If you attended SDOTs open houses on Roosevelt to Downtown High Capacity Transit Study on December 9 or 10 and on Fairview Avenue North Bridge Replacement on November 10, then you didn’t miss much at the January 12 public meeting, as information from the open houses is largely unchanged. The city is still collecting comments on the Roosevelt to downtown design that can be submitted on line.
What you did miss was a lively conversation about neighborhood concerns chiefly involving the removal of parking along Eastlake to make way for dedicated bike lanes but also about several other issues connected with both projects.
The question is should bike facilities, i.e. lanes, replace most or all of the parking on Eastlake Avenue? A representative from the Cascade Bike Club said a November survey on a rainy evening commute counted 500 bicyclists using Eastlake Avenue and that the avenue, while definitely not safe for bicyclists, was the most convenient corridor. Eastlake is also the street called out in the Bike Master Plan. Many voiced concerns about losing parking on Eastlake predicting that it would kill local businesses. Others argued that making the neighborhood more bicycle and pedestrian friendly would help local businesses. Finally Alison Townsend, the SDOT staff member presenting, suggested a show of hands. Eight people were in favor of losing parking for bicycle lanes. Eleven were in favor of keeping parking. (Others choose not to vote.) The split seemed to come down to generational lines, with the younger generation in favor of the bike lanes and the older generation in favor of parking.
But in the end everyone agreed that they cared about local businesses and safe bicycling and wasn’t there some kind of solution? One audience member suggested using business parking lots when they’re not in use for weekend and evening public parking. Liability issues could be a challenge, said Ms. Townsend. Another person said that was the best suggestion all evening. A formal private parking inventory of Eastlake has not been done, said Ms. Townsend, suggesting that might be a start. There was also a suggestion to create more short-term parking zones in the neighborhoods, to ensure parking turnover for local businesses.
No one seemed opposed to losing the local bus service for a more frequent bus rapid transit (BRT) along the lines of Metro’s new Rapid Ride. It will mean fewer stops on Eastlake but faster service. The goal is to have 72% of Eastlakers within a 10 minute walk of a bus stop and with the stop having ten minute or better bus service. Proposed bus stops are at Garfield, Lynn, Hamlin, and Furman. One audience member questioned the ability to meet the 10 minute walkshed as, for many people, the stops will be uphill.
Why the need for BRT? As Ms. Townsend told the group, Link light rail will connect downtown to Capitol Hill, U District, (and eventually Northgate and beyond) but there is no good transit connection to South Lake Union from the north, and 36% of Seattle jobs are in the Roosevelt to downtown corridor.
Worst case scenario is that Eastlake Avenue will become even more of a transit freeway than it already is and nobody wants that.
A chief concern posed by the Eastlake Community Council is losing the center left turn lanes and center median strips. (A comprehensive look at the difficult trade offs for the corridor can be found on the ECC website.) The center lane has many benefits, said ECC President, Chris Leman, and was fought for years ago by the neighbor as a traffic improvement. The center lane keeps traffic flowing by allowing for safe left hand turns into neighborhood streets and businesses. It also services as a temporary quick loading zone for many businesses and as a refuge for pedestrians crossing Eastlake. SDOT noted that the last two purposes were not the intended use and suggested that better design could address those issues.
A couple of people mentioned that they don’t envy SDOT’s task of trying to sort out the various uses for Eastlake Avenue and keep everyone happy and they thanked the city representatives for their efforts.
The second half of the meeting was devoted to the Fairview Avenue North Bridge Replacement and what came out of that was something that will make many people happy. The SDOT presenter for that project was very optimistic about the floating sidewalk being rebuilt. There are permitting concerns with the Department of Ecology among others, but she said the city has definitely heard the neighborhood’s desire for bringing back the floating sidewalk.
Work on the Fairview Bridge will be at 90% design by spring 2016 with pre construction activity starting in the summer and full construction beginning in 2017. The bridge will be closed for 15 months with detours likely happening at Aloha. The bridge will be “widened” by absorbing the middle buffer lane, with sidewalks and bike lanes on either side and two 12-foot wide lanes to support BRT and one general purpose 11-foot lane going north. The bridge will be seismically sound and able to support a street car should the street car be extended (rail could be added to the bridge along with new surfacing), but right now BRT is the plan.