(Click to view fullsize PDF of West Seattle RapidRide route map)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Few would dispute the observation that we are in a time of transportation transition – eventually toward more transit, fewer one-occupant cars.
The question of how to keep that transition balanced – without abruptly reducing the parking supply or constricting the traffic flow before transit services reach a true “we can get you there from here” status – is at the crux of a tug-of-war over how things will change along the route of the Metro RapidRide “C” Line in West Seattle. It’s not due to start rolling till fall 2012, but many details that must be finalized now, before stops, stations and other facilities are built – some as soon as this fall.
What does that mean to you, whether you’re a bus rider or not? We have a somewhat-clearer picture, after recent meetings in The Triangle and Luna Park, of how RapidRide will affect area business parking and overall traffic flow, particularly along a major east-west route to and through The Junction. The recent local discussion about RapidRide has concentrated on those elements, rather than on the service itself (which, according to a new study released last week by Metro, is earning high marks on its debut south-end route).
But at least two business owners aren’t happy with the results, and are vowing to keep fighting.
First: This past week, the Luna Park Merchants’ Association heard what the county and city said would be the final word on how much street parking will be removed for a bus-access lane on the east (bridge-bound) side of Avalon Way, enabling buses to “queue-jump” to get to the bridge.
In a corner of Luna Park Café, Metro’s Rapid Ride C Line (West Seattle) overseer Paul Roybal and SDOT’s Christine Alar (photo above) told the merchants were told that parking directly across from Luna Park Café, Avalon GlassWorks and Java Bean Coffee will be off-limits between 6-10 am weekdays, between SW Manning and SW Bradford – the government reps at the meeting said that’s about 15 spaces.
View Parking concern in Luna Park business district in a larger map
“That’ll kill my coffee shop,” said Java Bean proprietor Tony Hoyt, despite assurances that other steps would be taken to try to encourage people to visit the Luna Park businesses from the northbound travel lane, such as a marked center turn lane with arrows. (He has written an open letter that we will publish separately, shortly after this story. We detailed the Luna Park merchants concerns previously, in this report two months ago.)
SDOT’s Bill Bryant told merchants that they would continue working to see if there is anything more that can be done to free up other parking. Staci Gravely, representing ailing Luna Park Café owner John Bennett, said they’ve been looking at additional employee/guest parking uphill and behind the Luna Park building.
However, in a phone conversation Friday, Bennett told WSB that the parking loss could mean more than 30 spaces. He says the total space that will be lost to parking is more than 500 feet. (The city’s definition of parking-space length ranges from 15 to 19 feet.) He says he will keep fighting to get the city and county to reconsider the bus-access lane, which he contends would just “dump” the buses into a bridge-bound backup at the Spokane St. turn anyway. He and others also remain upset that RapidRide won’t be stopping in the Luna Park business district (Metro says their studies show there are more potential riders feeding into the planned stop uphill).
Whatever changes are finally made, they are coming sooner than the bus service, as much as a year earlier than RapidRide itself starts to roll; Roybal and Alar say that while RapidRide is not due to begin until September of next year, striping and traffic-flow changes, such as the morning bus-only lane between Bradford and Manning on northbound Avalon Way, may be in place as soon as this summer.
Aside from a few possible tweaks, the parking situation also is settled along SW Alaska through The Triangle and The Junction – but so far, businesses and residents in that area believe it was settled satisfactorily.
The latest news came during one pivotal week in The Triangle recently. It included County Councilmember Joe McDermott joining Fairmount residents and Triangle businesspeople for a walking tour of SW Alaska, east of Fauntleroy Way. (Fairmount Community Association’s Sharonn Meeks is at left in the photo with McDermott; at right, Chris Porter and Dr. Terrill Harrington, from the growing health clinic you see in the background.)
Business owners had been alarmed by previous discussion of transit lanes potentially removing most SW Alaska parking along that stretch. The clinic for example, needs street parking so that patients with disabilities or health problems can get in without crossing SW Alaska or walking several blocks.
But three nights before the walking tour, at another meeting in The Junction, the county had revealed a new RapidRide plan for balancing transit lanes with business parking. The prevailing sentiment was that some potential problems still have to be resolved, but the plan generated more optimism than earlier versions.
That earlier, more formal meeting had primarily consisted of a briefing/Q-A session for three West Seattle Junction-area groups; it was headlined, like other meetings, by the Metro and SDOT managers working on RapidRide, who presented sketches of what they’re currently thinking for the Junction-to-Triangle section.
The route itself is not up for discussion, they reiterated – as did McDermott three days later – since it was approved by the County Council two years ago and would require a vote by most of them to overturn it; almost every meeting, though, includes at least one person contending that it would make more sense for RapidRide to take Fauntleroy Way all the way from The Junction to The Bridge instead of Alaska to Avalon to Spokane – but, “That alignment is pretty much set at this point,” said Metro’s Roybal.
According to Metro, the only part of the route that remains “fairly flexible” is the final stretch to downtown; Roybal told the Junction meeting that “depend(s) on phasing of (Highway 99) construction, but it looks like (RapidRide) will operate on The Viaduct through the immediate future, possibly up till 2016.”
Among the non-station stops, Roybal says the ones at Fauntleroy/Alaska will be built with foundations and electrical connections that could facilitate future conversion into full-fledged stations if ridership rises. All stops along the RapidRide run, which is replacing the current 54, will have RR signage.
Most of this will involve newly built facilities, though three of four Junction stops will keep the existing shelters, with some “refurbishing”; one will get an additional awning, and all will get the RapidRide signage, though Metro stresses that the existing artwork will remain too. At the Junction meeting, Susan Melrose of the West Seattle Junction Association reminded Metro and SDOT of the new decorative lampposts in the bus-stop stretch of westbound SW Alaska west of California.
Traffic changes in that area drew the most discussion and concern. As SW Alaska continues into The Triangle, that’s where the most revisions have been made. They were explained block by block, west to east, with this drawing shown – click for the full-size version:
BETWEEN 35TH AND 36TH: On the westbound side, there will be no transit lane between 35th and 36th. On the eastbound side, the existing bus stop will remain, and two parking spaces will be removed just west of 35th, since buses will be turning onto 35th from the outside westbound lane.
BETWEEN 36TH AND 37TH: No parking changes along this block, a big relief for businesses on both sides, particularly the growing medical clinic on the south side, whose operators had been worried about access for patients who couldn’t walk far.
BETWEEN 37TH AND 38TH: The transit lane resumes here, and some parking spaces will be lost on the north (westbound) side of Alaska here. The eastbound side (home to Mary North Travel) will keep its spaces. The changes from earlier versions were made possible, said SDOT’s Alar, by decisions including replacing some bike-lane stretches with sharrows.
BETWEEN 38TH AND FAUNTLEROY: The westbound RapidRide stop will be at 38th instead of the intersection, so it won’t conflict with the 76 station’s driveway.
FAUNTLEROY/ALASKA, INTO THE JUNCTION: Westbound, a bike lane is created here, all the way to Junction Plaza Park, since it’s uphill; there will be one westbound car lane, which means a traffic revision for people coming off Fauntleroy: Right now, if you are heading westbound from Fauntleroy at the “Y” intersection with Alaska, the center westbound lane allows either a left turn onto Fauntleroy or a slight right onto Alaska (depending on the light); under the RapidRide-related plan, only the far right lane will continue on to Alaska, which will have only one westbound non-transit vehicle lane between The Triangle and The Junction. There will be a vehicle lane, a transit lane and a bike lane between Fauntleroy and 41st, a vehicle lane and transit lane on the east side. Parking will be removed on both sides of Alaska between 40th and 41st. At 42nd, there will be “left-turn pockets” for cars; concerns were voiced at last week’s Junction meeting about turning options at 41st, as well as the truck traffic for the QFC store at 42nd/Alaska, so SDOT promised to investigate “options.” (During the discussion, there was a suggestion that the bicycle lane be scrapped to avoid a “bottleneck” here; Alar cited the city’s Bicycle Master Plan and noted, “I know our current mayor strongly supports bicycle lanes.”) Between 42nd and California, on the westbound side, parking will remain by Junction Plaza Park, but “approaching the intersection,” it’ll be removed. Between California and 44th, eastbound, there’ll be one through lane and one turn lane, which raises concerns of cars being stuck behind loading buses. SDOT’s Alar noted that the Walk-All-Ways California/Alaska intersection is being looked at for “alignment” so they can “shorten the light cycle.”
FAUNTLEROY/ALASKA, HEADING NORTH/EASTBOUND FROM FAUNTLEROY: A “bus bulb” will be built so buses will stop in-lane, which, Metro acknowledges, may back up some traffic turning from northbound Fauntleroy onto eastbound Alaska, but the county and city agencies believe volumes in that direction are low enough that it won’t be too problematic. One other benefit, they said, is that it will “slightly shorten” the pedestrian crossing there, which is expected to get busier over the years with more business and residential development in the area.
While Metro and SDOT say this is where they’re settling as station-building and road-striping time draws nearer, they agreed to look at several spots of concern – along the Triangle stretch of Alaska, that includes the area where buses “lay over” currently, along SW Alaska by 37th SW – Fairmount leaders pointed out it is a visibility problem. The 41st/Alaska and California/Alaska areas of concern are still being examined too, Alar confirmed when we checked in again this past week.
Beyond all this, other West Seattle bus routes will be examined when RapidRide launch time draws nearer; Metro promises more community meetings for that process. The community meetings mentioned above, however, were not part of the original RapidRide series of meetings – they were all the result of concerned neighborhood and business leaders working to get changes in original proposals they felt just wouldn’t work.