Erica Barnett had the scoop late last night that an agreement has been reached in the dispute over the future Alaskan Way surface street. Prior conflicts included those wanting a narrow roadway (bike/ped advocates), fewer or no bus lanes (Alliance for Pioneer Square), and/or more surface parking (Historic Waterfront Association). Appeals to the Final EIS threatened to drag out approval and construction, so the new agreement clears the way for construction to begin in a couple years.
The new agreement between the Alliance for Pioneer Square, SDOT, WSDOT, and King County accepts the preferred design for a 102′ surface highway – consisting of a bike path, wide sidewalks, 2 general purpose lanes, a landscaped median, and bus lanes in the southern half of the corridor – but explicitly requires the city to narrow the roadway to 79′ upon the opening of Link light rail to West Seattle in the early 2030s. Despite our shared distaste for a new anti-urban Mercer Street on the waterfront, we argued for this same outcome late last year:
I’d suggest two ways forward: 1) work hard to expedite Link to West Seattle to shorten the window in which the waterfront will be an anti-urban mess, and 2) agitate for explicit commitments from the City of Seattle to narrow the roadway upon Link’s opening. An MOU between Metro, the City of Seattle, and WSDOT should require designs amenable to narrowing and commit all parties to shaving 20-40′ off the width south of Yesler Way. Even though urbanists lost the battle for a narrower street, we can still win the war.
As Erica notes, the agreement is nonbinding and future designs to narrow the roadway would still require the alphabet soup of agency approvals, giving lots of veto points for failure.
The agreement also unfortunately caps Metro service on Alaskan Way at 195 buses per day, which is less than Rapid Ride C provides on the Alaskan Way Viaduct today, and only about a third of current Viaduct service levels. So the bus lanes we fought so hard for will be preserved but also underutilized. Accordingly, creating a new, reliable Sodo pathway for the remaining two-thirds of Viaduct buses is now the more important issue.
[Edit: as commenters have noted as as Metro has confirmed, the agreement limiting buses to 195 a day is a post-Link plan, whereas in the intervening decade buses will be capped at 650 per day, roughly the current level of Viaduct service. The remaining 195 buses could accommodate one frequent route, such as Route 21 or Rapid Ride H, or more likely a new local waterfront service, given that there will be no transit lanes. We apologize for the error.]
It’s worth remembering that the worst of the problem will be roughly a decade long, during which the Waterfront will be a truly terrible, hostile highway for pedestrian and bike crossing. The post light rail vision is fairly decent, with a wide bike path, wide sidewalks, grade separated transit, no viaduct, and most cars hopefully out of sight in the underground tunnel. But the remaining 6 lanes south of Yesler (4 GP plus 2 ferry queue lanes) are likely permanent, as is the 79′ ultimate width. It could have been a lot worse, but the color of Alaskan Way will match the winter skies: lots of concrete gray.