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.
95 Replies to “Fixing the “Dexter Disaster” is Vital for Transit”
I thought they ‘fixed’ Mercer.
Maybe a road diet is the best remedy now.
One lane only for buses! That should do the trick.
Much of the new road layout on Dexter features one lane in each direction for buses/autos and one lane for bikes. Mercer is mostly bus-free (maybe a few deadheads use it?). I’m not sure where One lane only for buses! would do the trick.
The 30 uses mercer to westlake.
Not after September 29 it won’t.
Doesn’t matter. Just CROSSING Mercer is a problem.
Bus only lane wouldn’t solve anything. Where are the buses coming from/going to? Those daily commuters could already ride a bus if they so chose.
But they’d have to take a bus into downtown, then transfer to a second (and sometimes a third) to get within a half mile of their destination.
Sadly, sitting in traffic is faster.
Yup, the new Mercer is causing huge north-south back-ups on Dexter and Westlake. The box blocking is largely because the project isn’t 100% done and it’s still unclear where the intersections begin and the construction rubble ends. SDOT has a major challenge ahead figuring out timings for the traffic lights because what exists now is absolute chaos.
It seems to me the box blocking existed well before construction, and also happens near the Seattle Center, blocking buses on 5th. People just get frustrated sitting through light after light. We’ll never fix traffic on Mercer (so many people are going to the freeway, and it’s a real bottleneck), so this issue is fundamental to those intersections. Good enforcement should help some. Big signs with warnings and dollar amounts combined with red light cameras would help more.
A bus lane on 5th North between Denny and Mercer would also help a lot – particularly if they want to keep multiple routes serving the street.
“Red light cameras”
On 5th North the problem isn’t just folks blocking the box but the roadway filling with cars coming out of the Center parking garages/lots and keeping everything south of them from moving at all.
Kevin hit this right on the head. Its not purely box blocking, its that traffic is backing up from the Dexter/Mercer intersection all they way back to sometimes John street. Only a fraction of the cars waiting to turn right onto Mercer can each light cause the stretch between Dexter and 8th fills up with cars from Mercer and turning left from Dexter. A bus lane down Dexter would probably be the only way to alleviate the issue and allow the bus to get around the blockage in its entirety.
Very interesting. Given that there appears to be no rational way to alleviate the car congestion, it seems that the only solution for any street crossing Mercer and carrying a bus route, is to have full bus lanes and a bus-only traffic signal phase at Mercer.
“find the money to pay for additional service on RapidRide E”
What additional service? I haven’t seen anything to indicate the service will be more frequent than on the current 358 and since the runs will be slightly faster they may actually be saving service hours.
I do agree about traffic cops at key intersections.
Night service will increase from 30 minutes to 15, Sunday from 20 to 15, and additional peak trips will be added to meet demand. I also hope they create an owl trip, as it’s insane that the biggest transit corridor in north-central Seattle has no owl service but Fauntleroy will, after September.
One of the hopeful signs from the about-to-be-implemented restructuring is Metro’s willingness to administratively recouple routes. While that won’t save enough hours to cover the goal, it would help, if done boldly.
When there are very frequent buses running down a street, transfering off a bus coupled at the south end of the CBD (say, the 132 and 14 as an example) to any of a whole bunch of buses running through Belltown, and then to a connecting bus to wherever that happens to be couple on the north end of the CBD (say, the C/D line, an actual example), wouldn’t add much to travel time. Indeed, if it means unclogging 3rd Ave a little, it might even save travel time, as well as a decent chunk of service hours.
Saving money administratively through clever downtown recoupling may be a path of less resistance than trying to break Newton’s First Law of Bus Routes in entitled neighborhoods at the county council level.
Thanks for the info Bruce. I’m skeptical about the peak hour service – the 358 comes as frequently as every 5 minutes during peak hour – I really don’t see the E Line matching or beating that kind of frequency.
Owl trips would make a huge amount of sense along Aurora.
The cost of service per hour for RapidRide is nearly identical to standard service: Same drivers, same fares, same buses. If anything it’s slightly cheaper due to the allowance of all-door boarding, off-board payment, and newer vehicles that may have a slight advantage in fuel economy.
There’s already money allocated for service at the current level, so why would there be any reason why service would not continue at at least the same level?
Metro has no choice. The 358 is already crushed in the PM peak, and the additional riders drawn by branding and speed/reliability improvements will increase demand in the peaks. Metro will have to add peak trips to avoid people getting left behind.
Actually, RR is somewhat more expensive per hour, as you need roving fare enforcers during the times when all-door boarding is in effect.
Is that charged to the RR buses only Bruce, or spread out system-wide? To be fair, it should only be charged to the routes that have POP.
I’ve meant to ask that for ages. I’ll try to find out next week.
“you need roving fare enforcers during the times when all-door boarding is in effect”
I still don’t understand why all-door boarding isn’t standard at all times. Metro can take the same number of enforcement hours and spread them around. It’s not like anybody is going to know if Metro decides to let the fare enforcers take an entire day off so they can have a “reign of terror” the next day.
PoP also gives the police an excuse to check for fares if there are any rider conduct issues. Playing your radio too loud despite being asked to turn it down? No fare? Here is your ticket – see ya.
I took the 17 local last week at the PM rush and the left from Blanchard to Westlake took 4 or 5 light cycles. The problem is between the traffic from 9th turning right onto Westlake and the large numbers of Pedestrians in the crosswalk, only 1 or 2 cars at best can make the left every cycle.
It made me wonder if it would be worth rerouting the soon to be 40 to skip Belltown. I live in Belltown, so that’s pretty drastic for me, but that turn alone must lead to a lot of reliablity issues. Maybe using Virginia would work better.
I guess it’s probably not that bad the rest of the day, though, and afternoon commuters are just going to have to suffer through it.
Box Blocking is chronic here in Seattle. Police wouldn’t need to be out there every single day, just a couple times a week to scare people into compliance would do the trick.
There was a crackdown during Paul Schell’s administration, I think. I’ve always wondered why that hasn’t continued. Perhaps we need more traffic cops?
Here’s an idea: if you get a ticket there’s an additional $100 for people who don’t have a Seattle address.
Now you’re thinking “this guy doesn’t like suburbanites!” Bingo!
I totally agree that box blocking is a huge issue with eastbound Mercer traffic. On both Dexter and 5th Ave intersections with Mercer, this illegal behavior creates massive unnecessary traffic issues. The city really needs to step up with serious enforcement of traffic laws. Posting police officers to hand out tickets would be a start; even better would be red light cameras to automate the enforcement process. With a couple of months of that, I expect that specific issue would be largely solved.
While riding a bike through this clusterf***, it’s easy to navigate around the scofflaws who park in the middle of the intersection.
I ride a bike through there every day and while it is faster it’s not very safe. I was doing this exact thing and a car made a very fast right turn on a green light, not paying attention and/or not seeing me because I was hidden from the dang car parked in the middle of the crosswalk. Only my super-bike-powered reflexes saved me from being hit and likely very gravely injured. Riding a bike is not the end-all be-all for avoiding the mess. It’s creating much danger for everyone involved. A crack-down on red light runners, intersection and sidewalk blockers and those drivers not yielding to crosswalk users is NEEDED. BADLY.
Yes, let that belt out a notch for Mercer, then another notch for Dexter, and somehow, somehow, the congestion moves the next block over, or to the heart, who could have seen that coming??
The Dexter bike lane approaching this from the North has become treacherous in the afternoon as cars and buses alike will spontaneously decide to use it as an additional vehicle lane, often without checking to see if it contains an approaching cyclists first. I was nearly taken out by a Metro bus that made this move. I basically performed an emergency stop to avoid being run over and then was stuck behind the bus for several blocks as traveling in the bike lane didn’t really gain it much advantage of the stopped traffic.
I totally agree. Given that there is nearly as much bike traffic on Dexter at rush hour as there is car traffic, the “well, I have just as much right to this real estate as the bikes no matter how the road is marked” attitude is quite dangerous.
I’ve also been on a 26 that was honking its horn at left-turning traffic southbound on Dexter at Mercer that was clearly not going to clear the box anytime in the foreseeable future, with exactly no effect. The bus then tried to snake between traffic when it had a green. It was pretty much packed, so basically you had a couple of SOV slowing down 60 or more commuters.
As someone who rides the 5, I can assure you that Dexter is not on option. Full stop. I’m rarely anti-change, but anything other than Aurora makes the 5 completely useless as a route.
Any particular reasons behind this absolute conviction?
Oops, see below.
Unfortunately they’re not used enough to merit saving, but the stops immediately south of the Aurora Bridge actually provide the fastest service to the northeastern part of Queen Anne, because you don’t have to wind through Belltown/Seattle Center/LQA and then crawl up the Counterbalance (2,13) or Taylor (3,4).
The stops at the Galer pedestrian bridge might be better used though.
I assume he’s trying to travel from Phinney Ridge or futher north to downtown. Putting the 5 on Dexter would connect Greenwood to lower Fremont, an admirable goal, but would simultaneously increase travel time to downtown both because Dexter is slower than Aurora and because of the Fremont traffic and Fremont bridge. This seems to be the reason Metro proposed moving the 5 to Dexter last year and then withdrew it.
I think connecting upper and lower Fremont is important, but at the same time we need to recognize that a crawling-slow trip from 85th to downtown is ungood. I didn’t particularly like the proposal to give the Aurora segment to the 28, because it would give the all-day express to a single-family area with lower density than the surrounding areas, so a few people would benefit and many would suffer. It’s a difficult problem that’s mainly due to where Aurora is located, but we can’t do anything about that.
Greenwood may just have to suck it up and walk seven blocks to the 358/RR E.
The 5 is a long route. The fastest portion is from 36th to Bell–5 minutes for 2.5 miles. Nearly half the length to 80th St. The remainder of the trip take 20 minutes for the other 2.5 miles. Dexter and Fremont would kill that. The walk from Fremont Ave or 36th/Aurora is pretty short. Fremont still gets good connectivity to a semi-express to Downtown while North Seattle gets a semi-express essentially from Fremont. Dexter would make that exactly not the case. The 358 does not stop at 36th/Aurora which makes a transfer for an express impossible. The 5 should remain unchanged for the benefit of the majority of riders.
Problem is, most riders live further than 7 blocks. I have the benefit that I can often choose between 358 and the 5. Sundays or when I bike + ride, I am more inclined to take the 358. Otherwise, the 5 always has the advantage. That will NEVER be the case with a Dexter routing. Ridership will plummet.
Interestingly, I’m told that public feedback on the 5-Dexter idea was split roughly evenly. Given the status quo bias inherent in most Metro feedback, that’s actually pretty favorable. Fremont generates quite a bit of ridership.
Well then folks are nuts: so much for reliability, frequency, and short trips.
BTW, Fremont already has plenty of service. North Seattle (read as north of 65th) does not. Riders north should not be punished for service hours and reliability just to fund RapidRide.
I wonder if Metro would have a way to look at where the folks providing feedback on the 5 lived along the route? I would guess that the folks closer to Fremont might appreciate the Downtown Fremont/Dexter routing (particularly if they were headed to South Lake Union) while the folks further north headed to Downtown would have stronger objections to the longer overall time.
The 5 stops more than six times per mile between 50th and Shoreline, which is more than five miles! If you want to talk “completely useless as a route”, that might be the place to start.
I’ve begged Metro for stop consolidation. If f’ing unreal. I’ve heard dozens of time complaining about the stop spacing being 2.5 blocks or less. Ugh………
To anyone that thinks this is a bad idea:
Will this situation improve once the project is completed? I know they are still working on Fairview and Valley.
Probably a little. Reopening 8th once the UW is done building might also help a tiny bit. And maybe once Broad street is closed and two way Mercer is open, it might get better… but that’s at least a couple of years away.
Nice post as always, Bruce.
Have they ever done a sample survey to find out of those driving in, could they have reasonably been able to take transit instead?
Thanks Bruce. That intersection is a total disaster, probably the worst in the city right now. Recently, attempting to get on a northbound 28 at Denny/Dexter in late afternoon, I walked all the way to Fremont before a bus finally caught up with me. Given the rampant box blocking and the extremely bad consequences of this behavior, I don’t understand why it’s not an enforcement priority. Surely they know of the problem.
First of all, if there were no “box blocking”, many times ZERO cars would be able to cross the intersection on a green light, meaning all the cars behind the one or two cars who block the intersection would just sit in place for one green light after another. How many green lights are you willing to stay put for, before you decide the only way you are ever going to get through an intersection is to go on a green light, even if you can’t make it through the intersection, and you wind up blocking it?
Secondly, as all of us who have used Mercer for decades predicted, reducing eastbound Mercer from four lanes to only three lanes reduces the number of cars which can get through each intersection on each green light. You can get more vehicles through a green light in four lanes than in three. So reducing the number of eastbound lanes from four to three has made backups on eastbound Mercer worse than before the project started.
Thirdly, there are now two more traffic signals on eastbound Mercer than there were several years ago. These new traffic signals are often red for eastbound traffic, causing backups at those streets where before, with no traffic signals, there were never any backups on eastbound Mercer from those intersections.
Fourthly, there is a whole lot more traffic on Mercer and the crossing streets now, with all the new buildings in that area. Yesterday, there were traffic cops at two alleys entering onto eastbound Mercer from fhe south, to stop eastbound traffic on Mercer to allow people to access Mercer from those alleys onto which parking garages from the new buildings empty during the pm peak hours. So, you have traffic cops stopping eastbound traffic on Mercer between intersections now, again creating backups which never existed several years ago.
Making Dexter one lane in each direction was an unbeleiveably stupid mistake. Only a few southbound cars can turn left onto Mercer on each green light (and even those usually have to block the intersection in order to get through it.} This backs up Dexter all the way back to where there is only one lane southbound. So, even through traffic on Dexter, which wants to just cross Mercer and not turn left onto Mercer, is stuck behind traffic stopped by the backup from the left-turn lane onto Mercer. Making Dexter one way in each direction was just pure and utter stupidtiy by SDOT, cow-towing to the fanatic bicycle fringe, and now you get to see the result.
Bascially, this is all being caused by the “road diets” on Dexter and Valley Streets, the reduction of eastbound lanes on Mercer, and all the new development in SLU (plus the Gates Foundation Headquarters) which is adding thousands of vehicles per day to the mess.
More vehicles and fewer lanes. What did you expect? DId anyone actually think this was going to “solve” the Mercer Mess? Nobody living on Queen Anne thought it would.
It is going to be interesting to see what happens when Fairview and Valley are reopened. This will probably change the situation, and put problems in different places. It may help some intersections marginally, while hurting others.
But, in general, what you are seeing is what happens when you increase vehicle traffic with new development while reducing traffic lanes at the same time. I thought the SEattle Transit Blog was in favor of just this sort of thing all over Seattle — more development and fewer traffic lanes. Thank you, very much.
“You can get more vehicles through a green light in four lanes than in three.” What does that matter? They still sit there at a bottleneck. Overall traffic flow is the same.
“DId anyone actually think this was going to “solve” the Mercer Mess?” You can’t solve the Mercer Mess. You have a large portion of the city trying to cross significant roadways and queue to get on a freeway. No matter what’s done here, Mercer will be backed up during rush hour. Don’t like it? Find a job closer to your home, or fight for bus lanes and better transit.
““You can get more vehicles through a green light in four lanes than in three.” What does that matter? They still sit there at a bottleneck. Overall traffic flow is the same.”
No, they don’t. And, overall traffic flow would be better. That is just utter nonsense. The onramps to I-5 northbound are never backed up, and the southbound onramp to I-5 is almost never backed up. The backups on Mercer are always at the intersections west of Fairview. The more vehicles that can get through those intersections on each green light, the less of a backup from that intersection.
If there were four lanes on eastbound Mercer all the way from Seattle Center to the I-5 onramps you could get a lot more vehicles per hour from 5th AVe to I-5 than you can now.
That comment is almost as stupid as saying that it would not make any difference if there was only one left-turn lane from south bound Elliot Ave to Mercer Place to go up to Mercer St. Do you also beleive that having two left turn lanes from Elliot Ave south bound to W. Mercer Place does not make that intersection work a lot better than if there were only one left turn lane there? You can get twice as many vehicles through that intersection on each green light with two left turn lanes than if there were only one.
Do you disagree with that, also?
“The onramps to I-5 northbound are never backed up, and the southbound onramp to I-5 is almost never backed up.” I drove this commute for three years, and that’s either a lie or an honest mistake. For NB I-5, the traffic starts at the 520 bridge, continues backward on I-5, down the Mercer onramp, and right on up Mercer. Yes, the onramp fills up and empties along with the stoplight, but there’s no excess capacity.
You are completely wrong about that. There are two onramps to northbound I-5 in the afternoon — one to the express lanes and one to the general lanes. Each onramp is about 3/4 miles long. They NEVER back up to Fairview in afternoon.
Maybe they do in the mornings, when the express lanes are not open for northbound traffic. But mornings are not when eastbound Mecer is the major problem.
I should have made clear that I was writing only about the pm peak hours, which is when I have always felt that Mercer was the far bigger messs than in the mornings.
Has the Mercer project caused major problems for eastbound Mercer in the Mornings now, too?
I can only speak to the AM traffic patterns, and don’t have recent experience. Traffic certainly started at the freeway and continued well past 99. I don’t see how it could be worse in the evenings for this stretch, since it was all stop-and-go and included box blocking. The difference in the evenings is that it stretches further, past 5th and adds more box blocking there.
“The onramps to I-5 northbound are never backed up, and the southbound onramp to I-5 is almost never backed up.”
They would be if you didn’t have all the lights on Mercer acting as a ramp metering system.
“They would be if you didn’t have all the lights on Mercer acting as a ramp metering system.”
The onramps to I-5 in the pm peak hours are not backed up. This means they could handle a lot more cars per hour than are currently using them. Four lanes of eastbound traffic on Mercer would move a lot more cars from Seattle Center to the I-5 onramps each hour than the current 3 lanes eastbound. There is plenty of excess capacity on the I-5 onramps from Mercer to handle a lot mroe cars per hour than are currently able to use those onramps due to constraints on how many cars per hour can move from SEattle Center to those onramps on Mercer.
The bottom line is that traffic on Mercer is not backed up due to the onramps to I-5 in the afternoons. Traffic on Mercer is backed up because of lack of capacity on eastbound Mercer, limiting the number of vehicles per hour which can navigate Mercer to reach those onramps, which have plenty of unused capacity.
In my experience the bottlenecks are truly the North and South GP ramps to I-5, and their merges with the congested mainlines. When the Fairview light turns green, there’s a rush off of Mercer to fill whatever much of the ramp is cleared by the red light, but it quickly stacks up again before the light changes back. The mainline merge dictates the flow of Mercer. Going from 4 lanes to 3 only changed the shape of the queue from a short fat one to a long narrow one.
“In my experience the bottlenecks are truly the North and South GP ramps to I-5, and their merges with the congested mainlines. When the Fairview light turns green, there’s a rush off of Mercer to fill whatever much of the ramp is cleared by the red light, but it quickly stacks up again before the light changes back. The mainline merge dictates the flow of Mercer. Going from 4 lanes to 3 only changed the shape of the queue from a short fat one to a long narrow one.”
As I wrote before this is utterly wrong, in the afternoons, particularly regarding the northbound ramps, when the express lanes are open north bound, which means the northbound onramps to I-5 are NEVER backed up in the afternoon peak hours. NEVER.
You guys should go stand at the intersection of Fairview and Mercer at 5 pm some afternoon and see for yourself. You have no idea what you are talking about.
Look at this satellite picture from yahoo taken one late afternoon a few years ago. Eastbound traffic on Mercer is backed up solid between Westlake and 9th, and backed up solid from Dexter all the way west of Taylor. Meanwhile, the onramps to I-5 from Mercer in both directions are wide open. Look at this satellite picture and explain to me how the wide-open onramps have anything to do wit the backups on eastbound Mercer.
So there’s an asymmetry between the mornings and the evenings — and specifically, there aren’t large numbers of people going out of town north in the evenings.
*Interesting*. This should tell us something about traffic patterns. Most commuters to this area clearly live in points south, not points north.
“You can’t solve the Mercer Mess. You have a large portion of the city trying to cross significant roadways and queue to get on a freeway. No matter what’s done here, Mercer will be backed up during rush hour.”
And now you know why, once upon a time, a freeway from I-5 to Aurora was considered.
Norman is right – I work at the corner of Dexter/Valley at see this every day. The best solution is 2 southbound lanes on Dexter for at least 4 blocks north of Mercer (there are other fixes that would also help). The left lane for storage of Mercer-bound cars, the right lane for through travel, or at least buses/carpools. There is room to do this while maintaining the bike lanes by eliminating street parking.
The “Dexter disaster”, at least southbound approaching Mercer, began when the bike lane project ended last year. 2-way Mercer has only modestly worsened it. It has turned the 26/28 into forms on non-transportation in the afternoon. Bicycle/foot is the only way to navigate. In fact, if there is not a southbound bus visible when I arrive at the Dexter stop, it will be faster to walk 4 blocks and take the streetcar. Even if the bus is visible a couple blocks up, it could easily be a 10 minute wait.
Several people in my office, including myself on multiple occasions, have complained about this to the City, and received brush-off responses. Apparently Mike McGinn, Peter Hahn and Kevin Desmond are perfectly fine with this state of affairs. The proposed redo of Dexter between Valley and Denny doesn’t include any fixes.
The truly pathetic thing about this is that Dexter worked just fine before the road diet. Bikes, buses and cars moved along just fine. THere was no “problem” that needed to be fixed on Dexter.
But, they sure have created multiple problems on Dexter with their stupid cow-towing to the bicycle fringe.
Yeah, ask Mike Wang about that.
Dexter has not been changed at all where that accident occurred. That block was not part of the Dexter “road diet.”
Yes, and we never do anything about any danger zones until someone dies on them. Your comment about the “bicycle fringe” indicate exactly where your sentiments lie. I am not part of any “bicycle fringe” but I happen to bike or bus on Dexter most days, and never drive on it. Sorry, but I get to be safe on the roads, too. Your comment that essentially cars are entitled to break laws because they’re all backed up tells me a lot about you, too.
Chad N is spot on. I was stuck in this mess on a southbound 28 just a few days ago. I expect some traffic during rush hour, but the length of the delay (often 10-15 minutes) is really absurd.
Thanks to Bruce and STB for highlighting this problem. Here’s hoping somebody at Metro or SDOT actually does something about it. FYI: I have sent a message to Mayor McGinn, Peter Hahn, and Kevin Desmond about this matter.
The Dexter “road diet” has nothing to do with the changes that very swiftly occurred in the traffic patterns as Dexter/Mercer. The construction around that area and sheer amount of vehicles now routed differently are the problem. I saw zero traffic problems with the Dexter changes.
@Norman, Drivers don’t get to block the box just because they’re impatient or have an inflated ego. If you pull through the intersection and block the crosswalk, you could be a danger and an inconvenience to people on foot, people with disabilities, and people on bicycles. Worse still, if you’re blocking the perpendicular traffic lane(s), then you’re holding up buses and other drivers, too.
The problem is caused by dysfunctional intersections. It is the design of the intersections and the timing of the traffic signals which is causing this problem.
If a traffic signal were stuck on red for hours on end, would you just sit at that intersection for hours, waiting for it to turn green? Or, would you eventually find an opportunity to cross on the red light, and do so?
SDOT idiots have created intersections where it is not possible to cross the intersection on a green light without getting stuck in the intersection. Again, should drivers at those intersections just wait until traffic dies down about 6:00 before being able to cross the intersection legally? Would you sit at an intersection trough green light after green light without being able to cross that intersection? How long would you do that for? 5 green lights? Ten green lights? 20 minutes? Half an hour? A full hour, waiting for a legal opportunity?
I don’t think you understand just how absurdly terrible some of these intersections have been made by the Mercer 2-way conversion. At least one intersection is about 120 feet across.
I would suggest you actually go down to Mercer and watch those intersections for a while sometime before you make uninformed comments about them.
“I would suggest you actually go down to Mercer and watch those intersections for a while sometime before you make uninformed comments about them.”
I’m not making uninformed comments about them. I’ve walked and driven through the area since Mercer became bidirectional.
The bigger problem about this, IMO, is that when people try to not block the box, other drivers take this as a sign of “OH, you’re letting me make a right turn on red. Thanks! I’ll take that spot that was actually for you.”
If we had better enforcement at each of these intersections, I would believe there’d be better traffic flow.
But Norman, don’t you understand? Cars are murder, just like meat. Mayor McGinn and the City Council don’t want you to have a car. Get with the program!
By the way, I have heard that the Mercer mess has caused some drivers to divert to Denny to avoid Mercer, which has made Denny Way even worse than it was before. I avoid Denny at all costs, so I have not checked that out. Any truth to this, in anyone’s opinion? Has the “solution” to the Mercer Mess made traffic on Denny worse, also?
The very first morning or two the new Mercer opened I noticed a large increase in traffic on Denny all the way back past QA Ave. This went back to normal and I haven’t noticed any difference since, though my commute doesn’t bring me further east than 2nd.
Isn’t this entire area slated to be rebuilt with the Mercer West and DBT projects?
Yes and no. Mercer will be converted to two way and Broad St closed, but that isn’t going to make a big change to eastbound problems. It might make Dexter & Mercer a little better by eliminating a signal phase.
Really, there’s no way that corridor is ever going to run smoothly. Maybe if there was no Central Freeway, the traffic would distribute throughout the network. But that’s not going to happen. Failing that, the same solutions apply as for any road with too much congestion: 1) accept that there will be congestion and do nothing; 2) toll the corridor to reduce demand (probably not practicable in this case, though a citywide congestion charge might help); 3) accept the congestion but provide one or more transit options to bypass the mess.
There are plenty of fiddly things that will help at the margins, and things will get better when the project is complete, but it’s unrealistic to see this problem go away.
3) is the most practical answer for city streets. That is why it is critical to reconfigure lane markings/signal timing to get Routes 26, 28, 17, 70 and streetcar through this mess efficiently.
The answer to too many cars in a confined urban area is to shift demand to transit and bicycling. But demand won’t shift to transit if the transit is stuck in the same traffic as all the cars.
So, as a thought experiment, suppose you tear out the Central Freeway. (Resign I-405 as I-5.) What happens?
* Traffic from the north spreads across the street network until it hits the ship canal, and then bottlenecks at the canal bridges.
* Traffic from the south spreads across the street network fairly evenly.
Hmm. Perhaps we need to provide some way for, say, people to drive from the North to a park-and-ride and take a high-capacity train under the Ship Canal. ;-)
Well, anyway, the possibility of removing the Central Freeway becomes something one could consider after Northgate Link is built.
Though the reports on highway use have the interesting result that the majority of commuters using the highway seem to live south of Mercer. I wonder what that indicates….
These issues are not going away until city leadership that is antagonistic to cars is removed from office.
Some of the issues on Mercer/Dexter could be dealt with by changing stop light timing. Dexter south has a real issue with the light on Roy going red with Mercer green. Linking those two lights could help the issue.
The depressing thing is these fixes to the Mercer mess originated before the S Lake Union growth spurt. The development of the area with Amazon, and UW, and others is going to just going to overwhelm the fixes.
They were never “fixes” to begin with. This entire project was designed to take traffic off of Valley, so it could be turned into a bicycle/pedestrian corridor. None of the changes they have made and are making are designed to improve the movement of motor vehicles, as has been made very apparent, already.
There is no way to improve the movement of motor vehicles as long as so many people have them and the roads are free to use.
Raise the cost of owning a motor vehicle and you’ll find traffic clears up nicely.
Seriously, no one in this thread has noted that the Fairview I-5 ramps are closed right now? That was about 1/3 of the total traffic getting on I-5 at Mercer in the PM peak if I remember correctly, many of those vehicles are now using Westlake or Dexter which can’t be helping. Fairview rebuild is supposed to take about 6 months.
I knew Fairview was closed, never spent enough time there to contemplate the volume.
Regardless, even if that were to be a complete fix (and I’m not sure it would be), six months is intolerably long for Dexter and Westlake to be parking lots.
That is incorrect. There is lots of traffic from the one lane of northbound Fairview currently using the onramps to I-5. Have you even been there to look at it?
Actually looked at the mess? Only briefly, when going between the UW and SLU. Typical gaggles of speeding or stuck cars, but thankfully I never pass through there during rush hour; the air quality and noise pollution were something grim when I did make that mistake. The awkward light timing does make it fairly easy to jaywalk, poor pedestrian signal integration with the SLUT aside. Another option is to walk up the edge of Capitol Hill and over the on-ramps, but that takes longer.
Oh, driving? Best of luck with that.
I’ve not used Mercer much during peak hours due to my work schedule but have recently been using it because of the change to my wife’s schedule. The following are my questions and OPINIONS, not necessarily facts:
1) Mercer eastbound seems to be binding up because Westbound drivers are making many more left turns than before. Whether due to more left turn lights or not, I don’t know. I think eliminating one of the left turn intersections before 9th could solve some flow problems eastbound because then an eastbound green light could be longer. Why are there so many more intersections now than before? If you need pedestrians to cross easily, then build them a nice bridge that can become an icon of the neighborhood .
2) Are they really designing the south side of eastbound Mercer to have on-street parking? That is the dumbest thing I’ve seen SDOT do in years. I can understand getting rid of one lane of traffic, but it would be for wider sidewalks and possibly a bike lane. But for damn parking? That is ludicrous! Not only do you lose a lane, but now you have to contend with waiting for the idiot driver to figure out how to parallel park, wasting even more time.
3) Going eastbound on Mercer…ooming up from under Aurora Avenue, the crest of the hill that is Dexter makes it almost a blind intersection. Two times now, I’m coming up from under Aurora, the intersection looks clear so I go through it, not realizing that there are cars blocking the sidewalk on the east side of Mercer/Dexter. So, I’m already in the intersection before I can see that I can’t make it all the way through. Has anyone else experienced this? Maybe my car is set lower than others’, an older Honda Accord, making it harder to see over the hill.
4) After spending time in Singapore and Malaysia, I’ve come to appreciate their countdown on their traffic signals. Knowing how much longer your green or red light is going to last can ease your stress just a bit when you’re stuck in traffic.
These are all interesting points.
re: Posting police at the intersection.
My wife and I joke about this almost every day. There are several intersections in SLU where drivers are just outright breaking laws *regularly*. One or two cops posted at the intersections, and they’d run out of paper to write tickets on. I’m not saying it would be good thing or a bad thing. I’m just surprised no one from Seattle PD has picked up on the idea. If I were in law enforcement and looking to meet a ticket quota, I know where I’d hang out at around 5pm.
Comments are closed.