The Seattle Department of Transportation continues to bring small, but valuable transit priority improvements to Belltown this autumn.
First up: through-traffic restrictions on Bell St, between 5th Ave and 2nd Ave. This part of Bell was rebuilt in the last year as a woonerf, or pedestrian-oriented street park, a conversion which included reducing that section of Bell St from two lanes to one. The choice of Bell for the woonerf (where, it is hoped, pedestrians and slow-moving cars will mingle safely) always struck me as one perhaps overly-driven by the neighborhood’s desire to improve Bell St (which was legitimately awful when I lived nearby), without much thought for its importance as a transit arterial. My anecdotal experience in the aftermath of that change was that the PM peak buses I rode on Bell became noticeably slower. But, to be fair, Bell St has become noticeably better, helped in part by the street redesign, and also by the new apartment building at 2nd Ave.
With about five months of Metro data in hand, it seems the official verdict is that, yes, transit speed and reliability has indeed suffered in this area. SDOT therefore plans to add signs at east-west intersections directing cars to turn off Bell St; the intent being to divert non-transit through-traffic away from Bell St, and thus reduce congestion. Now, on the one hand, I laud the intent to keep buses moving in the peak while improving the woonerf experience further by reducing off-peak through-traffic; but on the other, I’m concerned that unless this change comes with active, ongoing enforcement, these restrictions will be ignored by a significant fraction of drivers, undermining their effectiveness, and tending to the corrosion of respect for traffic rules in general. The effect of under-enforcement is painfully apparent nearby on Battery St, where the existing 24/7 bus lane is somewhat effective, but nevertheless violated with seeming impunity almost every minute of every weekday.
This brings me to the next update: In October, SDOT will paint four 24/7 bus lanes red. These lanes will be located on Wall and Battery Streets in Belltown, Midvale Pl (approaching Aurora) in Wallingford, and Pacific St approaching the Montlake Bridge. The expectation is that red paint will improve awareness and compliance from motorists, and there’s good evidence, including lately from San Francisco, that this treatment is effective.
Finally, Page 2 contributor Al noted on Monday, that SDOT has announced transit signalization improvements at 1st & Denny, which will allow westbound buses headed down Elliot to turn left from the queue jump in the right lane. As part of the same effort to improve the Uptown-Belltown transit interface (also which brought us trolleybus wire on Denny, and a bus lane on Broad St), SDOT continues to study the feasibility of adding a bus-only left-turn signal at 3rd & Denny. The results of the necessary traffic analysis are expected to be available in December. If such a signal turns out to be feasible, it would markedly improve outbound travel times for all Queen Anne, Ballard and Magnolia routes.