Arena’s plans for Denny Way and 2nd Ave move Seattle in the wrong direction

Map of the traffic plan for 1st, Warren and 2nd Avenues N, including two new parking garages that empty onto 2nd Ave.

The car traffic plan for the arena’s new parking garages. From a presentation to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board (PDF)

As part of the transportation plan for the new arena in Seattle Center, developers and the City of Seattle are currently planning to delete the north end of the 2nd Ave protected bike lane and steal crossing time from people walking on Denny Way, all in a hopeless effort to move more cars.

These plans, first reported by Ryan Packer at The Urbanist, go against our city’s transportation and climate policies and goals, fly in the face of clear community concerns about so-called “adaptive” traffic signals and would rewind some of the incredible bike progress our city has made thanks in large part to the 2nd Ave protected bike lane. City leaders should demand SDOT and the arena team come up with a better plan that encourages biking, walking and transit rather than driving cars.

Driving will never be a good way to get to Seattle Center. Even if they follow through on their plan to cut down on biking and walking access to try to squeeze a few more cars in and out of the area, they will fail. This isn’t theoretical. There is no path to success if they are defining success as moving lots of cars through Uptown, South Lake Union and Belltown. They will fail, 100 percent guaranteed. But they can succeed in making it more difficult, dangerous and time-consuming to bike, walk and take transit as their current plans would. We should not let them.

Don’t delete our city’s premiere bike lane

Since this is Seattle Bike Blog, let’s start with the 2nd Ave bike lane. In order to better serve people who drive cars all the way to the new planned garages just a block or two from the area, the plan would delete a section of the most successful and impactful new bike lanes in the whole city in order to create a second lane for cars on 2nd Ave at Denny. Instead, people biking would be routed onto an almost-certainly crowded sidewalk. So people biking and walking get squeezed together in half the space they have today while people driving get double the space.

Map of the concept for deleting the 2nd Ave bike lane to add another car lane just south of Denny Way.As we have reported, biking is booming right now. The number of trips by bike this year is obliterating the previous records, and this is in no small part due to bike improvements like the 2nd Ave protected bike lane. To replace this bike lane so that parking garages can empty out faster following events is simply wrong. It is backwards. It must be stopped.

The arena plan does include a new protected bike lane that winds blocks out of the way to 1st Ave and Queen Anne Ave (1st is two blocks from 2nd here because lol Seattle streets). Those new bike lanes would be great for serving the Uptown business district and beyond, but they are far less direct for people heading to Seattle Center. And Seattle Center is not only a pretty big destination, it is also a wonderful and popular bike cut-through for people heading to various places, including 5th Ave, the Mercer Street bike lane under Aurora and, soon, Thomas Street to South Lake Union.

People who drive to the parking garages for an event can just wait their turn to get out using the lane that exists. It should be expected that if you drive to a Seattle Center event, it’s going to take some time to get out of the parking garage at the end. We should not destroy our best bike route in a vain attempt to let them get out a little faster. Pacing the cars leaving the garages might even help alleviate the traffic problems on other streets in the area, so it’s not a bad outcome.

The 2nd Ave bike lane helps move people 24/7. It is absurd to ruin it so that very temporary event crowds a few times a week can drive away a tiny bit faster. It doesn’t even play a role in pre-event traffic, only post-event.

Instead, they should extend the 2nd Ave bike lane two more blocks north to connect seamlessly to Seattle Center’s car-free center. That would have a more tangible and positive impact on all-way, all-day mobility on this street and it would be an investment in a future that we want, not an investment in furthering the traffic-clogged nightmare we already have.

Don’t repeat Mercer’s mistakes on Denny

The city’s so-called “adaptive” traffic signals on Mercer Street have been the subject of intense scorn from neighbors and advocates for more walking because they basically just steal time from people walking and give it to people driving. I think the designers and promoters of this system think they are being more sophisticated than that, but they aren’t. Their fancy systems don’t count pedestrian delays, they only count car delays. In order to cross the street, you have to push a button to get a walk signal at all, then you have to wait. And wait. And wait. The more car traffic there is, the longer people walking are forced to wait. That’s the “adaptive” part. It adapts to bad car traffic by making people who are not contributing to car traffic wait more. And in case you haven’t noticed, traffic on Mercer is still terrible. The adaptive signals just make sure it’s also terrible to walk there.

Well, it worked so poorly on Mercer that the arena team and Seattle are currently planning on doing the same thing on Denny Way. Denny Way is full of cars. Nothing can be done to the signal timing to change that. The only fix for Denny is to prioritize more efficient ways to move people on that street.

Established city transportation policy, codified in just about every document approved by the City Council in the past decade, is that our goal is to move people and goods, not just cars. The current plan for Denny is so blinded by the goal of moving cars that it is destined to to fail everyone, people driving included.

Denny has a major bus route, King County Metro’s Route 8. It’s one of the busiest routes in the entire county. And everyone who has ever ridden it knows the 8’s nickname: The Late. What if instead of trying to cram more cars onto a street that’s already full of them we try to liberate the 8 from traffic and make it the obvious best way to get up and down Denny Way? Denny is diagonal street that breaks the grid, which makes it extremely important for transit and walking especially. A fast, reliable bus on Denny would be transformative to our city. Driving will never be a good way to get around the Denny Triangle, Belltown and South Lake Union. There’s nothing the city can do about that. But the city can build bus lanes and free the 8.

Money planned to go to Denny Way adaptive signals should go to transit improvements instead. Again, this would be the option consistent with our city’s transportation and climate policies and goals.

Seattle does not want more car infrastructure. Our city has been very clear about that through our major votes for levies focused on transit, walking and biking, and our votes for leaders who prioritize transit, walking and biking. And we are not afraid to invest in a vision. We care about the climate. We want better transit. And we want to improve safety for people walking and biking. The points in the arena traffic plan that go against these priorities should be abandoned and replaced with investments in the city we actually want.

Mayor Jenny Durkan made a pretty strong statement this week in support of safe streets. And during her talk, she said, “If you don’t have to drive, do not drive. Get out of your cars. If you can get on a bike, if you can walk, if you can bus or light rail, please do that. If you have to get in your cars, slow down. You are not going to get there that much faster by going faster.”

Right on, Mayor. I think the arena traffic plan team needs to hear this message from you, too.

I hope she directs SDOT to revisit these two car-blinded elements of the arena plan and come back with investments that align with our city’s vision for big increases in walking, biking and transit. Because that vision is more important than reducing the wait time for people trying to drive out of a garage immediately following an event. This process has gone sideways, and we need city leaders to recenter it on our city’s real goals. Let’s move more people safer and more sustainably.

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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17 Responses to Arena’s plans for Denny Way and 2nd Ave move Seattle in the wrong direction

  1. ronp says:

    great post, really you can cut and paste it on so many of the car centric proposals that are still out there . rule should be if you ever propose to decrease bike and pedestrian infrastructure for general purpose car lanes you should be required to spend 10x on the cost in improving non car infrastrucure within 200 meters of the car “improvement” and dont use safety as an excuse to increase level of car service…

  2. NickS says:

    With light rail to the Eastside 3-4 years away, and a stop at Seattle Center likely 15-16 years away (assuming the Ballard Link extension actually occurs, and occurs on the current timeframe of 2035), there is no good public transit option to get from the suburbs to events. A very large percentage of attendees at shows and sports games at the new arena are going to be coming from outside the city.

    Durkan, other city leaders, and the private investment group behind the arena know that opening a huge new sports and events arena at the Seattle Center is going to be a traffic nightmare. They’re trying desperately to show that they attempted to address it (it won’t be successful, but look, they did something!).

    The best thing they could do is, as you said, improve public transit access on Denny, and perhaps try to find a way to run frequent event shuttles from Westlake. Partner with a bike share to station hundreds of bikes at Westlake and guide attendees to the 2nd Ave bike lane. Promote the hell out of taking light rail and shuttle/bike share, and cross our collective fingers that East Link stays on schedule, and that Ballard Link doesn’t get outright canceled due to lack of funds. Maybe ST can open Seattle Center station before the rest of the line.

    • RossB says:

      >> there is no good public transit option to get from the suburbs to events.

      I disagree. Don’t forget the monorail, which will have a makeover before the hockey team gets here. The monorail connects to light rail, which serves the suburbs fairly well. You also have a fairly good bus system from the suburbs. It is also quite possible that there will be special bus service from the SR 520 corridor to Lower Queen Anne, since by then it is likely there will be bus service on Harrison over SR 99, and hopefully some bus lanes.

      That doesn’t mean there won’t be people driving. Of course there will. But it is nuts to spend a lot of time and effort trying to accommodate them for the relatively rare time they will be driving to one particular garage, instead of the folks who bike there everyday.

    • Breadbaker says:

      Last I saw, Durkan was mayor of Seattle, not Bellevue. Inconveniencing local cyclists to subtract a minute or two from the time Eastside residents have to spend in traffic leaving Seattle events is not her job. People are going to go see NHL hockey, and having to wait in traffic won’t stop them from driving to it. Causing cyclists to drive on crowded sidewalks full of hockey fans is a bad idea.

  3. People Mover says:

    That block of 2nd isn’t actually in the BMP, rather the BMP calls for a cycle track on 1st Ave to connect with a PBL on the Queen Anne/1st Ave N couplet. Why not ask for that connection rather than fight to retain a connection that dead ends into a hilly street with limited useful connections?

    • Because we all know how great this city is with fulfilling the Bike Master Plan in a prompt, effective manner. Fighting for the infrastructure that exists is the best thing activists have.

    • Kristina says:

      Because many of us use it to go up that hill to go to Seattle Center. It is a pleasant place to be to cut through to the north or to connect to the cycletrack at 5th and Mercer. Or as I often do cut northwest to connect with businesses and then home. It means missing several busy, exhaust filled blocks, where you have to worry about left turning drivers and in the north end having it be blocked by a homeless camper.

  4. JB says:

    Surprise surprise. You’re kidding yourself if you think Jenny Durkan is suddenly an enlightened urbanist because she slapped up a few speed limit signs. She knows how to surf the news cycle and grab the photo op, but is still a long way from being a real leader on these issues. And frankly, Seattle bike and pedestrian advocates are still a long way from learning how to actually have our voices heard and execute our visions on any kind of regular basis. Forget implementing the BMP – do you even think Westlake and the rest of the 2nd Ave. bike lanes are safe these days? Bet we could squeeze just a few more cars through if we deleted those too …

    Agree with ronp that if this particular block is so important for cars, then let them have it – and spend 10 times the money building better bike and pedestrian infrastructure somewhere nearby. That’s also what they should have done on 35th Ave. and all the other spots that were just tooo important for cars to build a real bike lane in.

  5. DE says:

    Who and how do we contact to voice our opinion?

    • Jessica says:

      i was wondering this too.

      • JB says:

        Unfortunately this blog seems to be utterly disinterested in commenting on the city’s political processes. Try your councilmembers and the mayor. If you get so much as a stock response from anyone in the mayor’s office you will have done better than I have – they really don’t seem to care. Cascade Bicycle Club may have some further ideas.

  6. Patrick says:

    The one angle that might actually get Durkan’s attention is that this creates confusion and a bad experience for all those summer tourists trying to get Jump bikes from Pike Place to the Space Needle.

    Having a continuous all ages/abilities route from downtown to Seattle Center seems like a win for the hospitality lobby.

  7. NoSpin says:

    If elected officials in Seattle care half as much about Climate Change as they claim to, they will direct SDOT and the Seattle Center to scrap these plans and start from scratch.

    1) Seattle Center should not have a parking garage – period. Transit and rideshare should be the default modes of transportation on a dense urban area like LQA, SLU, and Belltown. Expedia has a huge new parking garage that the billionaires who run events at Seattle Center can lease out, and provide shuttle buses.

    2) To the degree that there are cars moving around Seattle Center – or anywhere else in an urban core – they should have to make due with the infrastructure they have. We’ve catered to cars for far too long, and all it does is create ‘induced demand’ for more traffic lanes, squeezing out the ability for us to enable non-car modes of transportation.

    3) On-street parking needs to be completely eliminated on arterials. There’s another full lane available for transportation on almost every arterial in Seattle that’s being wasted on the temporary stroage of personal property (aka – parking). On Mercer in LQA, there are multiple spots where two lanes squeeze down to one bacause of on-street parking, then it opens back up to two lanes, then gets squeezed down again because of parking – the result being traffic that has to merge and remerge every other block, all because of parking. Enough.

  8. RossB says:

    As I wrote on The Urbanist, this is a bad idea all around. It won’t be good for drivers, either.

    Most of the drivers will want to head to the freeway, via Denny. But instead, they will be sent towards Belltown. After crossing Denny, they will then have to make another left (on Broad), followed by going through another intersection (3rd and Broad) followed by finally making a right, on Denny (where you can expect lots of pedestrian traffic). That isn’t what they want to do, and it adds to further congestion.

    It makes way more sense to simply allow cars — after a game — to make a left. The challenge is that the city doesn’t want people making a left most of the day. This is reasonable (I don’t either). To make it safe, you would need a left turn arrow and a different cycle. Most of the time, this would be pointless and simply interfere with traffic on Denny. But there are options the city should explore.

    First, for cars, I would make Second Avenue one-way south, from John. This eliminates drivers quickly turning right onto Second (from Denny) while giving the street more space. I would then extend the bikeway up Second, and take away the parking. Even with the bikeway, there is enough room for an extended left turn lane. The lane for turning left would begin at the garage. The other lane would remain the same. To turn left, you would need to wait for a left turn arrow (as is the case on Second and Broad).

    You still have the issue of managing left turns the rest of the day. The simplest way to handle this is to have a very short light cycle most of the time. This wouldn’t interfere with Denny traffic that much (especially if timed properly). Drivers adjust. You aren’t going to have lots of drivers going that way if they have to wait through several cycles.

    If the city doesn’t want to do that, then just make the left turn lane temporary. Close it off with movable barriers. The left turn lane would essentially not exist until after a game (same with the left turn light). When the traffic cops arrive to regulate the intersection, they open up the lane. Drivers then have the opportunity to take a left, and head towards the freeway (which is where most want to go). They will still be able to go straight (or right) as well.

  9. Rick P says:

    This issue is a microcosm of all such transportation issues. Traffic after NBA/NHL or similar events is a horrible nightmare. It was before and it will be worse now since there are 300k additional people living in King county alone since the Sonics left town. The most effective solution to this kind of gridlock is to get people out of cars and to use alternative means. If they supply mass transit options and convenient bike routes, people will use them rather than sit in traffic for an hour after the game,

    I have always (except one horrific driving debacle) taken the bus to UW football games – from the Eastside, Ballard, and downtown. Driving and parking are not worth it. The same was true for Key Arena, I always took the monorail after taking a bus to downtown. It was less time overall and way cheaper.

    SDOT, please Build Light Rail (we are, albeit slowly), add Bus routes and bike infrastructure along with safe walking paths. People will willingly flock to them!

    As for the 2nd Avenue changes, I would leave the bike lane in place but install removable bollards or some other portable barrier for the approach to Denny and create a detour for bikes ONLY DURING EVENTS. Just block the bike lane when the event starts just enough to allow two lanes to exit across Denny. Think of it like a reversable express lane.

    Like others, I think that there will be more biking and walking to and from the events through this intersection than people driving home in a car. Cars will be leaving Seattle Center via Mercer and also Denny.

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