2nd Avenue’s Protected Bike Line – SDOT – flickr

One of the pieces of infrastructure on the bubble for being part of One Center City is a protected bike lane (PBL) on 4th or 5th Ave downtown. Unfortunately, it is being played off against bus travel time along those corridors. A 4th Ave PBL is expected to cost buses trying to transit 4th Ave an extra five minutes during rush hour, for at least a portion of OCC’s period of maximum constraint.

Ideally, we should be able to have both improved transit speed and the bike lanes. However, no engineering solutions have been brought forth to enable both simultaneously in time for the constraint period.

A “final list” of near-term multi-modal projects to be part of One Center City is expected to be unveiled at the project’s Advisory Group on Wednesday. The list is expected to have several PBLs, including:

* a couplet on Pike and Pine
* a couplet on 7th and 8th Avenues
* an extension of the 2nd Ave PBL

There is one element to the competing goals that should provide some moral clarity: Most of the bus routes on 4th and 5th Ave will be there only a few more years. The PBLs would be there forever.

The vast majority of buses on 4th and 5th are express bus routes, with most under consideration to be replaced with Link connections as the transit spine gets built out. Some of the routes will leave downtown forever when the buses get kicked out of the transit tunnel, assuming an SR 520 route restructure is approved. Several more routes will disappear when Northgate Link opens in 2021. An overwhelming majority of the bus routes on 4th and 5th will be gone by the end of 2023, when Lynnwood Link and East Link are scheduled to open.

As time goes on thereafter, more buses will be added, as downtown is expected to keep adding jobs, can’t add cars, and the buses tend to run full during peak. Hopefully the engineering and political will will come along to optimize bus throughput. And hopefully, a well-used PBL grid will absorb a non-trivial chunk of the new trips. A countervailing force, as Scott Kubly pointed out in last week’s podcast, is that density leads to walkability, and walkability converts former bus and car trips into walking and bike trips. Since there is only so much we can do to get more people in and out of downtown, it behooves the City to double down on allowing thousands more people to live stacked on top of each other downtown.

Of course, we still want every available tactic to be deployed to speed up transit. A grid of protected bike lanes is one of those tactics for which we can’t wait any longer.

37 Replies to “4th/5th Ave Bus Slowdowns Temporary; 4th/5th Ave Bike Lanes Forever”

  1. >> Scott Kubly pointed out in last week’s podcast that density leads to walkability, and walkability converts former bus … trips into walking and bike trips.

    Say what??? Increased density leads to fewer bus trips? I don’t think so. More people downtown mean more people taking buses. Not only through downtown (in case Kubly didn’t notice, downtown is fairly long) but also to other parts of the city. They could take bikes everywhere, but it is pretty unrealistic to assume that a huge portion of the folks downtown will be willing to bike everywhere, since one of the big advantages of living downtown is excellent transit. This is in contrast to a place like Fremont, where bike options are much better, but transit is not as good.

  2. In any event, this is a good example of the frustration I have with the One City Center. it was initially pushed as something that needed to be implemented right away, because buses are being kicked out of the tunnel. Then when push comes to shove, the folks in charge basically say we should just tough it out, because the situation is only temporary. I’m OK with that, but what is the long term plan. As Brent rightly points out, while many of the express buses are going away, there are still plenty of buses that will need to go through downtown. Someone needs to articulate a long term vision that will enable buses to go much faster, and then start implementing that vision, even if it won’t be done before the buses get kicked out of the tunnel.

    The other frustration I have is that improvements to bike and bus service seem to happening with little regard to each other. Critical bike paths sit waiting, while bus improvements aren’t made. Meanwhile, the streetcar plans — which no one thinks will be a key piece of our transit infrastructure — is likely to mess it up for both groups. The right of way that it grabs will be short changed because of the danger to bikes, or it will simply be a big hazard, or both. I understand that there are compromises to be made, and in some cases, transit should take a back seat (like on Eastlake). But this just seems like a mess, with each project being planned in isolation, and the city basically coming back later and upsetting one group or the other.

    Of course it probably won’t be Kubly trying to improve things, as he will be out of a job in a few months. Hopefully the new person in charge will do a better job of addressing these planning concerns.

  3. Any chance cars will slow Downtown down more than either bikes or buses? If situation is going to be temporary, how much would it cost both ST and Seattle to rent parking lot land for temporary Park and Rides and their special routes ’til Fourth and Fifth re-open?

    Mark Dublin

  4. The real elephant in the room is that these agencies are still too afraid of inconveniencing drivers. People taking transit are being pitted against people biking yet again because we refuse to take a hard look at reducing SOV traffic.

    Build great streets for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit and then figure out if/how SOV traffic fits into the densest part of the entire NW. Transportation is like a tool: There are different tools for different jobs, and while cars are the right tool in rural areas they rarely are in dense urban areas where transit/walking/biking are much better (more space efficient) tools. Just like if you need to cut some wood, use a saw not a hammer – it’s not ideological it’s just using the right tool.

    There are a lot of potential ideas out there to get us there: a car free center city, cordon pricing, transit/Bike only streets? It’s time to be bolder about solutions and care less about the the person who decided living in Newcastle and driving their Mercedes everyday to downtown Seattle was a good choice (we do however need to care and provide solutions for low income people who may need to drive to multiple disparate jobs, etc).

    1. Every city overseas that’s made its CBD car-free has already had highly-developed rail and bus systems for a long time. So to me, closing Downtown to all SOV traffic will require major increase in transit. Fast.

      That’s why I’m thinking fast and temporary. Someplace to leave the car, single-ride express bus to either Downtown Seattle itself, or to LINK. One corridor will probably prove whether idea works or not.

      Results will also really help planning for regional Transit Oriented Development(s).


    2. Wow. I drive from Snoqualmie Ridge daily to downtown Seattle. I’d LOVE to take the bus but since the transit authorities refuse to acknowledge and provide for those of us east of Issaquah (and barely provide services for Issaquah), a transit commute for me would be 1:40 each way. Transit practically kicked me into my car when they took the eastside buses out the tunnel. Years ago there was a direct line from the Ridge to downtown. Amazon has *four* buses from the Ridge but, nope, the wisdom of our public transportation system in King County doesn’t think there’s enough life east to provide service.

      So, Gordon, not everyone is some rich a-hat married to their fancy car. Some of us would jump at the chance to ride public transit if they didn’t keep increasing our commute times…or charge us to use a P&R.

      1. Thank you Kristin.

        Same here – I could take the bus a few buildings down from where I live & be at work in 45 minutes. Or I can drive and be at work in 15 minutes. I drive.

        When we looked for a place to live, access to transit was important, and we do have good access to Seattle but not Bellevue (where I work). But access to transit wasn’t the only factor – other things like cost were pretty important too!

      2. Hi Kristin,

        I meant/mean no hostility – it’s just a problem that Seattle has to solve as the status quo simply will not work. To your points: Snoqualmie Ridge is one of the better examples of sprawl in the region, so I think my comments are still appropriate – perhaps even more appropriate than the Newcastle example. Snoqualmie Ridge likely doesn’t have door to door bus service because there simply isn’t enough density to support it. Plus, Snoqulamie Ridge voted 65-70% against maintaining bus service: https://a.tiles.mapbox.com/v3/oranv.i63j984i/page.html?secure=1#13/47.5388/-121.8579

        I was required by a previous employer to have a car to work in far flung eastside suburbs otherwise it would have taken me many hours to get between job sites, which was frustrating, but understandable because the car is the only tool that work for places like Sammamish and Snoqualmie. For downtown Seattle, cars are increasingly no longer viable tools – and everyone’s time calculations are going to change as driving gets slower and slower do to demand, and transit becomes more reliable as we build bus lanes etc. In the future you may want to use a park n’ ride and transfer to transit to get to downtown Seattle because it saves you time, unless suburban cities want to pitch in to pay for door to door transit (which seems unlikely given past results https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/05/07/map-of-king-county-prop-1-results-by-precinct/). Take care

      3. I used to drive to the South Bellevue P&R and take the 550 because of the convenience of multiple runs. On top of that, I carpooled to the P&R. I’ve done the vanpool from the Ridge but being an uncompensated bus driver responsible for others was something I was more than happy to walk away from when I changed jobs. If I’m driving I don’t need that added stress and inconvenience.

        There are plenty of us on the Ridge screaming for a direct route to downtown and I’m sure there’d be packed buses if only two runs each were done AM and PM during peak. We’re begging out here.

      4. OK, I think the part about Mercedes using downtown streets was out of line, but the general idea is sound. Why should most of the street be used to support a mode of transportation that does not scale, and is rapidly shrinking?. Only 30% of people drive to downtown (http://sdotblog.seattle.gov/2017/02/09/more-than-70-of-downtown-seattle-commuters-choosing-not-to-drive-alone/) yet way more than 30% of the street allows cars like yours.

        Your example is a good one. I see no reason why you don’t simply drive to a park and ride. In many cases it would be faster (as you avoid the traffic). Your stated reason for not doing so is that it is less convenient, but the more we try and accommodate drivers like you, the more it inconveniences the majority of commuters — many of whom can’t afford to drive all the way into town. You may not drive a luxury vehicle, but you are choosing a luxury mode, and the city should not bend over backwards to accommodate it.

    3. Gordon,

      Well said, with the caveat that “low income people who may need to drive to multiple disparate jobs” generally don’t find those jobs in congested areas. Sure, a few do, but most work in suburban or industrial settings.

      1. Yes, and I doubt any of them need to drive through downtown to get to those places. Holy cow, there is a freeway right next to downtown! There is no reason to drive through downtown. If you are driving in downtown, that is your destination, and for a trip like that, taking transit makes sense. That is why so few actually commute by car.

        I’m not suggested we ban cars altogether — we do have trucks serving downtown — but we should certainly look to strike a more appropriate balance, which would mean a lot more bus lanes.

  5. Until this city takes the obvious and uncontroversial step of banning cars from Pike Place Market, I have no faith in their willingness to inconvenience a single car downtown. It should never be bikes vs. buses because they both compliment each other. I find myself being forced to drive places all the time b/c the bus is delayed by 40+ minutes and there are no safe bike routes. Stop assuming everyone in a car refuses to ever take an alternative.

    1. Cars have already lost the war in PPM; it’s a pedestrian-dominated space. And the merchants are, understandably, given some deference in any changes to the ecosystem of the market and they *really* don’t want to ban cars. At any rate, whether we ban cars here is pretty much just an aesthetic matter; no one’s commutes are suffering.

      1. My point relates to political will. I agree that driving through PPM has nothing to do with commuting, but the fact the city can’t even ban cars there makes me think they will never do anything to limit driving downtown. Yes it is a pedestrian dominated space and they STILL will not ban cars. The fact that the rest of downtown is not pedestrian dominated to the same degree leaves me absolutely hopeless anything will change.

      2. The Netherlands has woonerfs. They don’t ban cars from them. A decision was made long ago to keep Pike Place the way all streets where in the early 1900s when the Market was built, when peds and cars shared the street and had equal right of way. Why is it necessary to ban cars from Pike Place, and what does that have to do with 4th and 5th Avenues which is a very different situation.

      3. But you haven’t articulated why banning cars in PPM is an urgent need. I spend a fair amount of time there. Cars, usually driven by terrified tourists whose navigation systems led them astray, barely even register as a minor annoyance. Merchants are convinced the cars moving the pedestrians closer to them help them sell their wares and stay in business, and for all you or I know they might even be right.

        The war on cars should be fought well, and not indiscriminately. Any battle in that war should be chosen for some clear practical, strategic or tactical reason. I don’t see one here.

      4. Personally, I think it’s one of the most annoying things about this city and the cars ruin my experience everytime. I think it’s an absolute embarrassment. It’s the kind of thing I’d expect to see in a car-loving city in Texas or a third world country. I’m confident the majority of people in this city would prefer if it was closed to cars. It would be an easy win for our politicians but no one in this city has the guts to potentially annoy a single person or have a disagreement with a business interest. This is why we have Mercer Way…it tries to accommodate every mode of transportation but ends up failing everyone.

      5. There are four kinds of people who drive down Pike Place: merchants and their suppliers, mostly on the shoulders of business, physically limited people who can’t use a chair for the journey to a bus, confused tourists who took a wrong turn, and insufferable jerks who want to intimidate pedestrians anywhere, anywhen.

        Three of those types of people are welcome.

      6. OK, but that’s fundamentally an aesthetic critique; they don’t actual hinder mobility. Even if I agreed with you that a few cars creeping along harm the aesthetic experience, I wouldn’t really judge SDOT for not taking my side on an aesthetic issue, especially when actual stakeholders oppose the change and the status quo doesn’t seem to be causing any actual problems.

        Where tradeoffs between the functionality of modes are at stake is what I care about. They make enough terrible car-prioritizing choices here.

    2. I don’t buy the argument, Fish. If anything, it would be a symbolic change, that could easily be used for political purposes. Some politician gets rid of cars at the market, then brags about it, while doing nothing about the far more important issue of taking lanes from cars and giving them to buses.

  6. I’m not sure about this… It sounds awesome to have 5 North South cycling corridors (waterfront, 2nd, 4th/5th, 7th/8th, and Broadway but I feel like we need to look at priorities. Bus corridors might be the thing to do now and then they could be converted to bike lanes when we have enough light rail. This is coming from a guy that bikes way more than I bus.

    I don’t remember seeing this many bike lanes in Copenhagen, Stockholm or Amsterdam.

    There are also tons of other bike lane priorities that I value over another set downtown. Downtown to Georgetown, Rainier Ave, the waterfront trail connection to the Alki trail, the green river trail to Seattle, BG missing link, Lake Washington Loop trail and many more

    I am pretty happy with the 2nd Ave trail and don’t think I would use a 4th ave trail much. There is only so much money so we need to be picky about where we want to spend it. .

    1. …and (non-folding) bikes are banned from all transit during rush hours and often beyond in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Amsterdam. Of course it’s easier to get around those cities – generally speaking – on transit. I’d rather see more robust facilities provide better options/frequencies/priority for transit, which serves a far larger part of the population. Best case scenario is that this comes from car lanes and parking lanes, and we can make better streets for pedestrians, transit, and where possible cycling.

    2. Even downtown, the biggest bike connectivity deficits are connections to Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Dearborn (i.e. to I-90 and most of southeast Seattle).

      I actually think 5th under the monorail is an opportunity to do something good for bikes with minimal disruption. Move the parking to space that’s already unusable for through-travel because of the pillars, and make everything west of there a bike path. There are almost no driveways on that side of the street, it’s not a major bus route, it’s a nice way in and out to the north.

      And that route could then turn up Taylor into LQA. 5th Ave N south of Harrison has some challenges — the Memorial Stadium parking lot block is due for a change soon, but MoPop goes all the way up to the sidewalk and isn’t changing for a while (any change on that block would require shifting traffic lanes around). And the Broad Street intersection, for now, is no fun. So Taylor, from its southern terminus south of Denny up to Harrison, looks promising as far as it goes; even in mixed traffic, it’s slow mixed traffic, should be easy (similar to 2nd Ave N continuing from that cycletrack). Then we’ll have to decide whether to consolidate the 5th Ave N route (from Harrison to Valley) on the west side of the street (like the one-block cycletrack today) or use more conventional split-side lanes (like the block north of Mercer). As long as it’s consistent from Harrison to Valley it’s fine with me. Anyway, 4th Ave doesn’t suggest anything like that north of Denny.

    3. Downtown has fairly steep streets. That limits bicycle desirability for a significant segment of the population. These other European cities are much flatter.

      Right now, we have Link and we have front bicycle racks on buses as the best ways to get up the slopes outside of personal aggressive cardio exertion.

      I really wish that the bicycle community would try to push for better ways to get up and down slopes with assistance. Funiculars, easier transit vehicle use for bicycles — maybe even gondolas — would remove the constraints of getting up and down steep slopes and grow bicycle usage like no steep lane ar track can.

      Without addressing this, the only other solution would seem to be peripheral bicycle parking at Link stations. If ST would subsidize bicycle services at a few stations, we may not need so many steep bicycle lanes for only the hearty riders in the population. Mere storage lockers are not a strategic way to grow bicycle use and participation; an actual full-service facility is needed.

      1. Agreed, Al – full-service bike facilities with a great deal more storage, at the least at all stations where there is or would reasonably be expected to have large potential for bike to rail transfers – should be a design requirement. Allowing bikes on trains at rush hours is not scalable as passenger numbers grow – this is the major reason they are not allowed in most cities around the world during those times; they take up the space of 3 to 4 standees and by necessity with our car design congregate at the doors – but a viable alternative should be given to people who ride. Husky Stadium and Capitol Hill stations are obvious locations; Mount Baker might be another and any other station with either a trail/major bikeway intercept or a catchment area that is suitable for bicyclists in relatively large numbers. Mercer Island may get local use; South Bellevue and Judkins Park for the I-90 trail; terminal stations like Redmond or Issaquah could all be great locations for people to ride that first/last mile(s) and then connect to Link.

      2. While I think having infrastructure to help cyclists up hills would be awesome, I’m guessing it would also be pricy. Since eBikes are becoming more popular, I think the hills will become much less of a problem for less extreme cyclists.

      3. Bikers now need assistance to get around Seattle? Seattle is too hilly? Parking for bicycles at Light Rail Stations? ST needs to subsidize bicycles? What is next – Have the City pay people to ride bikes? This is getting crazy! If you choose to ride a bike, ride your bike!

    4. “I don’t remember seeing this many bike lanes in Copenhagen”

      I was just at Copenhagen, and over there, you don’t need to bother looking at a map to locate the bike lanes because there’s protected bike lanes on virtually every arterial street. The only streets that didn’t have bike lanes were the slow, narrow, neighborhood streets that don’t need them.

  7. Why do we still have a whole fleet of 590-592-595’s coming down 4th Avenue during peak periods when Sounder is running? That’s begging for truncation.

    1. I’ve wondered that for a long time. The best explanations I’ve heard is that Sounder doesn’t have the capacity, and it needs to focus half its capacity on south King County and Puyallup. That’s consistent with the preliminary plans to truncate the buses when Link gets to Federal Way. Another reason I suspect is that early on some people were concerned about Sounder’s fare being too high: that some couldn’t afford it and others weren’t willing to pay itg.

      1. I don’t think Sounder has the capacity either. In the morning, the 590 bus line at Tacoma Dome Station will routinely have 2-3 busloads of people waiting.

        The 590 also goes into both downtown Seattle and downtown Tacoma (So that would be 2 transfers already if you used Sounder instead). Combine that with the 590 being reliably faster in the morning between TDS and King Street Station and there’s your reasons. Plus it’s cheaper, if you don’t have a pass.

        If the Sounder ran all day and with higher frequency, then you maybe could get rid of those bus routes/truncate them, but there’s still the issue of increasing commute times and costs.

      2. Sounder doesn’t have the capacity? Say what? Who the heck is running this thing. It is a commuter train, for heaven’s sake. Why don’t they just add trains.

        Headways are a different matter. Trains on this line can’t run all the time, but buses can. I’m not sure if they need to, if the capacity issue is solved, but that is a different issue.

        Speaking of which, it is quite possible that the 590 and 592 are simply faster. Truncating or maybe leap frogging most of downtown (i. e. the 591 — https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/10/24/st-express-route-591-a-great-idea-whose-time-is-already-here/) would probably make the most sense. Or maybe simply have a combination (half 590 and half 591).

      3. OK, the more I think about it, the more I think that capacity isn’t the problem. At least not going from Tacoma to Seattle. At that point, the train is basically empty. Yet only about 1,000 people board there. Coming home, more people actually alight. People are taking the crowded buses going into Seattle, and crowded trains going back. This means that capacity of Sounder is not the issue (otherwise it would be the opposite).

        The other issues (speed and frequency) is why so many people ride the bus. A few more train trips, and I could see eliminating the 590 during rush hour. From 6:00 AM to 7:00, it runs every 20 minutes, which seems adequate. If you are heading into Seattle at that time, the train might be the best choice. It runs less often, but often enough that you should be able to time things adequately. After that, though, it is every 35 minutes, which means the far more frequent 590 sounds like a better deal.

        In the middle of the day, the 590 is much faster, but that is also when buses downtown are less of a problem.

      4. I believe there are only so many Sounder passenger cars. If Link has capacity issues due to not enough cars, why not Sounder?

        Also, trains can only be so long depending on the size of the stations. ST2 (or 3?) fully funds expanding stations to 10 car trains, which is much larger that what currently runs (6 at most?).

        I could see the 59Xs going away during rush hour once Sounder is fully built out with a few more runs and many more cars, but I think they are not quite there yet to eliminate buses at peak. And given ST doesn’t own the BSNF rail lines, it makes sense to run buses off peak rather than pay for additional Sounder frequency.

        Perhaps similar to Metro’s hesitancy to truncate buses into downtown aggressively before Link moves to 4-car trains?

  8. The main issues are timing and cummulative impacts. In cost-benefit analysis, the early years’ costs and benefits are discounted less or not at all. so, the longer running times and congestion between 2019 and 2023 is a serious cost. Between 2005 and 2007, 2nd and 4th avenues did break down some during the p.m. peak; that led to the east-west streets congesting as well; that will happen more between 2019 and 2023. Several projects all will tend to shift general purpose traffic and transit to 2nd and 4th avenues: the dumb CCC streetcar, the SR-99 deep bore and its tolling, the premature end to joint operations in the DSTT. Simultaneously, Kubly wants to narrow lanes on 4th Avenue. for the skip stop pattern to work well, buses have to pass other buses and need lanes that are wide enough. Note that 5th Avenue has bus stops on the west side that serve ST routes needed until 2023 (e.g., routes 510, 511, 512, 513) and Route 303 serves a stop at the Library, and Metro and CT have several routes using the Cherry Street reversible ramp. Link capacity is limited by the fixed number of cars, 62. Of course, there are good service interventions to consider; all have costs and benefits. The ST SIP implies South Sounder has capacity for the South King County routes. The ST Pierce County routes could be revised, but that is not under consideration now. For the Tacoma Dome Station, bus is still faster than Sounder. Sounder is great for the Green River Valley cities.

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