The Seattle Department of Transportation has, at last, formally proposed a Ballard transit project I’ve been hearing rumors of for nearly a year: a northbound Business Access and Transit (BAT) lane for 15th Ave NW, between the Ballard Bridge and Market Street. This stretch of 15th Ave is one of its most congested sections, and it currently lacks any kind of transit priority. The new lane should bring about a noticeable improvement in transit travel times and reliability.

Ballard BAT lane

The project has, furthermore, been extended to include a major walkability upgrade: a new pedestrian signal at 52nd St. This half-mile of 15th is a six-lane car sewer comparable to Aurora, and while it is legal to cross at all of the intersections between 51st and 54th, in practice, a person would have to be insane to attempt any of those crossings when the road is busy. Today, 15th between Leary and Market is a wall to pedestrians and bicyclists, and this crossing will bisect that wall.

I have nothing but good things to say about the proposed work. The cost in dollars to restripe a road is minimal, and the street space being reallocated for transit is coming from a turn lane that almost no-one uses. SDOT is doing a great job of improving RapidRide D on a shoestring capital budget.

For pedestrians and bikes, this new signal will singlehandedly make 52nd the safest, lowest-stress way to cross 15th between the 58th St Greenway and the Interim Burke-Gilman trail (is it time for another Ballard Greenway route?). I’d argue this new striping will even improve life for drivers, who will have a less-stressful merge onto 15th from Leary.

My only regret is that the project will not involve any sidewalk work on 15th (other than at 52nd): the current sidewalks are broken, narrow and and inaccessible. Still, sidewalks are very expensive, and the prospects for this area to redevelop are good enough that it makes sense to wait and get new sidewalks for free.

Watch this space for more proposals (from SDOT) and ideas (from STB) on making the Elliott/15th corridor better for all users.

33 Replies to “SDOT Proposes New Bus Lane, Pedestrian Signal for Ballard”

  1. Shouldn’t they put the pedestrian activated signal at 53rd not 52nd? I would think people going to Brown Bear are still going to make left turns at 52nd regardless of any no left turn signs.

    For clarification the improvements start at 50th and not Leary? It would have been great to see some kind of signal prioritization at Leary and re-timing of the current pedestrian signals.

    For the life of me I can’t figure out why the walk signal is so short for people crossing on the South Side of Leary (a lot of people going to/from Ballard Blocks). The traffic coming off the bridge (including the RapidRide) has an eternal red light, while at the same time pedestrians have a do not walk sign. Most pedestrians have figured this out and routinely cross anyways but I have been seeing increasing near misses as pedestrians crossing the west side of the intersection, where the Ballard Bridge entry ramp is, aren’t noticing west bound traffic on Leary who have the green left turn arrow.

    1. I’m hoping the design would include a curb to prevent left turns, similar to the one’s at 54th and 56th. I feel like I’ve heard that’s part of the design, but I could have imagined it.

    2. That’s the sort of thing that would be suggested at an SDOT open house. I haven’t seen any open house info about this yet, though. All I can find about this project on the city’s website are presentations made to the freight advisory board:

      [Link 1]

      [Link 2]

  2. I’ve also been hearing about this for nearly a year now. Happy to see that it’s moving forward… and even happier to see a new ped-only signal across 15th.

  3. Eliminating the semi-blind merge from Leary up onto 15th is a huge safety improvement for drivers. I appreciate dedicated-lane onramps when I am driving – one less thing to worry about.

    The center turn lane was not really that useful, especially considering the high traffic volume on 15th you need to cross. I haven’t seen many drivers using it.

    1. I’ll admit that I don’t even own a car, but on occasion I would make the left turn onto 52nd or 53rd to avoid the long left-turn cycle onto Market, especially given the very generous timing of the light at 17th Ave and Market ;)

      That said, I’m definitely +1 on this project!

      1. I’m guilty of this too. Usually, there are generous gaps in traffic to make the left turn.

        That said, I would not be too sad if they just eliminated left turns completely on 15th.

  4. This half-mile of 15th is a six-lane car sewer comparable to Aurora, and while it is legal to cross at all of the intersections between 51st and 54th, in practice, a person would have to be insane to attempt any of those crossings when the road is busy. Today, 15th between Leary and Market is a wall to pedestrians and bicyclists, and this crossing will bisect that wall.

    Most civilized countries put their sewers underground.

    Not that I enjoy the freeway trench method of building busy roads through neighborhoods, but at least a freeway trench has through traffic that doesn’t interfere anywhere near as much with surface traffic of all types, pedestrian, local road or transit.

    Part of me thinks that in situations like this it would be good to drop two middle lanes below the surface streets and have those be dedicated through lanes in a dropped median. The outer lanes then become local traffic / frontage lanes.

    1. For rather less than that, you could turn 15th into MLK: center LRT guideway, four car lanes, minor widening of the roadway at intersections and stations. And I’d rather have MLK than a mini verson of Portland’s 405.

      1. Not quite. The problem there is the traffic stays on the surface and continues to be an obstacle to getting across the street.

        Take that same highway with frontage roads pattern, and sink two of the main through lanes below everything else. You can now reconnect all the surface intersections on bridges and restore the ability to get across the street. If you want to go through then you stay on the through lanes. If you want to go to or from one of the local streets then you use the local access lanes. The local access lanes will be much slower, and thus only local traffic will use them.

        On a much larger scale, it is basically what they did in places when they put interstate highways through cities. Interstate 405 through downtown Portland is sort of like this, only on a much larger scale.

        Through highways with local access frontage roads are reasonably common. This just goes one step further and drops the through lanes below grade so local access can continue.

      2. @Glenn: About the closest comparison I can think of that remotely fits within the footprint of a big-ass arterial is Upper/Lower Wacker Drive in Chicago.

        Think about how the ramps are actually going to work, how long they have to be, how much space is needed for lane changes between a ramp surfacing and the next signalized intersection…

        … then how expensive all those bridges are…

        … and then how it can be used. If you’re going to go under Market you’ll have to drop down far enough south that nobody entering from Leary can use it. So this is an SOV bypass from north-of-65th to the Ballard Bridge. There are a million better ways to spend public money.

    2. And then when you get to intersections you have a real mess. Is there an actual road in existence with a design like you’re talking about that fits in the footprint of 15th, without massively expanded intersections?

      Ideas like Bruce’s, OTOH, are well tested.

      One design I think is underrated is SF’s on 19th Ave and Sunset Blvd: disallow left turns off of the major road, in favor of three-rights patterns. This way you don’t even need to expand the road at intersections to accommodate both left turns and LRT, and you can use shorter, simpler signal cycles at intersections. Maybe it’s not so great if you also have a curb-side bus lane, as more right turns would interfere more with buses, but I’d consider it along with center-running transit.

      1. This is also common in London (mutatis mutandis, of course), where there isn’t center running transit. It works just about as well as any other approach to traffic there.

        In the SF corridor you discuss, of course, the N & L are center running east-west transit.

      2. Another SF idea I’d love to steal: rip out the Dravus overcrossing as part of a center running BRT / LRT alignment. SF Muni plans to do something like this with the underpass of Geary/Fillmore, as part of the Geary BRT project. In this case, we’d also be left with a bunch of extra land around Dravus (15th almost doubles in width when you include the ramps), which we could turn back into city blocks, just as there once was, before they were leveled to widen the road.

      3. @William: … and on 19th itself the 28 is very popular north-south transit. Or at least it’s been packed (really packed, not Seattle-packed) every time I’ve taken it. I don’t know whether it’s routinely slowed down by large volumes of right turns. 19th dominates signal cycles and through traffic dominates traffic volumes overall, so maybe not. 19th also carries the M train for a while — it enters and leaves the median at grade!

      4. Bruce: why rip out the overpass when it makes a perfect station footprint?

        And ripping out the Fillmore overpass is going to make my life rather difficult… the 22 is my main bus.

      5. And then there’s the Nickerson/Emerson interchange, which is just a mess of awfulness. Replacing that interchange and Dravus’ with standard urban blocks could have some benefits, but it would probably only make sense if accompanying the sort of rezone plan that was recently shot down (conversely, such a rezone would make a lot more sense given that kind of infrastructure support). With the planned de-industrialization of Interbay shot down, it’s left to de-industrialize haphazardly and stupidly (i.e. the Whole Foods/Petco mess).

  5. Awesome news. Nice to see SDOT making these kinds of moves.

    -comment written from 15E in the exact backup this change will improve.

    Also: The pedestrian improvement is huge. Leary and Market are nearly a half mile apart and this stretch is deeply pedestrian hostile.

  6. I suggest the project be expanded to include complete channelization of the left turn lane between the Bridge and NW Market Street. It would not be bad to ban them all; all could be made more safely at the signalized intersections. In addition, driveways could be consolidated.

    In addition to 15th Avenue NW, access management could be implemented on the north part of Rainier Avenue South, Aurora Avenue North, 15th and Elliott avenues West, and Lake City Way NE (SR-522).

    1. Access Management? Restricting left turns? That will improve the flow of those heinous cars that everyone on here seems to hate. For what it’s worth, left turn restrictions are implemented on Aurora Avenue North. …just not in Seattle.

      With the BAT lane, will there be sight distance improvements at the intersecting roadways to allow drivers from those approaches to see oncoming buses. Some of those intersections have limited sight distance due to trees, street landscaping, bus stops, etc. Will left turns be restricted? If no changes are made, I’ll expect to see more bus vs car collisions. These incidents result in transit delay…something no one likes to talk about.

      1. I should have asked…

        How will left turns be restricted? Simply installing a regulatory sign is asinine and C-curb will get blown apart and prove to be a traffic hazard over time resulting in claims to the city.

  7. One universal request for infrequently used pedestrian only crossings activated by a request button: At a minimum, provide at least a few seconds of delay between the button being pressed and the light turning yellow. Drivers can get lulled into thinking these lights are always green because of the infrequent nature of the requests. The issue is further compounded when drivers don’t have visual cues, such as flashing “Don’t Walk” signs or waiting traffic at a light with vehicle detection. There used to be a crossing on 148th on the B Line in Redmond that could really catch you by surprise. Trail runners would arrive at the crossing request suddenly, press the button, and immediately produce a yellow light for vehicle traffic before you as a driver had any clue there was anybody there. Other improvements that can help: Trimming low vegetation, removing signs/obstructions to provide ample visibility of pedestrians approaching the request buttons also helps: (15th & W Armor on the D Line has a few issues with this)

    This isn’t about delaying pedestrians and I’d prefer any delay be as short as reasonable to just let drivers know that a signal change might be coming. (I’d prefer that these signals all have Transit Signal Priority (Needs of the many vs Needs of the few) but they often don’t, likely because of the expense of added signal controllers.

    1. Sorry, but I fail to see how having the light turn 0 seconds or 10 seconds after the pedestrian arrives makes any difference in terms of safety. To speeding drivers, a green light with a person waiting to cross and a green light without a person waiting to cross all look the same.

  8. Good ideas: BAT lane and the prohibition of left turns from Northbound 15th. As daily cyclist on NW 17th Street, I frequently encounter cars short circuiting the northbound left turn queue @ NW Market by turning from 15th onto 51st, 52nd and 53rd. Some fellow commenters above have admitted to that behavior. These cars often are going far too fast for the neighborhood, barely yield as they turn onto 17th and increase the hazard for non-motorized travelers as they speed to get home for dinner. Keeping these cars on 15th all the way to Market will greatly decrease hazardous interactions. This is great news and I applaud SDOTs coordination with this summers planned installation of the new greenway on 17th.
    Questionable idea: Ped crossing signal @ 52ndSt. It is 0.2 mile from 52nd to Leary and 0.16 miles to Market. Even with a signal I would be weary of crossing so many lanes of sewage. SDOT is assuming a 24 second crossing time for pedestrians on 4-10 minute intervals. Regardless of the traffic impacts, if I am pedestrian and I have to wait 4-10 minutes for the signal to activate, I will divert myself north or south. I would imagine a 30 second stop at 52nd will readily back up traffic on 15th past Leary onto the bridge during PM peak. 15th is already sensitive to backups and with the increased northbound queues from Market Street, is it really a good idea to add another delay in traffic flow?

      1. Andres posted [Link 2] above to the March 17 Freight Advisory Board presentation by SDOT

      1. Good point. I should have looked closer. I think the 4-10 min is the assumption they used to determine “not likely to cause adverse impacts to traffic”. If pedestrians actually use the signal during peak, and interval times are less than 4-10 mins it seems like the “not likely” finding may be in question.

        I wonder if SDOT has a minimum interval time in mind for the signal during peak? The signal at 58th Ave NW is excruciatingly long. 4 min sounds about right during peak (seems like an hour when you are waiting for it). I cannot imagine SDOT making the interval less at 52nd than the existing at 58th.

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