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Monday, March 10, 2008

West Seattle Woes

posted by on March 10 at 15:58 PM

We’ve arguedrepeatedly—that the city can get by just fine without the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the double-decker freeway on the downtown waterfront. Part of the reason we’re so confident is that when other cities have torn down waterfront freeways, they’ve actually seen traffic levels go down—contrary to the doomsday scenarios the highway lobby likes to peddle. Part of the reason for this is that taking out highways makes people travel smarter—combining trips, avoiding trips at rush hour, and choosing transit over driving alone.

The other part, of course, is better transportation planning by and coordination between city and state officials. Here, that means that transportation planners will need to finish work on the Spokane Street Viaduct quickly, add a lot of new bus service to West Seattle and Ballard, and reconnect the waterfront to the downtown street grid, creating multiple escape valves for waterfront traffic. Check, check, and (maybe) check.

One glitch in plans to keep traffic moving smoothly during and after viaduct construction is that the lower West Seattle bridge, which serves as an alternative route for 11,000 cars a day, opens frequently for boats traversing the Duwamish Waterway during morning and evening rush hours, jamming up traffic so that vessels can get through. As Mike Lindblom reported in the Seattle Times last week, the two-lane bridge opens during peak hours about 23 times a month, causing an average 12-minute delay. Over the course of 12 weeks, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) found, the bridge was most commonly open between nine and 13 minutes during rush hours, but on at least six occasions it kept cars idling for as much as 43 minutes straight. It’s the only bridge in the city allowed to open during the morning and evening rush hours, says Tom Rasmussen, head of the city council’s parks committee. Last month, after a period of time Rasmussen describes as “months,” SDOT sent a letter to the US Coast Guard, which regulates bridge openings, asking the agency to restrict openings to off-peak hours. Assuming the Coast Guard responds, there will be a 60-day period for public comment, after which the Coast Guard will make a decision—hopefully, Rasmussen says, in commuters’ favor. “Not only now, but as we’re planning on construction for the Spokane Street Viaduct as well as the Alaskan Way Viaduct, we really need to have that traffic flowing as smoothly as possible,” Rasmussen says.

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Dismantling highways will increase bus ridership...

Destroying telephones will help face to face communication...

Destroying the internet will help overall penmanship...

I like the way you think...

Posted by Clint | March 10, 2008 4:04 PM

Removing car access to the waterfront and restricting it to truck, bus, and taxi access would suffice.

Provided you doubled local transit in the affected region within 5 blocks. Yes, that includes the streetcar and the waterfront taxi service.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 10, 2008 4:16 PM

West Seattle and Ballard deserve grade seperated rail for giving up the viaduct, nothing less.

In addition, it will greatly reduce the need for commuters to use it and will open it up for trucks and busses.

Posted by Cale | March 10, 2008 4:21 PM

As a West Seattle bus commuter, I can tell you, fixing the lower deck problem is only really going to help cars. Most bus routes depart Spokane street to get on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Even if they fix up the Spokane Street viaduct, most buses out of West Seattle won't even go on it.

Unless the city makes a bus only corridor, like 3rd ave, permanent 24 hours a day, if there's no replacement of Alaskan Way Viaduct, you can kiss goodbye all of your express buses from W. Seattle into downtown.

Posted by Westside forever | March 10, 2008 4:21 PM

*correction- 'it' refers to the boulevard replacement for the viaduct.

Posted by Cale | March 10, 2008 4:24 PM

For the record, the Coast Guard has responded. We reported it last week
(and also reported the status of Rasmussen's proposal the day before it appeared in the Times).

Next step, the CG will publish the proposal in the Federal Register soon - could be as soon as this week, Austin Pratt told me.

Posted by wsb | March 10, 2008 4:44 PM

@3 - well, yeah, but will they get it before 2030?

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 10, 2008 4:45 PM

Hey, you know what would be awesome? If I, a Ballard resident who works on the Eastside, actually had a *reasonable(!) transit option* that didn't take an hour longer each way than driving. Ripping down the viaduct and not replacing it with grade-separated rapid transit with connections to the eastside employment centers would be completely useless. I'm all for public transit, and would ride it if I could, but I cannot afford to spend 20 hours a week commuting.

I guess until we get a decent set of options, my carpool buddy and I will just have that much more time to talk about how perfect the world would be if only we were in charge...

Posted by Shmallow | March 10, 2008 4:53 PM

Um. I think my point got lost in my little mini-rant up there, which was this: I will still have to drive a car to get to I-90. Eliminating the best, most efficient way to do this is not going to eliminate the car trips of those with no other options.

Posted by Shmallow | March 10, 2008 4:58 PM

ECB - not boats, ships. That bridge is rarely opened for pleasure trips. And making the Port work less well will take the demand off the viaduct so it's a win win.

Posted by McG | March 10, 2008 5:08 PM

Actually, all the bridges will open during rush hour, if the boat is big enough (> 9000 tons, I think). That excludes most of the yachts, but allows the gravel barges, dredging rigs, etc., to go through.

Posted by Toe Tag | March 10, 2008 5:09 PM

@8, maybe you should try living near where you work rather than far away and bitching about it. Then you wouldn't be in this quandary and I wouldn't have to subsidize your commute.

Posted by joykiller | March 10, 2008 5:21 PM

@8 - dang, @12 beat me to it.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 10, 2008 5:23 PM

This should help ECB as bikes aren't allowed on the upper one. Then again she'd have to leave the hill.

If you think the "rapid ride" is gonna do anything for West Seattle you need to get off the crack pipe. California Ave SW and Alaska St are already busy and backed up. What do you think will happen when you add even more traffic because of condo and business development in the Alaska Junction corridor? Those buses will be mired in the same traffic- nothing rapid about that.

It isn't BRT if there aren't dedicated rights of way. Once you leave the 5th Ave corridor, these buses are mired in the same traffic as cars. I also won't vote for another ST package until us yokels that live west of Hwy 99 actually get some real fucking transit. Rapid Ride ain't it. Most of the people I have talked to in West Seattle feel exactly the same way.

In the meantime, till that is sorted out, I'll be opposed to any option that doesn't keep Hwy 99 moving through the city. I don't care if it's on the ground, in the ground or above the ground but it has to tie into the Battery Street Tunnel and have limited access.

Posted by Dave Coffman | March 10, 2008 5:28 PM

Elect Rossi and he will get the transpo crap fixed.

Posted by Dino | March 10, 2008 5:37 PM

@12, @13: I do live 4 minutes from work in West Seattle. So don't give me the "need to live closer to work lecture- I probably live closer to work than you do.

That being said, I do have business downtown and other matters in places that are not in West Seattle. And @12, maybe I'm tired of subsidizing you. After all, my business run in West Seattle contributes quite a bit in tax revenue, not to mention employing 8 people. I'm sure those 8 people would like to enjoy a good economy, even if it's West Seattle based. They probably bring home dollars to your neighborhood as well.

All of this means that I'm tired of those that say "live closer to work" While I'm financially able to do it, a lot of people I know aren't that lucky. As for the "subsidy" arguments... either roads or transit will get subsidized. But I won't ride a bus that smells like BO and vomit. If we're gonna do it, let's do real transit. Everything else if just fake horseshit.

Posted by Dave Coffman | March 10, 2008 5:38 PM

Well, jeepers. I'm not really certain that one new busroute that makes another existing one a little faster equals "a lot of new bus service to West Seattle". Matter of fact, I'm certain it doesn't. I teach on Mercer Island, live in West Seattle and would LOVE to communte by bus. If it were two busses and a long walk, I'd be all over it. As it is, my 30 minute car commute would become a 1.5-2 hour bus commute. So no, I wouldn't say that the city is doing the most obvious thing to reduce the traffic clusterfuck that is exiting West Seattle during rush hour.

Posted by Cranky driver | March 10, 2008 6:12 PM

It is nice that Erica and Tom are touting the lower bridge issue. As a bicyclist at rush hour I appreciate it. But I don't really mind waiting ten minutes to watch the container and cargo ferry to Alaska go by. And the number of cars that build up for one boat are relatively minor. Of course, I realize that this goes against the all important American value of being able to get where you want to go--RIGHT NOW!

The bridge openings have very little to do with West Seattle's woes. At best, they are a tiny part of the puzzle.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | March 10, 2008 6:21 PM

Looks like Tom Rassmussen has replaced Nick Licata in the all cool Strange quote box.

I like him too, but the issue is still capacity north to south.

And, what about trucks? These discussions are always framed in "car" terms. Of course, neither Erica, Dan, or Josh, have ever driven a truck for any real reason, like delivering food all day long to hundreds of outlets.

What does NOT come into the city on a truck? Gulls, crows, ferry boats - we survive on trucking, and no amount of bicycles in the neighborhoods will change that.

Posted by John | March 10, 2008 7:14 PM

That fucking foot ferry had better do more than 10 knots this year or I'm gonna drive my Hummer straight up yr ass.

Posted by bs | March 10, 2008 7:49 PM

As a west seattle resident, georgetown worker, car and bike commuter, I am as familiar as most with west seattle bridge and SR-99 traffic patterns. ECB's anti-viaduct boosterism seems to be relying on a bit of wishfull thinking. Just a thought: Scheduling bridge openings probably will cause people to try and beat the bridge, focusing trips during rush hour. Exactly the opposite of what we want to be doing when the viaduct is gone. This softens the "take the roads out to create smart commuters" argument a bit. Just for fun, imagine a queue of slow dirty boats going through the bridge once it opens, perhaps for an hour at a time. And factor in the trains and truckers that will also be trying to beat the bridge. Union pacific and burlington northern cross alaskan way at different locations to get accross the Duwamish to harbor island, backing up north bound 99 and south bound alaskan way, daily. Grade seperation is the only real option, rapid, mass, or not.

Posted by zac corum | March 10, 2008 8:17 PM

Please, please, please add more bus service to West Seattle! I've honestly stood at the bus stop downtown, during regular running times, for up to 45 minutes sometimes waiting for the 54. I don't like to wait for that, so it's just easier to drive. In the middle of winter a car is much preferable to a drafty street for close to an hour and then a smelly bus.

Posted by Vivian | March 10, 2008 8:23 PM

Yeah, you're gonna get 60% of West Seattle to use the bus.

Yeah, there's not gonna be any problem, with only one road to Downtown from West Seattle.

None at all.

On that note, let's just knock down 520 right now and just run a few extra buses to Kirkland and Redmond to compensate. That'll work, right?

Posted by Gomez | March 10, 2008 8:37 PM

Also, I'm trying to remember how long ECB has lived here. Was she here when the Nisqually quake happened? Was she here when West Seattle residents had to try and commute during rush hour without the viaduct for a couple weeks? Did she see the impossible backups, and all the West Seattle people who finally gave up, got off their gridlocked buses on Spokane Street and just walked all the way Downtown?

I doubt it. I'm sure, if she did, that she wouldn't be seriously peddling this line of reasoning.

Posted by Gomez | March 10, 2008 8:41 PM

@16, my complaint was directed at folks who consciously live in one of the most expensive parts of Seattle and commute to the Eastside. Then complain about it and ask for a massively expensive train. I'm paying for their train or I'm paying for their new bridge.

As a Ballard resident, believe me, I've got some sympathy for the West Seattle-Downtown commute. The Viaduct, Ballard Bridge, and W. Seattle Bridge should be much higher on our list of priorities than fucking 520.

Posted by joykiller | March 10, 2008 9:34 PM

If you live in West Seattle and are going to vote against Sound Transit, you're shooting yourself in the foot.

It won't shift the priority to the Westside; ST will either get broken up or come with an even smaller package.

If something like the current proposal on the table gets approved this year, sub-area equity will force ST to build to Ballard and West Seattle in the next round, meaning you might see rail by the early 2030s.

That's a long time, but a lot less time than if you just vote against everything that doesn't serve your immediate needs.

Posted by MHD | March 10, 2008 9:47 PM

The street boulevard "alternative" to the Alaskan Way viaduct is one of the most poorly thought out transportation "solutions" ever. The people who thought this up seem to have never visited the viaduct or the ferry terminal area to see what the impact would be.

Do we really want a busy boulevard running through our increasing dense downtown neighborhood? No way.

Pedestrians already have a difficult time crossing Alaskan Way, and if you route traffic down Third Ave. you're degrading conditions for the large amounts of low income housing on that street.

Get real, and think of a proactive idea instead of trying to take Seattle back to the 1950s. This idea is ignorant at best.

Posted by Mike in Pioneer Square | March 10, 2008 9:50 PM

Oh yes, ECB, you have repeatedly obstructed any chance of this city finding an efficient and low cost method to get from A to B. Thanks to you and other obstructionists like you, Seattle is incapable of solving it's traffic grid lock or mass transit in any meaningful way.

There won't be any resolution to the crumbling Viaduct until it collapses on commuters and kills thousands of people. It could be replaced before that, but people like you will not allow it and do everything possible to stop it. Thanks much.

Posted by montex | March 10, 2008 9:55 PM

how about an intricate human sized tunnel system under the whole of puget sound, dug by an army of columbia city community built biodiesel tunnel diggers. install thousands of those new mini rapid fire people movers and ~1 million dollars later, all of our problems will be solved.

Posted by cochise. | March 10, 2008 10:41 PM

oh fuck... i live in West Seattle and work in Magnolia.... can you imagine the logistical nightmare here? I think adding foot ferries to Ballard, Magnolia and any other northern sector marinas has to be part of this plan.

Posted by M | March 10, 2008 11:28 PM

It doesn't matter what you may come up with. Any solution that doesn't rely on butterflies and bunny rabbits will be shot down by ECB and her cohorts. Nope. People gonna have to die before this town does anything. Anything at all.

Posted by montex | March 11, 2008 12:03 AM

@31` many have to die? just one? cause that would be me of course...

Posted by M | March 11, 2008 1:14 AM

who cares? i just want to meet someone causually, a romance love. such as see someone by a online dating on i think it will be exciting!

Posted by lazy | March 11, 2008 2:26 AM

Let's review, just for the record.

1. Viaduct removal without replacement was not on the ballot. Only 22% voted for "no" on both the replacement and the tunnel option (and the majority of them--on capitol hill and downtown). The tunnel option on its own got more support then the no/no option, and a full fledged replacement got twice the support. Do the math.

2. Now that West Seattle has only begun to be part of the discussion in the Stranger, now we can talk about all of the northbound traffic from SR509. This commuter route crosses the 1st Ave S. bridge, sits at the light, and 90% of those cars bear left onto East Marginal Way, which becomes hwy 99, to the viaduct. No discussion of this is not complete without the mention of the northbound traffic on East Marginal Way from south of Michigan Street.

3. The gridlock during peak hours is bad enough, especially during the summer, and especially considering all of the heavy truck traffic. What the "surface" option would do is dump even more congestion into the Duwamish corridor, irregardless of any mitigation for the folks in SoDO and even West Seattle. The result is a classic case of merely displacing pollution from one part of town to another; in this case, South Park, Georgetown, and Mid Beacon Hill. In other words, dumping more pollution on a part of Seattle that already has more then it's share of air pollution from the concrete manufacturing industry. All of this is exacerbated by Boeing traffic coming in from the north, via the Viaduct (not to mention all of those people who take the viaduct from the north end, to get on I-90 to head east--they will be screwed also)

5. The irony of all of this is that even in the dream-case scenario, where everything is oh-so-fine downtown, the valley will fill up with this pollution, and will linger for everyone in the bowl around the river and Elliot bay to breathe all day. Interbay will see its share too.

The only people who benefit are the developers and property owners along the 99 corridor, and the handful of people trying to build a political career from pushing this poorly-conceived proposal.

For those that don't live in or near this part of town it might be difficult to visualize the above. But that's the reality that keep getting in the way.

Posted by tpn | March 11, 2008 9:23 AM

@12, 13 just to follow up: I have lived in Ballard for years and have historically worked downtown (and taken the bus!). I don't live in some luxury condo, either. I chose Ballard because 1) I like it, 2) it was an easy bus commute at the time, and 3) I could afford my apartment.

But then I was laid off, so I had to take whatever job I could get. But the only places hiring were on the MFing Eastside. You gotta do what you gotta do, right?

So unless you've actually been faced with a choice between homelessness and taking a job in the hated eastern suburbs, please pour yourself a nice, cool glass of STFU.

Posted by Shmallow | March 11, 2008 9:44 AM

You will need all of these little solutions to add up to make it work. Good job TR!

Posted by Mrs. Y | March 11, 2008 9:57 AM

I can't wait to get my face painted on The Boulevard.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | March 11, 2008 10:48 AM

@35, I'm glad you brought up "choices." Although I have never been faced with a choice between homelessness and a job on the Eastside (a little dramatic, don't you think?), you do have choices:

1.) continue to live where you are and drive to work
2.) move to the Eastside and shorten your commute
3.) continue looking for work closer to home
4.) bitch, moan, and complain about a ridiculous commute that's well within your own power to change

You've chosen option 4.

Posted by joykiller | March 11, 2008 11:28 AM

@38 Dramatic? Not really; it's just the truth. You don't know my situation and what I've dealt with. Anyway, I'm through it now. So now I do what I can: I carpool, I vanpool, and I am looking for work closer to home. Frankly, though, I find the suburbs unliveable, even if I could afford to move east (which I can't).

Anyway, the transit problem isn't magically solved by your being an asshat. Even if my personal situation did not exist, the underlying problem still is there. Downtown is not the only employment center anymore. There are jobs in Redmond, Eastgate, Issaquah, Sammamish... and no way to get there without a car. Tearing down the viaduct and assuming that people will somehow get to their jobs via mass transit--without, I dunno, actually providing transit options--is completely retarded.

Posted by Shmallow | March 11, 2008 12:03 PM

@38: What about those of us who live with husbands, wives, lovers or other partners who work in a completely different area than we do. Should we maintain two households? Things just aren't that simple. More public transit is better for everyone.

Posted by Mike | March 11, 2008 1:25 PM

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