Seattle’s Department of Transportation and King County Metro are proposing a $40 million project to improve sidewalks and add commuter bus lanes on Aurora Ave N., including the stretch that runs through Phinney-Greenwood.
BAT lanes — bus lanes like the ones that already exist on southbound Aurora — would be extended to both directions of traffic between N 46th and N 66th, and then from Winona Ave N to N 115th St. Like current BAT lanes, these would be business and transit-only lanes going south during the morning commute and north during the evening.
The plans also calls for new and improved RapidRide bus stations along Aurora — although the specific locations haven’t been determined — along with 5 million in pedestrian improvements, including 7000 feet of new sidewalks and 100 new curb ramps. The rest of the grant money would go to 23 new Metro buses, and Transit Signal Priority technology that would allow them to move up and down Aurora more quickly.
Phinney and Greenwood are the two neighborhoods with the largest stake in this proposal, considering that it affects the section of Aurora that makes up the eastern neighborhood border. According to an email from SDOT, “This proposal would improve pedestrian mobility along Aurora, enhance access to transit, improve transit speed and reliability, and support the implementation of Metro’s Aurora Rapid Ride service.”
At their meeting this week, the Phinney Ridge Community Council couldn’t agree on the proposal and decided not to send a letter of support for SDOT’s grant application. Although several members did support the proposal, and some even said they might use the high speed buses themselves, others worried that expanding the BAT lanes would drive traffic from Aurora onto neighboring side streets, where speeders are already a major complaint.
The Aurora Avenue Merchants Association opposes the SDOT proposal for similar reasons. A notice on the front page of their website (auroramerchants.org) reads “AAMA does not support King County Metro & SDOT plans to close side streets on Aurora and replace them with fancy bus shelters for RapidRide. All traffic should remain on the HIGHWAY and not be sent onto the neighborhood streets.” According to the Seattle P-I (http://www.seattlepi.com/local/366269_aurora09.html) the merchants also opposed a similar proposal in 2008. That plan was eventually scrapped by the City.
Although the current proposal is not without its opponents, it does present one possible picture of the future of public transit in Phinney-Greenwood. We are hoping this does not force more people off the bus and into Seattle cabs – away from the city’s purpose to keep transit efficient and Aurora moving.