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”

Promised changes

Bus service

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.

Traffic flow

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.

Potential changes

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

25 Replies to “Downtown mobility in the Carpocalypse”

  1. 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.”

    Way to announce it so everybody knows they can get away with it! I understand this as a practical matter but if you publicize it, it sounds more like a wink-wink to drivers.

      1. But…

        1) Then the City can make bus lane enforcement profitable! It must be a money-loser, or the City is in it just to make a buck, I tell ya.

        2) Some of the lane cheaters may be impoverished drivers who need to cheat to get to their construction jobs on time since they overslept.

        3) Some of the lane cheaters may be millionairer doctors in a hurry to get to First Hill to perform emergency life-saving surgery. (Ooookay, then they can document that, which they’ll have plenty of time to do when they receive the first warning or ticket in the convenience of their distant mansionette, if they find it worth the value of their time to appeal it.) This does bring up the question of billionaires who will just keep paying the fine, I suppose.

        4) Police need to have the decision authority to demonstrate live-time human compassion to only give verbal warnings to the white women whose sob stories they believe. And some of the stops might (while tying up traffic for ten minutes) catch someone with an arrest warrant. Don’t worry, we won’t turn 3rd Ave into a shooting scene investigation site.

      2. “Deputized bus passengers. :-)”

        … with cans of red paint. The one-night praxis to end accidental bus lane violations.

        But red paint would be too easy and effective.

    1. I’m pretty sure having officers at key intersections will be an effective deterrant, even if they don’t give tickets. Who would just ignore an actual officer’s instructions to clear the lane? Maybe if you did that they would actually write a ticket.

      1. We should have officers on lots of corners downtown, anyway. More people protected per officer. That’s why you see officers on every corner of every intersection on the other Broadway.

      1. Brent, I plead guilty to one gender-related prejudice but can quickly produce real-time video examples to bear out my thesis. In any position of enforcement.

        Have noticed with children. Little boys: Questions. “Why do we have to do that?” Little girls? “And the rule says you have to do this, and after that you have to do that, and if you don’t……”

        George Orwell really blew it with his tyrant. Big Brother is WATCHING you? But real State terror: “Little Sister will TELL ON YOU!” And will explain to mommie she only tore off your ear so you could hear better with the other one.

        Was really #Hands Up Shoot Him Anyway” mean to traffic patrolmen as to which gender is likeliest not to turn a traffic situation into a giant brillo pad. But have a lady officer on-scene and sobstory-tellers soon have something to cry about.

        Mark Dublin

    2. Unbeliebable to annouce no HOV enforcement! It was rare in past, now none. Hope camera bill passes in Olympia this session but sadly it will be a political battle instead of a no-brainer.

  2. Can’t they do photo enforcement now when officers witness violations at take pictures? That way they wouldn’t issue the ticket in-person, holding up traffic, but instead send the pictures to be processed later and tickets issued via mail. Seems pretty simple to me – just station officers at key locations armed with a cell phone camera and get pictures of the license plate and driver.

    1. I agree. I think that is a very reasonable approach. The whole idea that someone who violates the law gets to address their concerns *immediately* (or within seconds) is ridiculous. Of course some people just made a mistake and it gives cops the chance to check them out for more serious violations (stolen car, drunk driving, etc.). But just treat it like a parking ticket. If you park somewhere illegally, you end up with a ticket. Tough luck. You can’t argue with the meter maid, that dude is long gone. You can show up in court and fight it, or just pay it. Driving in a bus lane is very similar. It is not life threatening, but it isn’t acceptable either.

      1. Most feds have their budgets already, so the vast majority will be on the roads, in buses headed to their downtown offices, stuck in de facto general-purpose traffic where there could have been red bus lanes moving a lot more people per hour.


  3. One day several years ago I decided to troll the lane cheaters in front of UWMC. I positioned myself very conspicuously about 1/2 way down the lane with a telephoto lens-equipped camera and started shooting away at any and all automobiles in the lane. It wasn’t 100% effective, but easily 60-75% of the drivers metaphorically “gulped” and moved into the adjacent lane.

    Such photos probably aren’t admissible evidence in a court hearing, but if the City would publicly urge transit-friendly photographers to do this regularly, it might help.

    I have to say, it was really fun to see their faces!

    1. Tom T, having seen enough real public bathroom walls in my life to avoid twitter and all social media by reflex, sorry this is beyond my Dell.

      But somebody whose set doesn’t need vacuum tubes can arrange to have perpetrators morph into decades of cartoon characters, real-time depictions of our twittererinchief, and Buddy Holly combined on every Smartscreen in the world, Starting with the victim’s, I mean lawbreakers’ own.

      A really guilty conscience will make them long for the 1951 Oldsmobile (hell of a car, yellow fog-lights and all, transmission bigger than the motor), that their grandfather never even had. That PCC streetcar demolished a ’39 Ford.

      But look. Main force for orderly compliance now is that everybody in every lane including the sidewalk can see with their own eyes that the only humans moving at all are the ones riding buses in lanes the law keeps clear. Gotta go now, she’s got fire in her eyes and mace in her hand. And her dog’s got three more tires to go.


  4. Did Mayor Durkan list the concerns from downtown businesses that are pre-empting transit right-of-way priority? Please tell me they don’t require an EIS.

  5. I see Stephen Fesler mis-reported the deployment of the ORCA readers at all the 3rd Ave bus stops in March as a delay. IIRC, March was the target date all along, so those in charge of that project seem to have not been aware of the #Realign99 Carpocalypse when they set the project delivery schedule. I hope they can manage to have at least some readers up by January 14, but regardless…

    In the past ATU has insisted that ORCA Boarding Assistant duty can only be performed by transit operators. The problem in January remains the same as the problem all along, namely, that during the peak period, Metro needs all the operators it has available operating transit.

    If there is a way to make this available to drivers just on light-duty restriction and to other non-operator staff, so we have as many drivers as possible driving during Carpocalypse, that would be an immense service to the public.

    1. I knew I should have read The C is For Crank before the Urbanist. Per ECB,

      “For bus stops that don’t have readers, Metro will be paying off-duty bus drivers to stand at the back entrance to buses and manually scan passengers’ cards as they board in the back.”

      The use of the phrase “off-duty” might need a little unpacking for those unfamiliar with the seniority-based work pick process for drivers. They aren’t really off duty, in the sense of being off the clock. But it is additional work beyond their picked shifts. So, they might have picked a packet that has them driving regular routes, say, Wednesday through Sunday. On Monday, they can offer to work overtime, and if it is available and they are the senior driver offering to cover it, they can pick up a shift doing ORCA Boarding Assistance.

      This is an elegant solution that doesn’t use up operators’ regular work week on holding an ORCA reader instead of driving. And then, the drivers doing it aren’t driving a bus over 40 hours a week and getting exhausted. But it makes the most experienced and knowledgable drivers available to passengers with questions on 3rd Ave who might be using transit for the first time during the Carpocalypse.

      Of course, one could argue, that driver could be picking up a shift covering open work during the peak commute, and they are most desperately needed delivering regularly-scheduled service or relief runs on routes running behind. Fine. Metro can opt to cover routes before making boarding assistance available as a shift. They know where the largest boarding pain points are, and those will get covered ahead of the nice-to-cover bus stops.

  6. I don’t understand why Mayor Durkan thinks taking the “centrist” way on transportation, just like her predecessor, is a good idea. Trying to please everyone in this city ends up leading to nothing but stalled projects, one term and enemies on all sides. McGinn might have only lasted 1 term but at least he chose a side and he got more done that Murray or Durkan ever will. Durkan needs to go all in on non-SOV transportation. It blows my mind why the 15th ave bus lane is open to parked cars most of the day. How about offering free rides on lime and uber bikes? People are rational–if you make biking and public transit more convenient than driving alone then people will choose those modes. It’s not that complicated.

    1. Business is convinced that they need SOV transportation, and if Durkan stands for anything, it’s business.

      1. Word “business” covers a lot of territory. But hard to imagine massive lack of motion does anybody’s books any favors. Isn’t it likely we really mean the “voters” who work for them? For transit itself, I’m still waiting for one number that could impel a lot of transit improvement:

        What’s the cost of one minute of lost operating time?

        Mark Dublin

  7. The city and UPS are working together to limit deliveries during peak hours and keep drivers from stopping in the street.

    IMHO, TNCs are a much larger violaters of this than UPS.

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