King County Metro RapidRide D and Route 2 on Broad St
King County Metro RapidRide D and Route 2 on Broad Street

About six months ago, I wrote about the Uptown-Belltown Transit Project, an SDOT project to improve the bus interface between Belltown and Uptown. As I discussed and diagrammed in that post, all buses to or from Queen Anne, Magnolia or Ballard (via Interbay) must, in the outbound direction, traverse an awkward and time-consuming jog between 3rd Ave and 1st Ave N via Broad St and 1st Ave. In addition, trolleybuses must make this jog in the inbound direction, thanks to the lack of three blocks of trolleybus wire eastbound on Denny Way.

SDOT seeks to rectify these problems by adding the necessary inbound trolley wire and studying the possibility of a transit-only signalized left turn from 3rd to Denny. SDOT still doesn’t have a page on their website about this project, so last week, I checked in with SDOT’s Bill Bryant to see what progress has been made since then.

The first part of the project, which I labeled “Part A” in my previous post, to add trolleybus wire on Denny, is at 30% design and proceeding well; SDOT will probably start public outreach soon, and hopes to perform construction in 2013. For “Part B”, an RFP has been assembled to study the 3rd-Denny left turn, and that study should start early next year. The outcome of that study isn’t known, but Part A has been designed to accommodate the necessary additional trolleybus wire if that transit-only signal turns out to be feasible.

More after the jump.

In the interim, SDOT is making a small improvement to Broad St to improve the reliability of outbound bus service. On the north side of Broad Street, a lane of parking will be removed in the afternoon peak to make a bus-only lane. Bryant tells me that while Broad St usually works well for transit, this lane’s purpose is primarily to address occasional severe reliability problems in the PM peak. I suspect these problems occur on days when traffic accidents close a freeway entrance in the north end of downtown, and the whole north end of the city center is paralyzed.

Along with the improvements to facilities Metro has made in Uptown as part of RapidRide, many of which were poorly-lit, ill-maintained and generally inadequate for the number of people they served, these small projects will have quite significantly improved the user experience of transit service in Uptown — and it’ll get even better once Metro manages to get their real-time arrival information signs working and the ORCA readers unhooded (I have questions in to Metro about when we can expect this to happen).

In the last year, SDOT has been on a rampage of improving stops, adding bus bulbs, bus lanes and queue jumps on major corridors like Aurora, Market/45th and here in Belltown. These sorts of things aren’t sexy and they aren’t going to save the world, but they’re cheap and effective, and SDOT deserves credit for continuing to move ahead on them.

59 Replies to “Uptown-Belltown Transit Project Update”

  1. the left from third ave onto Denny will never work without some sort of traffic signal.

      1. I’m betting the study would include the timing of lights on Denny, so left turning buses have the least impact.

  2. I’d love to see more transit priority on 5th N between Denny and Mercer.

    The improvements to the 44 have made a big difference in my opinion – particularly westbound at Green Lake Way.

    1. Yes, absolutely. Another thing that would be very helpful on 5th N northbound would be to move the trolley wire a bit to the left after the stop at 5th/Republican, so northbound 3/4 buses could comfortably use the left lane to get around all the cars trying to turn right onto Mercer. Right now, drivers can sort of use the left lane, but have to go slowly and hug the right edge of the lane because the poles are at the very limit of their lateral extension.

    1. They had to go through the Denny & Broad intersection when they came up 4th. That created other issues, with traffic and buses just sitting on 4th, unable to get onto Denny when traffic was heavy on WB Denny.

  3. Metro left some comments on their Rapid Ride blog concerning the off-board readers that aren’t yet operational in Belltown, Uptown and Downtown. The link is here.
    It looks like most of them will be up by late 2013, with the one at Cedar St. due in late 2014.

    1. The real-time arrival sign SB at Queen Anne/Mercer was working this morning. EB at 3rd W/Mercer was online, but said “refer to schedule.”

  4. if the buses from ballard could go down western and skip denny all together they would save a lot time sitting in traffic for one stop.

    1. How would you get a bus from 3rd to Western without using Denny? Buses can’t go through the Market or use the steep, narrow blocks of most of the connecting side streets.

      1. they could turn on Broad street … they’ve done that in the past when 1st ave was out of commission due to a ginormous crane blocking the street

    2. Also, what does that have to do with all the trolley and other bus service that this is actually referencing? Why does everything seem to be about Ballard?

      1. Ballard is one of the fast growing and densest neighborhoods in the city, yet we get the perpetual snub from Seattle and Metro in regards to transit and transportation.

      2. Yes, Ballard is getting snubbed. Here’s just some of what Ballard has gotten since 2008.
        -RapidRide (bus bulbs on 15th, TSP [not fully implemented yet], real-time info [except. SB Market], more frequent service, stop consolidation)
        -Route 44 improvements (bus bulbs on Market, TSP [not fully implemented yet], stop consolidation)
        -Burke-Gilman: Locks to Golden Gardens
        -SDOT funding for and an effort to construct: the Burke-Gilman Missing Link, the 58th Street Greenway
        -Frequent late-night service on the 44, more transit trips between Ballard and Northgate
        -Interbay repaving & BAT lanes
        -Ballard Bridge painting, seismic retrofit projects, and lighting upgrades
        -A $2 million+ dollar Ballard to downtown HCT study
        And potential improvements from the Uptown-Belltown Transit Project would help outbound RapidRide trips.

      3. -RapidRide: Let me know when they decouple RR D from RR C, so it becomes more reliable and serves downtown, like the 15/18 used to. Otherwise, it’s a fancy 15/18 with bulbs, a couple TSP signals, with reduced and downgraded downtown stop service.
        -Route 44 improvements: Some useful steps to fixing this extremely congested, yet highly used route. Akin to using a bucket to put out a house fire.
        -Burke-Gilman: Locks to Golden Gardens: A nice leisure amenity, a transportation route for a select few in Shilshole. The Locks is the beginning of a useful transportation route from people coming down 32nd, which is where the trail ends.
        -Burke-Gilman Missing Link, the 58th Street Greenway: Both indefinitely on hold, wake me up when they announce a hard construction date.
        -Frequent late-night service on the 44, more transit trips between Ballard and Northgate: Agree on both. I love the Route 40 to Northgate/Fremont, but it’s like we traded our 15/17/18 downtown service for the RR D/Route 40. RR D that serves half of downtown and Route 40 that isn’t meant to be a Ballard>Downtown route, but is used anyway due to frustrations with RR D cutting off half of downtown.
        -Interbay repaving & BAT lanes: I will concede this. I would have liked to have 24 hour service like the Aurora BAT lanes, but I still think they are extremely useful compared to the 3 lane madness 15th used to be.
        -Ballard Bridge painting/seismic retrofit: Something long overdue. What Ballard really needs is new bridge, with much wider cycle/pedestrian lanes.
        -A $2 million+ dollar Ballard to downtown HCT study: This is potentially delayed in the new Seattle budget. Plus, signs are pointing to it being a glorified streetcar, not HCT.

        So all in all, we’ve got:

        * A trail to nowhere and empty promises on others
        * A potential HCT study that is looking to be anything but
        * A downtown route (RR D) that doesn’t serve half of downtown and is unreliable, another route (40) with better connections to neighboring neighborhoods and a “it’ll do” downtown connection
        * A decaying, highly over capacity bridge that is getting some bandaids
        * Partial reliability improvements and more service on a horribly overcapacity and slow route (44)
        * BAT lanes between South of Ballard Bridge and Western (probably the one good thing Seattle has done for Ballard transit

        I know I’m sounding cynical, but it seems like everytime Seattle/Metro tries to do something for Ballard, it ends up half-assed and doesn’t do a lot for reliability/improvement of transit/transportation.

      4. Every time Seattle Metro tries to do something period for just about any neighborhood, it is half assed and does very little for public transportation: In West Seattle we were granted the transit cure all gift of Rapid Ride, but it conceals a Metro Shell game where net fewer buses run to and from West Seattle with no discernable improvement in arrival or wait times as well as bus lines that suffer from overcrowding and passed stops.

  5. This is years overdue and will reduce the pain on a huge number of trips.

    But it will also exacerbate a problem that already exists: the lack of any transit service other than the infrequent, peak-only 99 serving all the new residents along Western and Elliott. The 1st/Broad stop is fairly close for a lot of these people, but now they will have to walk further up a steep hill to 3rd to get service. Metro used to run the 98, a peak-only loop shuttle connecting Elliott to 3rd/Pine, but that route suffered from low ridership. The question of whether it’s possible to offer service to that area that will attract reasonable usage is a good one to think about in the future.

    1. Meh. People will walk to frequent transit service, and we can’t run buses to everyone’s door.

      1. You’re right. It’s just the Seattle Waterfront. Not a major destination or anything.

      2. Once you climb up to First(which they had to do regardless), it’s a fairly flat walk to Third. I don’t think that would deter many folks.

      3. Fortunately the Seattle waterfront is full of parking spaces. Who needed that trolley thing anyways.

    2. I agree that the 1st Avenue node near Broad Street is very important to serve with frequent transit. Cedar is an interesting connecting corridor, but would require special transit signals at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Avenues. This was discussed in the 1990s Belltown Neighborhood Plan, as I recall.

      1. Gee, if only there was some sort of mode of transit that could replace all the trips 1st has been losing over the past few years that could serve the heavy population density in Belltown and Uptown, perhaps some sort of “carriage” running along the “street”… too bad that would require getting rid of parking no one uses anyway, because that’ll never happen!

  6. It is little projects like this that will do the most to improve the efficiency, and thus the popularity, of mass transit. Cheers for Metro and the various city, county, and regional agencies for moving forward. BRT and other projects will take off when the T on the B is actually R.

  7. On a policy level I would like to see Metro set service quantity thresholds for a road segment that trigger capital projects like this. Once a road segment has a certain number of buses per hour Metro should have a mechanism that fund capital projects that improves speed and reliability of that road segment.

    Metro generally relies on cities to do this type of work but as Metro slowly starts to restructure service and puts more emphasis on core, high frequency routes these types of projects will become more and more critical to improving the system quality in a cost effective way.

    1. I like the idea. But “number of buses” is sort of an abstract measure. How about determining the number of actual and (ideally) potential riders the project will help or bring on board?

      1. I would be find with either. Two issues are that number of people certainly would be harder to estimate and from Metro’s perspective an empty bus stuck in traffic and a full bus stuck in traffic is costing the same amount of money. Also even if a bus is empty at that location along a route a delay there can cause it to also be late along it’s high ridership segment.

      2. Yes, riders on other parts who would benefit should be counted. It shouldn’t be too difficult to get a decent, if perhaps not perfect, picture of the number of riders using APC data. Your point about the cost of bus delays is also a good one, though.

        In general, I want more thinking about transit to be centered around the number of riders who will benefit. I think that leads to better transit outcomes than trying to ensure that more abstract things like geographic areas or types of development are treated equally.

  8. I thought the issue was the amount of space available for buses between Broad and Denny as much as anything.

  9. Any idea if the installation of the traffic signal at 1st & Clay is related to RapidRide? It seems unnecessary unless it’s part of a TSP scheme.

    1. Not that I know of, I think it’s supposed to be a either pedestrian-oriented improvement, or maybe it’s called for by a traffic warrant.

    2. I live a block from that light and couldn’t figure out for the life of me why they were putting it in. Then I was driving home one day and tried to turn left from Clay to 1st going South at rush hour. The traffic backs up from the intersection at Broad, and makes it impossible. I basically had to just pull a kamikaze and hope for the best.
      Outside of rush hour though, that light makes no sense.

    3. I’ve been hoping that the light could potentially have the secondary effect of helping accommodate the transit right turns from Broad to First on those days with “occasional severe reliability problems.” That right turn is problematic when the queues from the 1st/Denny light extend south to or beyond Broad.

  10. So, are buses not planning to go back to 1st after the viaduct/tunnel work? Am I mistaken for thinking that was ever the plan? Or, if they are going back, is this investment still worth it given that the tunnel isn’t set to be complete until 2019?

    This just strikes me as a horrible intersection to run a large number of buses through. Northbound 3rd between Denny & Broad is only long enough to hold one bus at a time, so presumably they’ll have to couple the signals at both 3rd & Denny and 3rd & Broad, which means traffic’s going to back up on both Denny and Broad each time that signal gets tripped. And regardless of signal length, during rush hour I can easily imagine there often simply not being room on Denny for more than one bus to turn into—sorta like the turn from 15th Ave NE onto 45th: dedicated left-turn arrow, but buses still wait 4 cycles to get through. Despite the intuitive advantages of 1 left over 1 left + 1 right, I just have a hard time imagining this working out much better than the current arrangement. Seems to me the only reasonable way to get buses onto 1st Avenue North is to have them already on 1st Avenue.

    1. I think what the “plan” is/was is to have the buses on 3rd … and put in a streetcar line along 1st ave all the way to Key Arena from Pioneer Sq.

      1. From what I heard on here, that streetcar line got killed because some people in Belltown complained about losing parking, despite living in the densest, closest-to-downtown part of the city with the absolute best bus service. So now we have a “connector” line on 4th/5th being planned that wouldn’t be necessary with a 1st Ave streetcar and might reduce the chance of it ever happening, zero transit west of 2nd aside from the peak-only 99, RapidRide going on a time-consuming and reliability- and clarity-killing detour through Uptown, and Queen Anne likely to remain a thicket of spindly, streetcar-legacy routes that utterly fail to provide adequate service unless you’re headed straight downtown at least until Cap Hill station opens.

    2. Could they potentially close one SB lane on Broad and make the part N of the closed lane right-turn-only onto Denny to make more room?

      1. Though even if there are capacity issues, some buses would get more benefit out of it than others. Magnolia buses and Ballard expresses are continuing down Denny so it makes more sense for them to only turn once – QA and the D are going down 1st anyway so almost might as well do the turn early.

    3. 1st is a reliability nightmare during the PM peak and anytime there’s a game at any Sodo stadium. So buses to other destinations don’t really work on 1st. It’s too bad, because regular service on 1st would be very good for a lot of people traveling within and near downtown. I’ve floated a pie-in-the-sky proposal before to run a local 1st Avenue bus only between Lander and Mercer, but in the current funding environment there are better places to spend those hours (like upgrading RR C/D to the appropriate frequency).

      1. Well, while we’re talking pie-in-the-sky, wouldn’t it be better to remove parking from 1st and add a bus-only lane? I suspect the main reason 1st is a nightmare is because it’s the only street that goes all the way straight through from SODO to LQA and so the vast majority of road users choose it over streets like 3rd which require a jog at one or both ends of Downtown. But if we’re going to force some segment of road users to use another road in order to improve reliability, shouldn’t we opt for shunting single-occupancy cars over to 3rd and forcing them to make those jogs instead of making buses do that?

  11. I can’t believe how little people recognize the gains that are made from changes. I think its so obvious whats missing. I think Metro did a great job with the service changes, and I wish we could have had even more route consolidation for routes serving downtown Seattle and new cross town service connecting neighborhoods I like what Metro laid out in the initial proposal for the Fall changes. From my point of view its very simple what we need to do and it really involves a steady stream of money — we need SDOT to continue to build infrastructure to speed up routes, and we need more funds, dedicated funds, for Metro to increase the frequency on the all day routes.

    So Get to Work! Get Involved in the 2013 Legislative Session – Its now or never on the piddly $20 temporary fee that wasn’t enough when we passed it a couple years ago. We need permanent funding. For every post I read here I hope your writing or calling your legislators in Olympia – because without cash – Metro service is going down hard.

    1. Well said! This is a very important time for setting statewide policies that will make a tremendous difference for transit (good or bad).

      There are also ample opportunities to weigh in on local decisions and try to maximize local transit investments. Unfortunately, it is still a heavy lift to make even small reductions in auto capacity and parking in order to improve bus service but, I believe the tide is changing on this.

      Downtown Seattle has crossed a critical threshold with more people commuting by bus than driving alone (2010 Commute Seattle Mode Split Survey). Across the city, total car trips declined by 8% from 2003 to 2010 (SDOT’s Additional Review of the Impacts of Deep Bored Tunnel Tolling Diversion on City Streets).

      We need to help the public and public officials understand this changing reality and counteract the reactionary response against bus priority measures that take space from cars.

  12. They say that familiarity breeds contempt and nowhere is this more relevant than in the Uptown/Belltown/Seattle Center transit interfaces. I know, you can recite a bunch of lines that run there, but at the ground level, it just seems unusually difficult for something that is just at the edge of a long walk for many people.

    I wonder if the tunnel for LINK wasn’t quite as well planned as thought. Seems like it was only designed for downtown and to be a feeder to I-5 for express buses. Should they have continued North a bit longer and made it up through Belltown to Seattle Center…maybe even SLU?

Comments are closed.