Mt Baker Parking
Diamond Parking Lot at Mt. Baker Station

If you’re still thinking about what to do this election, Feet First’s questionnaire gets into some deep transportation policy specifics in a variety of races. Notable details:

  • Sen. Murray would not commit to funding the Northgate pedestrian bridge over I-5, while Mayor Mcginn would.
  • Murray rightfully ripped the 100′ wide roadway planned for the waterfront.
  • Murray also committed the 75th St bike lane gaffe, before retracting it, as reported by Seattle Bike Blog.

Then there’s Sen. Murray’s answer about Mount Baker station:

The Mount Baker light rail station, as with other stops in South Seattle, suffers from design and infrastructure flaws that hinder pedestrian and Transit Oriented Design more generally.  For instance, the Mount Baker rail station is placed across busy, one-way arterials from retail destinations, and is some distance from connecting Metro transit stops.  Many large, stand-alone commercial and industrial building occupy large parcels near the station, and the station itself is poorly connected to nearby residential areas.  Further, like many neighborhoods in South Seattle, Mount Baker’s sidewalk and street maintenance has been perpetually underfunded.  All of this renders the area much more hospitable to cars than pedestrians, but park-and-ride spaces are not provided at light rail stops.  So, we find ourselves with under-utilized light rail stations and people continuing to drive.

There are some near-term strategies to improve walkability around the Mount Baker station.  We should look at reconfiguring traffic flows along and around the area where Rainier Ave S. and MLK Jr. Way S, and explore whether converting one-way to two-way arterials would make it easier to walk to the station.  But these strategies offer only moderate benefits.  We have to do more.

I honestly don’t think it’s a hugely important for a mayoral candidate to have the details of the Mt. Baker intersection at his fingertips, even if it is the transportation nexus for all of Southeast Seattle. However, it is a bit disconcerting that no one on his team could avoid getting this one exactly backwards: those arterials are currently two-way, and indeed it’s changing them to one-way that provides the best opportunity for making things work better. One way arterials require only one light to be red for them to be safe to cross.

One can certainly forgive the other inaccuracy, because the media has done a terrible job of explaining that there are, in fact, parking spaces available near Mt. Baker and many other Rainier Valley stations; it’s just that drivers have to pay for them, just as they do on the DC Metro and many other systems around the world.

20 Replies to “Mayoral Questionnaire”

  1. One of the most important things in life is knowing what you don’t know. I understand that given political realities in a mayoral race you can’t give “I’ll look into that and get back to you” as an answer in an interview, but I’d appreciate the honesty of a candidate who did.

    Wait, that was apparently a written response to a questionnaire with time for research and staff work?

  2. The sidewalks around Mt. Baker aren’t that bad, really. First of all, they exist, and they are in a reasonable state of repair. It seems that whenever Sen. Murray is asked a question about anything transportation related, he defaults to a generic “roads and sidewalks are underfunded” answer rather than saying anything specific about 1) the are in question or 2) how he is going to dream up some money to pay for the maintenance. Yes, we need more maintenance, but just saying that we need it will not make $1.8 billion appear.

  3. So, moaning about past projects that you had no control over…that doesn’t really do anything for me. But, it is Murray’s ideas about the future of public transportation that have me worried. He doesn’t ‘commit’ to a pedestrian bridge at Northgate? He seems more concerned with regional transit–he’s not running for the position of Mayor of Puget Sound, he’s running for Mayor of Seattle. McGinn seems to get that he is already the Mayor of Seattle and doing what he believes is best for the City of Seattle. Although people can disagree on what would be ‘best’ for Seattle, Mcginn at least seems to try and figure it out.

    1. “Regional” doesn’t have to be a bad word. When it means, “Don’t worry about speed and reliability of Ballard transit, it’s not on the way to Lynnwood,” then it’s a bad word. When it means, “The RV needs better connections to Southcenter,” then it’s a good word. There’s lots of stuff happening around here that isn’t in incorporated Seattle, and today’s transit network, even when it connects these places to downtown Seattle, often misses the neighborhoods on the way. That needs some attention.

  4. Murray is bang-on correct with his comments regarding the 100 ft wide “highway” that SDOT is planning along the waterfront. It is really refreshing to see someone in his position criticize this for being as bad as it is.

    He is also correct when he says, “What we lack is a unified plan and coherent set of priorities.” Yes, we have lots of plans and a plethora of studies, but we don’t have any unified vision of where we want to go. A prime example of this is the First Ave “City Connector” SC. Connecting the SLU and First Hill SC’s via First Ave only makes sense if you have decided that this is the last SC the city will ever build in DT Seattle. But, to the best of my knowledge, we have not yet made that decision.

    1. The waterfront highway is being built that way because the Alaskan Way Viaduct is being replaced by a tunnel that doesn’t actually replace some of its most important functions. The same tunnel that Murray criticizes McGinn for opposing.

      If Murray cheerleads the tunnel and criticizes the surface highway that’s a direct result of it, his understanding of the situation is questionable.

      1. Ah, pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but McGinn championed the Surface + Transit option which would have given us…..a big fricking highway on the waterfront just like what we are now getting and which Murray opposes!

        So I’d say Murray is both consistent and correct in his criticism, and he certainly is right that building such a monstrosity is the wrong thing to do.

      2. Yes, the surface option would have had a highway with a similar footprint on the surface… and also cost a hell of a lot less money, supported transit, and streamlined through traffic on I-5, where much more through traffic actually is. It also wouldn’t have needed big-ass tunnel portals mucking up the grid in SLU and Pioneer Square.

        Tunnel boosters sold a utopian vision of hiding the nasty highway underground and turning the top into a happy beautiful park. That was never actually possible and to complain about it now after boosting the tunnel earlier is just stupid. The improvements that have been made in the waterfront surface plan since it was initially introduced haven’t come from random complaints about width, they’ve come from people that took the time to understand these things in detail.

    2. For the record, the “100′ freeway” is only as far north as the ferry terminal (Columbia st). The 8 lanes will have only 4 GP lanes. with 2 for ferry queing, and 2 transit only lanes. North of columbia the street is 4 lanes with parking. Personly i like this compromise. The southern portion needs transit priority for RR C and other West seattle buses. The whole waterfront promenade is north of columbia, so all the main attractions are along the narrower steet. street parking helps calm the street and keep it from becomming a freeway.

      The latest design of the waterfront (south of Union st) is available at: (82MB)

      I espesially like the way they are trying to incoperate parts of the old viaduct ramps.

      1. What D Murray said. The angst about the width of the new Alaskan Way is overblown. It’s a through route and nothing short of a second DBT connecting to Elliott is going to change that. Given that it is a through route, they did a very good job of making the part of the waterfront that tourists actually visit as welcoming as possible. South of Columbia, where there are very few tourists, we need those transit-only lanes far more than we need a narrower street.

      2. Not exactly David Lawson. On the south end criticisms about the width are entirely valid. Three of the 8 lanes don’t really need to be there. The two transit lanes are there only because Metro currently wants to put the West Seattle buses on Alaska Way as opposed to Dearborn/First Avenue or other alternatives. For example, the Main Street alternative, which was advocated for on this blog ( would have substantially reduced the length of those lanes.

        Similarly there are also almost certainly better solutions for the extra ferry waiting lane considering that that extra waiting lane will only be used at very infrequent peak ferry traffic times.

        To make matters worse the extra 3 lanes are the reason why the super wide median is being built in the section, which adds about 16 feet of roadway width. This median is intended to make crossing easier and more importantly to make road feel visually smaller so that the pedestrian environment on either side feels welcoming. Thus, without those three lanes the roadway width could be reduced by roughly 50 feet. This would in turn free up about 100,000 square feet of land in that area, which is hardly negligible.

      3. Well… the very first comment in that thread is me, expressing an opinion (which I still hold) that the Columbia pathway is better than the Main one. I’d rather have the transit lanes there than wait for buses to slowly wind their way through Pioneer Square. And 1st Avenue South? Really? The same street that is gridlocked every Friday and Saturday night and during every Mariners, Seahawks, and Sounders game?

        The ferry waiting lane… I see your point. But that’s just 12 feet. I wouldn’t want to have a street with the transit lanes and without the median.

      4. Fair enough, I didn’t reread the comments when I retrieved that link, or this one which has more details ( I do think dearborn/first avenue/columbia would be a workable alternative with better coverage if the parking on 1st was at least replaced with peak hour (7-9/3-7) transit only lanes. But I admit I’m not fully versed on the history and effectiveness of first avenue bus service in that area.

        However, the bigger problem is that adding in the transit lanes on Alaska Way represents a huge opportunity cost especially because their inclusion necessitates the median. I think Waterfront Seattle/SDOT ought to justify their policy by explaining (or at least considering) why what we could be missing out on if that 100,000 square feet of space weren’t used for roadway is less valuable than having the extra two to three lanes (and that’s before crossing distances are considered.)

        Also what happens if either A. HCT gets built to West Seattle making those transit lanes mostly obsolete, B. Pioneer Square citizens clamor for the temporary Pioneer Square deviation that will occur between when the tunnel opens and Columbia street is rebuilt to become permanent, or C. the SR 99 exit/entrance get tolled (which they should if the tunnel is getting tolled) allowing buses to readily use the general purpose lanes on Alaska Way making the extra lanes unnecessary. While I don’t see any of these possibilities as likely, I do think it’s plausible the concrete will be poured for naught.

    1. I agree that it’s not that big a deal for a candidate not to kow the exact layout of the intersections around the station. That isn’t the problem here. The problem is that he doesn’t understand what he’s saying, because if he did, he would realize that it couldn’t possibly be right.

  5. I doubt many care… but I just wish the parking lot at Mt Baker was always a parking lot. It often gets closed to the public on the weekend for private events. It’s madening!!

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