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.”