The Seattle Department of Transportation has published the final North Downtown Mobility Action Plan to guide the next 10 years of projects meant to address growth in Belltown, Uptown and South Lake Union, coupled with a future influx of people to the new Seattle Center arena.
The NODO MAP includes South Lake Union, Uptown and Belltown, an area that is estimated to add 15,000 households and 20,000 new employees by 2035.
Half of the new housing units and 15,000 jobs are anticipated in SLU while 3,000 new households and 2,500 jobs are expected to be created in Uptown in the next 15 years.
Even without the Seattle Center arena rebuild, which will double the facility’s size and provide more than 18,000 seats for certain events, SDOT says revisions in the NODO area would be needed to account for the population increase.
Arena developer Oak View Group has agreed to provide $40 million for mobility improvements over 39 years, and most of the tier-one projects around Seattle Center will be carried out by OVG contractors.
“2020 is primarily going to be a development and design phase, so you won’t necessarily see any construction or improvements in the ground this year,” said NODO MAP manager Kay Yesuwan.
A key project that needs to be completed before the arena reopens in spring 2021 is the First Avenue North and Queen Anne Avenue North Complete Streets.
Revisions include adding transit-only lanes on First Avenue North — between Denny Way and Republican Street — and Queen Anne Avenue North — between Mercer and John streets. Both streets are used by King County Metro’s RapidRide D line, which suffers from overcrowding at peak hours around Seattle Center. The city will also pay for increased bus service around arena events.
Traffic signals will be added on Queen Anne and First avenues north at Thomas Street. Once OVG completes the rebuild, the arena’s new front entrance will be on First.
The NODO MAP states several intersections around Seattle Center experience a high number of collisions involving pedestrians: Queen Anne and Mercer, First and Mercer, Terry Avenue and Mercer, Denny Way and Westlake Avenue North.
Signal upgrades will be made at Queen Anne Avenue North and Harrison Street, First and Harrison, Queen Anne and Republican, and First and Republican, where a transit queue jump will be designed to give priority to buses.
The NODO MAP calls out a lack of east/west connections for cyclists and transit, and a disconnected bike network in general. There is currently no protected bike lane between Seattle Center and the Elliott Bay waterfront.
“For example, the Roy St protected bike lane does not connect to the Mercer St protected bike lane. The 2nd Ave protected bike lane does not connect across Denny Way to Seattle Center,” according to the plan. “The 5th Ave N protected bike lane does not connect across Denny Way to bike facilities into downtown.”
Yesuwan said Roy and Mercer are among the toughest blocks to figure out, and bike connectivity remains under design consideration.
The Second Avenue protected bike lane extension from Denny Way to Pike Street opened in February 2018, and connects all the way to Yesler Way. It is the most continuous protected bike lane (PBL) in the NODO area.
As reported by The Urbanist, SDOT plans to remove a section of the Second Avenue PBL before it reaches Denny Way, creating a second southbound receiving lane for post-event motorists leaving arena garages. Cyclists would have to use the sidewalk.
Uptown Alliance Transportation Committee chair Rick Browning has been a bicycling advocate for 40 years. While the organization is pleased to see this level of funding being made available for various projects meant to promote modes of transportation other than motor vehicles, he’s personally disappointed bicycle infrastructure wasn’t prioritized more in the NODO MAP.
“I must say, I personally have stood at that intersection — Second and Denny — at rush hour, and I was amazed how many bikes use that bike lane to connect on up to Seattle Center,” Browning said.
The bike advocate is also concerned about the gap in protections for cyclists at First Avenue North and Queen Anne Avenue North.
Part of the Complete Streets plan for Queen Anne Avenue North and First Avenue North is to construct two-way PBLs. First Avenue North will have them between Denny Way and Thomas Street, and Queen Anne will have them on the east side of the street, from Mercer to Thomas streets. Cyclists wanting to continue heading north of Thomas Street would have to take Thomas to Queen Anne Avenue North to access that protected bike lane. This allows SDOT to create a flex lane on First near the arena that can be either parking or an extra general-purpose lane. The First Avenue North PBL was shifted to the other side of the street when arena construction started last year.
Browning said state law allows cyclists to use any street, so he predicts many riding on First Avenue North will not make the jog over to Queen Anne Avenue North, and will instead continue on First.
“That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to just continue riding up First,” he said. “That’s how I get home.”
The Queen Anne Avenue North PBL would cross Mercer Street slightly, pushing cyclists into a northbound general-purpose lane before reaching Roy Street, which has a protected bike lane there that stretches to Fifth. Yesuwan said that design is still being worked on and that it hadn’t been considered previously in OVG's master use permit decision. Part of the discussion moving forward is how much parking should be preserved on Queen Anne Avenue North, she said, adding the two-way configuration also creates concerns due to the number of turns available to motorists.
It would be nice if SDOT could find funding to connect the future Queen Anne Avenue North PBL to the one on Roy Street, Browning said, but he believes The Urbanist is correct that the next round of Bike Master Plan funding has already been dedicated for other projects.
Cyclists heading from Queen Anne to Downtown would take Queen Anne Avenue North to Thomas Street, at which point they could take the sidewalk to connect to First, which would provide a PBL down to Denny Way.
SDOT does not feel comfortable providing bike facilities on Denny Way, and so no bike or pedestrian crossings were designed at First, said Sara Zora, street use development review manager.
Zora said SDOT is still looking at how to make a PBL connection from First to Second, which NODO MAP identifies as a second-tier project.
The First Avenue and Broad Street Complete Street Extension also plans for a two-way PBL along Broad Street, between Second and First streets, which Yesuwan said will go through early planning this year and design in 2021. The extension project would also expand the First Avenue PBL further south to Broad Street to connect.
Browning said creating truly connected PBLs will result in more people choosing cycling over other transportation modes, but many will remain on the fence until then.
“I don’t think SDOT has been good — in fact, I think they’ve been terrible — about the public outreach for the planning for these bike facilities,” he said.
Oak View Group will need to finish the First and Queen Anne PBLs, Thomas Street traffic signals, sidewalk and curb bulb work, and bus-only lanes on First and Queen Anne prior to receiving a certificate of occupancy for the new arena under its master use permit, Zora said.
“So we have high hopes that they will build all this and be very successful in opening all of this at the same time,” she said.
OVG also has an Arena Access Management Plan (AAMP) in place with the city that commits it to pre- and post-event transportation management and monitoring. If the developer can’t meet performance standards, more traffic mitigation work would be required under the AAMP.
First-year monitoring events include two mid-season hockey or basketball games and two typical concerts at the area.
“By waiting until mid-season, travel patterns and behavior will have normalized so that a representative sample is collected,” according to the AAMP. “It also allows for the benefits of the initial event monitoring and any associated AAMP refinements to take effect.”
While Browning laments that bike infrastructure connectivity did not receive a higher priority, he said he is excited about the amount of funding being invested in transportation projects in the Uptown neighborhood.
He is particularly excited about the Thomas Street Redefined project, which includes a 36-foot-wide pedestrian and bicycle pathway from Fifth to Dexter, as well as the creation of a public plaza across from a new Seattle Center skate park. The Seattle City Council approved $1.1 million in funding on Jan. 6 to bring the Thomas Street Greenway to 100 percent design.
“I have faith in the goodwill of parties involved that there will be attempts to tweak things and make them work better as soon as we see what happens with the arena,” Browning said. “Certainly, no plan is going to be perfect right out of the box.”