In 2021 light rail will begin operating to Northgate. I’ve waited my entire life for this, as I am lucky enough to live close by to the station. I’m thrilled about the upcoming redevelopment of Northgate Mall, and the upcoming density to the area. However, traffic delays that could result from this is a significant concern of mine, not because of the delays to cars, but because of the delays to buses. The amount of people wanting to come to this area will increase drastically over the coming years, so steps should be taken to ensure that transit is a reliable option.
5th Avenue is an easy start. Between Northgate Way and 103rd St, there are two car lanes in each direction and relatively low amounts of traffic during the day. This is a perfect location for bus lanes. On this segment, there is a bus about every 4 minutes on average even on Saturdays. During peak, there are a lot more. This is more than enough bus traffic to justify a lane.
The same can be said for Northgate Way between 5th and Roosevelt, where buses show up less than 5 minutes apart on average.
These decisions are logical although politically difficult. My main worry is that SDOT will try to pit cyclists and transit riders against each other. 5th Avenue, for instance, has bike lanes in the Bicycle Master Plan. The best solution here would be either to provide separate bike paths or to widen the roads to allow for protected cycle lanes. As Northgate redevelops their property, it would be a good idea for the city to purchase just a little bit more right of way (10-12 feet) to ensure the space needed for cycle paths.
Here are what some of those future scenarios could look like:
5th Avenue Looking North Today
5th Avenue Looking North Near Future
5th Avenue Looking North with Cycle Path
The transition between 5th Ave and Northgate Way would have a dedicated left turn bus lane.
This is my first post and I’d love to do more of these! I have a lot of ideas I’d like to share with the community and I’d like to see if any of them stand up to critique.
18 Replies to “Ensuring Quality Transit Service around Northgate Station”
I don’t know about low traffic on Northgate Way between 5th Ave NE and Roosevelt Way because there is a lot of traffic as it one of the main east-west thoroughfares in North Seattle and is the only one between NE 80th and NE130th.
Northgate Way has entrances and exits to both NB and SB I-5 which brings a lot of traffic to the street and that is not even counting traffic going to and from the mall and no the mail is not going away although Simon has plans to make major changes.
You also have stores on both sides of the street between 5th Ave NE and Roosevelt Way that has traffic going in and out of those places.
Several years SDOT redid the street and made it better but to follow your suggestion to it cut down to one travel lane is going to create a mess that is not going to work.
As far as 5th Ave NE is concerned there is no need to have bus lanes because the buses travel freely on this street today and do so without delays because traffic is lighter then it is on Northgate Way.
Thanks for the reply! I didn’t intend to indicate that Northgate Way was low-traffic; I now realize that the way I structured the article makes it look that way.
I argue for bus lanes on 5th Ave because it does become mildly congested during rush hour and the neighborhood is planned to grow.
Unfortunately, I do think that you are right about Northgate Way. Perhaps the street could be widened for 2 car lanes each direction plus bus lanes? In any case, unless parking is banned in new developments, I foresee a major transit bottleneck on Northgate Way, and some sort of solution needs to happen.
As I mentioned SDOT did a major makeover on Northgate Way several years ago which did help somewhat but it is a busy thoroughfare which at certain times of the day I will avoid.
I am not sure if you can widen the street as you have commercial business on both sides of the street so there is no room to widen it unless you reduce down the with of the sidewalks but those have heavy use also.
Another problem with Northgate Way bus lanes, is that, in the westbound direction, buses are busy getting over into the left lane to make the turn onto 5th, so they wouldn’t be able to use a bus lane, even if one did exist. Eastbound, the 67 would be able to use a right-hand bus lane, but the 347/348 wouldn’t because they’re busy moving over into the left lane to make a left turn onto Roosevelt.
Also, as Jeff Pittman said, there is no room to widen the roadway, and maintaining the existing sidewalk width should be non-negotiable. When push comes to shove, pedestrian mobility and safety in an urban center is more important than the speed of buses.
Oh, they could do some things, but the cure might be worse than the disease. For example, there are two lanes for the turn you mentioned (westbound Northgate Way to southbound 5th — https://goo.gl/maps/5wKkSC5bqu92). They could designate one of those lanes (the outside one) as bus only. A bus would still need to do what it does today (move over two lanes) to make that turn, but it would mean that the lane would be clear, meaning it would be easy to make that turn. Theoretically, that would be better. Drivers who are also making that turn would move into the inside lane — they could no longer use the middle lane to turn left (https://goo.gl/maps/XcdmS8NmSG62). If the southbound 5th lane was also a BAT lane, it all sounds wonderful.
Except it wouldn’t work that way. Immediately you would start seeing a big backup on Northgate Way, on that inside turn lane (the only general purpose lane). People being what they are, you would see folks who try and force their way into that lane at the last minute. These drivers would definitely block the box, and things wouldn’t be much better than they are now.
To a certain extent, things somewhat police themselves now. Savvy drivers know it is better to take that turn in the inside lane, because of the buses on the outside lane. In other words, the curbside lane (on 5th) works somewhat like a BAT lane now anyway. Drivers aren’t in there unless they are planning on turning. There are a few that get in the lane by accident (hoping there are no buses — a rare occurrence). But that happens with BAT lanes as well. People abuse BAT lanes constantly. In this case, there are a lot of folks who *are* turning, either at the next intersection (way down at 103rd) or at the mall. Likewise, the other direction there are lots of people who take a right from northbound 5th to eastbound Northgate Way, thus following the 347/348, 67 and 75.
I think the best chance for significant improvement is exactly what you are talking about –improvements in the pedestrian and bike landscape. Improvements are being made, but there is very little landscape to use, unless the mall is changed. The city should try and negotiate a big upzone in exchanged for a good pedestrian and bike path through what should be city streets (3rd Avenue, 105th, etc).
“maintaining the existing sidewalk width should be non-negotiable. When push comes to shove, pedestrian mobility and safety in an urban center is more important than the speed of buses”
The problem is that you say that, others say we can’t have transit lanes because we need a cycletrack on this street, others say we can’t have transit lanes because we need the car lanes and parking lanes, and the net result is that buses always come last and will always be slow. That’s not acceptable; it’s one of the reasons people cite for not taking buses because they take too long to get anywhere.
I’m not against bus lanes per say, I just believe they should come at the expense of driving and parking, not walking and cycling. A sidewalk with decent with is a non-negotiable necessity for everyone that doesn’t drive and park right in front of their building – which includes all transit riders. A lane to park cars, or a second lane to drive cars, is not.
Nice idea, but I’m afraid I’m with Jeff. In general, BAT lanes or bus lanes are easiest to implement when it doesn’t involve taking a lane. That is why it is common for SDOT to target parking lanes. It is also common to see four lane roads converted to three lane roads (because four lanes often have no better throughput). But in this case, you already have a turn lane.
As Jeff said, from a practical standpoint, BAT lanes would probably work the same way. The folks who are in the outer lane have either just turned into that lane, or are about to turn into the mall, or one of the many places along there. I agree, it is a problem, but I don’t see an easy solution.
The big thing that’s missing on 5th Ave. today is bike lanes. A trip from Northgate Transit Center to Target could be an under-5 minute bike ride if the city is willing to provide the facilities to make it easy and safe.
The long-term ideal solution would be for whatever development replaces the mall to be designed to include a separated-from-cars bike path from the beginning. Of course, waiting for this means no bike facilities at all for the interim period where the mall is in its current state, and the new building is being constructed. I guess the least-scary option is bike bike through the parking lot, but that has its own hazards, as the parking lot is very busy and has a constant stream of cars backing out of parking spaces.
The mail is not going away but several months ago there were articles that Simon who owns the mall will be making changes. Supposedly they will be adding an office building and apartments but nothing official has been submitted to the city who must approve any changes. When you talk to the mall management they say that they don’t know exactly what changes are which means that they don’t want to say and the changes are being made by Simon Corporate and will be submitted to the city by corporate.
Mentioned in the article was that the shopping part of the mall be reduced somewhat but it will remain a shopping mall.
My guess is that it will become more akin to what U Village is, a mixed use lifestyle center. What it will look like is something we’ll have to wait and see on.
One small change I could see, although again I’m not sure if it is worth it:
From northbound 5th to eastbound Northgate Way it is one lane (https://goo.gl/maps/oN5H5MSzogr). The reverse is two lanes (https://goo.gl/maps/NyL1Czaq7DA2). Right now there are several buses that make that turn (the 347/348, 75 and 67). I would imagine there are times when it is difficult to make that turn, especially as the number of pedestrians in the area grows.
There are a couple of different ways to deal with it. One is to allow people to make a right (or go straight) from the second to the right lane. A bus would still get in that right lane, but cars could use the other lane, which might alleviate some of the backups.
Another is to add a right turn arrow there. Add a sign saying “No right on red”. That would improve safety, while the right arrow would allow lots of cars to turn right while the cars going the opposite direction are turning left. At that point there are no pedestrians crossing, so it is safe. Right now cars can make the turn, but by law they have to make a complete stop every time (and a lot of people pause, not realizing that there are no cars or pedestrians going the other direction). With the turn arrow, it would empty out better.
But again, I am not sure if it is worth it. While I understand the concerns, in my experience it hasn’t been that bad. It has been a couple years though, and obviously as the area gets more and more people, there is more and more congestion there. But in general, I have found that traffic moves at a decent clip through there.
There is already a right turn arrow signal from NB 5th Ave NE to eastbound Northgate Way and it does help in clearing out the traffic including buses,
Oh, yeah, now I see it :)
I’ve been through that intersection dozens of times (since they added it) but just forgot (and didn’t see it when looking at Google Street View).
Another thought: As time goes on, this becomes more of a local problem, and less of a regional one. While the problem shouldn’t be dismissed, it would at least effect fewer people. This is the way I see it:
There are only two essential runs in the area, once Northgate Link opens. That is the 75 and the 41. Both are likely to continue for a very long time, in one form or another.
But other buses are likely to change as soon as Northgate Link is built. The 67 makes less sense than ever. The 347/348 could avoid all the twists and turns of Northgate, and just head down Roosevelt. It also makes sense to consolidate the 373/73 with those runs and send that down Roosevelt as well. That means that you would have plenty of service on 15th/Pinehurst/Roosevelt (as you do now) but none of it would connect directly to Northgate. it probably isn’t worth it to increase the frequency on the 347/348 (there just isn’t that much demand beyond the city limits) but I could easily see a 67/73 hybrid making up the difference. In other words, run a bus every 15 minutes from 145th and 15th (or 145th and the freeway if you prefer) to the U-District (or Roosevelt). Run it opposite the 347/348, and end it at the same spot (Roosevelt or the U-District). That means 7.5 minute headways along that corridor, which is even better than the 67, and closer to what was originally planned for it. That is very nice service for a change that is likely revenue neutral or better.
That would relieve some of the pressure on Northgate buses. But you would still likely have plenty of buses headed to Northgate. A lot depends on what your primary connection is between Lake City and Link — Roosevelt or Northgate. For that a lot depends on what improvements are made to Roosevelt Way (and Lake City Way). If the idea is basically run a lot of buses to Roosevelt Station, then I could see the 41 and 75 operating as they do now (every 15 minutes) which means only 8 an hour on this corridor. Express buses from the north end would use First. Once the NE 130th station is added, this would certainly be the case (there would be less need for frequent service between Lake City and Northgate).
That means it becomes less of a regional problem, and more of a local one. That should not be dismissed, but at least locals can walk or ride their bike (if some cases). My point being that while this is definitely a problem, I don’t think it is our worst one, and in terms of potential for fixing, probably has a pretty low return on investment.
It is all just suggesting to what changes should be made to bus service after Link is extended to Northgate but service would need to continue on 15th Ave NE because walking to and from Lake City Way or Roosevelt Way from 15th Ave NE would require walking up and down some steep hills plus a number of streets do not run all the way through between those two streets.
I disagree completely. You really didn’t see a drop-off in ridership when the 73 was re-routed to Roosevelt (when the bridge over Thornton Creek was being repaired, and couldn’t handle the bus).
Walking over to Roosevelt is not very steep at all, and just about all the streets do go through. In terms of getting to Lake City Way, some of the streets don’t go through (they are cut off by Thornton Creek). But that is true for getting to 15th as well (92nd doesn’t directly connect to Lake City Way or 15th). In general there aren’t a lot of people that would be hurt by this and even fewer that would have to walk a long way. There are very few apartments in that area (a couple duplexes and that is it).
In contrast, there are lots of areas in the city that could use better coverage. On Sunset Hill (in Ballard) there is no bus service on 32nd, except during rush hour. That is a bigger walk for a lot more people. If you are on Boyer (in Montlake) you could have a very long walk to a bus stop. Even in this neck of the woods you have areas that are better candidates for all day service. On 5th Avenue Northeast there are more people, just as much of a walk, and just as much of a hill.
Right now the ridership on the 73 is being driven by folks that are just catching the first bus between the UW and 65th, or people headed between the UW and the area north of Northgate. There just aren’t that many people along 15th between 65th and Northgate Way. The 67 has eaten away a huge chunk of the 73 ridership, as buses that run every 30 minutes are really a pain. The 73 now only carries 1,100 people a day, and it is in the bottom 25% of runs in the city (in terms of rides per platform hour). I try to time the 73, because it is a pain to transfer, but even I’ve made it. The other day I was headed to the Roosevelt neighborhood, but had to pick up a prescription at Safeway (at 125th and 15th). I allowed way too much time for that process, and realized I had to wait twenty minutes for the next 73. So instead I just took the first 347/348 to Northgate Way, walked across the street and caught the first 67. That is obviously a pain, and most people would just drive in that situation.
Buses running every half hour are just not good. Metro initially killed the 73, with the latest restructure. The plan was to have everyone do the exact same transfer I did. Folks in Pinehurst complained, wanting a one seat ride to the U-District (a reasonable complaint). What I’m suggesting is that you would have very high frequency bus service along 15th/Pinehurst/Roosevelt to the U-District (with a Link stop along the way). Yes, some people would walk farther to get to the bus, but it would be bus service worth walking to.
Of course if we had unlimited funds we would send buses down every arterial. But we don’t, and watering down key corridors (like 15th/Pinehurst/Roosevelt) so that a handful of people don’t have to walk very far is a bad idea. Put it this way — imagine Metro gets a huge grant, and can afford both. Now you have both the frequent bus service I mentioned, and the half hour service for the 73. Ridership on the 73 would be less than a thousand a day, and a lot of those riders were expecting to catch another bus. It would be one of the worst performing bus routes in our system.
I would love it if we could afford both — great coverage and great frequency. But we can’t afford it, and sometimes we have to make tough choices. No longer sending buses on 15th all day is really a minor sacrifice compared to many of the tough choices we’ve had to make.
The problem is the west-to-south trip. North to east can be accommodated by a Red Lane on Fifth NE so that buses approach the intersection unimpeded. Once they have turned they’re in a metered environment controlled by the previous eastbound green cycle.
So make the turn pocket at Eighth NE and NE Northgate Way bus-only and add a demand-actuated turn signal westbound, make the “one way street” on 105th between Eighth and Fifth “Bus Only” and put a bus-friendly signal at Fifth and 105th.
Grant, the bus has to turn three times instead of once but they’re prioritized turns and doing this allows a stop right at the Community Center.
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