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.