Two Potential Pathways
Two Potential Pathways

A few months ago, I wrote about the Southend Transit Pathways project, Metro’s effort to decide the alignment of the currently-Viaduct-running West Seattle and Burien routes, once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is shut down in 2015. That process has moved steadily along, and of the four options I discussed, Metro has eliminated one, modified another and is now soliciting public feedback via an online survey on the resulting options. To avoid needless repetition, I’ll assume you’ve read that previous post, so head on over and do so if you haven’t, or refresh your memory if you need to.

The main change is the elimination of Pathway 4B, which used 4th Ave S, Edgar Martinez Dr, 1st Ave S and the Spokane St Viaduct to access the West Seattle Bridge; Metro tells me this was due to speed and reliability concerns, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. It also appears that Pathway 5A, the alignment most similar to today’s Viaduct routing, has been modified from a couplet on Marion and Columbia to be two-way on Columbia, a modification that implies a switch to two-way traffic on Columbia.

To represent the two Pioneer Square pathways, the survey shows a map of Pathway 3A, which uses a Main/Washington couplet to connect from SR99 to the 3rd Ave transit spine “likely using bus-only lanes”; but the text also notes the possibility of using Main St in both directions. Asked if Metro had a preference between the two, I was told “Metro’s preference is for a two-way Main Street, and we are continuing to discuss that with Pioneer Square stakeholders.” My question about commitments from SDOT about transit priority were referred to SDOT, and I have an email in to them for comment.

I’ve personally been a unabashed fan of the two-way Main St alignment from the start, as it maintains the integrity of the 3rd Ave transit spine as far south as possible, serves the heart of Pioneer Square, avoids ferry queueing traffic, avoids creating a couplet, provides the best overall regional transit connectivity, and seems to me to hold out the strongest possibility of workable bus priority treatments, such as peak-period restrictions on car traffic on Main St, just as 3rd Ave now enjoys. But this isn’t just about what I think! This is about what you think, so you should go and take the survey. Metro is particularly interested in the opinions of regular riders of the West Seattle and Burien routes.

53 Replies to “Metro Wants Feedback on Southend Transit Pathways”

  1. Whichever option is selected I would like to see SDOT get serious about bus priority. Paint on the ground is not enough. SDOT needs to “defensively” design these bus lanes by using contra flow designs and/or a busway design. No more Micky Mouse curbside bus lanes. They should be designed to operate smoothly even when GP lanes are congested.

    1. Yes, absolutely, positively agree. This is a huge reason why I like the Main St option more than any other, because there’s a fighting chance we could get an enforceable 3rd Ave GP traffic restriction there, whereas the best we’ll get on Columbia is curb lanes — maybe contraflow in one direction. If Main St had the same restrictions as 3rd, there would be a continuous inbound busway from Alaskan Way, and nearly continuous outbound (only 3rd Ave S wouldn’t be restricted, but this is rarely a problem, and the restriction could be added there easily if needed).

      The solution to game day traffic would be to extend the busway restrictions to game times.

      1. I think SDOT will be open to taking a look two-way/one-way operations in Pioneer Square once the tunnel is finished. The whole area has generally been a mess, partly because of the viaduct, but mostly because of the waterfront streetcar. With that gone, and most of these E/W street fairly low volume right now I could see there being a fair deal of flexibility in how bus are given priority through Pioneer Square.

      2. Bus lanes won’t help at game time or on Friday or Saturday nights when a) the box will perpetually be blocked at 1st/Main and b) drunken partyers will completely ignore bus lane restrictions.

        I think we need to keep these buses out of Pioneer Square to ensure their reliability.

        My office looks out at the Seneca St bus-only contraflow lane and it’s a joke because of lack of enforcement. More cars drive there than buses. Now just imagine that transferred to Pioneer Square on a Friday night.

    1. Please wait for an open thread, when somebody will certainly have an answer to your question.

  2. I realize that certain groups that seem to have positioned themselves to speak for Pioneer Square are anti-bus (and pro-clang-clang).

    1) Does the Pioneer Square couplet work with the streetcar extension?

    2) Are these groups still opposed to the couplet?

    3) Can we interfere with the streetcar extension until these groups drop their opposition to the couplet?

    1. 1) I think so.
      2) I haven’t spoken to anyone from the PSQ neighborhood group in ages, but I don’t think they’re wild about diesel buses in general, and I don’t see why they’d like the couplet more than two-way Main.
      3) You can’t interfere with something that doesn’t exist.

      1. Regarding 3), I meant could we try to politically block the extension of the FHSC into Pioneer Square?

      2. Well, one can try anything, but no, not with any real chance of success. The design work SDOT has been doing basically assumed that the extension into Pioneer Square would happen, and the city has now officially found the cash to pay for it.

        I should be clear, too, that either two way Main or the Main/Washington couplet are perfectly compatible with the First Hill Streetcar. The two-way Main is probably not compatible with restoring the Benson line on (what’s left of) its current track. Metro hasn’t stated this, but if you look at how the street is laid out, it seems pretty obvious.

      3. 2) I think one can make a fairly strong economic development argument for routing buses through Pioneer Square. Better regional access would certainly have an positive benefit for a neighborhood that really needs it.

      4. Yes, I personally think having buses full of people going through the neighborhood to somewhere would be far more valuable than having the tail end of the First Hill streetcar parked on Jackson, but I haven’t made much headway with that argument.

      5. If the FHSC is for-sure being extended into Pioneer Square, then the Main/Washington alignments are obviously superior because of the transfer opportunity.

      6. “If the FHSC is for-sure being extended into Pioneer Square, then the Main/Washington alignments are obviously superior because of the transfer opportunity.”


        It also gets West Seattleites a short walk to Sounder and Cascades.

        Moreover, where are more Delridge residents going? Those big gubmint buildings, or the Ross Work for Less?

        At the risk of complicating things, there may be some routes where there is much more demand for bypassing to the north end, and some where skipping Pioneer Square is a major miss.

    2. Brent,

      Think about this:

      The new Waterfront is a natural extension of the First Hill streetcar. So send streetcars- new and historic both- Jackson to Occidental to Yesler to Alaskan Way.

      Whether buses use Main or Washington or both, Occidental Park between Washington and Main would make a great transfer station between “clang” and whatever your signature noise is for buses.

      Only the late Don Martin from Mad Magazine could have done this problem justice.

      For future stadium district to work- especially if you add a third stadium- might be a good idea to extend track and catenary south on Occidental as well.

      For buses, real argument for turning service through Pioneer Square is that along Alaskan from Yesler to the Aquarium, Colman Dock will effectively turn the street into a state highway.

      Every ferry landing and departure will assure that any transit vehicle on Alaskan Way, bus or rail, in diamond curb lanes or not, will be stuck in traffic. And not just on game nights.

      Mark Dublin

  3. The right turn onto Columbia is a real time killer at rush hour, I cannot believe they’d seriously consider making Columbia two way and adding a left onto 3rd.

    Also the curb at 2nd and Columbia is only long enough for 1 bus to board at a time. Main or Main/Washington seems like the only logical choice.

  4. Main or Main/Washington adds bus service to a dense segment of pioneer square where there currently is little/none. I think that’s superior to making a beeline for the waterfront.

  5. Metro contacted me about this survey as a rider of north-end buses that are interlined with the West Seattle buses. which begs the question: when my bus route technically doesn’t travel south of downtown, why is the physical bus doing so (especially when backups around the stadium create a wave of delays)?

    1. It’s much cheaper to through-route buses through downtown. You’d need more drivers and more buses to terminate and layover each trip in Belltown or Pioneer Square and then drive them back through town. Of course, as you know, there’s a reliability trade off, so for a few of the biggest routes (358, 120, and during the day, the 7), there is no through-route and those buses do layover downtown.

      Also, Pioneer Square has fought to reduce the number of bus layovers in their part of town — they blame this for contributing the neighborhood’s problems.

      1. How can they reasonably think that bus layovers vs. through routes contribute to the neighborhood’s problems?

        I’ll bet the Union Gospel Mission on 2nd Ave Ext S causes more problems than the buses (perhaps part of the perceived problem is buses carrying people there..).

      2. The people who are currently speaking for Pioneer Square are, unfortunately, not particularly clueful. It’s very sad. Better transit connectivity would help with all of us who would like to spend more time in the neighborhood but are frustrated by the current lack of connections. I suppose these folks think the bus layover space will become street parking, since that’s what their retail needs to prosper

  6. The West Seattle resident likes the 2 way Columbia–It potentially gets WS express bus commuters into and out of downtown as quickly as possible. The 3rd Ave/Main Street/pioneer square option in my opinion would tie up express buses with sports stadium traffic and new 99 toll avoiding cars. D*****g around through pioneer square traffic would turn the express bus routes into de facto local buses. If one wants to bus through pioneer square, take the local bus.

      1. But many, many more of the users are downtown commuters. Pioneer Square is a graveyard for bus reliability, especially during and immediately after the PM peak, and later on Friday and Saturday nights. That was true for the old 1st Avenue buses and it was also true for the buses that traveled on Main and Washington.

        I think speed and reliability dictates keeping buses as far away from 1st and Main as possible.

    1. There’s also the possibility, which I have not heard Metro discuss, of running the expresses up Columbia and Marion and the locals through Pioneer Square. This has the potential to satisfy both the commuters who just want to get into Mid-downtown ASAP, and those who want the benefits of the Pioneer Square alignment for all-day service.

  7. Did metro consider running buses down 1st and/or 4th ave to the Spokane St bridge? It seems to me that with the Spokane widening project, there would be room to extend the transit-only lane on the WS bridge all the way to the on/off ramps at 1st and 4th, and both 1st and 4th easily have enough room for BRT-style fixtures all the way up to the downtown core. This would remove the major morning bottleneck for WS buses: the clover-leaf merge onto AWV. As a bonus, it might allow a connection to light rail in SODO. This would allow buses to bypass all the mess created by the south portal of the tunnel, and could lead to very fast and reliable service to West Seattle.

    Stadium and freight traffic might be an issue, though…

    1. One important reason the 1st/4th couplet is not viable is the BNSF track crossing. Having to frequently wait for freight trains ruins reliability. I’ve been on more than my share of buses that had to wait for several minutes.

      Now if there were an entrance to the Spokane St Viaduct from southbound 4th Ave S without first crossing a railroad track at-grade, then we’d have something to consider.

      Also, I think Metro did a masterful job of designing the new route 50 coming September 29. The Admiral District, the Alaska Junction, and the Delridge corridor (with a transfer) all get a direct path to SODO Station.

      1. Pathway 4B crossed the BNSF mainline on Edgar Martinez, avoiding an at-grade crossing. I guess it was scuppered by concerns about car-induced unreliability and just the slowness of slogging all the way down to Spokane St on the surface. You can BRT 1st Ave S all you want, but the bus is going to run at ~50 mph on 99 and it ain’t on 1st.

  8. The two-way Main Street alignment is superior, by far. I’ve always been frustrated that the West Seattle routes don’t serve South Downtown well, which compromises access to points south and east.

  9. As a Pioneer Square resident I dislike diesel buses; but I assume that is the same for residents everywhere. In terms of routing, yes please, would love to be able to catch the bus in the neighborhood. Me and all of my community routinely has to walk up to Columbia, Seneca, or even Pike to get on a bus. Please send them all through on Main. What’s the point of having your system bypass the residential center of the downtown core? This is where the advocates are, where the riders are.

    1. The advocates need to show up at your neighborhood association meetings and outvote the bus haters.

  10. This discussion is completely ignoring the speed and reliability problems with the Pioneer Square option. I think that during the PM peak, going through Pioneer Square would add at least 4-5 minutes to a trip to West Seattle, even with bus lanes. Too many intersections, too many lights, and chronic box-blocking at 1st and Main. That’s really not a good outcome.

    And on Friday and Saturday nights going through Pioneer Square would completely disrupt service, just like it used to when the 15/18/21/56 ran down 1st. There is simply no way the typical visitors to Pioneer Square during those times will observe bus lane restrictions.

    1. You do know the alternative is Columbia, right? … Which you’re saying is also impacted by Pioneer Square traffic.

      Experience with 3rd Ave GP traffic restriction vs bus lanes on other downtown streets leads me to believe that a GP traffic restriction on Main would be far more enforceable than bus lanes on Columbia.

      1. I drove for Metro for five years. My experience was that I might wait for a minute or two (miss a light or two) on Columbia. That was before it had a bus lane; I was in general traffic. But I drove the 15s a *lot*, and during the late PM peak I might wait for 15 minutes or more to get through Pioneer Square. Late Friday and Saturday nights, it was gridlock; the most I ever remember waiting was one hour. Columbia Street is not where the problem is; it’s between Yesler and Jackson.

        And people don’t obey transit-only restrictions even when they’re sober. The Seneca Street bus-only contraflow lane is proof of that. When they’re drunk and trying to escape gridlock, they will all use Main Street, and buses will be stuck in the Pioneer Square gridlock just like everyone else.

        I really don’t think it’s good for the usefulness of the bus system to send major bus lines anywhere near First and Main.

      2. Right, I agree that sending buses down 1st Ave S would be a terrible idea. But going down 1st Ave and 1st Ave S is a very different situation than going down 3rd Ave, 3rd Ave S, and Main St to Alaskan Way. In the peaks, the 3rd Ave busway restrictions will be in effect, and likely similar restrictions on Main St. The restrictions on 3rd Ave traffic are pretty well obeyed and easy to enforce, and I don’t see why that can’t be reproduced on Main St. If people are drunk, great, SPD will get to take another drunk driver off the road. Blocking the box on 1st/Main is a problem, but one that should be solvable with a little high-profile enforcement, signs, and paint.

        On Columbia, the best we’re going to get are bus lanes, which (as you keep saying!) are widely ignored, plus you will often have to fight through traffic queuing for or exiting the ferries. Two-way Main allows us to create a busway, which I think is a good option for maintaining speed and reliability. I wouldn’t advocate for it if I didn’t think it would be adequate in this respect.

      3. I understand your argument. I just think it’s optimistic. Pioneer Square is an unholy combination of anarchy and gridlock on Friday and Saturday nights. In fact, I think the Friday and Saturday night issues are why the Pioneer Square renaissance that looked like it was about to happen in the early 2000s never really took hold. SPD is too busy trying to keep mayhem at bay to stop people who are driving down a bus-only street or blocking the box.

        I also wonder whether Metro will really put the TSP in place that will be necessary to make the geographically indirect Main St route speed-competitive with Columbia. When I used to drive the occasional 57 or 132 (both old routing) that would use the Washington/Main couplet, the lights were badly enough timed to catch me every block. I still remember a 57 trip I drove regularly for awhile which would take me 13 minutes to get from 1/Jackson to 4/Pike, most of that spent waiting for lights on Main.

  11. Partially related to the question of the “fast buses” to West Seattle is also the question of the local buses (like the 56). There used to be 10-minute service along the length of First Ave S, from Pioneer Square to Spokane St.

    First those buses got moved to travel 4th Ave S – then Edgar Martinez – then 1st Ave S, which meant loss of service along 1st Ave S from Edgar to Pioneer Square.

    Then because the Port won’t efficiently process trucks, and truck traffic often backs up on Edgar waiting for the Port, plus game day traffic, Metro moved those routes to stay on 4th Ave S to S. Lander and/or Spokane St. The result is that there is now no bus service at all on First Ave S from Pioneer Square all the way to S. Lander St. While the Pioneer Square area is reasaonably reachable by the buses on 3rd/4th Aves, once you get south of Jackson St, getting east-west across the railroad is difficult and time-consuming, and there is a long section of the neighborhood which isn’t served at all – and there are plenty of business and other destinations along there.

    I think Metro needs to return some service to First Ave S.

    1. Unfortunately, the 1st Avenue corridor is just not reliable enough to be useful for buses that serve other destinations. So any service on 1st Ave S would have to be service specifically intended to serve 1st Ave S, and the potential ridership base there is not all that big.

      If we had all the money in the world, I would support a route specifically dedicated to providing mobility along 1st, all the way from Lander (where connections would be available to West Seattle buses) to Broad. Such a route running at 10-minute frequency would be a big help to a lot of people, particularly downtown and in Belltown.

    2. Establish direct ship-to-rail transfer at the Port; move containers by rail to inland intermodal locations; and raise the charges for direct truck pickups to encourage them to use the intermodal locations. Thus removing the truck queueing.

      It’s an idea.

  12. Of course the 4th Avenue option would be reliable and fast if SDOT were to install an “on” ramp from 4th to the Spokane Street Viaduct. I argued for this to be included in the Transit Master Plan – not sure where SDOT falls, but this would guarantee reliability and speed and doesn’t cross any railroad tracks on the way from West Seattle and points south to 3rd Avenue downtown.

    1. As another option, how about making the approval of the new b-ball arena conditional on building the Lander St Flyover? With that, you eliminate the at-grade BNSF crossing, and also provide access to the on-ramp to WB WSeattle Bridge using the new 1st Ave on-ramps. AND, you also can get the buses over to 4th Ave for the northern section of SODO, where reliability on 1st is a problem.

      1. That’s a lot of turns. It puts buses right throuth the heart of post-game gridlock (if you imagine an arena being there). It probably won’t do any more for bus flow than Ed Martinez has. It also creates a really long neighborhood pathway before reaching downtown.

  13. It’s funny people talking about the lack of bus service in Pioneer Square when almost every downtown route crosses Yesler at 2nd, 3rd, or 4th, and Pioner Square station and Intl Dist station are within walking distance. Ballard and West Seattle wish they had so much bus service, as do Seward Park and Queen Anne. It’s like when Belltownites complain about not enough bus service, when more buses stop there than anywhere outside downtown. Yes, there’s a gap on 1st Ave S south of Weller Street, but that’s not Pioneer Square.

    1. “almost every downtown route crosses Yesler at 2nd, 3rd, or 4th”

      Wrong, all the West Seattle/Delridge trunk routes do not do that, making Pioneer Square’s connectivity to the bus network notably weaker than the rest of Downtown.

      “Ballard and West Seattle wish they had so much bus service, as do Seward Park and Queen Anne”

      Irrelevant. Those places are not nearly as dense, in terms of combined employment, retail, entertainment and residential density, as Pioneer Square, so they do not warrant as much service.

  14. Several thoughts on this.

    Speed and reliability on Main vs Columbia: the biggest challenge (at least in the long run) will be competing with traffic on Alaskan Way making its way up the waterfront to east-west streets from the exit at Royal Brougham — one or two blocks to Main vs. several blocks for Columbia. Main St. is very lightly traveled, and can stay that way even during events as long as car traffic is not allowed to enter or exit Main St. at Alaskan Way. I’m 100% confident Main St. would be the faster and more reliable route.

    Consistent downtown patterns: Seattle’s Transit Master Plan has tried to simplify downtown routings to make it easier to use buses for circulation within the downtown area. Running West Seattle buses on Main would allow all those buses to make stops on 2nd, 3rd and 4th consistent with other routes on those streets.

    Access to Pioneer Square and the ID: Currently West Seattle riders need to walk quite a-ways backtracking to the south end of downtown from Seneca Street where viaduct buses enter downtown. Main Street provides a tremendous opportunity to bring transit riders from West Seattle into the south downtown. Those concerned about bus impacts on Pioneer Square should be more concerned about lack of transit access – Pioneer Square’s biggest challenge is empty storefronts, and the solution is more access!

    But lost in this is access to north Seattle routes. Through-routed buses from West Seattle that continue to North Seattle ALSO miss the south downtown area due to the viaduct’s midtown access points. Moving the access to Main gives all of the North Seattle buses through-routed to West Seattle direct service to Pioneer Square and the ID. It’s not correct to suggest that the effects are limited to West Seattle riders. I’m tired of walking from King St. to Union St. when I miss express bus service to Greenwood. A Main Street routing would make a huge difference to all of us served by West Seattle through-routes headed to the north end.

    I don’t think there’s any contest here from a transit rider perspective. The challenge will be taking on the familiar voices who believe buses are not compatible with pedestrian places. Transit and pedestrian activation are not at odds, and it’s important to keep making that point. This is not an issue of what’s best for transportation or transit riders – it’s an issue raised by people who think parks and stinky buses shouldn’t mix. I know a lot of this has been said already – my apologies if I’m repeating others comments here.

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