— Advertisement —

Who is going to step up and fix the planned waterfront surface highway?

Base images from Waterfront Seattle. Lower image modified by Seattle Bike Blog.

So many of you submitted comments shocked by the gigantic waterfront highway presented in the most recent Waterfront Seattle plans that you triggered a requirement mandating the city study a road design that has fewer lanes to cross between the downtown core and the rebuilt waterfront.

The proposed eight-lane road is so wide that people who move slower — like children, many elderly people or people with mobility issues — won’t be able to cross the whole street in one signal. They will have to cross to the center median and wait a couple minutes before continuing across to finally reach the other side. Or they’ll just get stuck in the middle of traffic when the light turns green, a terrifying and dangerous situation.

Obviously, this is not acceptable. So good job submitting your comments! You all were very clear about the problem, and you demanded a solution from our city and state. And they heard you, so now they are studying an option that removes the … transit lanes?!?

— Advertisement —

That’s right. Even though essentially nobody asked to get rid of the transit lanes, that’s the study we’re getting. Because everything about this process is backwards.

In a short bullet point during a mostly-fireworks-free Transportation Committee meeting last week, a planner for the Waterfront Seattle project mentioned that they were adding a study to analyze the impact of removing the promised transit-only lanes on the planned Alaskan Way surface street. These transit lanes are vital for moving all the buses that currently use the viaduct, including most service to West Seattle.

But the comment did not go unnoticed. Transit boosters, including Zach Shaner at Seattle Transit Blog, heard the new bit of news and asked, and I’m roughly paraphrasing here, “What the fuck?”

Well, it turns out the problem stems from an agreement between the Port of Seattle and the State. Zach at STB explains:

[Office of the Waterfront Director Marshall] Foster said the total number of comments asking for a narrower roadway hit “a tipping point” that forced the City to formally respond to their request, necessitating a SDEIS that studied a narrower roadway. However, Foster said the funding agreement between the State and the Port explicitly codifies two general purpose lanes in each direction, effectively prohibiting the City from studying reducing those lanes in the SDEIS:

Section II, A, 5: The Central Waterfront from Pine Street to Colman Dock will have two lanes in each direction plus a turning lane; the segment south of Colman Dock will have 3 lanes in each direction plus a turning lane.

So the City is in the odd position of being required to study a narrower channelization because enough of the community asked for it, but since the only mode not explicitly protected in its right-of-way allocation is transit, the City will study eliminating transit priority even though neither the City nor advocacy groups see that as a preferred outcome. Isn’t process fun?

No! It’s not. It’s garbage, and we need a leader (or, you know, all of them) to step up and broker a deal that actually makes sense and creates a waterfront the people and businesses of our city, region and state deserve and demand.

Here’s a great place to start, suggested in a letter (PDF) signed by Feet First, Cascade Bicycle Club, Transportation Choices Coalition and WA Bikes: Broker a deal with the Port to allow freight and transit to share a lane through this pinch point.

Clearly, freight carriers (especially those with hazardous loads that can’t go in the new tunnel highway) are concerned about getting stuck in traffic, which is why they demanded the extra lanes in exchange for Port funding. But creating transit/freight lanes could meet that need just as well, and it would help keep people walking safe, keep buses moving smoothly and allow for more public space near the waterfront all at the same time.

That’s great for businesses on the waterfront and foot access to the ferry terminal. So long as analysis shows the relatively low numbers of freight trucks don’t slow buses, there’s really no down side to this idea.

And maybe if more people can access the ferry comfortably by foot, we really won’t even need that extra ferry queue lane. That’s how you get the image at the top of this post.

The city likes to say that safety, especially for our most vulnerable community members, is our top transportation priority. The State’s Target Zero program states similar goals. Well, prove it.

Don’t make people with disabilities get caught in the middle of eight lanes of traffic because they ran out of time. Don’t make parents hold their children’s hands and run to make it to the distant curb before the light turns green. The people have been very clear about what they want from this project, and the current plans don’t cut it. Do we really need to protest even more? Or will our leaders step up and deliver a better waterfront for everyone?

UPDATE: Per request, here’s a list of relevant people you may wish to contact, assembled by Seattle Transit Blog:

Marshall Foster, Office of the Waterfront Director
Lisa Herbold, Seattle City Council District 1
Sally Bagshaw, Seattle City Council District 7
Scott Kubly, Seattle Department of Transportation Director
Kevin Desmond, King County Metro General Manager
Dow Constantine, King County Executive
Andrew Glass-Hastings Transportation Policy Advisor, Mayor Murray’s Office
Lynn Peterson, WSDOT Secretary

And here’s a list of Seattle Port Commissioner emails (I don’t have Fred Felleman’s email yet, but I’m assuming it will be [email protected]):


About the author:

Related posts:


33 responses to “Who is going to step up and fix the planned waterfront surface highway?”

  1. Adam

    Is there a list of contacts to whom we may contact and let them know that this is a bunch of BS?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Good idea. I added a list to the bottom of the post, via Seattle Transit Blog. The Waterfront draft environmental impact statement comment period is over, but there will be another comment period for the changes for the EIS whenever they get those out. But hopefully they can add the concept outlined here (or something similar) to the EIS before then so we can all praise and love it.

      1. Adam

        Thanks Tom. Sent them all an email.

        It boggles my mind that we’re tearing down the viaduct and throwing billions into a tunnel all to build this monstrosity on the waterfront.

  2. biliruben

    I find myself secretly hoping for a 20 foot rise in sea-levels. What a cluster.

    Who the hell signed off on all those GP lanes? Doesn’t anyone know there is going to be a highway with only GP lanes directly below this road? I could have sworn our Governor was supposed to be some sort of eco-freak demanding decreased carbon emissions.

  3. I have a few questions. I’ve looked at the agreement but am not qualified to interpret it.

    Does the agreement forbid the study of fewer GP lanes or just the construction of them? Is there value to having a formal procedure show that the forbidden alternative is better? Obviously it’s wasteful to study something that “can’t” be done, though it seems like showing an (actually better) alternative should be the real point of the study. Is this moot anyway because they’ve already finalized what they will study?

    I’ve heard multiple people (and see myself now) that the agreement just says “lanes”. Does that legally mean “GP lanes”?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      By process of elimination, I think so (if 3 lanes are required separate from a turning lane, and one is transit, then that’s 2 gp lanes). Unless we can argue that the bike lanes count as lanes. After all, bikes are traffic. In that case, my version totally counts. Someone get a lawyer on it!

      1. Josh

        While it’s not clear in Washington law, and I’m not a lawyer, based on past discussions about the legal status of cycletracks, bike lanes, and shared-use trails in Washington, I would suspect the courts would find that bicycle facilities are only “lanes” if they’re part of the “roadway.”

        (See the State Supreme Court’s ruling in Pudmaroff, discussing whether the Interurban was a “roadway” — short answer, no — it’s a “highway” since it’s open to bicycle travel, but it’s not a “roadway.”)

        A standard bike lane is part of the roadway; it’s a preferred-use lane for bicycles, but it’s between the curbs of the sidewalks and it’s open to motorists who are required to merge right before turning right.

        A separated bike facility is generally not open for other vehicles to drive in, it’s a separate, bike-only facility that likely falls within the State Supreme Court’s classification as a “highway” that’s not part of the “roadway.”

      2. Josh

        Of course, that brings up the whole question of state law and the Seattle Municipal Code not recognizing cycletracks as a type of facility. There’s no legal clarity what they really are, what rules of the road apply, who has right-of-way in crossings, etc. (For that matter, neither the RCW nor the SMC authorize or define bicycle signal faces, even though they’re already in use.)

        The Supreme Court noted in Pudmaroff that the Legislature hadn’t done much to make bicycle law clear or consistent, and it’s not getting any better as jurisdictions around the state continue to experiment with facilities that have no basis in law.

      3. Andres Salomon

        So in theory we could build a paint-only bike lane (maybe buffered?) to satisfy the lane number requirements? I’m huge PBL proponent, but I’d be perfectly happy with a paint-only bike lane if it meant fewer general-purpose lanes.

      4. PBL and paint-only bike lane!

  4. Peri Hartman

    I like the idea of a combined freight (with special license) and transit lane.

    However, I’m wondering why presumably so much transit is expected to use Alaskan Way. The majority of people need to get on or off transit up the hill along, say, 3rd Ave. Making everyone go to the waterfront to get on or off a bus would be a disservice for many.

    Is 3rd Ave. at capacity? Are there any alternatives or possibilities of adding more transit lanes through downtown? Can the 2nd bus tunnel design and construction be accelerated?

    As for the ferry holding, if that must exist (and I do believe there are other ways to deal with this), it could be a separated section of road so that the main part of the highway can be narrower and crossed more quickly. The holding lanes don’t move much and perhaps wouldn’t need anything more than stop signs and crosswalks.

    It seems a best waterfront solution would be to reduce lanes, shift some of the transit elsewhere, and share the transit lane with freight. If we pave over the whole stretch with lanes, it will be quite a highway and where will our park be?

    1. LWC

      Post-viaduct, West Seattle buses are going to access 3rd Ave via Columbia Street (see http://seattletransitblog.com/2013/04/30/metro-selects-columbia-as-post-viaduct-pathway/), and thus will have to traverse the southern portion of the waterfront to get there. For some discussion of why alternatives are not viable, see the Seattle Transit Blog post linked above (http://seattletransitblog.com/2015/12/08/waterfront-bus-lanes-may-be-endangered/).

      1. jt

        Holy shit thanks for posting this. I’ve been looking for something like this for ages: a detailed report of what happens to WS bus service post-viaduct, and how they decided to do it.

        Interesting to see this wacky Main Street alternative. WS’s got great Pioneer Square access already, just gotta take the water taxi or bike there. But who knows, maybe water taxi didn’t exist in 2013.

        I’m impressed they think bus travel times will not be that terrible after removing 99. I’d assumed it would be like 2+ hours of gridlock to get into downtown in the morning. Gotta read the details though.

    2. Meredith

      RE: Ferry holding. As a ferry (and bicycle) commuter I can assure you that ferry holding is very necessary and (in the summer), a big source of the current traffic disaster on the waterfront. The catch-22 of course is that during the day, especially in the winter, the it isn’t needed, but head down there around 4pm on a Friday in July…The situation will get better when the seawall is done, as part of the ferry lot has been taken over by construction, so holding lanes have been converted to employee parking.

  5. Southeasterner

    Maybe a bit of devils advocate but I guess I don’t see what the issue is. Why wouldn’t peds continue to cross over using the Marion St. ped bridge if they want to access the Ferry terminal? It’s ADA compliant, has a great view, and you avoid any interaction with vehicles.

    Most peds are going to cross north of Coleman Docks which is where you have 2 lanes in each direction plus a turning lane. I say that’s the issue and should be reduced to one lane in each direction plus a turning lane and continued all the way to the Broad street so we can complete Seattle’s next Missing Link – connecting the waterfront trail to the Elliot Bay Trail. Reducing lanes from Pine to Broad would open up plenty of space for a bike lane and preserve the holy parking spaces. Not to mention, aside from cruise boarding’s/deboarding’s, the current GP lanes in that area are vastly under-utilized.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      The ped walkway is fine for what it is, but you shouldn’t need a pedestrian flyover just to walk between downtown and the waterfront. And the walkway won’t help people coming from Pioneer Square, who would have to walk many blocks out of the way to use it (if they even know it’s there).

      1. Southeasterner

        That makes more sense…forgot about the Pioneer Square contingent, which will only grow when Weyerhaeuser moves in.

  6. The elephant in the room is the car-ferry queues. Cars waiting to get into ferry lines take up a ton of space, which forces a very wide roadway at this point. It’s tempting to say that the car ferries should land elsewhere and leave the downtown terminal for passenger ferries, but I don’t think that’s on the table in this discussion. (It’s also likely that including drive-on access downtown results in more ferries serving downtown, and therefore more useful service for walk-on passengers. So there’s that.)

    An out-of-the-way waiting area for the car ferries would be nice, but for some reason that’s off the table, too.

    1. Kirk

      Perhaps when Bertha breaks down and the tunnel is abandoned, the short section of tunnel already dug, which I believe is near the ferry dock, can be converted to holding for cars queued for the ferry….

  7. Initiative 123 has a 2.0 waterfront plan that addresses Alaskan Way and a dozen other areas where the 1.0 waterfront plan needed improvements. The Initiative 123 bicycling options are fantastic, for instance.

      1. AW

        I like the idea of an elevated park and think it would be a great amenity. But I also would like to know whose money is behind this effort ?

      2. Southeasterner

        Not only that but how will they pay the huge annual operating costs? If the expectation is Seattle Parks will handle it I think that’s a bit optimistic considering they barely have the funds to manage the parks they currently oversee and there is limited room for them to ask for another cash infusion through property or sales tax revenue, considering they just got one.

      3. Kirk

        I would totally get behind I123 if there was a great bike path on the new elevated park, and it connected to the Battery Street tunnel. If it was privately funded. I can’t imagine voters ever approving tearing down the old viaduct and paying to build a new one.

        Build a new Ballard Bridge first, please.

  8. […] of an eight-lane surface highway next to the Seattle waterfront, Seattle Bike Blog proposes a narrower road where buses share lanes with […]

  9. Wells

    I must note that aerial renderings show NO CROSSWALK on the south side of Yesler crossing Alaskan Way. The north side of Yesler does have a crosswalk minus the queue lanes, plus a median. Crosswalks on Washington St show a single and double queue lanes lining a formal pedestrian-oriented intersection. This same rendering shows a streetcar line turning north from Yesler to the Alaskan Way median. Such a streetcar could eventually extend to Interbay.

    More to the point, Plan B for Bertha on record at Wsdot, realligns the bore tunnel along the seawall to a portal near Pike/Pine. Thhe seawall is strengthened and Seattle saved from inevitable destruction as the proposed alignment destabilizes already unstable soils beneath vulnerable historic and modern buildings above. DESTRUCTION! as severe settling forces demolition, and in earthquake sudden collapse with a death toll opens eyes to this highly probable prospect too goddamn late.

    Plan B maintains Lower Belltown access to SR99 for the 35,000 vehicles daily from Interbay/Ballard which will not need to travel a wider Alaskan Way. Figure Plan B into lane requirement calculation, and figure the massive overwalk thing is intentionally designed to make a streetcar line and extension to Interbay impossible. There were 4 rail lines on Alaskan Way before Seattle was repopulated with mediocre motorists.

  10. Lynn

    I agree that making the south end of the project safer for pedestrians is important, but my biggest concern for this project is that there is no connection to the Elliot Bay Trail at the north end for bicyclists. This is an amazing opportunity to create a fantastic waterfront bicycle facility that will be missed if the designers don’t connect the new facility to the EBT. I think the connections to Elliot and Western are great, but the best bike facility in the area for commuters as well as tourists (all-ages-and-abilities) is the EBT.

  11. RDPence

    Is the City seeking to replicate Mercer Street along the waterfront? We all know what a wonderful pedestrian/bicycle-friendly street that is, separating Amazonville from Lake Union

  12. Mark

    It’s odd that anyone is using a little bit of temporary illegal car parking (AKA ferry traffic) as justification for a massive urban highway. I think a lot of folks thought that the whole point of getting rid of the viaduct was to have more of an urban feel and maybe even a little less noise downtown. The viaduct is a massive noise generator to say the least. As for ferry traffic..that’s a simple thing. First off..allow the making of appointments. Charge more money for summer crossings outside of appointments. A lot more. The ferry is far too cheap. (Love the $1 penalty for riding a bike as well).

    Two lanes each direction along the waterfront south of the ferries is quite suitable.

    The ferries need to move farther south if they don’t like the fact Seattle is growing and doesn’t want a surface highway that will be at capacity at most a few times a day in the summer for a few minutes.

  13. […] are no fans of the state’s existing plans for a surface highway on the waterfront. But the city’s developing waterfront park is pretty cool and has received tons of public […]

  14. rob_kp

    lol, the “bike facility”:
    The bicycle facility would run on the west side of Alaskan Way from S. King Street to about Virginia Street, where it would CROSS THE ROAD to join the existing path on the east side of the roadway. At the new Elliott Way‐Pine Street intersection, the bicycle facility would branch westward to run along the Pine Street extension as well as continuing north on Elliott Way. On Elliott Way, north of the intersection, the facility would TRANSITION to TWO SEPARATE 6‐foot‐wide bicycle lanes, with the lane on the east side of Elliott Way carrying northbound bicycles and the lane on the west side of the street carrying southbound bicycles. North of Bell Street, these bicycle lanes would connect with existing lanes on Elliott and Western Avenues in Belltown.

  15. […] to build a new surface highway between the glorious Elliott Bay waterfront and its downtown core despite warnings from major transportation advocacy groups warning that such a wide roadway would put people walking […]

  16. […] (surface highway) has upset a conflicting array of local advocates. Walk, bike, and Vision Zero advocates rightly clamor for a smaller, safer, slower roadway (reduce the general purpose lanes!). […]

— Advertisement —

Join the Seattle Bike Blog Supporters

As a supporter, you help power independent bike news in the Seattle area. Please consider supporting the site financially starting at $5 per month:

Latest stories

Bike Events Calendar

7:15 pm Point83 @ Westlake Park
Point83 @ Westlake Park
Jul 25 @ 7:15 pm
Point83 @ Westlake Park
Meet up in the center of the park at 7ish. Leave at 730. Every Thursday from now until forever rain or shine. Bikes, beers, illegal firepits, nachos, bottlerockets, timetraveling, lollygagging, mechanicals, good times.ShareMastodonTwitterFacebookRedditEmail
all-day Bicycle Weekends on Lake Washing…
Bicycle Weekends on Lake Washing…
Jul 27 – Jul 28 all-day
Bicycle Weekends on Lake Washington Blvd
Details from Seattle Parks: On scheduled weekends from May to September, a portion of Lake Washington Boulevard will be closed to motorized vehicles from 10 a.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday. “Seattle Parks and Recreation[…]
all-day Bicycle Weekends on Lake Washing…
Bicycle Weekends on Lake Washing…
Jul 28 – Jul 29 all-day
Bicycle Weekends on Lake Washington Blvd
Details from Seattle Parks: On scheduled weekends from May to September, a portion of Lake Washington Boulevard will be closed to motorized vehicles from 10 a.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday. “Seattle Parks and Recreation[…]
7:15 pm Point83 @ Westlake Park
Point83 @ Westlake Park
Aug 1 @ 7:15 pm
Point83 @ Westlake Park
Meet up in the center of the park at 7ish. Leave at 730. Every Thursday from now until forever rain or shine. Bikes, beers, illegal firepits, nachos, bottlerockets, timetraveling, lollygagging, mechanicals, good times.ShareMastodonTwitterFacebookRedditEmail
7:15 pm Point83 @ Westlake Park
Point83 @ Westlake Park
Aug 8 @ 7:15 pm
Point83 @ Westlake Park
Meet up in the center of the park at 7ish. Leave at 730. Every Thursday from now until forever rain or shine. Bikes, beers, illegal firepits, nachos, bottlerockets, timetraveling, lollygagging, mechanicals, good times.ShareMastodonTwitterFacebookRedditEmail
— Advertisements —

Latest on Mastodon

Loading Mastodon feed…