City Hall

City Planning Director Talks Waterfront Transportation

By Josh Feit February 10, 2012

This week's Waterfront Seattle open house was all about "mobility and access": How to link the waterfront with downtown Seattle and accommodate all transportation modes once the viaduct comes down.

After watching city planning director Marshall Foster's presentation, I wanted to find out more about how the city planned to include the needs of cyclists, transit riders, and pedestrians in the plan. So I called Foster to find out more. This is an edited transcript of our conversation.

PubliCola: You talked a lot the other night about the need to provide parking on the waterfront. Why was there such an emphasis on parking?

Foster:  There's no more emphasis on parking there than there is on the other parts of the solution. That said, there definitely is parking that will be removed when the viaduct comes down. [Editor's note: Around 400 spaces, according to SDOT]. We want to make sure that the businesses that exist, as well as the buildings on the east side that are opening up, have on-street parking and convenient short-term parking.

We're really interested in doing some mixed-use development that would include some parking. There are a number of sites that will likely be redeveloped. Could we allow some convenient, short-term parking that has housing or offices above it? We're looking at a lot of options. The parking wouldn't be on the street level---you wouldn't be walking by a parking garage.[pullquote]Our goal is to give everybody what they need. No one is going to get everything they want. ---City Planning Director Marshall Foster[/pullquote]

PubliCola: Looking at the drawings of the shared bike/pedestrian trail in your presentation, it seemed that bikes and pedestrians would interact at an awful lot of intersections. How does this plan keep cyclists from running into pedestrians? [Ed. note: Foster explained Wednesday night that the city is still looking at a lot of design options, including a separated cycletrack, for the bike facility, but that it would definitely be on the west side of the waterfront, eliminating the need for bikes to cross an intersection every block.]

Foster: It's definitely a concern. We think there are some great design solutions that keep that from happening. The main thing is, this is not going to be designed as a bike highway. You're going to have a shared-use bike facility on the waterfront. It's going to feel very different from the Burke-Gilman Trail. It will be a bike facility, out of traffic, that will be an attractive corridor to move north-south during commute times. During the days and weekends it'll be more like Green Lake. That's a mixed space, with bikers, pedestrians, and rollerbladers. That's also how Alki works today. It's kind of self-regulating. It needs to be separated but porous. People are going to be walking across the bike path.

PubliCola: Looking at the part of the new Alaskan Way south of Pioneer Square, the road gets awfully wide---101 feet. Why does it need to be so wide, and how is SDOT working to accommodate pedestrians on that segment?

Foster: South of Yesler and a little south of Colman Dock, you've got a whole bunch of things going on at once. There's moving traffic through the corridor, the queues at the ferry dock need a lane. The other big thing is we have literally tens of thousands of people a day come in to downtown on transit through that corridor. Right now, they're mostly on the viaduct. All the southwest King County and West Seattle transit comes through that corridor. That's 19,000 people a day---a bus a minute, 50 buses an hour---that's a lot of bus traffic.

We're dedicating a lane in each direction during peak periods for transit. We need to connect the buses really simply and understandably to Colman Dock, which is about to get a new trolley line connecting to First Hill and Capitol Hill, which is one of the biggest destinations for ferry riders.

All the transit doesn't have to be on Alaskan Way itself. We're also looking at options that would move it up through Pioneer Square. If we started to turn the transit in to Pioneer Square, we could tighten up the pedestrian crossing, that 101 feet that you mentioned.

PubliCola: I've heard that one reason for the width of the street down there is that Metro has asked for 12-foot lanes for its buses.

Foster: We're still working out the lane width. I would say all those issues are details that haven't been resolved. The metaphor is that for everybody [involved], there's what you need, and there's what you want. Our goal is to give everybody what they need. No one is going to get everything they want. Everybody is going to have to balance.

PubliCola: There's been a lot of concern about how many cars will be displaced onto city streets because drivers don't want to pay a toll to drive through the tunnel. What are the current assumptions about traffic volumes on the waterfront and adjacent streets?

Foster: In the main part of the corridor, 20,000 to 25,000 cars a day, or twice what it is now. At the southern end, it's more like 35,000. One of the tradeoffs here is that  we've got the south portal, which is where a lot of the traffic is going to get off to go downtown. We're trying to make sure the waterfront is an attractive route, because frankly, we want to protect Pioneer Square.

On the other hand, it's easy to get overly afraid of traffic. First Avenue has about 20,000 cars a day now. It's not a great street to drive on, but plenty of people go down there to shop. I don't think we need to be so afraid of those numbers. If we're successful, especially if we can make the transit really good, it's going to be just as easy to pop your family on the 54 bus to come to the aquarium as it is to get in your car and drive.
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