Seattle’s Struggle to Keep the Transit in Its “Tunnel Plus Transit” Plan

A better alternative for Seattle's new waterfront highway, presented by Seattle Bike Blog.
Instead of an eight-lane surface highway next to the Seattle waterfront, Seattle Bike Blog proposes a narrower road where buses share lanes with freight.

Back when Seattle and the state of Washington made the (regrettable) decision to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with an underground highway, the consolation was that the elevated highway running between downtown and the waterfront would come down and make way for a nice surface street with dedicated transit lanes. Proponents of the deep bore tunnel even gave their plan a greenwashed name: “tunnel plus transit.”

The construction of the highway tunnel has already proven disastrous. How could things get worse? Well, instead of a walkable boulevard next to the waterfront, the city came out with a design for an eight-lane “surface highway,” writes Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog. Then, in an attempt to create a more pedestrian-friendly design, the city said it would study doing away with the promised transit lanes:

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?!?

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.

Zach Shaner at Seattle Transit Blog reported that an agreement between the Port Authority and the State explicitly requires two car lanes in each direction, for the sake of freight movement, but not transit lanes. Fucoloro suggests a fix — allow trucks in the transit lanes but not private cars.

While it looks like transit priority will be maintained in the final design, according to Seattle Transit Blog, it’s still not clear how far Seattle will go to create both quality transit and walkable crossings to access the waterfront.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transport Providence chides Brown University for planning to demolish six homes to build a surface parking lot. Pedestrian Observations considers how changing subway frequencies in New York City might reduce crowding. And Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space looks at the institutional obstacles to more walkable parks in Washington, D.C.

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