Seattle’s proposed RapidRide bus line and bike lanes will transform Eastlake Ave., the main street though Eastlake, by removing all parking and reducing the flexible four lane street to two lanes only. Pushing out cars, the proposed plan creates more capacity for moving people into and out of Eastlake and connecting them to major transit routes.

About two weeks ago, we submitted a series of questions that just didn’t seem to be getting addressed in public meetings to the city’s RapidRide project manager; he in turn had them fielded by subject matter experts.

At the same time the Seattle Bike Blog has been running a series of posts shedding more light on the importance of the Eastlake bike route to bicycling throughout the region.

The Seattle Bike Blog posts and the city’s response to our questions, highlight the positive impact RapidRide and bike lanes could have on the Eastlake community (not to mention global warming). The city can’t promise that the changes will bring more prosperity to Eastlake businesses, but if more people filling the streets helps local businesses, then that is a likely outcome.

Before answering our questions the RRJ Team provided a summary of the project for those unfamiliar with it:

The RapidRide Roosevelt (J Line) Project will upgrade Route 70 to provide high-quality service connecting Downtown Seattle with the neighborhoods of Belltown, South Lake Union, Eastlake, University District, and Roosevelt. Proposed project improvements including transit priority lanes and signals, new RapidRide bus stations, new protected bicycle lanes, upgraded ADA curb ramps, and new pavement on Eastlake Ave E that will enhance speed, reliability, and safety for all. 

The city’s proposed plan is not a done deal by any means. It is currently in the federal Environmental Assessment process, which means the public can continue to weigh in on it pro or con. See the end of the question and answer section for more details.

And here are our questions and the city’s responses:

LUW: A lot of people think this plan—RapidRide and bike lanes that take away parking on Eastlake Ave. – will destroy Eastlake businesses. How do you respond to that? Are there other communities in Seattle or other cities with this type of infrastructure, bike lanes with RapidRide? How are their business districts faring?

RRJT: We’ve heard these questions frequently from Eastlake community members, and we certainly understand where that feeling is coming from. As the city grows, there are more demands on our transportation system, which means that moving throughout the city isn’t nearly as convenient or as easy as it was just ten years ago. While our overall priority is to ensure people have safe access to homes, goods and services, we also want to provide transportation options to the widest variety of people.

RapidRide J Line is being designed to prioritize safe, frequent and reliable transit travel. Separating bicycles from vehicle traffic addresses safety concerns and minimizes friction between modes. In addition, prioritizing transit and bicycle access over single-occupant vehicle traffic helps the city address our climate change goals.

That said, these new options may benefit Eastlake businesses. RapidRide is King County Metro’s highest level of investment in service, amenities, speed and reliability, and innovation. Like Link light rail or the Seattle Streetcar, RapidRide is planned as permanent, high-quality transit infrastructure in local communities that transit riders can rely on. And due to transit investments planned throughout the corridor, our modeling shows that transit ridership is expected to double in 2024, providing more opportunities for riders to easily and efficiently access Eastlake businesses.

We’ve reviewed studies in neighborhood commercial areas that are similar to Eastlake assessing business impacts from the removal of on-street parking and the addition of bicycle facilities. These studies have found that there can be benefits for businesses as a result of new bicycle lanes even with the removal of on-street parking, and the change may not negatively affect businesses.

One example is the Toronto Center for Active Transportation’s report Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business: A Study of Queen Street West in Toronto’s Parkdale Neighborhood that reviewed case studies across Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand and found that “those arriving by bicycle or walking visit more often and spend more money overall” than people who drive. For more information about these studies see the Environmental Assessment.

Within the past several years, protected bicycle lanes have been installed along Westlake Ave N and 2nd Ave in downtown Seattle, NE 65th St in Roosevelt, and on Roosevelt Way NE in Roosevelt and the U-District. While there are variety of changes along all those corridors that can be partially explained by the changing dynamics of a rapidly growing city, there remain a wide variety of successful businesses and restaurants along each of those corridors.

LUW:  There is huge concern that RR will make Eastlake even more of a thoroughfare to downtown – a transit corridor – rather than a neighborhood with a thriving business district?  Businesses don’t really see most of their customers coming by bus – typically they’re driving or walking. Can you comment on what the vision is for connecting neighborhoods?

RRJT: RapidRide J Line is designed to connect neighborhoods to Eastlake and counteract the “corridor effect.” In many cases, people who just want to pass through Eastlake will choose to ride Link light rail. While a primary design consideration of RapidRide J Line system is to connect to other major transit modes like Link light rail and the Seattle Streetcar, RapidRide J Line is also designed to help complete the city’s transportation network for transit, bicycle and pedestrian modes.

The combination of the changes to lane configurations, addition of protected bicycle lane, and the transit system improvements of RapidRide will help calm traffic through the Eastlake community and enhance the community feel. For example, buses on Eastlake Ave E will no longer pull over to let passengers board or exit; they’ll instead remain in-lane so all vehicle traffic will be behind the bus as passengers get on and off. This creates a natural ‘platoon’ of vehicles behind the bus travelling no faster than the bus. As the bus stops at a station, a gap ahead of the bus will allow vehicles turning to clear out ahead of the bus so the bus will be less impacted by traffic at intersections ahead of it. Access improvements like all-door boarding will also help speed up the boarding process to offset delays to other drivers.

While some may use RapidRide J Line to connect to light rail at the U-District or Westlake stations, others may travel to those stations to access Eastlake itself. Providing connections to other modes allows more people to safely and easily travel to the Eastlake community than before with seamless transit connections even to the airport. The project will also bring pedestrian improvements to connect to the new bus stations which will improve the overall pedestrian environment including upgrading ramps to meet ADA requirements and providing pedestrian-level lighting at the stations.

LUW: Talk about the parking mitigation that is being considered for Eastlake – how that would work? And loading zone mitigation?

RRJT: We’re reviewing a variety of options for parking mitigation for the Eastlake community. These mitigation strategies are included in the project’s Environmental Assessment, and should the project receive a Finding of No Significant Impact from the Federal Transit Administration, they will be an official commitment made by the project and will be tracked going forward.

  • Following direct briefings with Eastlake businesses conducted in July 2019, we are currently reviewing load zone opportunities throughout the Eastlake corridor. While other neighborhoods have similar constraints to Eastlake that they can work around, we recognize no two neighborhoods are the same and want to be sensitive to and reflective of Eastlake’s individual business needs.
  • Facilitating discussions to work with private businesses that may be interested, or able to, allow parking lots to be shared parking for other uses. Apps like Spot Hero, Curb Flip, BestParking, and ParkMe are increasingly making shared parking convenient and safe.
  • Considering adjustments to the Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) 8 to better ease parking congestion in the residential area and to address the needs of all curb space users in the area. This could include updating the time limit regulations and blocks that are covered by the RPZ. SDOT’s RPZ program includes extensive data collection and community engagement when making adjustments to RPZs. 

In addition, we will continue to work with businesses and residents to communicate on-street parking regulations and available commute options. There are a wide variety of commuting programs that SDOT and other area partners have developed that we can work with Eastside businesses and residents to adapt for the Eastlake community.

LUW:  RapidRide won’t go as directly into the U. District as the 70 now does – it will be a longer walk.  Why was that decision made?

RRJT: The project is planned to serve the U District Link light rail station, which will be a regional connection to the University District and the University of Washington. The line does not deviate to the east to serve the core of the UW campus because it is designed to travel in a more linear north-south pattern to provide fast connections to the U District Link station from the north and south. The University of Washington was involved in selecting the Link light rail station locations, so SDOT and King County Metro are mirroring those priorities. In addition, our initial ridership forecasting showed transit ridership would be higher with the planned route and stop locations compared to a route that deviates to the east as Route 70 currently does today. The J Line will also serve the western portion of the UW campus that extends to the west along NE Campus Parkway and NE 41st St.

King County Metro is currently leading the North Link Connections Mobility Project, which is an effort to identify future bus route changes after North Link light rail is open. This effort includes a review of east/west transit connections from the U District Link light rail station through the University of Washington. Depending on transit riders’ destinations on the campus, they may transfer to another route, walk or bike to their destination.

Finally, the University of Washington Master Plan shows planned campus expansion, which includes significant development on the west side of campus near RapidRide stations.

LUW:  The bike lanes will take away 350 parking spaces along Eastlake Avenue. Currently about 1,700 bicyclists cross the University Bridge daily – that’s expected to increase by how much when the protected bike lane is in place? Will electric scooters also be able to use the bike lane?

RRJT: The protected bicycle lane for Eastlake Ave E is designed to improve reliability and safety for people currently accessing Eastlake Ave E whether they’re in a car, on a bike, walking, or riding the bus. We certainly expect an increase in bicyclists as the all ages and abilities network continues to expand with key projects identified in the Bicycle Master Plan being completed. However, as the purpose and need of this project do not directly include increasing bicycle ridership, we have not performed a study of anticipated ridership increase. Our focus for this project has been on addressing safety of all transportation users including bicyclists.

SDOT is separately working on a scooter share pilot. This link has information about this new effort. One question we’re still examining internally is scooter access to protected bicycle lanes.

LUW:  For anyone concerned about climate change, this project seems to be a pivotal one that will have a positive impact on the environment. Can you elaborate more on that?

RRJT: Transportation is the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Seattle, and reducing those emissions is a key goal as we work to address global climate change. Passenger vehicles and commercial trucks account for 62% of Seattle’s emissions. Growing transit ridership and reducing driving alone are critical to meeting Seattle’s climate change goals. Implementing all ages and abilities bicycle facilities also provides an alternative to driving alone and this project will provide a key segment of the bicycle network. Between 2010 and 2018, the city’s drive-alone rate in the center city dropped from 35% to 25%, while bicycle and pedestrian volumes have grown approximately 60% during the same period.

There is no room in Seattle for new infrastructure for single occupant vehicles, so our transportation investments must provide benefit for options that move the most people with the least environmental impacts.

RapidRide J Line would improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing the number of vehicle trips in the corridor compared to not building the project and using primarily electric trolley buses that do not produce tailpipe emissions.

Comment Period for the Environmental Assessment

The project is currently in a comment period for the Environmental Assessment and Section 4(f) Analysis. Comments can be left via the online comment form or mailed to Seattle Department of Transportation, 700 Fifth Ave, Suite 3800 (SMT-38-00), PO Box 34996, Seattle, WA 98124 attn: Darrell Bulmer. Comments must be postmarked or submitted by 5 PM on Friday, February 14, 2020.