Seattle launches on-demand van service ahead of viaduct closure

SEATTLE - The countdown begins with one month away from the closure of the viaduct. The city of Seattle and King County announced a new pilot program hoping to get people out of cars and onto public transportation.

About 90,000 vehicles drive on the viaduct every day, so we could be dealing with historic backups once it shuts down January 11th. The closure is being called everything from the "viadoom" to the "Seattle Squeeze" to the "period of maximum constraint."

In preparation for the closure, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a new pilot program on Tuesday costing Seattle $1 million.

“We know we have to have more people using transit,” Mayor Durkan said.

Starting December 17th, the Ride 2 mobile app takes West Seattle residents to and from the Alaska Junction or Seacrest Park. That way you can get on a bus at the Alaska Junction or hop on a water taxi at Seacrest Park.

“We have 20 King County buses on standby,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said.

But a new coalition called MASS that includes the Cascade Bicycle Club says they are worried Seattle is unprepared.

“This is a test for Mayor Durkan on how she will support people to walk, bike and use transit,” Claire Martini of Cascade Bicycle Club said.

Martini says the city needs to pay attention to the 20 bus choke-points MASS has identified. They are asking for more bus lanes and signal jumps.

But city and county leaders say they are bringing in additional resources like an extra water taxi and expanding free shuttle service to some transit spots. Still, there is no question we are in for a rough ride. Durkan says it will be worth it in the end.

“When that viaduct comes down and we improve this waterfront, the people in Seattle will have a collective gasp,” Durkan said.

The Ride 2 app is new to Seattle but it’s already being used on the Eastside. Launched in October, Ride 2 has done about 1,600 rides on the Eastside.

But since Ride 2 is only catering to West Seattle, drivers who usually come from the South or North of the viaduct will have to carve out a lot of extra time for their commute.

The viaduct is being replaced with the new SR 99 tunnel, which is set to open the first week of February.