Commutes were slow but tolerable during the first few days of the two-week Alaskan Way Viaduct closure, but as drivers learned this morning, a crash on one of the alternate routes can have a ripple effect for miles.
The Seattle-area highway system, already strained by the two-week closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, has been thrown into turmoil this morning by a seemingly endless series of lane-blocking crashes.
If you’re driving into Seattle, it’s slow going no matter which direction you’re coming from. Backups on I-5 start just before Boeing Field for northbound travelers and at North 85th Street for southbound travelers. Eastbound traffic on I-90 and Highway 520 is backed up all the way across Lake Washington.
Just before 8 a.m., state crews were responding to three incidents — at Ravenna Boulevard blocking southbound I-5 in the right lane; on northbound I-405 at the Highway 522 ramp in Bothell, a popular bypass route to reach north Seattle; and nearby at the Highway 522 off-ramp eastbound to I-405.
Those incidents follow an early morning rollover crash near Boeing Field that caused a 5-mile backup on northbound I-5, and a ramp blockage in Tukwila where Interurban Avenue South reaches I-5. A trip from Federal Way to Seattle was already taking 70 minutes before 6:30 a.m.; two hours later, it was up to 83 minutes.
All that adds up to heavy traffic on side roads, especially First Avenue South at the Duwamish bridge all the way to Sodo.
“It’s really the south end that’s taking it hard,” said spokesman Travis Phelps of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). North-end commutes are fairly normal. “It could be worse,” he said, in particular if a bad collision occurs north of Seattle.
For now, Aurora Avenue North seems to be in good shape. Remember that one lane of traffic can proceed slowly through the Battery Street Tunnel and exit downtown at the Western Avenue ramp.
Aurora drivers will find their left turns onto Denny Way blocked, with cones guiding them straight into Belltown instead. That’s so signals can be re-timed to give more time to northbound drivers, who are leaving downtown, the Seattle Department of Transportation says. Drivers who have to go east on Denny can make the hard right turn just a block earlier at John Street, then go left at Sixth Avenue to reach a signaled intersection and make a legal left onto Denny.
Avalon Way Southwest, in West Seattle, is reportedly chaotic, with cars in the bus lane and pedestrians struggling to cross the road to reach bus stops. The West Seattle bridge was heavy heading eastbound this morning, but had started to ease into its usual level of slowness around 8:45 a.m.
Extra incident-response crews are on the roadsides throughout the region.
It’s been popular lately for government officials to talk about the “fragile” network, where one incident such as a toppled seafood truck can create havoc for hours because the roads are at capacity — and that’s without a viaduct closure.
Meanwhile, in other modes:
King County Metro Transit is reporting bus delays in Sodo and on I-5. “We’re seeing typical overloads and delays,” where crowded stops are as bad as, or worse than, normal, said spokesman Jeff Switzer, who didn’t have ridership numbers immediately available.
Water taxis from West Seattle are mostly full but not turning passengers away, with room for 75 or more per boat so far this morning. The 5:15 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. sailings from downtown to West Seattle sold out Monday afternoon. The county has been borrowing a boat from the Vashon water-taxi route to add capacity for West Seattle crowds when possible. The water-taxi staff are collecting fares earlier as people get in line, to save time boarding.
Sound Transit has added a railcar to two of its Everett-Seattle trains to make room for more passengers.
Eric Shimizu, principal at transportation consulting firm DKS Consulting, predicts that many people will start taking Link light rail as they realize how bad south-end conditions are overall.
Available counts are showing more people bicycling than usual.
Twice as many bicyclists as usual are crossing the low-level West Seattle bridge to cope with the viaduct closure, setting a record of 2,525 trips over the Duwamish River on Monday, according to the electronic bike counter at the east base of the bridge. Before today, the record was 1,847 trips on May 14, 2014, which was National Bike to Work Day. The year-round average is 847 trips per day.
The West Seattle numbers don’t include people who biked onto a water taxi, since the count happens on the bridge.
The Fremont Bridge on Monday carried 5,656 cyclists, one of its highest days ever, but short of the record 6,088 on May 13, 2014. Meanwhile, the new Second Avenue bike lane carried 1,396 riders, which beats its yearly average of around 915 trips.
Cascade Bicycle Club has been e-mailing its 70,000 followers around the region to encourage cycle commuting this week. The group is hoping that West Seattle riders keep the cycling habit after the viaduct reopens, though ridership will inevitably fall off somewhat, said Cascade Bicycle Club spokesman Brent Tongco.
“Getting out of the confines of a car, getting out, getting closer to nature, getting healthy exercise, helps people have a happier mood,” he said.
The weather forecast for the next few days, with the sun creeping out and temperatures reaching 75 by Friday, certainly looks conducive to that.