Near-Term Transit Capital Projects, Click for Larger View (OCC Advisory Group)

The One Center City plan for handling near-term disruption in Seattle downtown transit and traffic grinds forward. Anticipating the end of bus operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, staff are narrowing down the options. At last week’s advisory group meeting, we learned several project elements that are moving forward, and some that are not. It’s not clear whether the pared down program of operational improvements will be enough to prevent a substantial deterioration in service performance.

Meanwhile, the exit of buses from the tunnel, previously anticipated for September 2018, is likely to be delayed. On Monday, the King County Council Committee of the Whole approved an amendment delaying Metro’s vacation of Convention Place until at least March 2019. If the Convention Center doesn’t have its permits by June 2018, or if WSCC is not ready to take over the site by September 2018, then joint operations could continue until at least September 2019. The delay might allow another look at One Center City options that need more time for implementation.

What has been dropped?

The earlier proposal to terminate ST 550 at International District Station was dropped because of adverse impacts to riders compounded by East Link construction elsewhere on the route. The closure of the D2 roadway in late 2018 mean route revisions remain necessary, but the 550 will be operating through downtown on surface streets once the tunnel closes. It is not expected to operate on 3rd Avenue.

Also dropped are South Downtown transit hubs at Stadium or SODO stations. Despite eliminating the ST 550 truncation plan, agencies are examining improvements at the Chinatown / IDS station hub. These may include pedestrian safety and way-finding improvements, extending the bus zone northbound on 4th, and improving the southbound bus zone on 5th.

Three other bus restructure plans are still in play. The public outreach process is well underway for SR 520 service changes, and should commence for West Seattle and Northgate buses later this year. Metro is reviewing alternatives to the Union/Pike couplet indicated for the 41 in earlier proposals.

Conversion of 5th Avenue to transit-only operations (“Option D” in the January proposal) is no longer part of the near-term proposal, though staff held out hope it might be viable as a long-term mobility strategy in downtown. The challenges of implementing this project well in a short time-frame were obvious early in the process. There are construction conflicts with the Rainier Tower beginning this year and a transmission line project also closing lanes at the south end, so planners hesitated to add service on the street at this time. Some local business interests on 5th Avenue were unenthusiastic about a transit mall because of potential impacts to retail and the character of 5th Avenue in the theater/retail district. There were unresolved questions about street design. (Three lanes through the corridor might make for crowded sidewalks at stops. Two would mean buses could not pass).

5th Ave could have carried 120 buses per hour at peak even while preserving local car access as on 3rd. Current throughput is just 10-12 buses per hour and 850 cars at peak. Not converting 5th to transit operations gives up a lot of transit capacity for a relatively small amount of people-moving capacity in cars.

What remains?

With dedicated transit lanes on 5th Avenue no longer being considered, and 181 weekday trips on ST 550 moving to downtown streets, the math becomes more challenging for the agencies. Executing well on the remaining bus restructures is imperative. Much rests on moving buses more efficiently on other downtown avenues.

Near Term Project Delivery (One Center City Advisory Group)

Project teams are now focused on moving more buses on 2nd and 4th Ave (roughly Option B from the January proposals), and improving the efficiency of bus operations on 3rd. Some traffic improvements will play a role. Signal phasing on 2nd and 4th may clear right-turning cars from the BAT lanes more quickly, improving bus performance there. More details on 2nd / 4th Ave operational improvements are scheduled at the July meeting. 6th Ave is likely to be converted to two-way operations, easing one pathway for cars to move from South Lake Union to highway ramps, and mitigating 5th Ave auto lanes lost to construction.

All-door boarding and off-board fare payment may be implemented on 3rd Ave between Denny and Jackson. Staff estimate faster boarding could allow up to 20 buses per hour/direction to relocate to 3rd from 2nd and 4th without slowing travel times. The new route 41 pathway and the UW station area may also see all-door boarding. Off-board payment would not be added on 2nd or 4th Ave.

Even where implemented, off-board fare payment would not be mandatory. 3rd Avenue would operate similar to RapidRide (riders optionally pay at the farebox or board at any door if they have used an off-board ORCA reader or have a paper transfer as proof of payment). Additional ticket vending machines are not planned.

As agencies have made clear, a too-small response to the DSTT closure will significantly slow transit movements in downtown Seattle. With no action, Metro estimates an average six to seven minutes per trip for buses currently in the tunnel and two to four minutes for buses on 2nd and 4th Avenues. One Center City is expected only to offset about half of those delays. It gets worse if too many of the remediation steps fall flat.

The current set of narrow and targeted interventions in downtown are not convincing. The extension of joint operations for six or twelve months is an opportunity to revisit whether One Center City can do more.

41 Replies to “One Center City options narrow”

  1. The colorful list of near term projects doesn’t seem to have 3rd Ave signage improvements or additional enforcement to keep cars off 3rd Ave during transit only times.

    The signage that indicates drivers are not allowed on 3rd Ave is really weak and small. Approach the restricted zone from the north and if you weren’t already familiar with the restriction it’s very easy to not even see it. The “Do Not Enter” signs are very small relative to their importance. How about a large yellow with black letters sign with flashing amber lights over the roadway announcing the restriction? Approach the restricted portion of 3rd Ave from the east or west and you have to squint to see the time restrictions. Here’s the streetview looking south at 3rd and Stewart (the current starting point of the restricted section of 3rd Ave),-122.3396557,3a,75y,137.19h,87.23t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sPsDctBLrlGO9Y01A1kMXFA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    SPD does patrol 3rd Ave occasionally for vehicles that shouldn’t be there (traveling more than a block on 3rd) but it’s spotty. I think it would be money well spent to have at least a morning and afternoon officer or two at (ideally) both ends of the restricted zone with them occasionally traveling the corridor.

  2. Excellent news that there’ll still be buses in the DSTT until 2019. 550 and 41, no choice about it. And no sensible reason we can’t keep both buses and trains on time.

    Provided we dump the other kinds of reasons that have been keeping operations lame since about two weeks after opening in 1990. After joint ops started in 2005, lame became crawling.

    Literally from the drawing boards, DSTT ops were supposed to be dispatched and coordinated. And operating crew trained as a team. Fare collection intended for fare inspection. 2017-1990 = 27 years. Just do it.

    Surface, considering what the general uproar is going to cost transit in wasted operating time, would be worth it to give everybody a free ride out of Downtown at rush hour.

    Which transit can more than recoup by making it impossible to turn around without seeing all-agency day passes for sale, ORCA and paper. Also, issuing a day-pass with first fare-payment. Or, like in Olympia, day-pass for double first fare paid.

    Surface transit-only, Chamber of Commerce and individual businesses might demand it when events prove how many more customers moving transit an deliver than trapped cars can.

    Which could make park and ride lots and structures necessary at far ends of routes. But for every measure these next years, best approach is probably to be ready to move on a variety of measures that conditions themselves will dictate at the top of their lungs.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Hi Mark,

      Your idea of making 3rd Ave a new Ride Free Zone is very intriguing.

      With FEOs working all the buses, a new RFZ wouldn’t bring back the intolerable shove-to-the-front-to-pay-as-you-exit system we had before September of 2012. But, it would move change fumbling while boarding off of 3rd Ave completely.

      Riders paying with ORCA would have readers to tap at every stop, I believe. (I presume the readers will be at every bus stop on 3rd Ave, not just select stops.) Only Metro buses would be on 3rd, and there would be only one fare for each payer category, assuming Metro’s $2.75 flat fare proposal goes through. ORCA payment would be easy breezy.

      Those with legit paper transfers would be good to go, but the rules about what is considered legit could get squishy, with those non-perpendicular tears operators tend to make. Still, Metro now has years of experience with FEOs inspecting paper transfers.

      Those paying with cash would hopefully have ticket kiosks available at each stop, as part of an RTA/ticket vending machine combine kiosk. At this time, I have not heard that such devices are in the works.

      1. The current model of fare enforcement (Team of FEOs board vehicle and move through it checking everyone’s fare) doesn’t work at all with standing loads – it impedes the service. At link I see FEO’s try to squeeze on a full train and wonder what they think they can accomplish. Even with smaller loads they chase runners as they leap off the train as the doors close (and then the officers delay the train by holding the doors for their partners)

        Thinking of using this model with bus service during peak downtown? Destined to fail and slow service.

      2. If any kind fare collection brings in more money than we lose in outbound rush-hour operating time, which I question, we could do like I saw in Toronto. Mark off bus zones and make them Proof of Payment.

        Maybe make passengers walk by a human card-checker before entering zone. But above all, major full court press, cash incentives and all, to make an ORCA card the mental don’t even-need-to-think-about it equivalent of a driver’s license in general public mind.

        One REAL incentive: Electronic espresso punch card. Every tenth tap, you get free ride. Or maybe five. Also at least a latte, but you pay extra for pineapple syrup. And if you bug the barista over your ristretto, your ORCA card goes blank.

        But seriously, finally a fare-payment mode where we make the most money and lose least operating time collecting it.


      3. Amazon Go should partner with Metro to introduce its face recognition software payment system on all buses or loading areas downtown. Assuming we all won’t mind.

      4. Pay away was ALWAYS a better option. It’s sad they did away with it. Just tell the drivers to sting the deadbeats with a little whip as they slink off the bus.

      5. Pay as you leave was confusing to the extreme, especially to visitors. “What do you mean it’s not pay as you enter? All buses everywhere else are pay as you enter.” And it was even worse when it varied by the time of day. I had gotten used to always paying on the non-downtown side, but then when it changed at 7pm it threw me off for years and I never did get it always right because I think of payment spatially rather than temporally and I’m often not thinking of what time it is. But as a temporary solution on 3rd it might be OK. But then I worry about the “temporary solution” becoming permanent if Link is delayed significantly.

      6. Pay as you leave was super confusing to everyone, not just visitors. I remember randomly having to pay on exit when taking the 44 from Wallingford to Ballard, simply because the bus had originally started as a 43 downtown.

  3. The delay in kicking the buses out of the DSTT is very welcome news. The OCC materials talk about ST deploying more LRVs in the fall of 2018, but ST has already deployed nearly as many LRVs during peak as they have available, with the requisite 10% spare ratio for maintenance to work on, and will not have more LRVs added to the fleet before spring of 2019…. which, btw, means delaying until spring of 2019 doesn’t buy enough time.

    By fall of 2019, if ST can prep a couple of the new Siemens LRVs per month between March and September, ST should have just barely enough LRVs to run all 3-car trains on the full loop (with faster travel time through the DSTT, and hopefully getting rid of that annoying minute of forced sitting time at SeaTac Airport Station) and 2-car trains on a new turnback loop between UW Station and SODO.

    Doubling the train frequency will make the SR 520 bus restructure more palatable. Doing so without pulling LRVs off the long loop will enable it to happen without creating perpetual crushloads and pass-ups on the long loop during what could be a painful summer of 2019 for peak riders.

    Six more months, from March to September of 2019, could make a world of difference for the smooth rollout of OCC / convention center construction transit reroutes.

    1. I agree. There is no reason why the Convention Center expansion project (which is dubious to begin with) should not be delayed until the trains can replace the buses; both from a geographic standpoint (the 41) and a capacity standpoint (520 buses).

    2. It’s so frustrating that there is not a willingness to push the Convention Place closure further to 2021 — when Link to Northgate opens! It’s less than a two year gap from 2019!

      In 2021, lots of buses and users will shift away from UW Station, easing bus congestion from 520 buses. Some bus routes from the north can end at Northgate until the Lynwood extension opens.

    3. Just a minor clarification: The materials don’t specify adding LRVs, but they do mention adding capacity in the DSTT. Freeing up a trainset or two to switch to all 3-car trains counts as adding capacity, just not enough capacity.

  4. Something I’d like to see is a better pedestrian crossing at 4th Ave and King Street Station. You see people running through traffic trying to catch the Sounder every day. Even just a faster light cycle would help.

    1. Absolutely! This is a crossing where pedestrian should have absolute priority during commute times, and game days.

    2. Yes! This area could benefit from a redesign of the intersections since so much has changed — and more buses are now being planned into the area.

      It won’t be easy to change, but it really is bad today and could completely shut down with more bus, car and pedestrian activity

  5. “6th Ave is likely to be converted to two-way operations, easing one pathway for cars to move from South Lake Union to highway ramps, and mitigating 5th Ave auto lanes lost to construction.”

    Yikes! Instead of telling contractors to build their projects without taking up extremely valuable, high use arterial lanes during rush hour time periods, we instead spend time, effort and money to attempt some half-assed mitigation? Somebody needs to lose their job over this.

    1. The electeds set the priorities for the agencies so talk to your city councilmember and mayor.

  6. The 212 and its ilk have already abandoned the D-2 roadway on the inbound direction. Which honestly is a relief – the dogleg from 5th to 4th was maddeningly slow most mornings. They probably need to look at making the 4th South bus lane all-day though.

  7. The city and county need to focus on a long term plan. They need to figure out how to improve bus travel through downtown. Much of the rhetoric surrounding these changes imply that things are just fine right now, or that this is a temporary problem. That simply isn’t true. Even after Link gets to Northgate and Bellevue, there will be dozens of buses going through downtown. They need to move faster than they do today — much faster.

    If Seattle can come up with a long term plan, then they go back and work on the short term problems. If the long term plan improves service, but can not accommodate buses like the 41, then the city and county need to delay the convention center project. If they can’t, then we simply muddle along for a few years.

    The voters of this city consider transit to be a priority. We voted three times in the last few years to support additional transit funding (Metro funding, Move Seattle and ST3). Downtown bus service is a huge part of transit, and will be for a very long time.

    1. I agree that there is a need to move away from crisis transportation planning to one more visionary.

      One other point that is completely off the radar but is badly needed is a discussion of station entrances and exits — both in the current DSTT and the new tunnel. Why are we allowing new tall buildings but not asking the owners plan for subway station access? If station use is supposed to double, could we need more elevators, escalators and boarding space for the platforms?

      1. I don’t disagree with this point, but where are you suggesting this happen? I don’t think there are any new construction projects that are adjacent to a DSTT station. The project at the old Public Safety building site will include a new entrance to Pioneer Square station. There are a few spots where it seems like a new entrance could be provided in the future should the site be redeveloped. It would be nice to have a West entrance at the south end of University Street station, but that area is totally built out. I think any new entrances to Downtown stations would be retrofits rather than additions from new construction.

        It seems like adding center platforms to busy stations like Westlake and International District would be smart and add capacity, and getting on that sooner rather than later would make it easier to implement.

        It would be difficult to require a development to include an entrance to a station in the new tunnel when the route and station locations haven’t been determined. The locations, design and configuraton of those stations would have to get worked out really soon so that easements for entrances could get hammered out. By the time we see a land use notice go up at a site, the project has likely been in design for over a year, with completion dates often many more years down the road..

      2. More escalators and elevators are needed at DSTT stations to handle the increased loads, at a minimum. These stations are going to get lots more people using them. For example the stairs from Macy’s down to the southbound Westlake platform is very narrow and riders will queue up waiting to walk down them if ridership significantly grows. The current stations were not designed to handle the forecasted loads!

        No one is even studying this problem! Every agency blames others or ignores this problem!

      3. I don’t see why Seattle will allow a 50-story building and don’t assess if they should pay for a new escalator or elevator 2 blocks away to accommodate the increased station loads resulting from their building. We make developers fix street intersections a block or two away; why not rail stations?

      4. Tradition. Streets were considered essential infrastructure when the laws were written decades ago while transit access wasn’t. Since then there has been a growth of anti-tax sentiment that makes it harder to get these coupling fees passed. And even if that weren’t there, there’s still the deprioritization of transit. All the alternatives that might make bring a major transit improvement but decrease car thoroughput or convenience (e.g., transit lanes) have been eliminated — things that Paris or London would have immediately done and have done. So the same city that can’t even put transit first in a crisis is supposed to approve transit linkage fees?

  8. The one thing I was really looking forward to was extirpating buses from our subway, sooner than later. My god, every time my southbound train is stopped between CHS and Westlake (or between every CBD station south of there) it’s an indictment of our not-quite-mass-transit rail spine. It’s sad to see infrastructure that can, right this moment, be converted to a full metro quality (UW to ID, at least) line be made to wait for slow pokes trying to shove bills into a last century farebox. It’s like letting pre-schoolers on Big Wheels use the freeway. Standing crushload on a train is WAY better than having more space on (what essentially becomes) a middling bus on rails.

    1. +1. I’m tired of staring at a 550 waiting for one last runner… and then another… and then another… while I can see my train patiently waiting in the tunnel.

      1. Doors should be closed when the last person in line at the moment the bus arrives loads. Have crowd control on the platforms to let the driver know when that is.

        No runners. The damn bus runs often enough.

      2. I see more runners running to catch the train than any bus.

        It isn’t clear whether the buses or the trains are the bottleneck, but I’m betting passengers getting used to 3-car trains will make a difference.

  9. Why won’t the Center City Connector streetcar going towards South Lake Union use Olive Way between 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue? Stewart Street there is one-way the other direction (although giving the streetcar a dedicated area makes that mostly irrelevant). It would also allow the current terminal stop at Westlake and Olive to be used. Does moving it onto Stewart Street there make it more reliable and cause fewer traffic issues?

    1. I don’t know but they studied at least three east-west crossings between Stewart and Pike although I’m not sure about Olive. The reasons for rejecting the others should be in their evaluation reports.

  10. Is there any discussion of how the new 99 tunnel can be used for transit, like be a bypass loop for express buses in one direction?

    1. A little. Metro’s 2040 plan has a Westwood Village-Fauntleroy-WSJ-SLU Express that uses the tunnel. There’s a Burien Express that doesn’t use the tunnel (it goes to First Hill instead: Yesler-9th-Seneca-Union to Broadway), but perhaps with some pressure to Metro it could be rerouted to SLU if that’s a good idea (which I’m not sure about).

      Beyond that there have been unofficial discussions that other south end routes could use the tunnel to SLU and then either backtrack to downtown, go obliquely to First Hill (via Boren), or terminate and let people transfer to one of several RapidRides to downtown. (Because not everybody is going to 3rd Avenue: many are going to SLU or First Hill or Capitol Hill or are transferring to Link or another bus, and it doesn’t have to be at 3rd Avenue.) Also Ballard/Rainier Link will have the SLU station, but that’s so far out I’m not ready to depend on it yet. Still, some people would be satisfied taking the tunnel to that station rather than going through slower 3rd Avenue.

  11. Who actually is One City Center who makes these decisions? How were they elected or appointed to make decisions about allocating public right of way to transit vs. preserving it for SOVs?

Comments are closed.