At 5 p.m. two Fridays ago I made the grave mistake a getting on a West Seattle bus at the 3rd & Pike Street stop. See, I had to retrieve a child from summer camp by 6 p.m. As the bus crawled along the Columbia Street and 1st Avenue South “temporary 2019” routing, the minutes ticked away rapidly, and at 5:52 p.m. the bus was reaching the 1st & Dearborn stop, still in downtown Seattle.
To routinely spend one hour traversing downtown Seattle is not functional bus service, full stop; especially in a City where more downtown workers arrive by bus than any other mode. The Seattle DOT needs to significantly improve the transit pathway, or King County Metro needs to change the routing for Burien and West Seattle Metro bus routes that use Highway 99.
Twitter abounds with anecdotes, including my own, of trips of one hour or more during the PM peak, and of significant delays inbound during the AM peak. The comment thread on this West Seattle Blog post has dozens more reports of hour long delays.
Riders of these routes, including Rapid Ride C, 120, 55 and 122, have been through a lot of reroutes over the past few years of viaduct and tunnel construction. But the current routing, expected to remain into 2020 when the permanent Alaskan Way routing opens, has the slowest travel times and worst reliability of them all.
Metro has scheduled the routes for about 10 minutes travel between Virginia Street at the north end of downtown and 1st & Dearborn, the final stop near the stadiums before joining southbound Highway 99. Every weekday in the afternoon, 1st Avenue South, south of Columbia Street, is a slowly crawling mess of Metro buses and private cars, moving like frequently-stopped molasses towards the southbound 99 onramp.
This situation has been occurring since spring 2019 when the Highway 99 tunnel and the Dearborn ramps opened. But the congestion has steadily worsened, particularly on Mariner’s game days and in July, when viaduct demolition has narrowed Alaskan Way to one lane per direction in the blocks parallel to the clogged section of 1st Avenue South. Per Ethan Bergerson of SDOT, “We recognize that traffic conditions are constrained on 1st Ave, and we appreciate everyone’s patience as we navigate the Seattle Squeeze, Seattle’s period of tough traffic as construction projects change how we get around downtown.”
King County Metro announced yesterday via a blog post that the City will be:
- “Revising signal timing at 1st Ave S. & S. Dearborn St. and Alaskan Way S. & S. Dearborn St. to further aid transit operation.
- Further optimizing the signal timing plan for the 1st Ave corridor through Pioneer Square while emphasizing the north and south movements.
- Implementing pre-game event signal timing to support the last two mid-day baseball game for the season.
- Working to ensure high priority for incident management during the morning and afternoon commute time.”
However, more significant changes would be needed for transit to once-again be an efficient and preferred mode to West Seattle and Burien.
- Remove a concrete curb bulb to add a bus right turn lane on southbound 1st Ave at Dearborn. A previous, well intentioned improvement project added a concrete curb bulb to the NW corner of 1st and Dearborn, limiting southbound 1st Avenue to two lanes approaching Dearborn. Outbound buses currently pull out of the right traffic lane to the bus stop, and then must merge back into same traffic lane in order to turn right onto Dearborn. About 10 feet of concrete curb are responsible for minutes of delay on every bus trip.
- Bus and heavy truck lanes on 1st Avenue, between Columbia and Dearborn. This is the biggie, and it is complicated by the narrow right-of-way and weight restrictions for the curb lanes due to “Underground Seattle” areaways. On blocks without bus stops, the center lane should be a bus/heavy truck lane, and the curb lane for general traffic. On the blocks with bus stops (southbound: King to Dearborn; northbound: King to Jackson), the lanes should switch: bus lane on the curb lane (bus stop), trucks/general traffic in the center lane. Leading bus intervals at the 1st/King Street traffic signal (in both directions) would facilitate the lane swap. To simply matters and improve compliance, this lane arrangement should be in force 24 hours/day, requiring on-street parking to be removed during the remaining duration of this detour. There are approximately 100 parking spots along this section, 68 of them restricted to midday and overnight parking only. According to recent advertising, Pioneer Square off-street parking is plentiful and reasonably priced.
In leiu of SDOT making significant improvements to this current bus routing, Metro needs to get serious and develop a new routing, such as some variant of 4th Avenue, or short-turn the current bus service. There is no point continuing to burn diesel fuel idling and wasting customer’s time and patience on a route that can take 10 to 60 minutes to traverse downtown.
The temporary route used during #Viadoom cannot be easily replicated, but these routes could follow a variant of the Route 21 or 50 pathways using the 1st Avenue interchange from the Spokane Street Viaduct and Holgate or Edgar Martinez to switch to 4th Avenue for the path into downtown.
Another option to be short-turn the current bus service. Inbound routes could stop at 1st & King as they currently do, head to a nearby layover spot, and head back out to West Seattle or Burien, picking up passengers at the 1st & Dearborn stop. This might sound cruel, but the First Hill streetcar has a stop on Jackson right around the corner, which connects with the plethora a transit service at 4th & Jackson, including Link light rail.