Throughout 2020, Seattle was forced to grapple with a terrible, relentless enemy that threatened our very lives. There was also a pandemic.
Cast your mind back to November of 2019, a more innocent time, when Washington state’s official irritant, Tim Eyman, put a measure on the ballot that basically forced the defunding of transit projects. That, coupled with plummeting revenue due to COVID, threw transit services into a horrible vortex of service cuts and halted construction projects — if you’ve been waiting forever for your bus lately, or wondering why they haven’t gotten around to striping that crosswalk where cars keep crashing, well, that’s partially why.
But with the coming of spring and the blossoming of life, it seems as though we will soon reunite with our loved ones, by which I mean local buses. There are mass vaccinations on the horizon, and Tim’s I-976 was struck down in court. The Seattle Department of Transportation has proposed restoring nearly $24 million into a wide range of services and improvements that were previously cut. The proposal was unanimously approved during yesterday's Transportation & Utilities Committee, so now it heads to the full Seattle City Council on March 8.
What would this proposal mean for you, a local schlub? For one thing, less waiting for your ride — but it would also mean a sort of local mini-renaissance for fixing some very stupid streets that have a history literally maiming and killing people.
First up, $5 million would go toward essential services, including the Frequent Transit Network — that’s 27 different bus routes downtown, 11 routes in the U District, 9 routes on Capitol Hill, 7 in South Lake Union, 4 in Northgate … and so on and so on and so on. No matter where you live and work in Seattle, this money would mean you’ll be able to get where you’re going, faster, in 2021.
But the really sexy spending would be on construction projects — a lot of them! One of the furthest-reaching is the Route 40 Corridor Project, which will run from Downtown Seattle to Ballard and then up to Northgate. What makes this one particularly thrilling is that it’ll involve streetscape improvements over a very wide area; if you live along the route, you can look forward to snazzy new bus stops, better sidewalks, nicer street lighting. And a time savings of up to twenty minutes over current travel times — that’s huge. The expected opening is 2024.
The city also wants to get going on improvements around the Troll. If you spend time around N 35th St and Troll Ave N, expect to see bigger curbs, more painted crosswalks, and nicer curb ramps, all of which are welcome but are particularly helpful for people with unique mobility requirements in that hilly neighborhood.
The city plans to also fix some particularly annoying traffic problems on 3rd Ave — problems that currently cause delays for an estimated 168,000 bus riders every day. EVERY DAY! Buses around 3rd and Stewart are expected to soon get a dedicated lane, which means significantly faster travel for 36 separate bus routes. They’re also adding a 24/7 bus-only lane to Olive Way, impacting 33,000 riders on 39 routes; and striping bus-only lanes on Pike, 5th Ave, Westlake Ave. These are massive changes that you will absolutely notice once they’re done: “That was fast,” you might marvel, your eyes bright and shining and full of life.
The city’s also working on reducing turn lanes on Union Street and painting curbs red on 4th Ave to keep private cars moving — another improvement expected to impact tens of thousands of people every day.
And then there’s the 23rd Ave E project, truly an infuriating thing to have been put on hold. If you’ve spent time around 23rd and 24th, you might have noticed a death and carnage problem, with over a hundred crashes in the last three years. The city started working on a redesign in 2017, and construction was supposed to happen in 2020 — but we all know how that went.
But now! It’s about to happen! The streets are set to get huge improvements: bigger curbs and curves that will slow drivers down (the speed limit is 30, which is already too high, and most people go about 40). Too-big intersections are getting plastic posts to channel movement into safer, tighter areas, and crosswalks are finally getting signals. It is weird and gross that it took so long to make these improvements.
And speaking of weird and gross, what’s Tim Eyman been up to ever since his defund-the-bus movement got shot down in court? Well, last month another court ruled that Tim’s been waging “an ongoing conspiracy to conceal political contributions and the personal use of those contributions,” and ordered that Tim no longer be allowed to have any control over campaign finances. He can still run initiatives, he just can’t touch the money — and for some reason, I can’t imagine why — he says he’s going to devote himself to challenging that ruling. His inspiration, he says, is Donald Trump.