Making buses (and mixed-traffic transit generally) work well can be a complex business. Streets need to work acceptably for all users — pedestrians, transit, bikes, freight and cars — and adjacent property owners. Walking through it, as I do, most days of the week, the intersection of Dexter and Mercer strikes me as a disaster for all road users that should be ringing alarm bells on high at SDOT and Metro. KIRO’s Chris Sullivan sums it up:
Mercer backs up terribly heading toward I-5 in the afternoon, creating a spill-over on the north-south side streets that have to cross it. It’s become so bad drivers are now calling it the Dexter Disaster and the Westlake Wrangle. Many are sitting through multiple lights without moving an inch.
Dexter and Westlake are both used by transit, and after the fall restructure, Westlake will host the new Route 40 trunk route to Fremont, Ballard, Crown Hill and Northgate. At the risk of stating the obvious, the routes on Dexter and Weslake will not thrive if their PM peak trips take half an hour to get through a half-mile stretch of South Lake Union. Moreover, some of the few restructure options Metro has to save money on unproductive service in north-central Seattle (which it must, to find the money to pay for additional service on RapidRide E) involve shifting the 5 or 16 off Aurora onto Dexter or Westlake. Those ideas will be DOA if these streets don’t work. More after the jump.
I haven’t had chance to look at the intersections of Westlake, but here’s what I see in the vicinity of Dexter and Mercer:
- Chronic box blocking by eastbound drivers from Broad St and Mercer St (as seen in the photo at the top). There’s no excuse for this, it’s always illegal; SDOT should simply post traffic police there in the PM peak and write up every driver who engages in it. Painting a diagonal cross-hatch on the intersection and posting warning signs (as WSDOT has done at the waterfront) would also help.
- At Valley St, box blocking by left-turning drivers southbound on Dexter (seen on the photo above), and westbound from Valley. Same solution.
- The lights seem to be timed to give westbound drivers on Valley a green at the same time as southbound drivers on Dexter get a left onto Mercer. This means the southbound Dexter turn lanes are almost always full when southbound drivers on Dexter get a green. Inevitably, there will be a driver who wants to make the left onto Mercer, who then either blocks the box, or sits in place north of Valley; and as that part of Dexter has only one travel lane southbound, all of southbound Dexter comes to a standstill, even though left-turning cars are a minority and the through-travel lanes south of Valley are completely clear. On the photo above, you can just see a bus on the left that’s running 30 minutes late, and it’s late almost entirely for the reasons I’ve discussed here. I’m not sure what the best fix is for the Valley intersection, although preventing left turns from Valley in the peak seems like it would help significantly.
SDOT and Metro need to figure out a way to get transit through South Lake Union in a fast and reliable fashion, and they need to do it soon, to fix the service before Metro starts shopping around ideas for next year’s E Line restructure.