SDOT’s spot improvements program continues to be the most effective engine for improving transit riders’ experience immediately. The diagram is self-explanatory.


Item 1 will free up the lane from turners waiting for pedestrians. Items 2 and 3 will simply lower the number of cars in front of the bus. And number 4 will make it clearer that it’s not OK to loiter in the bus lane.

These changes will improve some old tunnel routes: the 41, 74, 76, 77, 101, 102, 150, 301, 312, 316, 522, and 550 all utilize some or all of this stretch of Union. The 4th Avenue change (which includes red paint on the curb) should also improve reliability for a great many routes.

If you have questions or comments, please contact local hero Jonathan Dong at or (206) 233-8564.

43 Replies to “Tweaks to Union Street, 4th Avenue”

  1. Like!

    It is nice SDOT can deploy red paint on a single lane in a single block.

    There are plenty of other blocks where stopping is not allowed already 6 am – 7 pm. Extend those hours to 24/7, and we could make it much harder for rich cheaters to use 3rd Ave and the various other bus lanes as cheat-if-you-want lanes/streets. In the case of 3rd Ave, the bus traffic is never going away, so why stall and hope to run out the clock on the Period of Maximum Constraint?

    For those not familiar with the rules on each block — and there are lots of variations downtown now — a right-turn only lane looks like a bus lane until you get close enough to read. Paint all these bus lanes that don’t have loading zones red, please. Or at least keep adding red paint, quickly.

    Consider also that parking lanes are a very wasteful use of a stretch of downtown asphalt. Have the political will to remove street parking for a few drivers if that is what it takes to get thousands of people moving.

    1. I hate the ignorant militant bus nazis. The cars already subsidize your gravy train ride. Have you looked at how much fuel those buses consume (about 3pmg)? Its actually not doing much for the environment especially sitting there in traffic. An electric subway underground was what we really should have invested in. Instead you tax cheaters who penalize those who must use a car as we subsidize you. Pay your fair share. Bike lanes? The whole Seattle mass transit is one big lie.

      1. Cars in stop and go traffic are 10-12 mpg, so you only need 4 people on the bus to make it produce less emissions.

      2. If the environment is this guy’s concern, he should have not problem with protected bike lanes.

  2. Will drivers actually obey #1? If I’m reading things correctly, if they don’t remember to turn back at 6th, they won’t be able to turn right again all the way until 1st. That’s a long gap with no permitted right turns, and I can see some drivers being tempted into just ignoring the “no right turn” sign instead.

    1. Possibly #1 is targeting only the 2nd-from-right lane on Union to become Thru Traffic Only. Currently the right lane is Right Turn Only and the 2nd-from-right lane is Right or Straight.

      Buses need to be in the 2nd-from-right lane to be able to stop on the next block, so this change would allow them to bypass turning traffic.

      Pedestrian volumes are up substantially on the north side crosswalk of 4th/Union because Rainier Square construction has blocked the SE corner of the intersection. All pedestrians have to cross on the same crosswalk now. With aggressive drivers and significant jaywalking it is a crash waiting to happen.

      If turns are banned entirely from Union onto 4th that’s a much more major change to downtown traffic flow.

      1. This was my reading of it as well.

        However, it is my experience that old habits die hard. This has been implemented on a number of other intersections in down town (especially along 5th) and I routinely see violators whenever I am in the area. This really needs to be an across the board change, not just a spot change.

      2. This intersection would be a good place for an “all-walk” phase to the light cycle. There are just too many pedestrians to be able to depend on car drivers waiting patiently. Stop all the cars!

      3. That’s clearly what the diagram shows. Sections where a “curb lane” is affected show the colored strop slopping onto the sidewalk (#’s 2, 3, and 4). But in #1 there is a skinny strip of white above the green.

        It looks to me like when the “four-color” was added it slipped upward and to the right a bit.

      4. All-Walk phases are tricky. I dislike the extended waits they typically impose on sidewalk users who are proceeding straight ahead. This can be mitigated by alternating vehicle and crossing phases, but typical all-walk intersections (at least the ones I’ve seen) are “Street A-Street-B-Crossing & repeat” where pedestrians are shut out from any movement for 2 of the 3 phases.

        Unless there’s a lot of sidewalk users who want to proceed diagonally or the phases are alternating I don’t think it helps non-vehicle mobility. Turning cars would be clear beneficiaries but I don’t know if that is worth it.

  3. Curious to see how #2 and #3 will work. I take the 301 and currently the bus just goes down the middle lane of Union after leaving Convention Place because there’s so much traffic making right turns at 6th and 7th.

    Once they reopen the left lane on Union that’s closed for Rainier Square construction, traffic and bus flow should be improved. Or SDOT could add a queue-jump signal at 5th.

  4. Sunday we were driving south through Belltown when suddenly 2nd was blocked off and so we switched to 3rd but then it seemed like every left turn to 4th was a no left turn street. We kept going on 3rd and got black looks from bus drivers, sorry guys, but signalling should be better when roads are blocked, especially when it’s one way like 2nd.

    1. Why did you “switch to 3rd”? It says “Buses Only” from 4-7 PM, and any reader of this blog would know that. You could have gone to Fifth which is southbound.

      1. If you read the post you would know it was because 2nd got closed this weekend for some reason. It was a real mess and backed up for several blocks with many buses stuck.As usual, Tom terrific is really Tom clueless.

      2. there was a Belltown street fair on 2nd Avenue. one wonders why Seattle did not use a minor east-west street such as Vine Street instead.

      3. She said they turned off Second. It’s assumed she had a good reason. I asked “Why did you switch to 3rd?” and suggested that she use Fifth which is one-way south like Second.

        Whatever “grief” you suffer is deserved, whether it’s good or bad.

  5. Item #3 seems rather counterintuitive. Everyone knows that “No Parking” includes “No Stopping”. There is no confusion under the current system. It is a sign that’s taught about in Traffic Safety Education. A rarely used “No Stopping” sign is going to be less familiar to all riders and familiar to fewer riders. This is a signal that the change will cause more confusion and potential harm than potential good.

    1. Since the rise of Uber and Lyft, there are plenty of people frequently stopping on random patches of un-park-able pavement. They even stop in traffic lanes!

      I don’t know if “no stopping” signs will help, but it definitely carries a bit of a message of “no, I don’t care if you’re not parking, don’t stop even for 20 seconds to pick up your passenger. Keep moving.”

      1. I agree with you on the Uber and Lyft issue, but I think we all know full well No Stopping signs aren’t going to change a thing. These drivers use bus stops and lanes of traffic. They know what they’re doing is illegal already. They just don’t care. There’s a reason Uber and Lyft have no method of contacting them to report illegally parked drivers.

      2. There are police at 4th and Pike pretty consistently, so this has a slightly better chance of being enforced than other areas.

      3. I strongly disagree. SPD allows delivery vehicles to park on sidewalks and at bus stops near 4th and Pike literally every day. The bike cops just sit there and watch. In fact, if you walk up to them and ask them to do something about it, they’ll refuse. They’ll cite “officer discretion” as the reason, and if you persist declare you to be the problem.

        The SPD doesn’t care about applying the law evenly and fairly. If you don’t have a lobbyist or make over 500k a year, SPD literally doesn’t care about you. They won’t stop drivers from illegally using this stretch of the block any more than they stop the illegally parked food delivery cars outside Westlake Park literally every day.

        I could take you on a tour of locations within sight of 4th and Pike that SPD will never ticket illegally stopped or parked vehicles. What reason do we have to believe the SPD will treat this space differently?

      4. Agree with A Joy – very little enforcement of these rules, except for occasionally on 3rd Avenue with the one motorcycle cop. They ignore drug dealing and fencing stolen goods, why would parking or the bus lanes be a concern.

        I’ve also seen the cops block the bus lane to park and walk somewhere else (not in a rush). They don’t care.

      5. The discretion seems to be based on allowing deliveries (“How can businesses get their supplies otherwise?”) and car thoroughput (“If we ticket everyone there would be a traffic jam and drivers would complain to the city council”). Those priorities have to be changed from the top.

    2. Np, everyone does not know that; in fact, it is flat out false. The definition of parking in RCW 46.04.381 explicitly excludes stopping while actively loading or unloading passengers or property from the definition of parking. Stopping has now exclusions. Standing is in between, allowing loading and unloading of passengers but not property. This is basic drivers ed.

      Whether this will actually help with Ubers loading and unloading passengers is another matter, but at least doing so will now be a ticketable offense.

    3. “Everyone knows that “No Parking” includes “No Stopping”. ”

      This is incorrect. The converse is true but, as the reply above explains, your assertion is simply false. “No Parking”, “No Standing” and “No Stopping” all have different meanings.

      1. Not on transit property, transit lanes, or transit stops, no. RCW 9.91.025 is exceedingly clear on the matter.

  6. RCW 9.91.025 (aka the Transit Code of Conduct) makes Uber and Lyft use of bus stops a criminal misdemeanor. It counts as an unauthorized use of a transit facility. Subsection 1 (h) is the offense, subsection 2 the definitions, and subsection 3 makes it a misdemeanor offense. Bear in mind that lane blocking of any kind is also considered a moving violation under the SMC (word of mouth from SPD, haven’t found the relevant SMC yet), and that stopping in a bus zone counts as blocking a lane of traffic.

    It is a ticketable offense now. In fact, moving violations include a mandatory court appearance in Seattle.

  7. With radical changes after the AWV removal and Convention Place/tunnel bus eviction — in addition to lots of new buildings being built or opened that add traffic and create disruptions, a quick-action team is the right approach.

  8. While it’s interesting reading about these planned spot improvements, what would interest me even more would be follow-up pieces a few months later describing and analyzing their effectiveness, or lack thereof. Does SDOT and/or Metro have the methodologies in place to actually monitor and quantify the intended improvements in traffic flows? For example, the reconfiguration of that congested section of Denny approaching Fairview/Boren was such a spot improvement completed by SDOT last year, was it not? Has there been a quantifiable improvement in traffic flow there since its completion and has the city council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee received needed feedback from SDOT on this?

  9. All we have to do is click our heels and say “There’s no place like 2024. There’s no place like 2024. There’s no place like 2024” That might be all SDOT can do.

      1. It was kinda a joke. Hope you got it.

        But you are right. SDOT should be expected to help us along during these hard years downtown. Unfortunately, sometimes I think your first sentence 100% correct. Hope I am wrong.

      2. We don’t need a new SDoT. They know what they are doing. The mayor is to traffic engineering what Paul Schell was to Mardi Gras policing.

      3. That may be all we can do but ST has options. The whole Seattle Squeeze planning the past two years was about deciding how to respond to the period of maximum constraint. The city came up with some good strategies but threw them away. Paris would absolutely prioritize transit/bike/ped movement over cars (and even removes a hundred street-parking spaces per year on principle), but Seattle does no such thing. As soon as the strategies reached the point of possibly slowing down cars they were withdrawn. We have suggested several inexpensive alternatives, like painting Third Avenue red. The city isn’t interested, except a few blocks here and there.

  10. I know this is off topic but I don’t know where else to post. How do we fix the bus tunnel situation? My commute has gone from a beautiful 20 minute breeze to a 75 minute slog since moving to surface streets. I’m sure the trains run a bit better but this has not been a good trade off.

    1. Basically, demolish the past year of construction at the convention center and convince WSCC this project is a huge mistake.

      1. Everything we do to convince people to fly across the country or around the world is a mistake.

        That said, WSCC is not the authority refusing to install bus lanes on 1st Ave S, or wherever Craig’s bus is stuck. Nor is Metro or ST. This bus stops with the mayor.

      2. Buses would have left the tunnel even without the Convention Center expansion. ST is installing a maintenance turn track at Intl Dist for East Link that will somehow preclude buses in the tunnel. Those fences around the center lane in Intl Dist and Pioneer Square are part of it. The Convention Center simply accelerated the ejection of buses by 6-9 months. The 6-month mark is September.

        It looks like several of our suggestions have finally gotten through Metro’s approval process this past week, so things may get a bit better.

        As for your 20-minute-to-75-minute transformation, which route and what time? I would expect 10-15 minutes slower but not 55 minutes slower. Unless it’s one of the West Seattle routes, but those were never in the tunnel. I’m guessing that if a tunnel route has had such an extraordinary degradation of quality, it’s only between 4:30pm and 5:30pm and not the entire peak period or afternoon.

      3. If you live in West Seattle or South Park and use any mode other than cars, your representatives are Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosequeda. If you drive, Lisa Herbold has got your back.

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