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And this transportation system is pretty fragile. You can have one incident that sends the entire system into gridlock if it’s in the wrong place in the network.

I had the unique pleasure of being at the center of one such incident on Tuesday when my E Line RapidRide bus decided to pop out of gear at the worst possible time: Driving up Aloha St toward Aurora Ave. At the time, Aloha street was being used by SDOT to reroute Aurora Ave traffic during Highway 99 construction. The bus wouldn’t move and restarting it wasn’t helping. Worse, each attempt at getting it into gear resulted in the bus, still full of passengers, rolling back down a steep hill. I was done trying to move the bus without assistance from Vehicle Maintenance. Cars were able to squeeze by my immobilized bus, but all buses that use Aurora Ave had to be rerouted which compounded already substantial delays.

This blockage made an already bad situation worse. I was following the Blanchard/7th Ave/Dexter reroute that all Northbound Aurora Ave buses were using. It was frustrating to see cars parked on Dexter and Blanchard Streets where ad-hoc bus lanes could have been created to give buses priority. Instead, buses were routed into a single lane of traffic with cars and left to sit. Delays were so bad at one point that the control center gave me permission to reroute an E Line trip via Elliott Ave, 15th Ave NW, and N 85th St. (For those keeping track, thats basically the same as driving almost the entire D Line route through Ballard and then using 85th to access Aurora Ave – A very long reroute) Several passengers commented this route was much faster than the previous day’s commute. (And even with a 23 minute wait for the next Southbound bus, was likely faster for passengers making their way to points between Lynn & 85th Streets) As I made my way southbound from Aurora Village Transit Center close to 7:30, I saw a steady stream of E Line coaches making their way north after likely breaking free from the Blanchard/7th/Dexter reroute bottleneck.

In short, this 4 day Highway 99 closure seems like a good case study for how our transportation system breaks down under extreme pressure. Hopefully, we can learn from it.


Categories: Car Culture, Transit
  1. nbarnard
    August 29, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    One of the things I’d like to see Metro learn from it is how to get a bit more creative and aggressive with reroutes. From your example: restricting parking and making a bus lane. (Or maybe just two traffic lanes, though it’d be nice if one was a bus only lane.)

    Another example from a while ago is the reroutes that happen during the Rock and Roll Marathon. (a/k/a the most creative uses of I5 yet.) I got stuck in this back a few years ago when I was riding the 358 north. Metro set up its south terminus at Convention Place Station, which is sort of okay given the mess of street closures. They suggested that riders take tunnel routes to CPS. The problem? Saturday mornings in the tunnel don’t have that much frequency. I’m really curious why they didn’t just put the 358 in the tunnel. (I also thought this about the 5, but it has the problem that its through routed with the 21.)

    Another underlying problem is that Metro isn’t compensated for its troubles. Now, I doubt that King County could pass an ordnance that would bill WADOT for Metro’s troubles and added costs, but they should be able to bill events like Rock and Roll Marathon for the trouble and added costs.

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