Map showing stops described in post
Graphic by Bruce Englehardt.

The south half of downtown, set on a steep hill, has always presented accessibility problems.  With elevation changes of as much as 50 feet per block, people with impaired mobility frequently have difficulty traveling even one block in the east-west direction.  For the transit network, this results in an intermodal transfer challenge: there is more than 100 feet of elevation gain in the four blocks between the Colman Dock ferry terminal and Metro’s Third Avenue transit spine.

Historically, Metro handled this challenge by having one or two north-end routes serve Colman Dock directly, laying over on Alaskan Way.  The routes climbed to Third Avenue via Yesler, providing accessible transfers to other service, before heading north.  But when waterfront construction began in earnest in 2012, Metro had to leave Alaskan Way.  Instead, it began using First Avenue, which is at nearly the same elevation as the upper level of Colman Dock and accessible from the dock via a safe, flat pedestrian bridge.  First route 16, and then route 62 starting last year, picked up on First and used Seneca to bridge the elevation gap between First and Third.

But now, Metro is again getting displaced, this time by Center City Connector construction along First.  On September 23, route 62 will begin using Third exclusively.  And this presents a significant problem for users who have difficulty making it up the hill.  During the day on weekdays, there is an accessible route from First to Third, using public elevators or escalators inside two downtown buildings.  But the accessible route is not available nights or weekends.  The only meaningful transit service that will now serve the vicinity of Colman Dock is route 12, a frequent east-west route using Madison and Marion Streets.

And it gets worse.  Route 12 doesn’t make the trip to Third easy, because it has no stop near Third.  Uphill stops are located on Marion at First, near the end of the Colman Dock bridge; at Second; and then on the far side of Fourth.  Given that the vast majority of transfer connections are on or under Third, this stop placement is perverse.  Mobility-impaired users making connections from Colman Dock benefit very little from having the 12 available, and other users transferring from buses on Third to the 12 have to walk unnecessarily far.

Fortunately, the problem should be easy to fix.  There is no physical obstacle to locating a stop on Marion at Third, next to the north side of the Central Building.  To maintain schedule and reasonable stop spacing, the stop at Second (which is actually less than a block from the stop at First) could be removed.

Metro and SDOT may be reluctant to fund this fix, despite its simplicity, because bus service on Marion is going away.  RapidRide G, the “Madison BRT” route on which SDOT will soon begin construction, will run eastbound along Spring rather than Marion.  From Spring, the new route will provide easy access to Third.  But RapidRide G will not begin service for two more years.  Mobility-impaired users are losing route 62 now, and deserve this easy, inexpensive accommodation in the meantime.

41 Replies to “Fix Route 12 for Colman Dock Accessibility”

    1. David, take a walk between where the Colman Dock ramp arrives at first. South on Second to Columbia, uphill to Second, and South on Second to James. I think there’s still wire and some special work still hanging from its spanwires.

      Downtown Seattle Transit Project intended direct service from the ramp to King County Courthouse. Could’ve then been routed along Third, or up James. I count about four blocks of wire total.

      Combined with the track, stations, and right of way left rusting since the Waterfront Streetcar got sleazed away, that wire personifies the signature stubborn laziness Metro Transit needs to lose before somebody notices.

      Balance sheet should rightly have three columns. Black for assets, red for deficits, and appropriately-perfumed Feedlot Floor Brown for expensive capital bought and not even sold for scrap, let alone applied to its purchased use.

      Please go check that out for me, Dave. And if you’re still a King County resident, please ask your council member to pretty-please start getting a real lot of passengers a single seat ride to a variety of places. And see if I’m right about one line-crew shift, or will it take two?

      Since I involuntarily don’t live in King County anymore, not my my fault I now live a twenty minute walk from Bob Hasegawa’s office. I think he went for Bernie too. Just do it, Metro. Just do it.

      Mark Dublin

  1. The totally awesome solution would be a pedestrian tunnel from University St station to the waterfront. Considering how deep the station is, such a tunnel would probably be flat, or nearly flat. It would solve all of these problems, while making boat to train transfers much more convenient for everybody.

    Probably cost-prohibitive, though.

  2. The stop on Marion called 2nd Avenue is actually closer to 3rd Avenue than 2nd Avenue, and the incline is pretty shallow. I don’t even see why this is an issue.

    1. It IS an issue, Kerry, if you have any infirmity that interferes with walking or breathing – even a “boot” or bad cold/allergies. Go walk it – you’ll see for yourself. Please think before you type. To your continued good health!!

      1. I though and then typed. Simmer down. Metro is not a taxi and it’s not capable is providing door to door service. If walking up 8 ft over a 50 ft distance is a challenge, fixed routing bus service may not be for you.

    2. This is not correct. The front of the 2nd Ave stop is about 65 feet east of 2nd, much closer to 2nd than 3rd.

      In general, I agree with you that Metro can’t be responsible for ensuring that there are zero access challenges for any destination. But this is a major multimodal transfer. Metro needs to provide a reasonably accessible way for ferry riders to access the bulk of the Metro system.

  3. Also worth asking…is anybody actually going to wait 20 minutes for the #12 to go there blocks, then wait another 20 minutes for a bus on 3rd (during hours when everything is down to 30 minute frequency)? That’s 40 minutes of wait time just to get off the boat and onto a useful bus, not including the time to actually ride that bus.

    1. There are a lot of hours when most of the buses on 3rd are more frequent than 30 minutes. Also, what if someone just needed to get to 3rd from the ferry terminal without walking uphill, but wasn’t trying to connect with a bus?

      There used to be several options for getting from the ferry terminal/waterfront/1st Ave. to 3rd. In addition to the aforementioned 16, there was also a 66 that also went to the waterfront and up Yesler to 3rd. Historically the #21 went up 1st to Pike, then turned on Pike and went to Third. At least a couple of the buses coming off the Alaska Way Viaduct (i think the 54 and 55) used to make at least one stop on 1st – possibly at Union.

      I understand why there can’t be numerous buses on 1st now, because of construction for the CCC. And of course the construction on the waterfront means it’s not practical to send buses down there at this time. But it doesn’t seem right that there should be virtually no way to get from the waterfront or 1st Ave. to *somewhere* on 3rd Ave. by bus. I’m not talking about door-to-door service–I just mean getting up the dang hill! Not everyone who can’t do hills is ready for or even eligible for Access service.

  4. This isn’t going to fix the immediate problem, but as an engineer, I question why there aren’t level pedestrian tunnels that route directly from the southwest side of the transit tunnel platforms and daylight to the sidewalk a block or two down the street. It makes no sense for pedestrians to walk 50 or 100 feet uphill, only to go down a bunch of stairs and escalators. Maybe this is something that could be addressed at some point in the future.

    1. I suspect because you’ll run into 1) the Great Northern freight tunnel 2) parking garages under buildings 3) utility vaults under sidewalks or 4) gas/steam/water/sewer pipelines under streets.

      Also money.

      1. BNSF tunnel is supposedly closer to 4th, so you shouldn’t run into it at Pioneer Square and the south end of University Street. See Google map. The BNSF tunnel is shown crossing Link at Prefontaine & 4th and again right under the University Street station.

    2. For University St Station, the mezzanine level is almost level with Second ave, so tunneling from there isn’t possible.

      Tunneling from the platform level is a non starter, since you’d have to go north or south first, then dive to get under the transit tubes themselves.

      You could perhaps go into Benaroya Hall’s basement then tunnel out from there, that might not be deep enough, and might get into the way of other buildings etc..

      1. Remember the tunnel has outside platforms. You could tunnel from the southbound platform, and come out maybe between Second and First.

        I’d prefer to do it from Pioneer Square, though – it’s about a block closer to the ferry docks.

      2. Might want to see if you can find some archived drawings from thirty years ago detailing the amount of water pipes, sewer mains, storm drains, and electric conduits whose volume beats dirt all hollow in the Pioneer Square area.

        The DSTT and all its stations were built in two years. After a year relocating facilities. Skill and sheer blind luck ran a close race. I remember we pulled loose a pipe carrying, I think, compressed air into the Courthouse for some reason.

        Result was a volley of exploding toilets. Though that could actually have been “cover” for the County Executive, Tim Hill I think, who always had it in for Metro, which was then a rival agency, to he extent he wouldn’t allow Pioneer Square Station a direct entrance to the Courthouse.

        He wouldn’t have been only former ten year old his age to throw a lit cherry bomb down a toilet and blame results on the Tunnel project. And speaking of the plumbing of Christmas Past, a lot of really old underground conduits were made out of wood. Meaning invisible ’till they were rendered smellable.

        The one or two sucessful ones- like the one under Fifth from the Rainier Tower- went in with the building’s foundations. Not to say these tunnels are impossible- but the real “Seattle Underground” isn’t all underground transit-friendly.


  5. The map up top is incorrect.

    The future First Avenue RapidRide G / CCC island platform stop will be between Madison and Spring Streets …

    also … people who regularly use the 12 have been asking for the stop at 3rd/Marion to be moved to the corner for years now … don’t remember the exact reason Metro kept declining to make this change but I think it had to do with the fear of accidents caused by people turning right onto 3rd by going around the left side of a stopped bus.

    1. Yes, a stop nearside 3rd would be a huge safety problem. That’s why the stop should be farside.

      You’re right about the map.

      1. Chuckling at the quaint idea that Seattle drivers ever observe turn restrictions.

        Nearside stops are a safety problem unless the cross street is one way from the bus’s right to its left.

  6. Also note. The sidewalk east of 3rd ave on Marion is like 2x as steep as it is from it’s current location half a block west of 3rd

  7. East of 3rd Marion is *significantly* steeper than west of 3rd, to the extent that offloads of anyone with walking difficulties might be downright dangerous. Having “caught” someone about to fall at the downhill stop on Madison I can attest to that.

    Given the expressed concerns about vehicles going around stopped buses to get onto 3rd simply wait until it becomes transit only then move the stop for the corner which has way better “ergonomics for a stop”. It provides more room for people to unload and move around waiting customers, and riders can (with cooperation of the owners) wait under the awning of the adjacent building. It also has several more feet of sidewalk space than the existing stop or the new one which would be on a narrow sidewalk with large foundation trench next to it.

    Long term if it proved necessary you could shuffle 3rd service to create a stop in front of the FedEx if walking up to the stop at 3rd and Madison proved to be to much.

  8. Ferry riders come off ferries in surges. I could see the connections being better served by some vehicle that can carry more people when these happen — like the streetcar!

    I’ve had an interesting idea about this challenge: Have an overlay CCC streetcar that loops into the Colman Dock area that could allow vehicles to lay over waiting for ferries!

    Some other benefits:

    – It would connect ferries better to Link and Sounder (at IDC Station) than this would, because this idea doesn’t change the fact that getting to a Link station will still require a few blocks of walking until the Midtown station opens in 2035.

    – It would get ferry riders closer to stadium events with game-day shuttles.

    – It also would take riders directly up the hill to the Westlake and SLU areas.

    – It still would stop at Swedish, even though the trip takes longer. It would be closer to Harborview.

    – It would add a track where streetcars could turn around in case of occasional blockages.

    – The WSF could purchase and control vehicles that would operate as additional ferry streetcars as an overlay service, or the existing route could be deviated when the ferry arrived. They could be painted with a ferry paint theme. Maybe some would be partially open-air seasonal excursion cars, making it part of the waterfront experience.

    This could be done in addition to the change proposed in this article, or done in place of it.

  9. The half block up from First is also quite steep and the geometry of the stop there is tippy as well. The 12 is a poor bus for disabled folks. If it went on down to Western and looped, a stop nearside First Avenue, though it could only use the front doors would be far superior to the current one farside and up the hill half a block.

    Of course that would take money for wire and it’s now only a stopgap. Had it been done a decade ago when the 12 started looping at the bottom of the hill instead of going north and interlining, it would have given folks a better ride for years.

  10. Rant: Why the hell wasn’t continued transit access for the ferry docks PLANNED as part of the construction permitting and approval process??? Just sayin’, cars are still using A LOT of space around there, and once again those not in cars are an after thought. This is not just about accessibility, it’s about the usability and convenience of transit for the ferry–or even visiting the waterfront, for that matter.

    Getting back on topic: The fact that #12 stops right there on 1st would be news to me. It’s neither on Google maps transit nor on OneBusAway. Does it stop there, or only the stop partially up the hill on Marion? Also, If the goal of this is to make bus transfers on 3rd easier, seems like (1) moving the 2nd ave stop up to the intersection with 3rd, turning right and running along 3rd to the stop between Columbia and Cherry, then going up the hill on Cherry St. and left on 4th would be most convenient. Would slow things down a bit, but the 99 is going away so that’s your service hours. Although still no convenient connection to Link like the #99 stop at 5th and Jackson (if only it had been more frequent…). Having the 12 go all the way to Jackson, maybe a stretch, but also would be very convenient.

    Finally, there seems to be no signage regarding how to get to any of these busses or accessible routes through buildings once you get off the ferries (taking cabs is pretty obvious, of course).

    1. Another alternative: Route 12 could do a bit of a loop instead of a turn-around. South on 1st and hit the stop that the 99 uses on 1st just south of the Marion walkway (Bonus: No street crossing needed). Then left on Cherry and left on 3rd, hit a stop on 3rd (Bonus: it’s a level surface), then it’s a right turn back on to Marion. Again, more service hours would be needed, but that could easily come from the 99 being eliminated.

      1. Yes, it would be much better if the 12 actually stopped on First, like RapidRide G will. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to string brand-new wire for a two-year temporary solution. I’m just arguing for something that will make off-hours bus-ferry transfers a bit easier while we wait for RapidRide G and the CCC.

    2. “Why the hell wasn’t continued transit access for the ferry docks PLANNED as part of the construction permitting and approval process?”

      When i thought about my shuttle idea above I realized there may not be room at the ferry terminal for a shuttle because then there would be room for the 62 too. But if interim transit access had been included in the ferry project requirements, then the construction plan would have worked around it. A shuttle timed to the ferry is minimum cost, especially if it’s only large enough for the mobility-impaired and only goes to e.g., International District Station. The project may already accomodate Access vans, but only limited severe disabilities qualify for access — not everybody who can’t walk up a hill. Since the hill is part of the transfer infrastructure, it should have a shuttle.

      1. If minivans and pickup trucks (and surely fire trucks and ambulances!) can get through there, there is enough space for a West Seattle DART-like bus. Perhaps even one of the 30 or 35 foot busses. Even down as far as Alaskan Way itself. Capacity may be another issue as I suspect an alternative to walking several blocks then up the hill would be popular not just for physically challenged folk–especially when it’s raining. Vancouver runs two busses scheduled 5-10 minutes apart for the timed connection to Tsarwassen ferries because one bus is not enough. These things can be done. For many convenience is the whole point of taking transit instead of driving.

    3. This is also like how WSDOT funded extra runs on the E for the first couple years of the viaduct replacement, then when the project stalled and the funding ran out, the legislature did not see fit to extend the funding until the project was completed. In other words, transit mitigation was not an essential mitigation part of the project but just a short-term goody, the way construction sometimes blocks sidewalks on an entire block without a substitute path in the road. (Fortunately the new city policy has made that an “occasional” rather than “always” occurrence.)

  11. David: some dates and routes

    In June 1997, Route 66 was implemented, replacing parts of routes 302 and 305; it took layover on southbound Alaskan Way near the WSF. In fall 1998, Route 16 was added and its base headway shortened to 20 minutes; it had been through routed with Route 21 and had been relatively unreliable. Routes 16 and 66 did use Yesler Way to reach 3rd Avenue and used Madison Street to reach Alaskan Way from 3rd Avenue (or 5th Avenue).

    In fall 2013, the SDOT seawall construction took out the layover and routes 16, 66, and 99 had to change. Metro decided to continue to serve 1st Avenue and Marion Street. So, routes 16 and 66 got their awkward pathways in downtown. in March 2016, routes 16 and 66 were deleted and new Route 62 given the same awkward pathway as had been used by routes 16 and 66 since fall 2013.

    So, the streamlining of Route 62 is the one sure good outcome of the CCC Streetcar project.

  12. Wife and I approaching four score and often using public transit are familiar with the trek from the ferry up Marion to buses. During business hours there is a combination of elevators/escalators up to 3rd (and even 4th). But not available at all hours.

    Pattern Language, guru book on things architectural, mentions that the great fault in American public transit is nodes connections. A foot passenger leaving the ferry to the airport, for example, has a hike from the ferry to the light rail, and then a quarter mile hike from the light rail to the airport terminal.

    In my dreamy imagination comes the vision that when on the ferry you use smart phone or kiosk indicating transfer needs to 3rd Ave, Light Rail(airport, or train station. The #12 bus does conveniently take you to medical facilities.

    1. “A foot passenger leaving the ferry to the airport, for example, has a hike from the ferry to the light rail, and then a quarter mile hike from the light rail to the airport terminal.”

      And such a foot passenger has no way finding guidance as to what direction they should walk to get to the light rail or the nearest bus stop, nor that there is a way to go though various buildings to get there (OK, at least one of those buildings may be a security issue if you’re with luggage). Some people like me spend time to memorize the maps and directions and figure out where station entrances are, others just know “Ferry to the light rail to the airport.” There’s also the fact that maps and apps rarely if ever show the topography. Not such a factor in most cities, but in Seattle it definitely is.

      1. Not to mention the buildings are closed on weekends and evenings, including the one that closes at 5 pm.

  13. While we’re being creative, this entire situation brings to mind a Sunday video a while back of the Carmelit inclined funicular subway in Haifa, Israel.

    Not necessarily constructive commentary, sure, but Marion Street could use just a thing.

  14. The escalator between 2nd and 3rd is in the Wells Fargo building. The bank closes at 5 pm, so anyone who gets out of work after 5 will not be able to use this escalator.

    I remember now what happened the only time I tried to use this escalator. I had got out of work early so that I could bring a work deposit to a downtown bank. I went up the escalator, and it went either into the lobby or right into the bank, which was in the process of closing. They were able to let me out the other side, but if I’d been a couple minutes later I’d have had to go back down to Second. And because this was a series of escalators IIRC, I don’t know if I’d have been able to get outside — I remember being scared of having to stay in the building overnight or being arrested or something, and I never used it again.

    It would be even worse if a tourist tried to do this. I don’t know why Metro is telling us to use this. Plus neither of the escalators is available on weekends.

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