Last week I suggested that we might connect South Lake Union and First Hill to the light rail system with a couple of short tunnel extensions as part of ST3, as a pragmatic way of getting these neighborhoods connected in the medium term.
In the short term, though, traffic is terrible in South Lake Union, and buses are stuck in it. Amazon continues to offer a private shuttle between the DSTT and its campus, suggesting that the Seattle Streetcar (which Amazon itself is helping to fund!), in its current incarnation, is inadequate.
So, for those of you who might be new arrivals to the neighborhood, let’s talk about what is being done, and what can be done, to improve the situation in the near term.
First, as we’ve previously discussed, there are the proposed Westlake transit lanes, which would speed up the Streetcar, Route 40, and RapidRide.
Second, there’s the Center City Connector, which would theoretically make the streetcar more useful by extending it to Pioneer Square. Maybe that gets you a few SLU more workers who live at, say, Harbor Steps, but they’re probably using transit or walking to work already. Ditto for ferry commuters. Still, a small improvement.
Third, Metro is proposing a set of service improvements as part of the U-Link restructures. Route 8 and Route 70 would get improved frequencies during peak commute hours, and revised routes 16, 64, and 66 would provide more connectivity into the neighborhood. If the restructure goes through, many more Northeast Seattle commuters will have a nice 1-seat express ride into the heart of SLU.
Fourth, if Bertha ever finishes her job (new date: 2018), the 8 could get re-routed off of Denny and on to Harrison, which would greatly improve its reliability. That’s the vision that’s being pushed by the SLU Community Council (above). Between that and Zach’s idea for routing I-5-bound cars off Denny, the 8 could actually be somewhat reliable.
And finally, the Move Seattle levy, should it pass, would fund high-capacity transit on Roosevelt-Eastlake, which will provide access into SLU as well.
These steps will improve mobility into and around South Lake Union, though significant gaps will remain. Most suburban express buses, for example, still serve “old” downtown only. Even when the 520 bridge is complete, buses coming from the Eastside will miss Mercer St. and exit at Stewart St. instead (Metro considers it too dangerous to have a bus cross 4 lanes of traffic to get from 520 to Mercer St. in a very short stretch of highway).
If you’re coming into Seattle from the suburbs, the answer for the foreseeable future is to go to Westlake or UW and transfer to a bus or possibly streetcar. For reverse commuters who live in SLU and commute to the Eastside, UW is your best bet since Seattle-Bellevue buses will also be unable to use the peak-direction HOV lanes to get between downtown and the 520 bridge (a smart State Senator named Ed Murray was making noise about bad 520 HOW access many years ago). Once East Link opens in 2023, Transferring at Westlake will also be an option. Either way, the transfers will need to be fast, frequent, and reliable.
If none of the above are sufficient, we can always try alternating license plates, I guess.