Snohomish County BRT (Swift)

I’d like to expand on Daimajin’s short comments about Snohomish BRT. First of all, you can find a lot more info than the Times article here. It’s a big improvement over King County’s plans, although of course the geographic scope is smaller.

Kudos to Snohomish County leaders for getting this done with an electorate that is generally less transit-friendly than King County. Bonus points for getting it done without a tax or fare increase, and not taking it through a laborious public vote.

The project should be done in 2009. King County’s version, RapidRide, won’t have its earliest portion done before 2010 despite being launched over a year earlier. It will mesh quite nicely with RapidRide’s Aurora Service, terminating at Aurora Village. People living along this corridor can access jobs in places like Fremont far faster than the current best option of going downtown, and then back north.

Swift would appear to have the same features as RapidRide, except:

  • The 10-minute headways will be 20 hours a day (instead of peak-only).
  • It has on-board bike racks served by their own door(!)
  • Ticket machines are at the stations, while RapidRide envisions that passengers will still fumble for change on board.
  • Seven miles of the route will actually be bus-only instead of HOV. Anyone who’s ridden 405 Northbound in the afternoon can tell you the difference, although Swift will still have to deal with the usual idiots trying to turn right.

I really wish the people responsible for this were running the BRT shop at Metro. They seem to be doing a lot more with a lot less, at least in this narrow case.

But in spite of all the things they’ve done right, it’s still not light rail. An 80-passenger bus every 10 minutes is nothing like an 800-passenger train every six in terms of capacity, and therefore has dramatically lower potential for high-density development along the line. It also will not be truly separated from traffic. At the same time, what they’ve done here is about as much as you can do with buses before you start to approach the cost of rail.

In the long run, light rail can be run with four or two-minute headways. Buses can’t, because the timing is unreliable and they end up bunched up (See: Metro Route 48). Bigger trains, shorter headways: Light Rail moves a lot more people than BRT, even when BRT is done right.

But BRT is a good option for a corridor that won’t see rail for a long, long time.

UPDATE: Reading between the lines more carefully, I should point out one weakness in the plan: apparently, the ten miles of the line that are not bus-only lanes are general purpose lanes. Given the rather tight constraints they were under, I still think they did a really good job. It’s just not quite as much of a slam dunk over RapidRide.


  1. Neil says

    And the hours are great, too. At the moment, there’s only one direct way from Aurora Village to Everett Station, and that’s via the peak-only 100. Its variant, the 101, stops somewhere else in the north.

  2. Anonymous says

    Wonder how the buses will get through places without BRT lanes, I mean, like Evergreen Way is so congested that making the third lane a BRT lane will really be chaos.

  3. Brian Bundridge says

    The only thing with this is unless they are planning on making these buses longer, they will still be the 62 seat New Flyer DL60LF-BRT buses and that is with the 2 door option. If Community Transit goes with the 3 door model, it goes down to 56 seats, the 5 door (2 doors on the left side) would be 50 seats.

    I’m looking forward to this regardless I just wish that one didn’t have to transfer and it would be one continuous route instead of having to transfer at Aurora Transit Center. That is really my only gripe about that.. and the still local bus sized seating.

    I won’t start the “light-rail fits more people but is more” thing cause really, BRT, Light-Rail, Streetcars, Commuter Rail are all needed in this region to make things move and tick around here.

  4. Brian Bundridge says

    PS. the system they will be using is NextBus. Same thing that Portland Streetcar and the Seattle Streetcar uses.

  5. Marky's Den says

    While it’s true Swift will be less expensive than light rail, this BRT line will also be significantly slower than the rail line proposed in Prop 1, and its reliability will have to be proven. BAT lanes and TSP will help, but lanes are missing on half the corridor and there is no plan to fund them – again, thanks to the defeat of Prop 1.

    I also find it interesting that BRT advocates always ignore growing congestion on the 99 and I-5 corridors (which will affect Swift speed and reliability in the future). They also ignore rapidly rising operations costs, which consume “new” service hours the second the rubber hits the road.

    The average speed of Swift over the 16 miles between Everett Station and Aurora Village is 13.5 mph. The average system speed of Link as proposed in ST2 was 26 mph.

    And assume, for a moment, that light rail between Everett and the county line would operate at this speed (it would likely be even faster because of wide station spacing and dedicated ROW) – the same trip would take 37 minutes instead of 51.

    Swift will provide a better intercommunity connection within SW Snohomish County than they have now (which is not difficult to achieve) but Swift is not intended or designed to address regional travel markets.

    One sure thing: BRT advocates need to start being more honest with their numbers. Overpromising transit performance gave us the monorail debacle. It seems as if BRT zealots are traveling down the very same path.

    And what’s the point of pitting buses against light rail, anyways? Without light rail, these bus agencies are looking at unsustainable service 10-20 years down the line, as congestion and high operating costs eat into any gains they make with new and (supposedly innovative) programs.

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