On Friday, SDOT and Metro announced two rounds of transit improvements for 3rd Avenue, still the region’s busiest transit corridor. They will coincide with the next two Metro service changes, and are as follows:
- Extend the hours of the current car restrictions along 3rd to 6 a.m.-7 p.m. seven days a week (with 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. exception for permitted commercial vehicles).
- Ban left turns from 3rd Ave at all times.
- Remove on-street parking from Prefontaine Pl at all times.
- Install ORCA readers and real-time arrival signs at all 3rd Ave stops, not only those served by RapidRide.
- Move current southbound stop at James St one block north.
Metro will also be adding a new northbound bus stop between Columbia and Marion at a later date, and presumably shuffling routes between stops for greater efficiency.
We continue to think that painting 3rd completely red would be the best and clearest solution, and would be amply warranted by the volume of bus riders 3rd serves. But these changes are welcome, and better in some respects than the rumor mill and previous statements by SDOT staff had led us to believe.
The 24/7 ban on left turns off 3rd is a particularly happy surprise. Left-turning cars frequently block the southbound through lane at all hours, holding up through buses. Banning left turns 24/7 will also cause TNC drivers’ navigation apps not to recommend those turns, while the apps appear to ignore peak-hour turn restrictions.
It also wasn’t clear until recently that SDOT would extend car restrictions to weekends, despite frequent car-caused traffic congestion on weekend afternoons. The weekend restrictions should improve bus reliability, especially given Metro’s longtime tendency toward optimistic scheduling on weekends.
With cars allowed in some places and at some times, enforcement will continue to be a challenge, as it is today. Enforcement of existing restrictions by SPD and Metro Transit Police has been inconsistent, and typically absent when traffic crashes or special events create gridlock on surrounding streets—allowing the gridlock to spread to 3rd and paralyze bus service too. SDOT and SPD should prioritize enforcement more than they have to date. In particular, more, not less, enforcement should happen on days when car traffic elsewhere is heavier than usual, so buses can provide a resilient alternative for people trying to get home.