Proposed bus-lane-backup solution, and what else the Southwest District Council heard about tonight

(SDOT camera screengrab from 7:39 am this past Monday, looking at EB West Seattle Bridge)

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.

Weekend closures:
October 11-13
October 25-27
November 8-10

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.

54 Replies to "Proposed bus-lane-backup solution, and what else the Southwest District Council heard about tonight"

  • JZ October 2, 2019 (10:26 pm)

    Excellent, thanks WSB for helping get the bus lane fixed so quickly! Glad they are keeping the rest of the bus lane, it will be needed when tolling starts. 

    • Raven October 3, 2019 (5:38 pm)

      Why can’t they make it a combined BUS lane and HOV lane??? At least those of us that carpool would benefit. Genius, I know. 

  • Smittytheclown October 3, 2019 (1:47 am)

    It’s a start, but my guess is that it won’t help.  People still feel the need to merge right away even if they don’t have too.  It only takes one person to start a backup.  Hope I’m wrong! 

    • Tsurly October 3, 2019 (6:55 am)


    • Matt P October 3, 2019 (9:38 am)

      But they had to merge at some point with the bus lane not there so it will move the backup somewhat.

  • flimflam October 3, 2019 (5:15 am)

    oof, that picture….that is one long line of cars. looks awful.

  • BAS October 3, 2019 (5:38 am)

    No! Don’t cave to the whining of SOV drivers. The bus has actually been faster (finally!). I propose this: proportionality. If 49% of residents (voters) are SOV drivers, 49% of roadways should be for their use. If 42% are bus riders, 42% of roadways should be for buses. There are a lot of people who don’t own a car. Why do they matter less?Sometimes I’m so disappointed in how West Seattle is controlled by SOVs and NIMBYs. 

  • Kanakitty October 3, 2019 (6:01 am)

    I’m with Smittytheclown – it only takes one person who thinks they need to get over immediately to back it all up. And if you experience this EVERYDAY. And keep in mind when you start tolling all those cars that merged to the left will start merging back over to the right. So the city will waste money repainting the new bus lane only to realize they should have just scraped it off and go back to an open lane that moved everyone along efficiently…

  • Jamie October 3, 2019 (6:23 am)

    The bus Lane is creating a bottleneck. It won’t matter how long it’s made. Also the backup is more than just the bridge.  It’s up to a mile before you even get to the bridge on some days where I live. Honestly I think Seattle is doing everything it can to slow drivers to a crawl deliberately. Why I sold my car.

    • N.A. October 3, 2019 (8:06 am)

      I agree with Jamie, but I guess that you have to start somewhere.

      • Kc October 3, 2019 (4:40 pm)

        To start somewhere is for sdot to admit it is not working and simply remove it. No studies needed. It worked before it’s not now what changedjust say you screwed up on behalf of putting a bus lane where it was not needed

  • BAS October 3, 2019 (7:08 am)

    The bus I take is now faster for the first time in months. I guess entitled SOV drivers are the ones driving the complaints. What’s new in WS? My proposal: proportionality. We all pay for these roads – it’s our collective property. If 49% of residents (voters) are SOV drivers, 49% of roadways should be for their use. If 42% are bus riders, 42% of roadways should be for transit use. Why do transit riders matter less? They don’t pay less taxes. Their vote doesn’t matter less. It’s time for SOV and NIMBY political influence to stop mattering more than the rest of us. It’s really disappointing that they control everything here in WS. 

    • Peter October 3, 2019 (9:00 am)

      I like it. Maybe drivers should have to fight for years and years and years to get their lanes just like bus and bike riders have had to do. 

    • Pete October 3, 2019 (3:48 pm)

      BAS….car owners do actually pay more taxes than folks that do not own cars. They pay sales tax when they purchase the vehicle. They pay gas taxes every time they buy gas for the vehicle. They pay taxes annually when they renew their tabs.  Non car owners are not paying road upkeep taxes which are mainly from gas taxes. 

    • Jack October 3, 2019 (3:52 pm)

      The $1400 I pay annually for car tabs sure feels like I’m paying my share. I won’t apologize if that makes me a bit entitled. 

      • KM October 3, 2019 (4:38 pm)

        I might feel like a lot, even for my fairly old car, but cars are very heavily subsidized in the United States. We are not paying nearly enough for what our cars cost society. If we were, our roads (among other aspects) would look very different and I would definitely be car-free.

      • Nolan October 4, 2019 (1:28 pm)

        Given that the MVET rate is 1.1%, what you’re telling us is that you own $127k of car, so… yes, you’re more than a “bit” entitled.

  • Kyle October 3, 2019 (7:09 am)

    Than you for the reporting, super helpful! I’m still baffled by the lack of data SDOT and others are using to make these changes. What problem is the bus lane trying to solve? Will buses now reach downtown 10 minutes faster? Has the new bus lane achieved this goal? Do they think moving the merge point further down will achieve whatever goal they’re trying to achieve? If this was really about when tolling was going to start why did they do it 6 weeks early? I would advise to stop tinkering. Post a sign, saying “bus lane open to all”, see if we get backups once tolling starts and then make a move. I am a big fan of bus lanes and think they are sorely needed on other parts of the West Seattle bus commute (leaving downtown, and that slog of a sodo reroute). This just wasn’t a choke point and I’m pretty sure they painted it because “we had one there before” instead of making a data driven decision. 

    • ARPigeonPoint October 3, 2019 (11:13 am)


    • JZ October 3, 2019 (12:59 pm)

      The bus lane is trying to solve the predicted problem of congestion at the Dearborn exit when the tunnel tolling starts. 

  • Quora October 3, 2019 (7:23 am)

    I’m a little miffed by this. I feel there will be quite a few people who are half asleep who will still try to merge right away. Be on the lookout for those people and I encourage others behind them doing so to lay on the horn in a big way. And no, I don’t mean a little tap on the horn, I mean lay on it in a “keep it moving pal, this is seattle after all home of the most passive aggressive folks in the nation” kind of way.

    • lts October 3, 2019 (11:18 am)


      Passive-aggressive behavior

      Passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a pattern of indirect resistance to the demands or requests of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation. Pretending not to understand is a typical passive-aggressive strategy. Such behavior is often protested by associates, evoking frustration or anger, and labelled “catty”, “manipulative”, or “acting/going dumb”. Passive-aggressive behavior may be subconsciously or consciously used to evoke these emotions and reactions in others. It may also be used as an alternative to verbalizing or acting out their own anger.

  • Olivist October 3, 2019 (7:39 am)

    They are completely missing the point. It’s the addition of a merge point – unnecessary as all traffic *was* flowing freely through this area prior to reinstallation of the bus lane.  Be an adult. Admit you made a mistake and take accountability for your actions.  Get rid of the bus lane.  And get some new engineers who understand  basic traffic issues. 

    • West Seattle Hipster October 3, 2019 (9:24 am)


    • Matt P October 3, 2019 (9:40 am)

      There was always a merge point if you want to use the tunnel.

    • ARPigeonPoint October 3, 2019 (11:12 am)

      Totally agree.  The people who need to exit at Dearborn are now going to have to merge twice instead of not at all.  Clearly, those in charge have never heard the term, “If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it…”

    • Nolan October 3, 2019 (1:59 pm)

      Every bus lane contributes more to traffic flow than it takes away, assuming you weight a single person in a bus the same as a single person in a car. It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that your worldview clearly values drivers over bus commuters.

  • wscommuter October 3, 2019 (8:42 am)

    Sigh.  I suppose we’ll all have to go through this exercise of SDOT, etc. having discovered that the round peg doesn’t fit in the square hole, choosing the solution “pound harder” before they just figure out that three open lanes moves ALL traffic – including buses – much better.  If this is what it takes to get there, so be it.  But it is pretty stupid that we have to go through this.  

    • Nolan October 3, 2019 (1:57 pm)

      A single bus carries roughly 20x the people you see in three cars while taking up the same amount of room or less. The bus lane stays. If you don’t like it, I cordially invite you to be one of the people on the bus instead of one of the people driving yourself.

      • wscommuter October 3, 2019 (3:24 pm)

        Good for you riding the bus.  Keep it up.  For those of us who either can’t bus or choose not to for our own reasons – too numerous to list here – your rationale seems to be that bus riders hold some moral high ground (you don’t) which justifies the traffic congestion caused by the dumb bus lane.   That’s bad policy and more to the point, bad traffic management.  …Oh – and by the way – as many commenters have noted – the buses are running slower too – caught in the same merge mess.  Want your commute to go faster?  Get rid of this silly mistake.  

        • Nolan October 4, 2019 (10:40 am)

          My rationale is simply that 20 people matter more than 1 person, even if that 1 person thinks they have the right to clog up the roads for the other 20.

      • B.W. October 3, 2019 (10:51 pm)

        Who’s enforcing the “bus lane?” 

  • Sunuva October 3, 2019 (9:16 am)

    There should not be a bus lane here unless the bus lane also has a dedicated exit from the bridge to 99. Period. Since that is not possible with any expediency, the only real way to fix this is to revert it. Admit your mistakes and fix them, SDOT, rather than making all the rest of us suffer!

    • songstorm October 4, 2019 (6:57 am)

      This! I have never understood why, even pre-99 construction, we had a bus lane on WSB and a bus lane on 99 and no bus lane on the exit ramp.  I realize there isn’t much room on there but forcing the buses to merge back in can’t be efficient, and maybe one of the exit ramp lanes could be both bus and HOV/motorcycle, which would be a good compromise for everyone?

  • Shawn October 3, 2019 (10:41 am)

    Removing the bus lane is unacceptable. This is probably the best that can be done with only a single lane on ramp, while still allowing cars onto 99 at all. Works for me.

  • cwit October 3, 2019 (11:20 am)

    Expand the Ride2 service further south in West Seattle, where bus service is even spottier, and you may get more riders.

    • newnative October 3, 2019 (12:25 pm)

      Yeah, I see the van all the time in North Admiral where we have a lot of connection points. My coworker lives near Westwood and just out of range for Ride2, she would really benefit. 

    • JCW October 3, 2019 (8:13 pm)

      Agreed! The C, 120, and 21 are lovely but there are SO many pockets that aren’t regularly served by transit enough to be useful for commuting or general transportation needs. 

    • songstorm October 4, 2019 (7:02 am)

      I took Ride 2 for the first time yesterday and quite liked it.  I’m just outside of the service area, so I walked a couple of blocks and met the shuttle there – though I realize that’s not an option for everyone.  I would love to see the service area expanded, perhaps with the shuttles able  to stage in various parts of WS.  My shuttle came from North Admiral down to Morgan Junction to take me to the water taxi — would’ve been much more efficient all around if they had been able to stage somewhere further south. 

  • Michael October 3, 2019 (11:57 am)

    Extending the merge won’t help.  Anyone who has driven through there knows that most drivers try to merge immediately after coming off the ramp and will come to a complete stop to do so.  This is where the delay comes from.  The only reason the traffic was flowing better before was that people realized they could simply stay in that lane.

  • EN October 3, 2019 (12:36 pm)

    BAS – Not all drivers are entitled people unwilling to take transit. I drive my electric vehicle back and forth to work because I have children that I have to drop off and pick up from school every day, and taking pubic transit to work turns my 30 minute drive into an hour and a half commute each way. I don’t have three hours a day to be riding the bus and walking when I have two small children at home. I would have to leave work at 3:30 every day to pick them up from aftercare on time. Not feasible. I was a bus commuter for many years before I had kids and when I worked in the heart of downtown, but it’s simply not feasible now. I would LOVE to have a transit system that worked well enough for me to use it, but the fact is we don’t have that.

    • Azimuth October 4, 2019 (10:03 am)

      EN – What you said. me too

  • KBear October 3, 2019 (12:43 pm)

    Of course it would help if Seattle drivers could learn to merge correctly—accelerating to the speed of traffic, instead of slowing to a complete stop—and leaving space for someone to merge in front of you. But maybe that’s too much to ask—sort of like asking SDOT to use common sense.

    • West Hipster Hipster October 3, 2019 (1:24 pm)

      I am a long haul truck driver and I agree with you, Seattle drivers are terrible at merging.  I haven’t experienced drivers in other states who don’t know how to correctly merge as much as I do here.

    • Validated October 3, 2019 (2:35 pm)

      Thankful that others feel this way too. The zipper merge is a real, effective thing!

  • Paul October 3, 2019 (2:00 pm)

    Again, does anyone actually go and see what is actually happening here? I travel this route everyday , by car and bus. The bus time is NO DIFFERENT with the bus lane (in or out), the que for the bus to get out of the bus lane has just moved to the West Seattle bridge rather than downtown exit. The impact on cars has been HUGE. I guess that is what the powers to be were trying to acheive. 

  • Len October 3, 2019 (4:38 pm)

    This issue isn’t about bus riders vs. drivers.   It is about a stupid decision made by SDOT that has made the commute longer for everyone.    It’s unbelievable that this is happening.   The people running the city are making life miserable for everyone because they want to make a political statement about how much they hate cars.    It’s absolutely crazy and symbolizes the way this crowd thinks about solving problems:   Do what’s politically expedient first, practicality for the citizens of the  city be damned.    Where is Lisa Herbold in all of this?   She should demand that the major fire Mr. Zimbabwe.     

    • WS Resident October 3, 2019 (8:45 pm)

      I actually emailed Herbold, Durkan and Zimbabwe on Monday and the only response I got was from Lisa Herbold. She included Zimbabwe in her response to me and asked that he respond to us both, along with other West Seattle residents that had also contacted her regarding how the bus lane was personally impacting them. Since he didn’t respond to my email, I’m not holding my breath that he’ll respond to hers. I’m sure he’s busy with all the uproar but I was at least expecting a boiler plate response acknowledging my reaching out. And same goes for Jenny Durkan – I didn’t think I’d get a personal reply but at least expected a canned response from one of her aides. 

  • flimflam October 3, 2019 (4:47 pm)

    nobody likes to admit they are wrong, especially anyone in any position of power – that lane isn’t going anywhere.

  • Scott October 3, 2019 (5:37 pm)

    Oh honey, it’s just not Seattle drivers……… need to get out more.  It’s like this in most cities.  Move to NY/NJ/CT…..we have it easy.  Stop complaining.

  • mnw October 3, 2019 (8:46 pm)

    The bus lane that was in place previously was further north and still caused a traffic back up. I don’t think extending the merge will resolve the issue. In my opinion the bus lane is unnecessary- traffic was flowing perfectly fine before. But, if they insist on doing something, an HOV or maybe even an “exit only” lane would be a better solution. If it were an exit only lane, the only people merging would be those planning to use the tunnel. The bus lane forces drivers exiting to dearborn to change lanes multiple times. It’s just inefficient. 

  • Kris October 4, 2019 (12:36 am)

    A couple of people on this thread have stated that the bus commute is not any faster on the bus with the new bus lane.  I disagree because my commute time has improved since they put the bus lane back in on 99 north.   

    • AMD October 4, 2019 (3:57 pm)

      Thank you.  Every day it’s been longer there has been an accident, crappy weather, or other factor besides the lane.  

  • Loretta October 4, 2019 (2:09 pm)

    Maybe we just need someone to hit the bridge again?

Sorry, comment time is over.