The Seattle Center Arena renovation is rapidly transforming the western edge of Seattle Center as we head toward a projected opening date of Summer 2021. The Seattle Storm will return to their longtime home and professional hockey will return for the first time in decades. But outside of the arena’s footprint, there’s a lot of planning still taking place: with the new arena will come significant transportation impacts on Uptown and north Belltown, with a list of planned projects that will continue to be implemented long after the ribbon is cut.

Oak View Group, the arena’s developer, has committed with the City to add a number of multimodal improvements. These include the construction of a corridor of protected bike lanes on the west side of Seattle Center in Uptown, transit-only lanes on 1st Avenue N and Queen Anne Avenue N, pedestrian improvements, and upgrades to the monorail. But the arena’s transportation improvements are also serving to beef up the area’s car infrastructure with the goal of moving as many vehicles as possible after events–despite the protest of transportation advocates.

Estimates are that a typical concert or sports event will generate around 15,000 vehicle trips, a vast majority of attendees bringing their own vehicle to park near the arena, with close to half of these trips competing for the same street space in the peak hour after an event. A 450-car garage is being added under the arena, which will join existing garages in the southwest corner of the Seattle Center campus. 2nd Ave N will be a primary corridor for vehicles leaving events, and the traffic management plan will direct those vehicles away from the Denny Way corridor and through downtown via 2nd Avenue.

Currently at its narrowest point, 2nd Avenue N is one lane in each direction with back-in angle parking in front of the Pacific Science Center. This would be reconfigured to allow two lanes of southbound traffic to exit parking garages without merging and cross Denny Way to get to 2nd Avenue. However, since early 2018, only one lane is available for traffic on 2nd Avenue because the other was turned into the terminus of Seattle’s flagship protected bike lane. To flush traffic as fast as possible from the area around the arena, this lane would be removed, and riders crossing Denny Way would need to use the sidewalk.

From the draft Arena Access Management Plan, finalized last year:

2nd Ave would be reconfigured south of Denny Way to include a second southbound receiving lane, modifying the northern-most segment of the recently installed protected bike lane to direct northbound people on bikes to access the sidewalk. The second vehicle lane is necessary for serving the large number of post-event motorists leaving the 1st Ave N and Arena garages via 2nd Ave N.

Map from the Arena Access Management Plan showing the planned changes to 2nd Ave N and Denny Way. (City of Seattle)
Map from the Arena Access Management Plan showing the planned changes to 2nd Ave N and Denny Way. (City of Seattle)

Plans obtained via a public records request show a 2016 design for the protected bike lane modified to depict a ramp where people riding bikes would move between the sidewalk and the protected bike lane.

Designs from 2016 modified to depict a ramp going up onto sidewalk. (City of Seattle)
Designs from 2016 modified to depict a ramp going up onto sidewalk. (City of Seattle)

The only silver lining of this plan is the fact that left turns are not permitted from 2nd Ave N onto Denny Way. Drivers do not generally expect to see people biking on the sidewalk, so moving them there with drivers turning left would be a dangerous move.

People riding bikes will be directed onto the sidewalk to cross Denny Way. (Photo by the author)
People riding bikes will be directed onto the sidewalk to cross Denny Way. (Photo by the author)

The plan for a continuous bicycle facility past the arena would instead bypass this block, and construct a two-way protected bike lane that would run on Broad Street and 1st Avenue across Denny Way and then run along 1st Avenue N to Thomas Street, where it would continue north of Thomas Street on Queen Anne Ave N. This is to provide two lanes for northbound traffic north of Thomas Street and three lanes north of Republican Street.

Exact designs for Thomas Street or what will happen at the final terminus of the protected bike lane north of Mercer Street are not known yet, but again the design of a key bicycle network segment is changing to accommodate moving as many private cars next to the arena as possible. Decisions on transitioning a facility from one street to another in the middle of a route will clearly have an impact on network legibility, something that is becoming a trend systemwide as new facilities transition from one- to two-way facilities or switch sides of the street at key junctures.

The arena doesn’t have ambitious goals for increasing bicycle ridership to events, setting a target of today’s bike mode share of 1% increasing to…2% by 2035. The share of attendees walking to events is estimated at 10% in 2020 and only going up to 12% in 2035. So while the project is on paper an opportunity for the City to add multimodal investments in conjunction with private development, in reality these investments will be secondary to managing demand for auto travel.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. The planners state that they expect “a vast majority of attendees bringing their own vehicle to park near the arena”. It seems at least in part to the fact that drivers know that the city will do whatever it takes to accommodate them, even if it comes at the expense of people on bikes, on foot, or using transit.

  2. This doesn’t even achieve its stated goal. Folks who drive to an event at the Center are not headed south on Second. If you live in Belltown or Pioneer Square, you are not going to drive to the game. You are either walking, or taking one of the many buses that connect the Seattle Center to downtown (1, 2, 13, D). Even late at night, they run one bus every six minutes. You would be home and in bed by the time you manage to drive out of the parking garage.

    This isn’t where the drivers are headed. They are headed to the freeways (via either Denny or Mercer). This sends all of those drivers south on Second, where they will have to make another left, then a right (in a densely populated area right after an event). It won’t flush anything. They will simply back up on other streets. This needs a complete makeover. I would do several things:

    First, I would make 2nd Avenue one way southbound between Denny and the parking garage. Then I would extend the bike lane across Denny, up to that point. That means getting rid of a few parking spaces (https://goo.gl/maps/u5cAGHahvqGXS3FRA). This isn’t a great way for a bike to get up to the Center (it involves a hill) but it is safe. Some would power up the hill, others would push their bike, but all of them would have a safe way to cross Denny. I would add bike racks there, since a fair number of riders would probably want to park their bike there, since it is essentially the end of a flat, relatively safe bike route.

    For cars going south on Second between John and Denny, I would add a left turn lane. There is enough room to add a protected bike lane and a left turn pocket. I would add a left turn signal, with a “Left on Left Arrow Only” sign. It does mean an extra cycle (a left turn cycle) but the key thing is that it would be short most of the day. If that is a problem, then you continue to ban left turns most of the day, unless a traffic cop waves you that way. In other words, you don’t both adding a left turn pocket — folks turning left are in the same lane as those going straight, and unless a cop is there waving you left, you drive straight.

    After an event, you have traffic cops directing traffic. That is where the flushing occurs. A cop stands next to the garage, and manages the traffic between pedestrians, bikes and cars. Another cop is down at Denny, allowing drivers to turn left onto Denny.

    Driving to the garage (or that part of Second in general) would still be easy. You take a right on Warren, then a right on John, looping around. Stopping at stop signs changes the mindset of a driver. Instead of make-every-light-and-go-fast (on Denny) they are moving slow, stopping at stop signs, waiting for pedestrians. This reduces the chance of accidents at the garage. Bikers get a safer crossing of Denny — they don’t have to worry about folks making a quick right from Denny to Second. Game day garage users get a faster way to exit the area. This would be a much better for everyone.

  3. There are tons of buses going through this area at all hours of the day, and almost all very frequent routes. There’s the monorail, which finally accepts ORCA cards, and the system could be improved to be used as an actual transit option (rather than just a tourism thing). There is already a bunch of parking down there. I don’t understand why they thought it was necessary to add a bunch more. If you broadcast that parking will be limited (and pricey) at the events, fewer people will drive, especially if there are convenient (and cheap) options available (the transit options). Why is this so hard?

    Instead the city has decided to further screw over people who ride bikes instead of drive, at all times, so that some people can depart big events more quickly a few days out of the year. I think the only question remaining is this: Who paid the big money to get the decision made this way?

  4. There is a complete disconnect of bike lanes between LQA and Belltown. The most contiguous bike lane southbound is on Queen Anne and it ends right at Denny. Going north from BT on 2nd, the most direct route is up 1st Ave N and is not easy to get to from 2nd.

    This potential project is not a major issue because there is already a disconnect, 2nd Ave N above Denny is not often used anyway. Whatever is done the traffic southbound on 2nd crossing Denny should be separated from cyclists at the intersection, I have seen more than one driver hesitate and confuse the traffic lane for a bike lane; in addition there is ample median space to K-Rail protect cyclists from all the drunk/high/inattentive drivers from Key Arean after an event and should be utilized.

    What really needs to be done is to connect 2nd to 1st Ave N via striping or protection. Southbound from Queen Anne, the sidewalk on Denny can be striped and connected to 2nd.

  5. So, the end result is that keeping traffic moving after games, which happen a few times per year, supersedes the ability to get around on a bike at any time of day, whether there’s an arena event or not.

    This in spite of the fact that the area is supposed to be getting light rail in 2035. Are they projecting none of the event goers actually riding it? Or, is the issue that the 2035 projects made before the ST3 vote, and never revised afterward?

    • To be fair, once the arena opens it will host around 70 pro games a years and 50+ Concerts/events. So there will be traffic demands about half the year. If, and that’s a big *if*, we can bring the Sonics back then that’s another 41-50ish games a year that will be hosted by arena.

      FWIW, I’ve been a huge proponent for building the new NBA/NHL area in SODO where all this traffic/transit infrastructure already exists. However, the city council voted against vacating a side street, preventing the SODO area from moving forward and opening the door/giving a business case for investors to come in and renovate the city owned Key Arena.

      • Sonics are not coming back. They left for so many financial reasons and lack of fans. Truth be told, if I had to choose, I’d rather have basketball than hockey. But then I watch neither. 50 plus concerts and events sounds way off. Key arena only had maybe 8 big concerts a year. Lastly, the math is off. 365 days a year means half of that is 182.5 and your inflated 50 plus 70 is 120 so no where near half. NHL would be best in Bellevue near a light rail station. The reason SODO wasn’t chosen is because of overlap of the seasons. It’s called The Sports Equinox. Here is a quote from the 2015 Equinox. “Game 5 of the World Series is tonight, and it could be a deciding one: The Kansas City Royals are looking to finish off the New York Mets after going ahead 3-1 in the series. But Sunday also includes 12 NFL games, seven NBA matchups, and five NHL contests. That makes today a very special day: a sports equinox.”

  6. “The only silver lining of this plan is the fact that left turns are not permitted from 2nd Ave N onto Denny Way.”

    I commute by bike through that intersection, and drivers frequently ignore that restriction.

  7. Trash…… Why is Seattle incapable of creating, and or at least understanding the value of an intuitive and connected network. of bike facilities. To make riders go onto a sidewalk, that will likely be filled with people during games, after riding a protected bike line is insane.

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