Montlake’s bascule bridge pictured on Seattle Yacht Club’s opening day of boating season (image by author)

The Seattle City Council’s Planning Committee recently considered whether to endorse a second bascule bridge serving transit across the Montlake Cut. Current city policy does not favor a bridge for transit unless specific triggers are met. However, changing circumstances in Montlake may warrant a revisit. Although last week’s discussion was inconclusive, the question is likely to recur as construction proceeds on SR 520 and WSDOT begins a consultative process with stakeholders in the project later this year or early 2020.

The Legislature funded a second parallel bridge across the Cut in the Connecting Washington package in 2015. WSDOT envisions the bridge being constructed in a third phase of the SR 520 ‘Rest of the West’, but has not released a timetable.

Seattle studied a second bridge in their 2012 deliberations about the SR 520 project and recommended against a second bridge for transit at this time. That position was captured in Council motions in 2012 and 2015. Instead, the City favors an approach whereby Seattle would consider a bridge conditional on certain triggers. Those triggers look to mainline conditions on SR 520, to local level of service for bikes and pedestrians, and to transit speed and reliability on the corridor. Pending those triggers, Seattle would prefer WSDOT direct its funds to other non-motorized improvements.

Should Seattle reconsider its position? Since it’s ultimately a state decision, how should the Legislature direct WSDOT to proceed?

Circumstances have changed in several ways since 2012 that appear to improve the case for a second bridge. Most obviously, Metro and Sound Transit have begun routing buses that cross the SR 520 bridge to the UW Link station and are likely to route more buses to UW after East Link opens.

Seattle’s earlier deliberation didn’t pay much attention to SR 520 buses terminating at UW Link. One should anticipate Eastside cities will pay more attention to the performance of their buses in Montlake in future. Note also that the transit pathway for northbound buses changes next year. Today, buses merge across general purpose lanes just after the bridge to make the turn onto Pacific St. With the North Eastside restructure in March 2020, they will stay on the right to the stops in front of the Link station and use a bus-only left turn signal to turn to Pacific Place. A HOV lane across the Cut that reaches to the station, or nearly, may be more useful now than was anticipated in 2012.

Bikes crossing the bridge mostly share a seven to ten foot sidewalk with pedestrians. That sidewalk is eight to ten inches above the roadway. The curb is the only separation between the sidewalk and the car lanes. Even though conditions for bikes and pedestrians crossing the bridge were already poor in 2012, the Council concluded other improvements elsewhere would be more cost-effective. With the opening of a trail on the SR 520 bridge, bike traffic on Montlake Blvd has grown.

A 2008 WSDOT image of parallel bascule bridges (image: WSDOT)

The resolution recently proposed by Council Member Abel Pacheco would have reversed the City’s stance on the bridge, endorsing a second bridge that maintained the same general purpose capacity as the existing bridge and adding one lane in each direction for transit and HOV. The second bridge would also improve and expand non-motorized capacity over today’s crowded sidewalks. The resolution failed in Committee; only two members were present and the other, Mike O’Brien, opposes adding lanes. Neither will be returning to Council next year, and indications are scarce what view the future Council might take.

One doesn’t know how a second bascule bridge would stand up to analysis under current circumstances. But it deserves more careful consideration than it received at Council last week. An early decision might allow bridge construction to be better coordinated with SR 520 improvements. The bridge is opposed by neighborhood interests on historic grounds, because it removes two homes, and because of arguable traffic concerns.

The Legislature has shown little interest in Seattle’s preference to spend the money on multimodal improvements elsewhere. WSDOT did make signal improvements recently on Montlake Blvd to improve bus movements after the temporary bus-only ramp from SR 520 closed. If the money budgeted for Montlake transit lanes is freed up, other cities will press to redirect the funds to their highway projects.

2010 drawing showing one possible traffic configuration on twin Montlake bridges (image: WSDOT)

85 Replies to “A transit bridge across the Montlake Cut?”

  1. It the second bridge does get built, do you put the northbound bus lane on the left or the right. With some buses turning left on Pacific, others going straight, some buses won’t be able to use it.

    They could, in theory, reroute all the buses to go straight, and turn left on Pacific Place, but that would increase the 48’s travel time to the u district. The need for traffic flow implies that buses will be waiting a long time to make that left turn, likely as much as 2-3 minutes during peak hours.

  2. Who will actually maintain the bridge? If it’s the City of Seattle the answer should be no.

    We have multiple bridges (Ballard, University, Magnolia) that are literally falling apart after decades of deferred maintenance and neglect. There are no identified sources of revenue for their replacement so the idea that we would add another bridge, and the costs that go along with it, to the existing list of unfunded assets seems fiscally irresponsible. I would agree with O’Brien on this one. There are much better ways to leverage the Connecting Washington funds.

      1. And to the author’s point in the article, what are the chances the state legislature reprograms those funds in those better ways vs. hands them out for highway expansion far from Seattle?

      2. What are these better ways to leverage the Connecting Washington funds?

        Are you serious? Off the top of my head I’m thinking all of the RapidRide+ projects that were underfunded by Move Seattle (https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/12/21/rapidride-the-corridors/). The simplest thing to do is just transfer this to a block grant, and let the city do whatever it wants with it, as long as it is transit or bike related. But even if it wasn’t transit related and even if it wasn’t just for this city, there are better ways to spend the money. Just look at some of the existing programs: https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/construction-planning/funding/connecting-washington-multimodal. Every single project on there sounds better. Much of it could be spread out throughout the state. Big deal. So Spokane gets safer routes to school. Great! The elderly and disabled in Yakima have a better way to get around. Wonderful! Seattle would still end up with more money on things that are actually worth it.

      3. Each of these RapidRide corridors impact just one route, and the cost is generally political capital. They, too, have a NIMBY group(s) preventing bus priority from being installed seamlessly over the length of the route. Every route has a group of car supremacists with a “pile of money” standing in the way of letting it happen.

        The Montlake Bridge is a chokepoint that negatively impacts dozens of bus routes — more than all the RapidRide routes combined. And the state has offered to spend the money to build it. The state has not offered to build much-less-impactful single-bus-route lanes. There is no indication they are interested in doing that. SDOT, Take the Money!

      4. “The simplest thing to do is just transfer this to a block grant, and let the city do whatever it wants with it, as long as it is transit or bike related.”

        Hahahahaha. If Ross were governor-king we could do that. But the legislature is full of people who feel responsible to their own constituents. Their constituents in Des Moines and Moses Lake won’t accept the argument that the money should go to Seattle instead of Des Moines and Moses Lake because Seattle is denser.

      1. And are the bridges in as dire shape as Southeasterner says? In my lifetime the Fremont and University bridges at least have undergone some kind of refurbishments.

      2. Not building, maintaining. Come on man, read the comment again. It isn’t even that long. Southeasterner is basically saying that Seattle could be stuck with the maintenance costs. This issue is being ignored, as people just think this is “free”. It is like giving your kid an ’85 Chevy Chevette. He really doesn’t want it, he can’t afford to maintain it, he isn’t even sure where he will put it, but others are encouraging him to take it, since it is free.

      3. You’re assuming you know the cost of maintaining the bridge and the city can’t afford it. I have heard a lot about the maintenance backlog on I-5 and feel the potholes and misaligned sidewalk panels on the streets, but I haven’t heard the same about the ship canal bridges, so are they really?

      4. I don’t know the cost of maintaining it, but I know it is a cost. Given the marginal value of this bridge — one so low that no one has yet to make a decent case for it — this might prove to be a white elephant, like the Magnolia Bridge. Would it really be that shocking if, 100 years from now, with car traffic limited by taxation and regulation, those in charge say, basically, it is too expensive to fix.

        As for the other bridges, consider that SDOT is already talking about the Ballard Bridge: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/BallardBridgePlanningStudy.

        The point is, it isn’t free, and yet folks here just assume it is. This costs taxpayers money. There is all this wild speculation that if we don’t build this, money will go into building freeways, drilling in the arctic, killing baby seals, and whatnot. Why?

        It seems quite reasonable for the city to say “Thanks, but no thanks”. They could follow that up with “You know what we could really use — a block grant for transit, or sidewalks, or the safe routes to schools program”. We probably wouldn’t get all of the money, but if we just split the difference — if just half the money went into something worthwhile, for the city or the state — it would be a better value than this. Who would object, really? Every politician would claim victory — even the Republicans. Instead of spending money on a second, unnecessary bridge in evil Seattle, we are putting money into “Safe routes for kids”, and some of that money is being spent in wonderful Wenatchee.

        Despite all this talk, no one has made a solid case for this bridge. This is one of those cases where a queue jump does 99% of the work. There is no reason to extend the red paint, especially since unlike most red paint, this paint costs hundreds of millions.

        I know I’m repeating what I wrote earlier, but just play it out. Imagine a typical scenario, and what it would like, with or without a bridge:

        Without a new bridge: The buses line up, within a stone’s throw of the bridge, while the bridge sits there, open. Cars line up for a good quarter mile, or more. The bridge goes down. The buses merge, one by one. Car, bus, car, bus go over the bridge.

        With a new bridge: The buses line up, right before the bridge, while the bridge sits there, open. Cars line up for a good quarter mile, or more. The bridge goes down. The buses go over the bridge, all in a line.

        What is the difference? Mere seconds. Really. The real issues are the ones that nobody is really talking about. What about congestion on 520? Won’t that effect the bus lanes, southbound, south of the bridge? What about the 48. They delayed the bus lanes because they were still working on the bridge. Will they add them once this is all done?

        Those things matter. This bridge doesn’t. Wasting political capital — and real capital — on it is a waste.

  3. I talked to WSDOT and one of the issues has to do with when the bridge is raised and the backups extending onto mainline 520. So if someone would actually work with the coast guard to change the obsolete bridge opening policies maybe we could avoid this expense. Biking over the bridge is annoying but not $400 million annoying.

    1. We can’t get rid of bridge openings, but we can get the bridge tenders to pay attention to approaching buses, and let them get across before opening the bridge. That will only work if the buses have a clear pathway to approach the bridge and their own lane to cross the bridge. That goes for both SR 520 and local buses, which makes side-by-side bridges, which the outer lanes (other than the wider sidewalks and PBLs) as transit-only lanes, the obviously best configuration.

      1. How about reduce the hours that openings are allowed? The times have been the same for the 15 years I’ve been paying attention. I’m willing to bet vehicle/bike/pedestrian traffic has increased substantially during that time. Weekends in the summer the bridge is opening multiple times per hour all day, keeping the weekend times the same as the weekdays would be a good start. It doesn’t make sense that what are mostly pleasure boats get first priority.

      2. Dave is right. The problem is that rush hour has extended farther into the day, but the bridge openings haven’t. Likewise, having the same hours every day of the week seems like a reasonable change as well.

      3. It doesn’t make sense that what are mostly pleasure boats get first priority.

        No, it doesn’t make sense. But are laws required to make sense? Hoping that maritime law gets overturned is a pointless faith-based approach to the problem. So, bargaining over block-out times when the bridge cannot open, bargaining over how long the bridge tender can wait so that a bus can cross ahead of a boat (and then hoping the bridge tender will abide by such standards), and improving the pathway and priority within the road network for the buses (and the bikes and the pedestrians) is on the table.

        And so is using the funding already dedicated for building a second bascule bridge, with safer wider space for pedestrians and cyclists (both of which modes aren’t an existential threat to life on Earth). I’ve seen good arguments for the second bridge. I haven’t been impressed by the arguments against it, and some of those arguments are inertial from the days when there wasn’t going to be a transit lane next to UW Station.

        But if we are to forgo the second bridge, then we ought to be discussing removing general-purpose automobile capacity from the bridge.

      4. Likewise, having the same hours every day of the week seems like a reasonable change as well.

        In a typical week (excluding the Opening Day of Boating Season and NCAA water competitions), is boat traffic just as heavy on weekdays as it is on weekends?

      5. I’ve seen good arguments for the second bridge.

        Where? Seriously, I haven’t seen anything. It is basically all hand waving (HOV lanes are great). No one seems to even have an idea of where they will be! Seriously, the picture shows the northbound HOV lane to the left, and you claim it will be to the right. Some plan. Yep, I’m convinced.

        Look, here are some details that proponents are overlooking: There will be a bus lane essentially from the HOV lane of 520 to Shelby (on Montlake Boulevard). On the other side, the two northbound (general purpose lanes) widen to four (two each direction). Southbound, there are HOV lanes that end just before the bridge as well. South of there, there will be three lanes, two for general purpose traffic, one for buses.

        Alright, now assume that the bridge remains where it is. At worst, a bus goes right to the edge of the bridge right before the bridge closes (when traffic congestion is at its worse). There are no cars on the other side of the bridge (it just closed). The gates go up, and cars stream across. The buses are very close to the front of the line, and within seconds are on the other side. A new bridge would save only a few seconds.

        I’m more worried about the interchange between Montlake Boulevard and 520. The HOV lane is to the right — the same lane that people use for 520. How is that supposed to work? In other words, will a bus be backed up behind traffic headed for 520?

        Oh, and since you brought it up, what is the carbon cost of the new bridge? I’m sure it will require a lot of steel and concrete and thus a lot of global warming emissions. The buses will go across the bridge faster, saving them a few seconds. How soon until those carbon savings exceed that spent on the bridge? Ten years, fifty? What if the buses are all electric by then? It seems quite possible that this new bridge — built with all the best intentions — turns out to be worse for the climate than no new bridge at all.

      6. Re: the bridge opening schedule just seems like it needs some analysis and changes. It bothers me that every time this gets brought up city officials throw up their hands and say it’s a coast guard issue. Do they ever sit down with the coast guard and talk about it? I know it’s not that easy but that’s what we elect these people for. It certainly seems like doing something about extending rush hour on the weekdays and implementing restrictions on the weekends would really improve non water mobility in that area.

      7. I seem to remember one of the previous SDOT heads saying he was going to try and negotiate a change in the openings (by extending the rush hour exclusion). I don’t remember anything coming out of that though (it might have been Kubly, and he left in a hurry).

      8. RossB,

        The first salient argument you’ve made today is the carbon footprint of a second bridge. Of course, the alternative is highly unlikely to be WSDOT spending the money on other transit projects (for which they have expressed no interest). Nor is there any plan to bury the money so it isn’t used to build more automobile capacity elsewhere. So, yeah, the bridge will have a large initial carbon footprint. Whether that footprint is larger or smaller than other projects that would end up getting built with that money is hard to determine.

        We could require that the concrete for the bridge be of the carbon-negative variety (which is something we should be doing with all our construction projects, ideally by state mandate).

        At least according to one article, steel is responsible for 6.5% of carbon emissions worldwide.

        So, that leaves me with admitting that the best option is to re-purpose the existing bridge by banning SOVs from using the bridge. Convince me that that is politically feasible.

      9. I’m glad to see agreement here on the question of the carbon footprint. RossB makes several compelling arguments above, then asks:

        I’m more worried about the interchange between Montlake Boulevard and 520. The HOV lane is to the right — the same lane that people use for 520. How is that supposed to work? In other words, will a bus be backed up behind traffic headed for 520?

        My understanding is that the interchange under construction now has the ability to support any of the bus movements we need from the transit stops on the new lid to any lanes we need on northbound Montlake Blvd., including back onto WB 520 towards I-5. But it would be good to confirm. The current cluster on the off ramp is definitely temporary.

      10. Oh, I see I misunderstood. Ross’ concern was SB Montlake Blvd. RossB is questioning the utility of adding a right-side HOV lane when a lot of buses need to turn left. That is a good question.

      11. The legislature is funding sprawl highways in Des Moines and Spokane, and the Cross-Base Highway if it’s on. A transit bridge is more justified than those. So we’re going to build the sprawl highways and not the transit bridge? It’s not just any transit bridge; it connects the largest university in the state to a large part of Pugetopolis, and these buses are positioned as an alternative to driving or to building a more expensive light rail line across 520 now. I’m not comfortable with the “Maybe we won’t need it” argument. Without it WSDOT might be able to manage the traffic across the canal so buses don’t have to wait ten minutes to get through, but with it they’re guaranteed a clear path. It’s the same issue as adding transit lanes to 520 (which WSDOT did) or adding them to Aurora or 45th or 23rd (which SDOT didn’t). Of course it’s a good idea; that’s what cities who put transit first do. It’s why they have much higher non-driving mode share than Seattle does. In some cases converting GP/parking lanes to transit is a more cost-effective alternative, but the Montlake Bridge is so narrow and the only southern exit for northeast Seattle that I don’t think it’s feasible. That leaves adding new transit lanes or doing nothing. New transit lanes in one of the largest bus corridors in the region, that sounds like something a transit blog should advocate for.

      12. @KB — There is a northbound bus lane right now, between the ramp and Shelby (just short of the bridge). The big problem right now is the ramp itself. It isn’t HOV-only, nor does it connect to the HOV lanes.

        Maybe you are referring to southbound? There is no southbound HOV lane to the south of the bridge. My understanding is that they would add one. Otherwise building a second bridge is really silly. It would mean that the HOV lane extends only to the end of the bridge, which would be really just an extended (and unnecessary) queue jump.

    2. @Dave, the Montlake Bridge’s operating hours are codified in Title 33 of the CFR. The Coast Guard is a law enforcement agency, so there isn’t really a way to “work” with them – they’re just doing their job. Take it up with your elected federal representatives.

  4. There are so many possibilities, and so much uncertainty with or without a new bridge, it is hard to get excited about this project.

    The drawing is a good example of that. From a transit standpoint, I don’t see that as being much better than having just one bridge. Right now, a southbound bus gets to about 250 feet of the bridge. When the bridge is up, this means that it can get close to the front. More importantly, when the bridge goes back down, it is close to the front. When the bridge closes, it doesn’t take much time for vehicles to flow quickly over the bridge. If there are three lanes on the other side (one HOV, two general purpose) than traffic will flow very quickly. The only slowdown would be ones caused by the buses themselves, as they scoot to the front of the line. It is no different than the old merge on 520 — terrible for drivers, no big deal for buses. The drivers slog along, while buses (and three person carpools) keep merging in front of them. But the buses spend only a few seconds making that merge. Then, when that is all done, traffic flows just fine. Keep in mind, in the case of the freeway, this merging takes place over large distances — not 250 feet.

    Northbound it is very similar. Pretty soon (when they fix the ramp) a bus will be able to go from the 520 off-ramp to very close to the bridge, all in its own lane. This merge point is even closer to the bridge. Like the other side, you have extra lanes on the other side. There is nothing substantial slowing down the vehicles as they go over the bridge. The road almost immediately widens to four lanes.

    I’m also confused about the picture. It implies the HOV lane on the left. How is that supposed to work? How does the bus get over there, and once there, what does it do? Is that so that it can turn left onto Pacific Street, and if so, then what about the other cars turning left. Maybe I’m misreading the drawing, but it doesn’t sound like a big improvement, and (at least northbound) looks worse.

    I think the only way this would work out really well is if they took a radical approach to the area. Build a second bridge, but only for buses and bikes. It would connect to the parking lot that lies to the south of the stadium. Buses would get off 520, go in their own ramp to their own bridge and then into this parking lot. They would drive through the parking lot, and then drop off riders next to the station (like so: https://goo.gl/maps/11915juoJ8yQpMQx9). Then they would either take a left and head up Walla Walla Road to Pacific Street (https://goo.gl/maps/11915juoJ8yQpMQx9) or head back to the East Side.

    It would be great, it would be grand, but it would also be expensive. You would need buy-off from the UW, which basically means paying them for the loss of their precious parking spaces. It also wouldn’t do a thing for the 48, the most frequent bus that crosses the span. That could be solved as well. They could build a back road, so that a bus could do what only pedestrians (and bikes) can do, which is basically this: https://goo.gl/maps/w9zPJnYnXkBnzRJo6. That way, the 48 would go on Walla Walla Road as well. Southbound, the bus signal would be changed (in the right lane) so that it could go straight, while the cars all turn left (https://goo.gl/maps/rAXEcuiMonexNquJ9).

    It is hard to see how all of that is worth it. It would definitely be ideal for buses from 520, but more often than not, folks on the 48 lose out. They make a bit of a detour and that only saves them time when traffic is really heavy (and even then, the HOV lanes on Montlake Boulevard would probably be faster). Riders do connect to the Link Station better, so maybe that is worth it. But it isn’t a huge win for transit.

    Nor is it a huge win for bike riders. It would be better, but way down the list of priorities.

    1. The transit lane on the left side of the eastern bridge is where it is because it was assumed at the time that buses would turn left from Montlake to Pacific St. No agency stepped forward to suggest otherwise. And now we have zombie traffic studies being cited against a second bridge that no longer have relevance.

      1. Right, we also have people claiming this would be great, with no evidence or even a plan for how it would improve things. As I wrote, it is pretty easy to come up something that is great if you use the UW parking lot. It is pretty easy to see how things would be much better *right now* if you used the UW parking lot. But the UW doesn’t want Metro (or ST) to use their parking lot. Without that change, this seems like it would be a minimal improvement. It is liking adding a few feet of red paint, really. That is a lot of money for a few feet of paint.

        As I wrote below, it is quite possible that the 48 wouldn’t even use the HOV lane on the bridge. It has to move over, to turn left. Same with other buses headed to the U-District (unless you want them all to go around the triangle — which would be a bad idea).

        Regardless, it does nothing for those headed the other direction, since they still have to cross the street. So, after a long day at work, you take Link to the UW, where you then take the endless escalators up to the surface (let’s hope they are running) and then cross the street to wait for your bus. Oh wait, now the bus avoids a merge and free flowing traffic that lasts all of 500 feet (where the bus will go into another HOV lane). It is a lot of money for a minimal change.

      2. I don’t want the buses going through a parking lot, either. TIBS has totally turned me off to any such idea. Queue jumps are solving a whole bunch of problems. They really do exist and they really do work. Discover the concept.

      3. I don’t want the buses going through a parking lot, either. TIBS has totally turned me off to any such idea.

        What??? Do you feel the same way about Northgate and Lynnwood stations? I’m not even sure what you mean, to be honest.

        The point I’m making is that if buses went to the backside of the UW Station (instead of dumping people off in a car sewer) it would be much faster for both riders and buses. Riders — both directions — would be travel a very short distance to their bus, and not cross the street. Buses would avoid the huge loop around the triangle, and save a good five minutes or so every trip.

        Queue jumps are solving a whole bunch of problems. They really do exist and they really do work. Discover the concept.

        Ha! Yet you ignore them, when they are right under your nose! Wow. You insult me by saying that I don’t understand queue jumps, then you ignore them, even though they would provide *most* of the improvement in the area. You don’t need a second bridge, precisely because you have queue jumps. Those queue jumps make all the difference, and make the new bridge superfluous. Oh, sure, they would be nice, but they aren’t worth the money.

    2. The vast majority of bus stops drop people next to “car sewers”, (not into them, as you exaggerate) and that is precisely where those bus stops should be, unless we get to have car-free bus streets.

      For the north/westbound buses, I’m pretty sure traveling a little further on Montlake and turning onto Pacific Pl will be substantially faster than turning into, and going through a parking lot, with more stop lights than if the buses just got their queue jump at Pacific Pl.

      I’m pretty satisfied with the short distance from the south/eastbound bus stops to the station entrance, even with the street crossing. But if UW allows a new transitway between the stadium and the station, I wouldn’t turn it down.

      If you think buses have to merge into general traffic to turn left from Montlake to Pacific St, then you haven’t thought through what a queue jump from the right lane can do. Perhaps buses will be able to turn faster by merging. But having that queue jump from the right lane won’t hurt those buses, unless they guess wrong and get stuck behind cars that can’t turn yet. I would have no problem giving the buses the left lane as well, but somehow I don’t see that happening.

  5. At least one major transit pathway has changed since the traffic studies cited in opposition to a second bascule bridge. Metro and ST have finally realized that the northbound buses should pick and drop right next to UW Station, and the roads are being re-striped accordingly.

    Both Jonathan Dubman and I were saying this is the way transit should go over a decade ago. It seemed obvious at the time, but Metro was AWOL from the road planning process. Metro waited until a year before the station opened to plan the re-routes. That did not go well. They finally got involved, and soon we shall have the seamless transit station connection that should have been built as part of the very expensive Rainier Vista project.

    Now that we know the northbound transit lane should be to the right of the general-purpose climate killing lanes, we can throw out the old traffic studies. Sorry, Jonathan.

    1. As asdf2 pointed out, the 48 has to move to the left anyway. So will other buses that are headed to the U-District (e. g. the 271). Otherwise, they spend way too much time making the left turn. Riders connecting to Link save having to walk across the street, but everyone else spends a lot more time sitting on the bus. The bus spends more time running its route, which means that frequency suffers. It only makes sense to go right next to the UW station if the bus intends on looping around the triangle (i. e. is basically ending there).

      It is still not as good as entering the UW parking lot. It wouldn’t take that much effort to turn the backside of the UW Station into a first class transit center. The new bridge would serve it well. The fact that there has been no progress on that at all suggests that the new bridge would be a half-ass project as well. Hundreds of millions would be spent, and the improvement would be marginal (the big change will occur when northbound buses can go right from the HOV-3 lanes of 520 to Shelby in bus-only lanes).

      1. None of the buses *have to* turn left. Metro and ST are simply deciding which buses will turn which way.

        If adding a little length to all the routes, so they can go west on Pacific Pl after serving UW Station, is the price of getting a dedicated transit lane from SR 520 to Pacific Pl, then I would suggest that is a net gain over the status quo.

        But even if some buses turn left from Montlake to Pacific St, they can still turn from the right lane, and be given a queue jump at the Montlake/Pacific St light to cross in front of the general traffic. I would assume there will also be a queue jump at the Montlake/Pacific Pl light, or the whole scheme would never have been considered.

      2. Yes, the buses exiting from the station stop on east side of Montlake in front of UW station get a leading light that lets them turn across all of the GP lanes to Pacific Place. 255 riders will be the first to use this in March 2020.

        If it works well for them, one would assume Metro will have more NB buses on Montlake also use that pathway and fewer take the left turn in GP lanes to Pacific St. It doesn’t tell us much about Metro’s long-term plans that they are waiting to see how the new stop works for 255 riders before having other buses go there.

      3. Yes, the buses exiting from the station stop on east side of Montlake in front of UW station get a leading light that lets them turn across all of the GP lanes to Pacific Place.

        Yes, obviously. But my point is that it still takes longer. It isn’t just traffic. It is traffic lights. It has to wait for an extra set of lights just to keep going to the U-District.

        It would be crazy to send all the buses that way. Not only would it delay lots of riders (and take longer for buses to complete their routes) it would also make it worse if you are headed to the hospital. I just don’t see the 48 doing that, even though it is nifty for 520 express buses. It allows Metro to truncate them with minimal whining by those who don’t like the transfer.

        But my overall point is this: Adding another bridge would result in a very small change that won’t even improve northbound travel for the most frequent bus in the area (the 48). That bus will still have to mix with regular traffic on the bridge in order to take the left. Chances are there will be other buses that do the same thing (take a left).

      4. Do you even need the 48 after Northgate link opens? Could you reroute the 48 to terminate at Broadway and John or is that a bridge too far? (see what i did there to keep this on topic)

      5. Yes, the 48 is needed, and well-used. CHS is a substantial diversion from just following the straight line to UW on 25th/Montlake. Regardless, it is slated to become a RapidRide, for good reasons.

        I don’t understand Ross’s arguments about the 48 not being able to merge with other bus traffic north of SR 520. Indeed, it has to get to the right to make the neighborhood stop.

        South of SR 520, a bus-only lane got Durkanned.

      6. I don’t understand Ross’s arguments about the 48 not being able to merge with other bus traffic north of SR 520. Indeed, it has to get to the right to make the neighborhood stop.

        OK, I’ll explain what I wrote. First of all, I never said anything about “the 48 not being able to merge with other bus traffic north of SR 520”.

        What I wrote was “the 48 has to move to the left anyway”. That is because the 48 will take a left, onto Pacific Street.

        Perhaps you don’t understand what that requires. Take a look at the lanes to the north of the bridge (https://goo.gl/maps/6LJEeBgKtz4Nj5FM9). It goes from two lanes to four lanes. As you cross the bridge, if you want to be in the two lanes to the right (those that continue on Montlake Boulevard) you want to be in the right lane. But if you want to be in *either* of the left lanes, you want to be in the left lane.

        Now, if you are in the right lane as you approach the bridge, there are two ways to do that. The easiest is to move over as soon as possible, and be in the left lane when there are two lanes (before the split). That way, you don’t have to cross the solid white line. You can see both the stripe and a bus, and I would bet the bus did exactly that https://goo.gl/maps/YmJVPndzJ1Fytqxw5. At some point — while crossing the bridge or just a few seconds later — it moved into the left lane (when there were only two lanes) and then — as those lanes split into two — it got into the lane you see it in there.

        There is another way to get to that lane though. You can change lanes late. You can stay in the right lane (over the bridge) and go into the two lanes that are heading straight. Then, you can change lanes as it becomes four lanes. But that is frowned upon. From as far back as the bridge they want you in the left lane if you are turning left, and the right lane if you are turning right.

        Now imagine a third lane on the bridge. It is an HOV lane, and it is to the right of the other lanes. It is not part of the split. I’m not sure if the plan is four lanes on the other side, or five — but either way, that HOV lane is the lane to the far right. To get over to the lane that the 48 wants, it either has to change lanes *before* the split, or it has to change lanes three times.

        That just won’t work. The bus is back to doing what it does right now, which is moving out of the HOV lane, and then moving over to the left *before* the split. If it starts in the right most lane (the HOV lane) it still has to change lanes twice. It has to move out of the HOV lane, and then has to move out of the rightmost general purpose lane — all before the split. The split occurs soon after the bridge. The bus will likely leave the HOV lane right before the bridge — exactly where the merge happens now.

        That is a long of saying that for buses that turn left — like the 48 — this does nothing for them. It just isn’t a great value.

      7. Ross, you are free to disbelieve that a northbound bus in the right lane on Montlake at the Pacific St intersection can cross empty lanes with a queue jump to get into the right lane on Pacific St.

        The plan at the Pacific Pl intersection is for buses (at least the 255) to cross empty bus lanes from the right lane on Montlake over to the right lane on the narrower Pacific Pl, which involves a sharper turn than at Pacific St. If buses can do that, they can make the lane crossings at Pacific St with plenty of room to spare.

        I’m not saying buses should or should not cut over from the right lane onto Pacific St. I’m just saying your claim that it can’t be done goes against the readily-discernable evidence.

      8. Ross, you are free to disbelieve that a northbound bus in the right lane on Montlake at the Pacific St intersection can cross empty lanes with a queue jump to get into the right lane on Pacific St.

        OK, so let me see if I follow you. The year is 2025 (or whenever they finish the work). There are five lanes of northbound traffic on Montlake Boulevard, right before Pacific Street. The two left lanes go to Pacific Street. The far right lane is a bus lane. The other two lanes (between those) continue as Montlake Boulevard. Except now there is a special traffic light, just so that buses can turn left onto Pacific Street, from the (far right) bus lane. I assume that there is a pocket lane for that turn, which means there are actually six northbound lanes there. That is what you are proposing, right?

        That would work, but it wouldn’t be any better than things are now. Either way a bus has to wait for a left turn signal. In this case, they are waiting for a signal that goes a lot less often. This is what makes it different than the existing (southbound) queue jump at Pacific Street. If a bus is headed southbound on Pacific Street, towards Montlake Boulevard, it has a queue jump. But much of the time, it doesn’t even use it. That is because if the main light is green, then its light is green. It is only when it misses the main light that the queue jump adds value. To put it another way — the special bus left turn light (the one labeled “Bus Signal” https://goo.gl/maps/qX5mSmjVpamb79S48) is slightly longer than the regular left turn signal. The regular left turn signal is merely a subset.

        But in this case, the bus lane left turn signal can’t operate at the same time as the main left turn signal. There is no place to put the vehicles (it is only two lanes). This left turn signal is on its own cycle. This cycle is probably much shorter than the regular left turn signal. It is quite possible, then, that a bus would pull up to the left turn bus lane and sit there while seeing cars (and more savvy bus drivers) pass them two lanes over. It becomes a guessing game. As you cross over the bridge, you have to guess whether the left turn lane (for regular buses) will be green when you get there or not. If it is, then move to the left. If it isn’t, then move to the right, as you are going to have to wait a full cycle anyway and can get to the bus stop 3 seconds before you would otherwise.

        That is not exactly smooth sailing.

        The whole point I’m making is that none of this sounds great. I’m glad all of these various changes are being made. Riders from the East Side will be able to get off the bus, and avoid crossing Montlake Boulevard. The queue jump allows that bus to make that stop. But it doesn’t mean that the bus will get to the U-District faster than if it simply took a left on Pacific Street. It also means that those riders are further away from one of the big destinations in the area (the hospital). In the other direction (from the station to a bus headed towards Bellevue) riders will still have to cross the street. It is no panacea.

        Nor is a new bridge. It will save only seconds, but cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Buses will still do basically the same thing they would do without a bridge. Buses that turn left (like the 48) would work there way to the left. Buses that go straight would go straight, and get a few extra feet of HOV lane (on a section that is rarely congested). Buses headed the other way have to go the long way around (via Pacific Place) or serve the hospital. Either way, riders will have to cross the street (once or twice) to get to the station.

        The proposal is to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, yet there would be no fundamental difference in how the buses work. They might still encounter a red light on Hamlin. They might still encounter freeway related congestion getting on to 520. Things will be pretty much the same.

        If you are going to spend this kind of money, then there should be a dramatic change in the way the buses serve the area. A back road into the station would do that. A bus — northbound or southbound — would essentially do this: https://goo.gl/maps/3s7s4aNdzvJLsZRk7. No matter which direction the bus is headed, riders would avoid crossing the very busy street to get to the station. The buses headed to the U-District would serve the hospital (both directions). Buses that are simply turning around would do so easily (without encountering a traffic light). Buses would completely avoid regular 520 traffic, as well as surface traffic in Montlake (they would go on a road just to east of Park Drive — I can’t draw it, but this is fairly close: https://goo.gl/maps/L7F2HQCBBToQiZdr5). The 48 could avoid Montlake Boulevard as well, and cut over to the busway on its own busway over the freeway, to the west of the bike path (https://goo.gl/maps/p6yQ5C7rA8Lvfpe38).

        Something like that would be great. It would dramatically improve reliability and speed. But that isn’t on the table. It doesn’t make sense to pay a huge amount of money for only incremental change. Yet that is what is being proposed.

      9. Ross, Brent specified that if the new bridge were built with the HOV lane to the right there would be a bus-queue jump light at Pacific also to allow the 48 to turn in front of all four of the lanes you itemized. That would, of course, require a fifth bus-only lane for NB Montlake between the bridge and Pacific.

        It’s also possible to keep the fan to four lanes, only one of which is allowed to turn left at Pacific and “turn-stripe” it into the leftmost lane on Pacific. In that way the the bus lane could go on at the same time as the left turn signal with only buses [e.g. the 48 and any cross-520 buses headed to the District] allowed to turn left. They would turn into the rightmost lane along Pacific which would be bus-only for a short stretch and then become a BAT lane allowing access to the garage after that.

        Having only one lane turn into Pacific would balance the traffic on Pacific between the buses and cars so the buses would move quickly all the way to 15th.

        I recognize that this might be hard for SDOT to agree.

      10. Amendment.

        When the rightmost-lane queue jump light went on the HO vehicles would get a queue jump as well to go straight, though they’d have to move over quickly to avoid the bus lane on the right in front of them. However, since the SOV’s would still have a red light, that would be easy for them to accomplish.

    2. By the way, I also like the “back road to the station” idea and in fact proposed a subset of it a few weeks ago as a temporary bypass of the Montlake off-ramp congestion.

      A full crossing including support for the 48 would use the secondary crossing a block east of 23rd and use the Park Drive right of way widened. The biggest problem is that it would cross into a very popular pedestrian area along Walla Walla Lane leading out to the Shell House. It would have to be done very tastefully.

      One definite drawback is that the new Montlake Station stop is supposed to be atop the lid on either side of 23rd. That would be a much longer transfer.

  6. Less parking spaces? I read somewhere recently where the UW has to reduce their number of parking spaces from 9000 to 6000 as part of some zoning benefits they are getting. If this happens it seems like it’ll really help transit in the area.

  7. What CM Pacheco actually proposed (not seconded by CM O’Brien) was an additional pair of HOV lanes, rather than transit lanes. Bicycle and pedestrian upgrades were already included the city’s 2015 resolution.

    But can anyone who thinks this is a good idea explain what functional benefit to transit the addition of even dedicated transit lanes would yield in this location, given that there’s a queue jump on both sides already? And if some benefit is imagined, is there any real analysis to back that up? It seems to me that even if these were free, and had zero impacts to construct, it would actually accomplish… like… nothing, as in zero, zilch, zip.

    Meanwhile, whatever such a bridge actually costs could surely be better spent on something else.

    See https://seattletransitblog.com/2019/09/24/adding-vehicle-lanes-on-a-new-montlake-drawbridge-makes-transit-worse-not-better/ on this blog for a deeper dive.

    1. If the queue jumps fail to keep buses moving, will you support a new traffic study based on current conditions? (I’m not trying to be critical of the queue jumps, just skeptical that all the bottlenecks for the buses will have been solved, and that the old traffic studies cover the new bus paths, which I know you were trying to get Metro to do back when we were still young.)

      And what is the “something else” you would like to see done with the money?

      1. If buses are experiencing delays, I’m generally in favor of studying ways to fix that that look promising. We should certainly seek to understand current conditions.

        What else would I do with like $100M… Hopefully something that pays for itself in carbon footprint. There are many good projects in and beyond Seattle, though there are also constraints on these funds that would require legislative action of some kind to spend outside the corridor. That’s not impossible, but maybe we don’t have to look far beyond the bridge to see something worth doing. Montlake Blvd. across the cut is a state route (SR 513) that continues up to U Village. This state route serves a state university that plans major growth in the East Campus area in its latest master plan. There’s a giant medical center right at Pacific St. that lacks reliable emergency vehicle access coming from the north. I don’t see anything on the horizon that gets us out of the chronic backups heading southbound on Montlake Blvd. towards Pacific St.

        And so I think we should direct some of these funds towards the state highway corridor extending between the drawbridge and U Village. I would rebuild those non-ADA compliant crossings for sure. But we could save who knows how many people-hours of delay (this, we should study) by creating, at minimum, a southbound HOV lane leading to the triangle in front of UW Station. It’s on dry land and the existing sidewalks and adjacent landscaping are subpar. It probably needs to be torn up for all the development anyway and there’s construction to enable. I don’t think it would incrementally cost that much to add a southbound lane and it could be a giant queue jump, like 20, 30 minutes at times, for bus routes there, plus help get folks to the ER before their time runs out. That sounds like a smart investment to me. The Bicycle Master Plan has a lot of remaining needs in this area as well.

      2. What is going to happen when the current bridge reaches the end of its useful life?

        So you are saying we should build a spare, just in case?

      3. Jonathan,

        An HOV lane would be violated with impressive impunity. In a bus lane, at least, violators are obvious by the nature of their vehicles. An HOV lane already has private vehicles in it — usually a majority — so identifying violators in any efficient way is extremely labor intensive. Ergo, extremely expensive.

        It would be great, but unless you physically separate it so that cheaters can’t escape when they see an officer tagging folks and provide a sizable out-of-stream parking facility for ticket dispensing, it will fall flat on its asphalted face. It will, in short, become another general traffic lane.

  8. Just make the Montlake Bridge carpool/bus/bike/pedestrian only. SOV drivers already have I-5 – they should just get on that if they are going northbound from 520.

    1. So people coming from Madison Valley to Laurelhurst or from Hawthorne Hills to the CD should go to I-5 and back? That’s a big increase in vehicle miles traveled, to say nothing of the fact that I-5 and the streets approaching it are already congested much of the day.

      1. Those are excellent examples of drivers who could easily pay a toll to cross the Montlake Bridge.

      2. I’ve long pushed for limiting the Montlake exit to Transit/HOV and perhaps tolls. I think there’s room for local traffic if 520 access is limited. I’ve never believed that adding more cars (i.e. 2nd bridge) was going to do anything but make congestion worse. Which means spending “boat loads” of money so that more people spend more time waiting in traffic.

  9. This is one of those situations where the needed item doesn’t fit in the “box” of neighborhood preservation, aesthetics and navigation yet the item gets bigger because of UW expansion. There isn’t a clear solution.

    My own feelings are that the architectural value of the bridge is worthy of preservation. Working around that, it suggests that any new crossing should be at least a block away to preserve its character — and be higher so that bridge openings would be minimized. I’ll also observe that giving a few homeowners payouts for their houses is cheaper and a more responsible use of tax dollars than spending hundreds of millions on a work-around.

    That said, the solution to do anything will require modifying the “box” in some way. What’s the best side (design criteria) to change? Without that value choice made obvious, any alternative will be difficult to accept.

  10. Good gawd, please no.

    The problem with traffic in this area isn’t the bridge, the problem is the Gordian Knot that is the three-way cluster formed by the combination of Pacific St, Pacific Pl, and Mountlake Blvd. And the signalized access to/from the south parking lot for Husky Stadium just makes it worse. Putting in a second bridge would be nothing different than pumping more blood into a clogged artery — it doesn’t work.

    Instead look to Europe and put in a signalized traffic circle around the circumference of the triangle parking garage. Anyone who has driven in Europe knows that traffic circles don’t have to be small, don’t have to be exactly round, can be signalized, and actually can have things in the middle of them (even villages in some cases). And they can include slip-lanes in certain cases that bypass the traffic circle.

    SDOT/WSDOT need to put down their 1950’s era design book and do an actual simulation. If they did that they would understand.

    Traffic circles have higher thru-put, are faster to traverse, and are generally safer. All solid advantages. And multiple opportunities to integrate bus stops would exist.

    South of the bridge you’d also want to work to eliminate the left turns across traffic. That might take a little study, but with the $100M savings by ditching the bridge it should be very solvable.

    Just ditch the failed concept of a 2nd bridge.

    1. This x1000.

      This is a great spot for a traffic circle. Include a few more pedestrian overpasses to eliminate crossing conflicts, and throughput should be greatly improved. Then they could study a parallel ped/bike bridge which would cost significantly less.

      1. Ya, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

        Laying down more lanes is a brute force approach that doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, although it does provide more lanes for cars to sit in while they wait their turn to creep through the various intersections and weave around all the box blockers.

        And lets not forget, transit users on this corridor already have a bridge free, congestion free commute available to them. It’s called Link, and it is never affected by bridge openings. Someday it will be carrying more transit users under the Montlake Cut than Metro carries over it.

  11. Putting the transit bridge next to the existing bridge maxes the intersections on either side more difficult for pedestrian crossings and increases their complexity.

    How about putting the transit bridge above the existing bridge and a transit center above the parking lot on the south side of the stadium?

    1. Because it has to be WAY above the existing bridge. It’s a Bascule bridge with about fifty foot leaves.

      1. Wells Street Bridge in Chicago has the L above and street traffic below, and it’s a bascule span.

      2. Not saying it can’t be done, just that it would be very high and freak people in the neighborhood out.

  12. We don’t need another bridge, make the existing one exclusive for transit. Cars can use I-5 and take the 45th exit. Next step, build housing in that giant UW parking lot.

    1. Impossible.

      Montlake Boulevard is the main access to Seattle everywhere north of the Ship Canal up to 125th and east of 25th NE. Yes, some traffic goes across 45th, 65th, 75th, and 80th, but in total they probably carry 2/3 the traffic that Montlake does between 45th and SR 520.

  13. I’m with Brent on this. This offer will not re-materialize as transit improvements elsewhere, it go towards building highways somewhere else. There is no political will to make the Montlake bridge into transit only (unless there were a 2nd bridge). You think Durkan is going to go to the mat for that with an election coming up? I don’t.

    If it’s really a bad idea, turn down the money, but don’t fool yourself into thinking WSDOT is going to come back with a great proposal for transit.

  14. Am I right that when East Link reaches Bellevue…is it the 271 that presently runs UW to Bellevue? Shouldn’t a lot of the present load be taken off existing Montlake bridge?

    Mark

    1. Yes, route 271 is carrying a lot of former 550 riders, who will switch to the Blue Line. But there are countervailing restructures to come.

      Starting next March, route 255 will divert to UW, so bus trips across the Montlake Bridge will go up.

      When Northgate Station opens, the 555 is probably going away, with trips converted into 556 trips in the counterpeak direction. I expect some or all 545 trips will be converted to 542 trips, adding traffic across the Montlake Bridge.

      Ridership is only going to grow on the future RapidRide line that is route 48. There might even be pressure to bring back the 43, especially during peak.

      And then there will be all the new student housing next to UW Station. Expect them to walk, jog, run, bike, solowheel, e-scoot, or ride the bus across the Montlake Bridge in droves.

      Overall, bus ridership across the bridge is going to grow and grow and grow with the population, whether we like it or not.

      1. Link is projected to take 30 minutes between Bellevue Transit Center and UW Station. The 271 shaves about 10 minutes off this without traffic, plus an additional 10-15 minutes if you’re coming from Bellevue Square, rather than the actual transit center (combination of not needing to walk as far and not needing to ride the bus as long). The need for the 271 is not going away, even after East Link opens.

  15. The biggest problem with the Montlake bridge situation has nothing to do with cars or buses. The problem is those narrow sidewalks are full of pedestrians and bikes mixing and increasingly more big e-bikes. There are already collisions and sooner or later somebody is going to crash and fall into a traffic lane and get run over.

    Also, why are we wasting all of this money on a giant 520 lid with like 10 lanes if the capacity of corridor is going to remain the same? Shouldn’t the whole lid be scaled back if we are not changing the bridge?

    1. The lid is the one element of carbon sink in this whole mess. The lid is enabling a pedestrian (and bike, even if that was not the intention) path over the freeway, without having to walk along a car sewer.

      On that score, it is better than the non-transit-rider-proposed light rail tunnel under West Seattle.

  16. Thanks, Brent. But Joe, I can’t see how the need for more pedestrian and bicycle space – which will only expand with our region’s growing economy and increasing population- can be served by limiting lid space.

    Nationwide, every former-defense-highway-turned-linear parking-lot through an urban area needs to be lidded with structure that’ll hold buildings, parks, and people while it’s in process of being converted to transit, preferably rail.

    Mark Dublin

  17. I can see the argument both ways, but, all things considered, a bus lane that half the buses won’t be able to use is hardly something to get excited about. Nor does it feel really necessary, given that buses have queue jumps leading up to the bridge in both directions.

    For pedestrians and bikes, the new bridge would be a big win. But, $400 million is a steep price. That kind of money could make a much bigger impact on pedestrian and bike mobility in other ways. It might be justifiable is there is really no alternative use of the money, except to ship it off somewhere else for exurban highway expansion.

    RossB is right that rerouting the 48 to use a bus lane on the right would just slow things down. It doesn’t do any good getting the bus to the other end of the bridge faster, if it’s just going to sit at the traffic light for 2-3 minutes, while cars that make the left turn the way the 48 does today roll on through. Yes, the traffic could, in theory, be timed to make that not case. But, in practice, it won’t, because that would reduce car throughput at what is already, a very crowded intersection.

    For the 255, the left turn at Pacific Place has the same issue – the left turn is going to require a long wait at light, and will be slower getting to the U-district compared to just making a regular left turn at Pacific. The difference is that the existing 255’s ridership patterns show significantly more riders going downtown than to the U-district, so adding a light cycle to get to the U-district, in exchange for saving a light cycle for people headed downtown is a net benefit to the majority of the riders. And, even going to the U-district, it will still be quicker than the status quo, where you have a forced transfer to the 542, which might leave to stuck at Evergreen Point for 30 minutes, if the stars are aligned the wrong way.

    The 48, however, is a different story. All along the route, except for the Montlake neighborhood, you have better ways to get downtown. Instead of riding the 48 north, followed by Link south, just ride another bus, heading west. Only coming from the Montlake neighborhood, does this transfer make sense. But, there’s not a lot of ridership there. Rather, most of the 48’s ridership is people going between the central district and the u-district. So, having the 48 make the direct left turn serves the bulk of the ridership the best. It’s basically an inverse case of the 255.

    1. Somebody else mentioned the $400m figure earlier in the comments, but the only estimate I’m aware of for a bridge across the cut is $80m. That’s a bit dated, so maybe ~$100 million in current dollars.

      $450m is the price tag for the “Montlake Project”, but that’s the freeway lids and the West Approach Bridge South – a much larger project than this.

Comments are closed.