By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Only one thing’s for sure about southbound West Marginal Way between the bridge and the Duwamish Tribe Longhouse: As it passes under the bridge, it will remain one lane.
Beyond that, a variety of options are on the table for that stretch of the street, as SDOT launches a public-comment period, with a mailer headed to 33,000 local mailboxes this week, and an online “open house” set for February 18th.
We first showed you the options a week ago, after SDOT included West Marginal in a wide-ranging West Seattle Bridge-related update at the WS Transportation Coalition meeting. Then last week, the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board got a detailed briefing, and today we met with SDOT reps for followup questions so we could take a closer look.
The West Marginal Way point person is Brad Topol, who is also (corrected) on SDOT’s Vision Zero safety-initiative team. He says safety is what’s at the heart of the proposed changes – safety for bicycle riders, safety for pedestrians, safety for drivers. The centerpiece of what they want to do is a two-way protected bicycle lane replacing the southbound outer traffic lane north of Idaho Street – SDOT calls it the “Duwamish Trail Connection,” as riders would cross at the SW Idaho light to connect with the rest of the Duwamish Trail:
(Right now, riders use the sidewalk there.) It should be noted, before reviewing pros and cons, that part of the plan to increase safety on WMW has already been settled and is not up for discussion – the crossing signal near the Longhouse, at the Herrings House Park driveway. The city has funded it, so a “temporary” signal installation goes in this year, and it will be made permanent next year.
This story – and your feedback – is about what will, or won’t, be done to the north. And again, remember we are only talking about the southbound lanes – that earlier proposal to create a freight-only lane on the northbound side was shelved, and no northbound changes are under consideration.
The southbound options are reviewed in this new video produced for SDOT.
Though West Marginal Way has become the leading detour route since last year’s bridge closure, as the main route to the 1st Avenue South Bridge, it is officially prioritized as a freight route.
The city’s Freight Advisory Board, Topol told the bicycle board last week, would like to see southbound WMW restored to two lanes everywhere it can be, including removal of the “drop lane” that was added, along with some onstreet parking, near and alongside the Longhouse in fall 2019.
We asked Topol today if the city has any data about the utilization of that parking. No, he said, while also noting that any data from the past year wouldn’t be relevant to post-pandemic times anyway – the Longhouse hosted many events in the pre-pandemic times and expects to do so again in the future. Its own on-site parking lot is tiny, though that will change, as it’s purchased nearby property to add more offstreet parking. In the meantime, one of the options under consideration would add about 30 more onstreet spaces, in addition to the protected two-way bicycle lane.
Or, another option that would keep the southbound side one lane until south of the Longhouse would extend the proposed 2-way protected bike lane all the way to the Longhouse, though that would involve some redundancy with what the Duwamish Trail offers on the east side of WMW.
So let’s get back to the northernmost section of protected bike lane. Topol says it would run about half a mile and cost about $200,000, and could involve something more than the usual plastic posts to separate it from the motorized-vehicle traffic going by. He says SDOT does not have data on current bicycling in the area, though he cautions that it’s likely lower than it would be with improved safety. SDOT says the outside southbound lane isn’t being used much by motorized vehicles anyway:
The department contends that keeping West Marginal one lane to the Longhouse would add only 10 seconds to the average travel time. The bottlenecks on the route are unchangeable – at the 5-way and at Highland Park Way:
The SDOT reasoning for a consistent one-lane southbound stretch north of the Longhouse also involves sight lines:
The Bicycle Advisory Board supports the “Duwamish Trail Connection” section of bike lane, and indicated last week that it agreed with West Seattle Bike Connections‘ support for the option that would extend street parking north of the Longhouse. The Freight Advisory Board does not support the bike lane, and wants to see the ‘drop lane” dropped too, as expressed in this letter sent to the mayor’s office back in November. An excerpt:
The loss of any travel time on West Marginal Way is problematic. This route is working harder than ever as a West Seattle Bridge detour route and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.
Only a fraction of the transportation system is explicitly designated for freight. This freight corridor should not be compromised – a position we apply unbiasedly across the City on the long-established freight network.
Adjoining businesses already have great difficulty getting in and out of their businesses. Access for large trucks is a significant issue, especially with heavier detour traffic. Reducing the number of lanes doubles the frequency of vehicles/trucks. This also reduces the number of gaps for safe crossings.
SDOT continues trying to actively survey businesses directly to find out their thoughts on the options. Topol says SDOT believes that the various goals – bicycle safety, freight mobility, overall traffic movement – can all be met via the bicycle-lane plan.
WHAT’S NEXT: If you’re east of California in West Seattle, or in South Park/Georgetown, watch your postal mail for this this week. You can let SDOT know what you think via firstname.lastname@example.org and/or during the 6 pm February 18th online “open house” – participation info is on this page. If you have a West Marginal Way business and haven’t answered the survey yet, you can do that here. SDOT is also briefing the Maritime Town Hall this week. The department plans to make its decision by April; if it goes ahead with the bicycle lane, that would be built this summer, when the temporary crossing signal goes in.