As we reported last week, Metro is contemplating permanent closure of the stop on Columbia just east of 2nd Ave. This stop, served by the 21X, 54, 55, 56X, 113, 120, 121, 122 and 125, is very well used, especially in the afternoon rush hour. Unfortunately, at that time of day, Columbia is typically backed up to 3rd Ave and beyond, as cars and buses queue to get on to the viaduct.
Sometimes, accidents on the southern section of the viaduct bring traffic to a standstill, which, of course, reduces Columbia to a standstill and causes severe congestion on 3rd Ave. Even when such pathological road conditions do not exist, Columbia impacts travel times and reliability on 3rd. Were it not for the bus lane between 3rd and 2nd, and the bus signal at 2nd, I doubt buses would be able to get on the viaduct with any reliability at all. More below the jump.
I asked Irin Limargo at Metro for some background:
As you already know, on Third Avenue we have seen an increase in travel times primarily due to the congestion on Columbia Street since SR 99 has been reduced to two lanes in each direction. The Columbia Street on ramp can become backed up causing delays to our buses and other traffic on Columbia. Even with the lane reduction, the SR 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct is still the fastest, most reliable pathway from downtown Seattle to West Seattle because the Spokane Street Viaduct construction is still on-going and I-5 traffic during the afternoon peak is almost always congested.
We are working with the city of Seattle to explore different options to improve bus reliability.
- Close the bus stop at Columbia/2nd Ave: When buses turn southbound on Third Ave and make the right turn at Columbia Street, they can turn directly onto the middle lane and head directly to the Columbia on-ramp; they won’t need to merge to serve the bus stop. This option will affect riders currently using the stop (almost 1,500 on and 400 off riders at this stop). They will have to board buses at the last bus stop on Third Avenue before making the turn onto Columbia. Currently, this stop on Third is at Seneca Street, about four blocks away from the 2nd & Columbia stop. Some riders from the south end of downtown are already walking several blocks, so this option may turn away some riders. The advantage of this option is that it provides alternative routings via I-5 or 1st Ave S during major incidents on SR 99 , or during severe congestion where traffic isn’t moving at all. During reroutes we should not miss any stops, and there will be less confusion to our riders.
- Keep the bus stop at Columbia/2nd, and extend the existing bus lane on Columbia between 3rd and 2nd Avenue another block to 1st Ave South with an advanced transit signal at 1st and Columbia: The concept is similar to the period when we had police officers helping buses advance to the Columbia viaduct on ramp during the first week of the SR 99 lane reductions. We are evaluating impacts to riders and general purpose traffic, and also evaluating any technical issues of adding an advanced signal at 1st and Columbia. If this option is too expensive to implement, or if it would create negative impacts to all roadway users in general, this option may not be carried forward. Keep in mind that any capital investment added as part of this option will only last until 2015 when the tunnel is scheduled to open. At that time, buses will be rerouted to use the new on/off ramps to SR-99 in southend of downtown Seattle.
I’m not a regular commuter to West Seattle or Burien, so I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on what should happen here. I lean towards the former solution, as it seems cheaper and more flexible: signal priority won’t do much for you if viaduct traffic is barely moving. Those of you who use this stop or these routes regularly should send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Columbia/2nd Ave” in the subject line; you have until August 12th.