By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Will West Seattle get back some of the bus service it’s lost? And what’s the deal with some of the most-challenged policies post-West Seattle Bridge closure? Those were the two big topics at this month’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting, online this past Thursday night.
METRO’S FUTURE: King County Councilmember Joe McDermott and Metro planner Graydon Newman were the guests for this topic. McDermott said it’s a subject with which he has personal experience, since he took the 56/57 to downtown pre-pandemic, though now his commute route is a set of stairs in his home. However, he said, the council doesn’t get into the details of route planning – it sticks to big-picture issues. With that, Newman took centerstage. Having just launched the spring service change, he said, Metro is now in the thick of “service restoration planning” for September – “making a big effort” to restore some suspended service.
He did not specify which route(s)/trips might make a comeback, though he acknowledged that West Seattle has some routes that have been totally shelved TFN, such as the 22 through southern peninsula neighborhoods.
Metro’s ongoing challenges include pandemic-reduced bus capacity – 12 passengers in a 40-foot coach, 18 in a 60-foot coach – and reduced revenue (the renewed Seattle levy provides less funding than the one that expired, for example). With restorations/additions already made – 21X, 55, 56. 57 service last September, 50/60/128 this month – Newman said they’re at 85 percent of pre-pandemic service levels. But some service suspensions will continue beyond September, he said.
Subsequent discussion included a suggestion that underperforming routes could be repurposed to cover underserved areas such as Admiral and Arbor Heights. Also an offer: The WSTC would like to partner with Metro in reimagining bus service beyond just shuffling the longtime routes. That led to the question of how long it takes to launch a brand-new bus route. Answer: Roughly two years.
WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE: SDOT’s project leader Heather Marx recapped some of the updates from other recent briefings, including that the city has applied for $21 million from the feds’ INFRA grant fund, and hopes to get word on that within a month or so. They’re still in the midst of getting bids from prospective repair contractors – applications are due April 12th – and in the meantime, continuing to work on the schedule, such as how to phase in traffic over the first days and weeks after reopening the bridge in mid-2022. That will be worked out “in the months ahead,” Marx said.
Wondering about low-bridge access? There’ll be an update at April’s Community Task Force meeting, she promised. Here’s what they’re doing now:
But in the Q&A that followed, she said they absolutely will not reconsider the policy of banning motorcycles between 5 am and 9 pm. “We are NOT going to be changing” that, Marx declared.
Also regarding the low bridge, a WSTC question – if it can handle 20,000 vehicles a day safely, why is its capacity being kept well below that? Marx said 20,000 is a maximum that would mean a long stretch of gridlock, not a comfortable traffic flow. And on the matter of deciding whether to allow West Seattle-residing Harbor Island workers to use the low bridge, Marx said they’re not getting cooperation from businesses that they’re trying to canvass to find out how many workers that would affect.
Another thorny topic, the proposed two-way protected bicycle lane in what is currently a southbound general-traffic lane on West Marginal Way. What if SDOT tried a test run by temporarily blocking that vehicle lane to see what happens? Marx dismissed that idea, saying the protected bike lane is going to happen, the question is whether it’ll happen now or after the bridge reopens (since some have said they’re not opposed to the idea but are opposed to building it and blocking the lane while the bridge is closed).
In the meeting’s waning minutes, one more topic:
NEW BOARD MEMBERS: We published the group’s invitation last weekend. Potential candidates attended the meeting and will now have to decide whether to apply; some people expressed interest but weren’t able to attend. So, no decisions yet on who’ll be joining – recruiting continues.
NEXT MEETING; The WSTC meets fourth Thursdays most months, 6:30 pm, online. See video of past meetings on the WSTC YouTube channel.