See that bus stop? You probably wouldn’t unless you were looking for it, and if you were walking on that sidewalk, you’d find it’s almost impossible to see until you stumble onto it, the sign being completely obscured by the bushes. If you try to catch a bus there, you’ll find you have to stand right at the curb to be visible to the driver (here’s the passenger’s-eye view from that point) — and it’s worse at night, when the bushes block what little street light there is, making it easy for drivers to sail right past you, and lending the stop a sketchy, unsafe feel despite its proximity to bustling Ballard Ave.
The stop has other problems. The sign is bolted into a concrete slab about 4′ wide at the curb, placed in a narrow gap in the bushes. Because parked cars usually crowd the front of the zone, it’s very difficult (impossible when the bike rack is open) for a bus to pull all the way up to the sign to the deploy the ramp or lift correctly onto the slab; assuming the driver sees you, you’ll probably have to step down into the street to get on the bus. So basically, this stop is ADA-inaccessible, for the sake of a bit of laurel hedge. There’s no shelter. And to crown it all, there’s a stop with none of these deficiencies about 400′ southeast of here, directly across from the Ballard Food Bank — a minute’s walk down this street.
All these problems might merely be vexing and not terribly pressing if they were associated with a little-used stop on a turnaround loop, or even on a sleepy daytime-only coverage route, but this stop happens to be on two important routes from Ballard to Seattle, the 17 and 18. After September, it’ll be on the revised 18 (renumbered 40) and the new 61 (Sunset Hill shuttle), the former becoming a major trunk route between Ballard, Fremont, South Lake Union and Downtown. Getting this stop wrong affects lots of people — and Metro is getting it seriously wrong right now.
More after the jump.
It’s worth zooming out a little and looking at the whole stretch of Leary Way between 15th Ave NW and Market St, as there are several ways it could be improved for both transit and pedestrians. The road has two wide travel lanes, with parking, in each direction; there are no signals, and only one marked crosswalk, at 20th Ave. Near 15th Ave, the area is industrial, without much pedestrian activity, but towards Market, Leary cuts into the pedestrian-friendly heart of Ballard; cars tend to move pretty fast throughout, it’s not a nice street to cross, and buses get stuck trying to pull out from stops, of which there are too many. Here’s how they are laid out:
The stop photographed above is labeled orange, and the offset northbound stop it’s paired with is purple; the stops on 15th Ave labeled blue are future RapidRide stops (and are already well used), the green stops are the main stops for the heart of Ballard (and easily the busiest in the area); the red stops are by the Food Bank, and it’s obvious how the red and orange stops are absurdly close. (The second stop icon near the purple dot is the layover bay for the 75, which is technically a different zone, but the distinction isn’t important on the street).
If I had my druthers, Metro would take out all the stops between 15th and Market except those at the Food Bank. The rest are very lightly used; there would be about 0.3 miles between stops, just over Metro’s quarter-mile standard for local service, plenty to maintain coverage in this flat, gridded area. Next, I’d upgrade the Food Bank stops with bus bulbs, so buses didn’t have to turn out of traffic. These very small, very cheap changes would significantly improve the speed, reliability, and usability of the buses on Leary, and could be done administratively, without extensive public process.
The final improvement is probably out of scope for Metro, but would dramatically improve the pedestrian experience in this area, greatly benefiting riders. When streets cross obliquely, such as at 20th & Leary, they tend to create diamond-shaped intersections that are terrible for pedestrians: longer crossing distances than in an equivalent right-angle intersection, traffic coming from all angles, and drivers taking the resulting shallow right turn (in this case, from Leary on to 20th) too fast, because the safe-looking turn has deceptive sightlines. Compounding the problem here is Vernon Place, awkwardly intersecting Leary just west of 2oth Ave at a different angle.
To fix this, I’d have SDOT construct curb bulbs on each corner of the intersection of 20th Ave and Leary, basically in a combination of what’s being done in Eastlake, with the Fairview & Fairview intersection, the intersection of Blanchard & Westlake, and the simple bulbs found in places like 3rd & Cedar. This would narrow all the pedestrian crossings by about a third, eliminate the shallow turn, dramatically improve pedestrian sightlines, and make the intersection safer for all road users. Finally, I’d have SDOT install stop signs at this intersection, which would significantly reduce car speeds in the vicinity, creating a transition between the car-oriented part of Leary and the pedestrian-oriented center of Ballard.
Small fixes to make stops (and the surrounding pedestrian infrastructure) safe, accessible, obvious, and easy to use aren’t going to save the world, but I regard them as I do Sound Transit’s belated fixing of the misleading voice messages at Convention Place Station: a sine qua non for a competent transit agency (and in this case, the city) to prove to you, the public, that the agency is actually trying to win your patronage, to get you to leave your car and walk or ride.