King County Metro 12 in front of the Federal Building
King County Metro 12 in front of the Federal Building

Tonight, from 5:30 to 7:00PM at Town Hall, is the second Waterfront Seattle open house, and the topic will be Mobility and Access; i.e. getting to, from and around the post-viaduct waterfront, ideally without a car. Much of the discussion will, I suspect, focus on transit along the Waterfront, and that’s appropriate and expected; tomorrow, we’ll have a summary of the event, with an open thread for discussion of anything waterfront-transportation related. In this post, however, I want to talk about improving one aspect of the much less sexy, but far more heavily travelled and regionally important Madison corridor, which connects the Waterfront to First Hill and points north and east.

One of the components of the Fall restructure proposal is splitting Route 2 and moving the south part of Route 2 from the Seneca/Spring pair to Madison/Marion, extending the route down to 1st Ave, where it would turn around without stopping. Route 12 would be split off from its current through-route to Route 10 on 1st Ave, and join Route 2S in the same maneuver, with schedules arranged to provide very frequent service. I mention this only by way of background, as we have debated the pros and cons of these proposed changes to death (and then some) in previous comment threads, and further debate in that vein is off-topic for this post. What we are discussing here is if this proposal (or some future similar proposal) goes forward, how we should improve this connection.

Madison-Marion Transit Island
Madison-Marion Transit Island. Diagram by Oran.

Oran’s diagram above shows the basic idea: cut back the wide curb on the west side of 1st Ave from just over 17′ to 9′ (at the narrowest point), and place an 8′ transit island between the two southbound lanes of 1st Ave, both of which would remain open to all traffic. The current stop, on Marion between 1st and 2nd, would be deleted. While this would result in a nominal loss of sidewalk area, little or none of the lost sidewalk is current usable by pedestrians, due to the presence of a single 8′ wide parking space cut out of the sidewalk just south of Madison, reserved for mail trucks delivering to the the little-known USPS station inside the Federal Building. That station is slated to close later this year, and presumably that space will no longer be required.

This proposal solves the biggest problem with the current pedestrian interface between Colman Dock and the Madison/Marion trolleybuses, namely that the closest stop (on Marion between 1st and 2nd) is halfway up a very steep street that renders it inaccessible to wheelchair users or other riders with limited mobility. With this transit island in place, riders would have a direct and almost flat walk from the ferry gangway to the bus, via the Marion St ferry walkway. Just like the island on Pine & 3rd, it would have stout railings and well-lit shelters (ideally with arrival time information) to keep riders safe and make them feel safe.

I’ve heard a number of different suggestions for solving the same accessibility problem: most of them involve extending trolleybus wire down to either Western or to Alaskan Way (directly outside Colman Dock). As I pointed out in my discussion of the Southend Transit Pathways project, traffic in the vicinity of Colman Dock is atrocious whenever ferries are unloading, with Marion typically gridlocked to 1st and beyond. Any westerly extension of the Madison/Marion trolleybuses would reduce their reliability and increase their run times and operating cost.

Moreover, 1st Ave has a unique advantage: it’s the only street that’s close to the level of the passenger deck of Colman Dock, and thus the only street where a flat pathway to a bus stop is possible. Extending the bus down to Western or Alaskan would require riders to take stairs or an elevator, possibly cross Alaskan Way (which is planned to be a six-lane highway) on foot, and then board a bus that itself is probably not, on average, moving much faster than walking pace. We’d be paying more to give riders a slower trip, and possibly exposing them to more traffic hazards, which doesn’t really make sense to me. I’d rather save that money and put it towards other waterfront transportation projects, or to filling in the missing link in Madison’s trolley wire, between 19th and 23rd Avenues.

42 Replies to “A Better Colman Dock Connection”

  1. Please include a transit-only left turn signal from the island stop back to Marion Street with the plan.

    1. The signal from Alaskan Way left on to Yesler is Transit Only and yet I see non-transit vehicles turning left all day since SPD never tickets anyone in that area so not much to stop cars turning left from 1st onto Marion, in my opinion.

      OOOOO, you might get a ticket….doubt it.

      1. +1, although I do see periodic “reigns of terror” on 3rd Ave. You’ll go for months driving with violators blocking you from exiting your zone on 3rd and then all of a sudden, one night there will be 3 or 4 police cars pulling over everybody in sight. It’s actually quite satisfying. I’ve always wanted an “I <3 Traffic Cops" bumper sticker – This scenario is what comes to mind.

  2. I’ve never understood this section of 1st, near Columbia, and why there are 3 lanes northbound, and only 2 Southbound. Seems like they could switch one lane to SB to help with all the congestion near the viaduct. Guess it won’t be a problem in a few years.
    I love the island idea, esp. with a some sort of signal priority on the left turn to Marion.

    1. It is curious. The 3-lanes northbound only last for a few blocks too. It seems like with a brand spanken new surface freeway (Alaska Way), the upgraded tunnel, and additional lane(s) on Western (I think I saw that on the latest plans) we could just take away a lane or two or three from 1st. But that may just be my wild car-hating fantasy.

      What war on cars?

      1. The 3-lane northbound extends to Virginia — it’s more than just a couple of blocks. I’m personally fine with cutting that back to two lanes by removing the peak parking restrictions (or sidewalk bulbs or whatever) but that’s a much heavier lift from a political or traffic management perspective.

      2. For sure Bruce. You and Oran have a great design working with the resources available to you. I was just lamenting how car capacities are expanding in the area but if we even entertain the idea of taking away existing car capacity, we’d be sacrificed to the car gods as the sinners we are.

        The only helpful comment I can offer is to make sure (I can’t tell if this is what you have done) the island extends into the crosswalk as a refuge to those waiting to cross to the east side of First. Oh and if you are designing investments for this area, might as well shorten those crossings of Madison and Marion (show the diagonal parking and extend the sidewalk even with the parking).

  3. Bruce, your idea of turning the east-west trolley service at First Avenue is an excellent one. Now and especially after the removal of the Viaduct, the area around Coleman Dock does not need one additional vehicle of any kind.

    Certainly looking forward to tonight’s Waterfront session- Town Hall Downstairs, 5:30 to 7:30 PM. Connecting Coleman Dock with Downtown across possibly the worst traffic problem in the project is going to need some major attention.

    However, you might want to take a walk south and east of Marion, and follow the trolleywire that has been hanging unused in the air since its installation as part of the Downtown Seattle Transit Project 21 years ago.

    The thought, never followed up, was to provide a trolley connection between the Coleman walkway and the King County Courthouse. Any chance of tying this wire in with your plan?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Tying in that wire would be nice, but it would involve either looping around in Pioneer Square and exposing the bus to more 1st Ave traffic, or a turn on 3rd Ave, which are precisely what we’re trying to avoid or minimize. It also sacrifices the geographical simplicity of Madison as a linear corridor.

      I think Colman Dock-Pioneer Square connectivity is better handled by some other connection, and doubtless we’ll hear a plenty of ideas about that tonight.

  4. I like the idea of a stop there and appreciate the focus on folks with limited mobility. I’m not sure about the island. I understand that it would be easier for the bus to turn back up Marion but it means that folks coming from the ferry pedestrian bridge have to wait to cross both Marion and the single lane of traffic to reach the bus stop. I think it might make more sense from a pedestrian safety perspective to just have the bus pull all the way over to the existing curb and I think the additional time folks spend waiting for the bus to get back over into the turn lane could be balanced by the reduced time pedestrians spend waiting to cross.

    I would also be curious about whether Metro might consider having the 16 and 66 stop near the pedestrian overpass rather than down by the ferry terminal.

    1. I’d think it makes more sense from a pedestrian safety standpoint to have them jaywalk one lane.

    2. I believe Metro has policies about how far a stop has to be from a signal for it to be able to merge left a lane and then turn. I don’t think this block is long enough to meet that requirement. Therefor the bus would need to take a left from the right southbound lane. Signal wise that would be complicated. There is only one place I know where buses have left turn priority from the right lane (Eastage flyer stop).

    3. Yeah that wouldn’t work. Turning left onto 1st into the right lane would be difficult for the bus, because from 4pm on the traffic in the right lane backs up waiting to turn right onto the Viaduct onramp.

      Maybe that could work after the Columbia St onramp is gone, but that block is still really short to do that kind of manover.

  5. What about a bus-only contra-flow lane on the east side of the street between Madison and Marion? That would have the same effect but eliminate the need to go through two First Avenue signals. I’m not sure if that’s geometrically possible, but could be quite interesting.

    What about having a layover area where one bus can bypass another? With two high frequency routes laid on top of each other, there will be many times during the day when the order of the buses will need to be switched.

    Are there still discussions about a First Avenue streetcar? If so, this improvement design could be short-lived.

    1. The problem with any bus-only configuration in this area is that losing one general purpose lane in either direction is going to turn this block into a massive bottleneck for whatever direction is chosen, which is why I’m proposing cutting back the sidewalk rather than taking a lane (which is obviously my preference). Making it contraflow would probably also require moving and adding trolley wire, and relocating the (modestly-used) northbound stop on the west side of 1st.

      1. Are you sure this would be a bottleneck? It seems most traffic heading past this block is going through Pioneer Square, which is a much larger bottleneck. I see the southbound lanes really just as a holding tank for cars waiting to get past Pioneer Square, and the northbound lanes have more capacity than they need.

  6. It looks to me no analysis was done on how this would impact southbound 1st ave traffic, especially during the evening commute and game days.

    It also looks to me this is an answer to a problem that doesn’t exist. I would first want to see proof of a significant number of complaints to Metro regarding this issue before I accept this is an actual problem and a new bus stop is needed.

    1. This is not going to affect southbound traffic significantly differently than any existing bus stop on 1st Ave, except that it’ll probably have more riders and thus slightly longer dwell times. N-S traffic in this area is gridlocked on game days anyway, so this isn’t really going to change much.

    2. A bus stop located at the same elevation as the Colman Dock Terminal, flat enough for accessibility compared to the current inaccessible stop, is a good enough reason to do something like this.

      I’d look harder at borrowing a north bound lane for the necessary real-estate before cutting back the sidewalk however…

    3. This should not impact southbound traffic. The current southbound configuration is also two General Purpose lanes with one in-lane bus stop.
      All this does is move the bus stop from one lane to another, at the expense of some curb bulbs and one reserved parking space. If we’re lucky, SDOT might even upgrade the signal.

  7. Wait, you’re going to put a fence in this perfect jaywalking block? Maybe I can still squeeze past the north side. I hope the shelters don’t block my view of left-turners.

  8. Interesting idea, but it seems to me that it would make more sense to keep 1st avenue to two northbound lanes until Madison, instead of Columbia and use the extra lane between Marion and Madison for transit only. Most people here seem to agree that the third north bound lane is excessive anyways so reducing its breadth by two blocks seems feasible in the grand scheme of things. Throw in special signal priority for buses making the left turn onto Marion from the right lane and it seems like you have the ideal transit solution at minimal loss of roads.

    Also on a side note, wouldn’t it make more sense for 1st avenue to have protected left turns in the vein of 23rd avenue, with all southbound traffic having the green and then all northbound traffic having the green?

    Before making those suggestions, it is worth noting that the current configuration of 1st avenue makes little sense, with too many north bound lanes and too few south bound lanes. At least in my experience southbound first avenue is a huge gridlock during rush hour because so many people are trying to make left turns to get out of downtown. It seems to me the 1st avenue light cycles should be reconfigured to run like 23rd ave were all northbound traffic gets greens and then all southbound traffic gets greens, thus allowing both directions to have protected left turns.

    1. The cities only do it if traffic studies bear it out. There is some standard, known baseline fraction of turning traffic required to make it a capacity gain (no idea what it is). Keep in mind also that at these 3-phase lights on 23rd, light cycles and red light queues are very long, much longer than can be accommodated by the short blocks on 1st.

      The pedestrian environment at these intersections is also terrible. With protected left turns for 2 out of 3 cycles, most of the time there is only one pedestrian crossing open at a time. That works out OK on 23rd (although slightly annoying for pedestrians), but in the congested pedestrian environment of downtown it could be an issue – I think we’d see more unsafe jaywalking (as herds of pedestrians rebel against the long lights) and thus more pedestrian injuries.

      1. Alright that makes sense I retract that part of the idea, but I still think that transit lane on third makes the by far the most sense here, taking up less space then a transit island and more in line with the auto, pedestrian and transit needs at that location.

    1. The capital/project costs of a future streetcar on 1st Ave would dwarf the cost of this mini-project. This would be ripped out and replaced.

      Frankly, I’ve lost my enthusiasm for Seattle’s half-baked streetcar proposals. Increasingly, I see grade separation and stop spacing as the defining characteristics of transit service, and a place as dense and congested as Downtown Seattle needs full grade separation, even if semi-exclusive ROW is used out in the neighborhoods.

      1. Amen. Jarrett Walker gets it right: we should be using our scarce capital funds to focus on reducing travel time (especially for the obscenely slow trips between Center City neighborhoods called out in the Transit Master Plan Briefing Book), not building streetcars that offer no tangible benefits because “oooo shiny!”

      2. My hope was always that we’d have more political support to build streetcars in their own ROW, unlike buses. But this hasn’t happened with our other two lines, so I’m losing hope.

        How about a gondola instead?

      3. and slightly OT, that relates directly to last night’s waterfront streetcar conversation. It seemed pretty clear planners are assuming in-lane streetcar service (if it happens at all).

  9. “Extending the bus down to Western would require [emphasis added] riders to take stairs or an elevator…”

    No, it wouldn’t. There’s a perfect opportunity for a “nearside” stop right at First Avenue eastbound on Marion. Now, grant, it is a moderate hill which makes wheelchair access more difficult. And I do genuinely like your island idea, but there is no way the petrolheads are gonna let you have that lane.

    Plus of course, it is an island stop which means that people will be running across the traffic against the light to catch a departing bus. Maybe not often, but it will happen.

    1. Err, if you read the post more carefully you’ll see that this doesn’t involve taking a lane, we’re basically taking one exclusive mail truck parking space and a little bit of sidewalk.

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