On Tuesday I reported council testimony from the Office of the Waterfront that disclosed the new possibility of eliminating dedicated transit lanes on the future Alaskan Way. The Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) will include a new option that rechannelizes the roadway from 8 lanes to 6, retaining two general purpose lanes and a turn/ferry queuing lane in each direction. In his testimony before Council, Office of the Waterfront Director Marshall Foster strongly implied that the inclusion of this new option was at the behest of community groups in Pioneer Square, including long-time friends of the blog Feet First, and to that end my reporting included a 2013 blog post from Feet First that corroborated Foster’s testimony. The post called for shifting transit lanes away from Alaskan Way to the Sodo busway instead.
In subsequent correspondence with both Foster and Feet First’s Executive Director Lisa Quinn, they both strongly denied any intent to deprioritize transit. Lisa Quinn commented on STB yesterday:
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.
In response, Feet First wrote a forceful blog post and quickly uploaded a joint letter from August – cosigned by TCC, Cascade, and Washington Bikes – that called for a narrower roadway but included suggestions that retained transit priority, either with shared freight/transit lanes or with expanded transit lanes from Dearborn to Columbia Street.
And that’s where the process gets a bit confusing. In Foster’s testimony he merely said “we got a lot of feedback from Pioneer Square and groups like Feet First” for a narrower roadway and then immediately proceeded into a discussion of eliminating transit to achieve it. But in a phone call this morning, Foster clarified that none of the groups he mentioned either asked for or support eliminating transit priority. So why the disconnect? Basically, the State and the Port.
Foster said the total number of comments asking for a narrower roadway hit “a tipping point” that forced the City to formally respond to their request, necessitating a SDEIS that studied a narrower roadway. However, Foster said the funding agreement between the State and the Port explicitly codifies two general purpose lanes in each direction, effectively prohibiting the City from studying reducing those lanes in the SDEIS:
Section II, A, 5: The Central Waterfront from Pine Street to Colman Dock will have two lanes in each direction plus a turning lane; the segment south of Colman Dock will have 3 lanes in each direction plus a turning lane.
So the City is in the odd position of being required to study a narrower channelization because enough of the community asked for it, but since the only mode not explicitly protected in its right-of-way allocation is transit, the City will study eliminating transit priority even though neither the City nor advocacy groups see that as a preferred outcome. Isn’t process fun?
We stand behind our reporting of Monday’s committee meeting, which relied on direct quotation of official testimony and published material, but we failed to grasp the full complexity of the situation and regret any hasty criticisms of groups such as Feet First.
Foster took a glass-half-full approach in our phone call, saying the DEIS is likely to show unacceptable impacts from eliminating transit lanes, and that such an outcome would actually backhandedly and belatedly codify the need for transit priority. And Mayor Murray’s office has been clear about its priorities while also deferent to process, telling us by email, “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.” And of course, all of us will have a chance to comment before the Final EIS is developed next summer. I hope that the walk, bike, and transit communities can coalesce around a vision for a walkable waterfront that also takes the mobility needs of 25,000 transit riders seriously.