Of bridges, buses, and boulevards: West Seattle Transportation Coalition’s November toplines

(Photo tweeted by @reeseryan at 7:39 am Wednesday)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Just hours before this morning’s “high bridge” mess – one immobile car blocking a lane for more than an hour and a half because a tow truck wasn’t quickly available – the West Seattle Transportation Coalition was talking about exactly that kind of scenario, and whether transportation authorities were ready for it.

WSTC is now pushing even harder for solutions, not just for that, but for the often-in-tandem situation of the “low bridge” shutting down to non-vessel traffic during commute hours – something Councilmember Tom Rasmussen confirms to WSB that he is now formally pursuing, for the third time.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves:

Early on the agenda of Tuesday night’s WSTC meeting at Neighborhood House’s High Point Center, chair Joe Szilagyi presented responses he’d received after asking local agencies what they’re doing to fix the seemingly broken incident-response policies that have figured into long, traffic-snarling closures. From those responses:

SDOT is currently working to update their incident response protocols in coordination with WSDOT, the Seattle Police Department, King County Metro, the Seattle Fire Department, Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light.

Those protocols already include some possible strategies:

Depending on the emergency, SDOT and WSDOT contact the United States Coast Guard and they may play a role within the emergency response protocol. For long-term planned closures or emergency situations that may require long-term closures of the Alaskan Way Viaduct or the West Seattle Bridge, SDOT and WSDOT request that the Coast Guard limit openings of the lower Spokane Street swing bridge.

But that’s for “long-term closures,” not “blocked lanes.” (More on the bridge situation, later in this report.) And while the low bridge did open for vessel traffic at one point during this morning’s bridge trouble, that wasn’t the big problem – the lack of tow-truck availability was. Asked last night (again, BEFORE this morning’s mess) whatever happened to former Mayor Greg Nickels‘ deployment of tow trucks near the West Seattle Bridge in case rapid response was needed, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen recapped that Nickels had determined the costs outweighed the benefits – but said it might be time to revisit whether that would still be the case. You can expect to hear more about this in the days/weeks ahead.

This next topic is the main reason Rasmussen was at last night’s WSTC meeting:

TRANSIT FUNDING PROP 1 – WHAT NOW? Councilmember Rasmussen and County Executive Dow Constantine‘s transportation adviser Chris Arkills were at the meeting to discuss the fee/tax measure passed by Seattle voters, originally intended to hold off Metro cuts, now framed as money to add (or restore) service.

Arkills called it “unfortunate” that Route 120 is not eligible because of the way the measure was written – more than 20 percent of its stops are outside the city, and that makes it ineligible (which co-chair Amanda Kay Helmick later called “obscene”).

Arkills recapped what was discussed at the post-Election Night briefing last week, including routes that ARE expected to get some of the money (WSB coverage here).

One question that came up: How is an “unreliable route” fixed? Generally, by adding buses, Arkills explained. He also brought up the RapidRide C Line Junction route-change that SDOT is proposing (most recently discussed, and more criticized than welcomed, at last week’s Southwest District Council meeting), saying that it’s not necessarily supported by Constantine.

Asked for a reminder of when Metro makes service changes, Arkills said that the annual February service change is being scrapped, leaving June and September (those are the periods when when the Prop 1-funded changes are to be phased in next year). He added, “The city probably won’t start getting money until late May and early June” from Prop 1. And he mentioned that the City and County Councils both have to pass the final plan (as noted here last weekend).

Rasmussen said neighborhood representation would be vital in the process of overseeing how this is implemented. Has Seattle yet reached out to Burien, for example, regarding regional cooperation (which could mean that routes like 120 could be included)? asked Helmick. Rasmussen said smaller communities’ tax bases would be an issue, but said there needs to be a way to work on this, because, for example, “West Seattleites’ lives don’t just end” at the city limits. What about the unincorporated area between here and Burien? asked Helmick. The county just doesn’t have money for that, Arkills said. But he said, for example, Seattle annexation could solve that problem. “This was not the ideal proposition,” Rasmussen said. “We wanted county participation .. but that didn’t pass.”

After both guests left, WSTC members launched into a spirited discussion of how best to advocate for the adjacent unincorporated area (White Center, etc.) so situations like the Route 120 omission could be addressed. Michael Taylor-Judd also suggested that West Seattle could use some more east-west bus service.

ABOUT THE ‘LOW BRIDGE’ AND RUSH-HOUR OPENINGS FOR TRAFFIC: Rasmussen also thinks it’s time to look at that again, he told WSB in an inquiry earlier this week. And when it came up at tonight’s meeting, he said it would be vital to get support from the port – the timing of equipment shipments. Marty Westerman pointed out that the bridge already had opened 180 times this year, with 4 major incidents on the high bridge. He said the Coast Guard had said the low bridge opened just a few times a week, while SDOT has much-higher numbers (Datapoint, just this past Tuesday, it opened 4 times during morning rush-hour, according to the @SDOTbridges Twitter account.) Maybe this can all work into the Freight Mobility Plan, it was suggested. And, Rasmussen noted, they would have to have “concurrence from the mayor’s office” as well.

FAUNTLEROY, DELRIDGE BOULEVARD PROJECTS: Asked by co-chair Amanda Kay Helmick for a recap, Rasmussen said a consultant and program manager are now in place for the Delridge Boulevard project, which will start before year’s end. The engagement will be “tied to DPD’s engagement efforts” (the North Delridge Action Plan), and a conceptual design is due by the third quarter next year, with the search for funding to follow.

As for the Fauntleroy project, he recapped obtaining design funding for it, but said construction money is still a question mark, and “will probably have to be in the next (ballot measure),” whatever is proposed similar to the past Bridging The Gap measure (though he also said that the mayor and council aren’t likely to craft that future measure to be too similar to BTG). Rasmussen observed that “we don’t do a good job of improving the infrastructure” as growth and redevelopment occurs, and this is an attempt to address that problem in “a holistic way.” He told WSTC that he’ll need their support – if the council doesn’t hear about support for projects like this, they won’t rise in priority.

NEW WSTC BOARD MEMBER: Tom Linde has joined the board. A few months back, he spoke at WSTC about an alternate idea for the port’s currently vacant Terminal 5. Why join? He said he’d long been interested, has more ideas, and is “here to get educated” about even more of what’s happening around the peninsula.

FAUNTLEROY TRAFFIC MEETING RECAP: We covered last Thursday’s meeting here; Deb Barker from Morgan Junction recapped it Tuesday night for WSTC attendees who weren’t there.

LOOKING AHEAD: WSTC meets the second Tuesday of the month for one more month, December; as of next January, it’s moving to fourth Thursdays, to avoid overlapping with the community groups that also meet on second Tuesdays. Track what’s up with WSTC at westseattletc.org – they started a conversation Tuesday night on where to go next and there’s still plenty of time for you to be part of it.

AND EVEN BEFORE THAT … spend an hour with WSTC at this Saturday’s Gathering of Neighbors. Details in this WSB story from earlier today.

25 Replies to "Of bridges, buses, and boulevards: West Seattle Transportation Coalition's November toplines"

  • West Seattle Transportation Coalition November 12, 2014 (10:41 pm)

    Are you tired of this and angry? Then get up and join us at our December 9 meeting.
    Here is the Facebook Event page for this meeting, if you wish to join or share it:
    The core topics for our December 9 meeting will be:
    1. Emergency clearance of the West Seattle Bridge, Spokane Street Viaduct, SR99 north of Spokane. Yet again, on November 12, we had another hours-long event where things were stuck in the morning commute for lack of a timely tow truck. Enough is enough: the city is required to fix this. We have reached out – repeatedly – to SDOT, SPD, the Mayor’s office, and City Council – about this, for months.
    2. Emergency access to and from the West Seattle peninsula in the event of an emergency or disaster – if the bridges are closed, or jammed, how does an ambulance reach Harborview Medical Center, for example? We had planned on this since October, before the latest bridge event happened. We will be joined by SDOT’s director of emergency preparedness, Lawrence Eichorn, along with Cindi Barker and Sharonn Meeks of the West Seattle Emergency Hub program.
    3. SDOT is looking into moving the Rapid Ride C terminal from eastbound SW Alaska to northbound California SW. Basically, from next to Key Bank to in front of the new condos next to Talarico. The Rapid Ride and other buses would go right up California, for a potential savings of one minute of travel time. SDOT has been doing outreach on this and we will be joined by them, the West Seattle Junction Association that represents Junction businesses, and other stakeholders for a mutual discussion on the pros and cons of the idea.
    We hope to see you in December.

  • WSEA November 13, 2014 (6:15 am)

    Closing the low bridge during commute times should be a easy fix. I understand its due to the low tide but the boat traffic should be able to plan better during the week. Looking at a random tidal week, the low tide occurs at 6am thru 10am. I don’t see why the boats can’t replan their travel on the day when the low tide is at 7:30. A dedicated 1.5 hours (7 to 8:30am) in the morning and evening (4:30 to 6pm) would make a big difference.

    fyi.. I’m just throwing out random times since i’m not sure when the height of the commute times occur.

  • alki resident November 13, 2014 (7:40 am)

    How many meeting does our area need to have regarding traffic before anything changes? Its assinine watching car sit and sit on the west seattle longest parking lot. How embarrassing.

  • roxy November 13, 2014 (7:48 am)

    Rte 120 could be renumbered after leaving City limits and therefor funded within the City limits as a legislation work around. This however does not address using 120 to get to places south… like the Airport. I used to be able to catch the 560 at the Roxbury Safeway – no more. Now I have to schlep my luggage up the hill on Roxbury to White Center for the 560 or catch the 120 at 26th Ave SW and tranfer at Burien Transit Center. With all of the density at the Junctions it is silly for folks to transverse to the bridge to downtown to catch the train. The 560 used to run from Alaska Junction to SEATAC and then on to Bellevue.

  • BLB November 13, 2014 (8:32 am)

    Escaping West Seattle is a real thing.

  • NW November 13, 2014 (9:41 am)

    “And while the low bridge did open for vessel traffic at one point during this morning bridge trouble that wasn’t the big problem – the lack of tow-truck availability was.” I agree with that but the problem behind it all is increasing density in West Seattle I have said it in the past and will say it again here do us a favor and don’t move into West Seattle we don’t need more cars and people increasing traffic problems here. Think of others and either move away closer to work on the eastside, slu, downtown, north, south whatever. You think yesterday’s traffic was bad wait if the trend continues and see how bad it will be!

  • ts November 13, 2014 (9:47 am)

    According to Chris Sullivan this morning on kiro radio’s choke point series .. all the city has to do is ask the Coast Guard to not raise the lower bridge if there is an accident on the the high bridge. The city says they didn’t know they could do that.

    I think keeping the lower bridge open is a good idea but it wont fix the problem in general.

    I’m glad to hear Mr Rasmussen is getting involved again. Also thankful for WSTC. We’re overdue for a solution. And as other have stated this is only going to get worse, the more condos/apts. we build, etc.

    It’s really frustrating to have sounded the alarm more than 10 years ago only to see us in this mess.

  • wscommuter November 13, 2014 (10:09 am)

    With the growth we’ve experienced, which the City has promulgated with emphasis on all the new high-density building, the City does owe it to our neighborhood to begin now to provide us with expanded capacity. Unlike other neighborhoods in the city (even Ballard), we are the most bridge-dependent area and Seattle has to recognize the unique nature of our transit issues.

    So yes … station a tow truck EVERY morning to be instantly available …

    And yes … work with the Coast Guard to avoid morning openings of the low bridge …

    And yes … start NOW to find the money now to build light rail. Sound Transit and the County need to partner with the City to make this happen and realize this is a critical corridor, and not one that should wait ten more years to happen.

  • adam November 13, 2014 (10:37 am)

    We need light rail. Only real fix.

  • ChefJoe November 13, 2014 (10:42 am)

    You’d think this could simply be a bullet point on the city’s tow contract with Lincoln Towing…. you will be our go-to vendor for clearing parked cars if you station at least one tow vehicle within 10 minutes of the west seattle bridge from 7 – 10 AM with 1st priority of clearing the bridge.

    • WSB November 13, 2014 (10:51 am)

      Joe – that reminds me, I forgot to add some info I chased down from SPD regarding the tow situation. From Det. Drew Fowler in media relations: “We do have a contract with a number of private tow companies (depending on the precinct) which mandates a minimum average response time. But this is utilized when we impound or tow a car of our volition. The addendum to that is if it is a private tow, say after a collision, we cannot specify or even recommend which tow company. As a govt organization, we cannot show preferential treatment to one company over another. We can provide the person requesting a tow with a list of companies and then call their selected company on their behalf.” – TR

  • ChefJoe November 13, 2014 (11:31 am)

    WSB, that info sounds dated compared to what appears in Appendix B of the audit of the Lincoln Towing win of the tow/impound protocols (Lincoln, contributing the max to McGinn in 2013).
    SPD and the 911 dispatcher can enter the tow directly into the TOPS-CMA web-application for an immediate response.

    I think the issue is that they haven’t prioritized the corridor as “immediate clear via tow to impound lot” and instead treat it as a common breakdown and hope citizens call their own tow company.


    Per Seattle Municipal Code 11.30, the City of Seattle (City) contracts for the towing, storing, protecting, and releasing or otherwise disposing of vehicles ordered impounded, commonly referred to as police impounds.
    In 2012, the City decided to change its approach to contracting for police impounds from a system
    in which multiple contractors are responsible for different geographic areas to one in which a single contractor provides comprehensive vehicle impound management services (VIMS) citywide.

  • wetone November 13, 2014 (12:56 pm)

    Just as the city knew would happen, did. Get ready for all sorts of promises from the city on fixes. All it will take is more money, taxes and more toll roads they will say. They got us right were they want. Reality is traffic will never get better in/out of W/S or around this city, fact. The city has and continues to build population quicker than infrastructure to support, as long as that continues nothing will change except your savings and travel time :) To bad the local politicians didn’t due something before, instead of waiting for the damage to be done.

  • Westie November 13, 2014 (1:05 pm)

    Build a hospital over here! We need a closer emergency room.

  • Craig November 13, 2014 (1:21 pm)

    Make the bus lanes over and leading onto the bridge HOV lanes to encourage car pooling.

    Invest in reversible lanes to widen East bound traffic in the mornings with an additional lane.

    Find a new way to get drivers into 90 east or 5 north to get them out of the way of everyone trying to get to downtown streets.

  • fitz November 13, 2014 (2:47 pm)

    Gang… get used to this even when the drawbridge is down. As developers continue to fill up the junction with high rise condos, that bridge is going to be a major mess each and every day.

  • bob November 13, 2014 (4:12 pm)

    Everyday we see another 200+unit appt building being constructed in w seattle. Without a dedicated line to the city like light rail this is going to get ridiculous.

  • zark00 November 13, 2014 (5:42 pm)

    If everyone would get off of their damn phones the traffic would be far better, there would be less accidents, and the accidents that do happen would be cleared faster.

    “Drivers on Cell Phones Clog Traffic”

    in 2012 – 31% of crashes involved speeding, 26% involved chatting or texting – among teens – texting has surpassed drunk driving as the #1 fatality accident cause.

    It’s getting worse not better. It seems clear that nobody – SPD, WSHP, City of Seattle, the State, even WSTC can’t or won’t even attempt to address it.

  • dawsonct November 13, 2014 (7:03 pm)

    WOW! Never looks like this at 0530.
    Thankfully, you can have it!

  • NW November 13, 2014 (7:56 pm)

    Totally agree zark00 I see so many selfish drivers texting or browsing the Internet while driving down the freeway when I am a passenger in a vehicle or on the bus. So selfish of them to put others in so much danger what’s really scary is if it continues when they start to slow down in their capacities due to old age.

  • Eddie November 13, 2014 (8:27 pm)

    fitz – It’s a “Swing” Bridge, not a “draw” bridge.

  • au November 13, 2014 (9:10 pm)

    i think if someone gets caught texting while driving they should be required to put a large banner around their car stating: WARNING Texting Driver. It would be required to be kept on for 6 mo or a year. Actually I would prefer if the laws would change and people started getting their drivers licenses revoked for a set time. Excessive speeding too. If you won’t follow the rules of the road you shouldn’t be allowed to operate a motor vehicle.

  • Bruce November 13, 2014 (11:50 pm)

    If SDOT really wants to reroute the Rapid Ride to make it multiple minutes faster, an easier and safer solution is to take it off the Viaduct (99) that could fall down in an earthquake with no warning and instead have it take the busway between 4th and 5th. It is going to need a different route by 2016 when the Viaduct comes down in favor of the tunnel. Right?

  • bl November 14, 2014 (2:05 pm)

    I agree with Bruce about the busway, as both a re-routing and long-term viaduct closure option.

Sorry, comment time is over.