27 possible ways to ease West Seattle Bridge (and vicinity) traffic, per new city report

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Though rain has just led to postponement of what was to be SDOT‘s second night of work to add red markings to the bus lane on the eastbound West Seattle Bridge, we’ve obtained a little light reading for everyone interested in what else the city is pursuing for improving traffic in what’s now dubbed the West Seattle Bridge-Duwamish Waterway Corridor.

The bus-lane markings are the first of 27 potential action items comprising the heart of a report to be presented during Tuesday morning’s meeting of the City Council Transportation Committee, chaired by West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen. It traces back to January, when Rasmussen announced the city would launch a “West Seattle Bridge Corridor Management Task Force.” Then at the end of July, he said its recommendations would emerge this month – and here they are.

The report includes three documents – first, a slide deck; second, a project list, third, a “white paper,” which includes declarations such as, “Traffic volumes on the West Seattle Bridge and Spokane Viaduct are projected to increase 26-33% over the next 20 years.” None of the possibilities are particularly dramatic; it’s more incremental – such as the long-expected upgrade of Delridge Way to a RapidRide corridor; possibly turning the West Seattle Water Taxi into a two-boat run for more-frequent service.
The slide deck has the toplines:

The project list elaborates on them (click “zoom in” in the lower right of the Scribd embed, and you should be able to read the details):

And the “white paper” goes even further, adding some other possibilities, as well as facts you might not have heard before (such as “King County Metro currently operates 13 routes over the West Seattle Bridge during weekdays. There are 29,300 total riders and 765 buses in the corridor each weekday.”).

In those documents, you won’t see what SDOT had already long since ruled out, adding another lane to the eastbound-bridge-to-northbound-99 bottleneck. But the “white paper” does mention the possibility of looking at re-adding a 4th Avenue onramp to the Spokane Street Viaduct section of the WS Bridge (the last one was closed in 1993).

The “white paper” also goes extensively into the long-contentious issue of low-bridge openings for marine traffic during commute times, particularly as they affect bicyclists, who don’t have a nearby alternative as do motorized vehicles, and freight. It acknowledges some improvements in the way things have been working, and suggests a few more, most intriguingly, in the last paragraph of the entire “white paper”:

The Swing Bridge control system is a computer based programmable controller system. There are over 2200 individual commands and steps in the process to completely open and close the bridge. Through careful critical path analysis of the opening and closing sequence there is an opportunity to reduce the electrical/mechanical functional time. We cannot control the time necessary for a vessel to safely transit the waterway, but if we can reduce the overall opening time by only 30 seconds, it can save over 15 hours of delay time per year.

WHAT’S NEXT? The Tuesday-morning meeting at which this will be presented is at 9:30 am at City Hall. (Councilmember Rasmussen was still reviewing the report when we talked to him earlier today; we were going to ask him for comment at what was supposed to be a photo opportunity in the bridge-painting zone tonight, but that’s now been postponed for weather, as mentioned above.) If you can’t be at Tuesday’s meeting, Seattle Channel will carry it live, online and on cable channel 21. As you review the documents, you’ll note that some of the suggestions have funding, more don’t, so these will be potential issues in both the upcoming city budget process and the campaign for the Move Seattle transportation levy, as well as issues to bring up with the candidates for West Seattle/South Park’s City Council District 1 seat.

MONDAY MIDDAY P.S. As pointed out in comments, you’re invited to come discuss the overall West Seattle egress/ingress issue at this Thursday’s WS Transportation Coalition meeting, 6:30 pm at Neighborhood House’s High Point Center (6400 Sylvan Way).

38 Replies to "27 possible ways to ease West Seattle Bridge (and vicinity) traffic, per new city report"

  • bolo September 20, 2015 (11:46 pm)

    Yeah that low bridge, when it closes it moves at a pretty good clip, then slows waaaay down to agonizing super-slow-motion the last little bit that takes as long as the other 95% of its swing. I’ve always wondered if there was a way to speed up that last little bit. Good luck to them!

    OTOH, they are talking saving 30 seconds per bridge opening would be significant, yet adding a few minutes per commute time from a “road diet” is not? Their priorities are inconsistent.

  • don September 21, 2015 (1:09 am)

    did i read this right that red paint for a bus lane that is already a bus lane is to cost 200K. that is a lot of money for a bus lane that is already a bus lane….


  • Cainipoo September 21, 2015 (2:38 am)

    “but if we can reduce the overall opening time by only 30 seconds, it can save over 15 hours of delay time per year.”
    Hmm, this is confusing. Now they’re concerned about bicyclists having to wait with no alternate route? Jim Curtin specifically mentioned that pedestrian light signals would increase with the rechannelization of 35th.

  • Brian September 21, 2015 (5:59 am)

    @bolo you’re comparing two different things. 30 seconds saved from the bridge opening/closing process has huge savings that compound throughout the areas of traffic it affects.

    Adding a few minutes onto your commute is a flat value that does not have any compound effects other than literally costing you 180-240 seconds of your life.

  • Neighbor September 21, 2015 (6:49 am)

    Basically, city leadership does not have any intention of addressing traffic for 79% of commuters (single occupant cars), but homeowners are expected to embrace development code changes to increase density and make homeownership possible for hypothetical future residents who cannot afford to move here…

    • WSB September 21, 2015 (7:15 am)

      Neighbor – #3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 16, 17, 18, 21, 23, 24, 27 would have direct benefits for single-occupancy vehicles. (That’s my quick take, separate from the icons on the project list.) And if the proposed transit-related improvements lead to more people using transit – and, of course, if transit capacity facilitates that (some of it seems predicated on long-range future “ifs” including Sound Transit 3) – that takes cars off the road, or at least keeps some from compounding the cloggage. – TR

  • bolo September 21, 2015 (7:08 am)

    @Brian, maybe I’m too simple to get it, but your “explanation” did not explain anything to me, Unless you were being sarcastic? Then I really missed it…

  • Paul September 21, 2015 (7:21 am)

    Nice to see this is getting attention. It’s a huge issue as we see density increase on the peninsula.

  • Jim September 21, 2015 (9:39 am)

    So, why are we allowing the Port to expand Terminal 5 and load the bridges with all those trucks in 2019?

  • Ray September 21, 2015 (9:41 am)


    Except this “plan” (especially the routes you listed) only addresses the issue of people in West Seattle trying to get to downtown core and some of the immediate neighborhoods around it.

    I would be willing to bet more than half of West Seattle “workers” do not work in the downtown core, but on the Eastside and elsewhere.

    Nothing in this plans addresses THEIR need for quicker access to transit points to help them get to their destinations, if they want to take the bus. It is all about serving the downtown core.

    Any plan should include consideration for the rest of us as well.

    • WSB September 21, 2015 (9:56 am)

      @Ray – the numbers in my comment weren’t route numbers, but rather the numbers given to specific suggestions in the 27-item project list. I was only responding to “Neighbor” saying there was nothing in the proposals for individual-vehicle drivers (I believe the city uses the term “general-purpose vehicles”). It’s a lot to read but after getting it yesterday, we wanted to at least get it out there in advance of followups starting with the committee discussion tomorrow. – TR

  • jt September 21, 2015 (9:44 am)

    Just had to laugh at this little line in the introduction: “The replacement of the Alaska Way Viaduct surely, if very slowly, is becoming a reality.”

    It doesn’t look like they’ve considered my favorite super cheap fix: allow buses to cut into the SR-99 NB ramp queue at the last possible second, by going across that onramp coming up from Spokane Street. That would probably shave 2 minutes off the wait time for buses getting onto 99.

  • cluelessinws September 21, 2015 (9:57 am)

    +1 ray and neighbor

  • Joe Szilagyi September 21, 2015 (10:24 am)

    “So, why are we allowing the Port to expand Terminal 5 and load the bridges with all those trucks in 2019?”
    Because the port is an independent agency with it’s own elected officials that does not “answer” to the City of Seattle government.

  • Joe Szilagyi September 21, 2015 (10:36 am)

    “I would be willing to bet more than half of West Seattle “workers” do not work in the downtown core, but on the Eastside and elsewhere.
    Nothing in this plans addresses THEIR need for quicker access to transit points to help them get to their destinations, if they want to take the bus. It is all about serving the downtown core.
    Any plan should include consideration for the rest of us as well.”
    I hear this complaint often, but until we have point to point light rail taking you from the Junction or Westwood or whatever to downtown Bellevue or the MSFT campus, what “direct” transit options exist to carry us from West Seattle straight through to various points on the Eastside? A handful of limited Sound Transit commuter buses? Everyone I know that works at MSFT or “eastside” major employers at least seems to have to go downtown and transfer past there on other options.
    Or is the complaint actually that West Seattle (and logically then by extension other areas of the city) should have more direct point to point transit access to the Eastside? No one would disagree with that, if so.
    But this report and “27 options” is SPECIFICALLY about our ride over the bridge toward downtown. Even the WSTC isn’t able to go battle on making the ride from here to the UW or here to Boeing in Everett better. That’s a bigger city/regional matter.

  • East Coast Cynic September 21, 2015 (10:38 am)

    @Ray, I think #26, A Light Rail line from West Seattle, that hopefully connects well w/ N/S Link lines and East Link will go a long way toward providing an option, other than driving, for commuters that have to work elsewhere other than downtown. But, unfortunately, we’re talking another 10-15 years (of increased transit pain) before it is constructed, if it is constructed.

    I also tend to agree that many of the other proposals, in the absence of transportation infrastructure enlargement, are the usual half measures that the city loves to undertake.

  • udmiou1 September 21, 2015 (10:40 am)

    200,000 dollars for red paint????? And this is supposed to keep people from using the bus lanes? Who gets paid for these studies and solutions? People who abuse the bus lane will do it no matter what color it is. I take the bridge EVERY DAY and very rarely do I ever see a bus get delayed for any reason other than perhaps an accident, and those are a fact of commuting life. I’m not a fan of the bus lane as it gets used every 10 to 15 minutes during my commute and I get off at 1st Ave South, while most of the buses stop to get on 99 while we are beep and creep until the solid line ends and several cars rush to the right. SPD pays for at least 2 hours of dedicated enforcement every Wednesday for that bus lane – as if those 7 cars made such a significant impact to traffic. STOP THE BIG TRUCKS FROM GETTING ON THE BRIDGE FROM THE PORTS, and force them all to get on I5 at 6th Ave by going under. I fail to understand why the Port can’t just NOT open the lower bridge for a specified morning time period – this just blows me away. Everyone trusted the plan for the replacement of the Alaskan Way viaduct and look where that got us? A few of the proposed solutions do look viable and may help, but colored paint is NOT one of them, what a waste.

  • Em September 21, 2015 (10:41 am)

    After living here for a decade, I’ve always thought the main traffic issue for the bridge was the ramp onto northbound I-5. It’s a triple whammy with the merge happening on the uphill, on a blind curve, and everything is slowed down due to the semi trucks that can’t accelerate up the hill from Spokane Street. Drivers panic and think they need to merge before the dotted lanes instead of just keeping up their speed and gliding into ample lane space ahead of them, but they can’t see it, so they panic. What was the city thinking?! I wish they would add an extra block’s worth of up ramp from Spokane Street so the trucks can get up to speed at least. Better would be to redesign the entire on ramp section.

    Also, it would be great to have a good view of traffic speed on both 99 and I-5 because I usually wait until I get a peek of how slow northbound I-5 traffic is moving before I decide which route to take, making my merge before the bus lane. Hopefully, they won’t increase the length of the bus lane, making that informed choice impossible for drivers. Can the computerized traffic signs give us an average speed for both 99 and I-5, so that we can compare and decide which route to take as we arrive onto the bridge, making it quicker to merge into our choice of lanes?

    After living in Minneapolis/St. Paul with proper beltway highways easily connecting the north/south highways, I can’t fathom why Seattle chooses not to connect 99 and I-5, as well as connecting I-90 all the way to 99. It only narrows our choices of taking the most efficient route to our destination and prevents re-routing around collisions/heavy traffic when they occur. Once you’re on one route you are stuck.

  • AmandaKH September 21, 2015 (10:51 am)

    The West Seattle Transporation Coalition would like to take this opportunity to invite you to our Thursday meeting. We are hosting a Port Commissioner Candidate Forum, and we will be discussing the City’s proposed plan for egress/ingress issues.
    Thursday, 6:30 pm
    High Point Neighborhood House
    6400 Sylvan Way

    • WSB September 21, 2015 (11:19 am)

      Thanks, AKH – will add that footnote to the story for those who don’t check comments – TR

  • Vienna September 21, 2015 (11:55 am)

    Like Neighbor and Ray I am concerned about this plan. It is downtown transit centric and does little to help those, including many of the working poor, who need SOV to get to their jobs outside of West seattle and Downtown. The ITS and lane redesigned are very very small improvements. Solutions for our post viaduct world needs to include moving cars from 509/99 into and through Seattle not just dead ending on 1st and 4th.

  • Frank Edgington September 21, 2015 (12:35 pm)

    A key piece of information is missing from this study. No where does SDOT identify where people from West Seattle are going. You can build all the bus lanes, subways, light rails that you want but if people are heading to I5 North/South / I90 or any other non-downtown Core, these enhancements do not even begin to solve the problem.

    Please do a survey. I commute to Bellevue from West Seattle. It would go from 25 minutes to 90 minutes if I took a bus.

  • KBear September 21, 2015 (12:36 pm)

    Glad to see camera enforcement of the bus lane in there. As many violators as there are on the West Seattle Bridge, it’s even worse on Hwy 99, where there’s never any enforcement.

  • Steve September 21, 2015 (1:34 pm)

    A few words about the concern of people going to Bellevue vs downtown – lucky!! I recently added an extra trip to Bellevue in the morning, and found I can get there as fast or faster than I can get to my job near Seattle Center. I usually spend 30-45 minutes to commute 7 miles, and it’s only that quick because I switched from 99 to 1st Ave a few years ago, after the awesomely bad contortion south of the viaduct they added for tunnel construction ended it’s usefulness for the morning commute.

    As for the bus lane on the high bridge, I don’t see any discussion of my perennial dilemma – I can’t check the ‘real’ state of north-bound 99 until I crest the top of the bridge, and then I have milliseconds to decide between 99 and 1st Ave before I’m ‘violating’ the bus lane. How about starting the bus lane a little further down the hill?

    Oh, and I’ll paint the bus lane red for $100K.

  • T Rex September 21, 2015 (1:48 pm)

    I get SO TIRED of people complaining about their commute. I have lived here well over 30 years and I have had a commute ONE TIME. I did it for a year, hated it and went back to the employer that I had before. And that was 18 years ago when traffic was half as bad as it is now.

    We all have the choice to choose where we work and choose where you live. It’s not going to get any better folks. But we are going to have colorful crosswalks any day now.

  • Jim September 21, 2015 (1:55 pm)

    Joe S. – Ah, but the Port does have to come to the City for permits to operate Terminal 5. DPD has the authority to condition those permits under SEPA to mitigate the impacts to West Seattle.

  • sam-c September 21, 2015 (2:18 pm)

    T Rex. it’s easy to say that people ‘have all these choices’….. seems like just yesterday, though, the issue was that it was REALLY HARD to find a job. People probably took the best opportunity they could find and are still there, commute be damned. That awful recession wasn’t that long ago, relatively speaking.

  • AIDM September 21, 2015 (2:30 pm)

    I’m not seeing many viable solutions here. This feels like a “lets come up with a bunch of BS to satiate West Seattle” type of list without any real fixes. Here are four real suggestions 1) West Seattle – Downtown – Ballard light rail. 2) 2 lane entrance from West Seattle Bridge to I-5. 3) With the looming absence of 99 downtown access making 1st or 4th a viable North-South through fair South of Downtown. 4) Parking and 6AM to 10PM 15-minute service to make the water Taxi viable.

  • KBear September 21, 2015 (3:13 pm)

    AIDM, there will be exits to downtown at each end of the Hwy. 99 tunnel. And 4th Ave. has an exit from West Seattle Bridge. It’s already a convenient way to get downtown.

  • T Rex September 21, 2015 (3:59 pm)

    Same C – Good point, I did not think of that. I was blessed and did not lose my job, one of the lucky ones. Sorry!

  • Mongo September 21, 2015 (4:09 pm)

    OK, I must be missing something. I read through the PPT slides, project list and white paper. I could not find any place where they quantify any estimates of how much any of these actions would reduce congestion. I can’t fathom that there would be a proposal to spend this level of funding without any attempt to estimate the amount of benefit. Who would approve this type of plan without any understanding of the relative level of expected results? Please tell me it’s there somewhere, but I missed it.

  • Steve September 21, 2015 (4:18 pm)

    Wow, T Rex, I hope that giant bag of assumptions you are carrying around isn’t giving you back trouble.
    You are so right, I have choices. Like the one I made 19 years ago to stop commuting from WS to Kirkland, changing employers to one I can actually see from WS. You know, stupid choices like that.
    You are so right, though. I should give up my career because of stupid transit decisions made by local government that make commuting worse instead of better.
    I confess you are the commuting expert with your one experience, and I have no right to complain about things like spending $200K on red paint for a social- conditioning experiment instead of another teacher.
    The scales have fallen from my eyes and I bow to your wisdom.

  • Neighbor September 21, 2015 (4:38 pm)

    @Mongo you’d think, right! But this Mayor and our D1 candidates don’t get bogged down with those details. They think rainbow sidewalks and magical thinking will make Seattle affordable and transportation friendly for everyone.

  • West Seattle since 1979 September 21, 2015 (7:28 pm)

    T-Rex, even when jobs are plentiful, not everyone is qualified for every job. Also not every area has plentiful jobs, or at least ones that pay a decent wage–for instance, West Seattle.

  • MOVE! Seattle PLEASE! September 21, 2015 (10:26 pm)

    Where West Seattle people travel when they leave WS should be something taken seriously in the traffic studies. How many WS residents destination is downtown?
    If I were to ride “rapid transit” from WS to my job over in South Seattle I would have to ride the bus downtown then transfer, taking about 95 minutes one way from my neighborhood to my office location. For me to drive, it takes me 20 to 25 minutes one way. Why would I spend over 3 hours of my day riding the bus if I have the option to drive in 50 minutes or less round trip?
    The bus system doesn’t work for a lot of people for a number of reasons and each person has their reason. One recent study in King County stated that 40% of the respondents would not consider changing from driving themselves to riding the bus, even if gas prices increased. People are free to choose. Bottom line is people are paying for the roads and people are paying for the bus system that doesn’t work for a lot of people.

  • OnGraham September 22, 2015 (11:23 am)

    Maybe China can help.
    SDOT’s specialty seems to be in the creation of many-bulleted slide decks. Seriously though…apart from Light Rail, the options presented seem just a drop in the bucket of what is actually needed.

  • udmiou1 September 22, 2015 (11:27 am)

    Using a bus is NOT an option for me as I have a small child and her daycare is in Sodo where I work. It seems like collecting data on how many cars get on 99 NB, how many get off at 1st and 4th, and how many turn to I5 SB, how many come up from Spokane, and how many go on to I5 NB. If you subtract the traffic from the Spokane on ramp, you have a reasonable number to make an assumption of how many need to get to I5 – parsing out how many rely on I-90 is more difficult – but very relevant. With all of this date collected for let’s say 1 month, you could level out the averages and determine where your traffic is going and what measures you can take to get it there. I would love to see a simple pie chart of these delineations, but my guess is they are only focusing on one piece of the equation – and then throwing some coloring on the road in hopes that people “think” SDOT is making progress. Personally, I think forcing the big rigs from the ports to use the stay off the upper bride and to use the Spokane onramp to I5 NB & SB would alleviate a good portion of the problem, but certainly not all of it.

  • Mel September 22, 2015 (2:02 pm)

    “the long-expected upgrade of Delridge Way to a RapidRide corridor…”
    That’s just horrible.
    RapidRide will take away needed parking for a neighborhood with very little, so that people from outside our neighborhood can take buses can run 5 minutes faster. FOR $43 MILLION?
    We’d be laughing at this waste of public funds if it was happening in Eastern Europe. Happening here, it’s just sad.

Sorry, comment time is over.