By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As we’ve been reporting, SDOT thinks it can relieve the backups blamed on the newly restored NB Highway 99 bus lane by making some changes – without removing the lane.
During a multi-agency “Seattle Squeeze” update at tonight’s Southwest District Council meeting, SDOT’s downtown mobility director Heather Marx elaborated on exactly what’s under consideration.
Marx, a West Seattle resident, said: “We are working right now with WSDOT to get their approval to make some adjustments. We’re going to extend the merge 1,000 more feet so it’ll give people more mixing zone to stretch themselves out … instead of the pretty short merge area, we’re going to give you a lot longer … the shortness of the merge is creating a backup …” slowing down cars and buses. She said engineers believe that will make a difference, “to relieve some of that friction.” The goal is to have that change in place “shortly,” but she has no date, summarizing “We are quite aware of the problem and are actively developing a solution.”
Marx’s comments come six days after SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe said something similar – but less specific – to the West Seattle Transportation Coalition. It’s been a week and a half since the bus lane’s return has started backing up 99 onto the West Seattle Bridge, slowing not only drivers but also buses before they ever get to the lane.
The rest of the Seattle Squeeze presentation and other meeting details, ahead:
Marx opened the presentation by semi-joking that the Seattle Squeeze keeps stretching out. This year has had many milestones – Alaskan Way Viaduct closed, Highway 99 tunnel opened, buses taken out of the transit tunnel downtown, and next up, tunnel tolling. That segued into a WSDOT rep talking about tolling and what to expect when it starts.
He showed what had happened when bridge tolling on Highway 520 began (for starters, not as much dropoff as projected). As for tunnel projections, tunnel usage is up to about the same volume that the Viaduct was carrying, but they’re expecting that to drop by almost half at the start of tolling, then to creep up to perhaps 75% of the current volume. The adjustment period could happen a lot faster. Would a much-lower usage require reconsideration of toll rates? asked SWDC co-chair Amanda Sawyer. Short answer: Yes. Tolls will be charged by license-plate reading, not tollbooths, and the only way to pay the lowest tolls is to have a Good To Go sticker. They’re now starting a promotion blitz, with a little over a month to go. If you don’t have a pass (sticker) or a Good To Go! account, you’ll pay $2 more than the stated toll. If you have a GTG account but not a sticker/pass, you’ll pay 25 cents more.
Regarding 99 traffic monitoring, WSDOT will continue gathering and monitoring tunnel traffic data for a year.
Someone asked about the prospect of other street tolling – aka “congestion pricing.”
“We are still in the very early stages of investigating that,” said Marx. “It’s not going to happen (anytime soon).” A lot of public discussion would have to happen first, more downtown transit is needed – cities who already use it have “very mature transit systems,” she said.
Speaking of transit – Alex Ko from Sound Transit spoke next. Not about the West Seattle plan but rather the East Link/Blue Line opening in 2023 and how aspects of construction are going to affect downtown light-rail users for a 10-week period early next year – and, to prepare for that, via weekend closures starting later this month. Part of this means running single-track trains – a 25 percent reduction in capacity – with NB and SB trains ending at Pioneer Square.
Those are needed to build a temporary platform in Pioneer Square. A shuttle bus will cover a missing link. Then there will be three weekend closures in January, February, and March. (More info here.)
During the 10-week period of impacts early next year, ST also will be restricting bicycles at Pioneer Square station – if you bring your bike on the train, they will want you to use other stations.
Marx then took over. The Viaduct is down to a last few chunks “not in the right of way,” so the construction of the new Alaskan Way and Promenade will begin. Overall, there are a lot of downtown closures because of a “historic level of private development,” she noted. Between that and all the projects, they’re trying to be “very mindful” of how it all interacts. SDOT is monitoring traffic via its control center and sometimes making real-time signal-timing changes. They have some planned that can be changed “at the touch of a button” when tunnel tolling kicks in if need be.
A West Seattle-specific point: If you love Ride2, use it, urged Marx, because ridership “is not that good.” One SWDC board member said his understanding is that it’s only averaging “eight rides an hour.” As originally announced, it’ll take you to/from the Water Taxi or The Junction.
She also evangelized going downtown – but not via single-occupancy-vehicle trips. They’re soon launching a campaign that’ll be called “Flip Your Trip.”
A slide of West Seattle effects:
-Bus service added in Sept. 21st Metro service change
-Bus routing shifted
-Avalon/35th project is on time. Final painting will be in the spring.
And that’s where she discussed the NB 99 bus lane, as mentioned above. Marx also reiterated that the new bus pathway – using Alaskan Way and Columbia Street – is expected to open in January. “The whole project will be done in 2021 … (then) the awesome waterfront promenade will be done in 2024.” She rhapsodized about the removal of the Viaduct making the promenade possible. “Those buildings are seeing sun on their face for the first time in 50 years.”
The meeting was lightly attended, so there wasn’t much Q&A. One attendee asked about I-976. It’s not just about Sound Transit, explained SWDC co-chair Sawyer (the transportation reps in attendance couldn’t comment), it also would affect bus funding through the Transportation Benefit District, the voter-approved Seattle car-tab fee.
One other guest:
PAWS ON PATROL: Southwest Precinct crime-prevention coordinator Jennifer Danner talked about this newly launched program (we covered the kickoff event September 21st). She was thrilled with the turnout – about 150 people (many with their dogs) over the course of two hours/She has announced the second event – with the same training presentation as the first – on Tuesday, November 5th, 6:30 pm at the precinct (2300 SW Webster). The SW Precinct is launching the program – Danner got a grant from the Seattle Police Foundation, and hopes to renew the grant so the program can expand into the other four precincts.
ANNOUNCEMENTS: A few things announced by attendees – West Seattle Bike Connections is intensively advocating for the “safe crossing” project near the Duwamish Longhouse to be added to the 2020 budget … WSBC is sponsoring a Cranksgiving ride to raise money for the West Seattle Food Bank on November 16th, more details to come … The Fauntleroy Fall Festival is coming up on October 27th, 2-5 pm …
The Southwest District Council, reps from organizations around (mostly) western West Seattle, meets first Wednesdays, 6:30 pm at the Senior Center/Sisson Building.