23rd and Cherry, Looking South (1968) - Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr
23rd and Cherry, Looking South (1968) – Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr

23rd Avenue in Capitol Hill and the Central District is currently a disaster for pedestrians and bus riders.  The right-of-way is far too narrow to support four traffic lanes and pedestrians comfortably, to say nothing of bicycles.  The pavement has been torn up by heavy bus use, and needs replacing.  So it’s great news that the city has cobbled together $14M for a full redesign of 23rd Ave from John St. all the way to Rainier Ave. Central District News reports on the project here, which could start as soon as 2014.  Community outreach is still ongoing, and final designs and lane configurations have not been set.

According to Bill Bryant at SDOT, the redesign will consist mainly of transit signal priority, fiber optic upgrades, and passenger facility improvements.  Electrifying the corridor, which could benefit many transit riders well beyond the CD, would cost an additional $12M or so, funding for which has not yet been secured.

Between this and the recent developments planned for 23rd and Union and 23rd and Jackson, change is afoot in the neighborhood.  Now more than ever we need that Madrona/Queen Anne restructure.

Update: great point by Zach in the comments. The past 40 years of road infrastructure in the CD (such as the widening of Cherry St. in the 1950s) have been about speeding up through traffic: getting people (in cars) through the neighborhood instead of to the neighborhood.  Hopefully we’re seeing a the beginnings of a reversal to that trend.

75 Replies to “Rebuilding 23rd Avenue”

  1. “Change is afoot in the neighborhood. Now more than ever we need that Madrona/Queen Anne restructure.”
    Sure – rechannelization of the north/south arterial in the CD goes hand-in-hand with truncating the #4 and forcing northbound passengers on the #2 to transfer downtown.

    1. Yes, because rechannelization of 23rd will improve speed and reliability of the 48, which will reduce the pain of eliminating the 4.

      1. I agree with the 4’s deletion but the rechannelization of 23rd wouldn’t be enough. With the exception of the 3/4 west of 21st, Central District service is anomalous in Seattle, with crosstown services being frequent all-day corridors (8, 48) while radial service to downtown is a maze of half-hourly service (4, 14, 27). The 4 shouldn’t be killed yet, not because it’s a good route (it’s clearly not), but because it currently stands as an inefficient but necessary proxy for the frequency that the C.D. deserves.

        My personal preference would be the 3 every 7-8 minutes on Yesler/Jefferson/Cherry, delete the 4 and 27, and run the 14 every 10 minutes all day.

      2. The point of truncating the 4 is to get closer to the world you’re talking about; the hours would be plowed back into the 3, which would run every 5-8 minutes west of 21st and every 15 minutes east of 21st.

        That only leaves the 14/27 conundrum. The issue there is that Yesler is a far more effective thoroughfare than Jackson close to downtown, but 23rd and Jackson is the single biggest destination that needs service, and you need some coverage of Mount Baker.

        With that in mind, my vote is to combine the 14 and 27 into a 15-minute route that uses Yesler from downtown to 23rd, then moves to Jackson and travels to MBTC via the current 14 route. The FHSC will pick up some of the slack along inner Jackson.

      3. Yes. But it’s just dumb that Yesler, of all streets, isn’t wired. How much premature wear does the 27, by itself, cause to Ryerson Base transmissions? Add one more to the list of expensive overhead projects…

      4. The hardest and most expensive part of Yesler, 3rd to 8th, will be wired whenever the money is scraped together for it – the 3/4 will be using that stretch eventually.

        If we jog over to Jackson at Boren, rather than cruising all the way up to 23rd, we skip the worst of the delays on Jackson and get to reuse a lot of existing trolleywire.

      5. The trouble with that is you still don’t escape the Jackson/Boren/14th intersection, which itself is a major source of the delays.

      6. True, but the theoretical Yesler/23rd/Jackson jog is likely just as big of a timesink. At least at the Boren/Jackson left turn, you can get through in one light cycle even during heavy traffic. Ask any 8 rider how that goes at 23rd & Jackson.

  2. Why does it cost 12 million dollars to electrify the corridor? Are the electrical wires made of gold?

    1. No, but qualified labor is.

      Working with wires that will be live with 700 V DC within 8 feet of the general public, and be abused day in and day out by trolley shoes, is not something you want to half-ass with unqualified people (or underdone design).

      Experienced electricians get paid, and that’s the way it should be.

    2. I think a large part of the cost is also new substations that would need to be built.

      From what I have heard though, generally you can figure new wire at $1 million/mile. So this seems like a pretty high estimate still.

    3. well there is the wire
      the electrical substation(s)
      the poles that will hold the OCS
      junctions with existing wired segments (they are expensive to engineer)
      making sure proper clearance exists on the whole route / moving things that are in the way
      etc …

  3. Sad to hear that this won’t affect the terribly bumpy trips on the 43. Hopefully they’ll do north of John after this.

    1. Agreed! I’ve always thought the north end of 23rd/24th to be in far worse shape. Perhaps it is due to my frequenting the 43 more often than the 48.

      1. I’ve had the same findings. North of John Street is plenty nice, until the concrete outer lane runs out. It is fairly upsetting for the bus ride to be so rough that one cannot safely drink coffee from a travel tumbler. I usually go for the 48 over the 43 when they arrive at the same time, since the non-Breda busses seem to have modern suspension.

    2. Won’t it be easier to deal with traffic diversion when 23rd gets torn up, 85th-Street-style, if it occurs after U Link is up and running?

      1. It will, but this project has already been postponed for decades. Now that money’s been found for it, it will not be delayed any longer.

  4. Thank you SDOT. As a C.D. resident and daily user of 23rd, I look forward to showing up to any and all meetings in support of this project. I support anything you can do to make it a traffic-calmed multimodal corridor with robust TSP. Currently, most drivers like to pretend that the R.H. Thompson was actually built, driving up to 45mph through the corridor. Restoring 23rd as a neighborhood arterial would do wonders for the livability of my neighborhood.

  5. Even if there isn’t enough room to go “full Dexter” on 23rd, Dexter is so ridiculously wide curb-to-curb that you pretty much have to throw the kitchen sink at it to get it down to two general-purpose lanes. If there isn’t room on 23rd for bus bulbs as wide as the ones on Dexter, there may be room for narrower ones (perhaps longer?).

    1. 23rd has no shoulders. There is no room for bus bulbs, but buses already stop in-lane, without even having to pull over.

      1. I doubt that they’ll reduce the number of lanes. It’s at capacity now. I’m curious to see what they come up with, though, this is a very difficult corridor.

      2. The sidewalks are also quite narrow on 23rd, particulary the stretch from Union to Cherry. The overall pedestrian experience is poor. If you’re going to do anything, I’d love to see another 18-24″ for sidewalk space. I don’t believe there’s going to be room for a 2-way cycletrack or even bike lanes on both sides; adding bike capacity would require dealing with the bike/transit interface as well.

      3. I don’t know about the capacity situation — I was going off a Central District News post claiming 23rd in that area carries only slightly more vehicles per day than MLK, which isn’t four-lane.

      4. Left turn volumes at the intersections might be what restricts 23rd vs. MLK. Also MLK has dedicated left turn lanes at all its major intersections, it is possible that is what makes all the difference.

      5. Four-lane roads with intersections are among the most dangerous sorts of roads. (Stroads?) The passing lane makes it much more dangerous for pedestrians, and induces more car crashes due to weaving motions, but it less-than-doubles the throughput.

        I’ve been convinced that they’re simply a bad idea.

  6. I wish I could rejoice in the 23rd Avenue plans without having to contend with your insane plan to take the #2 down Madison. The few times that I have been on the #12 since the restructure, I rejoice that that did not happen to the #2 and feel sorry for those passengers who are confused about how and where to get off and the need to transfer.

    As for electrifying Yesler, remember a portion of Yesler from Broadway to 14th will serve the new First Hill Street Car. There are quite a few changes coming to that area of Yesler and would have to be considered.

    1. Agree. FHSC will be so successful, it will negate any further need for transit improvements within a 1/2 mi radius of it.
      Well played SDOT/ST.

    2. Yesler is planned to be electrified, at least the most difficult part of it, 3rd to 9th, when the 3/4 are moved from James to Yesler. This is only waiting on funding.

      1. Is the idea that they will go east up Yesler and then *north* on 9th to Jefferson? That seems slower than the current routing. It still doesn’t escape the complete mess that is the intersection of 9th and Jefferson and the surrounding several blocks.

      2. Yes, that’s the idea. It would extricate the 3/4 from the I-5 queuing disaster on James during the PM peak.

        Whatever the impact on reliability, even I am not daring enough to suggest eliminating front-door service to Harborview.

      3. I just don’t think that will do much good, because the “queuing disaster” (as you put it so well) creates gridlock at 9th and Jefferson, screwing up both Jefferson and 9th as much as it does James itself.

      4. You can’t skip 9th and Jefferson without eliminating front door service to Harborview, which will not happen. We’re going to be driving through that intersection in perpetuity. Getting the bus off of James and out of the I-5 ramp mess is the best we can do, and saves more time than you think. At rush hour it can take 5-10 minutes just to get to9th and James.

    3. I also feel sorry for passengers too confused to get off at 3rd in order to catch a bus on 3rd to get to anywhere else on 3rd.

      Those passengers never learned to count!

    4. I assume the confusion is mainly between 12th and 19th, not 3rd. The 11 and 12 have a complex relationship with Madison, and the mid-day 12 turnbacks make it even more complex. This would be immensely simplified if Madison-BRT leads to straightening out the 11 and subsuming the turnback trips.

      We also need to distinguish between confusion after reorgs and for new/occasional riders, vs ongoing inconvenience. Confusion after reorgs is temporary. Confusing for new/occasional riders suggests simplifying the route structure. Ongoing inconvenience is a more difficult problem, given the lack of a Madison DSTT station and the steep hill between 3rd and the east-west bus stops. I hope Madison-BRT leads to moving the bus stops closer to 3rd, and 3-door buses so that people can wait closer to the bottom of the hill.

      1. Madison service hasn’t changed at all. In fact, thanks to Joanna’s hard work murdering the restructure, service over First Hill and into the Central District hasn’t changed in the slightest — it’s just as slow and unreliable as ever.

        Joanna is, in fact, referring to the “confusion” and abject horror of not having every fucking bus on the planet stop at 3rd and Pine.

  7. The fact that lots of people call the 48 the 40 late is a testament to how much this corridor needs help. This corridor should have gotten attention earlier but better late than never. I really hope that Metro and SDOT continue to prioritize projects like this across the city.

    As Link is built out and travel into downtown Seattle becomes less important for regional travel I see the 48 growing in importance.

  8. Hallelujah. There’s a lot of potential for improvement at 23rd/Madison in terms of building out a small outpost of neighborhood between the heart of Capitol Hill and Madison Valley below. Lots of new building going on there, and some old properties vacant/ripe for re-development. I live nearby; it’s a foreboding place to walk around.

    I’m all for the road-diet treatment on Madison too, between 23rd and 15th (ideally to Broadway).

    1. While the area of 23rd/Madison still has a ways to go, it is much less forboding than it used to be. The demolition of the block that used to house Deano’s and the addition of the Safeway complex helped a lot. Speaking of which, does anyone know the status of the apartments that were slated to go in at the SE corner of 23rd/Madison?

  9. How about a city-level policy stating that no street may have only travel lanes curb to curb? Does the Complete Streets ordinance go that far? If so, I can’t wait until the day we rechannelize James/James Way from downtown to 12th, Madison from Elliott Bay to Lake Washington, 23rd/24th from Rainier to Montlake, MLK from McClellan to Massachusetts, Rainier from Alaska to Boren, Boren from Rainier to Denny, and so many others…

    1. The right solution isn’t always going to be the same for every street, so an inflexible policy like that is a bad idea.

      Let’s use James/Cherry as an example.

      Between Broadway and 23rd, it would be perfect for a road diet. It’s underused, with lots of neighborhood turns in both directions, and potential as a bike route. But between I-5 and Broadway, it’s already at capacity, and already has quite a few turn lanes. Bikes have no realistic hope of using it uphill; it’s just too steep. A road diet would just strangle capacity without many benefits.

    2. Incidentally, in a perfect world, to accompany Yesler becoming a frequent service corridor, the 3 would get off of Jefferson and begin using James/Cherry all the way through. But now I’m just dreaming.

      1. That seems like a bad idea to me. Jefferson is mostly a bus route through the worst congestion around Broadway. James Way gets the auto traffic, so moving the bus to it would delay it.

        Yes, the turns at 9th are a delay, but it puts the stop for Harborview one block closer to the hospital, important for the many elderly and disabled people who use the facility.

      2. If Jefferson is trying to be a congestion bypass, it’s failing miserably.

        3/4 buses can wait for 5-7 minutes between Jefferson/Boren and Jefferson/9th during the PM peak. That’s worse than the auto congestion in the same part of James, not even counting that miserable left turn onto James.

        And, east of Broadway, James/Cherry moves far faster than Jefferson. It has fewer lights and stop signs, and the lights it does have last longer.

        Jefferson is where speed and reliability goes to die.

  10. If there is anything we can do now to make it easier to install the wire later, I sure hope that gets done in this cycle. Because man would I love to see an electric 48.

    BTW, to the folks on the 43/48 north of Madison, yes, once you run out of concrete that pavement gets pretty sorry. But from Union south to Jackson is a roller coaster ride, and it desperately needs to get torn up and rebuilt.

    The real challenge for 23rd, I think, is figuring out what you can do for cyclists.

  11. I wouldn’t call 23rd a disaster. As a pedestrian and former bicyclist, I’ve never considered it not wide enough. The only thing that bothers me is the slow 48 at rush hour, and for that reason I’d support some kind of complete streets and BRT improvements.

    What 23rd is, is a 4-lane street that doesn’t have a full-length center lane and wide shoulders like those ultra-wide streets in other cities. Let’s recognize when we’ve done something right.

    1. For buses, it is an unmitigated disaster. The lanes are so narrow in places that you can’t drive without infringing on the neighboring lane. Turns in both directions mean that it’s impossible to drive without interruption from stop to stop.

      You’re right that building streets of this width is good. But giving them four general-purpose lanes is bad. They should have two general-purpose lanes, a center turn lane, a bike lane on the uphill side, and a bit of extra room to make it easier to maneuver around right-turning cars.

  12. While I’m happy that 23rd is finally being repaired, I’m really happy that Northgate Way is being fixed. I think much of the north end has been ignored for far too long. Remember that Seattle said that it would improve the streets north of 85th when it annexed the north end years ago but that hasn’t been done. 85th has finally been done, Northgate Way has been begging for repairs for years and Greenwood still hasn’t been worked on for decades north of 125th. And 3rd Ave NW is almost as bad as Greenwood.

    1. Don’t forget Sand Point Way, which has a surprising amount of pedestrian traffic for a street with 40 mph traffic and no sidewalks.

  13. Any chance of retiming some of the traffic signals so the 48 doesn’t have to stop at every light?

    1. If they could get rid of the split-phasing that would really help, that’s a huge waste of time.

  14. I’m still hoping for a consolidated transfer station at 23rd/John/Madison, to make it easier to reorganize the 8, 11, and 43 with less resistence to transferring.

    1. No need for new facilities (beyond the 23rd rebuild and TSP) — just frequency and reliability improvements. People (not named Joanna) will cross a street or even walk a block to transfer if they know a bus will be along within ten minutes under almost all conditions.

  15. I’m hoping to see 23rd one lane of auto in each direction with a center left turn lane, but I doubt it will happen. Cyclists actually have a a number of better routes that do not involve any major street, i.e., north south residential streets that have virtually no traffic on them.

    For me, it’s all about the pedestrian experience. In some places, even waiting for a bus on trash day risks one getting blown off their feet with passing traffic as one is standing on the edge of the sidewalk. Forget about walking up the street under those conditions.

    All in all, an improved safe experience for all who access will be important. We already have Garfield HS and the community center complex, and crossing is like dodge ball except its a car coming at one. The major intersections are going to be more developed with street front retail that I hope can face 23rd as well as the cross streets.

  16. Sorry if this is off topic. But I am moving to the Central District and after reading this I was wondering if it better to have a car or rely on public transit to get around? I would mostly be taking the 4 . Since I havent yet been there just thought i would see what you kind folks think. Thanks

    1. Hi Joy,

      It’s hard to say what’s “better” without knowing what you value. If you’re looking to save some money, can use your time on the bus constructively, then you might not need a car (particularly if you can bike short distances). But frankly I’d consider a place with more options than just the 4.

      If your priority is to get everywhere as fast as possible, even if you have to pay to park, then get a car. It’s faster.

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