To unstick the Route 8 bus, and protect people walking, King County Metro and the city of Seattle will add a bus lane and restrict turns on Denny Way by early 2018.
In Seattle’s latest move to encourage transit instead of downtown driving, a general-traffic lane on busy Denny Way will be replaced by a bus lane, so the gridlocked Route 8 can bypass cars that are lined up to reach Interstate 5.
This follows the largely successful creation last spring of a bus and streetcar lane on either side of Westlake Avenue North, which crosses Denny in what may be the nation’s fastest-growing neighborhood.
The Denny Way project, led by King County Metro Transit, will be done by early 2018.
Equally significant, left turns will be banned at three more intersections, where South Lake Union’s rapid growth has resulted in dangerous encounters between pedestrians and impatient commuters.
The plan caters to transit riders instead of drivers, though Metro notes the turn-lane restrictions “avoid traffic tie-ups that slow everyone down.” An average 23,400 vehicles a day use Denny Way.
South Lake Union, where Amazon has spurred much of the recent growth, is gridlocked though only halfway built to its planned density, and the city is desperate to meet future travel demand using bus and rail.
The changes are scheduled to be done by early 2018, said an announcement by Metro. The overall budget of $1.4 million is 80 percent funded by federal grants.
Route 8, commonly known as “the Late 8” or simply “the Leight,” averaged 8,900 weekday passengers this summer.
Some people who might ride transit are walking uphill or hailing a car because the bus is crowded and slow.
The changes are expected to save bus riders one to two minutes a trip, while making travel much more reliable, said Owen Kehoe, a Metro transportation engineer.
The 8 would gain an eastbound bus lane from Fairview Avenue North to Stewart Street, with removal of one of the two relatively uncongested westbound lanes. (An electric substation recently blocked one westbound lane for five weeks without causing a debacle.)
So there would be three lanes toward Capitol Hill and one toward Seattle Center, in that short stretch. Buses would use the middle of the three eastbound lanes, Kehoe said.
One weakness in the plan is that the car lineup for Yale Avenue toward I-5 often extends beyond Fairview, so the 8 can get stuck while climbing uphill from Westlake Avenue.
Another is that car drivers might clog the transit lane while they troll for an opening in the I-5/Yale lineup.
Two remedies are planned, said Kehoe:
• The bus lane will be red and marked with signs, similar to Battery Street where the busy E Line reaches Aurora Avenue North.
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• A “queue jump” signal at Fairview will give buses a slight head start to move from general traffic into the bus lane, similar to how West Seattle buses go from Columbia Street into the Alaskan Way Viaduct southbound ramp.
In addition, parking will be removed from four spots on Capitol Hill, to add a general lane or eliminate chokepoints and help speed up the 8 bus route, as well as car drivers.
The left-turn restrictions affect Terry Street, Boren Avenue and Eighth Avenue where they connect to Denny Way. Left turns from Denny already are prohibited at Westlake and Ninth.
If cars aren’t stopping to turn left, that will take pressure off the overall roadway and help buses, said Kehoe. “It will free up the right lane,” he said.
It should also reduce near-hits. Terry at Denny earned the 2015 title “Worst Intersection in Seattle” by readers of the Walking In Seattle blog.
If the new plan succeeds, it might even put to rest a few activists’ daydreams about a gondola that would rise above Denny Way traffic.