You may have noticed some messy commutes this week as we reach the mid-point of the so-called “Seattle Squeeze.”
“We are halfway there,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Take heart, commuters.”
Many drivers have experienced travel times above normal in recent days. It speaks to a fear King County Metro voiced last week – that drivers initially switched to transit right after the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure, and might filter back into their cars as the period of maximum constraint wears on. Such a trend could severely degrade travel times.
"Because we're so close to capacity in [our road] system, you add just a few cars, the whole thing can seize up," said Constantine.
At a Wednesday press conference, local and transit officials discussed the latest on the project. Metro noted that the 20 standby buses - focused on RapidRide lines C, D, E and Route 120 - provided 27,000 additional trips so far.
Rides on the King County Water Taxi have also tripled, officials said.
The unified message for commuters – stick to your viaduct plan, and don’t jump back into a car alone during rush hour.
“Carpool, vanpool, ride your bike – do everything you can to avoid driving alone, please,” said Constantine.
But are former drivers taking this advice? Officials believe so far – generally yes, but it’s hard to say for sure.
During the 2016 viaduct closure, Metro Managing Director of Service Development Bill Bryant said all travel dropped for the week – including Metro ridership. So, their challenge going forward is determining their ‘market share’ of all trips being taken post-viaduct.
Metro has not been able to provide specific ridership data for the full bus system, despite repeated requests.
Generally, ridership looks to be up post-closure, said Deputy General Manager Terry White. But he qualified – until the data is processed, it’s hard to tell if that’s a true increase, or commuters spreading their travel through the commute.
Generally, peak rush hour has moved an hour earlier during this closure.
“We’ve been given some daily numbers, but we’re trying to get some real tabulation before we present that out,” said White.
Other officials noted traffic on Interstate 5 is down 5 percent from before the closure, and the ferry system is seeing more walk-ons and fewer cars.
SDOT noted a 124 percent increase in cyclists crossing the Spokane Street bridge.
“The volumes would suggest people paid better attention than in 2016 when we came out with a similar message about closing the viaduct,” said WSDOT’s David Sowers. “We just want to continue to pound that message home. We’re almost there.”
Anecdotally, Metro bus driver Darryl Butler said his routes through West Seattle and downtown had gained riders – riders who haven’t gone back to driving yet.
“A lot of fresh faces,” said Butler. “The same people are there, and hopefully they’ll stay.”
Steven Hollifield noted more riders on his bus from the Northside.
“There’s definitely more people,” he said. “Like now – I’m on a 10-15 minute delay because the buses aren’t used to stopping at every single stop to pick up people, drop people off – it adds time.”
WSDOT believes recent traffic snarls are more a culprit of crashes and wet weather – though, without ridership numbers, it’s difficult to say if more riders are reverting to driving. Metro said it might not be able to process and release that data until the tunnel opens.
“It’s a little too early for us to celebrate and say we’ve won,” said White. “We need all of us, our commuters, new riders, to stay the course.”
Join KING 5's Seattle Tunnel Traffic Facebook group to stay up-to-date on the latest Seattle tunnel and viaduct news and get tips to battle traffic during the three-week viaduct closure in January.