WSB Q/A with Mayor Murray: #1 – What about the bridge?

March 24, 2014 at 10:07 am | In Transportation, West Seattle news | 37 Comments

“West Seattle has my attention.”

That’s what Mayor Ed Murray told us on Friday, when we had an opportunity to talk with him one-on-one for the first time since he took office two and a half months ago. In about 20 minutes, we touched on about half a dozen hot topics, and we’re breaking them up into separate stories, starting with this. First: His answer to our question about whether anything can be done to improve the traffic situation on the West Seattle Bridge.

In brief: The mayor says he recognizes that West Seattle, with the bridge as a chokepoint, does have a unique challenge, and, he says, “We can’t wait to find a West Seattle solution” long before any possible “mass-transit solution.”

What might that “West Seattle solution” be? Maybe reversible lanes? we suggested. Perhaps, the mayor said, or other “different ways we can control traffic.”

Next (later today, barring breaking news): Hear what the mayor has to say about the yet-to-be-activated – 14 months after our first report about themSeattle Police surveillance cameras dotting West Seattle’s shoreline (and elsewhere in the city).

37 Comments

  1. Our situation is becoming more critical by the day because we have a building frenzy that has landed in our laps. You can only build [that adds traffic] so much when your surrounded on 3 sides by water and the southern end is not annexed. Ether we need to become a mass transit model for the future or we need to reign in the influx of cars via new residents and parking. Its not enough to create the parking because we need to consider how those cars are going to get to and from them.

    Comment by cj — 10:53 am March 24, 2014 #

  2. The #1 thing we can do to improve commuting is to create more jobs here in West Seattle.

    Comment by Yardvark — 11:00 am March 24, 2014 #

  3. Reversible lanes, more buses, better bike lanes. None of that fixes the larger problem with the bridge, which is thay the bridge really isnt the issue. It is that i5 north and 99 north are often gridlocked.

    You can improve the situation for west Seattle by working to fix the i5 north bottleneck. How about the state-proposed solution that would move i5 from 2 lanes to 3 at seneca? For only $23 million.

    Or, if the mayor really cares about west seattle and our southern counterparts, maybe he should seek to have the i5 express lanes open northbound during commuting hours, since we are constantly subsidizing southbound commuters with extra lanes that we don’t get to use.

    Comment by specifics — 11:15 am March 24, 2014 #

  4. Too bad we do not have a monorail! Oh wait, sound transit and city/state/special interests killed it.

    Comment by scout 15 — 11:19 am March 24, 2014 #

  5. We will see tolls on the WS bridge – this is the way the city is planning to deal with all area traffic.

    The “thinking” behind this is that tolls push more people to use mass transit. When more people use mass transit, there is more money to invest in additional forms of mass transit (i.e. light-rail).

    It also allows developers to get away with building massive complexes with next to no parking.

    Comment by Jim — 11:26 am March 24, 2014 #

  6. I second Yardvark’s point. Fremont carved out some space in their neighborhood for an office corridor and Google, Adobe, Brooks, Getty Images, and many others have moved in. West Seattle needs to find a big area to designate for Class A office space so that the employers will come to us versus the other way around.

    Two more suggestions:

    1. Get rid of the existing jug handle connector from the bridge to 99 Northbound. This needs to be rebuilt as an elevated connector than crosses over the bridge in a soft arc so that traffic can maintain at least 35-40 mph to prevent backups on the bridge and also to make merging into N-99 traffic easier

    2. Build an off-ramp to 99 Southbound from the bridge. I never understood why there is no way to get on 99 South from the bridge. A lot of people would use it to get to 599 (great way to bypass I-5) and to get to the airport via 509. This would take more traffic off the bridge before the termination at I-5 which is a bottleneck that can never be fixed.

    Comment by Mr. CW — 11:35 am March 24, 2014 #

  7. It’s too late. Kind of like performing CPR on a corpse.

    Comment by DTK — 11:38 am March 24, 2014 #

  8. I think there should be incentives for companies who offer tele-commuting and/or alternate work schedules. There are many workers who can work from home at least one day a week.

    Comment by Trafficky — 11:49 am March 24, 2014 #

  9. Trafficky– there’s been a push recently to bring virtual workers back into the office, I think companies are realizing they’re not getting the right kind of productivity when their virtual employees aren’t co-located with one another and have the additional distractions of the home. It’s hard not to want to run a load of laundry and the dishwasher while working from home but that takes the eyes away from the computer. I think we’ll start to see less and less jobs where virtual office is an option.

    I would love to see infrastructure improvements to provide access to alternate routes. I commute on the 1st ave bridge (soon to be the South Park Bridge if they’d hurry up and get it finished) and it’s very difficult to wind down the hill on roads that aren’t meant for heavy commute traffic, the mess around Holden/16th/and whatever Orchard turns into is atrocious if you hit it at the wrong time between 7:30-8:30am and 4:30-6pm. If there’s an accident on the big bridge, good luck getting down the hill and you’ll need even more luck to get on the 1st ave bridge since that entrance is so poorly engineered with the end of 599 turning onto the bridge. I find myself re-routing to East Marginal via Tukwila more days than I’d like. At least that route has a Starbucks now to ease the pain a little bit before I get to the office.

    Comment by trickycoolj — 12:19 pm March 24, 2014 #

  10. Mr. CW: We need to move away from the notion of sequestering a “big area” for commercial space and instead integrate commercial and residential spaces together so that people can live and work in proximities close enough to walk between the two. The post-War model of building residential space (eg. large suburbs) away from commercial enterprises such that the only way you could get back and forth between them with a car is what has ruined much of the built environment in the USA, has contributed to sprawl and has created a dependence on private cars. New Urbanism is already working well in the areas of Seattle where it is being practiced. We just need to do it more.

    Comment by cjboffoli — 12:25 pm March 24, 2014 #

  11. Idea for contemplation:
    Idea – Low bridge converted from auto transit to Light Rail, Transit and Bike traffic.
    – This would solve the car and bus volume issues on the high bridge, convert valuable highway space from underutilized bus lanes to traffic-alleviating HOV or basic road.
    – It would likely “force” some collaboration with the port on opening the bridge + truck traffic
    – space cleared by bus lanes would provide necessary space for offramp to 99 South.

    Comment by West Seattle Taxpayer — 12:41 pm March 24, 2014 #

  12. Cruising around West Seattle yesterday I was surprised when I started to quantify the new construction. There must be 5 or 6 large condo/apt projects in some form of construction. That’s gotta be at least a couple thousand more people on the rock in the next 3 years. Wow.

    Comment by skeeter — 12:43 pm March 24, 2014 #

  13. What DTK said. Maybe this city of such brilliantly educated people should have thought about creating more routes out of West Seattle a long time ago.

    Comment by Joe Mammo — 12:56 pm March 24, 2014 #

  14. I second the opinion that it is the gridlock on I-5 north and 99 North that causes much of the backup. Adding more lanes or reversing lanes on the West Seattle Bridge will not help if the entrances onto the main routes into downtown Seattle are gridlocked. Once the tunnel opens, it will get worse as more people divert to I-5 or 4th ave S to get to downtown.

    It would help if we kept the low bridge open during the morning rush hour, which is way worse than the evening rush hour, at least on the West Seattle Bridge. If the low bridge was required to stay open from 7-9 am, then when there are issues with the high bridge (accidents, etc.) at least there would be a guaranteed alternative. I know the Port of Seattle has right-of-way with the low bridge, but rules can be changed.

    Finally, it seems to me that the lights on southbound 1st Ave S could be timed better, if they are timed at all. When I take that route home, I usually have to stop at nearly all the lights. If this route out of downtown to the West Seattle Bridge was streamlined with regard to the lights, traffic on that street would move much better.

    These are things that could be done in the short-term, since we are at least 20 years away from seeing a real mass transit solution such as light rail, monorail, jetpacks, or cable cars/ziplines across Elliot Bay.

    Comment by dcn — 12:56 pm March 24, 2014 #

  15. Eventually we will have mass transit off grade (rail) into West Seattle, just sucks to be in that “in between” time, when folks don’t see the need or have the desire to spend the $ to pay for it, but complain about the traffic. West Seattle will get taller and denser, just like Seattle in general, unless we put a “population” cap on Seattle (which isn’t going to happen, no city has ever done such a thing). Between now and a decent rail system, we have to make Rapid Ride, buses, water taxi, bikes and telecommuting (what I do) more of a norm.

    Comment by David — 1:02 pm March 24, 2014 #

  16. While I do believe reversible lanes can be a smart solution in many applications, West Seattle may not be one of them. No matter how many lanes are going in one direction there are still going to be on/off ramp choke points that narrow down to 1 or 2 lanes.

    Comment by quiz — 1:04 pm March 24, 2014 #

  17. Wow, the new mayor has just now really impressed me with his command of non-committal politikspeak.

    Question: Why every month (sometimes more often) do we have the air hose counter stretched across the eastbound entrance to the West Seattle Bridge? Can’t they figure out how to use it? Maybe it’s for the SDOT travel times web page?

    Comment by bolo — 1:05 pm March 24, 2014 #

  18. So, new urbanism is the method by which we remove freedom? You must patron those places nearby or deal with hours of metro transfers?

    CW, the slowdown occurs because the lane becomes bus-only forcing drivers to merge in a limited space(and competition with more agressive drivers). Assuming the tunnel is ever finished, you’ll see a big reduction in traffic from WS to Downtown using 99 so it’ll probably be less of an issue. 4th isn’t so bad until you reach the stadiums, probably because airport feeds into it there and people jockeying to get to 2nd or merge over to stay on 4th. It really is a cluster right there.

    4th is also a better alternative to get to 90 if the line for I5 north is backed up.

    Comment by Civik — 1:37 pm March 24, 2014 #

  19. I go south. The Bridge is rarely if ever a problem for me and if it is, I just head down via West Marginal. The new Spokane Street is fabulous for this commute.

    I USED to go north.

    I can tell you that I can reliably be in Auburn or Federal Way in the AM in about the same time I could be on Capital Hill. Any FIX needs to be aimed squarely at the West Seattle to Downtown Traffic.

    Comment by Curtis — 2:19 pm March 24, 2014 #

  20. Civik: Integrating commercial and residential means having the freedom to choose to walk or bike to and from work, not being forced to have a car in sit in traffic because you work far from where you live. It also means you can access a full complement of services close to home. No one is saying that all cars must go away or that you can never leave your neighborhood. It means constructing the built environment in a smarter way so that we can remove the near 100% dependence on cars (which is anything BUT freedom).

    Comment by cjboffoli — 3:28 pm March 24, 2014 #

  21. Adding lanes, reversible or not, is never the right long term answer. Induced demand will suck up the new free space and we’ll simply delay the inevitable transition away from single occupancy vehicular traffic.

    Comment by Chris — 3:42 pm March 24, 2014 #

  22. Not a traffic expert by a long shot, but it appears to me that the section of the SSV heading east after 99 but before 1st ave south is a major choke point that could benefit from a simple re-channeling.

    If cars could move over to the right hand lane immediately after the 99 exit (right where officer cool shades usually parks) it would help tremendously.

    As it stands now, the bus only lane extends just far enough to create congesting and only benefitting (by my estimate only) very few busses (as most take 99).

    Comment by Smitty — 5:06 pm March 24, 2014 #

  23. Stop texting, that would improve traffic. Fact.
    Stop looking at your phone, talking on it, and fiddling with it.

    “Distraction (in most cases, text messaging) had a significantly negative impact on traffic flow, such that participants exhibited greater fluctuation in speed, changed lanes significantly fewer times, and took longer to complete the scenario.”
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23465745

    Comment by zark — 5:30 pm March 24, 2014 #

  24. pulling the phone from one of these rolling phonebooths would be the finest thing anybody could do to improve traffic flow . unfortunately common sense never enters the picture. until the police start enforcing the telephone law ,with vigor,these yapping and texting idiots will continue to screwup traffic wholesale.

    Comment by Robert — 6:30 pm March 24, 2014 #

  25. Dcn: the low bridge opening times are regulated by federal law and the Coast Guard, not the Port of Seattle, and they’ve not been very integrated in making any changes.

    Comment by Chris J — 6:31 pm March 24, 2014 #

  26. Robert, Tonight I saw one of Seattle’s finest talking on a cell phone while driving a patrol car thru the intersection of California and Admiral. “Vigor” not likely to happen anytime soon, but I totally agree with you.

    Comment by Born on Alki — 7:22 pm March 24, 2014 #

  27. His lips were moving but nothing really coming out. Because he knows there is very little that can be done to help out the with the traffic problems they have created. The slower I-5 goes the slower we go. Tunnel won’t help anything as that handles less traffic than what we have now plus it will have tolls. To put a rail system in would require a new bridge to be built, high one can’t handle added stress unless you take away lane of traffic, low bridge opens and closes to much for a reliable schedule. Until they tear down the convention center and double stack I-5 lanes traffic here will never improve. The more they build here with our limited infrastructure the more traffic problems we are going to have along with tolls. Reality folks…

    Comment by wetone — 7:28 pm March 24, 2014 #

  28. BOA, they are allowed to and some might say expected to. From the great Casey McNerthney (who has long since left what remains of seattlepi.com)’s series answering questions like that:
    .
    http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattle911/2008/08/22/why-are-cops-exempt-from-hands-free-cell-phone-law/

    Comment by WSB — 7:30 pm March 24, 2014 #

  29. ed murray: “blah blah blah.”
    .
    FAIL.
    .
    commit to a rail solution already. yeah, it’s going to be expensive. yeah, it’s going to be painful. but it will also be popular. (except for the luddites among us, that is.)
    .
    and even if it isn’t popular, grade-separated rail is more effective than politically expedient, penny-pinching, do-nothing, status quo road work.
    .
    the deep bore tunnel – for which this mayor was a champion – was also expensive, and it’s proving to be painful. and it garners west seattle nada but more cars getting to fewer lanes.
    .
    getting effective mass transit grade-separated from the street grid is the only real solution for west seattle’s impending population explosion.
    .
    build it. we will come.

    Comment by redblack — 8:11 pm March 24, 2014 #

  30. Adding on to what was mentioned above, more jobs, real, career type office jobs mixed with condos, apartments,etc. Ala downtown Bellevue. Where you can walk to the job that pays you enough to live here ($15/hour? That’s cute… So now more people will be driving in or bussing (oh wait, transits been cut) from the outlying areas for our big city wages). The condos and apartments are already coming, so, we need A PLAN! The “urban village” was forced on us, so, a good integrated and supported plan is needed, though probably to late.

    I’d like to see what the Fauntleroy ferry traffic adds to the overall equation. Does the ferry benefit WS that much, or are just stuck in the middle? No ferry runs during peak commute time? Walk on and carpool only?

    Increasing I5 and 99 flow is critical also.

    Comment by Robin — 6:53 am March 25, 2014 #

  31. Exactly@redblack

    Or Murray should have the vision and backbone to commit to a near term study of Light Rail for West Seattle as is the case for Ballard. So far, Murray just puts out weasel words about improving linkages and understanding our challenges.

    @Wetone, if a new bridge has to be built for light rail or any other transit, so be it given our increasing population.

    Comment by East Coast Cynic — 7:30 am March 25, 2014 #

  32. if the state dot in all their wisdom , had done their job in maintaining the concrete on the viaduct, it would not be in the condition it is currently in .. with the cracks soaking up the salty sea air/water, the steel grows rust and cracks the concrete.. by forcing the taxpayers to funnel twice the traffic that the viaduct carries through a fifty foot hole in the ground is not going to work. basic mechanics..you can’t put a quarter in a penny slot. the only ones that are going to benefit are the greedy polliticans and their crooked contractor buddies. fill the hole with concrete and build a bigger viaduct..it will cost half what the tunnel will and be safer during a quake..it is time tested unlike the BERTHA PIG untested anywhere.

    Comment by Robert — 8:00 am March 25, 2014 #

  33. Maybe West Seattle should have supported the Mayoral candidate who opposed the tunnel (which will INCREASE our commute times when it opens) and had been pushing for light rasil to West Seattle. Oh well, as with the monorail, elections have consequences…

    Comment by Mickymse — 9:38 am March 25, 2014 #

  34. FYI to all — West Seattle to downtown is being studied by Sound Transit right now. You should have something to look at later this year regarding routes and analysis. The org Seattle Subway is pushing them to put full grade-separated rail to West Seattle on the Ballot in 2016.

    Comment by KyleK — 10:10 am March 25, 2014 #

  35. As was reported (the ST study) in our last interview with Mayor Murray’s predecessor, June 2013.
    .
    http://westseattleblog.com/2013/06/were-way-behind-on-transit-but-theres-still-hope-for-light-rail-mayor-talks-west-seattle-transportation/

    Comment by WSB — 10:14 am March 25, 2014 #

  36. KyleK curious to hear how they plan on paying for something like your talking about ? Tolls, property tax increases ? I think something like this is needed here, but I wish this city would start charging bigger fee’s to investors building here to help cover impacts their causing by increased traffic and damage caused by heavy trucks on roads leaving us to pay in more ways than one.

    Comment by wetone — 1:20 pm March 25, 2014 #

  37. The state needs to pass a new funding source, it would most likely be sales tax (which is the primary funding source of the last two ST measures.)

    Taxes on developers are a double edged sword — they end up being a tax on tenants… and generally, we want to keep rents down if we can.

    I would love to see our tax system move to an income based from a sales tax based system — but there doesn’t appear to be any political will to do that (and it has to happen at the state level.)

    All of that said — rail is an investment, not an expense. The cost per rider on a fully implemented system is really low (lower than any other form of transportation.) The collective savings in time/environment/money for Seattle is colossal.

    Comment by KyleK — 4:52 pm March 25, 2014 #

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