One Center City Draft Plans

Commuters face a collision of multiple transportation projects in a small place at one time. While delay of the Washington State Convention Center Addition project offers a slight reprieve, when buses do leave the tunnel sometime in 2019, the One Center City (OCC) plan is intended to keep buses, people and cars flowing through downtown during the “period of maximum constraint.”

After spending more than a year planning, the OCC group missed its goal of having a final mobility plan with near-term and long-term recommendations completed by December 2017. Though scheduled to meet monthly, the OCC Advisory Group hasn’t met since last September.

Nor has the city begun implementing the near-term recommendations released last September by the group. Those recommendations include installing a cycle track on 4th Avenue; shifting more buses to 5th and 6th Avenues; and converting 3rd Avenue to an all-day transit-only street.

This recent pause in the One Center City planning has transit advocates worried that time is running out to implement strategies that might lessen congestion and improve mobility.

“One Center City has always required accelerating projects — so we’re concerned about process getting in the way of action,” wrote Keith Kyle, executive director of Seattle Subway, in an email. “If we fail to make tactical transit improvements, Downtown Seattle will be going nowhere fast for a few years.”  

According to SDOT spokesperson Mafara Hobson, the new administration is currently reviewing the recommendations and anticipates moving forward with final approval of the plan in “coming months.”

“SDOT and the OCC partners are simply ensuring that the timeline of near-term projects is complementary with development and construction projects that are planned or already underway in center city,” Hobson wrote in an email.

She said since the release of these near-term projects, the downtown construction landscape has evolved significantly, with the progression of the Center City Connector, new private development, and the impending Viaduct demolition and the opening of the SR-99 tunnel just around the corner.  

If no action is taken, the OCC partners (City of Seattle, King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit and the Downtown Seattle Association) estimate bus speeds could decrease as much as 43%, adding 3.5 minutes to the commute.

According to SDOT, the peak of the period of maximum constraint is estimated to occur in 2019. Hobson said some projects will begin to be implemented as early as mid-2018 and others will be delivered throughout the period of maximum constraint.

“Our biggest concern is that transit will get so stuck in downtown traffic that it pushes transit riders back to driving alone,” Kyle wrote in an email. “When we invest in transit and make it easier to use, we kick off a virtuous cycle that leads to higher ridership. If transit is every bit as stuck in traffic as single-occupancy vehicles these next few years, we could trigger conditions that make the known problems much worse.”

The transit improvements in One Center City are relatively minor upgrades that will have a big impact for riders, Kyle added.   

Scott Gutierrez, Metro spokesperson, said the OCC plans allow Metro some resiliency if the recommendations aren’t implemented in time or do not do enough to mitigate congestion for buses.

He specifically pointed to 5th Avenue, which he said “is designed to accommodate extra buses in the future if there is a need.”

“Metro will also continue to reserve service hours to protect the reliability of our routes across King County, many of which travel through the Center City,” Gutierrez wrote in an email. “Finally, we are constantly evaluating potential benefits of route modifications and restructures and will continue to adapt to changing conditions to meet the needs of our customers.”

23 Replies to “One Center City Plans Delayed”

  1. At this point, is the date of buses leaving the tunnel (“sometime in 2019”) driven by ST finally getting enough train cars to fully use the tunnel’s capacity? Or is it still driven by the Convention Center construction schedule? If the latter, there seems to be an obvious mitigation available.

    1. It’s the latter. The buses weren’t supposed to leave the tunnel until Link got to Northgate.

      You are right. The obvious thing to do is simply delay the Convention Center project further (until Northgate Link is done).

      1. More thoughts on the departure date: There are three significant construction projects that effect buses going through the tunnel: Northgate Link, East Link and the 520 bridge replacement. The first two make existing bus routes obsolete, while the third makes sending 520 buses to the UW a lot easier.

        The biggest problems occur during rush hour. That is when you have too many buses downtown. Here are the number of buses (more or less) that each route sends through the tunnel between 8:00 and 9:00 AM:

        Tunnel buses made obsolete by Northgate Link:

        41 — 13 buses
        74 — 5 buses

        Tunnel bus made obsolete by East Link:

        550 — 10 buses

        Tunnel buses that could terminate at the UW:

        255 — 9 buses

        Other buses:

        101 — 4 buses
        102 — 1 bus
        150 — 4 buses

        The 102 runs more often between 7:00 and 8:00. However,the 150 and 102 run less often then. In general, while these numbers aren’t perfect and could be considered off by one or two, this is a pretty good summary of the situation.

        When Northgate Link is complete, the trains will also run more often (I believe 4 minutes is the plan for rush hour). Kicking buses out when Northgate Link is done makes sense given the increase in frequency as well as the number of obsolete buses no longer using the tunnel. That does mean that the 550 will limp along for a while.

        What isn’t clear to me is if what state the SR 520 project will be in. Like the folks in Bellevue, people on the 255 may have a tough slog for a while (either trying to get to the UW or downtown). According to the WSDOT web page (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR520Bridge/I5toLakeWa/Montlake) there isn’t a detailed plan yet for Montlake, but it shouldn’t be completed until roughly when East Link is done (a couple years after Northgate Link).

      2. It never was “until Northgate Link” opened. For at least 5 years now the busses have been planned to get kicked out of the tunnel in 2019 once the construction work for turnback track at IDS as part of the East Link work begins (source: https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/07/24/turnback-to-be-added-at-ids-for-east-link-buses-removed-from-tunnel-in-2019/) The previous convention center addition construction schedule would have had them kicked out of the tunnel about one year earlier, but now it looks increasingly like that the two events will roughly coincide with each other.

      3. East Link construction starts in the DSTT in 2019; I believe that is the current schedule driver.

      4. OK, I stand corrected. It isn’t being driven by Northgate Link being open. But it still sounds like it is being driven by Northgate Link. To quote ST, from the article:

        We’re looking at 2019 because it allows us to have it done in time for the final Northgate systems work and testing before opening, but the date is still somewhat flexible. This is a final design contract, not construction. The main point is that the work needs to be done before Northgate opens in order to have the least impact on the riding public.

        So it basically can happen any time before Northgate Link opens. Based on the article, closures involve about 11 weeks, or about three months. Add another three months for “system testing” (to be generous) and you are still talking about 6 months, not more than 2 years.

    2. There’s also the construction of a non-revenue turn track at Intl Dist for East Link that will somehow preclude buses in the tunnel; Before the Convention Center timeline accelerated, that was the reason buses had to leave the tunnel, and I think that was in also in 2019. So the Convention Center delay may have already happened, from 2018 to 2019. Or ST may just be spinning the Convention Center reason because it sounds better than the other one.

    1. If the Seattle City Council has any authority over it, you and as many fellow ORCA users get with City Councilman Rob Johnson. Who used to be head of the Transportation Choices Coalition and is now onthe Sound Transit Board.

      Excellent idea now that LINK is really starting to carry some people. Transfer to Seattle Center, Queen Anne buses, and also future arena. However, will need higher capacity- and quality- elevator from Westlake mezzanine.

      Mark Dublin

      Mark Dublin

  2. The AWV Replacement tunnel opens in just six to eight months according to the latest schedule! Major ramps will close and traffic patterns will change.

    Is there any project that needs to happen before the Downtown ramps close? If not, wouldn’t it be prudent to wait just a little longer to see the magnitude of new traffic bottlenecks that may emerge?

  3. Why, starting beginning of operations tomorrow, don’t we get DSTT operations into the condition they should have been in 28 years ago this coming September 15th. And let Jenny handle the City. She’s already locked up a lot less contemptible people in a private prison for contempt of her temper.

    Because the better shape we’re in ’til the City is ready to build, the better shape we’ll be in to handle the fifteen minutes after, and the following geologic age. With a well-trained force of capable young people ready to take over when the last of us has ridden off in a standing load to the great self-inflicted service-delay in the Sky.

    Mark Dublin

  4. And also, better chance that if the the present crush loads on the 41 and the 550 stay in motion ’til their trains arrive, the more likely they’ll be attending the opening ceremonies of North and East LINK. Rather than the resulting Lynnwood and Bellevue Car-Tab Parties.

    MD

  5. Anyone know what’s up with new route 29 this am. Two of us waited at 1st and Broad to go downtown. The last bus scheduled for the am route never came and when I called Metro she said it went by there at 10:25, but I had been there since 10am and no buses ever went by.

    1. Metro’s been short on drivers for a while, haven’t they? So good idea to keep back-up routes and stops in mind. A few blocks south on Third, major trolleybus stop. If Metro doesn’t have app, check alternatives out before starting day’s travel.

      MD

    2. Deborah, according to the Route 29 schedule page on kingcounty.gov, I do not believe this route stops at 1st and Broad:

      Route 29 makes no stops to downtown between Queen Anne Ave N & W Highland Dr and 2nd Ave & Lenora St EXCEPT at Queen Anne Ave N & W Mercer St. Route 29 makes no stops to Ballard between 3rd Ave & Virginia St and Queen Anne Ave N & W Highland Dr EXCEPT at 1st Ave N & Mercer St.

      1. I think it might, based on the service change page:
        “During the morning and afternoon peak periods only, southbound Route 29 to downtown Seattle will be revised to operate on 1st Ave between Broad and Blanchard streets, and on 2nd Ave between Blanchard and Virginia streets. Route 29 will serve a new bus stop at Broad St and an existing bus stop at Wall St.”

  6. Plan to spend a fair amount of time on keeping the 41 and the 550 in the DSTT long as needed. Best example yet of what could be first instance of many where ST-3 will have to keep in motion around a blockage.

    Any reader who’s driven buses in DSTT for awhile? Because I’m wondering how short we could get bus dwell-time if Security could detail some people to fight terrorism by keeping buses from becoming stationary targets. And long-overdue, platforms Proof of Payment.

    Wonder how fast a station attendant or two could fasten a wheelchair into best possible securement- which we could probably design-build ourselves. Seem to recall first “lifts” had idea of a Boeing wing-flap jack-screw.

    Thinking of 41 and 550 only, mainly for the loads they carry, and the all-day service in addition to rush hour. Enough passenger capacity to run four to six car platoons? With strict spacing control to simulate couplers. In addition to passenger appreciation, could definitely improve our public relations to show we’re finally in charge of something.

    And set best possible standard for the rest of ST’s whole -3.

    Mark Dublin

  7. ew the 29 a bus stop has been installed where we waited today. I walked over to 3rd and Cedar for a no. 1. Only to find out the 1 was a 14. Confusing day but I got to my destination and back home again. One bus away seems to be having “issues.”

  8. OCC looks like an afterthought in the grand scheme of things as far as citywide priorities go. Even just the fact that it was put together sort of last-minute (it was having conversations that should have taken place years ago, when there was actually time to get priorities done like two-way fifth ave, additional bike lanes, etc). And now it’s delayed. Really the only meaningful thing they can do for transit riders in downtown at this point is make 3rd ave car-free. They can’t start construction projects for bus improvements because that will exacerbate construction projects that are causing this mess in the first place.

    Though OCC was an afterthought, 520-UW truncation is worse than an afterthought. After starting to regularly ride buses across 520 from Bellevue, I’ve become very familiar with the traffic exiting 520 and total lack of anything at all to speed up buses. I actually prefer half-hourly peak only 555 over frequent 271 during peak because taking a bus that uses the Montlake freeway station westbound saves 10-20 minutes of queuing at the low capacity no-turn-on-red signal at Montlake blvd.

    If truncation is to be made at UW station, I hope ST and Metro make clear to riders the trade-offs, and that in exchange for more mobility in downtown and more frequent service on the suburban leg of their trip, it will cost them, and they may want to get up a half hour earlier in the morning to be ready for traffic conditions on 520. Any time savings that switching to Link could save, all of it will be eaten by exiting 520 alone. Then transferring to Link also takes time as well. Though I like the diagram of bus stops in OCC’s diagram.

    I think truncations shouldn’t happen. What should happen is make third ave car-free, and maybe move some buses to 2nd and 4th ave and run them express from Westlake station to IDS on 2nd/4th. This will allow them to use the far left lanes on 2nd/4th and avoid clogging up the bus stops that are already overflowing at peak.

    1. I’m ‘way out of touch and I’m sorry, Alex. So just a question. Would it save anything to take the 550 out of Bellevue Transit Center via I-90, and LINK from any DSTT station to UW?

      Mark

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