The Downtown Seattle Association released an update to its Third Avenue street reconfiguration vision. The DSA is a private organization of business leaders dedicated to promoting shopping and jobs downtown. Here’s our previous coverage in June, and a comment thread in September.
The vision describes Third Avenue as “a critical north-south transportation route in downtown Seattle.” It goes on to say, “For a variety of reasons, significant sections of the corridor feel unwelcoming and unsafe. Over the past decade, several planning efforts have yielded incremental improvements, but the underlying challenges remain the same.”
It cites a corridor study by Seattle and King County that identifies five problems downtown (including Belltown and Pioneer Square): insufficient open space, deferred maintenance, few middle-class people lingering (in spite of the large volume of people walking or waiting for buses), blank walls, too much concrete and too little color, and underused lobbies in office towers.
Before getting into the DSA’s recommendations, let’s look at the background of Third Avenue transit and what else is happening.
The city recognized in the early 2010s that many buses travel the entire length of Yesler to Stewart or Belltown but ridership is uneven on them. Some routes come from high-volume areas or support a variety of intra-downtown trips, while others come from lower-volume areas or terminate halfway through an intra-downtown trip. The former routes are fuller and the latter routes emptier. This leads to uneven clusters of empty seats that increase congestion. The solution is to consolidate ridership onto fewer more-useful routes. That frees up space for more capacity on those routes, and more space for pedestrians downtown. This was the motivation behind splitting RapidRide C and D in the mid 2010s, for planning a half dozen additional RapidRide lines on Third Avenue, and for leveraging underground Link as it expands.
When the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) had buses in it, the SODO busway functioned like an extension of the tunnel, allowing congestion-free travel from Convention Place to Spokane Street. Link functions like an even longer extension of it, allowing congestion-free travel to Northgate and Angle Lake, and allowing transfers to be moved out of downtown to other Link stations. A trip from North Seattle to Costco used to require transferring buses downtown, but now you can transfer at SODO instead, and perhaps U-District or Roosevelt.
RapidRide C, D, and E function similar to this, supporting more people and a wider variety of trips through downtown than the previous spaghetti of routes did. The hope is that RapidRide G (Madison), H (Delridge), J (Fairview/Eastlake), R (Rainier), and upgrades to the 40 will improve the situation even further. Seattle’s and Metro’s long-range plans in the mid 2010s had even more RapidRide lines than this (e.g., RapidRide 40 and 62), but overoptimistic budgeting and the post-2020 economic climate forced some of them to be downgraded to smaller incremental upgrades.
Into this fray, the DSA vision proposes four alternative concepts for reconfiguring Third Avenue: “Compact Transitway”, “Median Transitway”, “Transit Shuttle and Hub”, and “Transit Couplet”. All of these reconfigure the vehicle lanes, pedestrian space, amenities, and aesthetics in different ways.
Compact Transitway has three bus lanes on Third. The middle lane alternates directions at certain intersections, so buses would merge into a side lane there.
Transit Shuttle and Hub replaces all Third Avenue routes with a single shuttle running every 90 seconds or so. Transfer hubs at each end would connect to other routes. I experienced this in Denver, where a free shuttle on the main street comes every minute or two. A multimodal hub at the north end has a train station, light rail station, and underground bus transit center. This alternative would have two transit lanes, freeing up the other two lanes for pedestrian uses.
Median Transitway also has a single shuttle route, but the stations are in the middle of the street between the lanes, so passengers enter via left-side doors. The First Hill Streetcar is like this, and the middle third of RapidRide G (Madison) will be.
Transit Couplet keeps one direction on Third but moves the other direction to Second or Fourth. In the example diagram, Third Avenue has two northbound bus lanes and one southbound general-purpose lane. Second Avenue has two southbound bus lanes, one southbound GP lane, and the two-way cycletrack. Fouth Avenue has four GP lanes and a two-way cycletrack. The DSA emphasizes that this is just an illustration, and it equally could have had southbound on Third or the other direction on Fourth. Fourth Avenue would lose its existing bus lane in this example, but that lane is not like the others. The Fourth Avenue bus lane is currently used by suburban express routes, some of which will go away when Link extensions to Lynnwood, Redmond, and Federal Way open in the next few years.
The end of the report has comparisons between Third Avenue, Denver’s 16th Street, Minneapolis’s Nicollette Mall, Portland’s Transit Mall, and Vanvouver’s Granville Street. It also has a history of Third Avenue.
I have no strong preference between the alternatives at this time, but I have reservations about a shuttle or a couplet. I used to dislike through-routing downtown, but in recent years I’ve seen its advantages. When a route goes all the way through downtown to the adjacent neighborhood like the D and E, it supports a wide variety of overlapping trips, like Ballard to Westlake, Ballard to Pioneer Square, and Pioneer Square to Belltown. When routes are through-routed through downtown like the 2 or 28/131/132, it supports all those plus trips like First Hill to Uptown or Queen Anne, or Fremont to Costco. This is similar to what a subway does, supporting a wide variety of overlapping trips. People getting off are replaced by other people getting on, spread out across all the stations. All this is lost with a shuttle, which requires everybody to transfer at two specific places. Neither of those places is a destination for a majority of riders. So what have you gained? Transfers are more justified the longer each segment is. So going three miles from downtown to the U-District and transferring makes sense, but going one mile and transferring for one more mile — or worse, two transfers within two miles — makes less sense.
Couplets create confusion and can disadvantage one direction. Visitors don’t know where to get the bus the other direction, so they have to ask somebody, and may be dissuaded from taking transit. Businesses have a visible stop in only one direction. If one direction is the main street and the other direction is a secondary street, the second set of riders have to walk further and don’t see the other businesses in passing. In Seattle’s case, Third Avenue is the main street with a variety of walk-up destinations. Second and Fourth Avenues are car sewers with mainly office buildings, of interest only to those 9-to-5 commuters who work there. It’s possible for Second and Fourth to get a wider variety of destinations and a better pedestrian ambience, but a couplet alone won’t do it. And as long as there are cars, we need some kind of high-volume north-south streets for them, and Second and Fourth Avenues are it.
On-topic comments for this article are about downtown Seattle: Third Avenue street configurations, other downtown bus routes, reenvigorating the retail core, safety, etc. This will doubtless get into Link and DSTT2, but the focus is on people’s experience downtown, not on generic Link issues.
46 Replies to “Third Avenue Renovation”
Good ideas. If the study is correct that the amount of buses on Third Avenue makes it an unpleasant space for walking, then I think moving some of the buses to other streets makes sense. Part of the flexibility of buses is that they can go anywhere. They don’t all have to go down Third Ave.
Also agree with OP that neither the transit couplet nor the shuttles make sense.
I agree, too many buses go to Third Ave and also creates unnecessary redundancy. For instance all the buses from Upper Queen Anne go through Third Ave. It’s unnecessary. You could have Route 1 go through First or Second, and Route 2 go through Third. Both routes at their QA origins are within walking distance of each other. That would allow more options for people. As it is now, I have little desire of taking the bus with my kids to downtown, because it’s extremely unpleasant waiting for the bus on Third with children in tow. If you had buses going on different streets then you allow choice. Maybe if I were transferring to the Link, I would take the bus that goes down Third. Maybe if I were going to Pike Place, i would take the bus that goes down First or Second. Maybe if I don’t want to comingle with the drug dealers on Third and explain to my kids why that guy is asleep standing up, I can wait for the bus on First.
Putting all the buses on Third is actually creating a deterrent for taking the bus into downtown when Third is such a disaster.
SLUer, buses used to run on First, but they sometimes had to wait multiple cycles to get through First and Pike because of the number of people crossing.
Also, folks from Ballard and West Seattle didn’t like climbing the hill from stops farther south.
What you say is true, for sure, but getting a route’s riders to volunteer for First has in the past at least been tough.
What is the goal or hope for 3rd Ave. from any of the proposals? It isn’t clear to me. Safety, retail vibrancy, more workers or “middle class” visitors, creating more housing? It seems from the proposals that the DSA thinks transit and transit riders are the problem.
The list of issues like lack of open space (and Pioneer Square has open space like Occidental Square), or building lobbies, lack of color, blank walls and too much concrete sound like every other avenue. What does deferred maintenance mean. If transit and non middle class transit riders are the issue does it make sense to move buses to other avenues that are also suffering but not yet dead.
I would focus on 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th first. Fix those avenues first before spending time and resources on 3rd. The “revitalization” on those avenues has more chance of some success, although I still don’t know what the vision is. Does the DSA really think center boarding lanes are the problem on 3rd? I hope not.
Transit is not the problem, but maybe too much transit (too many buses on one street) is. Those are two different propositions. Just because there is too much of something doesn’t mean it is “the problem.”
The goals are on pages 13-16 of the PDF: an iconic corridor (aesthetics), a thoughtful approach that optimizes bus volumes (technocratic), increase space for pedestrians and people waiting for buses, has businesses and programming that attracts people to stroll and linger, fully utilizes existing public amenities (parks, plazas, multimodal terminals), and puts people first.
I interpret that as meaning a beautiful and convenient pedestrian space, with wide sidewalks, safety, more retail, and more outdoor activities. It doesn’t mention more housing, but I’m sure the DSA supports the city’s approach of more housing downtown. More residents means more customers for the businesses, and the ability to tout Seattle as a world-class city.
“It seems from the proposals that the DSA thinks transit and transit riders are the problem.”
That was my concern with the previous version, that it seemed to scapegoat transit for the homelessness and crime, and it tried to scale down transit to get rid of it, because real customers don’t take transit. But the rhetoric is much better in this version: it says a high volume of transit is needed and valuable. I’m not sure how much of that is a shift or how much is just greenwashing, but something is better than nothing.
“lack of open space”
Some people think there’s never enough open space. Why isn’t Westlake Park, Pioneer Square, Bell Street Park, Market Park, and the big waterfront renovation enough? Likewise, Wallingford residents think they don’t have enough parks when they’re right next to Gasworks Park. And every single-family neighborhood wants any possible lot converted into a park rather than building another house there. I’m not sure if it’s that in this case or if the DSA has some upper limit in mind for the amount of open space.
Those are private spaces, so it will be up to the owners. I’m skeptical that some lobbies really can be converted to more uses or that the public would come, but that’s the DSA’s problem.
They aren’t as blank or log as the side of a Walmart. I can’t think of any that don’t have windows or decorations or open space art or ground-floor or retail, except maybe the county building with its pebble wall.
“What does deferred maintenance mean.”
It means infrastructure is deteriorating. I don’t know what or where. The DSTT escalators are certainly deteriorating.
“does it make sense to move buses to other avenues”
The problem with moving some routes to other avenues is it makes transfers harder, you have to remember which routes are on which street, and you can’t take a bus every minute if you’re just going a mile upt the street because half of them are on another street. The Magonlia routes (19, 24, 33) and mini-expresses (26, 28) used to be on 4th Avenue so they had that problem. The 2010s restructures consolidated the Seattle routes to 3rd and left 2nd and 4th for suburban expresses.
“The “revitalization” on those avenues has more chance of some success”
2nd, 4th, 5th, or 6th would require a lot larger vision. You’d not only have to calm the streets, but convert the 9-to-5 office buildings into a wider variety of uses. How likely is it the building owners would do that? Or will the DSA just say a vibrant community will arise but then the building owners do nothing and it remains a burst of pedestrians twice a day?
I really don’t see vast slabs of concrete being particularly attractive. We’ve Pioneer Courthouse Square, but neither of the two concrete plazas Portland has built since then are especially popular places. People vastly prefer Terry Schrunk Plaza, South Park Blocks, North Park Blocks, Waterfront Park and other areas that have natural features as well open space.
The wide sidewalks of the Portland Transit Mall are nice, but to do that the way Portland did, you need to make the transit mall into two one way streets.
Is anyone in Seattle actually ready to kick auto traffic off 2nd or 4th to make that work the way it does here?
I’ve lived in Seattle since the early 2000’s, and I think the basic issue that’s existed for the entire time (though made more acute since the pandemic started) is that there’s not many reasons to go to Downtown frequently if you don’t work there.
I occasionally shop on the Target on 2nd, but since Northgate Link opened, I go to the Target in the U-District more often.
I like the Central Library, and have sometimes used it as a study/work space, but I generally check books out from my local branch.
I’ve been to concerts at Benaroya a couple times.
When family visit, we’ll do touristy stuff near the Market.
I’ve been to fancy restaurants Downtown for celebrations a handful of times.
Maybe if I worked downtown, I’d discover some more affordable restaurants and cafes to frequent, but there’s plenty of restaurants and cafes in my neighborhood.
So, on a daily/weekly basis, there’s little to attract me to Downtown.
I grew up in the suburbs and my parents usually shopped at The Bon Marche and Nordstrom and Fred Meyer, so when I moved to Seattle it took a year or two to adjust. But then I found the U-District had practically everything I needed, and I only had to go to Northgate once or twice a year for things like towels or clothes. Once you furnish an inner-city apartment or house, you don’t need much more. And some people prefer the independent, local, smaller businesses in the inner city over the national chains at malls and in most of the suburbs.
One problem is that inner-city residents often don’t realize the variety of business that are there. It took me years to remember there’s a hardware store on the Ave, on Roosevelt, on 12th Avenue, and in lower Ballard. Or that there’s a Bed Bath and Beyond next to Macy’s with towels, kitchenware, and fans. (Now gone.) So I would go to a mall or suburban store because I didn’t know those existed. The downtown Target brings another set of goods that’s not otherwise available in central Seattle.
I’ve lived adjacent to downtown for nineteen years, so Pike Place Market is my local market, the downtown library is my local one, and the downtown Nordstrom is the closest one. All of those work fine. But when I lived in the U-District and Ballard, I rarely went downtown.
I’m not a PNW native, Mike, but this has been my experience too. We’ve live in Fremont or Wallingford since moving out 16 years ago and rarely go downtown except when the transit network forces us. We actually don’t particularly mind downtown, it’s just that—as you note—there are more convenient stores in the neighborhoods as well.
That said, one thing we do find downtown stores handy for is picking up stuff on the way; we would never go to the downtown PCC normally as we prefer to walk at least one way to a grocery store in our area, but we will pick up stuff if we happen to be transferring and would be waiting anyway. It helps that we’re close to the E so the transfer penalty is never high. Since downtown almost certainly will continue to be a transit nexus, this is a good reason to encourage retail to come back downtown even if office workers take a bit longer (that, and it’s become a huge residential neighborhood in its own right).
on a daily/weekly basis, there’s little to attract me to Downtown
That is probably true of most downtown areas around the world.
Most importantly, they are major employment centers. But not everyone works there. They are major entertainment centers, but not everyone is into that. The Seahawks, Sounders and Mariners all play downtown, and that spills into Pioneer Square, and attractive area even when there isn’t a game. Belltown got hit hard by the pandemic I’m sure, but my guess is remains an important nightlife area. Pike Place is still a very attractive area. Not only for tourists, but for locals as well. The improvements to the waterfront will be huge, and have already born fruit up above. There is just a lot more pleasant places to hang out next to Pike Place.
The downtown area is far more vibrant than it was in the past. When I was growing up, the place would close down after 5:00 PM. Oh, there would be a few clubs open, but the streets were largely empty. This still happens to a degree, but not like it was in the past. There are a lot more people living and doing things in downtown, which is is why it continues to attract a lot of people.
But a place that attracts a lot of people doesn’t mean that it attracts you. I’ve never been to NHL hockey game, but that doesn’t mean the seats are cheap. My clubbing days are over, but I’m pretty confident that Capitol Hill is rocking on the weekends. I very rarely go to the zoo, but when I go, there are plenty of people. A lot of people don’t go downtown that often, but enough do to make it the biggest destination in the state.
>> on a daily/weekly basis, there’s little to attract me to Downtown
> That is probably true of most downtown areas around the world.
Maybe “around the USA”, but I would strongly disagree about “world”. In my experience most downtowns around the world are that city’s most vibrant shopping area, where all the major national and international stores are located (such as levi’s, apple, luxury clothing brands, etc etc).
In Seattle it seems like a lot of those stores have already settled down in U-Village, though there’s probably space for a bit more if downtown was a more pedestrian- and family-friendly space.
Oh this is just a fancy attempt to justify taking away a transit lane on Third Avenue. People that do landscape design like to do things like that.
Of course, they don’t bother to see that it makes bus operations slower. They are just hell bent on pretty diagrams.
And most of Third Avenue is not strong retail anyway. It’s more of a high-rise building canyon and adding 5-10 feet of sidewalk on each side won’t change that.
The list of contributors is added for emphasis. It just demonstrates collective stupidity among a bunch of arrogant people who like to monkey with things and spend public money to make transit slower because the street isn’t pretty enough for them.
Kind of like the added waiting at signals that SDOT implemented that delays buses.
Kind of like the FHSC crawling like a snail.
Kind of like the CCC and its proposed crawl.
Kind of like Madison RapidRide with vehicles stopping at steep stops near Third Avenue because no one wants to turn a bus..
The report clearly says that Third Avenue is the busiest bus transit street in America. Then they propose to make it work worse.
The fact that buses only go on 3rd Ave in downtown and that most of the transfers happen on 3rd Ave actually hinders transit utilization into downtown. I would love to bring my kids to Pike Place via the bus on the weekends, but I have little desire to wait for the bus on 3rd Ave with my kids in full of view of the drug dealers on 3rd. if there were some routes that went to some of the other streets, it would actually increase broader transit utilization into downtown.
Buses go on Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth — not just Third. Third just has the most buses, and is the main bus mall. As far as the “drug dealers on Third” there was a time, not that long ago, that First Avenue was by far the most crime ridden area downtown. Last time I was outside the McDonald’s on Third it looked fine. There was a SPD van parked nearby, and it was like just about any other bus stop.
Thanks for mentioning McDonald’s. I’ve been in several major US cities. The causes of loiters and panhandlers has little to do with transit. It has much more to do with the storefront uses.
I once worked in a building with McDonalds on the street level and there were always loiters and panhandlers. When it closed and a mega gym opened nearby, they all went away. Overnight!
The causes of loiterers and panhandlers has little to do with transit.
Absolutely. I thought everyone knew that. But now that I read some of these comments, I realize that isn’t the case. So let’s set the record straight now, shall we?
Seattle has a long and rich history when it comes to this sort of thing. The term “Skid Road”, sometimes referred to as “Skid Row” started here. Since then, it has simply moved around. Since the 1960s, it has been up by Pike and Pine, and more recently has been called “The Blade”. This is an excellent story about the area: https://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/crime-and-community-define-one-of-downtown-seattles-most-complex-areas/. To quote a couple parts:
The particulars have changed, as has its center of gravity: First Avenue to Second to Third.
“That location is the very heart of the city,” says Seattle Deputy City Attorney Scott Lindsay. “Most cities have a ‘Blade’ for prostitution and drugs, but you can get around San Francisco without going through The Tenderloin — what makes Seattle unique is that it’s in the city’s commercial core. You cannot have a vibrant downtown and an out-of-control 3P.”
The location has little to do with transit, and everything to do with inertia. My guess is that the general seediness spread from Yesler (Skid Road) north along First (which used to be quite bawdy) and then went east from Pike Place. If the city doesn’t actually address the cause of the problem (which seems likely) my guess is it will move further east or northeast. The city really doesn’t want this area to look rundown, for the reasons mentioned here. They want people to get out of the train (or off of the bus) and be able to walk west, toward the waterfront, and imagine a world where these sorts of problems just don’t exist.
Let me see if I get this straight;
They want to add street furniture and so on to attract people to the area, but don’t want them loitering?
What’s the difference between sitting on a bench placed in this new widened sidewalk while loitering and while not loitering?
You can’t build public infrastructure and exclude only those types of people the DSA finds aesthetically displeasing.
“You can’t build public infrastructure and exclude only those types of people the DSA finds aesthetically displeasing.”
You can; the question is whether that is a healthy, appropriate thing to support, particularly with public dollars.
The public space theories of William H Whyte include the idea that by summoning enough middle-class residents, you can disrupt the activities of people involved in illegal enterprise. The catch is that by doing this, you are tending to reshape public spaces for the tastes of the moneyed classes. Particularly, you can end up with public spaces with few things to do that don’t involve spending money. Read Sharon Zukin’s “Whose Culture, Whose City?” for more on this. You effectively have increasing control of the public realm by private actors, which is a risky proposition.
When the DSA talks about activating and programming the sidewalk, I believe this is exactly what they are talking about. They are talking about sidewalk cafes, other things to attract paying customers so that whoever is there now is a less visible minority.
I think there are merits to this; if as Ross writes, all cities have their drug hubs, then it might as well not be in the middle of the CBD – or else we should shift the transit network so that transfers don’t have to happen there.
There is a narrative that building DSTT and closing Third Avenue for a few years permanently destroyed the middle-class business/shopping environment on the street, and having so many buses on Third and making it bus-only exacerbates it. That the loiterers, drug dealers, and stolen-goods sellers are there because of these. This is bullshit. Buses travel the entire length of 3rd but the concentration of miscreants are only between Pike-Pine and in Pioneer Square. The 45 and 73 travel the entire length of the Ave but the miscreants are only between 43rd and 50th. Many routes travel on 15th Ave NE but there are no miscreants there. So it’s not the amount of bus service that determines where miscreants are. Instead, both the buses and the miscreants are there for the same reason: 3rd & Pine and U-Way& 45th are natural crossroads where the most customers are.
“When the DSA talks about activating and programming the sidewalk, I believe this is exactly what they are talking about. They are talking about sidewalk cafes, other things to attract paying customers so that whoever is there now is a less visible minority.”
They’re talking about the same kind of programming that’s already happening on the Waterfront, in Westlake Park, and in Freeway Park. Chairs and tables, shuffleboard tables, check-out game equipment, an attendant keeping an eye on things, music events, etc. Outdoor things to make it a more “active” space.
The Wells Fargo at Madison and 3rd already has a plaza that could host a food truck if someone wanted. I’m sure there’s other places along 3rd that could be repurposed without rebuilding 3rd, if the DSA actually wanted to do so.
Widening the sidewalks and allowing street tables has definitely NOT helped Portland’s China Town. The businesses themselves have to be willing to change what they are doing to attract who they want.
When the McDonalds on First Hill closed, we lost a great outdoor drug market that flourished for many years. But I don’t think there is a direct correlation between hamburgers, drugs and loitering…
I have seen a report that miscreants hang around McDonald’s in several cities, and when the McDonald’s goes away, the miscreants go away too.
I’m confused – was there an actual update to the 2019 proposal, or are we just seeing replay of nearly-4-year-old concepts because the DSA can’t figure out any other way to make downtown interesting now that it’s lost 20-40% of its commuter population?
As I mentioned on the open thread, I’d like to see an actual update to these concepts which addresses a transition away from commuter-oriented peak travel capacity to all day service and accessibility. I’d also like to see it re-hashed with Metro’s Connect 2040 plan and the drafts of the Seattle Transportation Plan to figure out what actually makes the most sense.
I don’t think any of DSA’s suggestions are commuter oriented? Their focus in on better vibrancy downtown, not easier access in/out of downtown.
“It cites a corridor study by Seattle and King County that identifies five problems downtown (including Belltown and Pioneer Square): insufficient open space, deferred maintenance, few middle-class people lingering (in spite of the large volume of people walking or waiting for buses), blank walls, too much concrete and too little color, and underused lobbies in office towers.”
Insufficient open space is an issue, I agree. But not one the DSA cares about, as it supports closing down downtown Seattle parks to jeep the homeless out. I see very people in power supporting grass and tree parks in downtown at all, much less making more of them. Myrtle Edwards comes to mind, but we destroyed a good chunk of its semi-natural state with the Sculpture Garden. Seattle Center has become steadily more paved over time too. Downtown needs a Ravenna or Carkeek Park, but will never get it.
Deferred maintenance. On what or where exactly? Any infrastructure issues I have seen downtown are only worse in other areas of Seattle. Cracked sidewalks? At least there are sidewalks. This is a general rather than specific issue, and has been going on for quite a while.
Lingering people? Honestly I feel like the city has been discouraging lingering people for decades. It has always been about travel/transit efficiency, or getting people in and out as fast as possible. I am not sure a change is possible here without a huge change in how we see downtown itself.
Too much concrete and too little color is a double edged sword. Yes, downtown looks a little bland. But the efforts to change that have been frankly awful. Buildings that look like high heeled boots? Little aesthetics like colored glass or banners attached to the tops or outsides? These become visual blight, eyesores nobody wants. We need to accept that form follows function first, then accessorize from there. As a fictional example, I would point to the structures in the game Cyberpunk 2077. They are very much modern, function first buildings. But they manage unique aesthetics and open air plazas nonetheless.
Office tower lobbies are designed not to be used. With the exception of floor level retail and the old escalator setup to bypass the hill, I can’t think of any time they were used well to this end.
Which brings me to my long winded point. The DSA plans for third do nothing for any of these issues. Not a one. They almost seem to intentionally avoid them, in fact. Which shows us the correct answer is none of the above. Any of these plans are a waste of time and money. Much like the term vibrancy, they are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
“ Any of these plans are a waste of time and money. Much like the term vibrancy, they are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Yep. I agree. The landscape designers ultimately want the contract, and convince everyone else to believe that they know best. Heaven forbid they hire someone who is more objective.
The DSA wants to shrink the number of vehicle lanes on third, and widen the sidewalks. Fair enough.
The problem is, most of the ideas either shrink overall transit throughput, or force riders to make a transfer when they are very close to their destination (or both). The only proposal that keeps the same level of throughput is the couplet. This is the only proposal that wouldn’t result in a significant degradation of transit.
I would take it a step further, and have the buses run in “contraflow mode” as part of the couplet. This means buses go one direction, and the cars go the other. Cars are allowed to access the street all the time because they never share a lane with buses. This means the buses would run in 24-hour bus-lanes, not BAT-lanes. This avoids the issue we have now on Third. The city can’t completely close the street to cars. The goal is to only allow them a limited time, and only for short distance (https://goo.gl/maps/tHQyekGvp3T2RmNa8). What if you want to make a U-Turn (east on University, south on 3rd, west on Seneca in this case) at noon? You definitely aren’t “Thru Traffic”, since you are only going one block. Thus you figure it is OK (even though it isn’t). In contrast, a simple “No Right Turn Except Transit” fixes the problem. The easiest way to provide that is with contraflow bus lanes.
Either way, the couplet is the only proposal that doesn’t significantly degrade transit in Seattle. We should be trying to make transit better (e. g. by extending the bus lanes farther north) not worse, as many of these proposals do.
As I’ve explained before, the problem with contraflow is the signal sequencing. It sounds good — but it creates terrible travel times for buses or for overall traffic. It’s a recipe for gridlock.
As I’ve explained before, the problem with contraflow is the signal sequencing.
How is it any worse than what exists now? Third Avenue is currently bidirectional. So whatever outstanding and essential signal sequencing can simply continue. The same goes for the adjacent street (2nd or 4th). So either the signals can be sequenced both directions, or it really doesn’t matter (since the buses make stops every couple blocks). If anything, the change gives us a possibility of improvement. If it is difficult to prioritize the lights both directions, you can simply prioritize for the buses, because unlike today, each street will only have buses going one direction.
As for gridlock, people have made that argument for years. There was a time, not that long ago, when there were no bus lanes. The city was smaller then. We’ve seen the bus lanes grow along with the population (and the number of cars in the city). Yet somehow people muddle along. That’s because people adjust. A lot of people simply don’t drive downtown anymore. They take the bus or the train. At night they call a cab. Prior to the pandemic, there were way more people downtown, and way fewer cars than ever. The more you prioritize transit, the fewer people drive downtown, which decreases the chances of a major traffic problem.
For over 50 years the city has been trying to make 3rd Ave “a better place”. It’s great that the newbies in town are trying yet again. The DSA’s laundry list of problems misses the mark entirely — poor people (of color) have historically come to 3rd Ave to receive supportive services, and Metro moved many bus routes to 3rd to make commuting to downtown easier for everyone. The avenue was intended to be a melting pot of the poor and professional.
As the city continued to grow through the 1980s, a small number of incidents grew into serious problems like armed robbery, gun violence, “the hustle” for drugs, and constant harassment. When the city hit the grow spurt of the 2010s, the problem went exponential. Years of underfunding public amenities and public safety have taken its toll. Everything seems to be happening on 3rd on both sides of the law.
So what to do now? After watching decades of some success but mostly failures, to me the solution is obvious: Do Nothing.
Do Nothing is probably the best thing for public transit on 3rd. Sure, we can fiddle in the margins and optimize some routes, maybe finally kick all cars off 3rd. But, no matter what is done with transit, the original civic assumption that everyone is welcome on 3rd is fundamentally flawed.
Do Nothing embraces the reality that 3rd is chaos and nothing significant can be done to address it. Do Nothing might encourage members of the DSA to spend some money upgrading their properties to attract tenants, or converting empty floors to supportive housing, or even deciding to sell their property. Do Nothing removes transit from the arguments over 3rd Ave.
I do believe the city need to actively participate to create safe, walkable streets in every neighborhood. I also believe social services need to be positioned where the need is greatest. And Metro needs to run an utilitarian system that allows all riders to reach their destinations without harassment or intimidation. To believe all of these needs can coexist on 3rd Ave is what created this situation in the first place.
Can you elaborate on why you think safety, walkability, social services, and transit are fundamentally incompatible on 3rd Avenue? Which combination of these do you think is feasible?
Jack proposes the city does nothing on 3rd Ave. I agree.
The market created 3rd Ave. and we should let the market determine 3rd Ave. in the future. There are better avenues to visit in Seattle than 3rd. Let 3rd Ave. be.
Most transit riders are just passing through. It will be impossible to ever address the issues on 3rd without being called a racist, sexist, ageist, classist, druggist, stormtrooper, suburbanite, Trump, SOV driver, equitist in Seattle. The mealy mouthed list of factors for 3rd by the DSA proves this.
This DSA and city are wasting their time and only opening themselves up to accusations and self virtue. Do nothing on 3rd. Only a fool thinks anything can be done on 3rd after 50 years, especially post-pandemic. and all anyone who tries will get is heartache and scorn. In Seattle politics you can’t do anything wrong if you don’t do anything.
Better to just visit another Avenue or city and save your money. Nothing can be done that will change 3rd. The city let 3rd deteriorate and fester for the 32 years I worked on 3rd and Yesler, even when the courthouse and park had to be closed. Leave 3rd be for another 32 years is my advice to the DSA. Like someone else posted spend the money on your own business, or move to someplace else.
I agree with you on this opinion, Daniel. If retail vibrancy is the goal, choose other street blocks in Downtown.
The “dangerous” Third Avenue blocks are only about two blocks and are driven by the types of storefront uses that exist. The whole street doesn’t need a rethink.
Of course, urban designers push for signature projects to employ staff (“when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail”) and DSA has major office building owners that want money spent on their street front rather than a few blocks away.
Personally, I’d be happier with funding and building stairs and maybe escalators and elevators to get up and down the steep streets. That would make things better to get to Link stations. With no more viaduct ramps, there isn’t the cross street traffic anyway. That’s where lane takes make more sense. Cafe seating could even be terraced with views of the waterfront. Sitting on Third will not be scenic but sitting on Spring would be.
As for Third, just switch out the building uses.
The DSA should do much more for downtown residents.
Public transit has been a deteriorating experience for downtown residents for many years now, like the loss of the Benson Streetcar, the loss of local all day buses on streets other than 3rd.
We were happy to participate in the move to reside downtown, dating from the late 90’s, because at the time there were many advantages, restaurants, Big Picture theater, good transit to get around, interesting stores, but sadly it’s become more and more unattractive as a place to live, certainly exacerbated by Covid. So, a few weeks ago we moved to Winslow.
I agree completely. There was a time when the 33 was split between 3rd and 4th, and I had a terrible time with it.
TriMet has maps all over the Transit Mall to help people find the stops they need. This seems much less needed in the current Seattle situation, but would sure be helpful when it comes to finding Link station entrances, etc.
In the end, however, none of the above changes to 3rd are going to do what the DSA wants. People come to the Portland Transit Mall because there is stuff there to go to. Events in Pioneer Courthouse Square, restaurants, shopping, etc.
If the DSA is upset about “ and underused lobbies in office towers” then maybe its members should invite a few food trucks to drive through the entrance doors and start serving food in them? If it doesn’t like the blank walls, then hire a concrete cutter in, cut a few display windows, and put something there.
Ballard doesn’t have huge amounts of activity due to the bell tower in Marvin’s Garden or the goofy sculptures in Bergen Place. It has lots of pedestrian activity because those pedestrians have places to go, and because there are a large number of residents nearby.
A rebuilt 3rd with wider sidewalks would just be the same 3rd as exists now, but less convenient for everyone. If the private sector is upset about the environment it created by what it put on its own land, then it should be the organism that decides what it puts there instead?
In the meantime, if the DSA wants to kill two birds with one stone, it should decide how it wants to convert some of its own vacant office space onto housing. Every single genuinely vibrant place has nearby residents that give it that life. Ballard? Capitol Hill? U District? Fremont? They all have nearby residents. A solid slab of office towers just doesn’t have that, by its very nature.
I was downtown yesterday, so got a chance to the latest state of 3rd Ave. firsthand. 3rd and Pike seemed fine, around Pine there were a few homeless people hanging out, but it wasn’t too bad. Some of the prior homeless hotspot areas underneath buildings have been blocked off by barbed-wire fencing.
Also, for some reason, the southbound #33 apparently has no stops between Virginia and the south side of Pike, making the connection to Link more cumbersome than it needed to be. Is there any reason the bus can’t just stop at Pine? Has the southbound Pine St. stop been closed for safety reasons?
The homeless/druggies/salesmen are on different blocks on different days. The past few days they’ve been concentrated on the east side of 3rd between Pike and Union. Other days they’re on the west side, or on Pike between 3rd and 4th, or on adjacent blocks.
All the southbound blocks have bus stops. Pine is the 7/14/36, 2/3/4, and 27 among others. Pike is the C/D/E. Union is the 120, 124, 131/132.
Northbound Union (post office) has a lot of routes: C/D/E, 2/3/4, 28, etc. Pike (McDonald’s) doesn’t have any because the C/D/E were moved to Union for “safety”. Pine (Macy’s) has the 62 and I think 5, 24, 33, 40, and others.
The southbound 33 probably skips Pine to avoid too close stop spacing. Metro has been standardizing on 1/4 mile spacing and gradually adjusting the stops.
Waterfront report, Sunday 5pm. I went to see the new waterfront elevator mentioned in the newspaper. I went to 1st & Union but couldn’t find it. I asked at two businesses and was directed to University Street, where the Harbor Steps has two elevators. The southwest one goes from 1st to Western, which is a flat walk to Alaskan Way. The bottom entrance has a sign “Public Elevator” but it’s not visible from the waterfront or even from the nearest intersection. The northwest elevator goes down to the middle of the parking garage a level above.
Once I got to the waterfront, I found an elevator at Union Street next to the new stairway, so that must be the new elevator. But it only goes up to Western Avenue (which is an incline there). I asked somebody how to go the rest of the way to 1st Avenue and they said I’d have to walk two blocks to another elevator. So it’s not a downtown-to-waterfront solution.
The waterfront had a crowd of people walking around. Afterward I went up to 1st Avenue and tried four restaurants to support a downtown business, but they all had a waitlist or long lines. So business is booming down there. Maybe they’re all going out for a special New Year’s Day dinner, but I’ve never heard of people doing that.
For a place that is sometimes described by some here as a dead windswept concrete wasteland, downtown Seattle sure seems to have a lot of activity whenever I have visited there.
Agreed. I don’t often eat downtown because I don’t plan far enough in advance and therefore can’t get a reservation. People who think downtown is dead clearly haven’t been recently.
The DSA Third Avenue Vision is from 2019. The issues of 2019 should not be conflated with the issues of 2023. In 2019, there was a transit capacity crisis; several agencies had taken action to kick buses out of the DSTT prematurely, take down the AWV, build the deep bore, slow I-90 bus service, and dedicate 1st Avenue for a fantasy streetcar. The issue of 2023 are societal in nature and scope: the sidewalks are crowded with tents, drug markets, and open sale of stolen goods; office work is down; transit ridership is down.
The DSA suggestions to correct the 2019 issues would have no impact on the issues of 2023 except to waste scarce funds and right of way. The transit network could adjust to the new market and have fewer one-way peak-only routes, feed Link and Sounder more, kill the CCC Streetcar, shift some routes to 1st Avenue from 3rd Avenue. Instead of spending scarce funds on monuments, spend them on housing and social services. It is not clear any of the DSA transit concept would work or are necessary. Before March 2019, when buses were kicked out the the DSTT, 3rd Avenue was working well; it was a great transit spine. Seattle is short of transportation capital funds and needs pavement management, sidewalks, bridge maintenance (if not new bridges), vision zero capital.
Transit riders are better off with frequent service on two-way streets. see 3rd and 1st avenues. the waits should be short. See NACTO: https://nacto.org/publication/transit-street-design-guide/transit-streets/one-way-streets/
“the sidewalks are crowded with tents, drug markets, and open sale of stolen goods”
No they aren’t. One block in Midtown has a crowd of people doing those things, and one or two neighboring blocks may have ten. But 21 other blocks on Third don’t. 350 other blocks downtown don’t. Most streets at any one time are either empty or have varying numbers of pedestrians. No miscreants and no tents.
The tents peaked several months ago. Aside from one tent alone here or there, the last cluster of tents I’ve seen was in the freeway no-man’s-land in The Jungle. There may be some in Pioneer Square; as I said I don’t go there often.
During my waterfront excursion I saw only ordinary pedestrians on Alaskan Way and 1st Avenue.
“It is not clear any of the DSA transit concept would work or are necessary.”
The number of buses will inevitably go down as ST2 Link opens and the RapidRide restructures go into effect. That raises a live question of whether to downsize the lanes on 3rd Avenue. I’m not sure myself. It’s still only an unofficial proposal: the city hasn’t made any move to adopt it. The city will doubtless finish its Comprehensive Plan first and wait five years for the dust to settle on ST2 Link and RapidRide G, H, and I, before approving any reconfiguration. By that time travel and ridership patterns may change again. Hopefully the miscreants will be gone. The waterfront renovation will be finished, and people may or may not flock to the waterfront for recreation. Different politicians will be in office. It will be clearer how many lanes we need for north-south bus service as currently provided by the Third Avenue routes.
> Second and Fourth Avenues are car sewers with mainly office buildings
This is a confusing sentence. Many of the main reasons I go downtown are on Second (SAM, Benaroya, Target), and it’s also closer than Third to all the rest of the downtown things (1st Ave, Belltown, Pike Place, Waterfront)
The DSA has a vested interest in providing a benefit to the building owners who pay for their services. I like the fact ideas are out there floating around to make Third Avenue a more attractive transit destination because it is absolutely not one. It is convenient out of necessity but there are multiple blocks where retail businesses have left all together. In these vacant storefront people linger and no business will want to come back to the block if the have to pay for security to make sure people feel safe. Thus DSA is taking a holistic approach to revitalize the space because if the improvements are successful, it will attract retail businesses to return to the currently unoccupied spaces.
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