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.