Friday, April 29, 2016

West Seattle to downtown Seattle: A tale of two commutes

By Steve Peer

In a world of hour-by-hour schedules, deadlines, and last-minute modifications, changing my commute was the last thing I wanted to do when I heard about the viaduct closure. We were told to prepare for two weeks of gnarly commutes, and since I work for WSDOT, I thought I better heed the warnings of my colleagues on the Alaskan Way Viaduct team, especially because I commute to downtown from West Seattle.

Many commuters were accompanied by their bikes as they waited to board the West Seattle Water Taxi Friday morning.

Competitive by nature, I decided the best way to determine the quickest way to work was to organize a side-by-side race. I asked a woman on my 21 express bus, Carrie Richards, to record her trip while I took the King County water taxi. I chose Carrie because I see her on my bus, morning after morning, trekking to downtown from West Seattle. And she doesn't mess around. She's often the first person off the bus once we hit downtown and once off, she race walks to her downtown destination. My thoughts: game on – this will be fun. The race: 35th Avenue SW and SW Trenton in West Seattle to Third and Seneca downtown.

There was plenty of room on the West Seattle Water Taxi – the MV Doc Maynard. The 7:15 a.m. sailing
had 183 passengers – far below the capacity of 278.

Here's what happened on our first morning commute, Friday, April 29:
6:45 a.m.: We both left 35th and Trenton at the same time. I travelled behind her bus in my car.
6:48 a.m.: I passed her bus as it stopped to pick up passengers.
6:55 a.m.: I arrived at the Seacrest Dock. There was plenty of parking on Beach Drive*. I was 26th in line for the 7:15 a.m. water taxi.
7:05 a.m.: Carrie was on the West Seattle bridge; she said it was crowded.
7:15 a.m.: Carrie reached Fourth Avenue.
7:17 a.m.: My taxi left West Seattle carrying 183 passengers. This turned out to be the first of two back-to-back trips with the most riders of the morning, more than tripling the regular ridership, according to King County, but still with plenty of room.
7:20 a.m.: As I raced across Elliott Bay, Carrie was at Third and Cherry.
7:24 a.m.: Carrie arrived at Third and Seneca. She'd won!
7:27 a.m.: My taxi arrived at Pier 50 in downtown Seattle.
7:37 a.m.: After practically running up the hill, I arrived at Third and Seneca.

Carrie's commute time: 39 minutes
My commute time: 52 minutes

Notes from Carrie: The biggest choke point in the commute was definitely Fourth Avenue, in the areas where there is no bus lane. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to catch my second bus (from downtown to First Hill) at the usual time after leaving home only about 15 minutes earlier. I'm a little anxious about next week though, since my impression is that a number of people took today (Friday) off from work.

My notes: Just for the record, I could have left 10 minutes later and almost beat Carrie's time by arriving at Seacrest Dock in West Seattle closer to the 7:15 a.m. departure time. I was 26th in line and everybody that was in line got on the boat. The Water Taxi is a well-oiled machine. They shuffled people on and off the water taxi with military efficiency and precision. But next week, will it hit its capacity? The boat can handle 278 passengers. We had only 183 aboard my boat. I understand there's also room for 26 bikes on each sailing. Stay tuned for a rematch on Monday.

*Parking Note from WSDOT
Additional parking is available for Water Taxi commuters during the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure.
  • Harbor Ave SW will have overnight parking restrictions south of Seacrest Park on the southeast (water) side to allow open morning parking for approximately 120 cars.
  • SW Bronson Way is an unpaved parking area south of Salty's restaurant. It is unmarked, but holds about 40 cars.

The Pier 2 parking lot is a secured parking facility holding more than 200 cars. It will be staffed Monday through Friday, in the morning from 5:45 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. and in the afternoon between 4 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Cars will not be accessible outside of these hours. King County suggests you park here 20 minutes before sailing time. The shuttle will run the .6 mile route continuously between Pier 2 and Seacrest Park.