Ed. Note: As always, guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the STB editorial board.
The City of Seattle may reverse its longstanding position regarding the Montlake Bridge, a major transit corridor leading to the University of Washington Station. A resolution is before the Seattle City Council that reverses the traditionally skeptical posture of the city towards adding lanes, advocating not just bike and pedestrian upgrades (which have wide support), but also, new vehicular lanes across the Montlake Cut. These lanes would carry not just buses, but other “high-occupancy” vehicles as well such as carpools and rideshares. This is a huge departure from the city’s position as of 2015:
Consistent with Resolution 31411, the City continues to support the position that improvements made by a second Montlake bascule bridge are unlikely to yield the benefits that justify the cost and environmental impact of a bridge…Resolution 31611, section 2, adopted unanimously in 2015
STB covered this issue back in 2012.
A bridge big enough to carry three northbound lanes, to the east of the current bridge, which the state would build with this new direction from the city, would likely require on the order of $100 million of public funds, based on prior WSDOT estimates – state funds already lined up. Free money for public infrastructure – something for transit, bikes – what’s not to like?
From a distance, it might sound like a no-brainer to add more lanes across the ship canal in Montlake, at least for transit, if not for HOV. Montlake is a major bottleneck and will remain so under the best of circumstances at this point.
WSDOT and SDOT have spent many years modeling the complex vehicular and transit movements in this area. A second drawbridge, which would go up exactly as often for exactly as long as the current one does, and lead to intersections north and south of the bridge that are over capacity, does not cure this bottleneck. No new reason has emerged to suggest that adding vehicular lanes would improve transit speed or reliability.
Things are already set to improve when the new Montlake interchange is complete, without a new drawbridge. There are queue bypass lanes today on both sides of the drawbridge that will serve buses from SR 520. Eastside buses heading for UW Station already zoom across the lake, and will stop on the new lid in Montlake, separated from other traffic. From there, a Northbound queue jump in the Shelby/Hamlin area already exists, and northbound buses simply merge just before the Montlake Bridge. Southbound, the reverse works from Pacific St. You’ll typically spend more time waiting to cross the street than you will crossing the canal.
Route 48 (a future RapidRide line) does gets stuck heading northbound through Montlake, especially after the bridge goes up – but that is a problem the state admits a second drawbridge won’t fix. It’s also not clear where buses using a new HOV lane on a new bridge would end up on the north side as bus routes currently diverge at Pacific Street.
Construction impacts of a second drawbridge in this congested area would be significant, to say nothing of the aesthetic impacts on multiple historic landmarks, and environmental impacts on a salmon migration path that were seen as an impossible challenge when earlier plans proposed a high level bridge carrying buses from UW Station directly to SR 520.
As we struggle with the monumental challenge of climate change, one thing we can do is to stop making things worse by wasting the resources we do have on more 20th century solutions like adding lanes to fix traffic congestion where they don’t even work. What to do instead with about $100 million in the late 2020’s is a question that deserves a fresh look in light of current needs. Can station access and bus-Link connections be further improved? Would a pedestrian tunnel to the bus stops in front of the hospital save more people more time for less money than a new vehicular bridge? Should anything be done for Montlake Blvd. heading southbound from U Village where UW (a state institution flanking a road that is actually a state highway, SR 513) plans massive expansion in its latest Campus Master Plan?
The Montlake Bridge has been upgraded mechanically and is structurally sound. There is no public safety risk like there was on SR 520 and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Bike/ped needs are easier and cheaper to address without having to contend with more vehicles and more vehicle lanes in the same confined area.
It would be tragic if the City of Seattle approved a dysfunctional major works project that despoils its own landscape under the auspices of “doing something for transit and bicycles,” that would instead serve as a permanent monument to the inattention of its civic leadership during times when we should have known better.
59 Replies to “Adding vehicle lanes on a new Montlake drawbridge makes transit worse, not better”
Part of the reason intersections on either side of the Montlake Bridge are overcapacity is due to the bridge itself as it is one of many bottlenecks and it’s slated to be the last bottleneck in this vicinity after SR520 is complete. On the south side between the Cut and Roanoke, there are six lanes (one transit/BAT and two general purpose) in each direction. On the north side, three SB lanes (one transit/BAT, two GP) from Pacific and two from Montlake merge into two across the Montlake span GP lanes from merge onto two, then expand back out to three once south of the bridge. The current infrastructure for people biking and walking is inadequate, and the current infrastructure for transit is inadequate. With a second span, it would be possible to provide a dedicated transit lane in each direction and a significantly wider path for people heading towards UW Station and improve bike/ped connectivity to the BGT. Maintaining two GP lanes in each direction, while adding a transit lane in each direction, would be beneficial for everyone as it gets transit moving and keeps it out of GP lanes. While “no new reason” has appeared in the last 15 years, the same reasons as in 2006 are still valid and the argument of getting transit out of congested GP lanes is a strong one.
Let’s talk transit. Not much will change in the vicinity of the bridge itself. There’s an ineffective queue jump for NB transit at Shelby. For southbound, there’s a queue jump for SB buses from Pacific across the bridge, but they’re often stuck in backed-up GP traffic (often stretching well up Montlake and Pacific) due to the lack of complete transit lanes and can’t bypass congestion like they can on corridors like Aurora approaching Downtown. As mentioned, at SR520, a dedicated center transit ramp is being constructed so buses can exit SR520, turn north, then access UW Station quickly then turn back around to head east (or go somewhere else). In terms of an overall network perspective, it’d give us continuations transit/HOV lanes from Redmond to Montlake with a strong justification for possibility of extending those lanes north on Montlake to U Village and west along Pacific. As part of ST2 in 2008, we did vote for an SR520 BRT system from Redmond to UW so we could use this as a strong justification to upgrade service and amenities to BRT-level.
To say a few hundred feet of transit lanes would be ineffective, look at the impact of the temporary bus lane on the SR520 Montlake ramp. This small move advocated for by transit riders saved ten minutes from every bus trip on WB SR520-to-NB-Montlake trip. That ramp is for NB vehicles heading across the bridge, so it’s reasonable to conclude that little bit in this area helps transit especially as these problems at the SR520/Montlake interchange are improved for transit and the key bottlenecks move to other locations (ie the Bridge). A dedicated NB right-hand transit lane from SR520 to UW Station would be free and open for buses to use instead of forcing buses to merge into congested lanes to cross the bridge. Same with the SB direction.
Regarding environmental impacts for salmon runs, the high-level bridge over Union Bay outlined in 2006 was a monster and long-since eliminated. For less-intensive and less-long-term projects, in-water construction typically occurs outside salmon spawning windows when there aren’t salmon in the water. This is a pretty common tactic for bridge work. Much bridge work in this area would happen on the north and south banks since there’s little in-water infrastructure for a . Note the Montlake Bridge has no columns or in-water structures as the bascule bridge clear spans the channel.
For issues like our planet, do we want to make transit more useful, fast, reliable, and appealing to more users? Or do we continue to let it languish on surface streets while people stay in their cars? That’s a good question for us to ask: what are our overall goals? Yeah these things are expensive and nothing is perfect. We could make the existing bridge one GP and one transit lane in each direction, but the politics aren’t there today. My recommendation there is get started and good luck.
To address issues like construction congestion impacts and historical stuff, the UW Station took nearly a decade to build and didn’t have huge impacts on the area. It’s also a big glass box which doesn’t blend in with the historical context of the area. Modern infrastructure can be built to blend in with older infrastructure similar the new First Avenue Bridge or proposed with projects such as Center City Connector. To lean on an argument like historic aesthetics has been a key NIMBY method to derailing key housing and other infrastructure projects without legitimate reason.
The assertion that the bridge is the last bottleneck after SR 520 is complete may seem instinctively correct, but is it really? Would the addition of two more vehicle lanes across the cut here actually allow traffic to flow in both directions unimpeded, or at least much better than it does now? Prior traffic modeling has not reached that conclusion. The intersections after you cross the bridge have limited capacity. It is conceivable that with enough modifications on both sides, taking land for new lanes, knocking down homes, it might be possible to raise the vehicle counts heading across – but at what cost, and with what downstream impacts? Would that approach be consistent with the City’s overall policies and climate action plan? At least as of today, it appears not.
The NB queue jump at Shelby seems to working fine; it’s transit only. I’m not sure what would be considered ineffective about it. You can stand there and watch bus after bus merge in, which takes a few seconds when the light is green, like other queue jumps. When the light is red or the bridge is up, everybody waits. The failed resolution implied adding non-transit vehicles to what is now a transit-only lane. I’m not sure how that would help transit.
NB 24th through Montlake, south of Roanoke, is indeed a problem for route 48 today and I don’t see anything in the pipeline that might fix that. Any ideas out there, other than bulldozing all the homes on the east side of the street? As for Pacific St., extending the transit lane would be great but I’m not sure how to physically fit that in. Would the UW be on board with that goal?
Creativity and spirited debates about the best way to serve transit here are a good thing. When it gets to the value judgments on historic preservation, aesthetics and the environment, there are many regulations, and many values people hold. But the functional aspects of this puzzle can be analyzed objectively. If a specific proposal fails on the functional merits, then we’ll need to try something else.
On the south side between the Cut and Roanoke, there are six lanes (one transit/BAT and two general purpose) in each direction.
I assume you mean three lanes in each direction (one transit/BAT and two general purpose). That isn’t the case right now (or at least not from what I can tell). If it is the case in the future, then the argument for a new bridge is very weak. If that is the only bottleneck, then from a transit perspective, it doesn’t matter. A bus would be in its own lane, right to the point where traffic starts flowing freely (where traffic is no longer converging, but diverging).
I think the only case that can be made is that the bridge isn’t the only problem. The problem is freeway traffic itself. It is only a problem one direction, though. Once the ramp is fixed, a bus will be able to stay in the HOV lane from the freeway all the way to Shelby, right before the bridge. Traffic generally flows just fine in the northbound direction, precisely because of the bottleneck. You only have two general purpose lanes headed that way, and four right after the bridge.
No, the only problem is traffic the other way. That is because 520 traffic can back up for a very long distance. That means that a bus is stuck in it, from the merge point (a couple hundred feet from the bridge) to the other side of the bridge (where the new HOV lane will kick in).
It is pretty easy to see how another bridge could solve that problem. A bus would exit 520 and go in its own lane all the way to the stadium, where it would drop people off at the back of the station. Then it would head back to 520 in its own lane (on its own bridge). Or, it would head west on Walla Walla Road (https://goo.gl/maps/DvMMwfPMiiLGQxLZ6) which then becomes Pacific Street. Either way, it is clear that it would be better.
But it would do nothing for the 48, which is the most frequent bus in the area. Thus it would be an improvement, but only for some of the buses, only in one direction, and only for a fairly short section of road — about 175 meters (or 600 feet). If traffic is flowing extremely slowly — roughly walking speed (3 MPH) — it would take a bus two minutes to complete that trip. I just don’t think it is worth the money or the political headache involved.
Speaking of which, this also assumes that the UW is OK with all of these changes, when they haven’t done anything to make the connection from bus to Link any better. Are they willing to give up precious parking, so that a bus can easily get to the station? If so, why don’t they do that right now? A bus could use Walla Walla road right now and probably save at least five minutes in turn around time. But they don’t allow it. Which means that there would likely be compromises that make this “ideal” setup as half-ass as the station itself.
UW sees itself as a state level institution, since this is SR 513 from SR 520 to Magnuson Park, maybe WSDOT can help realize some of these outcomes as another state level institution?
Update: The resolution failed in committee with firm opposition from CM O’Brien. Video is available on Seattle Channel: https://www.seattlechannel.org/mayor-and-council/city-council/2018/2019-planning-land-use-and-zoning-committee/?videoid=x107461
The larger story is far from over; the 2015 resolution, which stands intact, is not wholly prescriptive, and we heard that WSDOT is planning more public process in 2020 on this topic. We have an election coming up, and the pile of money remains. So stay tuned.
I can think of two easy tweaks to the Montlake interchange area that would make a significant difference to transit, which would cost almost nothing to implement.
1) Add transit queue jump to signal timing after bridge open.
The idea is that when the bridge is almost done lowering, you give transit a chance to get through the Montlake/Pacific intersection *first*, allowing transit, rather than cars on Montlake, to be at the head of the line when the gates open. This would significantly reduce delays caused by boat-driven bridge openings.
2) Split the southbound bus stop at Montlake/520 into two separate bus stops. One at the current location for buses that go straight (43, 48). One a few feet over to the right for buses that enter the freeway (271, 542). The idea is 1) to minimize the liklihood of buses getting stuck behind other buses and 2) allow buses entering the freeway to bypass the traffic light at Lake Washington Blvd.
I agree – a second bridge over the ship canal is not necessary.
I’m not sure if I follow you on your second idea. By current location, do you mean this: https://goo.gl/maps/dqc1mhdEEAuURNke9? If so, where would the other bus stop be?
Yes. The other bus stop would be a few feet to the west, where the staircase used to be to go down to the former freeway stop.
The idea is that buses entering the freeway should not get stuck behind the 48, or cars waiting for the red light.
About 10 years ago, the current configuration made some amount of sense. The freeway buses that used the stop were almost exclusively peak-hour buses, and the right turn pocket lane onto 520 would sometimes back up (the right turn from the other lane is HOV 2+ only).
Since then, things have changed. Ever since tolling started on 520, rush hour backups on the right turn pocket lane have largely disappeared, and waiting for the light to turn right from the other lane is almost always slower. There are also a ton more buses making this turn than there used to be, so lines of buses waiting for their turn at the bus stop has become a lot more common. With Montlake Freeway Station closed, we also don’t care about bus shelters blocking access to the staircase anymore.
OK, I follow you now. Basically don’t worry about the bus lane (at least initially). A bus could eventually get into the bus lane, but as it takes the turn, it is in the right lane, where it would stop for riders. Makes sense, as that would be better, as long as traffic doesn’t back up all the way to the bus stop.
Hmm… do you really think the benefit of entering the slip lane early outweighs direct access to the HOV onramp? Seems like a wash at best.
Also, it’s a moot point once the new Montlake lid is built.
“Hmm… do you really think the benefit of entering the slip lane early outweighs direct access to the HOV onramp?”
You’re probably imagining a world where the slip lane is backed up a long way, and the center lane saves time, in spite of the extra traffic light. In practice, this is almost never the case. The pattern that actually happens is the bus spending several minutes waiting for the stoplight, while the cars are zooming on through in the slip lane.
The wait for the light can be a really big deal. It’s a long cycle, and just one car in front of the bus blocks right-turn-on-red, forcing the bus to wait an entire cycle. Just three cars in front of the bus (or another bus) means the bus can’t even open its doors without waiting for an additional light cycle for traffic to move out of the way. It is actually quite common for a 542 to get stuck behind a 48, which can result in a single bus stop with just one person getting on the bus, costing over 5 minutes of service time to serve.
Switching the stop to use the slip lane is faster about 95% of the time peak, and nearly 100% of the time off-peak. Also, even though it’s not directly affected, it would provide a slight reliability benefit for the 48, by preventing the 48, itself, from getting stuck behind other buses.
You are right that WSDOT imagery does show the slip lane going away with the new lid. So, the point will become moot very soon. Still, the cost of putting in a new pole in the ground is almost nothing, and still worth doing now, even though it should have been done years ago.
Speaking of WSDOT imagery, does anyone have a link to a good map of what this will look like when it is done? I’m not talking about the new bridge (if it is built) but how cars access other roads (like 520), how many lanes are on the lid, etc.
I should add that I’ve seen a few pictures, but it still isn’t clear to me how a bus gets from Montlake Boulevard to 520 (eastbound). The opposite seems pretty clear. There is a ramp from the HOV lane right to the edge of Montlake Boulevard. From there, a bus would hook into the existing bus lane, and get right to the edge of the existing bridge (or continue in its own lane across a new bridge). It is the opposite that is a mystery to me. The maps I’ve seen show two lanes looping around. That would be more or less how things are now (https://goo.gl/maps/73KnMQsMKrvFj9rc6). One lane is HOV, the other general purpose. One issue is that the HOV lane eventually dumps you into the general purpose lane, and a bus needs to move over to get back into the HOV lane.
But there are other issues. For example, is the HOV lane going to be on the far right, or the outside (like it is now)?
There is a new left signalized left turn from southbound Montlake Blvd. to the bus stops (which are pullouts) on the lid en route to the Eastside. The June 2019 layout below shows a car (presumably carpool) using it. The green time for this movement would coincide with that of the westbound off-ramp from 520.
Two big questions:
1) How long will an eastbound bus have to wait at the light for the left turn?
2) Westbound, will cars be able to turn right from the lake Washington Blvd. exit onto the bus street to bypass congestion on the regular ramp?
OK, so a bus that is heading to Kirkland from the UW will have to move to the left lane? Is that right?
That certainly raises issues. The diagrams show bus lanes on the right. Bus stops are on the right (and it is unrealistic to assume we will have buses with doors on both sides for all the routes that go to the UW). Thus a bus will cross the bridge, stop somewhere (to serve Montlake riders) then make its way to the left, so that it can go to Kirkland. Is that correct? If so, is this left turn only used by buses and HOV 3 cars? Is there a lane for these vehicles, or is it shared with buses that are going straight? Does that mean four southbound lanes — the rightmost bus lane (for the 48), which also allows general purpose cars to go right; the two general purpose middle lanes; the far left HOV lane?
Sorry to ask so many questions, but just by looking at the diagrams, it isn’t clear to me.
My understanding is, the 255 and other Eastside buses will not stop on southbound Montlake Blvd. itself after crossing the drawbridge. There will be no 271 stop over the highway where it is now across from the gas station.
SR-520 bound buses will pick up underneath the overpass on the north side of UW Station, and then have a few blocks to get over to the left lane. The only stop for these Eastside buses in Montlake will be on the new lid, pointing east/west. To the extent other vehicles use the same turn lane, that could cause delays for buses. When it comes to which vehicles are allowed in this lane at what time, I don’t know if it’s been determined, but some assumptions were built in to the traffic models. Buses should be given sufficient priority not to be delayed. I suppose we will see what happens and respond then.
OK, it that is the case, then the bridge looks sillier than ever. As I understand it, a bus would do this, southbound:
1) Use the HOV lane (on the far right) to cross the bridge.
2) Immediately start working its way over to the left, so that it can exit.
Of course you could put the HOV lane on the far left. But then you’ve screwed over the 48, as it needs to be on the right (to stop at the bus stops in the area). That means you’ve spent a bundle on a new bridge and it is pretty much useless to the bus that crosses the bridge the most.
Once again, Ross, you lack creativity.
One way to have a southbound 48 stop with a left transit lane is to put a bus stop island to the right of the buses. Yes, that would be complicated, but not impossible.
Another is to make the RapidRide 48 fleet have passenger doors on both sides, like the G-Line fleet.
I suspect there are multiple uses of queue jumps that would be far cheaper than these two, but the point here isn’t to argue all the downsides of a single proposal, but to come up with better proposals.
WSDOT has not traditionally been in the business of helping transit, so everything, including the freshman design errors, is pretty much new to them. And in their defense, ST has also made some pretty catastrophic freshman design errors, like outer platforms in non-at-grade stations, lack of elevator redundancy, failure to have more escalators for the departing passengers than the arriving passengers, the same tap for tap-on and tap-off, failure to honor clear-and-obvious proof of payment just because multiple agencies are splitting the revenue and didn’t think through the revenue-split formula sufficiently, etc.
WSDOT is even less knowledgable about transit best-practices, so there are plenty of errors to find. Let’s find those and fix those, and see if there are feasible paths for buses to get between UW and the eastside and UW and the CD without having to sit in traffic. Also, the seamless safe bike lanes and sufficiently-wide sidewalks. Solving those using the existing bridge is the one surefire way to end the debate over the second bridge.
I would disagree that WSDOT has not had to design around transit. How many HOV access ramps to transit stations and stops have they built? Outside of maybe Houston (with broad rights-of-way), our region probably has the most of these in the entire US. Don’t we have about a dozen express bus stop paired ramps in our region?
This is what they are building now, labeled June 2019:
which came from here: https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr520/montlake/home
The intersection geometry where the east-west bus lanes meet Montlake Blvd. should be generous enough to support any bus movements that are needed.
Notably, this design allows westbound transit movements from the bus stops on the lid back onto westbound SR 520 towards I-5. Whether/when to do that is then an operational decision. It would be nice to have access from here to SLU once the new transit pathway opens to Mercer St., but westbound buses would have to merge back to the center lane across Portage Bay. Likewise, eastbound buses from I-5 heading for the Eastside could stop in Montlake, or continue flying right through as they now do.
Yeah, I saw that diagram (and others, which are part of the more detailed pdf) and it still isn’t clear to me. I asked questions up above.
You could’ve stopped at “free state money for public infrastructure… It’s a no-brainer”
I’m going to go ahead and disagree entirely with your post. Ya GP lanes suck when added in a vacuum but in this case removing a bottleneck, adding transit lanes, a bike lane, and a larger pedestrian walkway all makes sense.
Think before you post is my only suggestion since Montlake was a mess in the 90s, and it’s only got worse since we started using it as a key path for bus transfers.
” Eastside buses heading for UW Station already zoom across the lake”
It’s lines like this that make it hard to sell for you. You can’t lead with assumptions and made up nonsense like this.
It is a bottleneck that will have a minimal impact on buses (once the other work is done). Buses will move right to the front of the line, merge, and then have free sailing (both directions). To be clear, I think the headline is wrong. I don’t think this will make transit worse. A better headline would be “New Montlake Bridge Isn’t Worth It”, or maybe “New Montlake Bridge Will Help, But Not Much”.
If you look at what the average person will endure on a trip from the East Side to the U-District (or on the 48) this is way down the list of annoyances. Spending a bunch of money for such a minor change seems like a waste.
Let me assure Jon that Jonathan Dubman has studied the Montlake Bridge more than anyone else here. He has been fighting the second bascule bridge for well over a decade, on behalf of his neighborhood.
His arguments make the most sense (but can clearly be disagreed with on their merits) by looking at them through the lens of the two hats he is wearing: as a neighborhood advocate and, secondarily to that, as a transit advocate.
Our disagreements come primarily from our different priorities. Those of us wanting the transit lanes may be a lot less concerned about tearing down a couple houses, and the view impacts and noise the neighbors have endured and will continue to have to endure, than he is.
Future Montlakers will likely enjoy the wider bike lanes and sidewalks, as well as a more congestion-free path for buses if they choose to ride the bus. We’re getting nowhere appealing to the neighbors on behalf of future neighbors (well, mostly those living in new housing southeast of the station), but that’s just the way neighborhood politics seems to work.
But like what happened on 35th Ave NE, the current neighbors are trying to run out the clock on the availability of a big pot of money, so that there will be no money to add the transit lanes, wider sidewalks, or wider bike lanes in the future. The car supremacy advocates also had a few recreational bikers who they tried to use as spokespeople to cover their anti-bike agenda on 35th NE.
The Montlakers have even more leverage. We have no businesses to boycott in the Montlake neighborhood north of SR 520. OTOH, there aren’t that many voters in that neighborhood, so it is really the “big pile of money” that they can quickly throw into lawsuits should anyone attempt to build another bridge or convert a general-purpose or HOV lane into a transit lane that gives them the most leverage.
The path to peace here is for the neighborhood to get behind the continuous transit path from Redmond to and through UW. So far, I’ve found Jonathan’s position on that question to be elusive.
I was hoping to keep this particular dialogue merits-based rather than going into my own two-decade personal journey on this and related projects, which I may find fascinating, but I’m assuming most folks here care first and foremost about the transit impacts of any proposal. I’m aware that by taking a position folks may wonder where am I coming from and make assumptions. As I actually see it, all of my various interests are in total alignment. I really don’t think a second drawbridge with a net increase of two lanes here makes sense from any perspective, including that of my neighborhood, but also the city, the state and the planet. Does it really help? If the answer is no, we just shouldn’t build it.
And on that point, I have yet to hear a coherent argument in favor of adding lanes from a transit perspective, and I have yet to see any traffic studies that say so either. RossB has made some particularly strong points on this. The City made the same conclusion in 2015 based on work of SDOT and consultants including Nelson\Nygaard. It’s tempting to believe more lanes might actually help, but that’s not good enough to justify $100M. I suspect allowing more vehicles across by using generous definitions of an HOV would actually end up yielding more transit hours of delay than we have now, and more lanes and longer crossing distances makes it harder for pedestrians and bicycles to circulate in this area than it already is.
I actually worked for years to create a grade-separated transit pathway from SR 520 straight to UW Station, to address the Montlake Bridge bottleneck, and most importantly to connect SR 520 BRT with Link at UW, contributing to city and state legislation that promoted this connection, but that did not come to pass. Folks in the immediate neighborhood feared impacts, but were open to something with sufficient public good. You can ask former Governor Gregoire what drove her decisions. Among other things that effort morphed into the award-winning UW Triangle project you see now in front of UW Station, which was originally proposed to be an at-grade crossing with an additional signal. I’m pretty sure the triangle would not have received the attention and funding it got without years of civic attention on the value of this connection, so I feel good about that.
I actually worked for years to create a grade-separated transit pathway from SR 520 straight to UW Station, to address the Montlake Bridge bottleneck, and most importantly to connect SR 520 BRT with Link at UW
Yeah, that is what I’ve been talking about. It is pretty easy to imagine what you mean. The ramp goes from the HOV lanes of 520, then just east of Park Drive (https://goo.gl/maps/QtNkDN6D1ZSCndRK7). It skirts the neighborhood, and goes through the park. The new bridge connects to the parking lot at the UW, next to the climbing rock. A few changes to the parking lot, and buses don’t stop between 520 and a bus stop next to the station. The only traffic they encounter is fellow buses. Exiting the UW parking lot, a bus would go on Pacific Street, providing riders with the same good connection to the hospital they enjoy now. Bikes and pedestrians also use this “back way” into the UW, which connects quite well with East Montlake Park; which in turn connects with the arboretum, and new pathways connecting to the neighborhoods to the south.
But that is not what a new bridge is about. A new bridge — the only automobile bridge proposed — would be right next to the existing bridge. It would eliminate a teeny, tiny delay that is hardly noticeable.
It is also crazy to think that it won’t be delayed, for years, by folks who don’t like it. Maybe not Mr. Dubman, but there is opposition to this thing, and those folks know lawyers, or are lawyers. Delays cost money, and this cost is likely to be much higher. Wasting political capital — as well as money — on this would be a big mistake.
I should have mentioned that when I first heard they were planning on adding a second bridge, I was excited. That is because I thought it was this type of bridge (a “backway” connection directly to the station). That type of bridge is worth fighting for (and worth the money). This bridge is crap, and not worth it. It would mainly help drivers (who would not have to deal with buses “cutting in front of them”) while only marginally helping transit.
Then there are people like me, who aren’t really concerned about losing a couple of houses in the neighborhood. We are just as focused on transit as anyone on this blog. But we don’t like the city (or state) wasting their money. This will improve transit by a teeny, tiny amount, yet cost a bundle. The best thing to do is negotiate with the state, and get a transit grant instead. It would all come from the same pot, and could actually save the state money (we could split the difference, and take half the money this bridge would cost). Even if it requires legislative action, it is hard to see who would object. People who want lower taxes would get lower taxes, while Seattle would get project(s) that are a much better value. All the while, you avoid the inevitable legal fight that a bridge would likely encounter.
It’s not adding GP lanes; it’s replacing the two GP lanes that would be taken for transit lanes. The Montlake Bridge is so narrow and the only southern exit for UW and all of northeast Seattle, that I can’t see reducing the number of GP lanes across the Ship Canal.
thanks for doing writeup.
until a proposed design is published, though the traffic study is useless.
in at least one possible design, buses getting off 520 never merge with GP traffic.
if that is the end state design, transit for half the buses passing through is vastly improved over status quo.
it would have been nice to at least mention the vastly improved connections for bikes and peds. it isn’t irrelevant.
complaining about the cost when there is no design seems not useful.
in at least one possible design, buses getting off 520 never merge with GP traffic. if that is the end state design, transit for half the buses passing through is vastly improved over status quo.
Right. But it is worth mentioning that things most of the improvement over the status quo has nothing to do with a new bridge. Without a new bridge, buses would merge right before the bridge — right at the point where traffic flows relatively freely (both directions). They would run with the general purpose traffic over the bridge a few feet, and then back into a bus lane. That would be vastly better than the status quo as well.
it would have been nice to at least mention the vastly improved connections for bikes and peds. it isn’t irrelevant.
There are four alternatives. One is not build a bridge. The other three are as follows (copied from https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2015/01/15/SR520-Report-Chapter3WestSideFinalConceptDesign042014.pdf):
Further discussion and approval by the Seattle
City Council is required for these alternatives, which include:
● A. WSDOT second bascule bridge for general-purpose traffic,
transit, pedestrians and bicycles. This alternative is included in the
2011 SR 520 Preferred Alternative. It would be located directly east
of and adjacent to the existing Montlake Bridge and would provide an
18-foot-wide shared-use path on the east side of the new structure.
● B. Separate bicycle and pedestrian-only bascule bridge adjacent
to the existing Montlake Bridge and additional transit improvements.
The size and configuration of this option is still to be determined.
● C. Separate bicycle and pedestrian-only bascule bridge east
of the existing Montlake Bridge with proposed connections to the
regional shared-use path through East Montlake Park and additional
transit improvements. The size and configuration of this option is still
to be determined.
So, basically, you could build a bridge only for pedestrians and bikes. Building it to the east would be especially nice, in my opinion, as it would take pedestrians and bike riders well away from the noise and congestion of the road, while connecting the UW with the parkland to the south (which includes the arboretum).
until the concepts you mention actually show the montlake cut, there is no design.
since this “Without a new bridge, buses would merge right before the bridge — right at the point where traffic flows relatively freely (both directions). They would run with the general purpose traffic over the bridge a few feet, and then back into a bus lane. That would be vastly better than the status quo as well.”
.. is the plan of record, it makes no sense to bring it up.
Is there some reason why we never discuss upcoming and redeveloping the district between UW Station and 520? We give general lip service to upzone around Link stations but turn a blind eye about this district.
Is there some reason that we show concern over demand in a future year on Link, but ignore the consequences of UW expansion in areas not close to the Link stations?
Is there some reason why we don’t talk about that — through the installation of the Link station — the number of pedestrians across Montlake at Pacific is much higher (no station exit west of Montlake and Pacific), and that adds to delay for both cars and transit as well as makes pedestrians wait even longer to get to Link from the medical center?
The issue is not merely about lanes on a bridge. It’s a matter of designing a future section of the city to promote mobility. To argue this project in isolation — and fail to both acknowledge and offer solutions is being irresponsible and narrow-minded.
I really sense that opposition to more transportation capacity across the bridge is driven by nostalgia afraid of change. It may be “anti-car” but it’s still nostalgia. However, our expensive public investment decisions to build a Link station there and to greatly expand UW have already been made. Let’s step back look at the future of the entire situation.
We don’t discuss upzoning the neighborhood between the bridge and SR 520 because that neighborhood is small, all single-family and rich. The lawyers will get paid extravagantly to quash any upzone attempt.
Exactly. I see many posts condemning suburban cities avoiding the upcoming of existing neighborhoods near Link, or restricting the redevelopment to only a few stories. We have even many posts encouraging Seattle to enable denser housing anywhere in the city… Yet here we are conveniently ignoring this as if this neighborhood is a protected national treasure.
Yeah, if this was Rainier Valley, there wouldn’t even be a debate about this, and this op-ed would have never even been published. But poor people don’t have money for lots of lawyers. This is an excellent example of white privilege (or if you will, wealth privilege).
I think the gist is that the homeowners here are wealthy enough that an upzone would face extreme opposition. I can think of many such places that definitely should have an upzone, but will never due to homeowner wealth/influence: Yarrow Point & Evergreen Point, Surrey Downs, South Bellevue
Though, I wonder if these could be overridden by statewide or county-wide TOD zoning policies.
California moved to make this happen last year. It’s called AB 2923.
What is unusual about the area is that it is very small. OK, I guess that is not that unusual for an upzone candidate. The city could do the same stupid thing it has done all over the city, and carve out a tiny little section and say “build here” while it ignores the vast majority of land in the city, and then wonder why rent is too damn high.
Anyway, there isn’t much land there. Most of it is single family, and a lot of those homes are historic. The ADU/DADU changes will help, but only a little. The best thing to do would be to encourage apartment conversions. Keep the same houses (through some sort of historic preservation clause) but convert them to apartments. Of course they could do that all over the city, but they don’t.
As long as the city continues with its current stupid approach (the urban village concept) we will likely be stuck in this stupid rut. Look how long it took just to get a simple, easy ADU change. The problem is that the urban village concept has soured people on the idea of density. Making little circles and saying “build here, but only here” means that nice looking buildings get destroyed, while crappy old houses get replaced by McMansions. Neighbors band together to avoid being part of that dreaded circle. All the while, you have ridiculously large lots in neighborhoods like mine, where people don’t give a shit (excuse my language). Those big houses are clearly more out of character than a bunch of row houses, but the developer is simply building as much house as he can (with the smallest lot being 7200 square feet).
It is a stupid approach, and as long as we continue to take it, places like this will remain exactly the same (since this is clearly an area that will fight to stay out of an “urban village”).
Feeling the way I do about this country’s decades-long perversion of its national defense highway concept through all our cities, I tend to compare well-done “lids” to recovery measures for enemy aircraft damage.
Better 74 years late than never. But for the lane arrangements we’re arguing about here, I think that some paint, some signals, and maybe some cones could shorten design time and make discussions more productive toward more permanent solutions.
When it comes to “permanent”, all bridges have a limited useful life expectancy. I don’t know how long Montlake’s is, but it won’t be traversible by current traffic loads forever. Adding large vehicles like buses doesn’t help that life expectancy. But widening bike lanes and sidewalks probably does. Slowing general traffic down probably does, too.
But who knows. At the rate we are spending down the atmosphere’s remaining carbon budget, the Montlake Bridge might outlive our species.
Slowing general traffic down probably does, too.
Yeah, except the biggest benefit of this bridge is that it would speed up general purpose traffic. Those cars wouldn’t have to deal with those pesky buses, which “cut in front” of them before the bridge.
As I wrote above, the headline is misleading. A new bridge *will* add value. From what I can tell, though, it will add very little. The big improvement will be when they can connect the HOV lanes on 520 directly to the bus lanes on Montlake Boulevard. There will still be some annoyances, though, after that. Consider what a bus like the 255 could encounter to get to the U-District (https://s3.amazonaws.com/stb-wp//srv/htdocs/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/21193355/Montlake_Design.png).
1) Exit 520 and wait at the light to make a right.
2) Wait at a traffic light at Hamlin or Shelby.
3) Wait for the bridge to close.
4) Merge with the general purpose traffic right before the bridge.
5) Travel with the general purpose traffic over the bridge.
6) Move to the right, into a bus lane, right after the bridge.
7) Wait for the traffic light at Pacific Street.
8) Stop at the bus stop, next to the station.
9) Wait for the special left turn light at Pacific Place.
10) Go along Pacific Place.
11) Wait for the light to make a turn onto Pacific Street (there is no free right).
12) Endure congestion the rest of the way to the U-District.
Now the opposite direction:
1) Endure congestion on Pacific Street before getting close to the bus lane (next to the hospital).
2) Ignore that bus lane, and move to the left lane (where there may be more congestion https://goo.gl/maps/h3LJiDvsW4ywYhZY7).
3) Wait for the light to turn, so you can take a left on Pacific Place.
4) Drive on Pacific Place in the bus lane (Yay!). Wait for pedestrians before making a right turn onto Montlake Boulevard, continuing on a bus lane.
5) Stop at a bus stop essentially in the middle of nowhere (https://goo.gl/maps/ePbHeA1XiuaqK5mq6).
6) Stay in that right lane until Pacific Street. Wait for the light to change.
7) Merge with the regular Montlake Boulevard traffic.*
8) Use the jump-ahead lane (to the right) to bypass traffic backed up behind the bridge.
9) Wait for the bridge to close.
10) Merge back into the regular traffic lanes.
11) Move to the left most lane (not an HOV lane).
12) Wait at a traffic light at Shelby or Hamlin.
13) Move into the left turn pocket, so that you can turn left (onto 520). Wait for the traffic light to turn.
* It is possible they will somehow connect the southbound bus lane next to the triangle, with the short stretch of southbound bus lane on the approach to the bridge (https://goo.gl/maps/CQaPrvPWZjyMcKmUA). Doing so would require cutting away at the triangle, thus making the crossing of the street there harder.
In any event, it is worth considering what the worst of these annoyances would be. The bridge could be up, and you have to wait for it to close. You have to wait for traffic lights. You encounter congestion along Pacific Street. Southbound, you deal with some congestion as the bus moves from the far right to the far left.
There are also annoyances related to the bus stops. If you are headed to the hospital, it is annoying to be let off next to the station (northbound 8), as it means crossing the street twice. If you are headed to the U-District, the route both directions is worse. Either direction, you are going the long way, with an extra traffic light and extra distance. Southbound, the stop next to the triangle may be a little closer to the station, but not much closer. While it involves one less crossing to get to the station, it requires an additional crossing to get to the hospital.
To be clear, not all of these annoyances will happen. But what is clear is that the few related to the lack of HOV lanes on the bridge are minor. A bus has to merge. In the northbound direction, it then encounters a few feet of relatively free flowing general purpose traffic, before moving back into a bus lane. In the southbound direction, the bus leaves the bus lane, and changes lanes twice, to turn left. It isn’t clear whether the bridge would make any difference at all. Either way it has to move left at some point. Northbound, a new bridge would save only a few seconds. This would be a minor change for buses.
It is worth mentioning what this would mean for cars. It would be huge. That is because they wouldn’t have to wait for a bus. When the bridge goes down, drivers in either lane can just go straight ahead. The bus doesn’t get to “cut in front”.
This would be a minor change for buses, but quite popular for those who drive. In my book, it isn’t worth the money.
“… to say nothing of the aesthetic impacts on multiple historic landmarks …”
And what would those historic landmarks be?
I didn’t go into history because it’s not necessarily pertinent to transit per se, but it is deep here. The area was long home to the Duwamish Tribe. Lake Washington was lowered in 1916; The Montlake bridge itself opened in 1925, designed by UW campus architect Carl F. Gould in collegiate gothic style. The bridge and the Montlake Cut together are a City of Seattle Designated Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Washington Heritage Register. They are the scene of the annual crew races, boat parade and other cultural touchstones of Seattle. Montlake Blvd. is part of the historic Olmsted park system as are Lake Washington Blvd., Ravenna Blvd., Mount Baker Blvd.. The ASUW Shell House started life in 1918 as a WW1 naval airplane hangar, later featuring prominently in the story of the Boys in the Boat. The surrounding Montlake neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places, like Harvard-Belmont, Pioneer Square and Old Ballard. Some reading:
There are more. Then there are the environmental regulations. I have been in the room during these conversations about this very area. Let me tell you, no matter who may be running things at EPA as of today, it is not easy to get something permitted that permanently shades salmon habitat here. And the number of agencies that end up involved in any decision is breathtaking.
If you can’t build anything because a tribe once lived there, could we build anything in Seattle? I presume you live in Montlake– so if a sewer main breaks can we fix it? Can we build a new sidewalk – it might change the historical character from when it was a Native American settlement. What can and can’t we do?
“Montlake Blvd. is part of the historic Olmsted park system” They recently have made some changes for the new 520, did they just destroy history? They also just disturbed the Arborteum recently?
Seafair’s Torchlight Parade is a big tradition– can we never change traffic flow or build new building on 4th because of it? I’m not buying the historical angle on this.
You make some good points, and the value of the bridge is debatable, but trying to create historical significance of some of the things mentioned above is NIMBY 101. I feel like the increase in noise and traffic is what residents are truly worried about.
I don’t believe we need to rely on aesthetic or historic values to dismiss the idea of a second drawbridge with additional vehicle lanes, even though it’s clear that many people do value these things.
My central claim is that building a second drawbridge with additional vehicle lanes in this location is useless… about as useful as building a second Space Needle on top of the International Fountain with public funds because sometimes groups have to wait a few seconds for the next elevator. You’re down $100M, a prized public space and water feature, a view of and from a landmark, and in the end, you have solved nobody’s problem who isn’t in construction; you’ve laid down a lot of concrete and steel and folks somewhere else are still waiting for their Link station, their apartment, or even a sidewalk.
@dubman, you invoke the tribes and their history in Montlake which has been shit upon by just about everything else you mentioned that has happened since they enjoyed living there. Maybe ask the tribes or their descendants about how they feel about this before bringing them up for historical significance.
the delays to transit flow related to draw bridges are not just the openings themselves, but more so the time it takes related traffic congestion to clear.
one aspect of the WSDOT lid that is being constructed is that the connection between Route 545W (assuming ST reorients the route to serve Link and not waste time on the I-5 general purpose lanes), and Route 48 will be worsened. Today, the eastbound trips of routes 271 and 542 serve a common stop with the southbound Route 48. after the lid, the Route 48 stop will be shifted significantly south.
a decade ago, Maurice Cooper, Broadmoor, suggested that a southbound BAT lane be added to Montlake Boulevard NE between NE 45th Street and NE Pacific Place. the southbound left turn lane and planting strip could be converted to a through lane. this would allow routes 65, 75, and 372 a better southbound pathway to Link. today, there are 1,000 feet away on Stevens Way.
regarding the allocation of lanes on either one or two drawbridges, note that the WSDOT lid changes the optimal lane. today, routes 48, 542, and 271 all need the westernmost lane to go south or east. after the lid, the routes going east will need to go left. in a one-bridge future, there is an issue. in a two-bridge future, could two bus lanes be provided? the northbound traffic jams extend south well beyond the bridge area. is there a feasible treatment? would the northbound jams be reduced by a second bridge? enough to make it worthwhile? in a two-bridge future, would pedestrians and cyclists have more room?
Somebody who knows…….what would be involved in deliberately creating a historic landmark to replace one lost or relocated?
Been thinking about this lately because of all the grief in the South over monuments to the Confederate side of the Civil War. From the history I’ve been reading, I have a completely positive solution.
Since the issue is not fond remembrance for slavery but sweet fond memories for brave Southerners, we need only notice that thousands of young men across the Confederacy black and white joined the Union Army.
So, this being the issue, remedy is that every Secessionist monument will face at least one from the Union side. There’s a great movie called “The Free State of Jones” detailing the whole thing. Movie hero looks just like the real one.
Beautiful piece of accuracy in the script. When you’re pinned down in the swamp and starving to death and limited for barbecue material, it’s good to know that a roasted dog tastes just like….. well….movie says the statue should look like a bloodhound.
Ideal for Montlake should be a metal sculpture of a tightly-packed lane of cars to commemorate all the traffic jams whose absence Sound Transit finally brought about. True victory means nobody has to lose.
So would anyone support reducing pedestrian delays at Pacific and Montlake by building a new Link station entrance in front of UW Medical Center that feeds the mezzanine of the Station. I pedestrian crossings are reduced or banned, bus priority can work much more easily.
Show us a set of plans.
Not really. During the left turn phase, there is no reason to not let pedestrians cross.
Also, the need for pedestrian crossing is not just Link. What about people walking to the UW med center from the Montlake neighborhood. You can’t just shove them under the bus.
One thing that would help a bit is closing the car entrance to the stadium parking lot, leaving drivers to go around to the north entrance. Not likely to happen, though.
I suppose something like a transporter bridge or cable team between one of the 520 exits and the UW station would be too eccentric? The bottom line is moving passengers over the Montlake cut, and if doing that without moving the bus itself is more desirable then maybe that is the way to go. Cables can span long distances without having intermediate support poles, and thus crossing the Montlake cut on a route that doesn’t disturb the salmon habitat or the park would be possible.
That was originally typed as “cable tram” and In not sure what team autocorrect thinks I’m rooting for.
Ah, a zipline for buses. That would be way cool.
Looking at the WSDOT Montlake lid map, the HOV ramp adds one additional stop over the general-purpose ramp in both directions. Plus, in the eastbound direction, it replaces a right turn with a left turn. How these lights are timed is going to be critical. If buses have to wait 2+ minutes for a green light, at both intersections, it’s going to result in bus movements being slower than car movements off-peak and undermine much of the benefits of the bus/HOV ramp during peak.
In general, the default setting of a traffic light is to minimize delay for the greatest number of vehicles. Which means, as long as the bus does the same thing that all the cars as doing, it benefits. When the bus does something non-standard, requiring a special signal phase, it pays the price, because the traffic signal performance metric says it’s ok for the bus to be delayed, as long as it’s only the bus.
As you can see in the map, Montlake/520 is going to be a large, complicated interchange, with signals phases for cars and buses going straight and turning every which way. Notice also that the right turn from the westbound bus stop to Northbound Montlake will require a dedicated signal phase (sharing the phase with the right turn from the general-purpose exit ramp won’t work).
Also, notice that pedestrian crossing of Montlake Blvd. is essentially banned throughout the whole interchange, in favor of a sidewalk/trail underpass on the north side of the freeway. The underpass looks great for thru bike traffic coming off the bridge trail, but not so friendly for pedestrian traffic originating from the bus stops. The lack of any at-grade crossings in the area is disappointing. Looking at the map, it seems like they should have been able to squeeze one in on the south side of the westbound off-ramp. That ramp is right-turn only, so there’s no reason pedestrians can’t cross the street on the other side while they turn.
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