The Seattle Department of Transportation has released updated designs for the Madison Bus Rapid Transit line — now designated RapidRide line G — and opened up the latest round of public comment.
Public comment opened March 8 with the launch of an online open house, MadisonStreetBRT.participate.online, and a soft presentation of changes to the easternmost end of the line to the Madison Valley Community Council. The first comprehensive open house was held the next day, March 9, at Town Hall Seattle on First Hill.
For project manager Jeff Lundstrom and Madison Street transit commuters, the advantage of the RapidRide line is clear.
“At rush hour … the buses are completely full,” Lundstrom said. “The buses sometimes sit for minutes and minutes and minutes and don’t move.”
RapidRide line G will run from First Avenue in downtown to Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Madison Valley. Buses are anticipated to run every six minutes at peak travel times from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and every 15 minutes otherwise. It’s a feat that will be achieved with streamlined fares, smart manipulation of traffic signals and dedicated bus lanes on three-fifths of the route.
Almost all members of the public asked agreed the project was good for commuters who travel East Madison Street, identified by the Transportation Department as one of the densest and fastest-growing corridors in the city.
But with a project costing $120 million, from five funding sources and jurisdiction under two agencies (King County Metro will manage the route after the city completes construction on the route infrastructure), criticism has been leveled not against the project’s goal, but the hundreds of individual details making up the route.
Sticky notes placed on a room-spanning map of the route at the March 9 open house criticized everything from trees set to be razed -- and replaced at a two-to-one ratio elsewhere, Lundstrom said -- to the safety of pedestrian crossings.
One of the greatest points of contention among members of the public were road intersections set to be altered by the Transportation Department.
Capitol Hill resident Merlin Rainwater questioned consultant civil engineer John McMillan over the work planned for the six-way intersection of East Madison Street, East John Street and 24th Avenue East, at the border of her neighborhood and Madison Valley.
The intersection plans preserve existing four-way crossings that favor Madison and John, but Rainwater -- an avowed nonmotorist who favors biking, walking and public transit -- said many bicyclists use 24th Avenue and that it would be a better crossing that would accommodate bicyclists. She added that East John Street goes from major arterial to quiet residential street from the west to the east side of East Madison Street, and that it’s too steep a hill on the residential side to be a preferred pedestrian route.
“I spent a summer in a wheelchair and I would not have been able to move myself up that hill, or down [it], at all,” she said.
McMillan pointed out a number of improvements to the intersection, such as re-gradation to make East John slightly less steep, straightening of the pedestrian crossings, the addition of a right-turn-only lane from Madison onto westbound John, and a raised intersection on one of the road outlets. He also noted that, while East John was only an arterial on one side of Madison, 24th was an arterial on neither. But he pointed to a designed “bike box” on the lip of East John at the northwest corner of the intersection that would allow bicyclists to more safely cross over from northern 24th Avenue East to southern 24th Avenue East.
The two parted agreeing to disagree, which hasn’t been unusual in the debate around intersections. At the Capitol Hill intersection of East Madison, 12th Avenue and East Union Street, a sticky note criticized the loss of a right turn from westbound Madison onto 12th to make way for a sharp curb extension.
But consulting engineer Ron Leimkuhler noted that the loss of that turn was itself part of a battery of pedestrian safety improvements responding to public comment made in August. Those improvements include the addition of a signalled left at an intersection that sees heavy pedestrian and motorist activity at rush hour.
“We had to make important compromises for safety,” he said.
Even though every conflicting interest can’t be satisfied, officials have been glad for ongoing public input, Transportation Department spokesperson Emily Reardon said.
A department project timeline for public comment officially marks this period for comments on the convenience of the construction timeline to city residents, the department is “absolutely” considering new comments on the project design.
As previously reported in the March issue of the Madison Park Times, a westbound bus stop was moved from the corner of Madison and John to the corner of Madison and 23rd Avenue East at the request of local restaurateur Erin Nestor, who said the stop would have blocked her business Two Doors Down from public view.
And Officials think Madison Valley residents will be happy with improvements to Madison and Martin Luther King Way, at the end of the eastbound route. Plans call for the curb at the turn to be redesigned, creating a less fraught turn for bus drivers.
Valley resident Paddy McDonald, speaking at the March 8 community council meeting, had noted articulated buses making the turn could become a danger for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“We’re well aware of the issues at that intersection,” Lundstrom told McDonald. “Believe me, it’s one of our first priorities.”
“That curb’s already been dinged by buses a few times,” Reardon said. “So we’re definitely pulling it back.”