops: they don’t want to widen the bridge or add to the cost for them. But they’re totally silent about circulation around UW station. There must be some way to force them to justify the situation or admit that it’s lame. Likewise, there must be some higher-ups that realize that an optimized transfer system is a no-brainer. Why spend billions of dollars on rail and BRT and skip on one of the main transfer hubs?

  9. Can someone explain what the point of the lid HOV bus stops is?

    The buses that stop there are going to or from the University of Washington. The buses stopping at bus stops along Montlake, and going to or from north Capitol Hill, are also going from or to the University of Washington. So, what’s the point?

    All it does for 520 buses is add a minute or so of travel time.
    … and allow WSDOT to dupe politicians into thinking the functionality of the flyer stop has been replaced. Judging by the stunned looks on a couple councilmember’s faces, thay apparently hadn’t thought that through until I pointed it out to them.

    On top of this, ST and Metro confirmed that they do not plan to have the 520 buses stop right by UW Station, but instead turn left onto Pacific Ave, in deference to the 60% of riders on those buses who are going to campus.

    When I pointed out that a smoothe transfer at UW Station could allow a faster two-seat ride from the eastside via UW to downtown (and thereby allow much better frequency to UW), the ST rep said they had run the calculations back in 2008, did not see an improvement in travel time, and so did not consider consolidating 520 routes to all serve UW Station. It was not clear from his answer whether headway was part of the computation.

    Council Member O’Brien, remembering his constituents who work at Microsoft, asked whether the same computation showed no travel time improvement on the reverse commute (with no HOV lanes available). The ST rep didn’t have an answer.

    On top of that, WSDOT revealed that one of the HOV lanes on I-5 crossing the canal would be removed to make room for the 520-to-downtown reversible HOV lane. In other words, eastside commuters are politically more powerful than north Seattle commuters.

    Moreover, Metro’s rep last week called for a reversible HOV lane from 520 to northbound I-5. Someone needs to explain to Executive Constantine that that is North Link’s job.

  10. For those of you who commute across 520 to/from downtown Seattle, could you offer a spread of approximate travel times you have observed for downtown-to-Montlake, and vice versa?


    1. Usually it ranges between 6 to 10 minutes, depending on direction. It can be much longer if I-5 is jammed, in any direction. Outbound from the tunnel is generally faster than inbound because of the slog on Stewart St and the Denny intersection.

  11. Guys and gals

    Late to the party, but for alleged transit junkies, some of you sure know LITTLE about monorail technology. Current monorail technology has a smaller footprint than “light rail”, which at the end of the day is not so light. There’s no catenary either and less noise as the monorail rolls on tires rather than metal on metal. That’s basic physics folks.

    Monorail can also handle grades better than light rail, another advantage in this hilly city and a big reason why I supported the monorail initiatives. Grade separation, but a LOT cheaper than having to tunnel through everywhere.

    I strongly support light rail as our regional, long route mover. But for some east-west alignments in the city monorail is the preferred mode. Hey, there are reasons NOT to like monorail, but don’t invent stuff or make false statements. That either makes you uninformed or outright lying.

  12. I’d also add that I agree that now is not the time to resurrect a monorail plan. When Seattle is ready for in-city rail alignments, we’ll be ready.

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