The afternoon sessions here were breakout sessions of smaller groups, with each session having a handful of presenters (usually experts in the field or government officials).
The first session I saw was Integrating Bus Rapid Transit in Neighborhoods which actually focused more on defining the type of arterial BRT that both Swift from Community Transit and RapidRide from King Country Metro represent. On the continuum of BRT, this type of BRT lacks its own right-of-way and instead has to use a variety of techniques — jump queues, business access and transit lanes, traffic signal priority — to give buses priority on busy city streets.
More after the jump…
Community Transit’s Swift — opening last next month — is largely focused on reducing dwelling time, said June DeVall, Manage of Strategic Planning at Community Transit. With three extra-wide entrances, off-board payments and ORCA readers, on-board (rather than front-loading) bike racks, and marked locations at each station indicating where the bus entrances will be — it seems like Community Transit actually has gone to great lengths to reduce dwell times. In fact, it’s slightly more impressive than Metro’s RapidRide which won’t feature off-board payment at all stations, will retain front-loading bike rikes, and will lack other amenities of Swift. On the other hand, RapidRide will have up to six lines whereas Swift is just one route.
This blog hasn’t been wild about BRT. Particularly the fact that it is more of a continuum than a clearly defined type of service compared to alternatives like light rail is disheartening. And it’s clear that with certain levels of ridership, the right-of-way of rail is a necessity for substantial service. But it’s also clear to me that some of the neighborhoods that won’t get light rail for decades could use RapidRide as a stop-gap. Anything that represents a service increase along arterial corridors and creates a sense clarity in where a bus goes is an improvement.
BRT is only the enemy of light rail in the hands of those who are against real investments in transit. In a region that is already building up our light rail network — and hopefully won’t slow down for a very long time — transit proponents should see RapidRide as a complement to rail service. Community Transit is obviously very exicted about Swift. Metro, represented by Victor Obeso, happily acknowledged that RapidRide is more like “BRT-lite” and echoed the benefits of having frequent services along arterials, even without the exclusive right-of-way you see in light rail or traditional BRT routes.
Seattle’s Transit Program Lead, Bill Bryant, highlighted some of the current accomplishments of Seattle’s transit network. Light rail connects nearly all of the urban villages in South Seattle and Metro’s “key bus routes” connect the rest of the city’s urban villages. He then spoke about bus improvements that the city can make to help improve the frequency of routes, mostly focusing on transit signal priority (he noted that he wished there were more examples across the nation of more aggressive TSP projects — the SLUT is more aggressive than most) and small improvements like bus bulbs that remove the need for buses to pull in and out of traffic.
The last talk of the day, Transforming Single-Family Neighborhoods, focused on cottage projects to keep the concept of a single-family neighborhood with the benefits of higher density and perhaps lower-cost homes. Andrea Petzel from Seattle’s planning department spoke about city council legislation which will hopefully allow cottages to be built across the city. Eric Shields, from Kirkland’s planning department, spoke about a project in the city from The Cottage Company which fit 8 cottage units on two lots. That’s four times as many families in the same space, while still retaining the amenities of single-family living such as privacy, porches, and — yes — even parking. But it’s still a much better vision of sustainable living for those who don’t want to live in multi-family dwellings. We’ll focus more on “retrofitting” suburbia in future posts.
That’s it for our coverage. Thanks to Seattle AIA for the press invite.