Burien Council endorses Metro changes to Ambaum Blvd. for RapidRide H Line


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By Jack Mayne

After a long discussion and the third Burien City Council presentation by Metro Transit on proposed changes to permit the start of RapidRide H Line ended Monday (May 21), when the Council voted 5 to 2 for the significant changes and upgrades on Ambaum Boulevard SW.

Opposed were former Mayor Lucy Krakowiak and Councilmember Bob Edgar.

Councilmember Pedro Olguin wanted to postpone the decision but got no Council support.

No Burien money
Burien’s Public Works Director Maiya Andrews and Jerry Roberson, King County Metro project manager, again discussed the somewhat controversial changes on Ambaum Blvd. to accommodate the proposed Rapid Ride H bus lane. The proposal was, in effect, to eliminate a lane of automobile traffic to accommodate an additional transit lane.

“We are not asking for money to construct this from the City of Burien … it is paying nothing into this project,” said Roberson, adding Metro will work with the city for permits for the projects and drafting potential financial grants to assist the project.

The H Line corridor starts southbound in downtown Seattle, goes across the West Seattle Bridge, south on Delridge Way to White Center and thence up Ambaum, ending at the Burien Transit Center.

New proposal C would shorten the three-lane segments on Ambaum, which Metro says will still provide “significant safety and mobility improvements for both pedestrians and drivers.” The new alternative also “provides meaningful enhancements to the bus service and pedestrian access with minimal impact to drivers.” Metro had indicated in previous presentations that “providing these enhancements on other RapidRide lines has resulted in substantial increases in ridership” and therefore would on Ambaum, which would “benefits drivers by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.”

Roberson said the proposed changes would go into effect in 2021, and that comments Burien residents made about the original proposed changes caused the agency to make more changes, now dubbed Alternative C.

The only segment where “we propose moving the curb is he segment with the S curve, which starts south of 116th and to the north of 122nd” which would change from four lanes to three lanes,” Roberson said, adding the resulting additional space “is critical for gaining enough space to add safety improvements for pedestrians and vehicles and there are no bus stops on this sector.”

The four block portion between 130th and 134th would have restricted left turn lanes “except for emergency vehicles,” Roberson said, adding “necessary U-turns performed for general purpose traffic at 128th in the northbound direction and at 136th in the southbound direction.” There would be left turn lanes for south bound vehicles and buses in the segment of Ambaum between 129th and 150th.

He reiterated past comments that there would be no rapid ride stations on three lane or four lane segments, with all proposed stations on the five lane portions of Ambaum.

Success of Ambaum
The latest alternative by Metro shown at the Monday (May 21) Council meeting “was designed so that the through movement of cars would not get stuck behind busses that were stopped at stations,” Roberson said.

In addition to the roadway improvements, Metro says the H Line project makes pedestrian improvements to Ambaum, “including new sidewalks, widened sidewalks, protected pedestrian crossings and improvements in and around Burien Transit Center. These pedestrian enhancements are a key part of not only Rapid Ride service but the success of Ambaum Boulevard as a multi-modal transportation corridor.”

Roberson said there were “improvements to intersections beyond just the pedestrian realm are being designed at Southwest 116th, at Southwest 128th and the SW 150 streets and Ambaum, … making automobile turns easier with fewer conflicts, with increased safety elements.”

“With addition operational and signal improvements, the total capital investment value that King County proposes to bring to Burien equals an estimated $14 million,” said Roberson, larger than the previous “Alternate B” and “a bit smaller” than the original $17 million original Metro proposal for Ambaum. The latest proposal would “provide between $250,000 and $400,000 in annual savings that could be reinvest back into additional Rapid Ride services or additional transit services for the immediate community (of Burien) of a combination of both efforts.”

Roberson said there would be travel time improvements, for example northbound under the latest proposal, buses would travel 13 percent faster, but cars would take 5 percent more time to travel north on Ambaum. Southbound, buses would have a 13 percent improvement in travel time, but cars would take 8 percent more time to travel the same route.

Council questions, comments
Councilmember and former Mayor Lucy Krakowiak asked Roberson what would happen to H Line service expected to begin in 2021 “if the roadway remains as it is at this time.” At the end of the Council presentation she said she would support the changes with the removal of “BAT” lanes, or “Business Access and Transit lanes which are established all through Seattle. Outside lanes are reserved for buses and right-turning vehicles only which improve access to businesses and residences and are said to save time for transit riders.

Without removal of the BAT lanes, and the removal of planter strips at the Ambaum “S” curves near White Center, she said she could not support the project and she attempted to make those changes when the matter came for Council approval.

Roberson said without the roadway changes, “70 percent of that improvement would not be successful,” or much of increases in travel time improvements he had said would occur if the physical changes were made.

Councilmember Nancy Tosta said “if more people ride the bus, the people who do want to drive in their cars will have more space on the roads … because there are fewer people trying to get into downtown Seattle.”

Councilmember Krystal Marx said before the hearing she would have supported a delay in the decision but it was not often when King County would pay for something and not demand the city pay. Residents on and beyond Ambaum will be affected and the improvements will help, she said, and ameliorating decisions later is possible, she said.

Mayor Jimmy Matta said the vote was difficult but the issue would help Burien residents.

Deputy Mayor Austin Bell said he was appreciative of the work put into the presentation and at the changes Metro has made and said it appeared the time for Council action, and he moved to have the city proceed with plans and work with Metro for implementation.

Councilmember Krakowiak seconded the motion with the added proviso that the BAT lanes be made regular lanes and for the removal of the center planting strips from 116th to 120th and making the area four lanes. Bell said he did not support Krakowiak’s changes and the Council voted her changes down.

For and against
Councilmember Edgar said he felt the Metro proposal was to help Seattle’s needs at the expense of Burien residents and cutting Ambaum’s capacity by 50 percent.

Councilmember Pedro Olguin wanted to table the decision to the June 4 meeting because he felt many in the city had not had a chance to be fully informed on the project and suggested a potential public forum before the Council makes a decision, but no other member of the Council supported the delay.

In other action, City Manager Brian Wilson introduced new employees Zack Mohsen, information help desk technician; Robin Tischmak, assistant public works director; and, Steven Blake, a building code official.

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