Image via SDOT.
Image via SDOT.

Last Thursday, SDOT’s Accessible Mount Baker project manager Michael James—a youthful guy with an indifferently tucked shirt and an eager smile, presented an intriguing, but still unfunded, proposal to improve the transit, bike, and pedestrian connections around and between the Mount Baker light rail station on the west side of MLK and the Mount Baker Transit Center on the east side of Rainier.

The meeting, held in the windowless Kings Hall building behind the station, turned out a few dozen committed residents for tortilla wraps, a mixed-fruit platter, and a detailed discussion of what the station area might look like in the hands of SDOT’s “Accessible Mount Baker” team.

Although the city hasn’t identified any specific funding source for the project, expected to take up to a year to build, James said it was consistent with SDOT director Scott Kubly’s vision for spending the money raised by the Move Seattle levy, an ambitious $900 million proposal that will, if voters approve it in November, be roughly twice the size of the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy it would replace.

Like Martin, I can attest that the Mount Baker rail station and the flat concrete expanse of the Mount Baker Transit Center across the street are underdeveloped, poorly connected, and confusing even to a longtime transit rider like myself.

SDOT
SDOT

The transit center on the east side, which serves routes 7, 8, 9, 14, and 48, is separated from the light rail station by (let’s just call it what it is) a broad highway; a nearby pedestrian bridge is circuitous, indirect, and steep, encouraging pedestrians to jaywalk and drivers to pick up speed. And the road configuration, with its turn lanes in both directions, increases pedestrian wait times and forces many to dash across the street so they won’t have to wait a full three-phase light cycle.

It’s little surprise, then, that Rainier and MLK have had several times the “acceptable” number of crashes over the past few years; between 2010 and 2013, there were 42 crashes at MLK and McClellan; 65 at McClellan and Rainier; and 76 at Rainier and MLK. The “acceptable” number, according to James, is 10 crashes a year.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has long acknowledged that the current situation is dangerous and untenable, producing 11 studies over 15 years to figure what might someday be done in the area. To their credit, as Matthew reported last week, they’re finally trying to fix the problem—”focus[ing] on implementation, not just another study.”

If SDOT’s dream plan gets approval and funding, it will be a dramatic change for the better for Mount Baker neighbors and transit users. Instead of prioritizing north-south car traffic through the area, the proposal would help make Mount Baker “a to place, not a through place,” as James put it —a focal point for community events, retail, outdoor activities, and new housing and jobs.

The draft proposal (which SDOT director Scott Kubly calls the “bolo tie,” a reference to the “bowtie” concept that would have made Rainier and MLK one-way around the light-rail and bus stations) would eliminate the bottleneck at MLK and Rainier by getting rid of the intersection between the two streets. This would be done by effectively splitting both arterials and connecting the eastern and western halves of each. The northern part of Rainier Ave. would transition directly into the southern part of MLK and vice versa. There would a bus only connection between the two at Mt. Baker Blvd for the 7, 8, and 9X.

SDOT
SDOT

That change would eliminate left turns between the two streets, creating a two-phase light cycle that would give pedestrians more time to cross. The Routes 7, 8, and 9 would still stop on Rainier but somewhat closer to the station entrance; the Routes 14 and 48, meanwhile, would stop to the west of the rail line and south of the station.

The proposal would also add open space, widen crosswalks, enlarge waiting areas, and move several bus stops closer to the station; a hot-off-the-presses map showing all of SDOT’s proposed “Phase 1” and “Phase 2” improvements can be found here.

But keep your powder dry. Remember, this is an “if,” not a “when,” situation. SDOT still has come up with a long-term plan, get past the obstacles thrown up by the car lobby as well as neighborhood residents who oppose new development (and change). Reconfiguring the station area would also require tearing down the Philly’s cheesesteak restaurant, a neighborhood staple, removing the pedestrian bridge, and repurposing the existing transit center. If all those changes win approval, SDOT would have to win a slice of highly coveted unprogrammed levy money—expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars—for the project, a process that will involve competing with many other worthy proposals.

On Thursday, James pointed out that the projects SDOT is proposing are all “exactly the type of projects that you’ve seen in our Move Seattle plan and, really, what our future levy is based on. Unfortunately,” he added, “this [plan] wasn’t at a place where we could actually put it in the Move Seattle plan or the levy.” That may not inspire confidence or enthusiasm in you or me, but James has more than enough to go around.

105 Replies to “A Belated, but Welcome, Proposal to Fix the Mount Baker Mess”

  1. Great write up Erica, welcome to STB!

    As someone who travels through the area daily and spends time on the ground there weekly, I agree that it desperately needs help. This Bolo Tie plan is bold and very exciting. Not only would it smooth out the ped and transit experience, but it goes a long way to making this a real neighborhood center.

  2. What’s wrong with the current transit center to Link station distance?
    It’s only 72 Smoots from one to the other, while walking between Seatac station and baggage claim is more than 3 times that distance.
    (Note: 1 Smoot = 5.58 ft, a common Harvard Lambda Chi Alpha method of measuring bridges)

    1. Complain to the Port of Portland instead of insinuating that Sound Transit made a mistake at the airport. ST begged the Port to let them put the station over the access road between the garage and the terminal building instead of behind the garage (“behind” from the Terminal building). But the Port wanted “flexibility for future garage enhancements” or some such blather.

      1. I didn’t know the port of Portland’s influence reached quite so far. I think perhaps yup mean ‘Port of Seattle’.

        For a while the Port hid behind the skirts of the TSA as the TSA had proposed (then dropped) prohibiting new roadways and transit stations within a certain distance of airport terminals.

        The Port’s ultimate excuse is they didn’t want the rail line or station to interfere with possible future terminal expansions.

      2. The walk between the airport station and terminal may look longer in distance, compared to Mt. Baker TC to station, but since the airport walkway has no stoplights, it’s not really any longer in time.

        As to the port’s influence, we should be grateful that they even allowed the station to get built at all. The parking spaces removed for the the walkway, alone, amount to hundreds of dollars of revenue per day, minimum. If the port wanted to, they could have insisted on a shuttle bus connection to avoid removal of their precious parking spaces, or outright veto’d the station completely, in the name for potential future garage expansion.

        So yes, in the car-dominated world we live in, we should be grateful for what we have, rather than quibbling over 5 minutes of walking. Truth be told, a few minutes of fresh air before sitting on a plane for 5 hours is actually not such a bad thing.

      3. I’ve never understood why the port didn’t (and still hasn’t) installed a moving walkway along any part of the parking garage. That would certainly make the walk a lot easier.

        For better or worse passengers have come to expect them when they have to make a long walk at an airport, especially when they have luggage in tow.

      4. Excellent points.
        The pedestrian bridge across Rainier/MLK is the way to go, at only 219 Smoots for the entire walk – still less than Seatac.
        And walking 5 minutes is nothing for transit riders.

      5. The idea of one public agency representing a voter-approved plan having to “beg” another public agency with an elected board for half-rotten scraps is almost as absurd as the revisionist explanations (“It was the TSA! No, it’s terminal expansion! It’s a future hotel!”).

        There is no being “grateful” for poor practices. There is only suppressed ridership, loss of faith in our already-questionable transit priorities and competence to implement them, perpetual back-ups on the airport roadway, and further subsidies for the auto rental palaces.

        Stop making excuses for failure, people.

      6. Well, at least when ST caved into the bike lobby for space under the guideway, over Metro’s objections to getting shoved across the street, it wasn’t a public agency tail doing to dog wagging.

      7. The bike lobby? Huh?

        The sad transfer situation at Mt. Baker always struck me as evocative of ST’s love of showpiece stations and pointless plazas, rather than any competing access priority.

      8. Unfortunately Sound Transit couldn’t use eminent domain against the port. The Port held all the cards for station siting and arguably making transit too convenient to and from the airport is against their vested interests.

        As I recall the Port kept changing its story as to why the station couldn’t be right between the terminal and the garage.

      9. The Port of Seattle really is a contemptible public entity. They levy a property tax on all King County property owners, whether they use a Port facility or not. They earn money hand over fist from one of the largest parking garage/car rental brokerages in the nation. They demand infrastructure that primarily benefits their freight operations be built and paid for by other governmental agencies, yet when called upon to act in the public’s best interest in the siting of a light rail station–one that is part of a multi-billion dollar investment that will last for generations–they act like a private corporation and fall back on institutional prerogative to force a compromised, deeply-flawed station location. Feel grateful for the crumbs they’ve given the public? I’ll feel grateful when they follow the example of every other West Coast port authority and stop levying a general tax on a public they obviously feel no accountability towards. In our car-dominated world, having a rogue agency end their general tax levy is something I’d be grateful for.

        As bad as the Seatac Parking Garage/13 Coins Link Station is now, for many travelers it will only get worse, because the walk between Link and some of the new gates is going to get longer. The Port is planning a new terminal located north of the current one. A future traveler, disembarking at a gate in the new North terminal, will have to walk through the North Terminal, then the Central Terminal just to reach the skybridge to the parking garage. All this makes me wish Sound Transit hadn’t spent money building Link to the airport, and it has me leaning towards opposing any new expansions of what is a flawed, overly-compromised system.

      10. Even if the new north terminal is further from the entrance than the existing north terminal, that statement holds true regardless of one’s mode of travel. Whether you take Link, park in the garage, or take a taxi, you would still have to walk through the existing north terminal and the main terminal to get to the exit. The difference in walking distance between Link vs. taxi remains exactly the same as it is today.

        And, yes – when the port owns the property and has all the leverage, you should feel grateful for what you’ve got. We can wish all we want that Sound Transit had the power to bully the port into accepting a closer station, but the reality is they do not.

        Ultimately, a 5-minute walk between terminal and station is tiny in the scheme of things when the total trip time between home and the airport is on the order of an hour or more. Just the wait time at Westlake Station for a connecting bus that goes to where Link will soon serve directly, is already more than that 5-minute walk.

      11. The good news is if the Port builds a new North terminal they may build a landside APM between the current terminal, north terminal, and rental car center. There is a possibility the port can be convinced to include a stop at the Link station.

      12. A people mover would be great, but I have never, ever read anything on the
        Port’s website or in the news media that indicates making the Link station more accessible is on the Port’s agenda. It’s not even brought up. The Link station serves as a greenwashing prop to tout the airport’s efforts in reduceing greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that Link is inconvenient to reach because of lousy siting does not impact its utility in service of the Port’s PR department.

        asdf2, there’s no way I’m going to feel gratitude to a public
        agency that taxes my neighbors and me to manage public assets, then stymies the will of the voters in carrying-out the largest, and most urgently needed, transportation project in decades. The Port is a public entity for the region. What it owns belongs to us. Period. It is responsible for operating Sea-Tac on behalf of and for the good of the citizens of this region, not merely as a generator of rental car and parking fees for its
        own institutional benefit. The citizens of this region voted for a light rail station at the airport. That I should feel grateful to
        the Port for deigning to “allow” a station adjoining the massive parking garage is blindingly arrogant, as is your assertion that building a Link station next to the Main Terminal would amount to “bullying” of the poor,
        underdog Port. (Ironic that you would use that term, when it’s the Port that’s been on the biggest regional bully, demanding, for example, the City of Seattle restrict zoning on lands the Port doesn’t own.) Taken to an extreme, by your logic, I should feel grateful the Port allows ST or Metro
        buses to access precious curb space along the departure drive, since the Port receives no revenue from bus riders.

        I understand the difference between retrieving a parked car or walking to the Link station remains the same (note you didn’t mention rental car
        customers or passengers picked-up by private cars, who will face no additional time/distance penalties), but that’s irrelevant to my point.
        Objectively, on its own, if distance to the Link station goes from .4 to .7 (or more) miles, that is almost double the distance and makes Link even less accessible, regardless of how any other form of ground travel is affected.

        As it stands now, for most transit passengers during much of the day, the old 194 was easier to access from the terminal and quicker to downtown than
        Link. I’d suggest Metro bring it back, but then I fear I’d have something else I’d need to feel indebted to the Port for.

      13. I generally think you’re an upstanding guy, ASDF, so I have no wish for you to ever experience the sort of injury or mobility-impacting age degradation that would see 30-minute walks to access transit of any reasonable quality or 15-minute outdoor+indoor luggage hauls become more of a burden to you.

        But I do think that such an experience would be revelatory. Or at the very least help to shape an understanding of why your suggested universal remedy for terrible design (“walk really, really far”) fails to comport with aggregate studied human behavior.

    2. It has a big busy road (a busy road with frequent pedestrian run-overs) between them.

    3. It’s not the distance. It’s watching your train go by while you wait several minutes to cross the street.

      1. not sure what you and jack are drinking down in Oly these days with the brewery gone, but could you pipe some northward?

    4. FWIW, “smoots” are an MIT system of measurement. They measure the length of the Harvard Bridge which connects MIT in Cambridge to Boston over the Charles River. Sadly, they are also the legacy of hazing and should really be retired rather than popularized.

    5. I’m sorry, Mic, but you were confused, as many are, by the fact that the Smoot is measured on the Harvard Bridge. But the Harvard Bridge is, of course, adjacent to MIT, and Mr. Smoot was matriculating at the latter institution. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoot

  3. Erica,

    Thanks for the write-up.

    I agree this plan while great, faces many headwinds. Hopefully it or something similar actually starts construction relatively soon. Like you I’m somewhat cynical this will be just another plan scuttled by a lack of funding, the auto lobby, and those in the neighborhood resistant to change.

    If the plan does come to pass relocation assistance should be offered to any businesses displaced. The people at Philly’s Cheesesteak are wonderful and an asset to their neighborhood. A place in the new Mt. Baker should be made for them.

    1. Will the ground floor of the Link station get used for much in this proposal? Maybe they could be put there. Seems kind of wasted space today.

      1. ANYTHING in a link station that has food would be better than the empty station entrances we usually get. It might even bring a few more customers.

      2. ST tried to lease space to a grocery box mini fresh produce market there, but the city wouldn’t permit such a thing without a restroom.

  4. This is seriously awesome.

    If this project succeeds, I hope that SDOT considers making similar changes elsewhere in Seattle. I would love to see a similar treatment at 12th/Madison, and 16th/Madison, for example.

    1. There’s also the proposed transfer point at 23rd & John. Something should be improved there although I’m not sure what.

    2. Heck, I’d be happy with them just removing those 1.5 blocks of on-street parking on Madison between 13th and Pike. It’s pointless, makes the bus (and everyone else in the curb lane) move back into traffic there just to go around it, and there is no need for it based on what the spaces are in front of. One of the buildings there is in the process of demolition. I’ve never understood their existence as it causes an obvious choke point on Madison that could be quickly dealt with for no cost.

      1. Yes, I wish the parking would go (all the way to 14th, too), but with the 12 on the chopping block, it will be a moot point. That section of Madison won’t have bus service.

      2. The point is moot if you only take the bus. Many of us who transit that point take the bus sometimes and drive sometimes. It’s something that could be fixed tomorrow for basically no cost, which would positively affect the 12 until it’s chopped and provide a freer flow of traffic until Madison BRT is implemented…at which point the parking would have to be removed anyway.

        I also like the signal it gives that mobility for many is more important than socialized parking for a handful. SDOT has been more and more proactive about things like this, to their credit.

    3. I agree – the intersection of madison, union and 12th is a very confusing spot for drivers and an uncomfortable area for pedestrians. It’d be interesting to see what would happen if eastbound traffic on madison got forced onto Union, except for buses. Whatever it is, the intersection probably needs a redesign.

  5. This looks interesting. What is SDOT’s plan for current through traffic on Rainier or MLK? For example most of the northbound Rainier traffic is heading towards I-90, Dearborn or the like. Will there be an arterial scale zig at say Massachusetts?

    Or is this going really bold (or crazy, not sure yet?) and planning to change people’s behavior long term so that they go over to MLK well to the south? That would certainly dovetail with the plan to make Rainier more pedestrian scale and less of a highway in areas to the south.

    1. I think the idea is that you get on the right road closer to your destination or your origin. If you are traveling from Columbia City to I-90 for example, then you go over and get on MLK at Columbia City instead of taking Rainier. There are enough connecting grid streets (not necessarily right at Mt. Baker, but farther up and down the line) that hopefully people will adjust their travel patterns and not all switch roads right at McClellan

    2. But the Bolo concept seems to say you can’t do that. You can’t go from upper MLK to lower MLK without making two turns. And visitors will have to somehow know that upper Rainier is connected to lower MLK, and upper MLK to lower Rainier. Doesn’t that violate the concept that people should be able to travel unimpeded in a straight line? Other areas have Y’s or split to one-way streets, but this is the only case I can think of where two main streets exchange vehicles with each other.

      Perhaps we should rename the streets so that upper Rainier has a different name than lower Rainier, and same for MLK. Since both names are shared with Renton and Skyway, it would make more sense to rename the upper parts. Although then MLK Park and the African-American community center would no longer be on MLK Way. Hmm, Empire Way?

      Also, why does the 2-page PDF not show the intersection removed?

      1. Also, why does the 2-page PDF not show the intersection removed?

        Both pages are near-term improvements.

      2. You do just make two turns if you have to do it that way, but you can also just get on the right road to begin with so you don’t have to turn off of it later. People traveling in a city have to make turns, it’s fine. I agree that it might get kind of confusing with the switch of names, but that’s just right in line with the rest of Seattle.

      3. I was thinking the same thing (rename the streets). On the other hand, I remember the complaints when we did that the last time (Empire to MLK). It is a big hassle for all of the businesses.

        Personally, I wouldn’t worry about it. People get used to change. That is the one good thing about driving — you adapt. Mercer used to be two way — some streets used to go through that no longer do — you adapt. The naming is weird, to be sure, and will cause a lot of confusion (I pity someone driving along one of the streets looking at the numbers and then saying “wait, we are on a different street”). But some of our streets disappear anyway. Leary just becomes 36th, Market becomes 46th. The only weird thing (and you mentioned it) is that both streets will remain, and both streets will remain big arterials, but if you drive along there, one becomes the other.

      4. …and, of course, this is typical of old-world cities as well as older cities in this country, particularly on the East coast. The weekly paper in Greenville, SC just had an article on this very thing last weekend. It did take me a while to figure out, for example, that Broad Street became Butler Avenue then Atwood Street then Park Avenue then North Street, which was not contiguous to North Street in another location–or any one of a bunch of similar examples. The more gridded Western cities are far easier to figure out.

        That said, you learn soon enough that “if I turn here, this street is going where I want to go” regardless of what it’s called. Many people nowadays will use GPS if they are going to an unfamiliar address. Others will indeed be confused–but the key to that is great–not good, great–signage. It will take some very good planning but if it’s done well people will get used to it and it will benefit the vast majority of people who live in or use this community.

      5. To reduce future confusion, I propose that the eastern arterial be renamed MLK Way all the way from the Central District to Rainier Beach. The name could change to Rainier Av S. once south of Seattle city limits.

        The western arterial, between Little Saigon and Renton, could be renamed after an Asian-American hero, such as Wing Luke Blvd S.

      6. If the north half of MLK got renamed, could we fix the ridiculous situation where the northernmost stretch of MLK is actually called “MLK East”, and duplicates house numbers found a mile south on “MLK” not-East?

        Probably not. Oh well.

      7. @Mars The only way to fix that, is to go back in time and kill Arthur Denny, before he can screw up Doc Maynard’s reasonable grid system.

    3. Most traffic does that today because signaling and real speed (not speed limit) dictates it. The biggest reason MLK is slow is because the signal at MLK/Rainier preferentially routes Rainier traffice. MLK is newer with newer signals, 5mph faster speed limit, and yet gets less traffic headed to I90 – precisely because the signal lets 5-10 cars through per cycle, while the Rainer signal remains green to allow multiple 10s of cars through at one go.

  6. This last Saturday, I was present for the second of two closely-spaced rear-end collisions on Rainier, largely attributable to the trainloads of people crossing the avenue to the Route 97.

    I wondered if it might have been possible to load the 97’s in the street that loops directly under the elevated past the State offices- though there might have been property-access problems and difficulties loading wheelchairs.

    Much as I’ve been savagely discontent for two decades over the handling of joint operations, I was completely proud of every operator and supervisor on duty, ST and KCM both- and the dozens of pairs of “boots on the ground” helping the passengers.

    Testimony to my strongest feeling about joint operations themselves: the key to making that system work- whatever sofa cushion it fell into- has always been for it to be in the hands of a sufficient number of trained, skilled, motivated, and above all, cooperating people.

    All the time I was on-scene, at Mt. Baker and aboard both trains and buses, I did not encounter a single angry, frightened, or visibly unhappy passenger. Dare anybody to automate that!

    But entire exercise proves the point of this posting: as LINK extends- probably starting next year- large streams of people will be crossing a major- doesn’t a car sewer fall under Water Quality? Something really needs to become a plaza.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I rode the Metro 97 outbound Sunday afternoon, and it was nearly packed (for a bus). Lots of ST personnel were there to shepherd the throng of riders from Mt Baker Transit Center over to Mt Baker Station. I was puzzled why it didn’t just drop all the passengers at the route 7 stop on the east side of Rainier, and pick up a northbound throng as well.

      It had to wait about a minute to pull into the transit center, which was packed with buses. If the transit center is overcrowded with buses on a Sunday afternoon, I suspect the situation is even messier during peak.

      I like what I think I see in the diagram: Routes 7,8, and 9 having on-street stops, with northbound passengers hopefully being able to stop traffic to cross (but not right in front of the buses); and terminating routes 14 and 48 having side-street stops just around the corner. Riders going between route 7 and the train would have to walk a few steps farther between the new stop and the station elevators, but the rest of the riders would see a significant improvement in their transfers with the train, along with a more legible connection with all the other buses. Three shelters (if deemed useful) and five real-time information signs (hopefully including arrival times for Link) would complete the awesomeness of how a real transfer location (not the loop-de-loop nonsense we have to suffer at most current transit centers) should work.

      I say five RTI signs because I would love to see two of them on the station platforms.

      Oh, and welcome, Erica, and thanks for bringing your cutting-edge journalism to this blog!

      1. Would have worked, Brent, if one of above plans had already rendered the Route 7 stop part of a plaza. Instead of a parking lot whose occupants occasionally moved far enough to permit a rear end collision.

        Or, if Metro, ST, and SDOT had gotten together and agreed to divert Rainier Avenue car sewage, I mean traffic, over to MLK for the duration. But we’re both on same page about transit centers or any other facilities whose designers don’t care if bus service is slow.

        Mark

  7. This is a great plan! North of Mt. Baker Rainier has much higher traffic volumes than does MLK. Essentially 2/3 of the traffic on Rainier south of the intersection and maybe 2/3 of that on MLK to the south is on Rainier to the north. So having MLK, which has higher volumes than Rainier already, become the “car street” while Rainier becomes the “high street” even more clearly than it is, makes a huge amount of sense for the neighborhood. MLK sort of skirts one side of the Rainier Valley, while Rainier runs right through the middle.

    Separating cars and pedestrians where possible always makes sense.

  8. Great idea. Although, rather than getting rid of the pedestrian bridge, how about make it better by building an elevated connection between the bridge and the station platform?

    1. Yes. This. 1,000 times this. It is crazy that the bridge doesn’t connect to the station platform.

      1. The ped bridge is not built to current codes, particularly ADA. If it had been touched during Link construction, ST would’ve had to rebuild it to code, a burden they chose to avoid.

      2. When you’re building a multi-billion dollar rail line, rebuilding the bridge to code is not that much money. But at any rate, if we have a few extra tens of millions of dollars to spend on station access, that hardly seems like a bad solution – especially if a new leg could be added to more directly connect the bridge to the transit center.

    2. The entire design should be based on a principal to do exactly this, asdf. The problem with the planning is that nowhere is the objective to have a way to get from the bus to the train without crossing a dangerous, congested street. As it is, the objectives of the plan design are merely broad goals and not point-to-point design requirements.

    3. If the current pedestrian bridge is torn down as part of this project, a new bridge should be built directly from the station platforms across Rainier just to the north of the new northbound 7 and 8 stop. Good pedestrian priority is still needed at the Mt Baker Blvd crossing of Rainier.

    4. And it’d have to go over or under the track to get to the southbound platform, since we didn’t make it center platform. :) :) :)

      1. But northbound bus and train riders generally want to travel in the same direction, right? I’m sure that some northbound riders on one more will want to go southbound on the other, but the predominant movement by riders is very likely in the same direction.

        Thus, a pedestrian overpass from the northbound bus stop to the northbound rail platform would solve much of the connection problem. Southbound riders already don’t have to cross a street.

        As for the TVMs, installing additional ones are a minor cost. In fact, installing some TVMs near the northbound bus stop could speed loading of buses!

    5. That bridge is an abomination and should be dynamited first thing tomorrow.

      This plan is about making the area work at street level for the first time in decades. That means people walking, at street level, with intuitive crossings and no unreasonable delays.

      Pedestrian funnels like that bridge have always been about inconveniencing people for the benefit of cars. Otherwise untangling the intersection helps to defuse that impulse. Let the people return.

      1. It’s a pedestrian bridge? I thought it was an homage to Chutes and Ladders created by a misguided urban designer!

      2. “Pedestrian funnels like that bridge have always been about inconveniencing people for the benefit of cars.”

        It only appears to be that way because the bridge makes you go up, down and back up again. If it connects directly to the platform, that’s no longer true.

        Even under the current configuration, walking up, down and up again is much faster than waiting for two long lights if you’re walking from Mt. Baker Blvd., rather than the transit center itself. There is no reason to get rid it. The bridge is also convenient for getting from the Mt. Baker neighborhood to the southbound route 7 bus stop, located right next to it.

        Under the proposed configuration, in spite of all the greenwashing, getting from Mt. Baker to the Link Station would still require waiting for two lights. Regardless of what they say, I am very skeptical that when push comes to shove that waiting for two lights to cross two big streets is going to be fast. There’s just too many cars to funnel through those intersections.

      3. because the bridge makes you go up, down and back up again

        And down and over and around and back and forth and loop-de-loop and stop drop and roll and jump down turn around and pick a pail of cotton.

        The human desire path follows none of these cues, and allowing the desire path to reign is far more important for the mode that moves at 3mph than for any of the modes that move at 15-45mph.

        I know you love to walk farther than necessary, but both you and this bridge are on the wrong side of history. The only reason these things exist is to ensure that pedestrians never get in the way of the virtual freeway you hope to create at street level below. Damn the pedestrians, who will be fewer as the result of your unpleasant detours. Damn the street life, which will dwindle on account of your errors.

        Currently, those who must cross Rainier to access the transit center can wait minutes at a time for a crossing light. That is a direct consequence of the same design thinking that planted the bridge a block down.

        That the intersection would become less complicated, the back-ups less severe, the street-level experience less a poverty, and the direct pedestrian crossings less delayed — both psychologically and measured in actual seconds — is intrinsic to this plan. It doesn’t work without humans being enabled to inhabit, and to conveniently cross, the street.

      4. No. The desire path for someone from Ranier northbound to the Link station heads straight to the northbound platform. It does not cross the street, except incidentally if that’s the fastest way to the northbound platform. If we build a new bridge heading straight to that platform, that will become the new fastest path.

        Yes, if the street level is activated on both sides, then you’ll have new desire paths that do cross the street at ground level. But let’s not defend that with faulty logic.

      5. Any ADA-compliant bridge you can come up with with not involve a straight line.

        A walking route that crosses the street directly from the bus stop to the straight-shot path (not completed until two years post-opening) to the mid-platform stairs/elevator landing is guaranteed to better approximate the desire route than any version of a grade-separated option you could create.

        That is in addition to the proven psychological benefits of making the street level welcoming to pedestrians, rather than conspicuously shoving them over, under, or out of the way.

        If the station were immediately adjacent to the road, as in some Chicago or New York elevated situations, there could be a conceivable benefit under certain conditions to allowing direct overpass access from the opposite side. But our station is not immediately adjacent. Such a walkway would continue to feel like a weather-addled detour, even before you dealt with the extra downs and ups required to reach the southbound platform.

        As is so often the case, I have precedent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles/MGH_%28MBTA_station%29

        Before: http://journalism.emerson.edu/jr610/spring03/cit/beaconhill/pics/charlesmghnow.jpg
        After: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/af/2009_CharlesSt_Boston_4153702402.jpg

        Even with the new headhouse in the middle of a throbbing rotary, guess which of these works better? Guess which is more welcoming? Guess which has earned unanimous praise? Hint: it ain’t the overpass.

  9. This layout is worse than the existing situation for bus transit riders and drivers. Suddenly, Routes 7 and 9 will have to be making a left turn followed by a right turn in an area with lots of pedestrians. The stop locations are still going to make northbound riders cross a busy Rainier Avenue. Southbound 7 and 9 buses will need to make a left close to Mt. Baker Station too, so that’s going to make it harder for southbound riders to get between the bus and train.

    The only saving grace here is that the City is suggesting that maybe taking a parcel or two might help. That appears to be a new idea. If that’s the case, then we should look at more ideas instead of merely embracing the first one that does.

    1. There will be signal priority on those left turns onto a transit-only street, and they will no longer have to navigate the interminable Rainier/MLK light. “Lots of pedestrians” would be a great problem to have.

      1. It’s more than just signals, Martin. It’s also about turning radii and sight distance and rider experience in a sharp double-turn and how to operate one bus when another bus is in front of that bus loading at a stop. It’s bad today, but this layout doesn’t fix the problem. Also, when there’s left-turn movement even with transit signal priority, the upstream stop locations on the right side are still potentially problematic.

        If this plan was modified to have the northbound transit-only “bolo” be angled to be more northwest, it would be an improvement, for example. As it is currently drawn, making Route 7 and 9 buses snake through this jog is really awful — priority or not.

    2. I would think that at some point, Metro would change their routes to go with the flow of this change. Basically have each route stay on each side of the divide. I would keep the numbering (and route) the same north of Mount Baker. So, (south from north) this means:

      7 – Starts at 64th and Prentice, then heads up MLK to Mount Baker, then continues on Rainier north of there.
      8 — Starts at Rainier Beach High, then heads up Rainier to Mount Baker, then continues on MLK north of there.
      9 — Starts at Rainier Beach High, then heads up MLK to Mount Baker, then continues on Rainier north
      of there.

      I think that would speed things up quite a bit.

      1. That would mean the northbound Route 8 riders would have to cross both MLK and Rainier to get to Link, Also, Route 7 carries far more many riders than the current Route 8 does south of Mt. Baker, especially since Route 8 parallels Link. Route 7 is important to several Asian communities that have businesses all along the corridor and the split would destroy the one-seat riders for them. Finally, Route 7 is electric and Route 8 isn’t. The operational strategy you suggest would make things worse for bus riders..

      2. >> That would mean the northbound Route 8 riders would have to cross both MLK and Rainier to get to Link.

        Northbound 8 riders headed to Link become northbound 7 or 9. In other words, if you want to get to Link via MLK, you ride the 7 or 9.

        >> Also, Route 7 carries far more many riders than the current Route 8 does south of Mt. Baker, especially since Route 8 parallels Link.

        So now route 8 will carry far more riders south of Mount Baker.

        >> Route 7 is important to several Asian communities that have businesses all along the corridor and the split would destroy the one-seat riders for them.

        Fair enough. But there will also be new one seat rides created. I don’t see anything too special with that pairing, to be honest. I think we might lose a few one seat riders on the 7, but pick them up on the 8. I don’t we can get too obsessed with one seat pairing anyway. The key is get as much speed as possible, which can lead to more frequency, which can make the transfers less of a big deal.

        >> Finally, Route 7 is electric and Route 8 isn’t.

        OK, that is probably the biggest issue you mentioned. It is also an argument against this proposal, but a smaller one. I think you would have to some rewiring to accomplish just the baseline proposal. But you are right, my idea would involve a lot more rewiring than the baseline proposal (miles of new wire versus a couple blocks). I hadn’t thought of that. So, either the idea is killed, we move a bunch of wire or we stop using the wire for those runs.

      3. I’ll offer my page2 post again: https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/03/12/rainier-valley-restructure/

        Basically, south of MBS the 7 and 8 keep their same routings and frequency. North of MBS, the 7 and 8 stay on Rainier with the 7 going downtown via an express routing (stopping only at 23rd Ave and at I-90 until 12th & Jackson). North of MBS, the 8 would make all stops on Rainier between MBS and Jackson. North of Jackson, the 8 would run to SLU via Boren and Fairview. The 9 would be deleted, but a revised 106 would connect Rainier Beach with Othello Station.

      4. I think that gets it about right. Even today the Mt. Baker to Madison Valley segment of the 8 doesn’t totally make sense. So you could imagine a 42 like route serving MLK South and Rainier North and a 7 route serving Rainier south and either “something” (23rd or Rainier express to Broadway) north or terminating at Mt. Baker. This would eliminate the existing 8 south of Madison Valley.

  10. Great article, but I’m confused about the documentation. The picture below “What it could look like” suggests a clear separation in the streets. You simply won’t be able to make the diagonal (along MLK or Rainier) that you used to do. At least that is what it looks like to me. But the city document you reference (http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/Presentation-Station-5B-Phase-1.pdf) shows no such separation. That looks like a bow tie, not a bolo tie.

      1. OK, that makes sense. A bit disappointing. A lot of changes (phase one and two) without the big change (the bolo tie). If I was a driver, I don’t think I would like that approach. I think I would rather make all the changes at once. Then again, phasing it in this way is probably less disruptive.

      2. The complete set of boards from the presentation are available here. They ultimate plan is shown in the second half of the slide deck as a series of pairs of “existing v proposed” for pedestrians, transit, freight, vehicles, and open space.

  11. Wait, am I the only one who has noticed that the major committing arterial from a lower income neighborhood is being cut off? If lake city way was cut off at 9th for example, would that be acceptable? If 15th west was cut off on interbay, would that be okay? But it’s okay just to chop off a major arterial in the southend? Why can’t we get an above grade “lid” to connect the transit options? They wouldn’t put up with this kind of traffic crippling option in montlake.

      1. The idea seems to be that Rainier through-drivers would switch over to MLK — a road with excess capacity on which slightly faster driving is both easier and safer — prior to the junction.

        Self-dispersal through the grid is how this is accomplished in cities where people haven’t been trained to drive on autopilot. But even in Seattle, most should be able to figure out that Alaska is an easy and auto-oriented connecting street. If they miss that, they can take McClellan or Walker without any especially punitive delay.

      2. But switching the drivers to MLK has a MAJOR drawback, it doesn’t connect to where people want to go, which is downtown. But other than that “detail” (the detail being it screws up those commuting from a poorer neighborhood ) it sounds great. And people using a crosswalk correctly is a “minor” diversion, isn’t it?

      3. Huh?

        People will switch over to MLK south of the area in question. Where it runs nearly parallel to Rainier, and is both faster and has excess capacity.

        Then, upon reaching the area in question, MLK becomes Rainier again — with fewer back-ups! — and whisks drivers on their merry way toward the I-90 onramps, Little Saigon, and downtown.

      4. Well with this plan MLK northbound does go to downtown, when it connects to the north segment of Rainier. Compared to the current Rainier north commute you just need to move over to MLK sometime before this current choke point.

        The more I look at it, the more shifting car traffic to MLK makes sense. The way the streets cross at this intersection makes it seem like they diverge wildly, but south of Dakota MLK turns back to the east. It basically parallels Rainier about 5-10 blocks apart until south of Rainier Beach. Seriously, look at it in google maps. Shifting over to MLK is really not going very far out of your way at all.

      5. Yep, I agree. What is weird is that these cross in the first place. The roads are very close to parallel, south of Mount Baker. They move in and out a bit, getting closer, then farther apart, but then at Mount Baker — boom — they cross, and are completely different roads. Very strange really. The idea that people will be confused with this change suggests that people aren’t confused now. I mean consider how logical this sounds to someone who knows the streets well, and how crazy it seems to someone who doesn’t:

        “I live in between MLK and Rainier”.

        “Oh, do you live east or west of Rainier?”

        “Oh, I live north of Franklin”

        “Oh, OK, thanks.”

        More than anything, this does argue for renaming the streets. Or, like a lot of streets, people will just figure it out. Ravenna Boulevard and Ravenna Avenue are close enough to confuse plenty of people, but somehow folks manage.

    1. There are some problems that this new plan would create. First, it’s going to turn small, narrow, east/west neighborhood streets into very busy corridors. Walden, Bayview, Walker and Massachusetts are going to see a huge spike in traffic due to cars trying to connect between Rainier & MLK. Second, north of Massachuesetts Street, MLK is a relatively quiet arterial; but might become quite a bit busier with this proposal. Third, trying to send more traffic down MLK and then expecting those cars to make left turns across the LINK tracks is going to create problems. Left turns off of MLK are already difficult enough and sending more cars to make more left turns is going to congest MLK.

      I don’t have a magic bullet solution to the MBS problem, but this proposal seems to be saying that the best solution is to simply divert cars onto other streets and make those streets bear the brunt of the traffic.

      1. McClellan will get a lot busier, that’s for sure. The left turn signal will run longer, so this will mean through traffic will have to wait. So for some drivers (who haven’t moved west before Franklin) this won’t be an improvement, but it will be a big improvement for pedestrians. Now people can cross the street, especially when they are closer to the station.

        Other streets to the south will get busier as people adapt. Henderson, Othello, Orcas and Alaska all get a bit busier. I guess I don’t see that as being a big deal. For example, if you are at Rainier Beach High and want to get to downtown, right now you just head out Rainier. Instead, you will go on Henderson, then on MLK and head downtown (as MLK becomes Rainier). All this does is just spread the car traffic, which in general is a good thing.

        But again, this shouldn’t be seen as a huge improvement in the automobile experience. It won’t be. It will be a big improvement in the pedestrian experience though.

    2. “Cut off” is a completely off base description. There are still tons of routes between North Rainier and South Rainier. And as d.p. points out this layout returns the area to closer to a grid format where north/south streets (which both MLK and Rainier roughly speaking are) don’t intersect. Not only do grid systems work, grid cutting streets often exacerbate traffic problems roughly speaking because they add excessive intersections.

      Even with the most conservative assumptions (no mode choice shift) I don’t think it is clear that this change would make things worse for automobile travel times. MLK South has lots of excess capacity and roughly parallels Rainier South. Having Rainier to Downtown commuters shift over to MLK at one of many East/West streets (such as Alaska) isn’t a long detour (and commonplace in a standard grid). Moreover, once on MLK the trip will be shorter than if you took the same detour today because the wait at the current MLK/Rainier intersection would be far shorter. And that’s to say nothing of the various Rainier to MLK trips that would unquestionably be faster under this proposal.

      1. I agree. I really don’t see this as being a net loss for drivers. Some will come out ahead, while others come out a bit behind. But overall I would say it is a wash.

        But for pedestrians this is a big improvement.

  12. I can’t imagine this plan ever coming to pass. Drivers on MLK will find themselves on Rainier while drivers on Rainier will find themselves on MLK! It’s crazy town. I predict a massive outcry if this is proposed.

    Possibly you could change the name of Rainier to Boren at the station since it makes that transition another mile north anyway. But, I don’t see that much can be done about MLK. Either you rename half the street or you allow the street to be interrupted. I can’t see people being very happy about either outcome.

    1. The roads did not arrive pre-fabricated in anticipation of the impending White Man. All present-day road patterning came about, at some point, as a result of a changes in the landscape.

      Change is hard. Some changes are worth it. This is one of those.

    2. “Human sacrifice … dogs and cats living together” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3ZOKDmorj0).

      As probably the guy who drives more more here than every other guy here (except maybe Baiio) I can tell you that drivers will adapt. That is one of the great thing about driving. Close a bridge (for months) and you go around. Turn a one way street into two way — no problem. Rename a street — whatever. Compared to a lot of changes that have occurred over the years (like a freeway cut through the really nice grid we used to have) this is nothing. In a few years you can tell your grand kids about the days when you could drive “straight through” Rainier or Empire Way (sorry MLK Way). I don’t think they will be impressed.

    3. It isn’t a question of adapting to the change, but selling it to the residents. I may be wrong, but I think there will be organized opposition to this change. The residents of the area have the only surface Link in the city, TOD hasn’t exactly been well received, and now you’re severing Southern Rainier from the main route out if downtown. I would not want to host the town halls.

      1. As has been mentioned many times, many drivers come out ahead. If you are on the southern part of MLK and want to head north on Rainier, you have a much faster drive. Likewise for those doing the opposite (e. g. Rainier Beach High to Garfield High). It is only the folks that want to criss-cross that lose out. But they hardly had a great drive before (having to wait for a really long light cycle). Besides, for some of them, they will come out about the same (e. g. Rainier Beach High to downtown means going Henderson for a few blocks instead of staying on Rainier — I would hardly consider that a terrible inconvenience).

        As mentioned above, renaming the streets might make sense. If the streets were named in a logical manner — or should I say, if the streets were laid out in a logical manner — then I don’t think we would be having this conversation. Who has two streets that are largely parallel (for miles) then has them cross, but continue largely parallel? That is the source of the problem, and why the city wants to change things.

        But if you renamed the streets, then you will piss off people. But somehow we managed to do that back in the day.

  13. I see a couple of potential problems with the “bus only connection” at Mt. Baker Boulevard.

    Since this will be “bus only” by definition the use of the left turn bays will be rather infrequent. Is SDOT prepared to give the bays the priority they deserve and will certainly need? And what about the buses turning right at the other end of the (short) street? They may be stuck there until an opposing bus arrives to turn left into the busway.

    The mini-block’s only long enough for one articulated coach, especially in the north lane (westbound). What happens to a close follower who’d like to use the left turn signal to enter the street if the leader is an artic. The follower is stuck there until the artic clears the block.

    And finally, it’s going to be quite difficult for a #7 that stops at the new stops just north of the current intersection to get over to the left lane in time to turn at the Boulevard.

    I’m wondering if it doesn’t make sense to have an island platform for buses heading down Rainier. I understand, there may not be room, and island platforms in the middle of arterials are pretty horrible places to be. Still, I believe that SDOT needs to allow for the possibility that they’ll need to provide one when they revamp the street.

    Is there any reason not to use the driveway just north of the laundromat for the cross-over? Yes, the city would have to buy out the laundromat, but it’s certainly not the highest and best use of land 400 feet from a Link station.

    And of course, there’s the “go big” solution of adding a bus ramp that rises up to the level of the Link elevation and then crosses over to Rainier for southbound buses. That has a high capital cost but low future operating expense.

    1. How about putting a bus transfer area oriented north-south between the two roadways — and creating contra-flow operations so that the area could be loaded as a center platform? The center could then be signalized for entering and exiting buses, combined with a pedestrian crosswalk signal.

      Some operational analysis would be needed. The major problem with doing that would be how to get buses from the right to the left lane. It would also need to be a loading area long enough to hold at least two or three buses as well as have lanes wide enough for buses to pass each other.

      With that option, it could then even be possible to design a single pedestrian elevator and stairs off of the center platform as a new Link station entrance. Hopefully, there would be a way to get it across both Rainier and MLK — and perhaps create a mezzanine at the Link station.

  14. Above, Mark makes reference to a car sewer.

    In most places on earth, a sewer is something that you bury underground.

    I imagine that it would cost too much to just bury ML King in a trench under the whole area?

    1. “Car sewer” is becoming a fairly common colloquial shorthand/metaphor in planning circles.

      It refers not to a sewer’s subterranean property, but to its intended purpose of flushing large quantities of something through and away from an area as quickly as possible via a consolidated mainline conveyance.

      1. …and to the corollary consequence of creating an unpleasant space for all other human activities in its immediate vicinity.

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