SLU Mobility Plan
SLU Mobility Plan

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.

108 Replies to “Five Shorter-term Transit Fixes for South Lake Union”

  1. I don’t recall if there are exits from the I-5 express lanes to mercer, but I read an idea the other day of turning the express lanes into a 2-way busway, and I love that idea. You’d eliminate an I-5 bottleneck, and you’d make busses SO MUCH more attractive all day long. But you could build access ramps to the 520 HOV lanes from the express lanes maybe, and then busses could go in and out to Mercer St. or further on to downtown. I realize that duplicates link to a certain extent, but maybe we could do that like next year, then revert it to HOV only (so add select cars in) in 202x when Northgate link opens?

    1. There is a one-way but reversible connection between Mercer and the express lanes.

      But “we” cannot do anything about the interchange between SR250 and I-5. “We” do not “own” either highway, the State of Washington does and they have a project recently funded to rebuild SR520 between Montlake Boulevard and I-5, including the interchange.

      However, it will not be done “next” year, but rather “next decade”.

      1. There has been talk of turning the express lanes into a regular (bidirectional) roadway. This would take a lot of work, and you would either have to spend a lot of money on new ramps, or many of the ramps that work both ways would only work one direction.

      2. I always thought it’d be a good idea to, in the distant future, use the express lanes for commuter/high speed rail.

      3. GMB: You mean use them for the purpose for which they were originally constructed?

        Given the shit-fit thrown about the I-5 express lanes, which were _also_ constructed with the purpose of eventual rail use, I doubt that’s in the realm of political possibilities.

      4. I never knew that. Not doubting you but do you have any sources I could look at?

        We’re there any plans for stations?

        I know that in today’s political climate it would be impossible. Maybe someday when Seattle actually embraces all forms of mass transit over driving.

      5. Kyle,

        I am sorry, but you really need to provide some sort of documentation for your claim that the reversible lanes were intended for eventual commuter rail service. For one thing, how in the world were heavy rail trains supposed to access it? They certainly couldn’t make the curves on any of the ramps. Was there to have been a “terminal” somewhere near where Freeway Park is?

        I just don’t see that any provision for such a service was made.

      6. Maybe Mike Lindblom can shed some light on it.

        I’ve heard the same thing from a lot of old-timers.

      7. Well, indeed, there it is in print. So apparently at one time during the design process, the space in the middle of the highway was planned for a rail line. But it’s clear that the lanes as built would be converted only with great difficulty. Connecting at the north end wouldn’t be much of a problem, but a rail-compatible exit at the south end would be quite a chore to engineer.

      8. Who needs an exit if you just build a terminal station there? Remember, this is the same era that decided to hang an acoustic-tile drop ceiling inside Union Station. Building a dinky two-track terminal in eastern Pioneer Square wouldn’t be unfathomable.

    2. There are exits from the I-5 express lanes to Mercer, but, during commute hours, they are clogged with SOV drivers, greatly limiting their usefulness to transit. In a nutshell, traffic congestion at the exit ramps to SLU and along local streets within it, makes it difficult for transit to offer an alternative to sitting in traffic.

      Once Link is built out, at least during commute hours, simply taking Link to Westlake and transferring to the extremely frequent C-40-SLUT combination with dedicated lanes is likely to be as fast, if not faster, than an express buses exiting Mercer and waiting in the long line of cars.

      Which makes express buses to SLU somewhat difficult to justify – you pay the full cost of an extra bus at the most expensive time, only to deploy it in a way that doesn’t actually move more people than alternative modes which are there anyway, and doesn’t save its riders much time either – all it does is save a transfer between two highly frequent services that would have minimal wait time anyway. It’s essentially subscribing to the old-school mentality that you have to coddle peak-hour commuters with one-seat rides to everywhere, at the expense of the all-day network.

      1. Took my sister and her boyfriend visiting from Long Island to Bite of Seattle on Saturday. Went over all the transit options and with the heat didn’t see a better plan than driving in early and parking. There’s just nothing like getting in a car after an exhausting day and turning on the air conditioner and going all the way to your front door.

        Now, if there were light rail to the the Seattle Center…and Angle Lake were operating…different story!

      2. I sympathize, John. That’s one of the reasons light rail around Seattle is so important: visitors and commuters from the suburbs aren’t just visiting downtown and UW; they might be going to the Seattle Center, Ballard, Fremont, or any number of other places, and you want the train to go there.

        Sure, improve transit for Kent and Issaquah. But also, build grade-separated rail around Seattle. Both are needed, and the first won’t do so much good without the second.

      3. Basically you are right to advocate for transferring between frequent services, except that the first C-40-SLUT common stop will be between Virginia and Lenora, three pretty long blocks from Westlake Center Station.

      4. You know, I could foresee some sort of elevated light-rail-type vehicle connecting the DSTT at Westlake to the Seattle Center.

        But, to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have thought of it right off, either. Just because it’s not “integrated” into the city’s transportation system. (That, and it’s not really frequent service.)

      5. Yes, and make sure it runs the same hours as LINK.

        No sense in heading in for an evening event, if your lifeline from the Seattle Center back to the LINK station closes at 9pm!

  2. Lots of great ideas Frank.
    Longer term, convincing public employees, spending public money to demolish a public HCT facility at CPS is not in the best interest of the Public.

  3. Of all these ideas, a connected Harrison stands out as the game-changer. John and Thomas are also getting connected, I believe, which is valuable. 3 new streets will lessen the burden on Denny and also Mercer. However, Denny will still have the bulk of the traffic coming off Boren and Capitol Hill. Thanks to the barrier that is I-5, traffic from further east will still lack alternate routes into SLU. Denny will still be horrible at rush hour, but not quite as horrible as today.

    Alternating license plates – I hope that is a joke. That would be a boon for 2-car households, which we probably shouldn’t seek to increase.

    Anytime Amazon wants to stop subsidizing employee parking would also be helpful.

    1. Lakeview Boulevard seems underutilized as a transit route considering its location as the only bridge across I-5 for quite a distance between two dense neighborhoods. It’s not a perfect route, but could connect to Harrison on Eastlake, and use Belmont to connect up to Broadway. This would generally avoid freeway on-ramps, and the only Metro bus currently using this bridge is the 25 which runs very infrequently. It could be a short-term supplement to the 8 on Denny.

      1. I expect the neighborhood would have a hissy fit if diesel buses started running through it. If you’re willing to hang wire, though it might be an excellent bypass. But then it isn’t “short-term”.

        Also, when Roy gets to Broadway, what do you do?

      2. Most likely, diesel buses down Lakeview would be drowned out by the roar of the freeway anyway. I doubt the average resident would notice.

      3. The 25 has a very circuitous route where it goes almost to the University Bridge, then backtracks to the Montlake Bridge. That’s why people avoid it; that and its frequency. But a route could go from SLU to Lakeview Boulevard to the University Bridge if there was a desire for that.

        As for what the neighbors might think about more diesel buses, they’ve never been asked so we have no idea. We can’t just assume they’d strongly oppose it, any more than we can assume that Madison Park still strongly opposes trolley wires.

      4. Or it could be a new route for the 8, once the grid gets connected. Basically this:
        That route implies running through the Seattle Center (which I mention below) but a similar route on Harrison would work just as well. This avoids the Denny mess altogether, while providing a nice little addition to Broadway. According to Google Maps, this adds only 2 minutes (now — when there is no traffic) but I think you would gain that back (and then some) during rush hour. Eastlake to Lakeview to Roy is an easy and common route (it is the way you would go if driving). The only issue is the left turn on Eastlake (from Thomas or Harrison). Right now there is a stop sign there, so the city would have to add a stop light (which seems pretty easy). You would lose service on Denny, but get back as many riders (or almost as many) by the additional connections as well as that part of Capitol Hill (which is quite populous). The 43 (or something like it) provides service on most of that section of Denny/Olive, so you have a very minor coverage gap. Overall, I think it would be both a coverage and ridership improvement, while greatly improving reliability.

        But I don’t think it makes sense to make this change until Bertha finishes her job.

      5. I walk along Denny perhaps once a week between Broad and Broadway in the afternoon (usually well before rush hour). When an 8 comes, I can almost always beat it on foot between Westlake and Bellevue (Ave), and occasionally all the way from Broad to Broadway.

        If Bertha’s project (when completed in year 20nn) and/or something else doesn’t help Denny, then a Harrison / Lakeview overpass / Belmont / Roy / Broadway / John alignment for the 8 (if otherwise feasible in terms of curves, grades, politics, etc.) might well be faster than the current one for a sizable part of the day, despite being the mother of bizarre, circuitous routings.

      6. asdf,

        He’s suggesting using the Lakeview Bridge as a bypass for a line parallel to the 8, to provide more reliable service. He even specified using Belmont to get to Broadway.

        Did you not read his original post? Pretty stupidly conceited of you to rag on a reply while not reading the post to which the reply was made. Capiche?

      7. Mike,

        And the same for you. I’m not surprised that asdf mouthed off without reading the whole thread, but I am that you did.

        Dave clearly said “but could connect to Harrison on Eastlake, and use Belmont to connect up to Broadway” [emphasis added].

        That’s the “neighborhood which would have a hissy fit”. Along Belmont. Between Lakeview and Broadway. Where there is already an electric bus for one block.

        That neighborhood.

      8. Anandakos, no need to get out of joint. I saw that he was talking about a Broadway connection. I was making a general comment about the 25. I almost put “(bypassing Broadway)” to indicate that my route would have the disadvantage of not serving central Capitol Hill [1], but I thought it was unnecessary.

        [1] The popularity of which can be seen from the most frequent question on the 47: “Do you go to Broadway?”

      9. Mike,

        OK, I apologize; I didn’t understand that the diesels to which you were referring were those for your proposal.

      10. @Anandakos

        >> I expect the neighborhood would have a hissy fit if diesel buses started running through it.

        Yeah, maybe. But the street is an arterial and it is hard to say.

        >> If you’re willing to hang wire, though it might be an excellent bypass. But then it isn’t “short-term”.

        All the more reason to simply move the 8. A trade-off, to be sure, but one worth considering, especially when buses will be much closer to their anyway (traveling east-west on Harrison or Thomas). A permanent move would be most welcome by the neighbors. This is a very dense neighborhood, so it isn’t like you are going the back way.

        >> When Roy gets to Broadway, what do you do?

        Go south until John, then east (as shown on my post). This may seem like lots of zig-zagging, but not too bad. Put it this way, if I was sitting in a car in South Lake Union and someone said “Hey, I need a ride to Group Health, up the hill”, I would look at my watch. If it is rush hour, I go exactly this way. If not, I would go the old Metro 8 way. Or I would just go this way, knowing that at worse I cost myself a couple minutes (not ten to twenty if I went the other way).

    2. I agree. Connecting the grid north of Denny is arguable the best thing to come out of the new 99 project. You have the possibility of new bus lanes, since there should be little opposition to it. No can drive east west on those roads anyway, so if one of them is used for a bus only, then so be it.

    1. +1
      We need grade separation NOW, but anything underground will cost billions and decades. The only reasonable way to get grade separated transit to SLU is a gondola. I hope it continues west and connects with a new sounder & RR D station as well.

      1. I agree and there are places where they are very much appropriate and places where they aren’t. This is one of the places where they are. This is because there is a large obstacle (a freeway) in the way of two very popular areas which are fairly close together (gondolas aren’t very fast, they are just very direct).. If it could be done cheaply (and gondolas have the potential of being built very cheaply) then it would be an outstanding value and be very popular. Worse case scenario we study it and realize that it would be too expensive. Or we build it, then years later it become obsolete because of light rail. By then it would have more than paid for itself and would at the very least be a very enjoyable ride (summer ridership would be enormous).

      2. Ross,

        If there is to be a gondola, may it please be enclosed? I’m hoping you’re not thinking of a ski lift….. “summer ridership would be enormous”

      3. It would be enclosed. I just mean that summer ridership (when the weather is nice and their are a lot of tourists in town) would be enormous. I think it would be a “must do” trip for tourists and locals alike when the weather is nice (and you get the views). It is just like the Ferris Wheel, except this actually goes somewhere.

    2. Strange that Frank didn’t mention the gondola in this piece. I’m far less interested in connecting specific suburbs to SLU than I am of connecting SLU to Link (and to TOD style housing from there). The streetcar will somewhat perform this function, but there isn’t nearly the capacity or speed needed to serve a majority of SLU commuters. A gondola would quickly bring SLU workers to the Capitol Hill station (and as a side benefit, to Uptown and its buses).

      1. The streetcar wasn’t a good idea as implemented, but since its there it makes sense to get it moving as best as possible.

        I really can’t see traffic on Mercer being made worse by giving it signal priority, or at least timing its signals to give it better speed. Mercer will be a mess due to I-5 no matter what else is done in the area. It doesn’t matter if all that traffic that isn’t going anywhere goes nowhere for minutes snd a few blocks further west.

      2. Even if the Mercer and Denny crossings didn’t have signal priority, that’s only 10% of the intersections. The problem is that the streetcar stops for a light every single block, especially south of Denny.

      3. Signal priority is a no-brainer. We need complete path separation – maybe let taxis into the lane off-peak hours like Istanbul does. But even if somehow Seattle let this happen and we’re running as a light-rail-light, we need more than just a streetcar if we want SLU to even approach the transit ridership of downtown.

  4. Glad to see this, Frank. I have a feeling that routing LINK out Westlake from via subway was seriously considered early on in the light rail project.

    In the archives section on the tenth floor of the Downtown Library, you’ll find decades-old engineering studies for taking the Benson line not only south past the stadiums, but tunneled to South Lake Union connection.

    Two way express bus transit on I-5 should have been built into the whole freeway from the drawing board- which in those days actually was a board. But at least should have been off AutoCAD and onto the concrete by the time DSTT opened.

    Now that I-5 between Everett and Olympia has a second level of metal pavement made of car roofs, might be public support for a couple of clear lanes at least at rush hour ’til LINK at least hits Lynnwood.

    But when pilings were being sunk for CPS, following a blizzard that caused Napoleon’s retreat from Russia to be re-enacted with buses, Metro very briefly considered the idea of using the I-5 express lanes for an actual two way busway during time when WDOT shut lanes entirely.

    Standard blizzard practice.

    Good chance that bus tires themselves could keep the lanes drivable, with plow truck assist if needed. But existing one-way-designed ramps at CPS (still Pine and Stewart ramps in 1986) could be controlled by supervisors using hand-signals.

    Or pickup trucks with traffic signals on the beds, as were used in early Tunnel simulations at Seattle International Raceway.

    True, buses couldn’t continue onto regular streets. But U-District leave-off could have put passengers in walking distance of home. And if mall were kept open Northgate could have gotten people into 4-wheel-drive range of residences.

    Converting tracked SLU lanes to transit only shouldn’t take a week- for at least rush hour reservation. And absolute rush hour barrier at the lake and Fairview should take a week max of supervisors on site and permanent re-striping and signal pre-empt.

    So thanks, Frank. No time like the present.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I remember looking at the Kaiser Engineering prints connecting CPS with the reversible lanes, then out to the U-District, where it bailed off to Campus Pkwy. That was done in the late 80’s when the DSTT was being built. Not a bad plan.

    2. Mark,

      “Express bus transit” did not exist when I-5 was designed. In fact, the old “Blue Streak” service from the mid-1970’s was a pilot project funded by UMTA to see if the concept would work. It was of course a smashing success and has since been copied all over the country.

      However, since the wide spread of Park’N’Ride stations, the “tail through the neighborhoods” which all the Blue Streaks had has been dropped for most such routes in most cities. They’ve become Park’N’Ride to downtown and back.

      But the tail in the neighborhood survives in Seattle with the 355, the 5X, 28X, 26X, 77 and a couple of express versions of the routes to Burien. I personally think they’re a great service for areas of cities which used to have streetcars and hence are reasonably dense and for which there’s the opportunity for a no-stops run down a boulevard (Aurora) or freeway to the CBD. They’re like a bus version of the Muni Metro or Boston’s Green Line.

  5. SLU is a mess. Its difficult to cross east-west even using the bike share.

    Even incremental improvements (such as swapping a few parking spots for a bus lane or two) would be welcome.

    Its really sad that we built this new business center with no grade separated transit to serve it, and very little in the range of long distance transit service (40 and 66/67 only touch the edges of the neighborhood).

    1. Actually, with the new, wide sidewalks on Mercer Street, combined with the new bike path on the underpass beneath Aurora, crossing SLU east/west on a bike is actually pretty easy. Or at least it is, as long as you don’t need to continue going east/west to Capitol Hill. (Has anyone attempted to lug a Pronto bike up the Howe Street Staircase? That would be quite a feat!)

      1. Crossing Aurora is nice, but getting across the rest of SLU sucks.

        The new layout of Dexter south of Mercer (which you’ll need to use to get to most of SLU from Mercer) sucks. In their rush to figure out right turns (which looks like a giant botch at this point) they forgot to accommodate people on bikes turning left at all. There’s no great place to wait to make a two-stage turn (and the places that exist will be routinely blocked by cars when the streets are all open), and the only places you can merge left to do it vehicular-style is in the middle of intersections (my momma taught me changing lanes in intersections ain’t legal). Past Dexter the east-west arterials in SLU kind of suck, too. Between the awful pavement, random construction impacts, and peak-hour parking garage delays and congestion, it’s not much fun.

        Even the new bike route they built a block north of Mercer is plagued by stupefying waits at stoplights that can’t possibly help traffic on 9th and Westlake (because the bottleneck is Mercer). Plus it’s closed eastbound for some building construction — not “bikes merge with traffic” closed, but “find another route” closed. All the other routes are bad enough that they didn’t even bother to sign a detour.

      2. I did it once (bike to capitol hill from SLU). I had to take Lakeview Blvd to Belmont Ave on Capitol Hill.

        Its quite steep and the route there wasn’t bike friendly at all. I don’t recommend it.

      3. It shouldn’t be necessary to lug a bike up those stairs, if Pronto merely puts bike stations at top and bottom.

  6. Harrison is only a good way across Aurora and SLU if the signal cycles are programmed for it. Seeing SDOT’s recent work I’m not optimistic. On a more optimistic note, if a minor earthquake forces the viaduct to close, the connections across Aurora could happen before the tunnel. I guess y’all had better hope I’m not a praying man, or that I’m very precise about it.

    For the reverse commute thing: getting from SLU to UW in the reverse peak on the 70 is slow and unreliable enough that you might be better off walking to a 520 bus than going to UW for one. If they ever build that I-5/Olive freeway station, that would be the place to walk to. Or take one of those Pronto bikes. Or ride your own bike and park it in one of the many downtown parking garages with free covered bike parking. The Hyatt Olive 8 is a good option to catch the 255 at CPS or the 545 just outside it on Olive.

    The most urgent policy change we need is to cap the amount of office parking in downtown and adjacent areas (certainly including SLU). Considering the disaster traffic is today, the cap should probably be lower than the current number of spaces.

    Tangentially, I look forward to Seattle’s armchair traffic experts coining a new term for the crazy backups that are starting to happen on southbound Dexter at Mercer (and may be exacerbated when the bus stop there opens because of its particular layout). I’ll start it off with “the Jigsaw Jam”.

    1. Once the city builds the BRT (or whatever you want to call it) along Eastlake, the fastest way to get to the U-District will be on those buses. But that puts you on Roosevelt, quite a ways from 520 buses (unless they go into the U-District). You can then take another bus to Montlake, or walk two or three blocks to the U-District station, take the train one stop south, then hope that the UW, Metro and Sound Transit allow the buses access to the station.

      If there was a 520 station, of course, that second connection would be easier (take the train two stops, instead of one). If you did that, then buses wouldn’t bother with crossing the ship canal. The new 520 could be built with a bus only on-ramp at Roanoke, which would enable buses to get off 520 and head to Eastlake (probably turning around at South Lake Union). Even if it didn’t, and just turned around at Eastlake, this would enable a very fast two seat ride, while allowing the 520 buses to spend very little time off of 520. Too late now, though.

      1. As someone whose office recently got moved to SLU/Eastlake, and whose parking did not get moved, I can say I’m very interested in the Roosevelt HCT project. As it is, my commute from Meadowbrook is a hodgepodge of bus options including transfer to the 70 at UW. 7X or 41 to downtown and 66 back out. Or 66 from Northgate’s another option. Pronto bikes are actually making my summer a lot easier for short trips to/from the bus tunnel (easier and usually as fast as transfer to the 66). My office will move again this year and will have a Pronto station in the building, which makes that an even better option. A lot of my coworkers bike or take transit now (bus and Link, the streetcar’s right here, but it’s always stuck in traffic). When the U-Link station opens, that will be an option for me, but bike to BRT from Roosevelt would be really nice. My dream is that Pronto w/ the power assist gets expanded north so I can use that at both ends of the commute. A reconfigured 65 that serves Northgate would also help when Link gets to Northgate. Three transfers is my limit. As it is there’s a transfer that makes that not good. My fastest option currently is bike the whole way (40 min vs 70 min on average by bus) via the Roosevelt bike lanes, which are also getting improved in preparation for the Roosevelt HCT project. I also get dropped off and picked up by car on occasion and getting in and out via the University Bridge or the express lanes hasn’t been the nightmare we expected. Anything that makes this stuff smoother is appreciated. My biggest gripe is when the buses bunch up on bad traffic days (again Pronto to the rescue – I can get to the U District if the buses are stuck downtown). OneBusAway is a life-saver too. I could not manage this commute without it. I try not to think about how the drive would be maybe 20 minutes at the time I come in if I had parking, but it’s better than the hours of driving I used to do through Chicago sprawl.

      2. The U District connections for this are a mess. I’ve actually done similar connections, they just take a lot of time. The train might help in theory, but at this point we’re talking about a three-seat ride.

        Back on the BRT, this almost has to be a route that crosses Mercer on the surface very close to I-5. I don’t think TSP will ever happen crossing Mercer anywhere, certainly not there. It will need continuous bus lanes all the way from 3rd Ave out to at least Aloha or so to be remotely reliable.

        So you have a walk and some traffic however you go. I claim that even after Eastlake BRT and Link past 45th, you’re better off walking to Olive Way/I-5 or the vicinity of CPS and sitting in counter-peak I-5 traffic than walking around the U District and dealing with all the surface traffic involved in that route. Doubly so if you can ride a bike to the vicinity of CPS.

      3. The only permanent answer to SLU congestion is the east-west subway we call the “Metro 8”. And it has to have three stations in “SLU” broadly defined, between Taylor and Sixth North with an entrance on the east side of Aurora, 9th to Westlake, and Fairview to Minor. It should “wiggle” north-south so that the 9th/Westlake station is physically just north of Westlake in order to serve the triangle but the other two are around Harrison to serve the development farther north.

        Trying to serve this area with radial north south lines or surface buses just won’t work because they all have to cross Denny and Mercer which will never flow freely.

        Frank’s ideas are excellent for the short term, but they’re trying to hold back a tsunami with particleboard. To drain a tsunami one needs underground piping.

      4. Just to be clear, the line should definitely go as far east as Capitol Hill Station and under Seattle Center to Uptown in order to make direct connections to all bus lines to and from North Seattle. Eventually it should make the east side loop down to Mt. Baker as we’ve all discussed in order to snag eastside and southend riders, but as a very essential first step the city should be working hard to find some funding for the first stage across SLU. Now.

        It’s too late to include it in ST3; no engineering has been done. And even if the city is forbidden to own its own subway by some arcane Olympia statute, it should be searching for funding. It can “gift” it to Sound Transit after it’s finished like the DSTT was if necessary.

        In all honesty, I think this is more important that Ballard-UW. SLU is choking and it’s where MUCH more development is headed.

      5. I’ve made the same argument — that the Metro 8 is the most important line to build — but I since reconsidered. As lots of people have pointed out, if push comes to shove, you walk. The longest walk is around a mile from Westlake (arguably the easiest place to get to). But if you are trying to get from Ballard to UW (or any place in between) you have a very long walk. Your walk plus bus options are terrible as well. Then you have the bus to rail options in the north end. With UW to Ballard light rail, the entire northwest end of the city (west of I-5 and north of ship canal) changes dramatically for the better. Buses run north-south, and the subway runs east-west. You have that to a degree with a Metro 8 subway, but not quite as much or not quite as dramatically. It’s close (and I don’t want to undersell the Metro 8) but I just don’t think it is quite as good.

        Then again, maybe the most important project is the WSTT. That would not only connect Queen Anne, Ballard, Belltown, Madison and pretty much all of West Seattle, but it would also connect the Aurora corridor, along with a station in South Lake Union. It would be a bit of a walk to the other end of South Lake Union (either end, really) but if a bus like this was built: (which would be possible when the Bertha project is finished) then it would be a very good thing for the area. Not as great as the Metro 8 — but very good for the area. When you consider the other areas that could see a dramatic change (Queen Anne, Ballard, etc.) I think you can easily make the case that it is the best choice.

        I would have a hard time choosing between the three projects. I have no problem if one is built before the other. I just don’t like it when it looks like projects that should be fourth or fifth (or 13th) on the list get bumped up ahead of these.

      6. +1

        I would also point out that all the longer distance transit isn’t going to do a lot of good if you can’t move around once you get to the core. It’s just like the feeder buses (or lack thereof) further outside downtown. The 8 intersects what? 1/3 of the routes into downtown Seatttle? That’s one hell of a workhorse feeder line.

      7. I understand your points Ross and they’re very well made. But I am concerned that if that map of high-rises-to-be that Nathaniel Williams prepared, with that almost solid line of orange boxes along Denny Way comes to pass, the the south side of SLU/Denny Triangle is going to grind to a halt!.

        The City really cannot let that happen. There is not enough lane space on the surface for red lanes to solve the problem, and really, “just walk” from Fifth and Pine to Boren and Denny twice a day rain, shine or sleet, is not much of a transportation plan. It just isn’t.

        Please let somebody at ST take a deep breath and say to the board, “We fairly enormously screwed up by not providing for a Link stop at CPS. But it’s not too late. It will be much more expensive than had we built it while the tunnels were being dug, but If we start right now we can get the most disruptive stuff done before operations start next year and build the station around the operating trains. We don’t need to dig out a Mezzanine; it’s already there in the bus tunnel”.

        CPS is quite a bit closer to the center of gravity of the line of Orange boxes. It’s not unreasonable to use the existing bus station as the beginning of an underground walkway under Terry.

        It would also mean that a Metro 8 would not have to dip as far south, allowing bigger development farther north.

        I know this is pretty much a pipe dream, but it sure would be wonderful were it to happen. Rule 1 of good transit planning: provide service where people live and work…..

      8. Isnt the stub Pine Street tunnel built in the mid 2000s for Link trains to layover now flat? Could potentially a station be located there by 1) actually building the inbound side platform and access as part of the Convention Center boondoggle? And 2) building the outbound side platform to the west of the Paramount Theater where the ULink staging area was? I just cant get over what a mistake it is to lose CPS, now of anytime it is needed and all we are getting as a replacement is another stupid convention center.

      9. Poncho,

        Sounds like you know a lot about the tunnel. Thanks for your post; you make it sound even more feasible than I was hoping.

        Here’s to someone from ST reading this thread and picking up the idea. As you say, what a waste to lose CPS!

      10. CPS has a tremendous potential to serve the dense apartment buildings just on the other side of I-5 and leading all the way up the hill to CHS. Walking downhill becomes the strategy.
        Walk down to CPS going south in the morning.
        Walk down from CHS to home in the evening.
        Unless you need the exercise.

      11. A “Route 8” subway is an awesome idea, but let’s not forget that we could hold the line, at least, by capping car parking in greater downtown.

      12. Convention Place was dropped because it had always been an underperforming station, and then it was at the wrong angle to get to First Hill (now moot). Convention patrons don’t use it much because they’re going from the airport to their hotels, and Westlake Station is close enough to the convention center and in some ways more convenient. Capitol Hill residents don’t use Convention Place much (although I do) because you have to walk across an open freeway, only a small corner of the hill is in the station’s walkshed, and the eastbound surface bus stop is hard to get to (a two-block walk across an express lanes entrance), and the southbound buses are split at three different platforms (south, I-90, and terminating downtown), so If your destination is anywhere down to Spokane Street, it’s better to take a bus to Westlake where you can catch any southbound bus or Link at the same platform.

        So Convention Place is not that well located for either the convention center or Capitol Hill, and I’m not yet convinced it’s well located for SLU either.

      13. And, we don’t know that Convention Place Station to Capitol Hill Station is a viable light rail path. Is the angle too sharp? Would it rise too steeply? What’s the I-5 foundation like there?

      14. CPS was in a wasteland, now that’s changing, fast. A new station would resolve the weird split platform design because it would be just for LRT. Theres no reason the surface buses couldn’t run two-way on Pine to better serve this station, infact the wire is already up. If there is anything positive about the new convention center is that it is filling in that large void and closing the gap of I-5. Agrred its not the best location but its still much better than nothing between Westlake and Capitol Hill Stations (I’d prefer a Pike/Pine station around either Bellevue or Boylston).

      15. Poncho, a station about Boylston would (have been) GREAT! Unfortunately, that’s in a part of the line which is on a grade, so there will never be a station there.

        And, no, CHS is not the best location for a station serving the Denny Triangle, but it’s by far the least expensive potential option at this time for serving the eastern point of the Triangle and maybe a block or so into SLU/Cascade along Fairview. As you said, it was a wastland that is now being radically changed into something very recognizably urban.

        As I mentioned above, there’s no substitute for the Metro 8. It gets ALL of SLU/Cascade and the northern edge of the triangle with a single transfer to/from all the trunk routes in the northern semicircle of transit in Seattle. With an extension southward to upper Rainier it could get the eastern and southeastern sectors as well, though perhaps East Link riders might choose to ride through to Capitol Hill. Central Link folks would definitely change at Mt. Baker, though, to avoid the only somewhat reliable run on the surface along the busway.

  7. Here’s a condescending solution for South Lake Union folks: Take a bus, transfer to the streetcar, walk the rest of the way.

    That’s what Republican transit advocate does.

    Have a nice day in avgeek paradise.

    1. That’s what we all do, ‘eh? Sadly, our way is blocked by a whole lot of progressive Democrats in cars.

      Actually, that gives me an idea. Instead of alternating license plates, we should alternate access by political party. Four days a week to Democrats, three to Republicans (Republicans can get four if they manage to get one councilmember elected). This has the following advantages:

      – Allows us all to focus our road rage better. Cut off on a Wednesday? Curse the Democrats, those mealy-mouthed, spineless faux-gressives. Cars nosing into the bike lane on a Thursday? Curse the Republicans for their cynical anti-intellectualism.
      – Encourages marriages, friendships, or at least carpools that reach across the aisle, fostering productive discussions on the critical issues of our day, healing the partisan divisions that… (sorry, my platitude muscles are wearing out, I’ll get back to you)

      1. How about equal split on the major parties, and one dedicated day for everyone else?

        Have no trouble at all getting in? Thank your local Libertarian / Commie / Greenie / Constutionalist / Not Affiliated for not having enough of themselves.

  8. Once Bertha finishes her job, I think the bus lane should be on Thomas, not Harrison. Then the city should try running buses through the Seattle Center (on Harrison). The roads are there, they are just used by Seattle Center vehicles (no public access). The only change would be that buses would be allowed to go through (no regular cars). This would speed up the bus, because it would make fewer turns, and avoid the traffic on Mercer and on 5th. It would also provide a very nice connection with the monorail. Something like this would run fairly quickly: That would be a new route (essentially a truncate 8), but you could just make the 8 use this routing, but turn on Fairview to get over to Denny.

    There might be opposition to running the bus through the Seattle Center, but I see it as a win for everyone. Bus drivers are professionals. They know how to drive safely amongst pedestrians, and after a while, folks will get used to it. A little tap on the horn (ideally a friendly sound) will clear people out of the way, and during busy events, the bus just moves slowly through. I could see installing trolley wire through here, just to keep down on fumes in the Center. I’m not fan of streetcars, but if it took a streetcar to get a route through here, I would be all for it. But in general I could see something like what I drew, either as a stand along line, or part of the 8.

    1. For what it is worth, the EmX buses in Eugene have a bell for this type of thing. Not quite as annoying as a horn blast and thus appropriate for more intimate environments than loud road congestion.

      1. Excellent. That is exactly what I am talking about. No one really minds a trolley type “ding ding” which is just a reminder, as opposed to the “Honk!” that basically means “Get the fu** out of my way!”.

    2. Don’t you mean “on Thomas” (the “street” through Seattle Center)? What would be “Harrison” goes right by the fountain. That’s pure pedestrian space.

    3. Ross,

      Apologies, I see from the post with a map you do mean Thomas. It was just a brain belch to put “Harrison” in the parentheses. Have them all the time myself…..

      1. Oops, yeah. The first sentence was correct, but then I wrote the second sentence incorrectly (I wrote Harrison when I meant Thomas). Obviously the point of running on Thomas is so you can run on Thomas through the Seattle Center. Otherwise, like you said, the bus runs through the fountain and through Key Arena (a fairly rough ride, I would think).

        Anyway, the drawing is correct. I would update the comment, but ….

    4. If the 8 is rerouted to Thomas, it would still have to go to Denny to cross the freeway. The furthest-east major street is Fairview. Beyond that are Minor and Pontius, which may be too small for a bus and left turns may be a problem. Beyond that is Yale and Eastlake, but they require going on Stewart to get to Denny. There’s no way that avoids Stewart Street or the I-5 entrance at Yale, which are the two main traffic generators. So I wonder if the reroute would really be that much benefit.

      1. First, it’d be stuck on Denny for a shorter length of time. Second, it’s currently stuck in the right lane of Denny, which moves even slower than the left lane; rerouting it to Thomas west of Fairview might enable all the stops on Denny west of Yale to be deleted, which would enable it to stay in the left lane until then.

        And, finally, we just may be able to send it over the Lakeview bridge. Though, that’d eliminate the transfer to I-5 express buses at Yale… it still might easily be worth it.

      2. The Lakeview bridge would put it several blocks away from the Summit commercial center (around Olive/Summit and Olive/Denny), which is one of its ridership centers.

      3. Going so far north also misses the heart of Capitol Hill and especially the new CHS Link station.

        I kind of like the idea of it staying on Denny for legibility than zigzagging all over the place. STB had a post awhile back about simple improvements that could be made on Denny to improve it like fully closing the Denny to I-5 via Yale auto connection (right by 24hr Fitness) which creates so much congestion of backed up cars on Denny.

      4. I assumed it would turn south on Broadway to Capitol Hill Station. It can’t continue east on Roy because there street doesn’t go through; there’s an elementary school there.

      5. Based on walking Denny every week or so …

        There always seem to be huge clumps of people waiting for the 8 at Westlake and Stewart/Yale (and at Broadway), and significant clumps at 5th and at Fairview. If the Thomas/Lakeview route turns out to be technically feasible and no major uprising appears likely on Belmont E, it would seem to be a good idea to send someone out at random times to these stops (except Broadway) with a clipboard, winning smile, and pleasant voice, and ask the people there whether they are coming from the north, the south, east/west, or transferring, to get to the stop. Anyone coming from the north would presumably be helped (or at least not hurt) by Thomas routing, and it might pick up “new” riders from north of Thomas. Anyone coming from along Denny and farther south would presumably be hurt. Except at Stewart, it probably wouldn’t make much difference to transfers.

        Of course, the other wild card is serving the breakneck development south of Denny, though maybe some of it would be about as convenient to Westlake (vastly preferable for at least some potential riders than the 8, once U-Link starts) as to Denny.

      6. FBD,

        Spot on analysis; I really love the clipboard idea! One wonderful benefit of such a reroute is that Thomas will be quieter and more friendly to pedestrians and waiters-for-the-bus than Denny, although to prevent drivers diverting onto it, it’ll need to be made bus-only for at least one block between each pair of major arterials. It’s a block closer to the heart of SLU/Cascade and the Gates Foundation which will put most of the bigger buildings within its walkshed, and if it had a reliable runtime between CHS and Seattle Center, people would use it.

        If by some miracle there is an LRT station added at CPS as mooted elsewhere on this thread, most of the Triangle would be within walking distance of Westlake or CPS. Not the western point, perhaps, but there’s always the potential for a new monorail station to serve that bit of the area.

  9. Looks like everyone is looking at this issue backwards, SLU is fully congested with little hope to make things better in the short term. Yet suggestion after suggestion is to add more buses/transit to SLU or just move or re-route a bus for a couple of blocks to get to the same destination. Might be better off trying get more buses to bypass SLU, maybe go to a part of the City with less congestion: Up by REI, Airport way, or West Marginal way. Traffic seems to move well on these streets.

      1. Yogi Berra sez: “There’s no need for transit in SLU. It’s too crowded anyway.”

  10. Is it possible to add streetcar frequency with those Westlake lanes? I think that the biggest deterrent is the 15 minute headway for the SLU streetcar for most of the day. Any time I want to go to South Lake Union, missing a streetcar is what I dread the most.

    I’d even suggest lending the SLU line a streetcar from First Hill to enable higher frequencies in the short-term. If we could get 5-8 minute frequencies on the streetcar and the exclusive lanes, it would go quite a long way. 15-minute headway for short distances is sheer agony to the rider!

    I’d also suggest that a rubber-tired short-line with reliable frequencies and only a few stops for areas not near the streetcar. For example, a line that went from Seattle Center through Belltown, then turning to go up Pike/Pine to Westlake then Boren with stops at Madison (Swedish/Virginia Mason) and Harborview would do wonders for connectivity. While rail would be better, a clearly-marketed bus shuttle system presented to riders like a streetcar line would be a powerful and easy-to-use concept for riders and could be operating in only a few months.

    1. Seriously. If I can still see a streetcar I just give up and start walking, because I’ll get to my destination at about the same time as the next streetcar.

      1. Exactly, Patrick. When the amount of time waiting and riding a train is similar or longer than just walking, most people will choose walking unless they have some mobility limitations which discourage that. That’s why having 15-minute headways for a short-distance trip has resulted in low rider numbers on the SLU streetcar.

        The conundrum is that with low rider numbers, there is no interest in adding trains! I wish there was a way to have a trial period of a few months to see if more frequent streetcars would result in more riders — particularly after U-Link opens in 2016.

    2. Any effort at increasing the speed should also increase the frequency. Double the speed and you’ve made the cars cover the line in half the time, allowing for a doubling of frequency at minimal cost (no more cars or operators).

      The speed of the line isn’t just a bad idea due to the terrible service, but because of how much it costs to move the cars from one end of theirs to the other.

      1. That’s a great idea, Glenn.

        The travel distance is so short for the SLU streetcar that I doubt that it’s possible to gain more than 2 or 3 minutes round trip travel time. Still, it appears as though 10 minutes is run at PM peak hour how, so with a 2 minute savings, 8 minutes may be reachable with speed improvements. I think that 8 minute headway (average wait of 4 minutes) may be frequent enough to attract more riders onto the streetcar. The wait near Westlake would then be frequent enough that there would almost always have a car waiting there to load passengers.

      2. The Federal Transit Administration at one time required (not sure it still does?) properties receiving grants to have 10% spare equipment. So, if you use all three cars in peak service you have now violated the terms of their grants as there would be 0 spares.

        It’s a fight for another day, as I think that requirement is a bit out of date. However, the fact is that as best as I can tell, if you want to increase frequency you either increase the speed (which is desirable anyway), you tell the FTA to stuff it and you run with 100% of the equipment, or you buy or lease another car.

        Of those, the most desirable one is to increase the speed.

    3. OK, simple proposals for fixing the South Lake Union Streetcar:

      (1) close Westlake Avenue to motor vehicles south of Denny. Pedestrians, bikes, streetcars only. This should be done anyway because it’s a grid-breaker.
      (2) on Fairview, exclude motor vehicle traffic from the center-running streetcar lanes.
      (3) close Westlake Avenue to motor vehicles except for local access from Denny to Valley. Rebuild the streetcar tracks so they’re two-way on Westlake Avenue from Denny to Valley.
      (4) Improve the south end somehow. Seattle DOT’s “Center City Connector” streetcar plan actually is mostly exclusive lane and has plausible stop locations, unlike the previous two streetcars built.

      1. 1) Westlake is indeed a problematic grid-bucker. Unfortunately, thanks to its origins as a freight railroad, it is exceedingly wide. And thanks to its 20th- and 21st-century development happenstance, it is pedestrian-repellant and flanked by pervasively uninteresting buildings.

        Pedestrian/transit-only is not going to happen, and is not a good idea. Dead vortexes and zero eyes on the street are never a good idea.

        When someone proposes to sell off half the ROW and fill the former lanes and odd-angled orphan microblocks with small-lot 4-story flatiron buildings, then we’ll talk about plaza-ization. Until then, the place has no more businesses being pedestrian than Wilshire Boulevard.

        Sadik-Khan didn’t close Broadway either; she rearranged and restructured it where the people already were. The people are not on Westlake.

        2) Already done; box still blocks. It turns out that crossing multiple lanes and requiring long signals just to head over to a park for 2 blocks before zagging right back into the street (with all attendant lane-crossing delays, again) is an incredibly pointless exercise!

        5) Why do rail obsessives always think that you can polish any turd with ever moar runs!!? Transit lines that are actually useful will invariably see healthy (and sometimes geometric) ridership gains from frequency boosts. Transit stubs that are pointless and lack diversity of purpose will not. It really is that simple.

  11. >>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.

    Of course its inadequate with terrible service frequency. It needs to have headways of no more than 5 minutes MAX throughout most of the day. Look at Torontos streetcar- they have a line which runs every 2-3 minutes for about 13-14 hours per day.

    1. Toronto’s transit network also, like, goes places! With lots of people and stuff and 3-dimensional density! And not just 3/4 of a mile through the middle of a glorified office park!

      Listen, the SLUT is only funded to run 4 times an hour in the off-peak primarily because there is no one on it in the off-peak. The thing literally runs back and forth with single-digit loads, all day. At the same time, the buses that wind through the area, ill-coordinated as they may be, invariably contain many more people.

      Sometimes a useless and poorly functioning line is just a useless and poorly functioning line, and cannot be fixed merely by throwing more vehicles at it.

      1. Sure, and the original sin is how few residential units there are in SLU compared to the number of jobs. Hopefully that’ll change in the future.

      2. Yes, and Toronto’s streetcars can carry more people than their buses. Which means, basically, even if we came close to the density of Toronto, even if we magically eliminated the hills* so that our streetcars could cut through our most densely packed areas, it would still make more sense to run our buses more often than our streetcars because — surprise, surprise — they can carry more people.

        Since Vancouver is a much more similar city to us, and despite not having that many miles of light rail they manage to completely kick our ass in terms of transit usage (triple per capita) it is always a good idea to see if our nearest neighbor to the north has something similar. They don’t.

        *We’ve tried — oh how we’ve tried. But still, we will never be as flat as Toronto. We will probably never have the population density of Toronto, either.

    2. Yesterday I rode the SLUT as I occasionally do, at 5pm northbound from Westlake to Denny. It’s hard to believe how long it stops every block for traffic lights in addition to the stations. There was also a mysterious stoppage where cars in the other lane were going but the streetcar wasn’t. Maybe there was something in front of the streetcar that I couldn’t see.

      I went to Whole Foods and then took the 8 around 5:30. There was an entire busload of passengers waiting for it, some thirty of them at one stop. I was hoping the bus wouldn’t be packed when it got there and I’d have to wait for the next one. OBA said a bus was coming in 2 minute, but that changed to -3 minutes (meaning a no-show) and the next bus coming in 6 minutes with a 6 minute delay. I’ve seen that before on Denny Way, where you can watch the delay on the next two buses keep going up, meaning they’re not moving. Luckily this one did come in 6 minutes, and it was articulated and the center aisle was empty, so the waiting passengers essentially filled the center aisle.

      And on a 512 note, I also took the 512 yesterday, my first time taking it from 45th to downtown. asdf2 and I were discussing over the weekend whether the 512 is getting full. On my previous trips it hadn’t had many people, but asdf2 said he’s seen it pretty full throughout the day and weekends, and ST is going to have to add frequency soon or it’ll get overcrowded. Well, on my trip yesterday at 2:15pm, it was pretty full (almost every seat), so it looks like he’s right.

  12. I wonder if extending some south end buses, like the 57x, 59x series and some other peak only up into SLU would help relieve pressure off the SLUT and 70 trolleycoach.

    1. Not my idea! I was half-jokingly linking to Danny Westneat’s suggestion in one of his recent columns.

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