Start watching at 22:20

[Update: Mayor Murray’s office has responded, saying “While the Waterfront EIS is considering more than one alternative the Mayor is clear his priority is a new waterfront roadway with dedicated transit lanes.”]

Yesterday at the city’s Special Committee on Central Waterfront, Seawall, and Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program,  Office of the Waterfront Director Marshall Foster quietly dropped a bombshell: the city will study the impact of canceling bus-only lanes on the future Alaskan Way.

As a refresher, current plans call for buses to exit SR 99 near the south tunnel portal at Royal Brougham, accessing a reconfigured two-way Columbia Street via dedicated bus lanes on Alaskan Way. Dedicated lanes have long been seen as essential mitigation for the loss of freeway access implied by the Downtown-bypassing Deep Bore Tunnel, so much so that former Governor Gregoire sold the plan as the “tunnel plus transit” plan.

To be clear, the proposal to cancel transit lanes is just one alternative in a new Supplemental Draft EIS.  The option with dedicated transit lanes remains in the EIS and is still on the table. Foster said that community feedback and concerns about pedestrian safety are driving the addition, and that the SDEIS will evaluate the impact of narrowing the street by 24′ by eliminating the the two transit lanes:

“We got a lot of feedback, especially in Pioneer Square…that we needed to look at a narrower Alaskan Way; that especially in the South End that the roadway was too wide. There was a lot of concern about pedestrian ability to cross that street safely and comfortably…based on that, we worked with the State, worked with King County, and the ferries, and we’re going to include an alternative that looks at a narrower Alaskan Way. The key thing that will change is that it will not include dedicated transit lanes south of Yesler.”

Foster specifically cited Feet First, the pedestrian advocacy organization, as a community stakeholder that had suggested removing transit lanes to narrow the roadway. And he’s right. In a September 2013 post Feet First decried the “8-lane highway” planned for Alaskan Way and rallied their supporters to submit comments in support of 3 ideas: overall lane reductions, variable ferry fares to manage demand, and moving the transit lanes elsewhere.

Though many of us in the bike/ped/transit world have shared disappointments about the planned width and channelization of Alaskan Way, including Seattle Bike Blog, any plans to further deprioritize transit on the waterfront would be both a direct bait-and-switch to voters and an operational disaster for bus riders from Burien, White Center, and West Seattle.

Back in 2009 at the press conference announcing the tunnel plans, Mayor Nickels said, “There are pivotal moments when great cities make history. Today, we come together with a plan that creates more transit.” At the same event, County Executive Ron Sims said, “This agreement will…make an historic shift in the way we view mobility in an age of global warming…the plan includes a new stable source of transit funding that will help Metro make a vast increase in service, which will mean fewer cars on the streets.” Today those words ring hollower than ever: the tunnel reduces access to Downtown and complicates any transit pathway, we all know how Metro had to fight tooth and nail to extend the mitigation funding due to Bertha’s delays, and now even the crumbs may be picked up from under the table.

But the bait-and-switch is the past, so let’s think about the future. In a city that just passed Move Seattle on the promise of transit priority, moving away from transit lanes would contravene every goal we’ve established, everything from carbon reduction to Dow Constantine’s hope of integrating our transportation systems to Mayor Murray’s campaign goal of a city of fast, reliable transit via “Rapid Ride+”. Without transit priority on the waterfront, Rapid Ride C and “G” (Delridge) would be sadly devalued.

88′ But No Room for Transit?

The idea that bikes, pedestrians, and transit should come first on the waterfront isn’t lofty idealism, but a reflection of data. Today more than half the people on the Alaskan Way Viaduct during peak hours are on transit – doing so in a small fraction of the vehicle space – and Metro has worked hard for years to keep bus lanes in the waterfront plan. And the Draft Environmental Impact Statement has already admitted than pedestrian volume across Alaskan Way will exceed vehicles driving along it.

Waterfront Pathway-01-01-01And while ST3 holds out hope of grade-separated rail to West Seattle sometime in the late 2020s or early 2030s, that is no substitute for the very real needs of the 24,000 taking transit in the corridor today, tomorrow, and a decade from now. Suggested alternatives, such as Feet First’s suggestion to use the future Lander Street Overpass to access the Sodo Busway instead, would trade an expressway and arterial transit lanes for 5 extra turns and an extra half mile of travel on every bus trip.

The 24,000 daily transit riders on the Waterfront deserve transit priority: they’re already losing their highway due to Bertha, let’s not let them lose their street too. Now would be a great time to show your support for waterfront transit lanes by emailing local officials, and by submitting comments to the SDEIS as it develops.

Marshall Foster, Office of the Waterfront Director
Lisa Herbold, Seattle City Council District 1
Sally Bagshaw, Seattle City Council District 7
Scott Kubly, Seattle Department of Transportation Director
Kevin Desmond, King County Metro General Manager
Dow Constantine, King County Executive
Andrew Glass-Hastings Transportation Policy Advisor, Mayor Murray’s Office
Lynn Peterson, WSDOT Secretary

108 Replies to “Waterfront Bus Lanes May Be Endangered”

  1. Hmmm, and people wonder why West Seattle is so dead set on rail when a bus alternative is ever so much more sensible! This sort of thing (among others) is why ST3 *must* include rail over the Duwamish.

    1. 100% agree. If the promise is brt, it will get get watered down over and over. People are right to not trust it.

      That said, brt is a great thing. But politics here shows that noisy groups will get concessions, and brt just stops functioning well when that happens.

    2. This, exactly. For all the pie-in-the-sky talk on this blog about West Seattle being better served by real BRT than by rail, those who actually use these bus routes daily know well where they rank in the city’s priorities. Frankly, I have doubts as to whether actual BRT will ever be realized in this city.

      1. Actual BRT has never been realized anywhere outside South America. Even in Curitiba, the poster child for BRT — they’re planning to build rail.

    3. Oh come on. The WSTT would of course have ramps and HOV lanes to it, just like the existing bus tunnel. That thing was built over thirty years ago and not one general purpose car has driven in it. I’m sure plenty would have loved to.

      If you want to talk about watering down a transit system, how about Sound Transit, which only managed to put in one station between Westlake and the UW. One! Initial plans talked about five, but even late in the game (well after the vote) there was supposed to be at least two. But somehow they disappeared. Why does anyone think Link will do better this time? If things get a little more expensive than they thought, you can bet that parts of the Ballard to downtown line would be cut, leaving us with an express (which ST seems to love).

      As this article said, this is just one idea, which they have to consider based on public input. But the viaduct replacement was never about transit. It was about building a tunnel (which will be of way less use to vehicles than the current viaduct), about fixing the sea wall and magically turning the waterfront into a shopping paradise. The last one is the one that the problem. Folks who (rightfully) are complaining about the huge number of lanes want to be able to cross the street. They have it wrong — it is general purpose lanes that need to be reduced. Of course this will make traffic a nightmare, but that is inevitable. Unless you are in a truck making a delivery, you shouldn’t be down there with a car. I feel sorry for the folks driving truck, but their complaint is with WSDOT, not SDOT.

      Finally, BRT will be built. Madison BRT will be silver if not gold. It will have center running where it matters most, and BAT lanes where they are appropriate. It will have off board payment (which comes with the dual doors). There will be other versions of it in the city as well. These will be way better than our streetcars.

      1. “Make traffic a nightmare”. There’s a winning slogan! Seriously, it’s insane to think that the surface roadway could be cut to *one* general purpose lane per direction. This is the major freight corridor between SODO and interbay, given the lack of Elliott ramps in the tunnel. It’s projected to carry nearly 40,000 vehicles a day near the south end where the bus lanes would run. The industrial interests that have held the missing link up for a decade might have something to say about squeezing freight down to one lane, don’t you think? Not to mention the port, WSDOT, FHWA, etc. Not gonna happen. The real choice here is between bus lanes and making wide sidewalks wider.

      2. We have no reason to believe in BRT promises and a good handful of reasons to disbelieve them. I’ll continue to be skeptical. I’m not expecting Madison BRT to be anything more than a fancy-looking bus route.

      3. Why are they even building the deep bore tunnel, given that the lack of exits means it won’t be used by cars, and the lack of through connections means it won’t be used by trucks?

        Is it a case of “We decided to do it, so we’re going to do it even though it’s obviously a really bad idea”?

      4. At this point, they’ve spent close to two billion dollars already on the approaches. Usually I’m the one shouting “sunk cost fallacy”, but if Bertha breaks again it’d be cost effective to finish digging it by hand.

      5. Ross,

        The City of Seattle just neutered, mooted, and buried your arguments for BRT to West Seattle. Give it up; there will be LRT in ST3 or West Seattle will vote massively against the package, sealing it’s already tenuous fate.

      6. If you saw the latest news about the Madison BRT and traverse that route daily, as I do, you’ll realize that the Madison BRT is shaping up quite nicely in becoming a FAT LAME DUCK. It is basically the existing bus lanes, with a few blocks of center running. I would rather they cancel the project at this point rather than waste millions on something barely better than what is there now. BRT – Barely Running Transit.

        I agree with you on the waste of space called streetcars though. Seattle needs grade separated transit, not this mess of half baked mess of compromises.

    4. The bus v. rail argument here strikes me as a distraction, in this situation. West Seattle, White Center and Burien commuters will need useful BRT, or at least no erosion of RapidRide, for the 15- to 20 years until Sound Transit might deliver rail, to part of the peninsula — if ST3 even passes. Mayor Murray has recognized this problem in a few speeches, that the mid-term needs to be addressed, but good solutions from local governments are scarce. I’ll have more to say about this in the newspaper.

      1. I think it is appropriate, in the frame of Sound Transit’s ballot measure. If the ultimate promise is rail, I think that people will support it because they know it is great, and can’t be watered down too much. If the promise is BRT, people will be very suspicious that it won’t actually be Rapid.

        Rail is clearly not a mid-term solution, but Sound Transit is about the long view.

        BRT also clearly doesn’t have enough political pull to maintain its designs through a public process. I’m not saying if that is good or bad, just that the plans become less beneficial to transit users and more beneficial to other political interests as the process goes on. The Mayor backs Madison BRT 100%, still getting watered down. A pedestrian interest group wants a smaller street, bus lanes take the hit.

  2. Crazy idea. Remove 2 GP lanes instead. They know we’re building a massive highway right under the thing, right?

    1. Exactly! That’s what I was thinking. If we need a narrower street then lets prioritize transit on that narrower street.

      I wonder if there’s a better solution than putting a parking lot in the middle of the road for the ferry as well.

    2. Makes sense. If 50%+ of people on the existing corridor are traveling by transit, it only makes sense to reduce the number of GP lanes by 50% to ensure we accommodate those choosing transit. As proof-of-concept, the transit-only lanes are a massive success north of Downtown on Aurora.

    3. Agreed!
      This might be a win in disguise though. Since we’re stuck with the street width for decades to come, removing lanes and narrowing the road is a positive development that should be applauded. Any reason a GP lane couldn’t be converted to bus only some day in the future?

      1. But would it? Is there any reason to believe it would be converted to bus-only? Given how SDOT’s flagship BRT is being watered down on Madison, I’m very, very skeptical.

      2. How is it being watered down? If anything, it is being watered up. They made no promises, but look what we will get: Center running in exclusive lanes. BAT lanes for most of it. Dual side boarding which of course means off board payment. Now folks want more. I want more. More can be added later and the city said it would do that if necessary (although they said their modeling shows it isn’t necessary).

        Compare that to Link which watered down the most important section of our entire light rail line by eliminating all but one of the stations between the UW and downtown. That is watering down that will never be reversed. There will never be a First Hill station, or a Summit station, or a station on 23rd, or a station in Montlake where 520 and the light rail cross well under the surface. That is watering down.

      3. Center running – for a few blocks.
        BAT lanes – for several more blocks, trapping buses behind right-turning cars.
        Duel-side boarding – which does not inherently mean off-board payment (I’ll believe it when it’s on the ground, given Metro’s latest habit of backing out of its promises at the last minute), but does mean no other buses will ever run in the dedicated right-of-way (hence freezing the 2 in amber).

    4. I agree Matt. The only reason I think they wouldn’t is because of the ferries. They need to get the cars off the ferry (so the cars can get on the ferry). Solve that problem and you don’t need that many lanes.

      As for converting general purpose lanes to BAT lanes or buses it happens all the time, with little fanfare. Not as well as it should (they tend to be time restricted) but it still happens. Aurora, 15th, Pacific. The last one serves as the basis for the restructuring that will occur around Husky Stadium.

      Not that I would propose that. I think if we do anything, we should take away the general purpose lanes (assuming, of course, we can deal with the ferry).

  3. They need to eliminate the general purpose lanes, not transit lanes. This whole cars and trucks are the kings and queens attitude needs to go away. Yeah maybe for the ferry access area yes, but the rest of the waterfront needs lots of buildings, fire truck and delivery access, park and pedestrian focus and that is it. Even minimal transit.

    Waterfront does not need to be what it currently is. Stupid car tunnel. So idiotic as well.

    1. I was wondering the same thing — am I missing something here? Why is the BUS lanes need to be removed? Why not the auto lanes? How many pedestrians are injured by private automobile operators vs. buses?

      Here’s an alternative proposal: remove all general traffic lanes completely from Alaskan Way. Hey! It’s an option, too!

  4. Surely there will be stop lights on Alaskan Way when the viaduct comes down, though. It’s supposed to be pedestrian friendly, so I hope so… But if that’s the case, then Lander could be an alternative and the graphic doesn’t reflect reality.

    For me, I’d prefer more waterfront pedestrian space over road space on our new waterfront. That’s a tradeoff though, because some may want vehicle space.

    1. Buses exit/enter 99 at King, stoplights there and Jackson, Main, Washington and Yesler before turning onto Columbia. Dedicated transit lanes the whole way, and none of those streets are major cross traffic generators since they don’t go through to the west. Only ferry traffic turning left at yesler creates much of a delay. Lander would be a disaster in comparison.

      1. Uhh, what about pedestrians crossing the street? There will surely be more lights after the viaduct comes down.

      2. Yep, 5 stoplights as I said. But without significant vehicle movements across the transit path, you don’t have nearly the issues you do with, say, cars that block the box on Jackson stopping buses trying to head up 4th.

    2. AFAICT, the routes will still have freeway access as far as Royal Brougham, but yes Alaskan Way will have up to 5 stop lights between Royal Brougham and 2-way Columbia. TSP could go a long way to easing that. I’ve updated the map for clarity.

    3. The freeway south of Pioneer Square is remaining; only the elevated part downtown is being removed. The graphic is right; what you’d lose is the fast trip between Pioneer Square and the West Seattle Bridge.

    4. It’s more of the nuanced message towards transit. By eliminating bus lanes, which would serve 25k daily riders (and residents), to preserve access to a fewer people in GP vehicles and pedestrians, it creates a serious issue of future political support for transit investments. Transportation corridors need to prioritize the most important modes, and south of Columbia should be transit due the volumes of people it has to move every single day.

      The simple act of separating buses and cars does a great deal to improve speed, reliability, and perception of transit services. Think of the reaction to Madison BRT. If we’re watering down the critical BRT project in the city, or the only transit capital investments made on a $3.1B road tunnel, what else is on the chopping block? There needs to be a strong message from our leaders that they will stand by certain promises and investments supported by the public. It’s getting beyond the attitude of “it’s just a bus” and realizing the bus is a way of life for every rider.

      It’s not to say people walking and biking are getting the stick either: we’re spending hundreds of millions to improve access to vulnerable users along the waterfront (yet a fraction of that on transit).

      1. Because it’s true. The TMP and previous plans have called for dedicated lanes which have been downgraded to BAT. We’ve seen how badly BAT lanes perform in the Downtown and know it shouldn’t be repeated. With the huge capital investment going into MBRT, it’s illogical not to “give the bus its own travel lane so it can run faster with fewer impediments” (from Fall 2014 SDOT literature*) from end-to-end.

        I’d think with your additional commentary on the “ultimate waterdown” being FH Station elimination, you’d be all for ensuring a $130M BRT project to First Hill is done absolutely correct with no compromise.


  5. Hey, I have an idea: they could narrow Alaskan Way by building a double decker road there, using all three dimensions to carry more of everything in less horizontal space! Has anyone ever tried this before???


    1. Yeah, no kidding. This very blog proposed a new viaduct over a silly tunnel (although not double decker, which means it would be quieter). It would even have ramps at Western, which means that far fewer people would travel along the waterfront and Alaskan could be a lot thinner.

    2. No Good! The piers will have to go down so deep, they’ll pierce the tunnel lining, requiring large trucks to weave around the protrusions.

  6. In the unlikely event that anyone was actually listening to my unhinged anti-tunnel rants in 2009, they’d have heard me predict exactly this.

    1. All the idiots who originally arranged for the Dumb Bore Tunnel in the smoke-filled back room at Olympia have retired. Can the project just be killed now?

  7. If the SR99 routes bypass 1st ave, why does the alternative have to maintain that routing? Why can’t the routes exit the Spokane St Viaduct at 4th ave, take a right on Spokane and then a left onto the busway? An even better question is why don’t they do that already?

    1. Because that’s slow as hell in comparison. The busway is great, unless you’re not going into the tunnel. Then you’re slogging through the Royal Brougham/4th mess, trying to get through the always crowded Jackson intersection, then hoping 3rd and Yesler isn’t clogged with EMTs this morning. Don’t even try it at all in reverse in the afternoons if there’s a game on.

      99 is *the* transit route for the SW until light rail to West Seattle opens, and even then it’ll be a long time before it reaches white center and Burien and can replace 99 buses.

  8. I’m glad they’re studying a narrower road. How about removing one of the general purpose lanes and creating a transit + freight lane?

    1. +1. I think the idea for transit+freight lanes needs a hearing, both here and maybe even on I-5.

      1. Interesting idea. Perhaps on other at-grade arterials that are designated freight corridors as well.

    2. Please do not play into the goals of fright interests that are already saying the 99 tunnel will be too expensive.

      Freight has the tunnel already, they just need to pay the (heavily subsidized) toll.
      We do not need to encourage freight diversion.

      1. This isn’t diversion. Alaskan Way will be the primary freight route to the Ballard/Interbay Manufacturing Industrial Center and Fisherman’s Terminal.

      2. Yeah, what Jon said. Once the viaduct goes way away, the won’t have 99 tunnel. Those coming from Aurora will over course use it (the tolls are minor compared to how much the driver/truck costs).

      3. If this is a freight highway, we should devote space to freight vehicles, not general purpose lanes. Maybe taxis could be allowed along with buses for folks getting to their cruise ship on time, but setting aside so many lanes for folks to drive down and then park on the waterfront is a tremendous waste of space.

        If you have drive down and park you car to go shopping on the waterfront, there are plenty of garages up the hill.

      4. Here’s a little more on freight+transit lanes. I’d never even considered the idea before:

        Congested GP lanes are the enemy of both transit vehicles and freight. In areas with only 2 lanes available maybe freight+transit can work. There are a number of such corridors in Seattle:

        As for the waterfront, it would probably be best to have a thru freight lane, a GP lane, and a transit lane. Those ferry lanes seem like they should be first in line to go, not transit.

      5. Freight + Transit lanes make perfect, perfect sense. On the waterfront, north of the ferry anyway, why allow cars at all? Bus lane + truck lane.

      6. Let’s think outside the box a bit. There is an empty birth currently being used to dispose of Bertha’s leavings directly south of the Ferry Terminal. South of that is a derelict pier whose “headhouse” base stretches from Washington to Jackson. The next pier to the south is being used as a holding location for Bertha’s cuttings between barges.

        So, tear down the derelict pier, fill the space between the ferry parking with a four lane road (two southbound for arrivals next to Alaskan Way and two northbound for departures on the seaward side, and when Bertha is finished extend the road to King west of the tunnel portal. In this way you have successfully separated the ferry traffic from the general purpose, freight and transit traffic on Alaskan Way and can narrow it by the necessary two lanes.

  9. Eliminate the two ferry queue lanes. Vehicles that are essentially parked shouldn’t consume valuable street space.

    Make Coleman Dock a massive parking structure, and charge a peak travel fee for those that insist on driving onto the ferry at peak periods.

    Or, if Bertha never completes the tunnel repurpose the tunnel as underground ferry queue space.

    Or what about space above the Port of Seattle container terminal?

    There has to be somewhere better to put a bunch of vehicles that won’t be moving for half an hour or more.

    1. A massive parking structure for ferry drivers makes a lot of sense. There really isn’t anywhere else to put them. The amount of space taken up by a couple queue lanes is really minor compared to a giant parking dock (which can be much wider).

      1. The original designs called for ferry queuing to happen further south, with a structure over the water connecting to colman dock. This was abandoned in favor of the current design for fish-related reasons. The same reasoning killed the Pacific interchange option that would have made the 520/Montlake interface work so much better. We do get a waterfront beach pocket out of this compromise, you just have to walk across two extra lanes to get to it.

    2. By the way, this really is the big issue. If not for the Ferry being right there (and it being a car ferry) this wouldn’t be a problem and the street could be a lot narrower.

      1. One day we will look back at the idea of a ferry being part of an auto oriented highway system and shake our heads in shame. All of the fuel wasted just to haul several tons of automobile from one side to the other when it would have been so much less fuel intensive to have vehicles (automated or not) waiting on the other side.

      2. My sympathies for rush hour ferry drivers was zero to begin with, but then several years ago I managed to get stuck waiting for 15 minutes for a walk sign at a traffic light near there because ferry traffic monopolizes the whole area so badly when it is loading or unloading.

        It’s too bad they can’t just move the auto ferry part of things over to West Seattle. The disused Milwaukee Road railroad ferry area would get them all whoever they are driving to faster and keep them from clogging up the vsluable waterfront.

      3. The problem is – the car ferry also carries walk-ons, and, during rush hour, the vast majority of the people on the ferry are, in fact, walk-ons. A non-downtown ferry location would add an additional bus connection for large numbers of ferry riders. In theory, you could have separate ferries for passenger traffic and car traffic, but operating the extra boats would cost a lot of money, and it’s not clear who would pay for it. By contrast, once the car ferry is already operating and carrying cars, the passenger capacity on board the car ferry is essentially free.

      4. once the car ferry is already operating and carrying cars, the passenger capacity on board the car ferry is essentially free.

        Kinda sorta not. “Walk ons” don’t acutally “walk” from their dense urban housing next to the ferry terminal. They all drive. You have to fund parking at the other side of the pond. It’s better than barging cars into DT Seattle but it’s still sprawlsville with an insane carbon footprint.

      5. Actually, there is a fair amount of bus transfer traffic over at Bremerton, and while it isn’t great there’s a fair amount at Winslow too.

        I’ve been at Coleman Dock at 6 am and seen the huge crowds that walk off the boat. I well understand you can’t dump all those people in West Seattle.

        It’s really nice the way Bremerton has it set up over there as the auto traffic is buried under the walk-on and transit traffic. It’s rather unfortunate, don’t you think, that Bremerton gets a more transit, walk-on passenger and walk-by pedestrian friendly solution to the ferry terminal than downtown Seattle does?

    3. Have heard it mentioned that a new ferry terminal for highway traffic, both freight and cars, be built considerably south of Downtown. Leaving Colman Dock for passenger-ferries only. Would bring a welcome end to this whole discussion. Or most of it.


    4. Use the Colman dock parking structure money to buy a couple more ferries so one can always be berthed at the terminal and just park the cars on the boat as soon as they arrive. Ferry system gets some badly needed redundancy in their fleet and downtown doesn’t get another eye-sore on the waterfront. Crews just walk over to the full ferry while the arriving ferry purges it’s contents and leaves on schedule.

      Rinse and repeat!

  10. “The 24,000 daily transit riders on the Waterfront deserve transit priority: they’re already losing their highway due to Bertha, let’s not let them lose their street too.”

    First off, that’s inaccurate. Viaduct bus riders aren’t losing a controlled-access highway to Bertha, they’re losing because the viaduct is unsafe and needs to be demolished.

    And second, now STB is advocating for highways with general purpose lanes? I’d prefer to think this was just hastily written rather than a sign of an ideology shift.

    1. Perhaps hastily written, and certainly no intent to support GP lanes. I was assuming the continuation and/or extension of the bus lanes on SR 99 between the West Seattle Bridge and the off-ramp, and supporting transit priority from there to Columbia. The intent was to document the iterative degradation of transit priority for the project, from the political failure of the surface/transit option, to a car-only Downtown bypass tunnel mitigated by arterial bus lanes, to now potentially a car-only Downtown bypass tunnel plus no arterial transit priority at all. Even if Viaduct access should deservedly go away, there are ways to do so without making transit a continual afterthought. Sorry if any of this is unclear, I did turn the piece around quickly.

      1. Gotcha, no worries Zach. Otherwise I agree with everything else you wrote and appreciate the tidbits on the history of the design.

        If folks are concerned about the width of the street, has anyone suggested simply removing two GP lanes instead?

      2. Frankly, I don’t understand why there would be a concern; if you look at the waterfront design schematics they call for sidewalks up to 30′ wide in this section, as well as planted medians, some with sidewalk as well, and planted buffers along the street. What would you do with the extra space, 50′ sidewalks?

      3. If the Waterfront Streetcar is coming back, then I guess it’s OK to remove the bus lanes… but somehow I don’t think the people proposing the removal of the bus lanes are planning to bring the streetcar back.

      4. Nathanael,

        The bus lanes are not for transit within the waterfront. They’re to get buses from West Seattle, White Center, and Burien into downtown more quickly and reliably. They replace the Seneca and Columbia ramps from and to the existing viaduct.

        The Waterfront Streetcar is the Flying Dutchman of transit in Seattle.

  11. Crazy idea: what if we moved both transit lanes to the center and create a two way transit mall with a redesigned median bus loading space? It could make the buses more reliable and help break up the extra wide crossing of GP lanes.

      1. This idea could work either way. Getting rid of a GP lane could leave more room for a center platform and pedestrian refuges between lanes…

  12. So get rid of some of the lanes – right now there isn’t a strong need to have car queuing lanes outside of the terminal (higher fares have reduced demand) so start there. There is but one lane northbound under the viaduct today – so having a general purpose lane PLUS a transit lane is a huge improvement over current conditions.

    Let car access to the terminal continue to come from both directions – again reducing queuing lane requirements. Seems like the 8 proposed lanes could easily be 4-5 lanes with no loss of mobility.

    Adding one more lane (or reserving space for a lane or even two) future proofs the whole right of way. (A future might just as easily mean two transit lanes in each direction instead of two general purpose lanes.)

    1. ” (A future might just as easily mean two transit lanes in each direction instead of two general purpose lanes.)”

      As we see, it is far from just as easy to get any respect for transit ROW

  13. Welcome to the club. First the waterfront street car got the axe, and now it will be buses. Can’t have anything useful that would impede the views from the new condos being planned and built.

    Fortunately with the Paris talks failing to come to an agreement, this street will be flooded along with all the first floor residents and the tunnel. And then the 1st Ave street car will become the “waterfront” street car.

    1. Thanks, Gary, for finally mentioning something that was originally in project plans at least a couple of years ago, and then, as with everything else about the Waterfront Streetcar since 2005, quietly sneaked away. So now that transportation, in the form of further degradation of a bad plan, is back in the discussion, it’s time to bring street rail back too.

      Said it before, will say it again: for close quarters with pedestrians and bicyclists, streetcars are a lot more comfortable than buses- even ones in their own lanes. When I figure out how to get jpegs into Flickr, I’ll expand this discussion on Page 2, illustrating exactly this point.

      Though I think that even including freight trucks, the one single rubber-tired mode that walkers and bicyclists absolutely can’t co-exist with is private automobiles. Except for police, fire, ambulance or late night deliveries and little golf-car trains….. north of Pine Street, not rubber tire one.

      For freight, best choice would be cars able to negotiate streetcar curves, pulled by electric locomotives. As it was for decades all over the United States. But ’til then, if a working port demands it, lane or two for freight would be do-able. If streetcars can be run single-track, chance that trucks can too, especially after midnight.

      Basic plan: From Columbia Street south, where it terminates aboard ferries at Colman Dock, the State highway occupies the west side of Alaskan Way all the way south from Downtown. Between Yesler and Madison, buses and streetcars share a transit way to Columbia, where buses go to and from Downtown, and the car-line continues north.

      Planned ramp to from Elliot and Western comes to grade north of Madison, where traffic can cross Alaskan to enter the highway on at Colman Dock. Streetcar line holds east side of the park to major station at Pike Place Market, then follows the park northwest toward Myrtle Edwards Park with another station at the Victoria Ferry terminal.

      Connector fine for First Avenue, but north of the Market, a steep cliff separates it from the Waterfront. So the two lines can share substations, communications, maintenance, and likely some track through Pioneer Square. The archives on the tenth floor of the Downtown library have several serious (and expensive) detailed engineering studies about extending streetcar lines both north and south.

      Now understand: at this time, all the above is intended to be tactical, not strategic. City’s proposal needs to be met with the irrationally strong response it richly deserves. Pretend we’re Vladimir Putin and SDOT just shot down one of our planes! Make a pdf out of this and send it to Marshall and the whole Seattle City Council. No postage needed. Next Waterfront meeting should be good.

      Mark Dublin

    2. In Venice, this may have been exactly what happened. Or more likely, people had formed a prosperous society whose islands both made them harder to attack, and supplied with streets made out of water.

      I’ve read that Venice has a particular kind of boat called a “Vaporetto”, which is essentially a floating bus- a long, narrow craft of bus size, making regular stops.

      So no matter how bad the plans and products of everything on the Waterfront, nature might not only remove the bad stuff, but create a whole new extremely vital sector of the city. Which will also be terrifically productive, which the current Waterfront project presently considers blight.

      It would be especially good if every new building there could be designed by marine engineers to be a good permanent foundation pillar for a flooded city. Urban scuba diving would be a totally rad new sport. And subway cars would be…put down that dead cat!

      Seriously, around the world many people live on houseboats, with long sidewalks of planks between them. Long term rising water is something to which people have long been able to adjust.


  14. Glad to know I wasn’t the only person to realize how obnoxious the waterfront plan really was with the massive lane expansion combined with the deep debt tunnel. But maybe I shouldn’t wear my Feet First tee shirt to any pro transit events ;-)

    This whole thing was a debacle from the get go with “the usual suspects” creating a giant roadway paving the Seattle waterfront and a kickback heavy tunnel project for the Democrat connected construction “organization” in WA. The deep debt tunnel lane capacity could have been done, as it done in service today, with a single level viaduct. But no, Seattle wanted to “reclaim the waterfront”. Yeah, let me know how that works out.

    1. I think you’re giving those Suspects too much credit for hard-core scheming ability, Bernie. Ed Murray is no Kaiser Soze (the long haired psychopathic Turkish villain of the movie). Though the way it ended, we don’t really know that for sure.

      I also think that most cities with Seattle’s waterfront+major highway corridor would have dug pretty much the same tunnel we’re doing. I’ve seen two European cities with excellent public transit do the same thing to give a long waterfront both a highway and a plaza.

      I doubt that any DBT backers didn’t know that the Bore would be no use to Port traffic. The tunnel would take SR99 car traffic under Seattle. Giving traffic, both freight and car traffic- well, a street,with a beach on one side, and some restaurants with outdoor balconies on the other. Nobody thought they were doing anything wrong. A lot of parks will wish they could’ve been that street.

      But some of the rest of us think that beach deserves better, and we its owners can do better by it. History’s jury on the Tunnel will be out for awhile. But meantime, the design and construction work for us transit people is exactly the same as if Bertha had remained a nameless warehouse full of parts.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Those European cities didn’t generally have an expressway a mile away — you do, on I-5. Nobody in their right mind builds a giant tunnel to do NOTHING and serve NOBODY, which is what the DBT does.

      2. I think you’re giving those Suspects too much credit for hard-core scheming ability, Bernie. Ed Murray is no Kaiser Soze

        Murray had nothing to do with it; Gregoire, Nickels and Chopp.

        a street,with a beach on one side, and some restaurants with outdoor balconies on the other.

        Can’t really see dining al fresco along side an 8 lane arterial. During our few months of summer that paved “beach” will have people on it. My bet, less than the tourist crowd we had back in the day of the WF streetcar. 9 months out of the year it’s going to be a wind swept wasteland. Truth is, the Viaduct never did separate Seattle from it’s waterfront. We have/had a working waterfront that turned into a restaurant/trinket/attraction place to hang out. Enjoy it while it’s still there. The viaduct unstacked and put on the surface will isolate the WF. At best you get an elongated Myrtle Edwards Park. Happy 4th of July Ivars everyone.

  15. Is it really necessary to have two GP thru-lanes in each direction? Seems to me one lanes each way would be enough.

  16. Perhaps this is overly simplistic, would a median that allows for pedestrians to rest half way across be a possibility or compromise? I’m not very familiar with this project, so wasn’t sure if this type of median was a part of the design–didn’t look like it from the cross-section above. And perhaps there’s a reason why new designs don’t already include this.

  17. So as a person who (if memory serves correctly) helped draft that quoted Feet First post, I figured I’d add my two cents on this. I’m not currently affiliated with Feet First, but at the time the initial plans for the south end roadway came as a shock. Thus, pushing hard to get alternatives that had a reasonable roadway width seemed extremely critical.

    While removing the transit lanes is ostensibly not ideal, especially if the alternative routing is through SODO, I felt and still feel it is plausible to imagine transit lanes being built on First ave instead and routing buses on SR-99, Dearborn, First, Cherry and Third. And if the CCC gets funding, the buses could simply stay on First if they were built to handle left-hand boarding as is proposed for Madison BRT. Moreover, since one of these First Avenue routings may be the long-term construction reroute between when the viaduct gets taken down and Alaska Way gets rebuilt, making it work well in the ways described above is critical regardless of the long-term routing plans.

    I’d also second the notion stated elsewhere that it is disappointing to not see an alternative that preserved the transit lanes (or made them transit/freight lanes, seemingly a no-brainer), but removed one GP lane in each direction.

    1. Thanks for chiming in here, Alex. I’m wondering what along the waterfront between the West Seattle Bridge and the south portal of the tunnel would pedestrians be trying to access. It is all full of portage facilities, and generally gated off from the public, is it not?

  18. The cross-section diagram confounds me! Why is the bicycle track not adjacent to the waterfront and pedestrian sidewalk? Bicyclists are quite than cars and would have less traffic crossings to worry about. Why aren’t the bus/transit lanes in the middle of the street with medians on either side between the two opposite directions of traffic, giving pedestrians some space to rest if needed? Why is there a big sidewalk buffer starting with only a 12 foot bicycle track? The two medians/buffers in this cross-section would seems to work better if they were between north bound traffic and buses, buses and southbound traffic, and southbound traffic and bicycle track/pedestrian walkway. That would seem to resolve the excessive pedestrian distance complaint too!

  19. I’m torn on this one. The #1 reason for building the DBT was to remove a time-limited and potentially dangerous piece of infrastructure, but the #2 reason was to open the waterfront and reconnect Seattle to the bay. Having a big, giant boulevard on the waterfront with a zillion lanes sort of defeats the #2 reason for going with the DBT.

    Additional, if ST3 gets approved, are these lanes transit really that meaningful? Even in the best of circumstances they wouldn’t have that much of an impact, and with some of the demand potentially switching over to rail are they really necessary at all?

    Yes, not all commuters from WS and Southwest Seattle will have direct LR access, but these commuters would still be better off intersecting one of the LR lines outside the urban core and commuting in on fully grade separated transit that actually goes somewhere. Remember that a bus line that only goes to Columbia before turning around and leaving the urban core is still going to force most users to transfer to another line to reach most of DT Seattle, the UW, etc. So a better transfer would be to transfer to rail outside the urban core.

    So I am torn on this one. I say let SDOT study the issue and let the data decide.

    1. First, there will be a gap of about a decade between when this boulevard opens and when any West Seattle rail line will be complete.

      Second, even after the line is complete, it would be counterproductive for commuters from Burien or (if it’s the Junction option) White Center to use it rather than 509/99 bus service. There is no fast way for a bus to reach either the Junction or Delridge/Andover from those places. The bus could be downtown before it would get to the rail line.

      These lanes are necessary.

      1. It’s as if a single light rail line to West Seattle doesn’t really connect very well to all the buses west of the Duwamish. You need lanes in downtown for the buses to go. If only we could build a tunnel for the buses to go. No, that would be silly — better to build a train to one part of West Seattle that will run every ten minutes at most (according to Sound Transit).

  20. I guess I’m surprised by the surprised reactions. SDOT is the same brain trust that blessed us with “Zero Vision” channelization on 35th Ave. SW which the majority of people didn’t want and exceeds the traffic flow model for the concept (it works on other, less travelled roads). This planners proposal, as stated, is only driven by SAFETY…not efficiency of traffic movement through our major metropolitan city. Given the early pressure our esteemed Mayor, Kubly and Rassie are getting on this I couldn’t imagine they would move it forward but I’ve been shocked before: A form of lane channelization on the viaduct apparently went through as well…

  21. In no way did Feet First propose eliminating a bus lane. Marshall Foster was mistaken and this was said out of context. The City made compromises to make the 8 lane highway work for people such as adding refuge islands etc. But, quite frankly, at the end of the day, there needs to be less lanes along the waterfront for people to cross. We have proposed other options to solve this safety issue for people crossing by eliminating the 2 turn lanes for the ferry to 1 lane. Additionally, we have called for more flexible lanes shared by freight and buses. Walking and transit are intrinsically connected. We need a transportation system that puts people first. The elimination of buses on the waterfront is not something Feet First has ever proposed. If you want to know how we stand on the issue, take a look:

    1. Thanks Lisa, we’re preparing an update post that reflects your comments as soon as we get comment from the Office of the Waterfront. I’m hoping to have a call with Marshall Thursday afternoon, so hopefully we will have an update Friday morning.

    2. In no way did Feet First propose eliminating a bus lane.

      From your website:
      The EIS should consider alternative routing patterns for transit to and from West Seattle that would remove the need to place two transit-only lanes through Pioneer Square along Alaskan Way. One alternative is to accelerate construction of the Lander Street overpass across the SODO railroad tracks, thereby allowing buses to get to the E3 Busway.

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