SLU Mobility Plan - Improve Transit Service

Seven months after the kickoff event, the South Lake Union Mobility Plan has been released. The plan, led by the SLU Community Council, Uptown Alliance, and both the Greater Queen Anne and SLU Chamber of Commerce, is structured around seven key mobility themes. Below is my high level summary with some commentary. The report is a refreshingly light read and looks pretty slick.

  1. Connect Communities: This section is all about East-West connectivity. If you tried to sever the connection between Capitol Hill, SLU and Uptown you’d be pretty hard pressed to do a better job than what we already did with I-5 and SR-99. This section calls for reconnecting the grid over Aurora, improving East-West bike/ped travel, and designing Harrison St to accommodate future East-West bus service.
  2. Increase Transit Service: The plan proposes to improve connections between Capitol Hill, SLU and Uptown with new service operating on Denny/Fairview/Harrison. It also proposes pulling some downtown routes off I-5 at Mercer St, routing them through SLU on Fairview into downtown. The plan mentions BAT lanes on Fairview.
  3. Serve Regional Access & Mobility: Boils down to funding Mercer West. Also make sure Republican doesn’t get hosed by vehicles exiting the deep bore tunnel.
  4. Encourage Walking: A smattering of pedestrian enhancement projects, such as green street improvements to Thomas St and complete the Lake-to-Bay Loop Trail. It also includes reconnecting the grid at Aurora and possibly a new bridge across I-5 somewhere north of Denny. I think the two highest priorities are reconnecting the grid at Aurora and making sure new sidewalks and streetscapes are built to a high design standard.
  5. Support Biking: In my opinion this section could have been bolder. The plan calls for adding a few signals to help cyclists cross arterials. It suggests that if BAT lanes are added to Fairview they could be shared between buses and bikes, in my opinion a DOA idea. No mention of cycle tracks. The plan calls for a bike share program but that is kind of a freebee unless company/developers are willing to chip in some seed money. King County is currently in the process of studying this.
  6. Leverage Private Transportation Investments: We have already seen some of this with employers chipping in to fund the 3rd streetcar during the PM peak period and Route 70. Also calls for providing passenger load zones for private shuttles along public streets and new legislation that “makes it easier for private business to share shuttle resources”. I wonder what they have in mind.
  7. Create Hubs for Mode Transfers: The plan proposes creating “mobility hubs” at Thomas and Harrison (a future RapidRide station) and on Valley St at the SLU Streetcar station. In case you haven’t been keeping up on your transportation lingo, mobility hubs (otherwise called “new mobility hubs”) are an idea the Cascadia Center and other tech firms have been peddling. It essentially boils down to a tech heavy transit center, with traveler information, electric car share, bike share, and other amenities.

The City Council will be briefed on the plan in their chambers, Monday at 10am.

74 Replies to “SLU Mobility Plan Released”

  1. “Cascadia center”, “exiting deep bore tunnel”, no “the” in front of route 70, “boils down to a tech heavy”.

    1. Thanks. Sorry I got busy at work and didn’t have to to revisit it before it posted.

    2. It’s a bit off topic, but are you still planning to have an informal meetup after the light rail station tour? If so, I would like to join, but how can I find you?

      1. I asked about this and two people answered me. Unfortunately though, I think I won’t be able to make it either now, so I guess just look for nerdy people.

  2. A ton more focus should be given on establishing an east/west bicycle & pedestrian thoroughfare right through the heart of SLU. I’m thinking Republican or Harrison would be great candidates for eventually connecting Seattle Center to Capitol Hill with a I-5 overpass.

    1. The biggest problem with more I-5 overpasses is topography (well, and money of course). The hill is quite steep at Republican or Harrison (even the first block up Capitol Hill are stairways not roads), and would be barely possible even on John or Thomas. The plan does mention adding a north sidewalk/bike lane to the Denny overpass.

      Cue Matt with a gondola!

      1. Gondola!

        Seriously – that’s what this plan needs. SLU is stuck between 2 hills – one with a highway and one with a freeway. Feet will get you over a freeway, but it isn’t fun. Feet will also get you up a hill, but only if you’re young and in shape. Buses can move you around, but there’s a lot of stuff in the way – such as cars waiting to get onto these freeways.

        Like I said, gondola.

      2. Gondola – excess of awesome.

        Bike-rope-rider: even better. Think double rope-tow with clips top and bottom. Powered by a man-made waterfall connected to a funicular running southwise, within a rain-proof tube with keg taps every 1200 feet.


      3. Whatever you think of gondolas, realistic or pie in the sky, this is the type of situation in which they should be applied, especially from SLU to Capitol Hill Station. I’d certainly be interested in a very small feasibility study to just flesh out if it is even in the realm of possible.

      4. Looking at their plan, I’d run it over Thomas, in a straight line up the hill. Perhaps start at Terry (their “festival” street, near streetcar access and an easy walk to the 8th Ave woonerf). Run up to Broadway. There’s a parking lot there we could use, or put it right on top of Jai Thai. From there you’re a block away from the light rail entrance.

      5. Y’all seem to be confusing USA 2011 with some America circa 1910.

        Someone stole our country’s ingenuity and imagination to do things like this. I’m blaming Bill Gates.

      6. Both a gondola and an overpass could be a huge boon crossing I-5, though having scoped this out, I’m not sure where to land either one on Capitol Hill. Maybe it could be integrated with new development.

        Short of something that actually crosses I-5, there is a low budget connection that could really help pedestrian mobility between SLU and the Hill. At the northwestern “corner” of the vertigo-inducing Lakeview overpass of I-5, there is a little plot of unused land far, far below the street. Install an elevator here that goes from Eastlake Ave. to Lakeview. Add another elevator on the west side of Eastlake, possibly but not necessarily integrated with a skybridge across Eastlake, that descends practically down to the level of Lake Union at Ward Street, where there is a huge pile of stairs now.

        Bingo — an almost level connection from the existing streetcar stop at Fairview/Ward to the west slope of Capitol Hill, without having to snake around. Fairview to Lakeview in 0.15 miles, potentially without so much as a traffic signal in the way.

        Love the other concepts, but this would be cheap and easy. Coordination with Fred Hutch would be required. The most difficult thing would be dealing with WSDOT and FHWA over the ROW adjacent to I-5, but that’s got to be a whole lot easier than trying to cross I-5 aerially, dealing with construction, maintenance and view impacts, etc. and then landing it somewhere off Melrose. I can imagine using this often, and I don’t even live or work there.

      7. @Jonathan: That’s a cool concept. I don’t think I’ve seen a truly public elevator. Lots of public buildings have elevators (transit stations, big libraries), but they’re inside a building and subject to rules, both implicit and explicit, that are a lot stricter than rules out on the street. The technology indeed sounds really simple, but social aspects could be harder to manage.

        Maybe the way around that is to have it designed and managed as part of the streetcar system. This might put its operation in jeopardy if it didn’t lead to many streetcar boardings (that could just be my Chicago background speaking though — the CTA has closed many “underperforming” station entrances over the years to save money… but the Seattle Streetcar uses POP, not fare barriers, so it’s harder to get per-entrance stats, and it’s also operated and supported by groups that are interested in pedestrian mobility and would probably be pleased to see non-streetcar traffic use an elevator there). But the streetcar operators are probably in a better position to make it a pleasant place to be than the streets department. Or maybe I’m wrong, who knows?

      8. There are public elevators unconnected to any building at Bell Street / Alaskan Way, and at Weller Street down to the King Street Station area, for example. Who operates those? Is it SDOT?

        And then there’s the Central to Mid-Levels covered escalator system in Hong Kong, which I have had the good fortune to explore. The vertical ascent is the height of Capitol Hill (as in, the whole hill!) Way cool.

      9. I don’t know about the Belltown/Alaska Way ones, but this one in Québec City and this one in Oregon City are both municipally owned and, I believe, open all the time.

        (Also, the Wikipedia page for the Oregon City Municipal Elevator claims there are a total of four in the world. So I guess there are only two more of which I’m unaware.)

      10. Ha, so more urban public elevators than I thought. I guess I’ve lived in the flats too much. Now there’s another thing I have to go check out!

      11. @Al Given the quarter-assed fare enforcement and complete lack of urgency in installing ORCA readers on the SLUT, I doubt anyone is worried too much about its stats.

      12. So after going over to the Cap Hill construction tour today I went around to look at the Lakeview bridge, and also the public elevators mentioned. I didn’t go in the King St. Station elevator, but I wouldn’t be surprised if SoundTransit operated it, as part of the train station (POP-based stations are so much nicer than Chicago-style stations with turnstiles!). I went up the elevator at Bell and Alaskan, and the certificate area said it was a Port of Seattle elevator (and that the real certificate was in some adjacent building, probably a Port of Seattle building).

        Also I rode the SLUT for the first time, because I was in the area. If I hadn’t already known that a physical ORCA card was considered POP I would have been a bit confused about that. There are also these little things with arrows . (Note to self: study possibilities for immature acronyms for the First Hill Streetcar… Pill Hill Area Inter-Link?)

    2. My original point is that they should designate one of those roads as a bike/pedestrian thoroughfare through SLU. You guys think too far ahead ;)

    1. This isn’t the NY Times. I appreciate the effort this blog spends on editing, but always find it strange when people spend time criticizing a free service.

  3. They need to focus more on what bikes actually will be doing. Thomas and Harrison are sweet, but the go 8 blocks then dead-end. People bike too places. Nobody is going to be doing loops around SLU. Help those on bikes get to the U-district, Fremont, Capital Hill, Seattle Center, the Water, Downtown. Don’t make sharrows to nowhere.

    1. North-south bike connections are not bad right now. There’s already a good bike route from Thomas and Harrison to downtown on Dexter/7th. You can use Dexter to get to Fremont. Eastlake is quite functional to get to the U District. Those routes could be upgraded over time but they’re pretty good as is.

      The real problem is east-west. The first big issue is that streets really need to connect across Aurora. That’s already planned, and would get people to and from Seattle Center. Thomas continues as a bike/foot path through Seattle Center, so that gets you most of the way to the waterfront. And after this summer there will be a bridge from Thomas to the waterfront proper.

      That leaves the connection up to Capitol Hill. That’s what’s really lacking. And I’m not sure what can be done. I-5 is a huge barrier. You can put better bike facilities on the few bridges or put in a gondola. That’s about it.

      I think you can also make a case for better service along Westlake to Fremont so people can avoid going up Queen Anne Hill. But the streetcar tracks make that tough.

      1. North-South connections are pretty darn bad, for any experienced bicyclist. In fact, all those connections are pretty darn bad. As an experienced cyclist, I can manage fine, but I was commenting with an eye to actually increasing the mode share. To the uninitiated, Dexter is Everest, Eastlake is a killing fields, Aurora is the Rockies and Mercer is the Grand Canyon.

  4. Meanwhile a developer has bought land from the Seattle Times across from Amazon. That’ll be a nice block to develop.

  5. “No mention of cycle tracks.”

    It’s not a mention but the street cross section diagram (figure C) on page 4 of the report clearly shows a cycle track for Thomas Street.

  6. The Capitol Hill climb wouldn’t be THAT bad. But a solution might apply that’s similar to what I’ve thought about for the Harborview area (particularly with the density infusion at Yesler Terrace): Build a stair/elevator tower on the downhill side, as part of a public or commercial building. Then do a flat walk/bike bridge over the freeway.

    For Harborview, if the King County garage was built to be expandable (no idea, but it’s not unusual), the location would be perfect for this. With an entrance at grade on Sixth, you’d skip three extremely steep blocks vertically, while possibly saving up to two additional blocks of walking. Volumes might not justify this right now, but when Yesler Terrace has several times the population…. The cost would be in the tens of millions but I’d guess it would be a hell of a lot cheaper than an aerial tram.

    It would be absurd to not have a skybridge around Harrison/Thomas by 2021, say. And it’s appalling that one side of Denny doesn’t have a sidewalk.

    1. It’s not just the freeway, Capitol Hill is seriously steep there. Harrison and Republican are stairways between Melrose and Bellevue Aves. Check out Roy St near the Velo Apartments, it’s seriously about a 40 ft change in elevation in *one block*:

      [stop posting long links]

      (I didn’t even know Bing had street view, found a link from Velo facebook page. Kinda cool look.)

  7. What does this mean when it says that Aurora Ave N will be renamed 7th Ave N?

    1. I assume a portion of it will be a city street once (if) the tunnel’s done. I suppose it’ll be a nice way to get downtown (via car), with 99 out of the Battery St. tunnel.

    2. Yeah, just the 3 blocks or so north of Denny Way until where the new Aurora ramps are planned, between Thomas St and Harrison St. As it mentions, 7th Ave N was the name before Aurora was built.

  8. I hope some of the bus routes can be directed to the Seattle Center area instead of going directly downtown. Speaking selfishly of course, but my job is near the Seattle Center coming from Shoreline. Right now, I have to drive and park my car to catch #5 or #358 since no bus routes run late enough for me to get home from Seattle Center. And, I don’t really want to be downtown at midnight or later. Maybe, depending on the route for North LINK, I may be persuaded to take a #3, #4, or #16 and meet up with LINK someday…

    1. It’s too bad the Monorail is privately owned and stops running so early. It could be a good link downtown.

      1. I once took my toddler on the monorail, starting at Seattle Center. As the doors were closing, some god-awful bells went off, scaring the bejeezus out of him. He howled all the way to Westlake.

        So now I’m at Westlake, and my truck is at Seattle Center. And the monorail is a terrifying monster. And it’s starting to rain.

        I’m sure there has got to be a decent bus or two on 3rd, but I couldn’t find any that day. I ended up walking all the way back in the rain with him on my shoulders.

      2. Oh, the scary monorail. After my wife and I moved to Seattle I basically dragged her along to go on the monorail, which she was pretty convinced was going to kill us all (whenever I mention it she cites Blaine the Mono from the Dark Tower novels). I thought it felt at least as safe as the L in Chicago. We asked my brother, who’d been here longer, and he said, “Oh, it only crashes or catches fire about once a year.”

    2. This might not be such a good idea. I live farther north on the 16, and when there is an event at Seattle Center I’ve seen the bus delayed 30 or more minutes between 5th and Mercer. More frequent east-west service could work pretty well, though.

      1. Indeed. Some Metro planners want to stop the 16 from making the bizarre double loop required to serve the Seattle Center; it causes huge delays due to Mercer traffic. Somewhat like the weird old loops on the 3/4 in Queen Anne, it’s actually a legacy quirk. There used to be a bus base on part of where the Seattle Center is now built, and it was convenient to have the 16 pass right by.

        My suggestion (which won’t happen due to Metro being broke, but hey, I can dream) was to use the service hours saved to make up the difference by extending 10 minute headways on the 3/4 from Virginia up to the turnback loop at Valley and Aloha. That’s two extra busses per hour to make up for the three being lost.

        Currently, the 3 and 4 run their full length at 30 minute headways, and Transit Now partnership money pays for a turnback routing to 23rd Ave; those are the “3 First Hill” busses you see going south or the “Downtown / Seattle” busses going north. They have a special headsign with no number to discourage boarding as they go out of service at Virginia.

        Extending those routes to Aloha would make them far more useful and free up precious trolley layover space downtown.

  9. I mourn the Cascade neighborhood whose name will never get used again and is as good as dead. South Lake Union= marketing term. Cascade= history.

    1. I think I like the name “south lake” just because there’s already an eastlake and a Westlake.

      1. A sidenote, but isn’t Westlake actually south of Lake Union? And south of SLU?

      2. Westlake is west of the lake, but it’s other places too.
        Eastlake is also south of the lake.

    2. Everything has a history behind it, even SLU. Cascade = 1894 Cascade School, South Lake Union = 1994 Seattle Commons vision. Many of Seattle’s neighborhood names like Wallingford were marketing terms set by the person who developed the land. This isn’t any different.

      South Lake Union covers a wider area than Cascade, which centers around Fairview and Eastlake. The area west of Westlake was never considered a part of the Cascade neighborhood.

      1. I don’t know, somebody got the City to put up those fancy “CASCADE” signs on Eastlake and Fairview, in addition to the one that has been on Mercer forever. Maybe you can’t stop people from saying it’s South Lake Union, but you can put up the fancy signs.

        It’s kind of like the “Uptown” signs in what most people refer to as “Lower Queen Anne.” Personally I like the “Uptown” name, because then I can say that my home neighborhood of Belltown is “between Downtown and Uptown.” Belltown seems to have the opposite problem, where folks living in the Taylor 28 seem to think they live in Belltown, even though they’re north of Denny Way.

  10. Instead of an I-5 overpass, how about an underpass? I-5 is elevated quite high for part of I-5’s route along SLU. I used to work at what used to be the old Peoples Bank / US Bank operation center on Eastlake, which became Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and now is ? It used to have a employee parking lot, one block across Eastlake, UNDERNEATH I-5.

    1. Indeed, there’s a skatepark in that area I believe, under the freeway.

    2. Not sure how much it matters, Jory, since you have to deal with the Cap Hill Cliff any way you cut it. Try using the skate park/bike park underpass sometime…the stair climb after you come out from the underpass is one of the more rigorous in the city.

      1. Indeed, the stairways at E Blaine and Howe Streets are great exercise. For a tour, take the 70 to Eastlake & Blaine; you’ll see the first stairway two blocks east in a cul-de-sac. One stair to the park and Lakeview Blvd, and another to Broadway and 10th E. The second one goes through a greenbelt and some nice large gardens. At 10th & Howe, see the mansion on the northwest corner, then walk south 6 blocks to the Broadway commercial district, passing the mansion with a summerhouse, Brightwater School in old brick buildings, St Mark’s Cathedral and its water view, and a curious parking lot in a curve next to the street.

        Another staircase walk is Galer Street from Westlake to Queen Anne Ave. You can walk the whole way or take the 3 to its northern terminal at 3rd & Galer.

  11. Isn’t there going to be a new pedestrian walkway from this area all the way to the waterfront? Didn’t I just read construction ha just started on this?

  12. BAT lanes are annoying. They are just a dozen cars parked elsewhere from being transit lanes.

    1. Huh? BAT lanes are transit lanes. Cars and tracks are only allowed in them to access driveways and for right turns at intersections.

      1. BAT lanes also mean parking lanes at certain hours of the day. They end up defaulting to only being transit lanes during peak hour, in the peak direction, if the 15th Ave W model is followed.

        Ride the 15 or 18 some time off peak, and count the number of parked cars that force buses to pull into the general traffic lanes. They aren’t loading or unloading. Then do the same exercise riding the 15/18 in the counter-peak direction during peak hour. Experience the difference between a transit lane and a BAT lane.

      2. I think BAT lanes came be peak-only or 24 hours. They moved away from HOV because cars would use it, and they don’t want to call them bus only if they are on the right because they want to make sure drivers know they can use them to turn.

      3. I would hope loading could be done on side streets.

        I don’t know of any problems with allowing cars to turn in the lane, as long as yield-to-buses is enforced.

        The best would be having center-running lanes and bays, like Cleveland, with left-side doors, but those buses might be pricey.

  13. Route 70 should be made more frequent. Earlier SDOT work pre Mercer East had more detail; it included a northbound transit queue jump for Route 70 at Harrison Street after the stop was shifted to nearside. The stops on Route 70 have been consolidated some.

    Yes, Route 16 could be sped up and made more reliable by both using North 92nd Street to and from Northgate and by not deviating to and from Seattle Center east (5th Avenue North); Mercer Street will continue to be congested with I-5 traffic.

    Note how congested Denny Way is. How about banning left turns to and from Terry Avenue? Route 8 needs all the help it can get.

  14. Great…NOW they do this!

    We could have built our LINK light rail at grade and intersected with the trolley system instead of spending $179 million a mile to turn an easy to install technology into a subway!

  15. I think Harrison Street would mean moving the 8 rather than adding a new route. I can’t see two frequent routes within three blocks of each other as justified, even after the highrises are built out. I guess moving the 8 wouldn’t be any big loss; most people take the bus on Denny because it’s convenient, not because they like being on Debby.

  16. I wish they would just repave Harrison below I-5. It’s a pothole nightmare.

    As for bicycling, life in my hands when I ride down here, between the traffic on Eastlake, no bike lane where it counts, the street car rails, it pretty much sucks for bicycling E/W.

    Oh yeah, try coming down Pine, get on to Boron and try to ride North! You might last 30 seconds in that traffic.

    As for hills, that’s what granny gears are for. I’ve ridden up and over on Mercer and it’s tough but possible.

  17. Yeh, how about a funicular ((ascensore) . They work well in Valparaiso, Chile and in Prague.

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