In an extended press conference about the Seattle Squeeze on Thursday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, WSDOT, SDOT, and Metro laid out their plans to mitigate the planned mobility crisis.
It’s a mixed bag. The coordinated government effort does include some promising transit benefits, but doesn’t go as far as it could—by the agencies’ own admission.
The officials—WSDOT’s David Sowers, SDOT’s Heather Marx, and Metro’s Bill Bryant—presented a long list of changes to downtown mobility, organized into three categories:
- Planned changes;
- “Initial response,” which would be implemented if the initial plan doesn’t do enough;
- A set of worst-case-scenario options, blandly titled “secondary responses”
Bryant presented further service changes for West Seattle, in addition to the alterations Metro unveiled in an October STB post.
The new “permanent southend pathway” will, after the tunnel is opened and integrated into the grid, run on Alaskan Way to the West Seattle Bridge, according to the intra-agency slide deck: “[the] pathway will use transit lanes on SR 99, Alaskan Way Surface St, and Columbia St for both ingress and egress of the Seattle CBD.”
Bryant also presented maps of Metro’s service changes on Highway 99 north of the Battery Street Tunnel. Routes including the E Line, 5, 5 Express, 26, and 28 will:
- Southbound: exit Aurora at Denny Way, then enter the 3rd Avenue Transit Mall via Wall Street
- Northbound: leave 3rd via Battery Street, then enter Aurora via a new “proposed” queue jump/transit lane, that would extend past the existing northbound transit lane for the entire block/onramp between Denny and John Street.
The officials also announced new “temporary transit lanes” on Cherry, the West Seattle Bridge, and Aurora. Further detail was not provided in the briefing.
Metro has committed to installing off-board ORCA readers at all 3rd Avenue stops by March. Off-board employees will scan ORCA cards during peak hours in the interim.
Right of way
The deck promises to “restrict parking on key arterials,” and officials’ comments singled out 1st Avenue as a priority for on-street parking reduction.
Marx emphasized that the City intends to limit the amount of construction equipment in public rights of way: the deck mentions “proactively managing construction project schedules.”
Officials said that some of the right of way changes—like on street parking and bus lanes—could become permanent, but said the ultimate decision would depend on seeing the results of the changes in action.
WSDOT’s Sowers said that the southbound I-5 HOV lane between Mercer and Corson will be open to general traffic during the Squeeze, in the hopes of minimizing queues extending from the Mercer on ramp and into the grid.
Police work: Uniformed police officers will direct traffic, with the stated intention of favoring transit, at critical intersections identified by Metro and SDOT.
The mayor said that SPD would not emphasize ticketing lane cheats during peak hours, since stopping and writing up offenders would block limited right of way. She also said that the city was strongly in favor of the bus/HOV lane photo enforcement bill that will make the rounds in Olympia in the coming session, implying that the city will lobby for it.
The city doesn’t have great options at present to prevent bus lane violations, and keeping traffic moving is rightly a priority. But it’s disappointing that enforcement isn’t also. One reason for lane cheats to keep cheating is that they know that they won’t get busted.
Deliveries: The city and UPS are working together to limit deliveries during peak hours and keep drivers from stopping in the street. There’s also an “e-Cargo trike pilot,” some kind of vehicle that UW and UPS have developed to deliver packages on sidewalks.
Rideshare geofencing: SDOT worked with Lyft and Uber to contain rideshare pickup and dropoff to limited, specified areas in the downtown core, with the intention of keeping curb lanes clear.
Reporters asked a flurry of questions about the “initial response” and “secondary response” questions, essentially wondering why the options wouldn’t be implemented in the first place. Durkan cited the concerns of downtown businesses as one reason to avoid implementing more expansive measures.
The “initial response” options listed on the deck are:
Thresholds include volume, travel time and transit travel time increases.
Make additional signal modifications
Increase on-street parking restrictions and enforcement
Add transit-only lanes
Operate streets as transit-only
Reroute transit to less congested routes
The “secondary responses” category mentioned:
Modifying I-5 Ramp availability and signal timing (WSDOT)
Restrict turns for single occupant vehicles
Expand transit priority and transit restrictions to extend from 5 am to 10 pm
Further decrease City-employee travel for work and commute purposes
Modify public messaging to increase Call to Action