Route 40 at 36th & Phinney
Route 40 at 36th & Phinney

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about making transit work better at the two stops at Fremont & 34th. Those two stops are among the busiest, and most readily improvable, stops in north Seattle, and I was happy to receive an email from the Mayor’s office last week indicating that work was in progress along the lines I described.

There are, however, quite a few more valuable, but low-cost investments that can be made on the stretch of Leary Way and 36th St between Fremont and Ballard to improve transit speed and reliability, and rider comfort at stops. In particular, there are four stops in Fremont which would really benefit from bus bulbs, which prevent delays due to the bus having to turn out of traffic.

Map of stops on Leary
Map of stops on Leary
Sidewalk outside Norm's
Sidewalk outside Norm’s

Ideas for improvements, after the jump.

  1. Bus bulb outside Norm’s Ale House. As you can see from the picture above and right, the sidewalk and curb here are falling apart. This is a busy stop, and between ale house patrons, transit riders, passers-by, street trees and furniture, it can get crowded. This part of 36th has lots of car traffic turning in from the Fremont Bridge, and buses are often trapped until the light changes. The city could make buses faster and more reliable, and do every other sidewalk user an enormous favor, by reconstructing and extending the sidewalk here, and putting in a shelter. If I could do just one bus bulb on 36th St, it would be this one.
  2. Move the eastbound stop at 36th St & Phinney Ave a block east, and add a bus bulb.  As you can see from the top photo, the sidewalk here is also in terrible condition, and should be rebuilt and extended. However, this stop isn’t really located in an ideal place — it’s more than a block away from its westbound counterpart (outside Norm’s). The smart thing to do is build a new bus bulb just east of Francis Ave, and close this stop.

    Sidewalk garden bus stop
    Sidewalk garden bus stop. Pretty, but not very functional.
  3. Move both stops at 1st Ave NW slightly west, and add bus bulbs. The westbound stop awkwardly straddles a driveway, and the eastbound stop is a very pretty sidewalk garden (shown above), which nevertheless prevents riders from using the back door, or any door when drivers unhelpfully park their cars in the front of the bus zone. One of the additional benefits of bus bulbs is that they discourage parked cars from intruding on the zone, and taxis from loitering there, both of which can be a problem in Fremont.
  4. Add an eastbound stop at 8th Ave NW & Leary. Between 8th Ave NW and 15th Ave NW, Leary has not recently had transit service, so all facilities there are new, or, in one case, unbuilt. I contacted Metro about this, and they’re working on it: “Seattle has given us preliminary approval to place a stop [west] of the signal, however there is dense ivy within the planter strip and no clear area for passengers to board or exit the bus. Paving improvements can take a year or more by the time the survey, design, permitting and construction process is complete.” This section of Leary has peak-period parking restrictions, fewer people seem to park in the street, and the stops aren’t as heavily used, so while bus bulbs would be nice in this section, they’re not nearly as important as in Ballard or Fremont.
  5. Fix the “Bog Stop” eastbound at 11th Ave NWPart of the bargain in having more widely-spaced bus stops is that the remaining stops are civilized places to wait, with a bench, a printed schedule, a lighted shelter, and ideally a real-time arrival sign at the busier stops. This stop is nothing more than a post placed in a slimy strip of grass landscaping. Metro is working on installing a concrete pad in 2013, but I’d really like to see all of these stops get shelters and benches.
  6. Take down the crossbuck from the abandoned railroad tracks at 14th Ave NW. In the ’60s, Bardahl Oil was served by a spur of what is now the Ballard Terminal Railroad, on Shilshole. Those tracks have long ago been abandoned and partially paved over, but the crossbuck, at which Metro drivers are required to stop, was never removed, and now delays every bus by ten seconds to a couple of minutes (if it causes the bus to miss the light). This is obviously nuts, and so I wrote to Metro and SDOT in December, asking that it be taken down, and was told it should happen “soon”.
  7. Fix the infamous “Hedge Stop”, eastbound at 20th Ave NW. One of my earliest transit experiences in Seattle was almost being passed at this stop while coming home from Ballard after midnight, and I’ve never stopped ranting about it since. Metro responded thus to my previous post regarding this stop: “Yes, we are aware of the ‘Hedge Stop’. We are considering relocating the stop just north in front of the Ballard Landmark retirement community. This would achieve better stop spacing, better facilities (with awning, lighting, and new sidewalk) that better serves the dense housing on both sides of the street. Several considerations, such as a substantial amount of parking removal and the presence of an existing loading zone, will need to be addressed prior to a decision to relocate. The city of Seattle will also need to review and ultimately has approval authority over whether or not this relocation can or should be allowed.”

East of 8th Ave NW, Leary carries six to eight buses per hour per direction during the day, on important, well used routes; and is part of the city’s Urban Village Transit Network. While resources are scarce, it’s a place that should be a high priority for the city and Metro to improve.

25 Replies to “Improving Transit Facilities on Leary”

  1. Wouldn’t that be nice! Leary lives up to it’s name when it comes to how pedestrians, transit riders and bicyclists feel about it. This corridor is overdue for attention.

  2. I forgot to mention that the stop in front of norms is often obstructed by cab drivers waiting in the bus stop. On more than one occasion I have seen a bus have to lay on the horn to eventually force a cab out of the stop. Sometimes they don’t move at all. A bus bulb would elmimnate that behavior.

  3. 8. Move the westbound stop at 15th and Leary nearside.

    This is the rare exception to the rule that far side stops are preferable. The overwhelming majority of transfers being made here are west-to-north (RR to Crown Hill) or north-to-west (RR from Uptown). No one transfers west-to-south. Every transfer thus requires crossing three separate roadways and a bird-poop-strewn underpass, and jaywalking because each walk light must be touch-triggered in advance.

    The westbound green light is significantly longer than in any other direction, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the total cycle. Missing a green as a result of a nearside westbound stop is not an issue. Right-turning cars at this intersection are few enough and far enough between that conflicts when leaving the stop are unlikely. (The eastbound stop, by contrast, is appropriately farside for these two reasons.)

    The current farside stop is located on a low curb just beyond an easily clogged gutter. When the rains were heavy a month ago, it was the splash zone to end all splash zones. By contrast, the roadway in from the Volvo-repair place is relatively stable.

    1. And increase the length west/eastbound ped signals. It’s frustrating to see the signals last (seemingly) ten seconds from green walk to solid red hand. Barely enough time to scuttle across one direction of 15th to the haven under the bridge. And then you stand there (if you strictly abide by the law) while the west/eastbound cars continue to get a verrrry long green.

      And the ped signals should be automatically tripped during rush hour periods. There’s enough foot traffic to justify it and enough cars going in each direction to justify a full ped signal timing even if there isn’t a pedestrian. It seems like some of the more major actuated intersections do this around Ballard, so why not this one?

    2. And we also need a shelter and bench at that stop. For how busy that stop is, it should easily qualify for both.

    3. BTW, this is the web form to report a plugged storm drain. I usually use the form for drains that aren’t causing significant problems, but for ponding like that corner had, I go ahead and call them so they can get to it sooner rather than later. IIRC they cleared that one pretty quickly after I called it in. They also were pretty quick to remove the construction barrier from the SW corner drain, which Metro/SDOT had lovingly failed to remove when they finished the RR stop construction.

      1. There are a few notoriously small/low/cloggable drains in the vicinity of Old Ballard.

        My experience has also been that they’re pretty on the ball about coming to clean them… but that they just clog right back up.

        When dealing with a habitual offender, it’s best to simply not make transit users wait right in the splash zone. (Especially when there are 4 or 5 other reasons to move the stop as well.)

  4. Great piece, but I do have a few edits. You’ve incorrectly designated several cross streets with a “N” directional, rather than “NW.” I knew what you were talking about, but many may be confused.

  5. There’s been times when I’m waiting at the Southbound Ione Pl Stop, when I’m tempted to test the “if you can throw a baseball at it, it shouldn’t be there” stop placement saying, when I see the once 17/18 now 40 pull over to pick up one person at the 20th stop, while a group of people are waiting at Ione. 400 ft might be just outside my throwing range though…

    And I think that they should just get rid of the off-peak lane parking. There’s pretty much one portion, right around Hale’s, where there’s inconsistently a couple of parked cars on the weekend and off-peak times. There’s so much parking off Leary on side streets and parking lots, that it just makes for some dangerous, last second weaving for cars and an annoying merge for buses.

  6. Since SDOT is facing such a large backlog, would Metro be on the hook for these types of improvements? How would that work?

    1. SDOT has a pot of money set aside in Bridging the Gap for these sorts of transit capital improvements. I’ve no clue how much of this they could afford, but I’m sure they could scrape together at least enough for a bus bulb or two.

      1. If only the neighborhood folks would start making noise about this too. These are good, smart changes for the corridor. Thanks for writing this, Bruce.

  7. #7. LEARY AVE NW & 20TH AVE NW – Stop # 18140 – SE bound
    Shut down that bus stop. There is a bus stop just two blocks East of #7 and two blocks North of #7. Who can not walk two blocks and also time it just right with
    Google Map =

  8. I love the idea of bus bulbs in certain places and I think Leary is a great place for them, but I do wonder if a lot of the problem could be solved by a bus right of way law with heavy enforcement. Traffic should be required to yield to buses, with violators subject to penalty. Seems like this could correct the biggest problem in my mind: buses waiting to pull back into traffic. I ride my bike on Dexter daily and while it usually is fine, every once in a while a bus has to stop for a few minutes (usually to load a wheelchair-bound passenger) and that creates a huge backup that I’m sure isn’t helpful for the overall image of bus bulbs (or even worse, IMO, people think those blasted bicyclists and their dedicated lane create it). On roads like Leary with 2 GP lanes in either direction this obviously isn’t an issue, but on roads like Dexter I think a simple bus yield rule could suffice.

      1. Part of the problem is, from a driver’s perspective, it’s hard to tell the difference between a bus with its left blinker on, waiting to pull out, and a bus with its four-ways on, loading. Parked cars and other buses tend to obscure the right turn signal. I think they should have overhead lights to use when boarding, so they don’t get confused with the turn signals.

    1. There is a rule. It’s very simple and clear, and is occasionally enforced, like all other traffic rules. No one obeyed it, which led to 5- and 10-minute delays. That’s why bus bulbs exist.

  9. FWIW, I believe they just moved the Southeast bound stop on Leary at 3rd NW. It used to be just past the intersection of 3rd NW and is now a bit earlier, before 3rd. Not sure why they moved it…maybe to give more space to buses needing to go immediately from that stop to the left turn lane onto 39th?

    1. No buses turn left onto 39th, so that’s probably not the reason. My guess is that either visibility needed to be improved (even though it seems some bus drivers actually have an issue with the SE-bound 43rd stop) or that the old stop was located within the 3rd & Leary intersection (so there was a safety concern).

  10. Although some Leary stops/amenities are much needed, the new route 40 ten-minute service between Ballard and Fremont is fantastic. Wish such had existed when I lived in Fremont ten years ago, when I had to take the 5 up the hill and transfer to a 44, which would take half and hour or more….

  11. I have to say I love this post and thank you all for being proactive. I currently drive the 28 on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. I’ve written up the stop at N. 36 & 1 Ave NW more than once since the property owner (?) transformed the space into the garden it has become. It is now a safety hazard. As some have pointed out, when there is a car parked just beyond the head of the zone, it is difficult for us to pick up/drop off at this zone without making intending passengers walk around the garden to get to us because we have to stop back farther. With the parked cars along 36th southbound bus bulbs would make it easier, safer and faster for us to pick/drop off passengers and get out of traffic quickly.

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