The Seattle Department of Transportation wanted to stripe its bus lane to speed the chronically late Route 8 bus to Capitol Hill. But construction continues at the Denny Substation Project, where equipment can occupy a lane of Denny.
Plans for a bus-only lane on Denny Way have suddenly been shelved, and the conversion likely won’t happen until spring.
The Seattle Department of Transportation wanted to stripe its new, four-block-long bus lane last week, from Fairview Avenue North to Stewart Street. This could speed the chronically late Route 8 bus to Capitol Hill, by one or two minutes per trip.
However, several months of construction remain at Seattle City Light’s Denny Substation Project, where equipment and supplies will sometimes occupy a lane of Denny — and make SDOT’s arrangement unworkable.
That’s because SDOT’s plan includes only one general lane westbound, to provide a bus lane and two general lanes eastbound within a four-lane roadbed. Westbound traffic can’t flow if contractors occupy that space.
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Which they will. Substation builders need to demolish temporary soil-retaining walls, build public walkways around the substation, and replace streetlights, said City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen.
A street-use permit is on file with SDOT, and a published timeline said the substation work will go from mid-2016 to mid-2018.
The SDOT bus lane was also proposed almost a year ago, and the two departments say they discuss coordination almost weekly.
Why the mix-up?
SDOT’s bus-lane proposal made news last December, with a stated goal of early 2018. But this summer, the agency decided to do it sooner.
An apparent opportunity emerged when City Light repaved Denny the fourth weekend in September, to cover utility-related divots. SDOT sent an email to inquire about “restriping” Denny.
A utility manager replied with his approval, under the impression SDOT would do routine lane painting — not the bus-lane conversion, said Thomsen.
“We are owning a piece of this error,” Thomsen said this week. “They’ve got a lot going on, we’ve got a lot going on. He didn’t catch the significance of what they were proposing.”
Meanwhile, the SDOT announced Sept. 22 that the bus-lane installation would occur within days. Afterward, City Light alerted transportation staff to the “critical nature of their work,” and SDOT adjusted its schedule, said a statement by Mafara Hobson, transportation spokeswoman.
“The city’s infrastructure is in the midst of great transformation,” she wrote. “While we always strive for perfection, sometimes coordination doesn’t go as planned.”
This week, contractors sometimes used the outer westbound lane, and sometimes a flagger halted traffic in the remaining lane. Cars backed up across I-5 to Capitol Hill, illustrating how fast congestion can form in a single lane.
Another traffic dilemma of dropping a westbound lane will be slowdowns for cars and buses whenever right-turning drivers pause for people walking across Fairview.
Besides a bus lane, a pedestrian-activated stoplight will be installed crossing Denny Way at Minor Avenue, similar to the new Terry Avenue signal a few blocks downhill. This will require further utility trenching and temporary lane closures early next year, Thomsen said.