Last election cycle, virtually every city council candidate knew enough about Seattle transit to say they supported “better east-west connections.” You don’t have to ride the bus very much to know that getting across town can be a slog. Promising to fix it turns out to be a popular idea.
At a series of open houses last week, SDOT, in partnership with King County Metro, previewed Level 1 concepts for one of the most important of the east-west routes in the city: the 44. The route, which runs from Ballard to the University District, had been initially proposed as RapidRide but then de-scoped to “multimodal improvements” when the Move Seattle Levy was reset.
While the RapidRide amenities and branding are nice to have, the most important things are the speed and mobility improvements. With these initial concepts – which are drafts for discussion purposes – SDOT is trying to get creative in making east-west transit faster.
After a bumpy start, the Move Seattle levy is slowly starting to spend significant funds, SDOT staff told the Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
The meeting began with advocates from the MASS coalition giving testimony on the need for prioritizing buses in a time of climate crisis. Committee Chair Mike O’Brien agreed, noting that if the city is going to ask people to ride transit, it ought to be reliable and convenient.
SDOT staff presented the quarterly oversight report, which includes a status update on dozens of levy-funded projects. Spending has been lagging for several years now, due to a combination of factors, including an uncertain federal funding environment, difficulty hiring construction firms in this white-hot labor market, Mayor Durkan’s 2018 “reset,” and a surprisingly cold and snowy winter. Indeed, money is being shoveled out the door even slower than SDOT had forecasted just six months ago:
Still, despite the snow and the Seattle Squeeze, this was the busiest Q1 to date in terms of project spending:
Staff were generally optimistic, pointing out that the Lander St. Overpass project is now $20M under its $130M budget. On the other hand, contracting issues are causing challenges with the Northgate pedestrian bridge project (though the project as a whole hasn’t yet been delayed).
SDOT and Metro are still hoping for a 2021 opening date for RapidRide H in Delridge, but some potential utility work could delay things until 2022, according to a presentation (PDF, video) to the city’s Sustainability Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
Staff seemed hopeful, however, that an agreement with Seattle Public Utilities to move the stormwater facilities off of Delridge Way could let the project proceed as planned.
Otherwise, the 30% design is looking good for transit, though not much has changed from the 10% design in December. Proposed improvements include:
1.5 miles of 24/7 bus lanes
1.2 miles of peak-only bus lanes
13 station pairs being updated with RapidRide branding as well as bus bulbs
Signal priority and two queue jumps
(Since this was a City of Seattle presentation, it was focused on the city’s side of the route. Burien will be seeing improvements as well.)
As usual, the messy tradeoff between bikes, buses, and on-street parking leads to some compromises. Parking will be removed in some areas, especially where SDOT is adding both bus and bike lanes. There will be some protected bike lanes and some diversion to neighborhood greenways on either side of Delridge. The (generally high quality) greenways themselves will be improved.
SDOT is responding to the community’s desire to extend the northbound bus lane further south, to reduce delays in the AM peak. We’ll know more at 60% design (this would be a good thing to advocate for if you go to one of the spring design presentations).
Finally, SDOT is interested in working with Sound Transit to coordinate capital improvements with a future Delridge link station, though it’s still very early in the ST planning process.
The long, narrow nature of the corridor and lack of major cross-streets means that there’s real potential for speed and reliability improvements with dedicated lanes, in-lane stops, and queue jumps.
The next round of outreach will happen this spring, with a goal of construction in 2020 and opening in 2021. Route 120 is the 10th busiest in the system, with 9,000 daily riders. The $70M project budget includes paving and stormwater as well as the bus & bike infrastructure.
Several of Metro’s busiest routes are scheduled to be upgraded to RapidRide before 2024, while several others will get speed and reliability improvements but without the RapidRide branding, according to the agency’s latest Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
While RapidRide is a program of King County Metro, Seattle’s 2015 Move Seattle Levy promised “seven new RapidRide+ corridors” in the city, which were pitched as above and beyond current RapidRide in terms of dedicated right-of-way. In the face of budget pressures and an increasingly hostile federal funding environment, SDOT reassessed the levy earlier this year, SDOT saying that while it “can deliver investments on all seven RapidRide corridors…the cost to complete a level of investment that aligns with the higher mobility needs of our growing city and meets community expectations is greater than available funding.”
At an open house last night at the TOPS School in Eastlake, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) presented updated ‘concept designs’ for the Northgate-to-Downtown High Capacity Transit Project. Like Madison BRT before it, the concept design will be refined and completed over the summer, after the which the project will seek funding. As a RapidRide+ corridor under the Move Seattle levy, the public will surely have an expectation that they have already funded most of the work, though they are likely to be disappointed in that regard.
When we last left the project, SDOT was analyzing three levels of investment, RapidRide (basically nothing), Targeted Investments (“Rapid Ride+”), and full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Mobility outcomes between the three options varied widely. The “Targeted Investments” alternative – clearly being telegraphed as the most likely – would yield 28% faster travel times, improving from 6.5mph to 8.3mph. The Full BRT option would yield nearly nearly light rail speeds, improving to a 21.5 mph corridor average.
As expected, SDOT has chosen to advance the Targeted Investment option, largely foregoing dedicated bus lanes in favor of a patchwork of Business Access and Transit (BAT) lanes, queue jumps, and small intersection improvements. In short, though the investments in frequency and electrification are fantastic, there is very little in the plan that could plausibly be called High Capacity Transit or Bus Rapid Transit, and the project will have far less in terms of transit priority than Madison BRT.