Google Street View from 2017 and 2019. It’s like that Megatouch game they had at all the bars back before everyone got cell phones.

Like many cross-lake commuters, I often find myself waiting for a connection on the Montlake Boulevard concrete island where Eastbound SR-520 buses pick up before traversing the lake. My favorite activity while stranded on this island is to refresh One Bus Away and watch the bus schedules go to hell as the U-district jams up in the morning. When I tire of that, my second favorite activity is to glare at the single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) who are banned from turning right but do so anyway.

The intersection is designed so that cars entering 520 use a slip lane behind the bus stop, leaving only buses and HOVs to approach the light at the stop and turn right onto an HOV-only lane on the freeway onramp. It’s a clever design that essentially creates a bus queue jump without needing a separate turn pocket, but it only works if SOVs aren’t allowed to turn right at the light.

Except, it turns out they are now. Kinda.

One February morning as I watched driver after SOV driver use the lane to make a turn onto the onramp, I looked up at the “No right turn except transit and carpools” sign to find out… it was gone. I guess since I’d been riding my bike more often and also using the prior bus stop at Pacific, I hadn’t noticed it. Looking at Google Street View, the sign seems to have disappeared sometime in the winter of 2017-8.

I tweeted this at WSDOT and they said they’d look into it. Several weeks later I still haven’t heard a response. Best I can tell is that the sign is WSDOT’s responsibility (the bridge is part of the state highway?) but no one knows when it was taken down or why. But apparently after my tweet and follow up emails, the sign is going back up.

Of course, putting the sign back is only half the battle. Stepped up enforcement would be a nice way for the city and the state to say “sorry” to bus commuters for neglecting us the past couple of years.

21 Replies to “The case of the missing Montlake queue jump”

  1. Nice detective work!
    Now if only some transit enthusiast replace the sign theirself. Wouldn’t that be nice?
    *laughs ominously*

  2. If you really want to speed up the bus, a better solution is to make it use the right-turn pocket which bypasses the traffic light. The right turn pocket used to back up with cars getting on the freeway; since they started tolling 520, this has seldom been an issue.

    What is still an issue is buses getting stuck for multiple light cycles at the traffic light. Not only is it a long cycle, but a mere 2-3 cars waiting for the light to go straight prevents the bus from opening its doors, so the nearside stop forces the bus to wait an extra cycle. Worse, you have cases where a 271 is stuck behind a 48, which is, in turn, stuck behind 3 cars waiting for the light. In cases like this, it can take the 271 5+ minutes to get through the intersection, while nobody gets on the bus at the bus stop, and all the while, car drivers entering the freeway get to zoom on through using the right turn pocket.

    The sidewalk to the right of the right-turn pocket looks plenty wide enough to put in a bus stop for just buses entering the freeway, keeping the 48 at its existing stop. Or, you could just have buses entering the freeway skip the Montlake/520 stop altogether. Back when Montlake Freeway Station was open, this was a useful stop because it allowed you to wait in one place take either a 542 or 545, whichever comes first. Or transfer from a 48 to a 255. With Montlake Freeway Station closed, almost nobody uses this stop anymore. The only thing it serves is the Montlake neighborhood, and there’s nothing around there except single-family homes, a freeway construction site, and a park.

    1. I don’t think that is necessary or the best way to fix it. Just make the right lane bus only, from the slip lane to the intersection. Normally this would be a BAT lane, but there isn’t any business to access on the right, and right turns shouldn’t be allowed there anyway except for buses. That seems like a better solution than shoving the buses in the SOV lane, and putting in a separate bus stop for 520 buses.

      As for transferring, I used to do this transfer daily. No one does it because it absolutely sucks. The first stop you can exit is at Shelby Street, and there’s no southbound 48 stop there (in fact, I usually took the 555 over the 271 because using the Montlake Freeway station, RIP, was much better than going to Shelby Street, despite the pedestrian crossing requiring me to traverse 3 flights if stairs). So adding a southbound stop at Shelby seems essential to me.

      1. The only problem with a southbound stop at Shelby is that there can be a line of cars taking 520 west to I-5. Taking the left lane through Shelby bypasses that line. Shelby is also just a short walk from Montlake/Pacific.

        I don’t think having Montlake/Pacific being the last stop in Seattle for 520-bound buses is the end of the world.

      2. This is also only a temporary situation until the Montlake lid gets built. Once built, buses will have a stop on top of the lid.

      3. Even without the Shelby stop, banning cars southbound from the slip lane to the intersection seems like a no-brainer and an easy win that doesn’t require getting rid of a transfer point for the 48.

        And I think you do underestimate the value of a transfer stop. Of course one could transfer up by UW Station, but to do so would add 10-15 minutes or more (1 or 2 buses, depending on frequency), and require two crossings of the Montlake cut instead of zero. It might be worth it if you could get real and substantial speed improvements, but that ain’t happening. I think the worst case is to get rid of the stop *and* the bus still being slow, which could take a 23rd Ave to Bellevue trip from 30 minutes to 45 or 50 minutes.

      4. I don’t know if this is still true (I’ve not done the 271 across the bridge since summer) but certainly as late as early July last year, there were often a good 15 or so people waiting for the 271 at the SB Montlake-520 stop most days when I crossed using the 8:53, 9:08, or 9:24 trips. Perhaps some of those were due to overcrowding at the Pacific stop causing previous buses to skip that stop altogether; that was definitely an issue with earlier trips I sometimes took (the 8:19 or 8:28), but I think it’s less common later in the day. In any case, saying that “no one” does that transfer is rather hyperbolic. I personally know at least three people who almost certainly still do it regularly (I will ask next time I see them, as they work on my floor).

    2. Yeah, I think you want to keep the buses as far left as possible since the cars back up in the right hand lane often all the way back to the cut.

      1. I suppose for a trip from the central district to the Eastside, you do have a point. Having to backtrack to Montlake/Pacific would add a good 5-10 minutes.

        How about have the bus use the slip lane, make the slip lane bus only, let cars turn at the light like the bus does today, and put in a bus stop over 520 for the slip lane. For a low volume stop, it doesn’t have to be fancy. A pole in the ground will do.

      2. Then you have to restripe the HOV lane on the onramp otherwise buses have to weave through cards to get over to the outer lane on the ramp.

        I think you’re over-engineering it. This whole street is about to be ripped up in what? 1 year? 2 years?

  3. “I tweeted this at WSDOT and they said they’d look into it. Several weeks later I still haven’t heard a response. Best I can tell is that the sign is WSDOT’s responsibility (the bridge is part of the state highway?) but no one knows when it was taken down or why. But apparently after my tweet and follow up emails, the sign is going back up.”

    Ominous, all right, but nothing to laugh about. Worst isn’t what all absolutely nobody’s in charge of. It’s that, at every level of Government and a lot of The Business World, we’ve got no idea how many signs (in every sense) have been deliberately altered with downright sabotage in mind.

    However, think I know best way to bring the authorities (anybody got proof they still have any?) around to their responsibilities: Mass campaign by transit and bicycle advocates to adjust signage all over the region in anti-car directions. Better yet, just say we’re doing it, providing pressure on the System to start checking.

    Over these next couple years, Frank, you might also keep us briefed on progress on the job of fixing the sign you’ve called attention to. Anybody got reason to think it’ll ever get done?

    Mark Dublin

  4. Retraction- kind of. Was driven to fury by a “flashback”: three passengers killed and many more injured at Dupont a couple of years ago because one agency was under the impression that something hugely safety-related was another agency’s job.

    Should have just thanked Frank for reacting as a citizen should, which really is our country’s only defense: “See Something, Say Something.” Little sign doesn’t say “Follow Up ‘Til It’s Fixed,” but in this case, know it goes without saying.

    Every day, I’m encountering incidences of real damage avoided because an ordinary person did one right thing. So good chance fact that there are three hundred million of us really will save our country in spite of its rule-making self.

    Thanks, Frank.

    Mark Dublin

  5. Roadside maintenance is an under-appreciated and sometimes under-staffed issue. Unfortunately, too many jurisdictions haven’t sought to inspire bus drivers and police officers to notice and then report problems quickly, or perhaps to take action quickly. There is a big problem going on with signal maintenance too due to copper wire theft and that’s also undermining bus speeds in places (signals turning red when no one is there). Complaints by citizens seem to be the default system now.

    In this situation, I’m not opposed to two signs. One sign always makes sign theft a possibility. More pavement markings can also help.

  6. Good “dig”, Sam. One thing I’ve got to keep in mind for perspective is that whatever the faults in signage or obedience to it noted here, nobody’s gotten hurt. Like for instance a $124 Fare Evasion fine for a mis-tapped tap.

    Anybody know of a crash, injury, or undeserved ticket over lane violation here? Could be good side-effect of immobility. Maybe whole generation of signage region-wide should just read : “Slow Down and Cope.”

    Mark Dublin

  7. General situation I’m seeing now, worst in my lifetime, is how much honest confusion there is about, but now limited to, what the law or any other rule says on any given subject.

    Would fully believe that the removal of the sign resulted from an order somebody posted by mistake. Or that the Department changed its mind about. Likeliest of all, a truck hit the sign and smashed it, the repair crew took it down, and the system was too short-handed to send anybody to put the replacement back up.

    Comments here indicate that things didn’t work that well with the sign. So real credit for lack of major damage is thanks to individual drivers doing the best they can in strained circumstances. Where whatever the law says, they can’t go very fast anyhow.

    Mark Dublin

  8. For westbound trips (the one where they recently removed the bus lane), per Bing Maps arial view (which is so out of date that U-Link stations aren’t even close to done, which makes it very useful for this), the westbound 520 to Montlake northbound ramp used to be a real ramp that became a lane on Montlake, not this slow drip, no-turn-on-red intersection that’s totally inadequate for bus and car volumes, especially in a non-suburb. For some reason they tore that down and *downgraded* the quality of the exit, before the crunch of today’s construction.

    1. My understanding is that the free right turn onto Montlake was eliminated to not overwhelm traffic on Montlake Blvd. No good options there. Either you back up traffic on Montlake or the offramp.

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