Buses and one car on 3rd
Third Avenue. That car, typically, is about to ignore a Do Not Enter sign. Photo by Zack Heistand.

It’s time to make Third Avenue into Seattle’s first transit mall. Tomorrow. Or, at least, late next year, once the remaining buses have to leave the downtown tunnel. The City of Seattle should ban all* non-transit motor vehicles from Third, 24/7. Banning cars completely would:

  • Increase the bus capacity of Third
  • Speed up bus travel
  • Allow more efficient bus stop positioning
  • Improve pedestrian and bike safety
  • Make enforcement easier
  • Inconvenience very few car drivers

The ban has been warranted for several years, but will become far more important with the brave new world of no tunnel buses.

While Link light rail gets all the glory and gaudy annual ridership increases, Third remains the city’s busiest transit corridor in both trips per day (3,000) and ridership (likely about 125,000). Yet, as Zach reported last month, Metro, Sound Transit, and the City are not yet considering improvements to Third in the One Center City plan. Instead, they are proposing improvements to less-used corridors, along with major bus restructures that would force transfers — in some cases, with no return benefit. Improving Third by banning cars could allow Metro and Sound Transit to avoid the worst of these forced-transfer plans, while also improving the commute for a large majority of the 47 percent. (No, Mitt, not that 47 percent — the 47 percent of downtown commuters that use transit.)

The agencies should include a transit-only Third as a core piece of One Center City, and should take advantage of it by running as many buses there as it can possibly handle. More details about why, after the jump.

*With very narrow exceptions, described below.

Cars Don’t Help Capacity; Buses Do.

The vast, vast majority of commuters using Third do so on a bus. During each rush hour, each of the 12 blocks of Third legally accessible to cars is serving a few cars per minute, for a total of perhaps 200 cars per block, or maybe 5000 total cars per day. Today Third alone carries well over 100,000 daily bus riders. Allowing Third to carry just one more major bus route such as the 41 or 550, with over 10,000 daily passengers each, could benefit triple or more the number of commuters who now drive cars on Third. If the City and the transit agencies are concerned about capacity through downtown, reducing congestion on Third is the most obvious possible step toward increasing it.

Banning cars would increase capacity in two ways. First, congestion from turning and stopped cars (as described below) would disappear. Second, a car ban would enable more and better-placed bus stops. With no interference from right-turning cars, a few current bus stops could be extended, and several blocks that do not currently have bus stops could host stops, increasing space for bus loading and unloading.

The highest-volume hour of the day for bus departures is 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Today, 274 buses use Third during that hour, and the agencies believe that is the maximum possible with Third’s current configuration. An increase to 300 buses in the maximum hour could, by itself, mitigate the very worst of the forced transfers proposed for next year, while adding capacity for several thousand riders just during that single hour.

Car Drivers Don’t Understand Third.

Today, Third is open to all traffic at most times. During a very narrow slice of peak hours—6 to 9 a.m., and 3 to 6:30 p.m.—cars are still permitted, but can access Third only by turning right onto it. They are then required to turn right off of Third after one block. Going straight on Third for more than one block is prohibited, as is turning left onto or off of Third. If the last few sentences confused you, you are not alone. In a one-day count I recently conducted, more than one-third of rush-hour car drivers on Third ignored at least one and often more of these rules, frequently using the street as a bypass of congested Second or a convenient way to access I-5 onramps via left turns onto University or Spring. The major ridesharing platforms’ apps for drivers also ignore the restrictions. Whether misbehaving car drivers are scofflaws or genuinely confused, their high volume makes enforcement nearly impossible even when SPD or Metro Transit Police attempt it.

A clear and consistent rule, with no cover for violations and enforced at all times, would solve this problem. Whether marked by red paint or flashing “Bus Only” signs, a permanent bus-only street would be obvious even to oblivious car drivers. Violators would stand out, and enforcement would get much easier. Ridesharing platform apps would be forced to acknowledge the ban. Portland’s transit malls, which are full-time, are observed consistently and remain clear for buses, as do other permanent and well-marked transit-only streets around the world.

Red bus lane in front of UW Medical Center

Cars Cause the Delays.

Both illegally and legally driven cars are the most consistent source of delays on Third. I have a unique perspective on Third operations: my office window has a perfect view of Third from Virginia to University Streets. For the last four years I’ve watched Third at all hours, both when it smoothly handles a staggering volume of peak capacity and when it breaks down into a static mess of diesel fumes and colorful sheetmetal. While the very worst delays typically stem from a crash or disabled bus, more routine delays are almost entirely thanks to turning cars. That includes both legal right turners, who must wait for pedestrians with buses stuck behind them, and left turners, who block what is usually the only lane available to moving buses.

Metro has gone to considerable lengths over the years to streamline its own operations on Third. Buses skip stops so they can take advantage of synchronized green lights for a few blocks. Several bus routes, including the workhorse 7, were moved to prevent any bus turns off Third along its most congested segment. But turning cars disrupt these improvements throughout peak hour, forcing buses to wait through extra light cycles as bus stops sit empty. A few turning cars, each carrying one or two people, often delay several buses with 50 or more passengers each.

Cars Don’t Need Third.

Car access to Third is not essential for reaching any significant destinations. There is almost no street parking along Third, with just a few cut-out loading zones. There are no alley or parking garage entrances between Stewart and Yesler (with the sole exception of the non-public U.S. Postal Service garage between University and Union). For cars, Third is purely a shortcut on the way to somewhere else. There is no place that cars can’t reach by using First, Second, Fourth, or Fifth.

When the current rules were imposed in 2005, the City justified allowing limited car access during rush hour not because it was needed to reach destinations on Third, but because it would shorten car trips to other destinations located on east-west streets. Shortening the trips of a few thousand car drivers by a couple of blocks each is just not worth the congestion those car drivers impose on the much larger number of bus passengers using Third.

The few non-transit vehicles that truly do need Third can be accommodated. Deliveries to businesses along Third could continue to use the current loading zones, but restricted only to vehicles with commercial vehicle permits. Postal Service vehicles could access the garage by turning onto Third from University or Union Streets.

It’s Time, Now.

Third Avenue in its current form was built in conjunction with the tunnel, and opened fully in 1990. Bus operations were streamlined, and cars partially restricted, in 2005. It’s now 2017, and we’ve had several years of the largest boom in Seattle history adding jobs downtown and residents throughout the area. The downtown transportation system is under the most stress it’s ever seen, and more cars are the reason. Transit has been the system’s saving grace, taking on virtually all of downtown’s added commute demand. More people use transit to reach downtown than any other mode, by far. It’s time to recognize transit’s essential role and give it the priority it warrants on Third, the busiest transit corridor in the Pacific Northwest.

Ban cars from Third, now.

78 Replies to “Ban Cars from Third, Now.”

    1. City council folks, the Sustainability & Transportation Committee, Transit Advisory Board, various people at Metro, Downtown Seattle Association (?), raise a bunch of hell.

      Also, of importance, is convincing the traffic engineers behind the scenes with their “models” stating this isn’t a problem or that Downtown may collapse if cars are taken off 3rd.

  1. “Seattle’s first transit mall”

    LOL, the bus-only DSTT retroactively doesn’t exist now.

    On a serious note, I think it makes perfect sense to truly ban cars from third during midday and expanded peak, like 5am to 8pm, and we can have lights at crossings that clearly indicate when cars can access third. But not 24/7, especially when at night transit usage and availability drops way down. The remnant of third-avenue service that run every 1-2 hours doesn’t need its own corridor through downtown, it just doesn’t. Consistency and simplicity is the only thing I can see to justify keeping cars off third through the night, and it doesn’t go far enough for me to eliminate a two-way corridor through the core of the city.

    1. Late at night there’s still no need for cars to be on third, there is just not that many people driving around. Better signage to on ramps could help but enforcing the current rules with heavy fines would be the best. Besides everyone is going to be driving down to the water front to get on the urban highway 99 in 2018/19.

    2. >> Consistency and simplicity is the only thing I can see to justify keeping cars off third through the night,

      Bingo, you got it. Consistency and simplicity is essential for the law. It prevents people from making mistakes or trying to get away with something.

      Besides, there is no cost. There is nothing on third that people are trying to go to, they are simply trying to use third as another way of getting through town. Late at night, there is no need to use third, as all the streets flow easily.

    3. Consistency and simplicity are indeed key and signs that read like calculus inhibit that. That’s why 3rd should be transit-only 24/7 and cars can use parallel roads 2nd for southbound and 4th for northbound at any time.

    4. It seems silly not to paint 3rd Ave red just to allow car traffic between 1 am and 4 am, the only time routes dwindle to less than hourly. But wait, some of the RapidRide lines will be hourly overnight, so bring on the red paint to indicate “no private vehicles allowed 24/7”.

    5. We’ve got some bus-only lanes that are 24/7 though almost no buses use them at night, such as Aurora Ave, Battery St, Middle Pl, and 99 south of downtown. I don’t see why not just make 3rd Ave be 24/7 (with exceptions for local commercial/delivery vehicles).
      Streets in downtown Minneapolis also have dedicated bus streets and lanes 24/7 too, like Nicollet, 2nd, and Marquette… with some of those having no buses at night and only dozens of buses all weekend! Compliance there is high.

      1. Simplicity is key for enforcement too. I don’t see why we couldn’t have cameras set up to ticket violators.

  2. Do it. Current system has failed; left-turning SOV back up at 3rd and Spring (plus others) during peak every day.

  3. I thought I remember an article or discussion in the comments, years back, that compared doing this to Chicago’s State Street pedestrian mall, which they ultimately turned back into a normal street, due to it being mostly void of people outside of peak travel times, coupled with a lack of perception of safety.

    State Street is bustling now, and while its success correlates with the return of the car, the real cause was Chicago drawing up a master plan for the thoroughfare to have more retail, residential, educational and theatrical draws, ensuring large amounts of people at all times.

    So yes, ban cars (at least 7-7), but let’s use it as an opportunity to turn Third into a street that people will actually want to visit outside of catching buses.

    1. The vertical distance between Seattle’s Avenues (particularly in the “office core”) makes the differences between them more pronounced… but the whole office core is pretty dead in the off-hours. 2nd, 4th, and 5th no less than 3rd. 1st Ave has destinations that bridge the gap between Pioneer Square and the Pike Place/”West Edge” area, but none of the other Avenues do. 1st has SAM, while 2nd and 3rd have Benaroya Hall, which isn’t too active when there’s not a concert going on.

      Since infill change tends to happen in incremental ways, I guess I’d expect to see off-hours activity enter the office core by creeping uphill from 1st, north from Pioneer Square (particularly as the residential market heats up there), and south from the retail core. A decent number of businesses front 2nd and 3rd that might try keeping wider hours as more residents come in. They at least don’t have the several-block area of government and court offices that will always have really limited off-hours use.

      1. In many ways the downtown night life mirrored the suburban/urban trends in the country and the region. By the 80s, it was pretty much a ghost town after 6:00. But then Pioneer Square started showing signs of life, and then Belltown. There are towers going up all over, and eventually this spreads to the entire area. It just doesn’t make sense to have a restaurant, for example, that closes at 6:00 anymore, especially if it is only a short walk — or an easy bus ride — to the place.

  4. I would also go a step further and ban bicycles from 3rd as well. A bunch of cyclists darting around the buses would not make for a particularly safe and efficient busway.

    1. Yes! Plus people on bikes delay buses as well. With the protected bike lane on 2nd and possibly a new one coming to 4th/5th, the argument to make 3rd transit only becomes much stronger.

    2. Before the protected bike lane existed on second, 3rd Ave. was my primary bike route to bypass the rush hour car congestion on all the other streets. But, considering that 2nd Ave. has a protected bike lane, which runs both directions, as well as just how crowded 3rd Ave. is with buses, I can see the point.

      That said, bikes are allowed on board buses, and people that load their bikes on buses at a bus stop along 3rd Ave. need a way to get there.

    3. I would support a bike ban if and only if we get a protected bike lane on Fourth or Fifth to match the one on Second. Folks loading bikes along Third could walk their bikes (or ride on the sidewalk if pedestrian volume allows) the last few feet to the bus stop.

      1. At least same exceptions for bikes should apply as cars. To wit, offer permits for delivery cyclists, and make those cheaper than the delivery cars.

      2. Until there are protected bike lanes downtown that actually connect to a bike network, making biking relatively safe downtown, banning bikes on Third will cause injuries. The city should not be allowed to use its half-assed “but we built one bike lane that starts nowhere and ends nowhere and is many blocks west of where most bike traffic wants to go” excuse to not complete the bike network downtown.

    4. As long as this scheme is accompanied by a proper cycle track which actually connects to a viable network of bike lanes, fine. Best way to get bikes out of the way is not to ban them. Best way to get bikes out of the way is to get them in dedicated bike lanes and paths–give them something they’d rather use instead.

    5. People on bikes don’t want to bike with buses. They just have no other choice. Rather than banning bikes, build an actual safe, connected, and inviting downtown bicycle network. People will then choose to use that instead of biking in bus-only lanes.

      There are plenty of studies showing how building safe bike lanes results in a massive drop in the number of people biking on the sidewalk. And that’s a sidewalk! Playing leapfrog with buses is even *less* comfortable than biking on a sidewalk.

      1. Yeah, that is the way to go. There are very few bikers who would choose to ride with buses, although I have been told it is actually safer than riding next to cars (bus drivers are professionals). Those that do are likely hard core, and probably capable of keeping up with buses. Which means that the bike riders that are most likely to cause problems are the ones that feel they simply have no choice, as opposed to, say, the bad-ass delivery riders.

        One problem at a time. The big problem right now is car and bus conflict. Remove the cars, and if bikers are really slowing down the buses, then we need to add more infrastructure so they have better alternatives. If (after all of that) it is still a problem, then we should ban bikes. I seriously doubt it will be though.

  5. Seems like an easy win. Buenos Aires has a great transit mall with buses arriving at well defined stations. Each station is center platform and buses run contraflow to allow normal buses with right side only doors to use the stations. I would like to see that studied as a means for more capacity without requiring a new fleet of buses. Very least, other transit malls around the world should be studied and emulated for all the valuable lessons they could teach SDOT.

    I would also like to see several less used cross streets closed from crossing 3rd Ave to not block the flow of the buses at every intersection.

  6. Excellent idea and post! I’d advocate banning bicycles as well if we are really going for a street optimized for transit.

    1. I agree. No cars or bikes. Will make transit more efficient. If the city decides to let cars on the road at later hours, the same hours could be given to the bikes. But if a 24hr ban is implemented, it is better to ban both. But a protected bike lane on 4th or 5th or both also seems fair.

  7. I agree. I’d also like to see the restrictions extend further north–the north portal inbound to Third is a mess. Buses frequently get stuck trying to turn onto Third turning from Lenora at peak. I’m not sure how much of the congestion is caused by cars versus other buses, but banning cars at least up to Blanchard would smooth operations for buses joining Third.

  8. I agree completely with this. This is an excellent article in that it dealt with every possible objection. Technically the street would not be bus only, but bus and commercial permit vehicle only, with the latter group rarely using it (there just aren’t huge numbers of loading spots, as you mentioned). I see no reason why this shouldn’t be done — everything becomes a lot simpler, and traffic for everyone will flow better.

    1. How could you forget about Mercer Islanders?! The 1976 agreement clearly gives Mercer Islanders 3rd preference to the bus lanes on 3rd Ave. Multiple press outlets have pointed that out, so it must be true. WHY DO YOU HATE MERCER ISLANDERS?!

    2. No kidding. As someone who normally gets into downtown via bus. It’s perplexing how poorly setup 3rd Ave’s bus only hours are from a current usage perspective. Specifically when I’m trying to get to SODO from north of downtown for a sporting event. Whether that be Sounders, Mariners, or a late night Seahawks game, they all start at 7 PM. Meanwhile the bus only 3rd Ave restrictions end at 6:30 PM. Meaning that even if you take a bus to get to these games, you end up being punished if you don’t arrive hours before because once 6:30 hits. It takes the E Line and other southbound buses on 3rd Ave, more than the half hour from 6:30 to 7:00 PM to actually get through it.

      Meanwhile if you take your car, you might actually end up at the game in the same amount of time as I do taking the bus. So it’s a disincentive for people to use transit when even in downtown at rush hour, it’s faster to drive by yourself in certain cases like the one I described.

      15th Ave W being peak only direction which means BAT is only restricted going north out of downtown in the evenings is another huge problem. Since I’ve seen buses queued up and blocked trying to get into grid locked lanes towards Denny St. because the BAT lane isn’t restricted and has something like 3 parked cars utilizing the lane.

      That’s a bit off topic but yes the city council needs to really start giving buses more priority in these corridors, because relief isn’t going to come for decades in most cases and cars aren’t scaling on these streets. Right now it seems like everyone is losing when we could at least let transit win so there’s some option to avoid cars heading to I-5 if you aren’t actually going to I-5 at rush hour.

  9. Portland’s transit mall allows for limited auto access as well.

    One of the nice things about having the lanes be full time transit only is that the signage is able to be much more emphatic, with bus only markings on the pavement.

    The post-2009 rebuilding of the transit mall did result in an additional lane of traffic being opened to auto use. However, the one way street grid makes it somewhat difficult for auto users to actually use for any long distances. This means 5th and 6th frequently look like this:

    Another nice thing about the one way street grid: Portland doesn’t have autos making a left turn block the bus lanes as left turns don’t happen in a bus lane.

    1. Portland’s car access works because cars are in the left lane only. This is possible because the bus mall there is made up of two one-way streets.

      Now, if you want to propose that 3rd become a car-only street and 2nd and 4th become the transit mall, we’d be in business!

      Seriously, though, I’d love to see someone come up with a traffic plan for downtown Seattle that starts with the available carriageways with no preconceptions. Even trolley wire would be up for grabs. Just erase all traffic control and start from scratch with the physical infrastructure. I’d crowdfund it!

  10. One quibble with this, though – ADA access to buildings along Third.

    My grandma enjoys going to the Symphony. She uses a walker, and even with it, I don’t think she’s able to get up any of the downtown hills. Currently, she’s dropped off along Third in front of Benaroya, and that works great. If Third isn’t available, I don’t know how things would work. Sure, maybe the shuttle from her retirement home could get a placard, but what about people in analogous situations who don’t have those special shuttles? And what about other buildings? I hope there’s some way around this, but I can’t see any.

    As a possible fallback if this doesn’t work, what about forbidding all turns off Third (except for the 2 at Spring/Seneca and the 3/4/27 at James)? The current policy seems to be the opposite of what we want: we’re requiring cars to turn off Third, delaying buses. If they’d just continue straight through to Yesler or wherever, things would be much better.

    1. If cars aren’t forced off off third at each right turn, then you’d end up with a fair amount of autos that don’t understand skip-stop operations and would also probably get trapped between buses within the bus zones.

      1. Sure, that’d delay the cars (and maybe teach them to stay off Third next time), but how would it delay the buses anywhere near as much as waiting for a turning car?

    2. I agree that some sort of accommodation needs to be made for this case, but evening performances at Benaroya are actually one of the bigger disruptions Third faces. Bus traffic is still heavy at 6:30 p.m. when all of the retirement center shuttles start to arrive, and they frequently block the bus stop in front of Benaroya and create a logjam of southbound buses (and, for now, cars) trying to squeeze past in the left lane. Somehow there needs to be a safe loading option off of Third.

      1. Downhill University Street next to Benaroya was recently opened up to GP vehicles instead of being transit only. Perhaps use of that street (re-striped a bit) with a loading zone could be used by shuttles and taxis instead of 3rd.

      2. Yes, a safe, level loading zone would really help matters. (And since it needs to be level, it can’t be on University or Union… and Second would conflict with the cycle path…)

    3. @William C.,

      The downtown accessibility map shows a wheelchair tunnel under Benaroya Hall from 2nd Ave (an option that would simply require crossing the street). I believe that is the tunnel I’ve used many times from the Garden of Remembrance to the elevator that goes up to 3rd or down to the parking garage (another potential option, especially on rainy days), while the ramp continues to University Street Station (another option, if the group doesn’t have too many hand-to-hand passengers for a guide riding along on the train).

    4. Besides the Symphony there are half a dozen or more buildings along 3rd that I can think of just off the top of my head would be inaccessible as they are half block buildings and the hills on the sides are to steep to perform wheel chair lifts.

      Also we are not talking about just ADA access, for some of these buildings this is the only way to access them for deliveries as there is no alley on the backside.

      1. So maybe there needs to be some sort of permit available to vehicles providing ADA access to otherwise inaccessible buildings, similar to the CV permit for load zone access. Access is critical, but it’s also not a reason to let use of 3rd Avenue as a car shortcut keep delaying buses.

    5. Any chance Bennaroya parking garage will let you drive in to drop someone off at the elevator and then leave?


      1. Yes they will let you do this if you ask at the booth, there is an elevator right in front. However for things like ADA buses it isn’t doable. And during busy periods such as right before a show it’s highly disruptive.

  11. Alex, considering its narrowing and steepening south of Yesler, I think it’s a “stretch” to call Third a through corridor. Also that “after-hours” Third adds or detracts any traffic from the other arterials.

    But Rapid, you’re onto something that’s bothered me for many years. Chicago’s State Street isn’t the only example of its kind. In the 1970’s, a lot of planners made the mistake of thinking that a street cleared of cars would automatically become a happy, lively, prosperous plaza 24-7-365.

    Truth is the opposite. Pedestrian street life needs live things people can walk to. And eat at. And shop at. And have their homes in. Which will attract them in numbers enough that buses and streetcars will move them faster than cars. Like Third Avenue stopped being when the City of Seattle deliberately zoned these things off of it.

    Along with freeways, symptom of the disease that almost killed public transit too. “The City is your office. The Suburbs are where you commute home and LIVE!” In the spirit of that time, a transit-friendly Third Avenue was an alley full of bums! Like the whole “Downtown” of every single city in the country.

    I seem to remember that the Downtown Seattle Transit Project had to convince certain interests that the Tunnel would permanently leave Third Avenue a clear, clean office building hallway. With emphatically nothing happening after personnel the end of afternoon rush hour.

    So turning Third into something that deserves to be a pedestrian transit corridor starts with a re-zone from Virginia to Yesler. Followed closely by whatever existing property has to be bought, and whatever structures have to be built for an enjoyable life. Anybody architectural: Any precedent for turning any part of a 1970’s skyscraper residential?

    This is about ‘way more than when cars can be on Third. Anything calling itself “One Center City” – is that across the street from One Union Square?- is going to have to undo about forty years of what would’ve been called “Urban Blight” if poor people had done it. Over forty years, the killing of Third has earned somebody enough money to pay for its revival.

    Right, Mayor Murray?

    Mark Dublin

  12. I agree with the author generally, but a few notes:

    -Obviously police and emergency vehicles should be allowed. I’m guessing David thinks that goes without saying.

    -This should be delayed until work on Yesler is complete. Alternatively the first couple blocks of third could be open to cars when 4th is closed completely at Yesler due to construction (as it was last night), but that would be confusing.

    -I have lived in Seattle my entire life and I don’t remember ever seeing an SPD officer enforce traffic laws. Not once. I do see traffic laws violated regularly in front of police without them doing anything about it. I have even pointed out a car parked illegally in a police only zone to the police, who stopped and looked then moved on. Therefore, while enforcement would get easier I’m not convinced it would occur. On the other hand, it would take a lot of cojones to drive on a clearly bus only 3rd, even if it actually isn’t enforced.

    1. Yes, emergency vehicles should be allowed, as they are on all otherwise bus-only right-of-way throughout the city.

      1. Emergency vehicles are unfortunately a major cause of 3rd Avenue bus delays themselves. Police often park in non-emergency situations on 3rd. Fire/EMS is often blocking both lanes if they park in such a way.

    2. Ben, call City Councilmember Lorena Gonzales: 206-684-8802. I don’t think she’s ever been told that the massive changes envisioned by “One Center City” require that traffic enforcement hours be shifted to Third Avenue. Money already there.

      Because the visibly improving economy of South Lake Union can definitely afford to pay for private guards to help employees get out of their office parking structures.

      Also to adjust work hours and other incentives to adjust to upcoming ordinances forbidding private companies from pre-empting city streets at the hours they’re needed most. Information she’ll need to draft those ordinances, incidentally.

      Might also get with her about possible bus re-routes that could bring KC Metro Route 41 and ST Express Route 550 into South Lake Union. And maybe a “591” from Tacoma. Good to start checking City Council calendar. City Council really deserves some credit for all the participation it’s going to be giving One Center City.


    3. Every few months (or maybe twice a year?), an officer will enforce the bus lanes on the West Seattle Bridge during the morning commute.

    4. Officer Chin of SPD is a zealot, but he only works there in the mornings and not every day of the week. I’ve seen him with up to four customers at a time and when he gets bored with that, he writes up a few jaywalkers. All we need is two of him in the afternoon.

    5. I’d recommend automating enforcement with cameras. With cameras pointed at the entire street, anybody who drives in there would get an automated ticket, starting at $25. Second ticket, $500. Third ticket, $25,000. Fourth ticket, impoundment of vehicle and 30 days prison. Fifth ticket, 10 years in prison.

      I assure you nobody would drive down the street.

      1. I agree automatic enforcement would be the only effective way, and shouldn’t be too hard to put in place.

        I disagree with the fee escalation though, especially if the first ticket doesn’t arrive until after the second or third time someone drives on 3rd.

      2. technically, I agree automatic enforcement should be easy. Unfortunately — and I really mean that — it isn’t permitted under state law. Metro has its own police force, have them enforce the law. I suspect that if the rules were clearer, violators would be rarer (although there will always be selfish idiots who will try to get away with things.)

        This seems like a no brainer to me: the narrow exceptions detailed above seem adequate to me. There probably are ADA issues that will have to be solved, just as there are with removing all downtown street parking. I’d be nervous about being too accommodating here since, nationally, there is tremendous abuse of disabled parking [especially where otherwise metered parking can be used for free just by finding a generous doctor].

    6. Enforcing the 3rd Ave transit-only hours is one of the few times I’ve actually seen SPD enforce traffic laws. Granted, I’ve only seen it twice, but for a while there was a motorcycle cop who would hang out at one of the corners and bust scofflaws.

  13. One advantage to a permanent ban is being able to justify adding better signage and street markings. Colored street pavers with red would really help. Today, if a driver isn’t paying attention, they miss the skimpy signage and have no idea that they have broken a traffic law.

      1. Good point, Richard! Camera enforcement only works if you don’t have to observe consecutive behaviors. But camera enforcement should work quite well under a full ban.

      2. Thanks, Brent. Some other discussions mention ADA accessibility, which I certainly support. Perhaps something like a GoodToGo badge could be queried for simultaneously with the picture taking and tagged to the photo if found so that the review officer wouldn’t issue a ticket.

        Not simple, perhaps, but doable, I think.

      3. SDOT has a number of red-light cameras, and seems pretty adept at tracking down the owner (and address) and mailing the ticket.

    1. If permanent, Third Avenue in Seattle could be designed to be more obviously restrictive to autos. Examples of more permanent designs include Tampa (brick crosswalks and middle lane brick pavers), San Francisco (extensive use of red paint on Market Street, along with arrows and rubber bollards), and Winnipeg (very short turning radius at the sidewalk to deter cars from turning). Lots of places also use the term “Transit Mall” on their street signs, and not merely stating the name of the street, like Santa Rosa does. That’s all in addition to the standard no left turn, no right turn and do not enter signs.

      There are plenty of things Seattle could introduce on Third Avenue if the street was exclusively for buses. It’s another benefit to having a 24/7 transit mall!

  14. Without enforcement, as a habit and not a once-in-awhile-and-maybe-it-gets-on-KOMO-to-warn-people, this is useless. Compare “Ubers parked in bike lanes in front of Amazon on Sixth”.

  15. Excellent post, David!

    This is far better than the proposals to make the riders on routes 41 and 550 transfer at the edge of downtown.

    1. I’ve been intending to do exactly that, but OCC forced us to publish this post before I was able to do so.

  16. Everyone sing along!

    South on Second
    North on Fourth
    South on Second
    North on Fourth

    Hire a harpsichordist or something to provide a background and play this on every radio station with traffic reports until even I get sick of it.

  17. I think it’s a good idea. Most people who drive on 3rd probably do it by accident anyway. You’d be doing them a favor by simplifying the rules. It’s crazy how we all know texting while driving is dangerous but expect people to read SDOTs random rules on road signs.

  18. It goes without saying that I fully support this, but then again I would fully support a mandatory single-occupant vehicle-free downtown zone, unless you paid a commuting tax somewhere around $50,000 per day that you decide to drive to downtown alone.

    I understand that banning every single one of the selfish, “I’m special and deserve to drive alone” vehicles from downtown still carries some potential political backlash/risk, so I’m willing to compromise.

    Perhaps a more viable option is to just ban all cars from 3rd all the way down to the waterfront. Absolutely no cars. None. This would clear up any cross-street crossing issues.

    If the best we can do is just banning 3rd, I’ll be happy, but we should aim bigger.

  19. One question for you though, David: If this actually happens, will the City of Seattle ever be able to recover from the salty, salty, salty tears of the Seattle Times Comment Section? Banning cars entirely from a street may, indeed, send them into an apoplectic, hysterical rage. Truly the nuclear winter will begin, and they will be quick to note the person who pressed the red button: EVIL SCOTT KUBLY!!!!!!

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