Drivers will get a break while Fairview Avenue North remains open until March during Mercer Street construction.

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Drivers in South Lake Union caught a break Monday that will continue all the way through February, because the city is trying to postpone construction closures on nearby Fairview Avenue North.

“We’re looking at early March,” at the soonest, to start digging up Fairview, says Angela Brady, Mercer Corridor Project manager for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Eventually, only one lane of Fairview northbound and two southbound will be open between Harrison and Mercer streets — a squeeze likely to lengthen the traffic queues on Fairview that already exist.

Mercer Street’s four eastbound lanes were shifted over the weekend onto three lanes of new pavement that will eventually be the westbound lanes, when the conversion to a two-way boulevard is done late this year. In 2013, winding Valley Street will be rebuilt as a thin, two-lane road plus bike lanes, completing the $164 million “Mercer East” phase from Dexter Avenue North to the freeway. Mercer Street west of Dexter is to be rebuilt mid-decade.

Signal-timing woes early in Monday’s commute caused arriving cars from Interstate 5 to hit a standstill on the freeway. King County Metro Transit reported 10- to 20-minute delays for its Route 70 buses heading from the Eastlake neighborhood to downtown. Eastbound traffic to I-5 was lighter than normal.

Brady said the first day went well overall, but there were “a few challenges” that were fixed for the afternoon.

Contrary to an earlier map, the city and contractor Gary Merlino Construction are keeping open the block of Terry Avenue North between Mercer and Valley streets, providing one more outlet for drivers between Mercer and Lake Union.

Walking conditions are better because pedestrians can suddenly use new sidewalks up to 24 feet wide. These include people going to their cars Monday night in a $12-a-day lot between Mercer and Valley, and bicyclists headed to the Cheshiahud Trail along Lake Union.

Mercer flowed well from 5 p.m. to after 6 p.m. As the Monday afternoon commute began, bus rider Hope McPherson said her trip north on a No. 17 bus, taking Westlake Avenue North, was faster than usual. Any backups and frustrations were to be found on Republican Street, the east-west feeder to Fairview. Police officers, tweeting their whistles, directed cars out of the area’s new parking garages. Brady said the city is looking at signal retiming to improve the Republican-Fairview crossing.

New detours were enlivened by routine chaos. Just before 11 a.m., a truck lost a steel pushcart that tumbled out the back into traffic entering I-5, so workers rushed to grab it. A traffic cop admonished two men jaywalking across Fairview near the freeway ramps. “It’s just too dangerous!” he warned.

Brady said the city will install fencing and paint crosswalk stripes to channel pedestrians into the safe crossing zones.

Three urban planners from New York City toured the area Monday, as part of research to promote urban walking. A longtime goal is within sight — to connect the booming neighborhood south of Mercer to Lake Union Park, said tour leader Lyle Bicknell, a principal urban designer for Seattle.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com.