One of the problems with the current Route 358, which will persist with RapidRide E as currently planned, is the lack of access to Fremont. The core of Fremont is on Fremont Ave at 35th St, about two blocks west of Aurora Ave, but roughly 100′ below the deck of the George Washington Bridge, which carries Aurora Ave at that point, and the entire hillside north of the Ship Canal around Aurora is densely built-up. Routes 5 and 16, which travel over the Aurora Bridge, but exit near 38th St to serve Greenwood and Wallingford respectively, have stops on the Fremont Ave/Bridge Way ramps which provide peripheral access to Fremont. The E Line’s nearest stop, however, will be on Aurora at 46th St — almost a mile walk from the center of Fremont.
I suspect there is a relatively cheap and straightforward solution to this problem, and moreover, other engineering work that Metro and SDOT are engaged in further north on Aurora as part of the RapidRide project could lay the groundwork for implementing it. The basic idea is to add a pair of E Line stops on Aurora, just north of 38th St, which sounds extremely simple, but if it were simple, it would probably have been done a long time ago. The northbound stop would be fairly straightforward, but there are multiple issues with a southbound stop, given the road’s current configuration.
The first problem is evident from the photo above. The curb lane disappears at 38th St, and the two center lanes of Aurora carry continuous, high-speed traffic. There would be no safe way for the bus to merge in to those lanes from a stationary position, and this is a show-stopper — Metro will not build or use such a hazardous facility. So, we need to come up with another lane south of 38th St if this idea is to have a chance. After the jump, let’s look at a photo taken one block south of the one above.
It looks from this photo as if there was once a narrow curbside lane, subsequently painted out. My guess from looking at it is that it’s about 7′-8′ wide — not enough for a bus lane. But there’s piece of 1930’s vintage sidewalk there that’s narrow, almost unconnected and virtually never used, that could be cut back enough to make a 10′ lane — just wide enough to squeeze a bus through. I am, in almost all cases, vigorously opposed on principle to removing or narrowing sidewalks to facilitate vehicle travel, but in this case, the minuscule utility of this sidewalk seems to be greatly outweighed by the dramatically improved transit access that space could be used to provide.
The final problem is also evident from this photo: under the current ramp setup, the curb lane would create a collision hazard, with accelerating cars at risk of broadsiding buses that would be hidden behind the trees as they approached. Modern expressways provide merge lanes to allow drivers to safely execute merges at speed, but this is not a luxury afforded to drivers on 1930’s vintage roads like Aurora. SDOT has solved the problem by making the curb lane north of here a parking lane, and then eliminating it altogether, so no merging is required. If we were able to squeeze in a new bus lane here, how would we make the Fremont Ave ramp safe?
Here’s where SDOT and Metro’s RapidRide work from further north comes in: the agencies have exactly the same problem at 46th St, where a curbside parking lane north of 46th is being eliminated to provide a BAT lane, which would create a merge hazard at the Phinney Ave ramp. As I understand it (and this is preliminary), SDOT’s engineers are planning to use a transit-actuated ramp meter to stop traffic on the ramp when the bus pulls out of the 46th St stop. This prioritizes the bus over general traffic and eliminates the safety issue. This technique, if it proves successful, could be applied here.
I’m told that a 38th St stop pair is not currently within scope for the E Line, but it should be. The engineering, design, and road work required to make this stop happen would amount to a minor capital project, only slightly larger in scope and cost than of most RapidRide stops, and if this stop pair were built, I suspect they’d rapidly become some of the better-used RapidRide stops north of the Ship Canal, because they would fix a big hole in RapidRide’s coverage of one of the denser parts of Aurora. At a minimum, SDOT and Metro should work together to complete a feasibility study to confirm whether or not these stops could be added, and how much they would cost.