Reset the Lander Street Bridge Project

The city of Seattle has delayed or put on hold a number of transit and safe streets projects in recent months, including many funded from the Move Seattle Levy. Notable projects include:

The typical justification for these project delays is largely around costs. In the case of the Center City Streetcar, this include capital constructions costs coming in higher than previously estimated 13% higher than expected ($200 million as opposed to $173 million) and a dispute between SDOT and Metro over the exact operational costs.

Many of the bike lane and sidewalk projects are not at risk due to their particular budgets being higher than expected, but because the overall costs of construction means the levy money assigned to these projects won’t go as far. Rhetorically, of course, the supposed $12 million cost of the 2nd Ave bike lane is being used to say bike projects are too expensive in general, though in that case the cost includes a full street rebuild including utilities, signals and repaving for all users, including people in single occupancy vehicles.

By these risk standards, the Lander Street Bridge project should be put on hold and reconsidered. The current project estimates put it 23% over ($123 million against $100 million). Even if built, it will cost a whopping $683 million per mile (it’s a short bridge over railroad tracks). The street is entirely closed to car, truck and transit traffic for two years into 2020, though people on foot or bikes have a route through (perhaps this project is not as critical as it seems if the road can be entirely closed for two years?)

Aside from its huge cost, the Lander Street bridge is a poor design that falls far short of Vision Zero or supporting a future Seattle which should heavily de-prioritize single occupancy vehicles now to reduce congestion and carbon pollution impacts. This is the profile of space allocated to each use:

Screenshot of Lander bridge design

Savvy folks will note that people on foot or bike are actually allocated less space in the new design. Two 7 foot sidewalks and a fair share of the roadway (for cyclists willing to take a lane) becomes a single 14 foot multi-use path on the north side of the road. The width allocated to cars only diminishes from 60 feet to 44 feet, largely because a turning lane isn’t need on the bridge itself (there are turning lanes at 1st Ave and 4th Ave) and wide lanes for the current unsafe bicycle infrastructure are unneeded.

Moreover, despite this ostensibly being a project about moving freight and transit, there is no prioritization of those uses. The plan is to keep two general traffic lanes both ways which means freight and buses will bypass trains, but will still be stuck waiting behind cars. As someone who walks here nearly every day, that is what holds the buses up day after day – the train delays are usually quick and intermittent, but the left turning cars line up at every intersection during every light cycle.

The current project maintains the status quo at very high cost, dwarfing city wide spending on other road uses (the project alone is more than Move Seattle allocates to bikes or sidewalks!) Even this assessment is generous. The project actually makes it harder for people on foot to get around. People on foot or in wheelchairs traveling north on the westbound side of 3rd Ave will have to navigate FOUR crosswalks to get to 1st Ave:


Even people on foot coming north on 4th Ave will have to navigate an additional crosswalk due to the multi-use path being on only the north side of the bridge.

This is a bridge to move cars. It’s not a bridge to move people or keep a city’s economy moving smoothly by prioritizing freight. The buses and port trucks will just get stuck behind single occupancy cars as they do today. The people on foot or wheels will be sidelined into a single path that’s hard to get to. If this project continues, it should be reworked into a transit and freight only street, with full lane widths on each side allocated to non-vehicular uses. If we truly want to prioritize traffic that will keep the city moving as it grows, as well as reduce carbon pollution from traffic, we should direct private cars and trucks to other streets. Instead, we’re rebuilding a road at great expense for those cars and justifying it by saying it’s for transit or freight or pedestrians. The current design is for cars, not people.