by TOM RASMUSSEN
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of City Councilmembers writing about bus trips in advance of the Proposition 1 vote.
On Wednesday morning, I took the 54 to get to City Hall. I wanted to see how folks were switching to transit and adapting from their normal commute during the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Riding the 54 was also important because I wanted to write about how the route will change both with RapidRide and with the improvements to the route if Seattle’s Prop 1 passes.
The 54 is one of Metro’s workhorse routes. It goes from White Center along Roxbury to the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal then along California Ave SW to the Alaska Junction. It then heads down the hill on Avalon and onto the West Seattle Bridge and into downtown via 4th Avenue. Along with the 120 bus that runs on Delridge, the 54 carries most of West Seattle’s daily bus passengers.
Next fall, most of the 54 will be converted into Metro’s RapidRide C line. Today the route runs at about 15 minute intervals during the peak commute hours. RapidRide will bring more frequent bus service throughout the day, but it won’t make a difference if those buses are stuck in traffic. That’s where Prop 1 comes in.
Prop 1 will build on improvements already funded through Bridging the Gap, including more queue jumps that allow buses to get a head start at busy intersections and bus only lanes through stretches of the route where buses typically get backed up. Bus bulbs will be added to allow buses to more quickly load passengers and get moving again without having to merge in and out of traffic.
If Prop 1 passes, the combined SDOT investments in this corridor will reduce the time it takes to get downtown by 16% and will provide a level of reliability that makes it dramatically easier to plan your commute. More after the jump.
Starting at the Junction, I had to wait about 10 minutes at the California and Alaska as the 54 was running late. While I was waiting, County Councilmember Joe McDermott came walking up to catch the shuttle to the water taxi. It would’ve been nice to have real time arrival information at the bus stop, so we would’ve known whether we had time to get out of the cold and get a cup of coffee.
It was about 6:45am, still dark and very windy, which made me appreciate the fact that Prop 1 will pay for improved bus stops – better shelters, improved lighting, security cameras and real time arrival information provided with the GPS-equipped buses now coming on line.
As we started heading down Avalon, traffic was getting heavier but we were able to use the bus only lane. As we merged into the bus only lane leading to the West Seattle Bridge I could see the advantage of a bus-only lane. It was not only faster but prevented the bus from having to make a dangerous merge as it got onto the West Seattle Bridge. On the West Seattle Bridge, the bus only lane allowed us to zoom past traffic. We definitely need more of these through the corridor.
But then traffic hit gridlock as we exit onto 4th Ave S. There are no bus only lanes or queue jumps here, so we moved slowly through SODO (to a moving at a snail’s pace at some intersections) and even more so as we got closer to downtown and merged onto Third Avenue.
All in all though, not a bad ride. But, it was late and it wasn’t fast either – 42 minutes from the Junction if you include the 10 minute wait for the 54. I can’t help but wonder how many people don’t ride the bus because it’s not as dependable as it could be: late arrivals, stuck in traffic (especially on the parts of the route without any transit improvements).
RapidRide service will definitely make it better, but I know we can make this route and others across the city more reliable and speedier with passage of Prop 1.
In West Seattle, Delridge is also a high priority and will see improvement if Prop 1 passes. In addition to the bus corridor improvements, Delridge will also get new pavement. California and Admiral will get lots of new pedestrian safety improvements and we’ll have money to tackle some of the challenges on 35th Ave SW and other areas where it feels unsafe to walk or ride a bike.
Please turn in your ballots and vote with me for Prop. 1. We’ll get safer streets and faster transit with Prop 1.
The author is a Seattle City Councilmember.