Roosevelt RapidRide project poses difficult tradeoffs for Eastlake

Roosevelt RapidRide [Downtown Seattle to Eastlake to Roosevelt bus line] Environmental Assessment process

Over the next year (2018), SDOT will complete an environmental review of the Roosevelt RapidRide Project. SDOT is the local lead agency and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is the lead federal agency. SDOT is working closely with its partner agency King County Metro. To begin the environmental process, SDOT and FTA conducted in December 2017 and up to January 12, 2018 an outreach process (including a Dec. 11 open house) regarding the proper scope for the document. It was at this point that SDOT renamed the project as the Roosevelt RapidRide Project; formerly it was called the Roosevelt to Downtown Corridor study. The Eastlake Community Council’s Jan. 12, 2018 five-page comment letter can be found by clicking here.

A key part of the Jan. 12, 2018 ECC letter is the following: “ECC supports a format for Eastlake Avenue that makes buses more frequent, reliable, and swift; makes bicycling safer with protected lanes; does not widen the roadway (preserves or expands sidewalks); and continues and expands the current planted medians and center turn lanes, allowing left turns to all side streets. We recognize that the combination of these steps is likely to sacrifice most or all of the on-street parking on Eastlake Avenue. But we cannot support the removal of this parking unless SDOT fully and fairly analyzes the impacts of the loss of this parking upon neighborhood residents and businesses, and unless the Mayor and City Council take steps to restore on-street and on-site parking elsewhere in Eastlake, thus helping to mitigate the expected loss of this parking on Eastlake Avenue that would result from the Roosevelt RapidRide proposals.”

Although the comment period has now officially closed, comments can be still be sent and may be considered. Send them to RapidRide@seattle.gov or by U.S. mail to Sandra Gurkewitz, Senior Environmental Planner, Seattle Department of Transportation. PO Box 34996, Seattle, WA 98124-4996. Please also send a bcc or paper copy to the Eastlake Community Council at info@eastlakeseattle.org or c/o Lake Union Mail, 117 E. Louisa St. # 1, Seattle, WA 98102.

Scoping reference materials are available for viewing on the SDOT project website. After the NEPA Environmental Assessment process is complete, SDOT plans to return to the community to host a public meeting focused on project design sometime in 2018. For more information: E-mail address: RapidRide@Seattle.gov. Website: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/transit-program/rapid-ride/roosevelt-rapidride.

As a result of concerns expressed by some Eastlake residents and businesses, including at an April 24, 2018 Eastlake Community Council public meeting about the loss of parking from the project’s proposed protected one-way bicycle lanes on Eastlake Avenue, SDOT studied alternatives and issued in Sept. 2018 issued a report which was presented to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Committee on Sept. 17, 2018. The study is available by clicking here. The SDOT study concludes that the Eastlake Avenue route does not have alternatives that are safe or convenient for bicyclists, and that alternative routes would also sacrifice parking. [Note: ECC was not contacted about the study, and learned about it Sept. 18 from a post on the Seattle Bike Blog (click here), which has the report’s link that we provide above.] Unfortunately, the study did not consider an alternative that would use Boylston Avenue E.; see next section for a description of this route.

The below section outlines issues raised by the SDOT proposals, and documents the Eastlake Community Council’s efforts over recent years to comment and to open up the process to encourage more public comment. ECC welcomes questions, suggestions, and/or copies of your own comments to SDOT, to: info@eastlakeseattle.org.

Issues in SDOT’s proposals to redesign Eastlake Ave. to accommodate a “rapid ride” bus line and a barrier-separated cycle track

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is now engaged in a study of redesigning Eastlake Avenue for a streetcar or a “rapid ride” bus line and a protected bike lane. As explained below, SDOT has said that it does not intend to recommend a streetcar, although the study apparently could enable a streetcar to be substituted for a bus line in the future. The project web site is http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/RooseveltHCT.htm, where you will find a lengthy Existing Conditions report and the documents from a series of SDOT open houses.

In order to encourage dialogue widely within Eastlake and with the government agencies,the Eastlake Community Council organized a series of public meetings–especially needed because SDOT did not organize public meetings, preferring the open house format and appointed advisory bodies. ECC also widely publicized its request for public input. And ECC wrote to SDOT a series of four letters, all of which are posted below, along with responses that ECC has received from SDOT.

(1) January 7, 2016 ECC letter to SDOT (click here for the letter) expressing concern that both options currently on the table would eliminate the center turn lane along with its landscaped median islands; the letter outlines negative impacts for traffic flow and safety, transit, truck loading, bicycles, and pedestrians from loss of the center turn lane. Click here for the SDOT response letter.

(2) January 11, 2016 ECC letter to SDOT about various issues: Click here. Click here for the SDOT response letter.

(3) January 29, 2016 ECC letter to SDOT about parking issues: Click here. Click here for the SDOT response letter.

(4) July 19, 2016 ECC letter to SDOT about various issues: Click here. Click here for a Sept. 28 SDOT e-mail response.

The Eastlake Community Council has long supported efforts to improve transit and bicycling in and through our neighborhood. However, Eastlake Avenue is only 50 feet from curb to curb, and so efforts to facilitate transit and bicycling must be balanced with efforts to protect and improve safe traffic flow and the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in crossing Eastlake Avenue. It is also important to protect other neighborhood streets from cut-through traffic; and to preserve or increase parking and preventing additional parking demand.

In the proposed transportation levy that was passed by the voters on Nov. 3, 2015 the Mayor and City Council didn’t propose extending the South Lake Union streetcar along Eastlake Avenue to the University District—largely because the cost would be many times that of “bus rapid transit.” The levy made $104 million available for “seven transit plus multimodal corridor projects, redesigning major streets with more frequent and reliable buses, upgraded paving, signals and other improvements to improve connectivity and safety for all travelers, whether walking, biking, driving, or taking transit.”

The Mayor’s March 2015 “Move Seattle” (p. 56) program proposed the “Roosevelt to Downtown Complete Street” that would include “bus rapid transit” and a barrier-protected “cycle track” for two-way bicycle travel through Eastlake. However, the levy ordinance that the City Council passed on June 29 and which the voters approved on Nov. 3 didn’t specifically require that it be among the seven corridors funded. SDOT was at that point saying that $30 million was available for the Roosevelt to Downtown Complete Street.

With new funding (such as from the federal government), from reallocation of the transportation levy funds (as the City Council can do), or a local improvement tax (such as goes to the South Lake Union streetcar), the streetcar alternative would become more viable. For now, it is not recommended by SDOT’s Roosevelt to Downtown Corridor study (which favors a “bus rapid transit” alternative).

SDOT delayed the Roosevelt to Downtown Corridor study until passage of the Nov. 3, 2015 levy, and shortly after it posted on the project web site (seattle.gov/transportation/roosevelthct.htm) extensive documentation on the existing conditions, and then held two open houses in December 2015 at which two options were unveiled.

A major question in the Roosevelt to Downtown Corridor study has been whether a streetcar line or rapid transit buses would take an exclusive lane in each direction. The concerns expressed by many Eastlakers against taking two lanes for exclusive use by transit had a definite impact. Neither SDOT option as unveiled in December 2015 would take a lane of Eastlake Avenue exclusively for transit, as SDOT would do on parts of Fairview Avenue North south of Mercer and north of the Ship Canal. Federal law requires that only half the mileage of a federally subsidized bus rapid transit route have exclusive bus lanes. Eastlake Avenue is less than half the mileage of the corridor, and so exclusive transit lanes could be taken downtown and north of the Ship Canal while not doing so in Eastlake.

On January 7,2016 the Eastlake Community Council wrote to SDOT (click here for the letter) expressing concern that both options would eliminate the current center turn lane along with its landscaped median islands; in the letter ECC requests that SDOT include as a publicly analyzed option one that keeps the center turn lane. As outlined in the ECC letter, the center turn lanes were introduced by SDOT with ECC support beginning in the 1980s for safety and to facilitate traffic flow, as drivers turning left between Eastlake Avenue and side streets are not in the way of oncoming traffic. Also, the center turn lanes provide a refuge for pedestrians and bicyclists who are crossing Eastlake Avenue, and they provide a form of loading zone for trucks.

In 2016 the Eastlake Community Council board came to the tentative conclusion that improving bicycle safety on Eastlake Avenue is too important not to add some kind of protected bike lane on Eastlake Avenue. Removing most bicycles from the motor vehicle lanes will help motor vehicle traffic and buses move more quickly. The board believed that alternative routes on other streets than Eastlake Avenue for a protected bicycle lane would have greater impacts and would not be taken by many cyclists.

The Eastlake Community Council’s Jan. 12, 2018 ECC letter during SDOT’s EIS scoping period for the Roosevelt Rapid Ride project does not specifically endorse or oppose bicycle lanes on Eastlake Avenue but includes the following comment: “ECC supports a format for Eastlake Avenue that makes buses more frequent, reliable, and swift; makes bicycling safer with protected lanes; does not widen the roadway (preserves or expands sidewalks); and continues and expands the current planted medians and center turn lanes, allowing left turns to all side streets. We recognize that the combination of these steps is likely to sacrifice most or all of the on-street parking on Eastlake Avenue. But we cannot support the removal of this parking unless SDOT fully and fairly analyzes the impacts of the loss of this parking upon neighborhood residents and businesses, and unless the Mayor and City Council take steps to restore on-street and on-site parking elsewhere in Eastlake, thus helping to mitigate the expected loss of this parking on Eastlake Avenue that would result from the Roosevelt RapidRide proposals.”

Between 2014 and 2018 the Eastlake Community has hosted several public meetings about SDOT’s corridor project, all of them with SDOT representatives present. A common concern expressed by Eastlake residents and businesses has been the loss of parking on Eastlake Avenue from placing protected bicycle lanes there. In part as a response to these concerns, SDOT studied alternatives and in Sept. 2018 issued a report which was presented to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board on Sept. 17, 2018. The study is available by clicking here. [Note: ECC was not contacted about the study, and learned about it Sept. 18 only after its completion, from a post on the Seattle Bike Blog, which has the report’s link that we provide above.]

The 2018 SDOT bike route study concludes that the Eastlake Avenue route for protected bicycle lanes does not have alternative routes that are safe or convenient for bicyclists, and that even if these alternative routes were feasible, they would also sacrifice parking. [Note: ECC was not contacted about the study, and learned about it Sept. 18 from a post on the Seattle Bike Blog (click here), which has the report’s link that we provide above.]

The alternatives examined in the 2018 SDOT bike rout study were: (1) No protected bike lanes; (2) One-way protected bike lanes on either side of Eastlake Ave. (the current proposal); (3): A two-way protected bike lane on one side of Eastlake Ave.; (4) A one-way protected bike lane on Eastlake Ave. headed north, and a greenway two blocks away on Yale Ave E for riders heading southbound; (5) A one-way protected bike lane on Eastlake Ave. headed north, and a one-way protected bike lane two blocks away on Yale Ave E for riders heading south; (6) A multi-use trail on Fairview Ave E.; (7) A neighborhood greenway on Fairview Ave. E.; (8) A neighborhood greenway on Minor Ave E and Fairview Ave E.; and (9) A neighborhood greenway on Franklin Ave E.

Unfortunately, the 2018 SDOT bike route study did not consider a possible route that would use Eastlake Avenue only north of Martin Street (near the intersection of Eastlake Ave. E. and Harvard Ave. E.) and then would use the North Gateway triangle (WSDOT right-of-way under I-5) to head south onto SDOT’s Boylston Avenue E. and then through an expanded I-5 Colonnade Open Space (WSDOT right of way under or next to I-5, the returning to City streets via two branching routes to downtown on either side of I-5: (1) via WSDOT’s Lakeview-Melrose connector trail to Melrose Avenue, crossing Denny and to downtown on the Pine St. overpass; or (2) at E. Aloha Street heading southward back onto Eastlake Avenue and on to downtown via Stewart Street.

On-street parking on Eastlake Avenue will be difficult to maintain under almost any scenario for improving the conditions for bicycles and transit. Although improved bus service and increased bicycle trips will bring new customers and easier commutes for employees, the businesses along Eastlake Avenue that have depended upon on-street parking there will need to find it on side streets. SDOT has done a parking utilization study only for Eastlake Avenue, not for the other neighborhood streets, and ECC has continuously SDOT to do such a survey in weighing the corridor project’s impacts. Unfortunately, SDOT has not yet agreed to do such a study.

The Eastlake Community Council’s longtime support for our neighborhood’s local businesses is reflected in the design of Eastlake’s restricted parking zone (RPZ), which is the most business-friendly in the City (it currently allows business customers and employees to park on side streets for two or four hours without a permit). Throughout the planning process, the ECC board has sought all means to increase or minimize the loss of on-street parking, consistent with improving bicycle and transit conditions. ECC’s Jan. 12, 2018 five-page comment letter (click here) included its most extensive parking proposals yet.

A current issue that would become more urgent with almost any option for improving bicycle and transit conditions on Eastlake Avenue is a tendency for disruptive cut-through traffic from Eastlake Avenue to divert to the neighborhood’s five other north-south neighborhood streets and the cross-streets to reach them. The ECC board sees it as a high priority to prevent increases in cut-through traffic and to reduce the cut-through traffic from current levels.

The Eastlake Community Council board welcomes dialogue with community members on the difficult tradeoffs in all options for the future of Eastlake Avenue. Please send your views and suggestions to info@eastlakeseattle.org.

How and where to comment to public officials

Whatever your views, the Mayor and City Council need to hear from you. Mayor Jenny Durkan accepts comments from the public by e-mail: jenny.durkan@seattle.gov. You can also reach Mayor Durkan by letter at 600 Fourth Avenue, 7th floor, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749, or by fax at 206-684-5360. The Mayor’s reception phone is 206-684-4000, where you can also leave a voice mail afterhours and on weekends.

It is best to communicate with the nine City Councilmembers individually, rather than by a group e-mail or letter (which is far less likely to be heeded). The City Council e-mail addresses are as follows: rob.johnson@seattle.gov, sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov, teresa.mosqueda@seattle.gov, bruce.harrell@seattle.gov, lisa.herbold@seattle.gov, mike.obrien@seattle.gov, lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov, debora.juarez@seattle.gov, and kshama.sawant@seattle.gov. You can also reach the City Councilmembers by a letter (again, preferably one for each, not to all as a group) at 600 Fourth Avenue, 2nd floor, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025, or by fax at 206-684-8587.

The Eastlake Community Council requests that when you write to the Mayor or City Councilmembers, please send a blind copy to ECC at info@eastlakeseattle. By doing so you will inform ECC of your views, and enable ECC to inform you about future developments in the City’s development of the Roosevelt Rapid Ride format.

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