WSDOT Photo of Partial Viaduct Demolition in 2011

Erica Barnett had the scoop late last night that an agreement has been reached in the dispute over the future Alaskan Way surface street. Prior conflicts included those wanting a narrow roadway (bike/ped advocates), fewer or no bus lanes (Alliance for Pioneer Square), and/or more surface parking (Historic Waterfront Association). Appeals to the Final EIS threatened to drag out approval and construction, so the new agreement clears the way for construction to begin in a couple years.

The new agreement between the Alliance for Pioneer Square, SDOT, WSDOT, and King County accepts the preferred design for a 102′ surface highway – consisting of a bike path, wide sidewalks, 2 general purpose lanes, a landscaped median, and bus lanes in the southern half of the corridor – but explicitly requires the city to narrow the roadway to 79′ upon the opening of Link light rail to West Seattle in the early 2030s. Despite our shared distaste for a new anti-urban Mercer Street on the waterfront, we argued for this same outcome late last year:

I’d suggest two ways forward: 1) work hard to expedite Link to West Seattle to shorten the window in which the waterfront will be an anti-urban mess, and 2) agitate for explicit commitments from the City of Seattle to narrow the roadway upon Link’s opening. An MOU between Metro, the City of Seattle, and WSDOT should require designs amenable to narrowing and commit all parties to shaving 20-40′ off the width south of Yesler Way. Even though urbanists lost the battle for a narrower street, we can still win the war.

As Erica notes, the agreement is nonbinding and future designs to narrow the roadway would still require the alphabet soup of agency approvals, giving lots of veto points for failure. The agreement also unfortunately caps Metro service on Alaskan Way at 195 buses per day, which is less than Rapid Ride C provides on the Alaskan Way Viaduct today, and only about a third of current Viaduct service levels. So the bus lanes we fought so hard for will be preserved but also underutilized. Accordingly, creating a new, reliable Sodo pathway for the remaining two-thirds of Viaduct buses is now the more important issue.

[Edit: as commenters have noted as as Metro has confirmed, the agreement limiting buses to 195 a day is a post-Link plan, whereas in the intervening decade buses will be capped at 650 per day, roughly the current level of Viaduct service. The remaining 195 buses could accommodate one frequent route, such as Route 21 or Rapid Ride H, or more likely a new local waterfront service,  given that there will be no transit lanes. We apologize for the error.]

It’s worth remembering that the worst of the problem will be roughly a decade long, during which the Waterfront will be a truly terrible, hostile highway for pedestrian and bike crossing. The post light rail vision is fairly decent, with a wide bike path, wide sidewalks, grade separated transit, no viaduct, and most cars hopefully out of sight in the underground tunnel. But the remaining 6 lanes south of Yesler (4 GP plus 2 ferry queue lanes) are likely permanent, as is the 79′ ultimate width. It could have been a lot worse, but the color of Alaskan Way will match the winter skies: lots of concrete gray.

102 Replies to “The Future Alaskan Way: Wide Now, Narrow Later”

  1. A “non-binding agreement” isn’t worth the paper (or digits) it’s written on. By the time WS Link opens for business, the makers of this “agreement” will all be retired or dead. Different people will be in charge and with likely different priorities and obligations. Sounds like all smoke and no fire.

    1. Right on all points, Roger. Especially how many of us will also be dead, though would rather not be retired when it happens. One-of a trillion things- that could change is how many motorists will even want to drive along the Waterfront, considering what’s at each end of it and uphill from it to the East and North.

      Downtown is also scraping ever more of the sky as we speak, and reverting to age old European custom, the same income bracket of young people will look at the suburbs just like their parents looked at the Inner City. Meaning there’ll be rich people thumbing down the idea of a freeway the size of both a Texas freeway and Texas anywhere in their neighborhood.

      Also, very likely that Washington State Ferries will move car ferry service southward, where cars and trucks will not have to fight their way through a steep, crowded Downtown to get to their chosen freeway. Leaving Colman Dock for passenger-only ferries. Whose passengers aren’t about to finish their voyage with a walk across a striped desert. Let’s see plans for the new pedestrian bridge.

      Also plans for the whole Waterfront. Also the whole route map for West Seattle light rail.
      I don’t remember any mention of surface grade along the Waterfront. And doubt we can elevate it while fertilizer, fuel oil, and vans are still available. Personally won’t fight the line. After I see it.

      But in view of our rather pointed disinclusion to date, meaning today, I think serious transit advocates should give today’s offering an unqualified “Hell no and we’ll fight you!” until we get onto the creation and distribution end of these communications, not the suddenly-receiving-when-it’s-too-late end.

      For the sake of the stake-holders themselves listed here and the whole City of Seattle. Dr. Van Helsing is supposed to use the stake, not Dracula. Read the book!

      Mark what’s 71+16 Dublin

  2. Read the actual agreement. The number of buses on Alaskan Way for Metro is capped at 650 until light rail opens to West Seattle. The 195 number applies to the narrowed street after the transit lanes go away.

    1. This is a hugely important point. With 650 buses a day until Link opens, this is a workable solution (although the fact that a bus cap exists at all is dumb).

      If there could only be 195 buses a day before Link, this would result in an ugly game of picking winners and losers. That number is roughly enough for one of the C Line or 120, and not much else. And we know how those two lines differ: in the average income and political capital of the riders.

      1. I think even the daily limit is silly and ineffective. If they decide to run 10 night-owl trips down Alaskan, then they have 640 trips for the rest of the day? I thought this was about controlling congestion. If there must be a limit, it should be hourly and not daily, like 40 buses/hour.

        That being said, if the bulk of the trips are between 4am and 10pm (I’ll leave 30 trips for the other times, about 4.6%, leaving 620 hours for this 18-hour section), then that’s one bus every 1.74 minutes average throughout the day, meaning during peak it could be down to 1 bus per minute if off-peak buses run less frequently.

      2. Also, is it fairly certain that the C-Line, 120, etc. will all be truncated once WS Link opens? Do you think they will keep some of the WS expresses like the 56/57, 37? I personally think it would be better if they expanded local service to provide good coverage of Admiral and Alki. E.g., the C-Line could be not just truncated at a Link station, but could have an Admiral district tail up California Ave. The less-frequent 125 could do a loop around Alki like the 37, then turn where the 56 does, providing high coverage where high frequency may not be warranted. Still an upgrade over today’s peak-only area.

        It would be interesting if the only remaining West Seattle bridge route was the 50 or some form of it. Maybe Metro could also bring bus service back to Harbor Island, like the 35 but to and from West Seattle as well, e.g, downtown to Spokane St. to harbor island loop to Spokane St. bridge to one of the Link stations, which have frequent feeders that Harbor Is. workers can use as well.

      3. Much of that bus service is likely to stop going downtown.

        The current Metro long-range plan has the following outcomes:

        – C Line and 21 both heavily transformed into intra-West Seattle routes that connect to Link and serve a ton of neighborhoods between them, including several with no current service
        – 120 rerouted to serve Sodo and International District rather than downtown, connecting to Link at Youngstown
        – 37, 55, 56, 57, 125 replaced by various feeder services to Link
        – Only 121/122/123 will keep using Alaskan Way (but they end in First Hill, as contemplated in the OCC plan)

      4. What’s the logic of having transit lanes and capping the number of buses? It should be Metro’s judgement how many buses can go through before they bog down, as it’s doing on 3rd Avenue. Why does the Alliance for Pioneer Square care about buses in their own center lane? Why doesn’t it care equally about the cars in the ferry-queue lanes who also aren’t patronizing Pioneer Square businesses? They’re getting their two GP lanes in any case for their customers.

      5. I think there is long range, and then there is long range. For several years, West Seattle Link will only go as far as Stadium, or at best, I. D. Right now a trip from High Point to 3rd and Pike is a straight shot. Instead this would make that a three seat ride. Given the density at High Point (highest in West Seattle as of the last census) that is a tough trade-off.

        The sort of routing for the 120 you mentioned makes more sense. It is a two seat ride to parts of downtown (e. g. 3rd and Pike) but it is a one seat ride to other parts of “downtown” (like First Hill). That is a fair trade-off (at at worse only one extra transfer). That is a change that could happen right away.

        I do think a truncation of the C makes sense, even though that would mean some folks have a three seat ride to the north end of downtown. I would guess that a high proportion of the riders board close to the future station. Those in Westwood Village take the more straightforward 21 if headed downtown. By changing the southern tail of the C to something just serving West Seattle – combined with Link — you retain the two most popular uses of the line.

        In general the only time a transfer to Link could save much time is during rush hour towards downtown. Therefore, it makes sense to truncate commuter buses, like the 116, 55, 56 and 57 at the Junction. Truncating bus routes in the middle of the day would save service hours, which could be put into other areas, but it is hard to imagine that folks on the peninsula would come out ahead. There just aren’t that many trips within West Seattle (which already has decent service on the main corridors) to make up for the time penalty to go downtown. If the savings were applied to other parts of the city, though, I could see the savings paying off.

      6. Yeah, I’m starting to think that Link to WS is dead on arrival. Nobody is going to disembark from a bus that used to head straight downtown to ascend to a 70-foot elevated station, to wait for a train. To take them to a station that is less accessible than a bus route.

        West Seattle is going to get a new bus/HOV bridge instead of a rail bridge by the time this is over.

        It will add more ridership for half the cost.

        There will be no train to West Seattle.

      7. If I can get to the University District from West Seattle w/o driving and connect to other lines that will take me to areas north, south and east (Bellevue) of West Seattle plus link into downtown w/o the damn cars holding my bus up during the rush hour, I’m all into link.

        There will be link to and from WS or there will be political hell to pay from a few of us WS dwellers.

      8. The arguments for and against West Seattle Link have been known for over two years, yet that didn’t stop a large group of West Seattle activists and politicians from arguing persistently for it, and ST3 passed. If there hadn’t been such heavy public support for West Seattle Link ever since the monorail failed, it wouldn’t have been prioritized so highly and we’d be building somewhere else instead. Nothing has changed since then in terms of support for the West Seattle line. And now there’s a formal expectation between ST and the public that it will be built. Are you expecting a completely different ST board and city government to come along in the near future and do an about-face? That’s what it would take to cancel it.

        As for a bus that “used to head straight downtown”, that applies to only parts of West Seattle. People on the 50, 128, and 60 already have to transfer,

    2. Yeah, I just think you’re more likely to take a bus from WS over a dedicated bus bridge (no cars) then connect to Link in SODO or downtown.

      I think when WS weighs mass transit via rail vs. via bus, bus is going to win.

      1. “When West Seattle weights mass transit.”

        It did weigh it already. When do you think it will weigh it?

      2. When the actual details and costs of LR are known, that’s when it will die. It’s easy to argue for the fantasy of LR, but not when the costs are $500-$1B higher than estimated and the EIS shows a degradation of service. Which is what will happen.

      3. Based on what? Have you commuted in from West Seattle? Have you been passed by a full bus there? And truncation of service is no different in WS than in Ballard or currently as U Link. They all operate the same way. Let buses do what they do best, operate in neighborhoods. Use saved bus dollars to add coverage and frequency to feeder service in neighborhoods to rail. Use rail’s added carrying capacity, reliability, and speed to deliver people downtown and connect to rail throughout the region. Buses already struggle to keep up in West Seattle which is seeing dramatic growth. They won’t serve WS well in the future.

      4. Based on what? Based on a guess.

        A guess that that is no better or worse than the “representative alignment” that was cooked up to sell ST3. It has favorable assumptions about ridership and cost that I think were based on salesmanship rather than reality. WS is a topographically challenging area for rail and the implications of that will be evident upon detailed study.

        The limiting factor for WS is bridge capacity, not the mode of transit (bus v. rail). The part of ST3 that has the capacity impact is the new bridge over the Duwamish. The use of rail on that bridge actually subtracts value and adds cost relative to buses traversing the same bridge and directly serving the population centers.

  3. When they narrow the street, any commitment to what the space will become? Or is that TBD?

    Is 79′ much wider than more of the major avenues downtown?

    Seems like any attempt to truly narrow the road will require eliminating the queue lanes, which would require first moving the car ferry terminal to another location further away from downtown.

    1. The space will become part of the bike trail/open space/wildlife habitat. The street is being designed to be narrowable.

      Eliminating the queue lanes would require the state’s OK, and the state said no. The state’s and port’s minimum requirements were ferry lanes and four GP lanes. Everything else is extra including the transit lanes. That’s why the earlier calls to narrow the street led to a proposal eliminating the transit lanes, because they were the only non-mandatory part. As for moving the ferry terminal, it would be great if you could get the state to agree, but since now is the best time to do so and it hasn’t agreed to yet, it probably won’t, and after the terminal is redeveloped it won’t want to move anytime soon.

      1. Right, but hopefully that can be revisited in 5 years – you can do a lot more with the space if you are removing 4 lanes rather than just 2 lanes.

        As for moving the terminal, the old terminal would still be there, it would just cease to be a car ferry. It would still handle significant traffic with ferries coming from 6 destinations – WS, Vashon, Southworth, Bremerton, Bainbridge, and Kingston.

        There’d be a lot of excess space on the pier once cars are no long passing through, but should be easily repurposed for another use.

        The hurdle/expense would be building a new car ferry in the new location.

  4. This a minor point, but for a 102′ intersection the pedestrian clearance interval will be a minimum of 30 seconds. The standard is ped speed of 3.5 feet/seconds, 2.4MPH. If you argue for a slower ped speed the crosswalk interval time can increased. Long waits at light could detour people form driving on the road knowing that ever light the hit will be a 30+ seconds of waiting.

    1. I haven’t seen a diagram, and the descriptions are head-spinning, but if there is a pedestrian island in the middle it would halve the ‘red light’ (clearance) time as peds safely wait in the middle of traffic for the next ‘walk’ signal.

      1. “Safely wait in the middle?” ROTFLMAO and crying at the same time.

        Center islands are far from “safe”; morons run up on them regularly. Fortunately, there usually aren’t actual people on them in most places at most time. However, on Alaskan Way during the summer, there will be people there every day, every time. This is insane.

      2. A lot of people (myself included) are comparing this to the Embarcadero, in San Fransisco. Waiting in the middle is no big deal, as it happens all the time: In fact, you might have to wait in the middle twice, as there is a train line through there. So basically you wait for the cars, cross, wait for the train, cross, wait for the cars again, and then finally are across the street. That is the widest section, but the same thing occurs all the way through there, with smaller platforms for waiting ( It isn’t really the end of the world. Even at its most narrow, the Embarcadero is wider than this street will be at its widest.

      3. OK, apparently the median is to be 12 feet wide in the final plan. That is like the Park Avenue example illustrated and is wide enough. The plan I saw originally was more like six feet, which isn’t given the likely speeds on the rebuilt street.

    2. Richard Bullington, I don’t appreciate the snarky and dismissive tone of your reply. I am trying to facilitate discussion, and you are doing little else but dismiss the idea as absolute nonsense without any evidence to the contrary.

      I have seen and experienced center-island pedestrian waiting strips. I believe that it is truly possible to design a traffic island that is no less safe for pedestrians than a traffic corner. That concept, in my opinion, is realistic to apply here to address the potential problem raised by Ian Scott above.

      1. For perspective, 102 feet is a bit less than the crossing of MLK where Link uses it. Somehow it hasn’t destroyed the area: It is less than the width of the famous Park Avenue in New York City. It is way less than the Embarcadero crossing. I don’t think anyone would consider any of those places “a truly terrible, hostile highway for pedestrian and bike crossing”.

        Adding transit lanes is a lot more important than worrying about the width of that street. I’m glad they made the promise to shrink it non-binding, because when all is said and done, we might want to keep those bus lanes.

      2. That was not meant as a reply to Crunchy, but a stand alone comment on the subject. But all of the examples I mentioned do have center islands, so I suppose it works. Here is what Park Avenue looks like: (not exactly “insane”). Crunchy is right — if it is too wide, add a center island; if not, don’t worry about it.

      3. The 12′ that they’re planning is (just barely) wide enough; you are right about that. But it is not “as safe as a corner” to be in the middle of a street. Cars run more quickly in the center lanes as a general rule, and they’re not expecting to find people standing next to that lane because such islands are relatively rare in the United States.

  5. I guess I’m just not as worried about the width of this street as other people. Think of places like the Champs-Élysées, which, while wide, also have very wide sidewalks and plenty of space for people. It’s not a post-apocalyptic hellscape, or at least that’s not how I usually hear people refer to it — but rather a point of civic pride. I’d rather have a wide street with traffic calming, bus lanes, a bikeway, and wide pedestrian spaces than a narrow street with aggressive, speeding cars and a loud, looming overhead freeway any day.

    1. There’s also the Embarcadero in San Francisco. It’s wide but it’s not the end of the world.

      1. I agree. When I hear about this, that is exactly what I think of. The Embarcadero is very wide, with lots of cars, buses and trains, but it all works. Thousands of people walk in the area, and it isn’t the end of the world. Plenty of people walk along the waterfront, despite the traffic. It really isn’t bad as long as cars aren’t going that fast and you can cross the street easily.

        That makes it completely different than Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, which does cut into the city, preventing easy access to the water from various places.

      2. The heritage street cars rumble along at about 15 miles per hour. The PCC’s do better of course, but the Milan cars trundle. That’s all it can be called. And the truth is that San Francisco is much more of a pedestrian city than is Seattle. Folks are walking everywhere all the time, even out in the Avenues, though certainly less there.

        Seattle drivers aren’t used to that yet. Many are quite courteous, but the wingers seem to get a self-justified thrill out of scaring some pedestrian.

  6. “It’s worth remembering that the worst of the problem will be roughly a decade long, during which the Waterfront will be a truly terrible, hostile highway for pedestrian and bike crossing.”

    IMO even the wide alignment wouldn’t even be in my personal Top 50 of awful streets I’ve navigated.

    Spending some time on business trips in suburban office parks without a car is pretty demoralizing (walking on road shoulders, through the woods, or across flower beds at times). A sidewalk is a rare treat indeed.

  7. The corridor will be wide forever. The surface itself will be 102′ wide, and maybe that goes down to 79′ eventually. But the distance between property lines will continue to be 182′ (from graphic on ECB’s page). That’s a huge waste of space on one of our most valuable strips of land.

    1. Yeah, I kind of agree with Alex and Squints that the anti-pedestrian character is being overstated here, but it’s the loss of valuable land that really sticks in my craw.

    2. It will be an extension of the recreational/park corridor. People wanted that, there’s nothing like it anywhere else downtown, it will have a great view, and it’s less displacing of businesses and housing than if the Commons had been built, because everybody agrees we want a big waterfront recreation area.

      1. Alex, personal Heimlich Maneuver requirement is the idea that transit is still barely an afterthought to the agencies and interests proposing this plan.

        Given results of single blockage on I-5 a couple weeks ago, and daily rush hours-long blockages for all our freeways and streets, my call is that Seattle’s commercial interests themselves aren’t going to take sixteen years to demand some serious car removal.

        Luckily, if Angle Lake and Tukwila are any indication, our expanding LINK-age will make it possible to put more Waterfront parking in the suburbs. Including in people’s own garages with improved bus service out there, and future development planned for easy walk from home and work.

        Restoring streetcar service from IDS through Pioneer Square great to bug people with. But people can walk to the Waterfront from every Downtown DSTT station. Same with Downtown itself. Rather than losing business for lack of Downtown Parking, time could be coming when it’ll be a lot more attractive to shop and dine there than in any of the malls.

        Personal problem: these very factors are already deliberately limiting amount of time and money I’m spending there right now. The more gets spent on Atmosphere, the faster prices accelerate toward the Stratosphere. Which for me renders the air Unbreathable.

        One emergency measure: code requirement that anything with old bricks and machinery for decor actually manufacture something, and have its eating area also be the workers’ cafeteria. And that both machinists and diners unionize to maintain conditions such that they can not only afford to eat there, but also stand it.


    3. I think it’s public ROW either way. If it’s not paved road, it’s wider walking paths or green space.

      As I understand it, it’s not like removing I5 where you’d open up develop-able land.

    4. Matt, I think you can help me with this one. Will the whole Waterfront be a through truck route? And if so, will trucks route down the grade past the Market, or crossing the BN tracks at the north end?

      Or both? Of all interests besides rail passengers- of which pedestrians and cyclists are a part- I have the most sympathy for the truckers. Was about list their noise and fumes as reasons to keep them out of pedestrian areas. But those new Swedish semis with the pantographs could help out here.

      Like everything else on Earth, I think those would be more friendly to walkers and bikers than private automobiles.

      For near term- more or less 16 years- I wonder if it would work to think of Colman Dock as the east terminal of a floating bridge to the Kitsap. On a State Highway coming in from the south. With car space sharply narrowed north of Marion.

      Leaving the rest of the Waterfront for people on foot, bicycles, baby carriages, sidewalk cafes, and streetcars. Waterfront line could sneak in on Yesler, run the east side past the cafe balconies the rest of the way out to Myrtle Edwards. Or at least the Victoria Clipper.

      But main idea for present discussion is the division I’m proposing with a State highway at the south end and a plaza north from Colman Dock.


  8. I was pessimistic that we’d ever be able to narrow the stroad, so this seems like the best of the attainable outcomes to me.

    In a related project, WDOT is replacing the Colman Ferry Terminal, which is currently scheduled for completion around 2023. Maybe WSDOT will be more amenable to a compromise regarding the ferry holding lanes after that project is done.

  9. At least nobody is talking about the fact that we have 100’s of cars queuing up for ferries and being discharged into the most congested part of our growing city.

    Because talking about that would make absolutely no sense.

    Car ferries completely belong right in the downtown core of a city which is designed and intended for cars. At least it is when we keep designing roads like this and saying we need them to be that big because of the ferry traffic.

    1. Agree car ferry needs to move (harbor island or therabout would be nice), but that’s very much out of scope for this project.

      1. +1 on harbor island for ferries.
        The amount of land we use 8 hours a day for idling trucks in Sodo is baffling.

        Put all the TEUs on an electricified rail-line, move them to transfer yards north and south of the city, and use the rest of Harbor island for Ferryies, and whatever else people want.
        The port is actively colluding to pollute our air quality with trucks lined up on the low bridge.

        Then the whineging about SODO basketball stadium traffic would just stop.

      2. That’s something to keep in mind as a long-term vision but very much a pipe dream in the present.

        Right now, most passenger capacity across the Sound is on car ferries. The Bainbridge car ferries can carry 2500 passengers each, to only 202 cars (or fewer if any trailers, trucks, or buses are aboard). And at rush hour that passenger capacity is fully used. To separate passenger and car traffic would require an entire new ferry fleet, with both 1) many more (or much larger) passenger-only boats and 2) car ferries with less passenger infrastructure. It would also require increased WSF manpower to run more boats and new terminals for both the passengers and the cars. All of that is real money on both the capital and operations side.

        And the state legislature has little or no interest in finding that money. The benefits of separating the car traffic would accrue only to Seattle. I don’t know how you’d build a majority coalition to support it.

      3. I agree, David, it would be expensive. I think it is possible, though, that you could find a coalition in favor, if you spent enough money. You would have to increase the number of passenger only runs, while sending car ferries to Edmonds or Fauntleroy. That has its own set of issues, as those docks can get crowded. That is probably the biggest issue. This all sounds great on paper, but can Edmonds or Fauntleroy handle the extra traffic? I kind of doubt it.

        Assuming that would actually be OK, then folks on the other side would probably be OK as long as passenger ferry service downtown is as good, or better than today. You could easily compensate riders by running more ferries, which would be a very welcome change. The folks I know from Bainbridge rarely drive across, and increased frequency on a pedestrian only ferry would be a welcome change.

        Don’t forget the high speed passenger ferries, which will change the equation, at least for Bremerton. It remains to be seen how popular those will be, but if ridership is decent, then shifting service to those while sending the other boats elsewhere would be a great trade-off. My guess is folks who drive don’t care that much, while folks who walk just want the downtown connection to be as fast and frequent as possible.

      4. Auto service on the Bremerton route serves as a relief valve of sorts for Bainbridge. (For people living in Silverdale, it’s a toss-up which boat to take.) There’s no way that you’d get support from Bainbridge to direct even more cars their way by reducing auto service to Bremerton. The Agate Pass Bridge and Highway 305 corridor are already congested with ferry traffic at peak periods.

      5. It’s twice as long, and twice as far from Silverdale to the Bainbridge ferry as it is to Bremerton.

        Ah, the Kitsap Peninsula… the I-405 Corridor Wannabe.

      6. The waterfront work is a City project. Colman Dock is WSDOT, and they are rebuilding the entire dock over the next few years. If there was a chance to move it somewhere else, it has long passed.

    2. Moving the ferry terminal further from downtown would increase, not decrease, the amount of cars on the road. Each car would be driving further than they do now to get to their destinations. A good chunk of those drivers are going to destinations in Seattle. For folks heading elsewhere, I assume just as many drive north as drive south. I agree having two queue lanes is excessive (why couldn’t WSDOT have done 1?), but moving the ferry terminal does not solve the problem.

      1. If people in cars are going to downtown destinations and get dropped off outside of downtown when they drive, they are quite likely to decide to walk on the passenger ferry and take transit. Especially if we didn’t build such a large waterfront highway to accommodate the cars (among other things).

  10. “The agreement also unfortunately caps Metro service on Alaskan Way at 195 buses per day, which is less than Rapid Ride C provides on the Alaskan Way Viaduct today, and only about a third of current Viaduct service levels. So the bus lanes we fought so hard for will be preserved but also underutilized.”

    This is total bullshit and not acceptable.

  11. The post light rail vision is fairly decent, with a wide bike path, wide sidewalks, grade separated transit, no viaduct,

    There is no plan for grade separated transit that I have heard of. At best there was some noise about a local bus on Alaskan, or you can walk up the hill and two blocks to first if transit is ever relocated there.

    1. Talking about West Seattle Link, in the current downtown tunnel, not on Alaskan Way itself.

  12. I need to chime in on Colman Dock.

    There seems to be an obsession over vehicle traffic to Colman Dock but have any of you who comment consider the passenger traffic that uses the boats? I use the boat on a regular basis and you would have a significant uproar for Bremerton and Bainbridge Ferry Advisory Committees as well as users. You would end up increasing the travel time to get into downtown for people in the name of removing a couple thousand vehicles per day from Colman Dock while at the same time reducing the amount of pedestrians that have easy access to downtown who walk on the boat. There are definitely regularly filled sailings but I believe there would be more unintended consequences of shifting a terminal than there would be benefits.

    The most amount of vehicles that would come to and from the dock would be 30,000 per day from 6 am to 2 am. That is based on 202 car boats for Bainbridge and 188 car boats for Bremerton (most is usually 188 and 144).That is assuming all boats are filled going both ways. Reality is that isn’t the case. You likely have about 15,000 per day at most during summer. Bremerton car loads fill for 3 sailing heading over in the am and 3 heading back in the pm. I know on the Bremerton end there are about 1,000 exits per day from the ferry terminal meaning there should be no more than 2,000 exiting in Seattle. There are regularly about 1,200-1,400 passengers based on ridership data I saw from 2013-2015. It isn’t possible to handle full boats from the stadiums without having walking access to the ferries. In fact, removing Colman Dock from the waterfront may induce more car travel from Kitsap creating more congestion on I-5 but then we would be going to an extremely inefficient operation of car boats and passenger only boats. Passenger only boats cost about $60 per passenger versus buses that cost only 20% per passenger in operation.

    The dock is only going to handle the current car capacity for vehicle storage when everything is said and done. If you really wanted to increase overwater holding that could be done taking down Pier 48 and having new toll booths further south realigning the holding lanes with a queue space behind the toll booths to move it off the street, but the throughput into the terminal would be cut without the 2nd lane ensuring queue spillover.

    It’s not as simple and clean without impacting thousands of commuters from other areas.

    1. I don’t think anyone is suggesting we would cancel pedestrian ferry service to Colman Dock. There are a couple of alternatives to spending so much space on queuing up the cars:

      1) Build out the dock so that more cars could load up there. This would be expensive, but could be worth it. You still might occasionally get congestion on the main street, but you would simply live with it.

      2) Retain passenger service to downtown, but shift car service to outside the city (Fauntleroy or Edmonds). This would make our ferry system similar to Vancouver’s, in that the only ferries that serve the heart of the city are passenger ferries. This too, would be expensive, as you would need to run redundant service (i. e. passenger ferries to downtown). You could probably reduce the number of ferries that operate with cars, however, as I would guess a substantial part of the ferry traffic is just passengers. Since running passenger ferries is cheaper, you might be able to make up some of the money that way.

      1. With the new fast ferry people wont want to talk the car ferry if they are walking because travel times will greatly reduced. Continuing car services to Colman dock seam silly. Push the Cars to terminal 48 and let them exit on to the freeway on ramp using the lander street flyover.

      2. Exactly. There is no reason we need to provide people in cars convenient access to the downtown core. People on foot/bicycle? Absolutely. But continuing to support cars as the city gets more and more dense and congestion is just silly. Not to mention it wastes tons of money building out the waterfront freeway larger and makes it less safe for everyone including people driving cars.

      3. Removing car ferries from Coleman dock would require two things

        1) At least doubling the number of foot ferries – will need at least two simply to serve Bainbridge-Seattle. I think this is implied by most people, but the car ferries carry a significant amount

        2) Building a new car ferry someplace else. Forcing car traffic to Edmonds is simply not an acceptable solution for Kitsap, and Fauntleroy can’t & shouldn’t handle that level of car traffic. I think it’s important to remember that WSDOT car ferry service is an important part of the regional highway network, even if it’s silly that it goes through downtown Seattle.

        For me, a great option is to take a section of terminal 5 for a new car ferry, and build a direct car connection to the West Seattle bridge, as that gives cars quick access to the freeway system while not congesting any part of a walkable waterfront (in downtown Seattle or West Seattle).

        Bainbridge car ferry frequency can probably then be cut in half, and those O&M dollars shifted towards frequent ped ferry service.

      4. We could also add congestion tolling for vehicles choosing to drive in and out of downtown Seattle via Colman Dock. The best part is that the tolling infrastructure is already in place.

        I propose a $500 per day toll during peak hours in order to discourage automobile driving in downtown Seattle. But, then again, some people may find that excessive. It would definitely cut down on the number of people who choose to drive rather than walk, though!

        I disagree with the ferries pooping out cars on Fauntleroy, however. There just aren’t enough options for that neighborhood to handle any kind of influx of additional private, solo-driven vehicles.

      5. Bremerton’s city council & staff seem pretty Urbanist & focused on downtown renewal. They might be supportive of removing car ferries from their own downtown, as long as they could credibly tell their constituents that there would be adequate car ferry capacity serving Bainbridge or Southworth.

        Bainbridge will keep car ferries – the terminal to clearly separate from Winslow, and forcing traffic all the way up to Kingston-Edmonds is a non-starter.

      6. @AJ — Yeah, I forgot about existing ferry traffic when I wrote that first comment. You are absolutely right, you can’t just push this to other docks. I like your idea — a new dock in West Seattle (at the north end, close to the freeway) makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, that would get a huge amount of opposition from West Seattle, as folks would oppose extra traffic on “their” freeway. Another possibility is Pier 91, in Magnolia, where the cruise ships doc. There is plenty of space for car backups ( and good access to major roadways, via the Magnolia Bridge. That could be tied into repairing that bridge, which is a very expensive overdue project. I could see splitting the traffic, with Bainbridge car ferries going to Magnolia and Bremerton car ferries going to West Seattle. In both cases you actually save some distance. There are fewer car ferries going to Bremerton, so that might make the change palatable for West Seattle folks.

        That is a lot of money, though, and not likely to happen. The main argument is “it keeps cars out of downtown” and you can reduce the width of this road. My guess is very few people care about either issue, especially when you would still have cars in Seattle, on fairly congested roads (West Seattle freeway along with Mercer).

      7. Is there any way the City of Seattle could legislate a ban of car ferries within city limits or at least within downtown core? And thereby force WSDOT to make changes?

      8. Nope. The state can ignore or overrule any rule the city tries to put in place. Remember, under our system, the city derives all of its powers from the state, which is the sovereign as to all powers except those reserved for the feds.

        This is also why neither the city nor Sound Transit has any power to compel the UW to play ball on the Montlake transfer environment.

      9. The city vs state issue is currently at the Washington State Supreme Court in a different context. That lawsuit is whether UW can ignore Seattle laws about designating buildings as landmarks. Seems like the case could be relevant to transportation issues too, depending on how broad the ruling is.

    2. @Dan – you’re absolutely right, and any attempt to remove car ferries from Coleman dock would certainly need to include pedestrian ferries that would continue to serve Bremerton & Bainbridge directly from Coleman. I think most people here would argue that would actually improve service for most users as it would reduce travel time.

      1. The problem with separating the cars and people is that the passenger ferries would get too little traffic any time but the peaks and for athletic games. There’s a constant flow of vehicular traffic that pays for the operations during the middle of the day and into the evenings. Pedestrians would be left out at other times than the peaks.

      2. The car & passenger ferries would presumably have different frequencies and spans of services, depending on needs.

      3. You would end up forcing someone to spend a lot on subsidies and the fact is the demand for vehicular access on Alaskan Way would get taken up by other cars.

        You also look at more vehicle miles traveled causing congestion on other streets for longer given the waterfront is only a few blocks to I-5 versus Magnolia requiring a slog on an already overloaded Mercer Street. What about those who require a car because they are disabled?

        People over here would have a cow given we just spent $50 million for a tunnel for exiting ferry traffic. Bremerton might be urbanizing in the downtown core but it is still suburban by nature. Try to force people onto hourly bus service, they simply won’t come.

        Colman Dock design is pretty much done and it will be a 50 year investment. Do you spend good money after bad in the name of removing even one car from the downtown core? Adding VMTs outside the core isn’t a decent solution either especially in SLU. Some of us prefer to take the boat rather than drive I-5.

        Keep those factors in mind.

      4. Amen, Dan. Some of the cockamamie ideas bandied about here show little to no understanding of the history and dynamics at play on the other side of the Sound.

        Sure, Bremerton is gentrifying for a few blocks around the ferry terminal, but that’s not representative of the area as a whole. I’m sure that Kitsap Transit has penciled out that there isn’t enough ridership to justify running the passenger route beyond the peak periods they will be offering. It took heavy subsidy from the state to run the old Seattle-Bremerton POFF for 20 years and when the combination of I-695 and lawsuits from Rich Passage homeowners killed it, there wasn’t anyone tying themselves to the dock trying to save it.

        Losing the direct auto ferry link to downtown Seattle would be a much more devastating blow to Bremerton. People see it as basically a utility that will always be there. There is already a huge inferiority complex that Bainbridge gets superior service and newer boats. It’s a hot-button for any politician that represents that part of Kitsap County. Suggesting the Bremerton boat be directed to Fauntleroy (or wherever) would be career suicide.

        Don’t forget that the Colman Dock routes don’t just serve Kitsap. Traffic from Clallam and Jefferson counties is carried by them as well. The state as a whole has a superior interest in their operation over Seattle’s urban planning goals. I’d venture a guess that the Navy also considers them important to the operation of their bases at Bangor and Bremerton.

        If the traffic out of Colman Dock is such a big issue, perhaps a tunnel like the one that was built at the Bremerton terminal is needed. Have it connect with the 99 tunnel.

      5. The issue isn’t the traffic out of Colman Dock; it’s the use of city ROW for queuing to get into Colman Dock. It’s a real issue for Seattle residents, who stand to see the southern part of their downtown waterfront permanently turned into a giant highway that ruins the atmosphere for city residents and visitors and only benefits people from across the water. I don’t know that there’s an easy way to solve it. You’re completely right that the ideas presented here are unrealistic, and it will be hard to secure funding for a more mundane idea such as extending Colman Dock itself so that there aren’t queues on Alaskan Way. But it’s galling to have a part of the waterfront ruined to store cars that don’t even belong to locals.

      6. AJ,

        That’s exactly what I was getting at. The vehicular ferries would continue to run at the same frequency as they do now. But the foot ferries would have the same relatively tiny foot loads at 10 AM, 2 PM and after 7 PM that the big ferries do today. So almost immediately there would be calls in Olympia to lessen the frequency of the foot ferries. Eventually they would just run at the peaks like the current Vashon one does and for sporting events. Foot passengers riding at other times would be loading and debarking somewhere south of downtown.

        The answer is to build some a second boat load holding ramp at the abandoned pier just to the south rather than holding cars in the middle of Alaskan Way. Apparently the State is unwilling to do that though so the City is stuck with the terminal where it is.

      7. That part of the waterfront is already ruined. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a bucolic quiet experience south of Madison, and certainly not south of Yesler where it becomes part of the industrial district and container shipping. We’ve got agreement on a quieter environment between Columbia and Pike Street where most of the users will be anyway because it’s closest to Pike Place Market and the art museum area. North of Pike the boulevard turns away from the waterfront, and that will allow the next phase to be even quieter. So a wide street south of Columbia doesn’t bother me much, and trying to bucolicize south of Yesler or Washington seems like tilting at windmills. The industrial district and shipping and truck highways have to go somewhere, and that’s where they are.

  13. I must have missed it in the article, but can somebody tell me, in this “compromise,” what the “cap” on private automobiles and truck traffic is?

    Oh wait, is it only buses that get a “cap”? Hmm, that’s weird. Why not private cars? I would LOVE to cap them. Why not truck traffic? They are arguably even worse for congestion than buses.

    Why are ONLY buses facing a utilization cap? This is absolutely ridiculous. Placing a cap, either today or 15 years from now, on one of our only sustainable forms of transportation, should be an ABSOLUTE. 100. PERCENT. DEAL. BREAKER.

    1. The bus cap seems to be a sop to the Alliance for Pioneer Square. It would be worth investigating why they’re so opposed to more buses and how accurate their assumptions are. From the article it sounds like they’re concerned about the width of the transit lanes harming the retail environment, and beyond that a concern that too many “big buses” are a nuisance. Perhaps they’re concerned about buses taking up space that could go to cars and parking (their paying customers who are affluent enough to drive, because those people spend the most). Is their ire really directed only at buses and not at the ferry queue lanes or through-driving cars? That seems odd so I’d like to know what their reasoning is and how accurate this impression is. Are they willing to do anything positive for the total project or are they just going to be negative on bus riders?

    2. However, when the project is all done, how many buses will be on Alaskan Way anyway? As far as I know only the waterfront circulator will be, a minibus maybe four times an hour. So what is the alliance worried about?

      1. Metro’s LRP shows the 121/122/123 (currently 60 buses a day total) remaining on Alaskan Way after Link opens. But it also shows them going to First Hill, and the buses that Metro wants to move to First Hill in the short term will use the Dearborn off ramp, before the start of Alaskan Way. So it’s uncertain whether there will be anything except waterfront local service.

      2. I don’t understand how there can be any kind of agreement, whatsoever, that places limitations on the future growth of public transportation on any street or highway, anywhere, for any reason.

        NO OTHER transportation method would tolerate any kind of arbitrary usage “cap” whether now or for the future. Buses are one of the easiest ways to scale up our transportation needs in a sustainable fashion. Why on earth would we allow [ah] to place a growth limitation on it?!?!?!

        I honestly do not understand how this is not the biggest issue that anybody is talking about with this so-called “deal.” Like, I am genuinely, honestly perplexed. You guys are talking about ferry schedules and crosswalk signals. Placing an arbitrary growth limitation on sustainable transportation options because some [ah] threatens the entire future of transit in Seattle.

  14. The Bremerton fast ferry, passenger only, carries IIRC a little less than 150 passengers. That simply is not large enough capacity to replace car/passenger ferries which carry upwards of 2000 passengers.

    I voted for the fast ferries, although a little reluctantly. They require a huge subsidy, less comfortable seating, and not all that great a schedule. I understand that Rich Passage, marine engineering and physics demands slower and smaller boat than might be preferred.

    What both ferries provide is the ‘famous’ 5 minute walk to downtown Seattle, especially if parking in Bremerton is not a consideration.

    ps – And cannot drink a glass of wine in the 30 minutes of the fast ferry trip.

    1. The car ferries are enormous and carry way more pedestrians than cars, which is why I’m convinced that pedestrian (and bike) only service is sustainable. Bremerton ferry departs every 1.5 hour & Bainbridge is basically hourly, so a ~150 person ferry departing every 15 minutes or less should be able to meet the demand at peak, and WSDOT could operate just 1 or two ferries into the evening for good span of service without much operating cost.

      I’d assume WSDOT would go with slightly larger ferries*, but really it comes down to higher frequency with multiple smaller vessels replacing 1 large one.

      It would be a big upfront capital outlay, but the boost to frequency would be a huge improvement for the cities on both sides of the sound, especially as it would make timed transfers to Kitsap Transit much easier.

      *I’m not familiar with the constraints of the Rich passage, but presumably the Bainbridge ferry could be much larger?

      Yes, it is less comfortable. I have coworkers who commute to Bellevue on the ferries & don’t mind it because they can work during the ferry leg of the commute (unlike the time spent on the 550). But I think most people would rather get 20~30 minutes off their commute even it it means no WiFi.

      1. The car ferries typical of those runs have a capacity of 2000-2499 passengers and run about every 50 minutes during weekday peaks. I don’t know how many they actually carry during a peak run but I do know I’ve had times where I spent the entire trip walking because there was no place left to sit or I just sat on the floor. If they didn’t have to load / unload vehicles they might even be able to squeeze runs every 30 minutes.

        There is also a large group of people who ride motorcycles to work because transit to some locations just plain sucks. If they continued to run car ferries and just said no 4+ wheeled vehicles allowed a number of those car folks might be tempted to go 2 or 3 wheels.

      2. That “frequent” part may be an anti-feature. The west Sound rejected a bridge in the 1960s to keep growth away: only those willing to put up with the infrequent ferries or staying full time on the west side would be willing to move there. The area has grown anyway but Bainbridge is still exurban/semi-rural so a lot of that attitude probably remains. Bremerton is still a small somewhat blue-collar town because of the infrequent ferry and the navy; otherwise it would turn into Kirkland-on-the-Olympics.

      3. The business interests in Bremerton clearly want a faster connection to Settle – the whole fast ferry initiative wouldn’t have happened without them.

        Also, Seattle rejected rail in the 1960s, so appealing to what voters thought 50 years ago isn’t particularly relevant.

    2. I’d be willing to bet that after the new Bremerton boat is running for a few years, someone with land on Rich Passage with an ambulance-chasing attorney will try to get it slowed down. Yeah, yeah, I know this boat is supposed to be engineered better, but the same thing was said about the Chinook and the Snohomish. They were supposed to solve all the erosion problems of the Tyee (not to mention the hydrofoils that Boeing tested on the route in the ’70s).

  15. Imagine ZERO buses on the waterfront. We would have an awesome waterfront and pedestrian friendly access.

    1. ZERO buses with professionally trained drivers but TONS of cars driven by people who took a minimal test when they were 16.

      That doesn’t sound like pedestrian friendly access to me. Where do we force these pedestrians to go in order to catch their bus back to their home/hotel? Up the hill. Is that pedestrian friendly?

      1. TONS of cars won’t fit in only two general purpose lanes in each direction. Of the 8 lanes, only 4 are for “cars”. In fact, as “highways” go, its severely lacking. I mean, 30mph speed limit? Traffic signals every block? Sidewalks? Trees and a median.. and a two-way bikeway? I-5 this is not.

        Colman Dock has always had storage lanes back to the south, in Seattle public space. It was always on the east side, under the Viaduct. No one seemed to care back then.

      2. The word highway eighty years ago was applied to a lot of small, two-lane, not very fast streets. MLK, Rainier, Belevue Way/(Kirkland) Lake Washington Blvd, Sand Point Way, etc all originated as state highways. Basically everything that connected the much smaller cities of the day was a highway.

      3. You are referring to a state highway, not a highway. In WA per RCW 47.04.010(11), a highway is:
        “Every way, lane, road, street, boulevard, and every way or place in the state of Washington open as a matter of right to public vehicular travel both inside and outside the limits of incorporated cities and towns;”

  16. Zach, you are characterizing the road incorrectly. The wide part of the new Alaska Way is only the 4ish blocks south of Coleman dock. The rest, or northern section of the new road (the vast majority) is 4 lanes. Also, transit service on Alaska Way will turn on Columbia, it does not continue any farther north. This is why the road narrows north of Columbia, no ferry queuing, and no transit lanes. Saying the new Alaska Way is a “highway” is purposely misleading your readers. Pedestrians will also have the option of using the new Marion Street pedestrian bridge to access the southern section of the waterfront.

    1. Is there really going to be no transit along the waterfront? How is a family visiting the aquarium or the ferris wheel supposed to get home?

      1. The waterfront team wrote a transit report. (PDF). It recommends an electric bus or minibus from Jackson Street to Broad Street with an optional extension to Seattle Center. “Electric” might be battery, hybrid, or trolley bus. The report also studies a vintage streetcar and a modern streetcar but does not recommend them. The waterfront project itself includes only the transit study, not the implementation. The final mode decision and implementation will be up to SDOT.

      2. How do they get there now? There currently are no buses along that stretch of Alaska Way and people seem to access those areas. Once the Overlook Walk is completed it will be much easier to access that area from Pike Place Market and the City Center Connector streetcar. But as Mike said, if needed SDOT will do a rubber tire bus along the waterfront, though I suspect they will wait and see what the need is after it’s all built.

      3. The purpose of the circulator is not to get to the waterfront, it’s to go from one part of the waterfront to another. The streetcar used to fulfill that role, although not very well since it was every 20 minutes. Now there’s nothing, and that deters people from staying on the waterfront and going to multiple places: they go to just one place and back, unless they like to walk and can walk (i.e., not the elderly or young children).

  17. How exactly would these transit lanes be removed to narrow the roadway? Would they have to move the median? Would the median simply grow from 12 feet to 37 feet and the inside lanes would be moved outward by one lane in each direction? Would a new median be added between the northbound left turn ferry-bound vehicles and the through vehicles (which would be shifted outward one lane)?

    I imagine that there is an answer for these questions but I can’t easily find it in the links.

    1. Somehow two lanes will be convertible. I could see it being the two outer lanes or the two westernmost lanes. Taking the westernmost lanes would require shifting the median but it would the best way to extend the linear park which is on the west side. If it’s taken from both sides then that could lead to a useless piece of open space on the east side that’s too small to do much with

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