Denny Way at 3rd Ave (Google Maps)

From the SDOT blog:

The 3rd Ave and Denny Way Signal Improvements Project will be modifying signals, updating existing trolley poles, and reconstruct the triangular block of 3rd Ave, Broad St, and Denny Way to improve transit operation and reliability in this part of downtown.

Thus the beginning of the end for one of the longer-running minor subplots here on STB. Thanks to Move Seattle levy funds, Belltown-Queen Anne buses will get their own signal and have a more direct, reliable path across Denny Way.

You can read our exhaustive coverage going back nearly nine years: 2012, 2013, (2013 again), 2014.

14 Replies to “Denny Way & 3rd Ave bus improvements…finally”

    1. Ross,

      Are there really enough buses — and, really, even of cars — north of Lenora to make good use of it? Yes, there are Queen Anne four trolley routes, two Magnolia routes, the D, and the E. The E turns at Battery/Wall which leaves seven routes north of there. Given that there is no “through” traffic south of Stewart [supposedly…..] and therefore not much of it to the north, it seems like excluding cars is a bit of overkill.

      Bus lanes maybe?

      1. The main thing it does is simplify things. Basically the word will get out: Don’t drive on Third downtown. Right now, the message is a bit muddled. You can drive on Third for part of downtown, but not the other part.

        But more than that, the line they draw seems rather arbitrary. North of the transit mall you have the 3, 4, 5, 26, 28, 40, 62, C and E along with the buses effected by this change (1, 2, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 24, 33, D). You could extend it further to take care of some of those buses. For example, if you go up to Blanchard, you get the 40, 62 and C. That still leaves a lot of buses. Go up to Wall and you get the 5, 26 and 28. But what’s the point? You are still leaving out plenty of buses, while making things even more confusing (one small section of Third Avenue is general purpose).

        Denny is the logical end of the transit mall. It is essentially where Third Avenue ends. You really don’t want cars going on Third, and then being forced to turn (that is bad for cars and buses alike). This is also where the all-door boarding ends (

        Even just the list of buses that are part of this change is impressive. Somewhere around 40 to 50 buses an hour during rush hour (as best I can figure). That’s way more than most transit malls handle. They carry a lot of riders too — over 40,000. Not all of them ride through that section, but every delay can hurt them (you might have to wait longer to take the bus from Lower to Upper Queen Anne).

        You probably could get much of the benefit from bus lanes, but you still have issues with cars turning right (from the bus lane). It is hard on delivery people and others to see a street restricted in this manner, but if the south end of Third Avenue can handle it, then the north end can as well.

      2. The other thing that would do is allow the city to widen the sidewalks. Right now Third is essentially 6 lanes through there, with 2 for parking ( It is relatively cheap to fill in the sidewalk, which makes it easier to cross the street, and less crowded to walk around. In some ways, the current approach is outdated. It assumes that downtown ends around Stewart, when the reality is that it has spread to the north, big time.

      3. Every Google Earth picture of Third Avenue north of about Lenora has this same look of “Where are all the cars!?!?!” I guess that means making it a bus mall is relatively easy — the only people who would object would be the folks who live and park along it — but it also means it doesn’t get you much. There is always political flack about the “war on cars” when streets are closed. Why stir up that flack for for a small improvement in bus reliability? If there are few cars in the way, banning them doesn’t reall make much difference.

        Something does need to happen over on First Avenue, though. The seven blocks between Denny and the old tunnel portal are almost Vancouver-level dense. They need direct service that follows the old 15-18 route down to the Market and Pioneer Square. I have no idea how to make it reliable, though. Maybe it’s OK for a local shuttle to be irregular if it runs often enough.

      4. I can’t seem to find much congestion data for any of the streets downtown. I agree, though, I doubt it is the worst street. But Google says the trip from Stewart to Broad takes about 3-7 minutes during rush hour, and 3 minutes late at night, the same as 2nd or 4th. That is typical of congestion (sometimes there is no traffic, sometimes there is a lot). If so, the extra 4 minutes is huge for the number of people that would benefit. Even if it is a 2 minute savings, it would be worth it. It isn’t just congestion. There is the fact that northbound, you have all those cars turning at Broad ( As the number of people there increases, that means a lot more pedestrians crossing Broad, which means that the bus gets delayed because of those turning cars. It also means that the traffic light changes. With the northbound bus continuing on Third, they will have to add a bus-only light for going straight (to get to Denny). If the road only had buses, then you could get rid of the left and right arrows. This makes fewer light cycle segments (two instead of three). There are other ways to make that street better, but nothing offers the simplicity of simply applying the same approach for all of Third Avenue, instead of just one part.

        I really don’t think it is that hard, politically. Various streets downtown were converted to BAT or bus lanes. Converting the rest of Third really wasn’t that difficult — there was no widespread opposition. It gets different when you talk about streets that are commonly used by people living in residential neighborhoods. For example, NE 45th should have bus lanes, but people in Laurelhurst and Sand Point will complain. In contrast, relatively few people drive downtown. I’m not saying this is the highest priority, but it should happen, and the sooner the better.

        Of course you need to do a traffic study, but if very few people use that street (as you suggest) then it won’t mess up traffic on the other streets. If nothing else, I could see the same approach as Third Avenue before they made the recent change. That means that folks can drive a block, but not the whole way (and it means the window where it is open to everyone is larger).

      5. OK, I certainly wouldn’t complain if you can get the Transit Mall extended.

        I would suggest to SDOT that when they open the currently bollarded section between Broad and Denny that southbound Third between Broad and Clay be made single lane for the north half of the block south of Broad to allow for a left turn pocket, make a right turn only next to the curb and a bus lane up the middle leading into the bus only block.

        As a first step.

      6. I would suggest to SDOT that when they open the currently bollarded section between Broad and Denny that southbound Third between Broad and Clay be made single lane for the north half of the block south of Broad to allow for a left turn pocket, make a right turn only next to the curb and a bus lane up the middle leading into the bus only block.

        Yeah, that would definitely help. Northbound, there would be plenty of room for a bus to get from the bus stop to the middle lane. Southbound, you would make it one lane from Denny to half way between Broad and Clay. Right now it is two lanes. It was probably designed that way in part because they didn’t want cars backed up onto Denny, given the very short intersection between Denny and Broad.

        That situation could be fixed by simply banning right turns from Denny to Third (except for buses). You don’t lose access to anything, it just means driving around. This is a good thing, and it explains why there aren’t a lot of cars on Second (it doesn’t go through in either direction). This would reduce cars on Second even more.

        Better yet, just get rid of that left turn arrow (and ban left turns onto Broad). Have a right turn for cars, and a bus lane to go straight. Cars can take a left turn on Clay or Cedar — both are legal, and the latter has a stop sign, making it very easy. At that point, the bus is in the right lane anyway (to serve the bus stop). Or drivers could just take three right turns, like a UPS driver ( Left turns in general are a bad idea. They screw up traffic. If you just get rid of the left turn arrow and ban left turns onto Broad, you inconvenience a few drivers, but you can still get there. Besides, there are very few reasons to turn left onto Broad. There are no delivery areas there, and the only parking garage is west of Western (the one by the sculpture park). The only reason there is a left turn arrow there is safety related (minimal distance between Denny and that intersection). The only reason people take a left there is because it is only slightly easier than taking a left sooner. Ban the left turn, get rid of the left turn arrow, and things flow a lot smoother. The traffic light gets simplified — no turn arrows. It just goes back and forth between north-south, and east-west, with the crosswalks to match.

        That would be very simple, and like your other suggestion, a good first step. You could keep those two lanes heading south (although I would still want to ban right turns from Denny to Third for everyone but buses). All you would need is a little paint, and to change the traffic lights.

  1. Yes, this is wonderful news, except for me and others who use the bus stop at 1st and Broad. Definitely not progress for us. Things on 1st just keep getting worse.

    1. That brings up a question: Are they replacing that stop (at 1st and Broad)?

      Right now, for the Queen Anne buses, this is the only stop between 3rd and Cedar to 1st and Denny. The stop distance would be a bit over 600 meters. That is over the generally considered international standard of 400 to 600 meters and well over the American standard. It is even farther for the 24, 33 and express buses (15, 17, 18, 19). Inbound there is a stop on Denny, between 2nd and 3rd. It seems like you would want the same thing going the other direction. The stop for the 8 would move there as well, which would actually improve stop spacing for it, while making the transfer to the Magnolia (and express) buses easier.

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