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Updated waterfront plans lay out more bikeway, street design details

Concept image from Waterfront Seattle
Concept image from Waterfront Seattle

Waterfront Seattle recently held a public meeting to unveil updated plans for the streetscape, transit, walking and biking experience on the soon-to-be renovated downtown waterfront.

Plans include a two-way bikeway on the waterfront side of the street, separated from both vehicle traffic and the walking promenade.

If you are biking from the Alaskan Way Trail to the Elliott Bay Trail, the connection will likely be seamless, easy and safe. The Waterfront Seattle crew heard requests for this style of bikeway loud and clear, and they have delivered.

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The new Alaskan Way, located mostly within the current footprint of the viaduct, will be four or five lanes for most of its length until it reaches Columbia Street. South of Columbia, it completely explodes with travel lanes and starts to look a whole lot more like a freeway than a waterfront boulevard. Near the Ferry Terminal, there are even sections with eight travel lanes and a parking lane (though some are transit-only).

Imagine having to cross this on foot or bike.
Imagine having to cross this on foot or bike. (The “F” lanes are for cars turning into the ferry terminal)

As we argued in a previous post, we cannot allow Alaskan Way to become another highway. It must be a place for people first, traffic corridor second. Even the four- and five-lane sections will likely be unfriendly to anyone outside a car. The intersection at Yesler is the stuff of nightmares:

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 11.28.44 AMI know there are concerns about moving traffic through the new waterfront since so few people (especially freight carriers) will be able to find any use for the deep bore tunnel. But this is hardly what I would imagine a multi-billion-dollar waterfront remake would look like. You can draw all the pretty concept trees you want, but that doesn’t mean that, on the ground, people are going to feel invited to cross an absurd eight lanes of traffic.

Again, this is not a highway. It is a waterfront boulevard. If planners need to remove general purpose through lanes in order to make the road more comfortable to cross, then that’s exactly what the design team should do. Imagine the image above with two fewer lanes and that saved space utilized to create a median or expanded sidewalk. It would still be a ton of lanes, but much more manageable. Would this make traffic worse? It’s unknown, but maybe. But it’s worth it to create a successful and inviting waterfront for everyone.

Here’s a video presentation (long, but informative):

Here’s the presentation documents if you want to take a closer look. You can also find more documents on the SDOT blog.

2013 0626 Street Transit Update Presentation FINAL Web

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54 responses to “Updated waterfront plans lay out more bikeway, street design details”

  1. SK

    I like your suggestion of a median, to help make it less intimidating to cross. I was recently in Paris, and walking through the red-light district they had medians that had pedestrian walkways and benches to sit, and lining the medians were bike lanes. It wasn’t a bad way to do things. All that said, I agree with you that it should NOT be like a freeway down there! That’s really disappointing.

  2. Fnarf

    Wow, that’s even more of a disaster than I expected.

  3. Fnarf

    It needs to be filled with STUFF, not lanes. People don’t visit traffic corridors, they use them to get somewhere else. This is an opportunity to create a destination, not a route out of town. Enough with the lanes, medians, buffers, curbs, planting strips, lanes, lanes, lanes, a frigging “beach” (i.e., dog poo collector, or worse); put something THERE. Buildings, for instance, with shops. An amphitheater. Boat docks. ANYTHING.

    This is the biggest waste of opportunity in Seattle history. It shrinks the usable city instead of expanding it.

    1. AB

      Try learning about what is actually in the project, or stay ignorant – your choice. Performance space (amphitheater) – check. Buildings – check, Built spaces for shops – check. Docks (new piers) – check.
      Your assessment over whether this is “the biggest waste of opportunity in Seattle history” should at least be based on what is actually proposed, not what you assume.

      1. vernon

        He’s talking about the road itself, it should be filled in more with anything other than super highway lanes.

        Don’t go attacking posters just because you disagree with them. We call that “trolling”. Quit it.

  4. Not even a freaking pedestrian island in the plans? So yes, they need at least a median. And really, it just needs a complete redesign for this intersection.

    1. AB

      Median crossings (with pedestrian islands) at King, Jackson, Main, Washington, Yesler (north crosswalk), Columbia, Marion and Madison. Blocks north of Madison don’t generally have medians, but crossings are shorter.

  5. Brian

    I’ve thought for awhile that Portland (ME)’s waterfront would be a good model to copy. It has too much parking and I think it used to have lots of rail to serve the wharves (just like our waterfront), but it also has lots of stuff packed into a small space: shops, housing, marinas, etc.

    And it has lots of people:

    Granted, Portland’s waterfront grew up organically during the colonial period, but it wouldn’t be that hard to drop a “waterfront Post Alley” onto the footprint of our waterfront. A couple of 2 lane roads could serve as through-paths, and otherwise the space would be given over to the activities of citizens.

  6. Jake

    Ugh, that looks depressing. If they’d been honest and shown these renderings when people were voting on the tunnel, I wonder if it would have swayed the results? Here’s your “people’s waterfront”: 8 unbroken lanes of asphalt. Why do we need a tunnel if we’re building a surface highway anyway?

    1. AB

      The previous renderings were worse. The street is wide south of Colman Dock due ferry queueing lanes (2), and all-day transit lanes (2). North of Colman Dock, the street narrows to 4 lanes. There are 2 GP lanes in each direction along the waterfront, with a speed limit of 30mph, and signalized intersections at each block. Not sure how you can call that a “highway”.

      Having Colman Dock queue its ferry traffic, and having KC Metro demand to use the new Alaskan Way as their transit connection to/from West Seattle is what makes this a wide street. If not for those two functions, the street could have been 4 lanes wide, end to end.

      So, hate on the tunnel all you want, but those two factors (Colman Dock, and KC Metro) is what is making the street huge in the south.

  7. AiliL

    The plans, from the very beginning of this project, have always put SOVs first, metro second and everyone else dead last. The opposite of what was really needed to create a people friendly environment – and what they ostensibly kept as their mantra. But this is absurd. As one who uses the waterfront daily by bike this plan is not friendly to bicycle commuters at all. Looking at the plans, I don’t think I’d want to be in the bike boulevard since there may be little room to a pass (commuters AND children who want to learn how to ride bikes? This is not a good combination!), pedestrians will likely use it anyway (in spite of medians and plantings this is a problem on Alki to this very day), and is every block signalized for cyclists, IN the bike path? And pedestrians who have the red/don’t walk will really wait BEHIND the bike path lanes?).

    I know there is some kind of E/W access to get to Western, but how that’s done isn’t clear. And why is there no other connection E/W for cyclists? Marion is not marked as a bike route – a major omission for ferry traffic (which includes cyclists). It’s a minor hill with easy access to the business district, 1st Ave and Pioneer Square.

    Lip service was paid, but there’s been little real outreach to the cycling community. I doubt that anyone who worked on these plans actually took the time to ride a bike down there now and/or placed any thought into how cyclists will really use the area.

  8. Liz

    Look at ALL the renderings, it’s only 8 unbroken lanes between Washington and Yesler to accommodate ferry traffic – most of the rest of the street has medians. There will be ferry traffic, there’s really no getting around that.

    1. MJ

      Actually, the renderings at last month’s open house were out of date before the meeting began. Although the plans everyone looked at showed a refuge median along almost the entire length of Alaskan Way, the actual current design eliminates the median for several blocks south of Yesler (so much for transparency). As things stand now, the crosswalks at Washington and Main would be across eight unbroken traffic lanes of traffic. Staff informed us that they needed to do this to provide a longer lane for ferry traffic. So, the median had to go.

      1. AB

        There are only 2 GP lanes in each direction along the whole of Alaskan Way. South of Columbia (where the street gets huge), the additional lanes are either dedicated transit-only, or ferry queuing lanes.
        Between Yesler and Washington is where its widest (8 travel lanes). There are 3 SB lanes (2 GP, 1 Transit Only), and 5 NB lanes (2 GP, 1 Transit Only, and 2 Ferry Only).
        Blaming the “designers” for the size of the street is ridiculous. They aren’t policy makers. Serving the ferry terminal, and providing transit-only lanes are functional requirements of the street, and not optional.
        Its going to be a big street, probably the biggest in Seattle from Columbia to King (but still only 2 GP lanes in each direction).
        The design team showed precedent images from large streets in other cities to show how they have dealt with streets this big. Key elements are to have wide sidewalks, and generous medians that re proportional to the street (See Michigan Avenue in Chicago, or Park Avenue in New York).

      2. AB

        The poster claiming that crosswalks at Washington and Main “would be across eight unbroken traffic lanes” is incorrect. The latest design (presented at the Design Oversight Sub-Committee meeting on 7/11/13) showed a revised street that included the new extended ferry-queuing lane, but with median widths of 18′ and 16′ at Washington, and 28′ at Main.

      3. MJ

        No, AB, you are incorrect. The plans have changed since 7/11. That’s my whole point. The median at Washington and Main has been removed.

      4. D Murray

        Yes the street will be large, but only for a few blocks. This is nessesary because of the ferry. There will also be a stoplight and wide pedestrian crossing at every block, which is every few hundred feet. This street will not be a highway because it will be very slow to drive on with all the intersections. South of the ferry terminal is basically the end of the waterfront project anyway. The project is focused on the area north of the terminal, where the road will be much smaller, have curb bulbs and medians. Personally i think the compromise to keep most of the traffic at the ferry terminal and south, while leaving the central waterfront mostly devoted to people is a good design.

      5. AB

        @ MJ – “No, AB, you are incorrect. The plans have changed since 7/11.”
        Really? The plans have changed since yesterday?? Were you at the DOS meeting yesterday to see the latest revisions? If so, you would have seen the medians as I described.

  9. Deke

    The simple answer is pedestrian overpasses. The natural slope to the waterfront makes such overpassed to the water side of Alaskan way a logical solution. When I mentioned this to the waterfront folks, however, they seemed to believe that separating pedestrians from the traffic would encourage faster traffic. They don’t seem to realize that – like it or not – people will expect to zip along Alaskan Way almost as fast as they zipped along the viaduct.

  10. jdb

    8 lanes of traffic to cross doesn’t really seem to fulfill the “reconnect the city to the waterfront” goal that they’re supposedly tearing the viaduct down for.

  11. dale

    Before I actually watched the video I thought it was absurd, but a poster above is right. There’s a giant ferry terminal in the middle of the city. How else do you serve that and get traffic through the city without these lanes up to Yesler. Once you pass Yesler, it settles back into a four lane road like it is today. I think they are also trying to serve the ferry with better metro access :|

    The big flaw with the tunnel is that it doesn’t have an offramp to go to Elliot/15th. That’s unfortunate because it means a lot more traffic will need to go down the waterfront. These designers are just trying to handle that load and I think they did an admirable effort.

  12. I attended the most recent open house for this waterfront plan. I read some comments that others were writing, and saw a handful saying they hoped to see 20-25mph speed limits along the new Alaskan Way. I added +1’s to all those comments.

    I also told anyone who would listen that I likely won’t be using the cycle track through the waterfront on my commute to/from work during the week. I didn’t understand the need for signalized intersections on the cycletrack, especially on the west side of the street. People riding bikes generally yield to pedestrians and I can’t see the logic in stopping for signals since bikes aren’t 2-ton killing machines. Yield signs would be more appropriate in my opinion.

    Plus I’m one of those 20+ mph speedsters on the flats, among a handful of others I see commuting during the week through the waterfront. Sometimes I feel like I’m racing, but it’s mostly to get the hell out of car traffic. Can’t really say going that fast on the cycletrack will be safe, since we all know pedestrians will be wandering aimlessly on it.

    So the most optimistic view I have is that the posted speed limit will be 20mph through the waterfront, and having traffic signals timed for that speed during weekday commute times.

    I am definitely looking forward to this updated waterfront…but kinda sucks that the estimated completion is 2019. :-/

    1. ODB

      Agreed re the signalized intersections for the cycletrack. On the current Alaskan Way, from the north end to downtown, I end up getting stopped needlessly by red lights on a daily basis. For example, a pedestrian will hit the crosswalk signal and then cross without it, triggering a needless red light. Or when heading south, there are a couple of intersections where cars have no ability cross a cyclist’s path–cars must turn right or left unless they want to drive into Elliot Bay. It’s frustrating to wait for red lights that serve no purpose. Hopefully, the designers won’t get overzealous in their desire to regulate cyclist behavior and and will reserve the cycletrack signals for the intersections that really need them, if any. If they clutter the path with red lights that are clearly pointless, then I predict poor compliance and the-boy-who-cried-wolf phenomenon, where cyclists will have trouble distinguishing between the lights that don’t make sense and the ones that are actually important.

  13. kristinekaos

    One thing seems obvious… The streetcar is a waste of space and money. Nobody uses it.

    1. Jake

      By that logic, the tunnel is also a waste of space and money, because it currently gets no use either ;)

  14. Lars

    I’m hoping they don’t plant trees close to the bike paths because they wreck the asphalt as already seen on the Burke-Gilman trail and other places.

  15. JB

    Is there not going to be a crosswalk on the south side of Yesler? It’s bad enough having eight lanes, including the short-term parking lot, aka “ferry queue” separating the city from the waterfront; but forcing pedestrians to cross three streets instead of one so as not to interfere with traffic is a pretty antiquated design tactic – at least it should be.

    1. Mark Y.

      I thought the same thing. The south side of Yesler West of Alaskan Way is where the water taxi terminal currently is. Not having a crosswalk there is just dumb, unless they plan on moving the water taxi terminal, I cannot tell from the presentation.
      It’s so dumb, it’s almost guaranteed to happen.

    2. AndrewN

      There won’t be anything on the west side of Alaskan Way between Washington and Yesler, so demand for a crosswalk on the south side of the intersection would be very low. The access to the water taxi will move to the main ferry building:


      1. JB

        And what if you’re walking north along the waterfront, with a destination on the south side of Yesler – you’re supposed to make two extra crossings and a couple hundred feet out of your way? That is an unacceptable level of pedestrian accommodation. I thought we were done with this kind of highway engineer nonsense in the late 60s – it really has no place in a state-0f-the-art piece of urban design like this waterfront is supposed to be.

      2. AndrewN

        If you’re walking north along the waterfront and trying to get to the south side of Yesler, cross as Washington.

        With this design, the crosswalk on the north side of Yesler would be “walk” during the time the ferry traffic is making its northbound left turn. Adding a “walk” phase to the south side would add 8*10/4+7 (lanes times width per lane divided by 4ft/s plus 7 seconds of initial walk time = 27) seconds of delay to Alaskan Way and ferry traffic. The easiest way to accomodate this pedestrian crossing time would then be to widen and/or extend the ferry holding lane even farther south.

    3. JB

      Why allow the left turn at all from Alaska Way into the ferry? What about having someone come out and direct traffic during peak times? There is a more pedestrian-friendly solution to this intersection, but it’s just easier to fall back on the standard procedures of over-designing for automobiles while people on foot have to go the long way around. Our elected officials should challenge the engineers to come up with something better than this.

      1. AndrewN

        If you can’t make the NB left turn into the ferry terminal, how else would you do it? How well can a person direct traffic out there… wouldn’t that still require the same number of traffic lanes? I’d like to hear how you’d make it more pedestrian-friendly while balancing the needs of users of other modes. Just saying there is a better solution doesn’t make it so.

        Also, cars have to go the long way around at this intersection, too. (Albeit, fairly easily since a they’re in a car.) At Yesler and Alaskan, cars won’t be able to make a southbound right or left turn, or a westbound left turn or through movement.

      2. JB

        Directing traffic reduces lane requirements since a person can observe conditions in real time and adjust accordingly – signals waste road capacity by being green when no one is coming. If I’m not mistaken, there is no left turn allowed now from Alaska Way into the ferry dock – you have to go north for a few blocks and make a U-turn. I don’t pretend to understand all the nuances of intersection design, but when I look at this diagram of Alaska and Yesler I am quite sure that whoever engineered it has not been thoroughly challenged to create a pleasant environment for people on foot while maintaining adequate vehicle circulation.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        The better solution is for fewer general traffic lanes. One in each direction through the area will have to suffice.

        Someone else commented that having 2 general traffic lanes the whole way was part of an agreement between the state and city. I don’t have a copy of that agreement in front of me right now, but if they are correct that doesn’t mean the state and city can’t look at the awful end product and come up with a better agreement.

      4. AB

        The question of whether having 2 GP lanes in each direction results in an “awful end product” is subjective. The Port of Seattle sees the 2 GP lanes as a minimum, and reducing to 1 GP lane in each direction (a 50% reduction) would result in traffic backing up onto SR-99 (which is unacceptable to WSDOT). So having any less than the 2 GP lanes in each direction would be “awful” from their perspective.
        Why should this matter? WSDOT and the POS are paying for the new street ($290 million), so the City has little leverage (and agreed to the lane configuration as part of the tunnel agreement).
        If you look at all the proposed intersection along the new Alaskan Way, no doubt that Yesler is the worst, and is totally auto-focused. That’s because of the ferry dock. Unless the ferry dock vanishes, this intersection will be for cars. Why even bother trying to force other modes there – its a bad spot.
        But I think it would be unfortunate, and to judge the whole project by that one intersection. Look at the other intersections – they all have crosswalks on both sides, and medians. The intersections south of Yesler have medians, and north of Colman Dock cross only 4 or 5 lanes.

  16. […] I’m sure when tunnel proponents talked about our once in a lifetime opportunity to revitalized the waterfront what they meant was this. […]

  17. Eric

    Why isn’t carpooling and vanpooling mentioned? You know, those little buses that operate for free, go everywhere, and build community?

    If they made Alaskan Way predominantly carpool-only during rush times they could eliminate regular back ups and combine the transit and traffic lanes.

    1. AB

      KC Metro rejected this idea. Originally, lanes were to be more “flexible”, providing transit-only function in the peak periods, but they demanded all-day dedicated transit lanes.
      Also, the original tunnel agreement in 2009 requires 2 lanes of GP in each direction. The City signed that agreement (in exchange for WSDOT and the Port to fund the new street and tunnel).

      1. Eric

        Thanks for the background AB! That’s a shame about KC Metro. Outside Seattle carpooling gets some benefits, but in town carpooling seems to be factored out of planning. That’s nuts I think; if you look at trip reduction vs cost then carpool incentives are by far the biggest bang for the buck; they can even be used to raise revenue (e.g. congestion pricing on SOVs).

        If only McGinn had pushed for congestion pricing and carpool lanes with regards to the tunnel we could be looking forward to getting single occupant commuters off the streets of downtown Seattle. Instead he chose to destroy himself politically with mindless obstructionism.

  18. Doug Bostrom

    Tom: “If planners need to remove general purpose through lanes in order to make the road more comfortable to cross…”

    Just as a sanity check, how many surface lanes are on the waterfront now?

    I suspect the lanes needing removal need exist only in designer’s imaginations. What in the world do they imagine they’re doing, building a freeway? Clue: the freeway is already in the plan, and will be -underground-, fellas. On the surface you’re building a transport facility that’s for people who -want to be in Seattle-, not get in and out of town as fast as possible. Seattle already bends over backwards with hideous impediments to such as I-5 for people who don’t want to be here; enough already.

    1. AB

      Today (or prior to all the construction detours), there was a 4-lane Alaskan Way street, plus 2 more lanes beneath the AWV for ferry queuing in the south end, and parking in the north. So six lanes total. Also angle-in parking on either side of the two lanes beneath the AWV.
      Future Alaskan Way adds 2 more lanes south of Columbia to accommodate transit that currently accesses downtown to/from the south via the Seneca and Columbia ramps from the AWV. In future, transit will use Alaskan Way to get in/out of downtown, thus the additional 2 lanes.
      Plus to call it a highway, or compare it to I-5 is ridiculous. Saying since they both have 8 lanes, they are somehow the same is like saying a bicycle is the same as a Harley since they both have 2 wheels.
      The new Alaskan Way will be a 30 mph arterial, with signalized intersection at each cross-street – which has nothing in common with I-5.

  19. Breadbaker

    Whether promoting the tunnel or “surface-transit” (which was always a chimera; “transit” doesn’t get goods through the area or deal with the ferries), the promoters of knocking down the Viaduct always made it sound like we’d end up with a combination of Disneyland and Central Park on the Waterfront. When I pointed out that the best view of Seattle was free from the top of the Viaduct I would be shouted down. Nicely played.

    1. AB

      Have you seen the Overlook Walk? This pathway from the Pike Place Market is huge, and will provide great elevated views of the Bay. Plus removing the AWV will now open up those views for people walking down 1st Avenue, or Western, or Columbia, or Seneca, where today the AWV dominates the view.
      With both the Columbia and Seneca ramps being demolished, new view corridors will be created that don’t exist today. Well played indeed.

  20. donde

    The ferry is the big challenge then, isn’t it then? How about two Alaskan Ways – a waterfront one that goes to the ferry and nowhere else, and a slightly more inland one that serves downtown traffic and intersects the side streets? Put a big wide median between the two, and have them actually intersect at Edgar Martinez

  21. […] to Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog for bringing this to my […]

  22. Becka

    I like Donde’s idea – instead of one mega-road, why not have two roads, separated by a median, or even better, narrow buildings. Similar vehicle throughput, massively different feel as a pedestrian/cyclist.

  23. Becka

    Also, what steps can we take to make sure we don’t end up with a highway on top of the tunnel? Surely it’s not a done-deal

  24. JB

    But I think it would be unfortunate, and to judge the whole project by that one intersection. Look at the other intersections – they all have crosswalks on both sides, and medians. The intersections south of Yesler have medians, and north of Colman Dock cross only 4 or 5 lanes.

    AB, this seems like a reasonable point. However, a lot of foot passengers use the ferry too, and the dock area is an important civic place, not just a utilitarian transportation facility for cars and trucks. I am curious as to the numbers of foot passengers vs. auto passengers who pass through Colman Dock.

  25. […] Seattle Bike Blog, while approving of the cycle tracks, says, “The new Alaskan Way, located mostly within the current footprint of the viaduct, will be four or five lanes for most of its length until it reaches Columbia Street. South of Columbia, it completely explodes with travel lanes and starts to look a whole lot more like a freeway than a waterfront boulevard.” […]

  26. Will in Seattle

    They have to make it a giant highway since the Deep Billionaire’s Tunnel lacks the capacity and nobody can afford to use it.

    No way around it.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Just say no to new highways.

      Seattle needs this like a fish needs a bicycle… or multi-billion-dollar car tunnel. Or however that saying goes.

  27. […] fears about removing the viaduct without first digging the tunnel: The state already plans to build a surface highway on the waterfront, even if the tunnel is built. Once people get a look at how wide this surface highway is, any fears […]

  28. scott t

    i dont know about the reconnect stuff. arent most residences a near teh north end of alaskan anyway where thre is less ferry traffic?

    and i thought most freight was just s of columbia? do the trucks generally head north on alaskan or access a highway for delivery in some other way??

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