Seattle DPD

There’s been a lot of attention to height limits in the draft North Rainier Neighborhood plan update, but from a transit perspective a more interesting element aspect is a traffic revision that might dramatically improve bus-rail transfers at Mt. Baker, one of the worst design aspects associated with Central Link.*

The “bowtie” concept would turn both MLK and Rainier Ave. in this area in to one-way streets, northbound and southbound respectively. SDOT models expect this to improve traffic flow (by eliminating the need for left turn signals and suicide lanes), provide space for bike lanes and wider sidewalks, and ease pedestrian crossings. It eliminates a horrific intersection at Rainier and MLK.

Even better, the diagram at left indicates that there will be one northbound lane on Rainier for buses. The current location of the Mt. Baker Transit Center would become a regular street with bus layover space; the geometry of Rainier would change so that the stops could be directly aligned with the Link station’s entry plaza, basically where you see the large crosswalk in the picture.

Not only are good intermodal transfers important in their own right, but with Metro looking for efficiencies, this would make it much less painful if some Rainier Avenue buses have to stop running downtown.

At Thursday night’s meeting, the bowtie was somewhat controversial because it might divert traffic to other streets. There was also skepticism about the models. With some more outreach, hopefully DPD and SDOT will address the concerns so this project can move forward.

* I’m not pointing fingers here. I’ve never gotten a good answer on who is to blame.

62 Replies to “Potential Relief for Mt. Baker Transfers”

  1. Looks very interesting, will undoubtedly meet some opposition from other groups too. In my experience traffic on these segments always seems heavier on Rainier than on MLK so it’s good that SDOT is looking at evening them out. MLK could definitely handle the increased traffic.

    On a semi-related note: I’m all for improving connectivity and reliablility at the TC. The other day I was coming back from the airport on Link and was debating Mount Baker/48 vs. Westlake/43 to get to my house on 23/aloha but went with the latter which was undoubtedly longer because OBA was giving me the NOW message as the train was pulling in. Has anyone made this transfer before? Do most TC operators wait for Link passengers?

    1. The driver won’t even be able to see you until you’re in the TC, most likely. I wouldn’t try making a transfer at night there unless OBA shows you five minutes or more.

      1. I’ve considered it a few times, but always chickened out. The 48 is not the most reliable route. I’ve seen times when OBA indicated the bus was 3 minutes away and the actual wait was at least 10.

      2. The 48 out from Mt Baker won’t wait for you, can’t see you.

        But it does leave dead-on-schedule, pretty much every time. That’s the beginning of the northbound route, after a layover AT MBTC, so there’s no reason for it to be late or early.

      3. Metro drivers are simply not in the habit of holding for connecting trains, even very late at night or on routes with relative infrequency (the two circumstances in which they should be).

        But the geometry of the Mount Baker TC ensures that it can’t even occur to them to wait. Hopefully an adjacent and visible connection will encourage such consideration, when appropriate.

  2. This is pretty funny, because it is just the opposite of what the city is doing to Mercer Street — converting it from a one-way street paired with one-way Valley St., into a 2-way street with fewer east-bound lanes, and therefore, less capacity.

    Now Mercer is going to be much wider, with left-turn lanes crossing oncoming traffic. It will be a lot more difficult for pedestrians to cross. It will make trips on Mercer a lot slower. And it will create some “horrific intersections.”

    In short, just exactly the opposite of what is being proposed, apparently, for MLK/Rainier Ave. near the Mt Baker Link station.

    1. I’d say there are significant differences between the Mercer and MLK/Ranier boulevard corridors to consider before rushing to judgment, Norm. Couplets can work in the right settings and not so well in the wrong settings. Mercer traverses high density districts with a lot of cross-street traffic; traffic speeds on Mercer must be controlled. MLK & Rainier are a more suitable traffic thru-corridor where a couplet can untangle a mess of higher speed thru-traffic. This logic is the basis for opposing Mercer West as a mistake on the part of Wsdot & SDOT. Phase One Mercer seems to have enough potential for assurance of overall improvement.

      1. Densification along Mercer in Lake Union will always be much greater than around the Mt Baker Link Station.

    2. Well the comparison would be more accurate if they had planned to move MLK Way to the east and get rid of the intersection all together. BTW – Valley is a 2-way street and it sucks either direction.

      1. Mercer traffic is almost all “through” traffic, most of it going to I-5.

        Does anyone have traffic volumes on Mercer compared to MLK or Rainier Ave where those changes are being considered?

        Valley was fine before they put the stupid little toy S.L.U.T. across it in 3 different intersections. But it is true that Valley is a 2-way street. However Valley does currently handle the west-bound traffic that will shift to 2-way Mercer.

        However, the changes to Mercer that are being made will make traffic flow worse, particularly heading east.

  3. I live in the Mount Baker neighborhood and many of my neighbors don’t like the Lowe’s or gas stations going away. I was a bit skeptical at first, especially of the “couplet”, but now I’m beginning to like it. That is a terrible intersection, people are always walking illegally across both roads and some of those businesses need to GO. I like Lowe’s though, but a parking garage would be better than the concrete parking lot.

    1. They aren’t going away immediately. It’s just that when the parcel is redeveloped, it’ll have to have something more dense. That could happen soon if the owner is eager to redevelop, or it may not happen for 10, 20, 30 years if they’re not. 116th in Bellevue was similarly rezoned but the car dealerships are still there, and remain there for a decade. So if you’re concerned about Lowe’s and the gas station, the first thing would be to find out what the owner wants to do, and how willing they are to listen to suggestions from the community. Even if the Lowe’s building is demolished it doesn’t necessarily mean Rainier will be without a hardware store or that Lowe’s couldn’t come back to a redesigned building, something with something else around it. See the Safeway in Madison Valley, and the “Impressions” thread, for ways that big-box stores are integrating into urban forms in other places.

      1. The Lowe’s is the go-to full-service home/hardware store for pretty much all the urban areas of Seattle, so I’d be surprised if it went away in a hurry.

      2. i frequent that lowes and the home depot in sodo. when there is no game, there are usually more day laborers outside HD. frankly for my tastes in garden/yard, HD is way better than that L even after the expansion.

        i’d be more curious about what operations pepsi and amazon have there. cutting corners off that ridiculous cut back (northbound rainier) is critical to making this work in my mind.

      3. Honestly, the SoDo Home Depot has better prices/selection/staffing. I go there when I have the option. And there’s a small True Value just a few blocks north on Rainier.

  4. Has any thought been given to installing a bike lane in the reverse direction, like they do in Fremont? This is important, as people on bikes want the shortest route and if you don’t give them a lane in the reverse direction, they will end up either riding the wrong way, or riding on the sidewalk, getting in the way of pedestrians.

    1. Yeah I took one peek at that design and hoped they were planning for contra-flow bike lanes.

      1. If they’re doing a contraflow bus lane it seems like a bike lane would be easy: just put sharrows in the the bus lane and built that northbound stop in an island so that bikes can bypass to the right.

        The prospect of getting transfers right here is very exciting. Is it worth writing to DPD to express my enthusiasm or should I write to SDOT?

      2. I don’t know, Bruce. We’re talking about a dedicated lane of more than a 1/2 mile here. Sharrowing it is just begging for a packed bus going 6 mph.

        Fortunately, I think the road is wide enough to spare an additional 3 feet for an adjacent bicycle counterflow, and the island stop(s) with the bike lanes behind are a good idea.

  5. I’m not usually a fan of couplets but in this case it looks like it would be a big improvement.

  6. They’ll have to be really careful to make sure that this couplet doesn’t end up becoming a high-speed highway like a lot of couplets do. Obviously anything would be better than Rainier’s current conditions and that Rainier/MLK intersection right now, but I hope they make sure this is the best it can be for transit, bike, and pedestrians.

    1. Given the gang traffic between the CD and Rainier Beach it will definitely have the potential to be a higher speed highway for that commerce.

  7. This is an excellent plan, thoughtfully considered to improve pedestrian connectivity, transit throughput, transfer simplicity, and general traffic flow all at once!

    Unfortunately, this is Seattle.

    So let the watering down of the plan commence in 3… 2… 1…

      1. No, no, we need to enumerate and debate at great length at least half a dozen possibilities first, so that when we have multiple votes to settle this question once and for all, the results are conflicting and inconclusive.

    1. Has anyone tried to design a path for the buses directly through Mt Baker Station, dropping off at the foot of the elevators? I’m talking about parallel to the tracks, just to be clear.

      Ideally, the northbound buses would cross over to the west side of the station, so that direct bus-to-bus transfers would be really, really fast.

      I don’t know how to engineer traffic to make that possible. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

      1. The idea of looping directly through a rapid transit station, enabling seamless intermodal transfers, dates back to the streetcar.

        Such arrangements allowed transfers to take place entirely within the fare-paid area:
        offered better weather protection than on-street transfers:
        or both:

        The former benefit is irrelevant on a proof-of-payment rail line, and the latter requires additional purpose-built structures.

        Even then, looping detours are only worthwhile when the heavier-duty transit mode acts as the backbone of the transit network, and when the lighter-duty mode acts primarily as its feeder. Otherwise, the detour is a burden for through-passengers. (More subtly, elaborate pull-off stops also reinforce the sense of a transit network as slow and winding rather than quick and direct.)

        And even when all or most of the above conditions are met, the off-street transfer must still be designed exceptionally well. Otherwise, you spend 5 minutes getting in and out of this:

        For most types of intermodal transfers, straight down the stairs and straight across the street — — is better than anything else you could devise.

      2. Well, it’s definitely too late now. If they wanted to adjust the path of the street and the path of the rail line to intersect, they would have had to do it during the initial construction.

        And while I’m certainly with you in finding a station directly above or directly adjacent to the intersection to be of utmost convenience, the prevailing attitude of our time is that the claustrophobia and sunlight blockage inherent in such an arrangement is not worth the trade-off.

        It’s a valid argument, although I’m not sure people realize how much the width of the street matters to the structure’s sense of intrusiveness:,+Germany&aq=0&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=46.677964,67.763672&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Berlin,+Germany&ll=52.541043,13.412&spn=0,0.008272&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=52.541055,13.411898&panoid=ny0XD6wimHj0Zu9Gj4RzWQ&cbp=12,40.5,,0,-4.2

        isn’t nearly as overbearing and hostile to the street as,+New+York,+NY&aq=0&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=46.677964,67.763672&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Brooklyn,+Kings,+New+York&ll=40.708759,-73.958888&spn=0,0.008272&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=40.708805,-73.95902&panoid=XzO8F5Hp73IwRKwCpmElnA&cbp=12,112.9,,0,8.99

        (Sorry, but I seem to have lost my crib notes on how to hide those links within text.)

        I imagine that the attitudes of potential developers influenced the decision to put the station a full lot behind the street it serves. And in this case, promoting active, pedestrian-friendly street frontage — plus the direct pedestrian connection through to the entrance that doesn’t exist now but had better in the future — is certainly more important than routing all traffic directly to the entrance.

  8. I’m delighted that this problem has been recognized and is being worked on. It totally makes sense to do this in conjunction with redevelopment of the Mt. Baker station area. This ought to be a high volume, high quality bus-rail transfer point, given that some of Metro’s most popular routes stop near, but do not directly serve, Mt. Baker station. The elevated rail station is at least easy to spot from the bus bays, but the route from rail to bus today is non-discoverable, poorly signed, indirect and time consuming, particularly while dragging luggage from the airport. Many times I’ve seen my bus go by while I am hustling to the stop, which is especially annoying at night when headways are greater. I once just missed the last bus and ended up taking a very expensive cab ride the rest of the way.

    I wonder how long it’ll be after UW station opens in 2016 that we’ll be doing the same kind of work there. Maybe when the UW eventually decides to develop the surface parking lots east of Montlake Blvd.

    1. Depends how the transfer situation shakes out. If, as WSDOT projected, the vast majority of riders coming in on 520 busses are going to campus, UWMC or other busses (and I strongly suspect it’s also true for the 43 and 48) then probably never.

      1. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, Bruce.

        People won’t ride the 520-campus routes to go downtown if the frequency of those routes is poor and the transfer time is ten minutes on average with a long walk.

        Are you not understanding that this is a catch-22 argument?

        I also thought it was Metro and ST doing this self-fulfilling computation, not the agency that still publicy insists truckers will take the tunnel from Interbay to SODO, given the opportunity to pay a toll for a longer trip.

        And the only commuters Metro/ST are worrying about getting to UWMC faster are eastside commuters (even though, because of much lower frequency, it will be a delusion). Downtown riders get to hoof it from the station. Northeast Seattle riders will probably have to transfer on the west side of campus. The rest of us just have to suck it up and subsidize the waste in perpetuity.

        If UW can be convinced to move its “central” laundrey facility from prime property next to Mt Baker Station, to spend half a million dollars transitioning from U-Pass to Husky Card, and found a way to allow for a 2-entry Brooklyn Station, there remains hope.


        If you have some specific critique of WSDOT’s work, feel free to bring it to the table, but if you’re just going to idly cast aspersions on them, I’m not interested. The options for UWS were chosen because in the aggregate they wasted the least amount riders’ time. Frankly, I find your back-of-the-napkin corridor analysis so uncompelling as to not be worth responding to.

        The situation at UWS is NOT comparable to Mount Baker, because the Mount Baker TC is worse for absolutely everyone who uses it. In fact, it would arguably have been better had it not even been built — a rare distinction, even in Seattle.

      3. Bruce,

        That link just goes back to more argumentation over the bus stops around UWStation. Provide a link to WSDOT’s analysis of bus rider destinations at UW, and we would have something to discuss.

    2. In fact, [Mt. Baker Transit Center] would arguably have been better had it not even been built

      You could argue that. But I would argue against it. As part of my daily commute, I made a 48/Link transfer at Mt Baker back before the MBTC opened.

      The realities of Rainier around the station make an on-street stop in an ideal location basically impossible. There’s not enough ROW to stick a bus-stop in close to that conjested intersection. The proposed couplet plan has the potential to fix that, but that’s still uncertain at this point.

      Transfer to/from southbound buses is basically unchanged from before the transit center. It was a slightly longer walk, but a faster street crossing at Forest & Rainier. If you were headed down MLK, you could use the slightly closer stop at MLK & Winthrop

      Transfer to/from northbound buses was a clusterfuck before the transit center. The easiest option was the now-defunct stop in front of Lowes, and that was quite a walk. I usually preferred to go and catch the 48 from the stop at MLK & Hanford, as that crossing light didn’t take nearly as long as the 2 needed to get to the Lowes stop. They probably could have implemented the current NB stop at Rainier and Forest without the transit center, but I’m not sure. I think the old KFC driveways would have been in the way.

      In addition, you forget what seems to be the primary purpose of the MBTC: Layover space for the truncated 48.

      If this city plan had been done in conjunction with ST & Metro’s planning, though, we might have avoided ever needing to build MBTC. That transit center was a response to conditions on the street at the time of construction; no one thought of changing the streets.

      I’d still like to know what killed the idea of having the transit center UNDER the elevated station.

    1. Oh no! We’ll lose our historic view of Franklin High School and Lowe’s!

    2. Apartments in the area start around $900/mo. For new lofts (assuming they’re true lofts), they’ll probably be upwards of $1200/mo. If they put some basic studios in, you might see some $899/mo studios, like you see around the Othello station.

      Currently, there’s basically no apartment buildings and only a few multiplexes in walking distance of the station. The first units built will demand a premium.

      New apartments are never the most affordable. But they do drive down the price of older apartments & multiplexes nearby, so that helps.

      Seattle has a rental shortage, and it shows.

  9. Did I miss the part about the “Rainier” SHUTTLE between I90 (East Link) and the light rail station (at Franklin High) so that Belleviewer doesn’t have to go all the way into Downtown Seattle just to get to the Airport?

    1. Will people want two transfer penalties getting between I-90/Rainier Station and MBS? vs. walking off the left side of the train at a rebuilt ID/CS center platform, and walking onto a southbound South Link train anywhere from a few seconds to a couple minutes later?

      1. The 1-mile gap between I-90/Ranier and Mt. Baker station has no great solution. By the numbers, the options include:

        1) Go through downtown
        – stay on East Link (or 550/554) – 4 minutes
        – go up the stairs, cross over, then go down the stairs on the other side – 5 minutes
        – wait for train – 5 minutes
        – Ride train south to Mt. Baker station – 9 minutes

        Total: 23 minutes

        2) Walk
        – 1.1 miles (22 minutes)

        3) Ride the 7
        – Wait for bus – 5 minutes (under optimistic assumption that there’s no bunching)
        – Ride bus – 5 minutes

        Of these three options, the “Ranier shuttle” that Belleviewer refers to (aka the 7) seems to win, even though there’s an extra transfer and, even in the worst case where OBA says the buses are bunched and it’s a long wait, walking is a wash with going through the ID station.

        The reason for all this is a flaw in Link’s initial design – having the south and east line connect only at the international district, asking customers going from North->East or West->South to spend 20 minutes traversing a distance just over a mile on the map would be akin to building I-5 and I-90 with no ramps to connect the northbound I-5 to the eastbound I-90, or Westbound I-90 to southbound I-5.

        Any highway planner would consider a design that imposes a 20 minute delay to go from west to south or from north to east ridiculous. But, in the world of transit where trips to places other than downtown are treated as an afterthought and the value of a user’s time is considered less in general (long delays of bus-riders don’t cause mile-long backups), such designs get built.

      2. The problem is, Eric, there is a fourth option: Drive/Cab 23 minutes (45 at worse).

        I agree, during our lives the only place transit will take us from Bellevue is either Downtown or Downtown. I can already do that; and I can do that every 5 minutes.

      3. Eric, for option 1, it shouldn’t take five minutes to deboard the train at IDS, ascend the stairs, walk 50 feet to the SB entrance and descend. That should be 2 minutes max. Less if you skip the escalator and use the stairs.

      4. I agree in general, but I have 2 issues with your time accounting:

        1) You include the wait for a Central Link train in only the first option – that transfer wait time should be included in all or none of the options.
        2) 5 minutes to get between the platforms at ID station is quite excessive.

        Also, although no detailed station plans are out, the DEIS shows Rainier Station abutting 23rd Ave S, not Rainier. This will make the “shuttle” to Mount Baker the 48 instead of the 7, 9, 34, & 42, and bring the average wait up to 7.5 minutes. It’ll help to replace the 48’s lost eastside connection when the Montlake Flyer station closes, though, arguably at least as important.

      5. Eric, how would you move the lines to facilitate south-to-east transfers without eliminating Stadium, SODO, and Beacon Hill stations?

    2. Or ask ST to speed up Route 560. Or is it already faster than going downtown?

      1. 560 is faster than downtown and transfer. But on its best day it equals driving on the worst day.

        And where do I put my bags we asked a few weeks ago?

        Prior to the recent economic collapse we had a pretty good scheduled private airporter serving the bellevue hotels direct to SeaTac.

      2. If there is no wheelchair, I put my bags under the side facing seats. Besides, is the 560 really that crowded?

      3. Unfortunately, there is no cheap way to speed up the 560 through Renton, short of staying on 405 and skipping Renton entirely – something that is never going to happen.

        The 560 also has a problem of poor headways, which means if you use it, you’re probably getting to the airport way early.

        I’ve taken a few trips from Redmond to the airport. I can either go 566->560 or 545->Link. On paper, 566->560 is slightly faster, but is unreliable because if the 566 runs late, you’re screwed (the 560 has very poor headways). I almost always choose the 545->Link route because it’s more frequent, and more reliable. Plus, I can make a food stop downtown much more easily than with the eastside route.

  10. When comparing time to get to the airport, with transit vs. driving, it’s important to factor in all the time, including driving to a satellite lot, waiting for the shuttle to take you to the airport, and actually riding the shuttle. When all is said and done, driving to the airport and parking (assuming a 4-day trip) amounts to a $50’ish expense to save maybe 10-15 minutes each way at best.

    Not a very efficient use of money.

  11. What happens to east-west traffic? (On the severed South Winthrop Street.) Is there any? What is done with it? If there is a meaningful amount and it all has to loop around this is going to be quite inefficient.

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