Tuesday, 21 May, 2019

Shoreline’s Plans for 145th Street Reveal Multimodal Corridor Design Challenges

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This rendering of Shoreline's plans for a new multimodal corridor on 145th Street near the planned Link light rail station show a future that looks a lot like the present. Credit: 145th Street Multimodal Corridor Project

Multimodal corridors are intended to reduce automobile dependence by integrating rapid transit into existing freeway infrastructure. However, designing transit around freeways can make it difficult to veer from car-centric habits.

The current N 145th Street corridor that divides Seattle from Shoreline is dominated by automobile traffic. About 30,000 vehicles crowd into the corridor daily, leaving little space on the road for other modes of transportation.

As a result, narrow sidewalks tightly hug the road and are decorated with warning signs for wheelchair users and would-be street crossers. No bike lanes, not even sharrows, indicate that cars should share space with bikes. Buses navigate congestion, while bus riders wait at stops that squeeze them close to traffic.

Jurisdictional oversight is also a major problem. Running along the border of Seattle and Shoreline, N 145th St is shared by both cities and part of the land that runs beneath it is technically part of unincorporated King County.

145th Street is also know as State Route (SR) 523. It is designated as a highway between I-5 and Bothell Way (SR-522). While Shoreline does not own any right of way, it has taken a leadership role in corridor planning because of significant traffic and safety issues.
145th Street is also know as State Route (SR) 523. It is designated as a highway between I-5 and Bothell Way (SR-522). While Shoreline does not own any right of way, it has taken a leadership role in corridor planning because of significant traffic and safety issues.

With the arrival of light rail planned for 2024, transportation planners must figure out a way to optimize N 145th St, an important east-west arterial, so that transit riders, pedestrians, and cyclists can move “safely and reliably along and across the corridor.” The result is Shoreline’s 145th Street Multimodal Corridor Project, which makes improvements along N 145th St from Aurora Avenue N to I-5. In addition to light rail, Sound Transit Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service is intended to begin operating on N 145th St between Shoreline and Bothell in 2024 (it also extends to Woodinville at lower frequencies).

City Council Passes Electric Vehicle-Ready Legislation for Off-Street Parking

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On Monday, the Seattle City Council passed legislation to require to much of new development in the city to provide electric vehicle-ready (EV) equipment. The city council passed a modified version of the legislation, which would require a report by June 1, 2022 to evaluate program implementation and possible recommendations if the program is not operating as intended. The adopted legislation remains otherwise unchanged from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections proposal transmitted in March.

In a statement, Mayor Jenny Durkan commended the city council in approving the legislation. “Seattle must continue to take bold action on many fronts to reduce carbon pollution and address the negative impacts of climate change. This includes investing in access to transit, bikes, and housing options near transit. This legislation is an important step forward to making sure Seattleites can reliably charge electric vehicles,” Mayor Durkan said. “We need to do more to reduce the number of vehicles on our roads and to move to electric vehicles. It is significantly more cost efficient to include EV infrastructure in construction from the start. Our actions to reduce emissions from transportation will help create a healthier and more just city.”

The objective of the legislation is to ensure that new development with parking will provide the basic equipment necessary to install EV chargers. Making the small infrastructural investment upfront greatly reduces the cost of systems installation later since they will not need to rewire, add ports, and other power systems that are expensive and highly disruptive to install after new construction. This should make it more likely that property owners will choose to install EV systems in the future.

What EV-readiness means. (City of Seattle)
What EV-readiness means. (City of Seattle)

The Future of Bikes on Bell Street Park

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As the Seattle Department of Transportation finishes its listening tour on the fully scaled-back Bicycle Master Plan schedule this week, the design of projects slated for completion in the next few years are starting to take shape. Here’s where the nuts-and-bolts decisions that impact the users of the transportation network every day are made. Earlier this month the “conceptual” design for E Union Street was released, and it clearly fell short of expectations for routes to be constructed with the limited funding we have. Bell Street is another segment that has a lot of potential to become a key segment of the safe bike network, but there are significant design challenges to overcome first.

Bell Street Park, which opened in 2014, turned a four-block segment of a normal street through Belltown into a unique-for-Seattle calmed one-lane road with bioswales, greenery, and curbs flanking the travel lane. The attempt to provide Belltown with some open space, which the neighborhood sorely lacks, has received mixed reviews since it opened.

While traffic on the street between 5th Ave and 1st Ave is supposed to be kept to a minimum by only permitting drivers to travel one block on the calmed segments before making a turn, this is not at all well-enforced. In addition, King County Metro buses can and do use most of the corridor at frequent intervals, making standing near the roadway pretty unpleasant.

The street is well-used by people riding bikes as a connection between bike lanes on Dexter Ave N and 9th Ave N and the 2nd Ave protected bike lane, but the lack of traffic calming inhibits it from becoming a route that all users might feel comfortable using. But SDOT’s plans for the street once it’s no longer needed as a bus corridor may fall short of allowing the street to achieve its full potential as a street for bikes.

Sunday Video: Why Do Schools Have Boundary Issues?

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In this video, Dave Amos of City Beautiful looks into the thorny politics and issues of school choice, racial and social inequality, segregation, social pressure and amorphous quality ratings, and attendance boundaries.

What We’re Reading: Areaways, Red Cup Project, and Remove the Hazard

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Withdrawn but not out: Mayor Jenny Durkan had her pick to lead the Human Services Department withdraw from further consideration.

Areaways: Due to risk of collapse, Seattle’s transportation department will impose restrictions of heavier vehicles along First Avenue in Pioneer Square ($) as well as other nearby streets with areaways.

NJ delusions of grandeur: New Jersey’s governor thinks he has an exemption carveout for his residents in hand for the New York City decongestion fee.

What’s railroad company?: Whether or not Texas Central will be able to proceed with eminent domain to acquire right-of-way for the company’s high-speed rail line lies in semantics.

Planning PIT: A new plan emerges for major redevelopment in Pittsburgh.

Car Master Plan: Seattle Bike Blog makes a masterful argument that other modal plans are largely ignored in Seattle and that its due time that a Car Master Plan be created to address safety for drivers and everyone else.

Red Cup Project: Drawing attention to dangerous bike lanes, advocates rolled out red cups and tomatoes to show that lack of protection is deadly. The campaign followed the death of a prolific D.C.-area bike advocate last week who was hit by a person driving.

Gothic nomination: Eagleson Hall, a Gothic-style building on the University of Washington campus, has been nominated for landmarking.

Party of denial: Virginia Republicans have sought to block the state from joining a regional carbon emissions cap-and-trade program ($), but the governor could line-item veto the proviso.

Capitol Hill development: What will the new building going in next to the Knights of Columbus in Capitol Hill look like?

Federal abusers: Over the past 10 years, the federal government has deported more than 30,000 people from King County International Airport.

CA push for housing: Will a major land use housing bill pass in California?

Remove the hazard: What is the Hierarchy of Controls, and what does it have to do with bikes?

Transit for all: On Earth Day, advocates urged the University of Washington to provide all employees with free transit passes to reduce congestion and carbon emissions.

Just 4,000 voted: Who won in the lightly voted-in King County Conservation District elections?

Tech fail: In Kansas, Facebook has been used in the teaching curriculum and it’s not delivering good results ($).

Fix I-5: New Report Highlights Need to Update an Aging Interstate

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The Ship Canal Bridge, which is one of the highest traffic volume segments of the Interstate 5 corridor, needs to be seismically retrofitted. The first phase of retrofitting was completed in 2000, but the second phase has yet to be undertaken. Cost of completing the remaining work is estimated at $100 million. Photo credit: Sounder Bruce

“Doing nothing is not an option,” the I-5 System Partnership said in its Call to Action draft report. The report advocates for updating the current I-5 with a 21st century multi-modal corridor.

While Seattle holds its breath and watches as demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct removes the concrete threat that has been lurking over the downtown waterfront for decades, whispers about another piece of faulty, but critical infrastructure are growing louder.

It is no secret that I-5 shares many characteristics with the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Both structures were completed in roughly the same era, using the similar engineering know-how and materials. Additionally, the same earthquakes that weakened the viaduct rattled the interstate as well. But it still comes as a surprise to read the opening of the Call to Action draft report recently released for comment by the I-5 System Partnership.

The I-5 system is broken.

The 107-mile stretch of I-5 between Tumwater and Marysville needs urgent attention. The cracked, rutted, crumbling pavement and seismically vulnerable structures on the interstate increase costs and pose challenges to everyone on it, including transit, freight and commuters. 

I-5 System Partnership, Call to Action, draft, 2019

The I-5 System Partnership is a stakeholder group made up of representatives from state and regional transportation agencies, the business community, and local government. Members include all of the major players on the state and local level, including the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). To cast the I-5 System Partnership as a bunch of pessimistic doomsayers would be misleading.

Instead, by calling for radical changes to the interstate that spans the most densely populated segment of Washington State, the I-5 System Partnership is simply acknowledging some difficult, but important truths in regards to the corridor’s safety, economic prosperity, and regional mobility. We cannot widen our way out of congestion, but better integrating transit into the corridor could make it much efficient at moving people. The report did not mention high-speed rail, but the State is studying high-speed rail to Vancouver to Portland (and perhaps beyond) right now and the I-5 corridor is a prime candidate to host much of it.

I-405 BRT Refinements Could Generate 17% More Ridership, Reduce Travel Times by 16%

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Sound Transit recently released a report on project refinements for bus rapid transit (BRT) on I-405, planned for first operation in 2024. The corridor will feature two independent BRT lines, which will meet in Bellevue; the lines will separately run from terminals in Lynnwood and Burien to the Bellevue Transit Center (and home of a future light rail station in 2024), which should help maintain better operation and reliability of the system. As proposed, the refined I-405 BRT project would serve 11 stations and handle up to 25,800 daily boardings by 2042.

Sound Transit reports that making further refinements to keep buses moving freely along corridor and limiting detours from I-405 can actually increase ridership and reduce travel times over the baseline ST Representative Project originally conceived.

Ridership forecasts for the I-405 BRT project. (Sound Transit)
Ridership forecasts for the I-405 BRT project. (Sound Transit)

Under the original plan, ridership on the corridor as a whole was projected to reach up to 22,200 daily riders with the southern half of the corridor performing considerably less well than the north. Sound Transit’s proposed project refinements, however, would increase ridership by up to 3,600 daily riders to 25,800, boosting ridership a further 17%. Both lines would serve about equal numbers of riders, and greatly bolster performance on the southern half of the corridor. The higher numbers under both scenarios are predicated on greater use of high occupancy toll lanes on I-405 and more transit-oriented development near stations. The low end forecasts still paint a similar picture of performance by corridor, albeit with lower overall ridership.

Estimated travel times by segment. (Sound Transit)
Estimated travel times by segment. (Sound Transit)

Travel times are also projected to greatly improve over the baseline plan with proposed project refinements, reducing them by a further 16% or more over the ST Representative Project. On the northern half of the corridor, buses could wind up traveling 11 minutes faster than existing ST Express bus service and four minutes faster than the ST3 Representative Project alternative. On the southern half of the corridor, buses could see even bigger travel time reductions with as much as 17 minutes than existing ST Express bus service. Buses could also end up being seven minutes faster than the ST3 Representative Project alternative.

Nominate Seattle’s Worst Intersection: 2019

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Last year, readers of The Urbanist selected the intersection of Rainier Avenue and 23rd as Seattle’s worst. The intersection has been under construction since then and just recently a new crosswalk has opened. A route that previously required crossing five crosswalks now takes just one to cross Rainier.

While advocates have had much to be disappointed with lately, at least the Seattle Department of Transportation’s slow and maddeningly incremental march of progress is still moving forward.

Speaking of incremental, voting for neighborhood street fund projects is currently in full swing with a tantalizing slate of dozens of projects. Many of them should be implemented but only around 10 will be.

However, in the case of the worst intersection in Seattle competition, only one will prevail. And, while we can’t promise that the selected intersection will be in a better shape this time next year, we can guarantee that it needs to be.

So, what is the worst intersection in Seattle? We’re looking for intersections that are terrible for all modes. It’s the intersection of most inconvenience. The route of most regret. The crossroads of crap.