Belltown neighbors divided over transit changes

SEATTLE -- Some controversial changes are in the works for commuters in Belltown, and similar changes could soon sweep into other neighborhoods as the city puts a priority on bus traffic.

A stretch of road on Broad Street in Belltown is turning into a choke point for buses. City planners want to reduce driving lanes on three blocks of Broad from four general purpose lanes down to one lane in each direction.

Another lane would be reserved for westbound buses, and an eastbound bike lane would eliminate all 24 parking spaces in an area already pressed for spots.

"We are getting a lot of complaints that transit riders are getting delayed up to 15 minutes just in that particular stretch," said transportation planner Jonathan Dong.

While the changes could speed up those wait times during rush hour, they could slow general traffic during the rest of the day.

"I think that's a bit extreme, because it's just an issue during commute hours -- especially in the evening," said bus commuter Laura Wilkerson.

The changes, especially the removal of parking spots, isn't sitting well with many Belltown residents.

"That's going to be a nightmare for me here, especially without the parking," said Vivian Jones. "It's a car culture here, absolutely, and they need to make room for the parking as well."

Other commuters think the plan will help.

"It will really encourage people to use public transportation and ride their bikes," said Caitlin Larson.

Public transportation blogger and bus commuter Bruce Nourish believes these types of changes are needed in many neighborhoods to encourage bus ridership.

"It is a good thing for transit riders," he said. "Your bus needs to show up on time and it needs to go there reasonably quickly if we want people to use transit."

Eight thousand transit riders use Broad Street buses every day, and the city believes getting them to and from work quicker is a fair exchange for the lack of parking spaces.

The city is now taking public comments on the changes online and through phone messages. The plan is for the new lane restrictions to go into effect by March.