Assuming the ink dries on a finalized Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant, construction on the $120 million project should start in February 2018, with start of service targeted for mid-summer 2019. With new five-door trolleybuses coming up to every 6 minutes, the line will provide a huge boost to First Hill and improve transfers to the future Center City Connector streetcar, 3rd Avenue and Link light rail, the future ST3-funded Green Line tunnel, the First Hill Streetcar, and the eventual Rapid Ride corridor along 23rd Avenue.
This design update gives us clearer indications of SDOT’s thinking on multimodal tradeoffs – conflicts between buses, cars, parking, and people walking and biking – as well as a draft construction schedule. The project is tentatively phased as follows:
- Early 2018: Arthur Place layover, and protected bike lane on E Union Street between 12th and 14th Avenue
- Mid 2018: Madison Street from 1st to 6th Avenue, and Spring Street from 1st to 9th Avenue, including a left-side bike lane on Spring from 1st to 8th
- Late 2018: Madison from Boren to 11th, including most of the center-running right-of-way
- Late 2018-Early 2019: Madison from 17th-25th, in a section where buses will run in mixed traffic
- December 2018: Trolley wire work and other improvements on 1st Avenue to allow Rapid Ride G to share a stop with the streetcar
- Early 2019: Madison from 11th-17th, and one additional block of protected bike lane on Union between 11th and 12th
- Mid-2019: Construction will wrap up in the congested stretch of Madison between Boren and 6th.
Rather than walk you through all the changes since the 30% design level, as this wonk blog would customarily do, we’re going to stick to a descriptive treatment of the entire route so that those new to the discussion can more easily follow along. Let’s start at on 1st Avenue and head east.
As the inbound G-Line approaches 1st/Madison, it will turn right onto 1st Avenue for a shared station with the Center City Connector streetcar. This will permit same-platform connections to the streetcar, providing quality transfers for destination pairs such as First Hill-Pike Place Market and First Hill-Pioneer Square. To accommodate both center and side stations along the alignment, the G-Line buses will have doors on both sides (3 right, 2 left).
The bus will then turn right on Spring Street and hug the right lane until across I-5, with stops at the near side of 3rd and the far side of 4th, just over a block apart. Earlier concepts for a left-side bus lane have long been binned, and retention of right-running bus traffic allows a shared stop with Route 2 and continued direct service to Seattle Public Library (SPL). The bus will have transit priority and bus lanes through Downtown, mostly avoiding the current hell of Route 2 on Spring Street stuck behind queueing cars. However, cars will still be allowed to clog the Spring Street lane to turn onto 3rd Avenue. That’s right, mixed traffic is being allowed to turn right from our BRT lane into our transit mall. This is likely being done to facilitate continued parking garage access to 1000 2nd Avenue and Expeditors International, who would otherwise be forced to continue on Spring to 5th if trying to go southbound by car. (Slide 2)
From SPL, cars will queue for I-5 in the second-to-right lane, and buses will have their own signal cycle. (Slide 3)
From 6th to 8th Avenue the bus will run in mixed traffic, where it will turn right to 8th Avenue into a bus-only left turn lane. This left turn lane sets up Rapid Ride G for the core of the project – two-way center running on Madison Street itself. Stations would be at Terry/Madison and Boylston/Madison. The Terry station has moved further to the east side of the intersection, apparently at the request of emergency vehicles needing access on Terry. The latter stop will provide the best connection to the First Hill Streetcar, with a one block walk from Boylston/Madison to the Broadway/Marion station. (Slides 4-5)
The bus will continue in center-running lanes through 16th Avenue, including through the difficult 6-way intersection of Madison/12th/Union. Stops will be at 12th Avenue adjacent to Pony and at 17th Avenue across from Trader Joes. Connections between Rapid Ride G and Route 2 will be decent in the eastbound direction, with Route 2’s current stop remaining next to Seattle Academy. But the westbound Route 2 will also retain its stop on the far side of 12th/Union. Thus under this design update, Route 2 riders will have to endure the 11th/13th Avenue ‘bowtie’ indefinitely, and westbound riders wishing to transfer will cross 12th twice, by bus and then backtracking on foot. (Slides 6-7)
From 16th the bus returns to the curb for one additional block of transit priority to 17th, but once east of Trader Joes the bus will run in mixed traffic. The x-like swap at 16th Avenue – buses going to center-to-curb and cars going curb-to-center, seems difficult to pull off efficiently. Eastbound stops will be at Madison/Denny/22nd and at 23rd/24th Avenue. Assuming Route 48 keeps its current stop locations, eastbound G-Line riders looking to transfer to Route 48 would alight at a 24th Avenue stop and backtrack one block uphill on John Street. (Slides 8-10)
The route then makes its 11th and final stop at Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, turning right into a dedicated layover facility on Arthur Place. (Slide 11)
Westbound to Downtown
Westbound from the MLK stop, the G-Line would continue in mixed traffic to a stop directly at 23rd, offering a better connection to Route 48 compared to the eastbound direction. Bus priority picks back up at 17th Avenue with a curbside bus lane, and the bus then transitions back to center running lanes via another x-like swap between cars and buses between 16th-15th. The First Hill stops at 12th, Boylston, and Terry will all be center platform stations, shared with their eastbound counterpart.
Heading west across I-5 from 7th Avenue , the bus would move to the far left lane, leaving two right-hand lanes for vehicle queuing for southbound I-5. At 6th Avenue the bus would have its own signal to cut across back into the right-hand lane, where it would remain until 1st Avenue, with stops at 5th, 3rd, and then again on 1st.
Eastbound from 1st Avenue, a buffered bike lane would be painted on Spring on the left curbside from 1st to 4th, but would then transition into an unprotected door-zone bike lane from 4th-5th and again from 6th-8th. In First Hill proper, people on bicycles would use neighborhood streets such as University, though without the earlier proposed Greenway improvements. Though still in the Bike Master Plan, the Union Street Protected Bike Lane will no longer be funded by this project, with the exception of a short stretch from 11th-14th. There will be no bike facilities on Madison itself, in either direction. (Slides 1-5)
The 12th Avenue design is peculiar, a complicated answer for a complicated intersection. Cyclists will be asked to use E Union Street as a through route for east-west travel, but will still not be allowed to stay on Union across 12th. Eastbound cyclists would be asked to cross to the northeast corner of 12th/Madison, and then cross 12th to again reach E Union St. These crossings would be in pedestrian crosswalks and in conflict with people on foot. Westbound cyclists would make the same maneuver in reverse, but in their case it would be a more natural movement. Cyclists on northbound 12th heading east on E Union Street would be asked to ride up onto the sidewalk to access the eastbound protected bike lane. (Slide 6)
Cyclists are generally on their own east of 12th, with no bike facilities provided. Anecdotally, current travel options on E Pike, E Pine, and E Union, while not ideal, do offer reasonably calm alternatives and a relatively intact grid through which to weave. (Just stay off the cobblestone of 18th/Pine!)
Questions remain: how many cars will clog up Spring to turn onto 3rd? Will cars block the box between 6th and I-5, blocking the G-Line from proceeding on its own signal? Can’t Route 2 and the G-Line better connect? How will the double-x weave between 15th-16th be done safely (likely answer: buses will just have to wait until it’s clear to do so). Why can’t Rapid Ride G and Route 48 better connect? Why are there nearly no stops on the steepest part of the street between 24th-MLK?
And the deletion of most of the bike projects is quite disappointing. I wish that a more radical concept for 12th had been presented, to somehow allow Route 2 to end its “bowtie” and allow cyclists to travel straight across Union. I remain disappointed in the lack of transit priority east of 17th, and at some of the pedestrian inconvenience that will be seen at 24th, where some walkers will have to zig zag against their ‘Desire Lines‘.
But it also seems that these latest designs and compromises strike a realistic balance between optimizing the corridor’s performance and recognizing fixed constraints. (Parking garages aren’t going to move locations, and neither would the city force them to close, so they will be accommodated.) I think this corridor as designed would be a marked improvement over current conditions, and would provide comfortable, faster, and more reliable service. Let’s hope that as the design progresses, SDOT can take a few additional looks at Vision Zero, provide some level of continuous service for people biking, and squeeze in a bit more transit priority.
If you walk, bike, ride, or drive this corridor and see something worthy of praise, criticism, or refinement, please speak up by March 22nd.
There is also an open house TONIGHT:
Wednesday, March 15
5:30 – 7:30 PM
First African Methodist Episcopal Church
1522 14th Ave