On Monday, September 24, the Council unanimously approved a resolution stating that the proposed Second Montlake Bascule Bridge is not needed in the foreseeable future. This Bridge, which would be parallel to the current Montlake Bridge, was inserted into the SR 520 Project in hopes that it would allow transit to move efficiently through the corridor, provide better conditions for bicycles and pedestrians, and smooth the flow of traffic on the mainline 520 and connecting streets. However, after reviewing a technical report, the Council found that the proposed second bridge offers little or no benefit to transit or mainline 520 traffic, and would not be a cost effective way to serve bicycles and pedestrians.
Because the Council has long been skeptical of the need and utility of the second bridge, one provision of a Memorandum of Agreement signed last year between the City and the State (insert reference) was to convene a technical workgroup to conduct a detailed inquiry into the present and expected future performance of the transportation system in the vicinity of the existing Montlake Bridge. This report was designed to be used to analyze the need to build a second bridge. The technical workgroup, led by Tim Payne of Nelson/Nygaard and including SDOT, WSDOT, and Metro representatives, developed a report that defined thresholds for levels of performance in transit speed and reliability, pedestrian and bicycle mobility, and SR 520 mainline operations.
The report found no evidence suggesting that the Montlake Bridge plays any substantial role in creating transit delay or increasing transit time. It appears that a second Montlake Bridge would have little impact in addressing adverse transit operating conditions in the corridor. The study identified other potential transit projects in the corridor that would more likely improve conditions and should be implemented. These include a range of speed and reliability improvements, such as traffic signal coordination, transit signal priority, bus lanes, queue bypass, safety improvements and stop consolidation.
The report found that current levels of service for bicyclists and pedestrians over the existing Montlake Bridge approach and at times already exceed thresholds that suggest that action is appropriate to improve conditions. The consultant suggested that the best way to determine what actions will be most useful are to review and consider them as part of the City’s update to the Bicycle Master Plan, and through discussions with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Boards. Actions to explore might include seeing if the sidewalk footprint on the existing Montlake Bridge could be expanded or managed more effectively, or constructing a small bicycle and pedestrian only bridge across the Montlake cut, perhaps connecting the public land east of the Montlake community directly to the University.
Tim Payne, the consultant, concluded that, based on the data reviewed and taking the current bicycle, pedestrian, and transit performance and mainline SR520 operation into account, it is likely that a second Montlake Bridge would not deliver benefits that justify its cost and impact to the neighborhood and environment. Given this conclusion I sponsored a resolution that makes these recommendations to the State:
- A Second Montlake Bridge should not be constructed within the foreseeable future.
- WSDOT, SDOT and Metro should continue to develop and monitor the triggers that have been developed for this project and continue to analyze any changes in conditions that could affect the SR520 corridor.
- WSDOT, SDOT, and Metro should invest in other measures that would increase the speed and reliability of transit in this corridor.
The resolution also recommends the following actions:
- SDOT should work with the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board to develop options for improved service for bicyclists and pedestrians for consideration in the Bicycle Master Plan. SDOT should also develop and implement better monitoring of transportation performance for bicyclists and pedestrians in the vicinity of the Montlake Bridge.
- SDOT should work with King County Metro and WSDOT to identify and implement other transit improvements in the corridor and monitor the effects of these improvements.
The Council and Mayor agreed with my recommendations.
I personally doubt that the trigger conditions for the Second Montlake Bridge will ever be justified, based on the analysis that we have now seen, but continued monitoring will either confirm that or suggest when those trigger conditions might be reached.
The final decision on whether or not to build the Second Montlake Bridge will be made by the State of Washington. At this point, I believe it is most important to implement the transit improvements that we will identify and to develop and implement ways to improve services to bicyclists and pedestrians. It is likely that improvements for transit, bicycles and pedestrians could be delivered at a lower cost than the cost of a new bridge. I look forward to working with the State on these recommendations.