In 2009 the City of Seattle commissioned a study that called Third Avenue “uninviting, unattractive and generally a dreadful place to walk, shop or wait for a bus.”  In 2014 Metro commissioned a design study on ways to fix the street.  That led to the Third Avenue Transit Improvements Project, and will eventually result in a much-needed transit-only signal at Third and Denny.  

Yet, after all these studies, few would consider the street to be substantially transformed.  

Over the same timeframe, more buses have been added.  In 2010 2011, Routes 15 and 18 (now RapidRide C/D), along with all the West Seattle routes, were moved from First to Third to accommodate Viaduct construction.  Then in 2016 the Seattle TBD added funding for more service on all bus routes, including many on Third. Finally, earlier this year the bus tunnel closed and a whole bunch of buses moved upstairs.

There are advantages to this consolidation.  Buses can be given priority right-of-way, off-board payment systems can be installed and transfers can be streamlined in much the same way that certain hub airports get bigger and bigger over time: more destinations lure more riders, which in turn justify more destinations.

But there are downsides as well: the street can become unpleasant, overcrowded, and choked with diesel fumes. And if Third is perceived as a bad place for business, merchants on other streets will fight against a busway on their street, leaving Third even more crowded. 

According to the Downtown Seattle Association, the latest group to try and “fix” Third Avenue, the sheer number of buses and lack of sidewalk space creates an uninviting environment. Their recently-released vision plan for the street imagines wider sidewalks, a much-improved pedestrian experience, and a more efficient deployment of buses through the corridor.  

The report calculates that Third carries an astonishing 290 buses per hour during the PM peak.  Amazingly, New York’s Fifth Avenue carries twice as many riders per day but requires only 150 buses per hour in the PM peak. Third also carries the lion’s share of buses among Seattle’s downtown avenues. 

(You can hear Jonathan Hopkins, at the time a DSA staffer, make a similar case on our podcast in 2017). 

The DSA suspects this is a good time for a change. As Sound Transit extensions open to Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Redmond over the next five years, more and more commuters will arrive and depart underground. Metro told me they do forecast a slight decrease in bus volumes in 2021 with the opening of Northgate, and again in 2023-4 “primarily by regional transportation partner agencies CT, PT and ST, with the opening of East, North, and South Link extensions.” In theory, First Avenue will be transit-only through downtown and could have some capacity for buses to interline with the future Center City streetcar.  

DSA suggests that the city and Metro reclaim and rebalance that space, spreading buses out across all five downtown avenues so as not to overwhelm any one street. Once buses are more spread out (or eliminated entirely via Link truncations), they argue, it would be possible to reduce the number of lanes on Third and widen the sidewalks, creating a world-class transit mall.  The study looks to transit malls in Denver, Minneapolis, Portland, and Vancouver for inspiration. 

The four concepts considered are:

  • Compact transit way – four lanes become three, alternating each block between 1-2 lanes in each direction. 
  • Median transit way – single lane in each direction with bus stops in the median.  This would enable the median to become a fare paid zone, speeding up boarding times, but would require new 5-door buses (like Madison BRT will have)
  • Transit shuttle and hub – A 2-lane concept with one bus route along the transit mall, arriving every 90 seconds, with riders transferring in Pioneer Square or Belltown
  • Transit couplet – spreads the buses with 2 northbound bus lanes on 3rd and 2 southbound bus lanes on 2nd. 

All of these options assume that bus volumes can be reduced. A shuttle would require transfers at the north and south ends of downtown, turning 2-seat rides into 3 seats and requiring large bus layover facilities in Belltown and Pioneer Square (which those neighborhoods are likely to reject).  2-lanes also eliminates the current “skip-stop” pattern, where buses stop at every other one.

Metro’s Jeff Switzer said in an email that the agency has looked at the concepts, but staff have not done a full review “simply because more detail about the concepts is needed.”  He added that they “look forward to engaging with DSA and others as these concepts are developed further.”

It’s an open question as to whether bus volumes can be reduced or rebalanced to other streets to the extent necessary to fully realize the DSA vision.  Further, Which routes should stay on Third because of trolley wire or ease of transfers, and which might be good candidates for other streets? 

For example, RapidRide C/D will be going strong into the 2030s, if not beyond.  RapidRide E could still be carrying 10,000 passengers per day into the 2040s.  Trolley routes are expensive to move and will still be useful long after light rail is fully built out. Long story short, there’s plenty of need for buses in downtown Seattle well into the future. 

That said, most would agree that Third Avenue could use some love, and now is as good at time as any to think about what the future could be.  In that respect, the DSA report is a good starting point and it will be interesting to see where SDOT and Metro take it. Perhaps this time will be different.

70 Replies to “The Downtown Seattle Association wants to re-imagine Third Avenue”

  1. Trolley wires will likely be obsolete by the mid-2030s as battery buses take over. I wouldn’t worry about it for the long-term.

    1. Battery buses could replace diesel hybrid buses; electric trolley buses should continue; we have them; they earn federal funds, provide a signal to developers, climb steep hills well, and are a proven technology.

      1. +1. In addition, there’s a considerable environmental cost (mostly in heavy metal mining) to building vehicle-size batteries. If you have a built-out overhead network, you’d be a fool to throw it away. Of course, we’ve done dumber things.

        I think people should focus on getting all of the local Metro service switched over from diesel to battery bus.

      2. 1. There is no need to signal to developers in downtown.

        2. Battery buses climb hills just fine, I would argue even better than trolley busses, as I have experienced a few occasions where trolley buses have issues on hills.

        3. I bet you have to mine MASSIVELY more metal to make the overhead wires than to make the batteries. Different metals, sure, but we should look at the overall impact. Also, battery technology is progressing and aims to eliminate the worst component metals.

    2. All of metro’s trolley buses are also battery powered now. As battery technology matures for all-battery buses, trolley buses will reap the benefits as well.

      Trolley wire operation is just a form of on-route bus charging, but one with a century of maturity.

    3. Batteries are heavy. You have to transport both the vehicle and the battery. Trolley wires just sit in the air, and while there’s some power loss in transmission, it’s probably less than converting the elecricity to a battery medium and then converting it back.

      I like trolley wires because they look almost like streetcar tracks, so they give a retro look, and the wires also show definitively where the bus goes. When I’m guiding somebody in an area they’re unfamiliar with I say, “Follow the trolley wires.”

  2. I’m astonished how much more pleasant downtown Seattle has become since the Viaduct was closed. The noise level has dropped tremendously and re-connecting the waterfront with downtown is going to create a whole new downtown dynamic. The waterfront will become a new neighborhood once construction is finally finished. I’m not sure how all these changes will affect 3rd Avenue and transit usage, but downtown Seattle will look and feel very different in 10 years.

    Third Avenue was the most important commercial arterial in downtown Seattle prior to the construction of the bus tunnel. But post-construction, Third wasn’t able to recover its prominence. Today it still remains in a pretty sad state. In the future, Third is going to have to compete with SLU and the new neighborhood near the waterfront for prominence. I don’t think wider sidewalks will be enough to Make 3rd Avenue Great Again.

    1. There were winners and losers. Pike Place won, Pioneer Square lost. The noise reductions from the overhead viaduct were replaced with street level noise on 1st Avenue (which now resembles a freeway during rush hour).

    2. Noise level will likely return once they rebuild Alaskan Way *cough* waterfront highway *cough*. Right now other than ferry people everyone is afraid to drive on the waterfront due to the lane closures for the Viaduct tear-down.

      Which works great for me. My travel time is the same as when I took the Viaduct. But I seriously doubt it will stay that way long term.

  3. The only aspect of this effort worthy of consideration is the lower riders/bus on 3rd Avenue compared to other major bus corridors.

    The main reasons for this are a lack of through routes and a perceived need for every bus to traverse the entire length of downtown.

    RapidRide C/D began as a through-routed Ballard-West Seattle line. After complaints about abysmal reliability, it was separated into two lines, doubling the number of C & D coaches on 3rd Avenue without changing ridership.

    Instead of creating shorter routes, it would have been better to fix the causes of the reliability and keep the through route – resulting in fewer nearly-empty buses along 3rd Avenue.

    1. That’s ignoring the fact that the C-Line realignment is also due to substantially high need for transit in SLU. C-Line busses out of SLU become standing room only before Denny now during rush hour

    2. The Link stations are on 3rd, so people have to get to 3rd to transfer.

      The RapidRide lines are not the problem. The problem is the unconsolidated smaller routes with more empty seats: the 1, 2, 3, 4, 14, 27, etc. The best way to solve this is to increase the number and frequency of RapidRide lines, and ensure they go to all the surrounding neighborhoods. Then you have something comparable to Denver’s 90-second bus but more useful because the routes continue to other parts of the city.

      The C and D have been increasing ridership impressively so I don’t know where you got the idea that they didn’t. The routes were split because of the crying need to get more capacity to SLU, and because the D riders have been complaining ever since the C/D started that they lost their one-seat access to lower downtown and Pioneer Square. That’s actually a good thing, because the same route can simultaneously get Ballardites to Pioneer Square and people from lower downtown to Belltown and everything in between.

      I used to dislike the downtown through-routes like the 26/28/131/132 (“Why should somebody on 4th Ave S want to go to 8th Ave NW more than other neighborhoods?”), but over the years I’ve grown to see the value. It allows you to transfer somewhere other than downtown; e.g., at 85th or 45th to the 26 or 28 which go through downtown to SODO and the south end.

      So I’ve grown to believe that most routes should go all the way through downtown to the adjacent neighborhood, because that facilitates a lot of different trips simultaneously and is more efficient than having separate routes for some of them or neglecting that transit market. The problem is not the concept, it’s that the routes need to be better designed to be stronger.

    3. @Mike — Do you really think the problem is empty 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. buses? I haven’t been on those buses in a while, but I am pretty sure they are quite full during rush hour. My guess is that most of the relatively frequent buses are full at rush hour. It is possible that buses that only run five times a day aren’t that full, but I’m not so sure about that, either (I think they would have been eliminated by Metro if they lacked sufficient ridership during rush hour).

      The comparisons are interesting, and implies that we have a very commuter oriented system — at least on Third Avenue. I can theorize about the differences with each and every city on the chart (and the particular street they picked) but I don’t think there is any reason to. I think it is clear that eventually a lot of the buses that go downtown will go away in just a few years, while other buses will be truncated later. Yet there will remain the need for good bus service through downtown. That is the problem that we, as citizens need to solve. At the same time, we should do our best to present a lovely Third Avenue for everyone, as it benefits society as a whole if it is a pleasant place to be.

    4. “it would have been better to fix the causes of the reliability and keep the through route”

      I’m 100% in favor of improving reliability, but the old C/D through-route was just too long, as were many of the other through-routes (e.g. 11/125) that were split since 2010. Spot improvements can’t fix the incremental accumulation of random delay from signals, traffic, boarding etc that comes with operating on street.

      I have many frustrating memories of waiting for buses delayed 10-20 minutes, at off-peak times when they were running every 15, 30 or 60 minutes. Shitty (i.e. infrequent or unreliable) bus service is behind much of the nationwide loss of ridership to ride-hailing. We can’t regress on reliability.

      System-wide all-door boarding and POP would help, but doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

      1. I agree with Bruce. Some bus routes are just too long. It is worth noting that the D crosses the Ballard bridge.

    5. “it is clear that eventually a lot of the buses that go downtown will go away in just a few years, while other buses will be truncated later. Yet there will remain the need for good bus service through downtown.”

      Then the problem may solve itself, and I think it likely will to a large extent. What I don’t want to see is routes moved off 3rd to 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, or east-west in a way that makes it harder for passengers to transfer and get to them. Right now we have a pretty good system, “Seattle routes on 3rd; suburban routes on 2nd and 4th”. I don’t want to see that made worse unnecessarily because somebody doesn’t like as many buses and doesn’t understand what passengers need.

      1. Then the problem may solve itself, and I think it likely will to a large extent. What I don’t want to see is routes moved off 3rd to 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th

        See below ( The vast majority of buses on Third go to places that are not part of ST2. The ST2 buses (the ones that go to the north or east) are on 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th. So, unfortunately, you are out of luck. Either we move the buses that are on Third (to some other street), or we have to somehow find a different solution. The problem won’t solve itself.

      2. Since the 255 moved to 5th and 6th, the transfers too and from both Link and the 3rd Ave. buses have gotten worse. If coming from the D or E line, for example, you have to either walk all the way from 3rd to 8th, or ride back and forth several additional blocks on the bus, and still have to walk to 5th and 6th. From Link, or pretty much anything else, similar. The walk from 3rd to 6th is about the same distance as UW Station to the Stevens Way bus stops, but the stoplights at every block make the experience worse.

        The trade-off, though, is that the 255 does seem to get through downtown, at least during the off peak, in less time than the 41.

  4. I would argue the biggest problem with Third Ave and foot traffic is the amount of vagrancy – people are standing around shouting and smoking; hopefully not shooting up, fighting, urinating, vomiting, or defecating. Trash is often overflowing. We can tune the transit to be optimal, but if the social environment is not conducive to socially-normal people to exist peacefully in, things are gonna be rough for business. The brits have ASBOs, maybe we should import the idea…

      1. Why do you equate vagrancy with poverty? Isn’t that a bit, you know, insensitive to the poverty-stricken? Perhaps a lifestyle that involves public drug use and public defecation is just one of many causes of poverty. Perhaps criminalizing those things is actually better for everyone. Perhaps intervening in those situations is the first step toward lifting someone out of that lifestyle. Perhaps professionals are best suited to do that kind of work. I dunno. Seems like letting vagrants masquerade as victims isn’t working out so great.

      2. Destructive drug use is an addiction. Nobody defecates outside voluntarily; there just aren’t enough public restrooms. Seattle is well known for having hardly any public toilets. In some other countries there are staffed restrooms which you pay a small fee to use. While a dollar fee may be a minor barrier, it’s much easier to scrounge up than the $3800 required to get an apartment.

        The criminal/victim dichotomy is it misses the big picture. If we had universal housing and a higher minimum safety net and adequate mental-health services (which we were promised when the inpatient institutions were closed), then people wouldn’t be in such desperate circumstances as to panhandle or sell drugs on the street or pee/defecate outside or have angry outbursts that endanger people. We can’t go straight from here to there: raising benefits won’t immediately solve all the problems. But it would have prevented most of the problems in the first place, and channeled mentally ill/addicted people to more appropriate places. We should never have let it get this far, just like we should never have restricted housing so much that rents have tripled since 2000. The number of homeless follows housing-price changes closely. And most poor people aren’t visible because they try to remain inconspicuous and don’t panhandle.

    1. This is the real problem.

      What makes 3rd bad is not the diesel fumes or the bus rides, it’s the people who just stand there all day. We absolutely should not criminalize poverty, but you can’t have people fighting and selling drugs there.

      IMO there should be an SPD officer on every block on 3rd…

    2. There is a sense of blaming it all on the buses and bus riders, and wanting transit riders to just go away. If you removed all the buses from 3rd Avenue, the vagrants would probably remain where they are and shoppers would continue to feel unsafe and dislike the skuzzy run-down atmosphere. I agree with widening sidewalks in concept, but I don’t want to see buses shunted away to less-convenient places with steep elevations in between; it’s kind of a “not in my backyard” response.

      The concentration of downtown pedestrian activity is between 1st and 6th Avenues, so 3rd is right in the middle. You could move it to fourth or fifth but with diminishing returns. And fourth has been a northbound car highway for so long that the buildings are designed for it, both in the design of the buildings and in the selection of businesses; they’re designed for people driving and parking, not walk-ups from the bus. So unless it’s done with great care you could end up with a more suburban, car-oriented feel on 4th even if you removed the cars, and that would be bad for downtown; it would make it more Bellevue-like rather than New York-like.

    3. I have to agree. The most undesirable part of downtown is 3rd Avenue, and most of that is due to vagrants. No, not homeless or poor, but vagrants. The people who choose to loiter so they can peddle their drugs, shoot up, toss their garbage anywhere they please, have arguments, swing naked from awnings, steal from merchants… From the social services at the north end to the missions in Pioneer Square. It really feels like they’re attracted by the free services.

      Now, more on the topic of re-imagining 3rd Avenue: I agree that the quantity of diesel buses would have to be reduced in order to make it more desirable. The noise level is so high that it can be difficult to have a conversation. I’m still looking forward to the completion of the waterfront and having buses settle into their more permanent alignments before starting another re-invention. While I miss the beautiful free views from the old viaduct, I do feel safer without it. (Earthquakes, etc.)

  5. The skill that went into writing a long, 3rd Ave road diet post without actually using the words road diet is impressive. I like the euphemism reimagining. I’m being completely sincere in my complement. Nice job.

    1. That does seem like an advanced version of the median boarding system, in that the buses are still center running, the boarding is in the middle, but now the buses board from both sides (for buses going that direction). This has the advantage of handling lots of buses very quickly as two buses can board at the same time. I think the disadvantage is that it uses up more space. It uses four lanes in the middle instead of two (one of the “lanes” is the bus stop). I’m not sure if the city wants to give up four lanes in the middle, even though bus flow would likely be better.

      I’m also not sure if it is always the weak link. There are likely to be delays caused by the traffic lights. If several buses all line up behind the light, it doesn’t matter how easily and quickly they can load and unload people. I think that sort of setup would make the most sense on a corridor with very few cross streets.

  6. Personally I like Portland’s strategy for moving people around much more than Denver’s. Though Denver’s 16th Street concept is nice the fact it is limited to one street and comes across as more of a tourist and partier tool, IMO, makes it half-baked. Portland’s bus and rail grid of go anywhere from anywhere make it much more functional as a city wide tool.

  7. These visions are great in terms of improving the street/pedestrian experience, but I think they are lacking in terms of actual transit experience. This vision serves Belltown but doesn’t serve Denny Triangle or SLU. The new ST3 tunnel stations will help a bit, but treating 3rd as a single, linear corridor misses out on many key trip pairs. As the CBD has grown, we need to move away from consolidating all the buses on 3rd and creating a frequent grid. Buses traveling through downtown from the residential neighborhoods are only a part of the solution of moving people within downtown.

    1. I think the DSA would wholeheartedly agree with your comment that we need to move away from consolidating the buses on Third. That’s really the main point of the exercise. What you do with the remaining transit is up for debate and will be on Metro to figure out.

      1. Oh, OK. So is that why they are looking to narrow the avenue, b/c they assume the volume of buses will decrease?

      2. @AJ Yeah, although it’s kind of a chicken/egg thing. DSA’s primary goal is to make 3rd avenue a more pleasant place to be. One way to do that is to reduce the wall of buses and widen the sidewalks. To reduce the # of buses you have to restructure the routes (either through truncations or with a hub-and-shuttle model, which is a kind of truncation) and move the buses to other avenues (e.g. move Metro buses to 4th/5th after CT/PT/ST pack up and leave in 2025).

    2. If buses shouldn’t be consolidated on 3rd, and they should be spread out on 2nd, 4th, 5th, etc., doesn’t the reason 3rd needs to be “reimagined” go away? Less people walking on/blocking sidewalks waiting for buses, etc.

      Sam. AOL Chatroom Guide. 1996-1998.

  8. This topic has come up previously and I think one key takeway is the shockingly low productivity of much of this service – too many empty buses running downtown. This needs to be addressed by KCM service planners, not the DSA. I also agree that safety/behavior issues are a big problem and contribute to a degraded streetscape. Again, I don’t know that a new vision will fix this. This seems like the DSA spinning their wheels without getting to the root issues.

  9. re Frank’s third paragraph: the shift of routes 15, 18, 21, 22, and 56 to 3rd Avenue to make way for AWV projects was in fall 2011, not 2010. In March 2019, only Route 41 shifted to 3rd Avenue; the other former DSTT routes were shifted to other surface streets.

    Note that Seattle and Metro had a similar debate about CBD network design in the 1980s before deciding on the DSTT. at one point, Seattle wanted a mall and terminal concept. With suburban riders largely shifted to ST2 Link, the question becomes: should Seattle riders transfer at the edge of downtown to/from Link and CBD ciruclators, such as the CCC Streetcar and the DSA-Denver-type service, or, should they continue to provide distribution through the CBD. There are service implications and service and capital costs inherent in both approaches.

    1. Thanks! I was working off an old blog post of ours from December 2010 describing the change. You’re right, of course, it didn’t go live until February 2011.

      I consider the 41 to be a “whole bunch of buses”. :)

  10. Did they consider a couplet with 2nd or 4th you could have 2 lanes and a protected bike north and south and allow for bus hopping and still get the widened sidewalks.

  11. Since when did the Downtown Seattle Association become an “agency”? Isn’t that a term usually only used for government?

  12. I see no bikes in the first image and two in the second. Does DSA take bikes seriously?

  13. 3rd Ave as a single place for huge numbers of bus options is actually very useful for frequent bus riders like myself. If I’m being honest all 3rd avenue needs to is more police on foot-patrol. And probably close down that McDonald’s.

    1. I actually love the ability to walk to 3rd and hop on any one of a number of routes that serve Belltown (very dense neighborhood, no transit to speak of anywhere other than 3rd, never going to get high-capacity transit). Buses are extremely frequent anywhere from Jackson to Denny and it has “extended” Downtown that far. You could even throw LQA in there as “extended Downtown”, as between the 1, 2, 13, and D there’s nearly always another bus coming.

      Walking, however, is a different story. It’s by far my least favorite route to walk of any of the avenues between the waterfront and 6th and I will actively avoid it unless I have business on 3rd for some reason. That said, it’s been like that for at least 40 years and part of it is the “dead zones” where there is little opportunity for “eyes on the street” much of the time – Macy’s loading area, the garage across the street, the Post Office, Benaroya (except when there is a performance), the blank wall building between Seneca and Spring, and the 70s/80s office towers that are little more than a lobby at street level. It’s by far the worst street in the city and it will take more than wider sidewalks to fix it.

  14. I’m wondering why the DSTT tunnel entrances and access aren’t more discussed here. The longer and more frequent trains that go to more places will admittedly shift many riders from surface buses to subway rail. If the need for buses lessens, those riders have to be somewhere!

    The pedestrian volumes coming out and going into the tunnel will grow. Adding new escalator and elevator wells to provide better Link access would be a huge improvement. The subway mezzanines could connect to adjacent buildings, or have more subway station tentacle underground walkways for each station, reducing some of the Third street pedestrian burden.

  15. It may be too wild to envision, but with First Avenue getting streetcars, should the roles of Third and Fourth Avenue swap, with Fourth Avenue being the transit mall and Third for Northbound traffic? That distributes transit more broadly, with First and Fourth having high-frequency surface transit, Third having a subway, and a Second and Third additional bus lane (putting the stops for those lines closer together). That also would put the mall a block closer to Link’s future Green Line stations at Midtown and Westlake.

    It is frankly confusing having one-way couplets operate with a two-way bus street in between. Most couplets run adjacent to each other. Shifting the bus transit mall to Fourth could be a winning strategy in a number of ways.

    1. Al S.

      If I understand properly, part of 1st avenue doesn’t have the ground stability to take full size fully loaded buses.

  16. I’m think that median boarding islands are probably a bad idea for Third Avenue. The platforms could overflow with riders onto the street (bus lanes); at least the stops on the side can overflow onto the sidewalks. The median design works great when there are only one or two lines (like streetcar or rail or BRT) on a street — but not when there are 10 or 20 routes, because the bulk of riders will be standing and waiting for another bus rather than riding the bus sitting at the platform. Anyone boarding a bus will have to squeeze by lots more people waiting for other buses.

    1. That is another advantage of what I proposed here: If you have a street with one bus route on it (e. g. Madison Street, eventually) then center boarding is not that big of a deal. That is because every rider gets on the next bus. But if you have a “mall” where there are literally dozens of different bus routes, then a sizable number of riders will stand there, waiting for “their” bus. Even though riders who are just trying to get from one end of downtown to the other have outstanding headways (measured in the seconds) the folks who are waiting for a particular bus have to wait a long time. This leads to crowding.

  17. I would just like to see 3rd Avenue beautified so it doesn’t look like a car street. There are several ways to do this, from red paint to cobblestone intersections to retro black lampposts — just something to make it look like an elegant transit street rather than a dingy concrete car street that now has buses on it. You don’t necessarily need to change the number of lanes or widen the sidewalk, just make it stop looking like a throwaway car sewe,r and different from the surrounding streets.

    1. I’d generally agree, Mike. Modest design changes like sidewalk color concrete, and carefully-designed pedestrian lighting and street signs/ furniture placement along with visible police presence would seem to accomplish lots in a short period of time here. We don’t need expensive overhauls that don’t really help bus operations much.

      If DSA was actually visionary, they would be spearheading designs for level platform transfers in SLU between Link and RapidRide E, or for better RapidRide transferring elsewhere. They would be spearheading for inclines or escalators or corridors to First Hill or to the Waterfront. These elements are missing.

      This suggests that their primary intent is not to improve local circulation and transit use, but to convince us to invest public money to make the building fronts of their members prettier and drive away “undesirables”. The other benefits seem pretty tangential.

      1. I walked 3rd Avenue at lunch today from ID Station to Macy’s without being asked for money. I did witness one “disagreement” that involved a thrown bottle without any injuries to anyone. Other than the thrown bottle, my trip was uneventful. There were a number of restaurants with long lines at their doors, but there aren’t any public spaces that would invite someone to stop and eat lunch or take a coffee break accessible from 3rd Avenue.

        The biggest problem with 3rd Avenue is the interface between the sidewalks and the buildings. Too many of the skyscrapers that face 3rd Avenue were built before the 1989 CAP initiative changed downtown land use laws. But too much of 3rd Avenue is still faced with granite, glass or concrete walls. The Well Fargo building, the SEIU space and Benaroya Hall are all dead zones of sidewalk activation for pedestrians.

    2. Improving the streetscape would help, but the noise and fumes of all those diesel buses are a problem, in and of itself. Which is made worse by all the idling, starting, and stopping. Especially on weekends, when every single trolley bus is replaced with a diesel bus for reasons I don’t understand.

      Electrifying all the 3rd Ave. buses would go a long way.

  18. The transit shuttle idea gives me two concerns. One, that we probably have more people taking buses than Denver, and that could overwhelm the shuttle and two big transfer points. Two, that we have larger downtown-adjacent neighborhoods, and it would be particularly frustrating to take a shuttle one mile and transfer to another route for just a half-mile or mile further. Downtown has a strong relationship with SLU, Uptown, Pioneer Square, SODO, First Hill, and Broadway, and we need to keep those unified.

    1. And we have a transit shuttle under 3rd called Link, and it will be 3-minute peak frequency in five years. Denver’s shuttle bus was instead of a subway on Broadway, whereas ours would be in addition.

  19. I’m reminded of the many years that I walked past street loiters and panhandlers while working in another major US city. The building had a McDonald’s. As soon as it permanently closed, the loiters and panhandlers disappeared.

    This always left me feeling conflicted. Those people still deserve to buy cheap food if they can receive enough change to feed themselves! It’s understandable to design ways to remove them from a particular block, but is it the right thing to do?

    1. They aren’t buying food. I don’t think there’s a large overlap between McDonald’s customers and the loiterers people are most uncomfortable with. Even if some of them pop into McDonald’s for five minutes, that’s five minutes out of an hour or three; it’s not like they “came here to go to McDonald’s”; it’s more like they’re going to McDonald’s because it’s where they are anyway.

    2. Otherwise, what is it about McDonald’s that makes it a loiterer/agressive panhandler/drug dealers’ hangout? How is it different from Jack in the Box and Burger King and a dozen similar chains?

      The main factor seems to be that McDonald’s is at the most central locations because it has the biggest budget so it can outbid other companies for those locations. It’s been said that McDonald’s isn’t really a hamburger company but a cheese company (because that has a higher profit markup), or a soda company, but really it’s a real-estate holding company because it has the most central locations. That raises the question, is it because of McDonald’s that the loiterers are there, or is it because of the central location that the loiterers are there and McDonald’s likes central locations too?

  20. I hope they consider this approach: Make Third Avenue one way for cars (for sake of argument, we will say southbound). Now take two lanes on Third, and give them over to buses. But have them run contraflow. This means the buses are running northbound, while cars run southbound. Meanwhile, Fourth Avenue is already one way northbound. So add two lanes going southbound for buses. This has several advantages:

    1) Bus stops are normal bus stops (on the side of the street). No need for special buses.
    2) Buses run unimpeded (as if they were center running).
    3) It is pretty obvious what you can and can not do. This is different than Third, where a big part of the problem is people not checking their watch and driving on the street, or going more than one block.
    4) Turning on to other streets is trivial (unlike center running, or regular BAT lanes).

    You can see these things in action on streets like Fifth ( Except there is more:

    5) Buses can pass buses (unlike Fifth).
    6) Buses have two lanes with which to take up space if caught behind a traffic light. I could easily see a bus pull past the intersection, idle (with the blinker on) while waiting for another bus to leave (at worse).
    7) Third Avenue could become narrower (i. e. could have much wider sidewalks) while still having outstanding transit flow and room for cars.

    There are only a few disadvantages:

    1) It can be hard to time traffic lights for buses. I don’t think this is an issue, though, because other traffic is timed for it (or not) anyway.
    2) People have to use one street for a bus one direction, and another the other direction. If anything, the situation is worse now, just not for everyone. We have buses that run on Second and Fourth. This is a bigger separation.
    3) You probably need to move some wire.
    4) Regular cars can’t make a left turn without disrupting traffic. This doesn’t seem like a huge issue, as I believe left turns are banned during rush hour anyway (for this very reason).

    1. OK, now that I’ve read the report, I realize that the “Transit Couplet” comes closest to what I have suggested. The proposal in the PDF specifically spells out contraflow bus lanes on Third Avenue. This would mean that buses on Third Avenue would move much faster. The bus throughput would be better than any corridor in the city, bettered locally only by the bus tunnel back in the 90s, when there was a ride-free zone and the tunnel only contained buses.

      They also don’t specify Second Avenue as the other street. They mention that Second or Fourth would carry the buses the other direction. The diagram shows Second, but that appears to be arbitrary.

      What is strange about the diagram is that the buses are shown going the same direction as general traffic (not contraflow). This is a bad idea, as it has all the weaknesses that exist currently on Third (or Second, for that matter). The bus lanes are not bus lanes — they are BAT lanes, and cars turning right — or cars simply being in the right lane for whatever reason — will inevitably screw things up.

      I am not sure why they showed the bus lanes going with the flow. It could be that because the study focuses on Third Avenue, whoever did the diagram just put the lanes in the same direction as the car flow. It is also possible that it is because of the bike lanes. This is understandable, and it is why I chose Fourth Avenue in my example.

      But I assume the best approach is to have the bidirectional bike lanes in the middle of the street, with buses on one side, and cars on the other. For bikes, it wouldn’t be much different than today. I’ll probably hop on over to the Bike Blog to discuss it with them sometime, but I don’t see this as being any better or worse than today. With Second Avenue, this would mean moving the bike lane. I don’t think this would be that expensive. You simply shift the bike lane over a few feet, and move the signals. It is likely a lot cheaper than the original project, and would likely be cheaper than the re-striping and signage work needed to add contraflow bus lanes (which is still much cheaper than center lane work). For fourth avenue, it would be no more expensive than adding the bike lanes on the side.

      To me, this is clearly the way to go. Go with the “Transit Couplet” option, and make sure that whatever street is coupled with Third Avenue (Second or Fourth) be given the same contraflow treatment.

  21. Diesel fumes? Seriously you think by the time they ever getting around to enact this the busses won’t be electric?

  22. In theory, First Avenue will be transit-only through downtown and could have some capacity for buses to interline with the future Center City streetcar.

    Or you could move buses to First Avenue and save the hassle and cost of putting the streetcar there ( Regardless, it is clear that many buses will be truncated with Northgate Link, and a lot more after that. A holistic approach towards downtown (i. e. adding bus lanes on more than just Third Avenue) along with the truncations should be enough to not only guarantee smooth operations for buses that travel through downtown, but enable good service for those who want to get from one side of downtown to the other.

      1. Why? Buses running on First could kill two birds with one stone. We relieve the pressure on Third Avenue, while providing First Avenue with bus service. The whole point of the streetcar expansion is to provide the latter, and buses (running more frequently) on First would be better than an occasional streetcar. It would also save money (of course) and be safer for bike riders.

      2. Oh wait, I just realized that you didn’t explain what you thought was absurd. I’m sorry. OK, I get it. You don’t think that Metro (or Sound Transit, or Community Transit) will truncate their buses after Link gets further north. I guess it is easy to argue otherwise, but it is a bit of a stretch to say that Metro won’t truncate, when it has before.

      3. First Avenue is a steep hill downtown from 4th, 5th, and 6th. Third Avenue is right in the middle of most of the office and retail locations.

      4. @Mike — No is talking about eliminating buses from the other streets. I am simply suggesting we move a few bus routes to First Avenue, and maybe increase the frequency of them. That would be a lot cheaper and be a lot more useful than creating a brand new (obviously flawed) bus route and then converting it to rail (which is essentially what the First Avenue streetcar proposal would do) .

  23. I think it is worth noting that Third Avenue has a lot of buses that will likely remain for a long time. With Northgate/Lynnwood Link, we can expect the 41, 304 and 355 to be truncated. But that is it. There will be a big set of truncations when West Seattle and Ballard Link get here, but that is a very long time away. Even then, there will still be plenty of buses that run on Third (assuming they don’t move). These include the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 13, 14, 26, 27, 29, 36, 49, 62, 70, E. That is a lot of buses.

    In contrast, Second, Fourth and Fifth contain a lot of buses that will likely be truncated. Fifth Avenue is almost exclusively freeway buses to the north end and the East Side. Second and Fourth have the Community Transit and Sound Transit buses, which will likely go away as Link expands.

    A big part of this project is trying to reduce the number of buses that run on Third. The only way to do that (in any meaningful way) is to move them to other streets. Moving them without giving them sufficient right of way would weaken our system. That is why I think it makes sense to look at more than one street to handle the load, such as the idea I put forth up above (

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