Pedestrians on Third Ave. Photo by Oran.

If you’re wondering why Third Avenue has been under construction recently, we asked SDOT about the work and they told us that the corridor is receiving some great bus and pedestrian improvements.

The Third Avenue/Belltown Transit Priority Corridor Improvements Project is located on Third Avenue between Cedar Street and Virginia Street.  The project will create more attractive sidewalks and dedicated passenger waiting areas, while improving bus travel times in the corridor.

Specific Improvements to the Third Avenue/Belltown Corridor Include:

• Building concrete bus bulb/curb and sidewalk extensions to eliminate buses having to pull in and out of traffic at passenger loading zones.
• Making improvements to street lighting
• Building new curb ramps
• Installing new bike racks

We asked Bill Bryant, the Transit Program Lead at SDOT for more information on bus bulbs and he sent a detailed reply.

“‘In-lane’ bus stops prevent bus delays caused by the need for buses to swerve into and out of the parking lane to service bus stops. In-lane bus stops exist in many places in Seattle, primarily where no parking lane exists,” Bryant told us. “Where a parking lane exists, a bus bulb is often the best answer.”

Bus bulbs seem to be popping up all over the city recently, with more to come. “Locations exist on University Way, Alaskan Way, N. 45th St, Market St, Pine St, and others.  SDOT is currently constructing new bulbs at the six Third Ave stops in Belltown, and will soon begin construction of a number of bulbs along Route 7 on Jackson St and Rainier Ave. Additional bus bulbs are in design as part of SDOT’s Market/45th (Route 44) transit corridor project.”

More on bus bulbs after the jump…

Bryant also explained where bus bulbs make sense, and how their effectiveness is being measured:

“Bus bulb investments are generally most effective at locations with relatively large passenger and bus volumes.  Designs usually include new pedestrian lighting, shelter and/or bench foundations, bike racks, trees (if none exist), and foundations and wiring for future real-time schedule information and off-board fare payment equipment (though actual installation of these pieces might be several years in the future). Consolidation of closely-spaced bus stops can often increase passenger activity at remaining stops to a level that justifies investments such as bulbs and new shelters at remaining stops.

“Considering the wide variation in traffic conditions, it is difficult to estimate travel time savings. In the past, SDOT has estimated an average of ten seconds savings per trip; however, with these new installations we plan to closely track before and after travel times. More important might be the reliability improvement, harder yet to quantify, that results from buses not having to wait for long lines of unyielding cars to pass before re-entering traffic. Besides travel time and reliability improvements, the impressions of riders, bus drivers, and neighboring businesses and residents will also be important.”

SDOT is being quite the unsung hero for aiding Metro provide reliable bus service. Kudos to them. More details on the construction are available at the SDOT website.

59 Replies to “3rd Ave Getting Bus Bulbs, Bigger Sidewalks”

  1. It looks like those people are waiting to cross the street. I’m not sure where you get “transit riders” from that – there usually aren’t transit stops on street corners.

  2. bigger sidewalks to go around the ahem loiterers there would be great. Sounds like a great project, wish Bellevue would follow suite, we still have 0 bike lanes DT.

  3. The coolest part of this to me is the thing about foundations and wiring for future real-time and off-board fare payment. Did anyone else know about this? That’s awesome that they have plans for that kind of stuff at just regular, busy bus stops. That could solve the problem of how to prevent bus congestion Downtown if they get rid of the RFA.

  4. Wish they were doing this on 1st Ave

    That’s where these improvements are really needes

    1. It does need it. I would love to have bus bulbs in Belltown on the 15/18 as a driver. I’d be happy with some lanes the buses would fit in on 1st between Virginia and Broad St. And bus bulbs would really help on Friday/Saturday nights when the bar crowd is out driving around and trrying to park….and those DAMN taxis, when is SPD going to start ticketing taxis for their reckless driving. 1st Av become a nightmare….its worse than rush hour. But 3rd Ave is getting improvments because it’s serviced by more buses. And the Ballard rapid ride will use 3rd Ave when implemented.

      1. That and a left turn green arrow for people trying to turn left onto Virginia from southbound 1st Ave.

      2. Yes….I hate that. I even wish that they restrict parking between the zone and Viginia. I go around the left turners in the intersection, but if there is more than two cars waiting, you can’t get around them. I drive 1st Ave both Sat and Sun, which are much worse compared to weekday on 1st Ave. I’m going to try and mention that to someone at Metro and see if we can get that changed, or even just move the zone closer to Virginia and there wouldn’t be a parking issue.

      3. The whole needing-2-lanes-clearance-to-pull-out-of-the-stops-on-1st thing is really bad.

        The need for two lanes of clearance is caused by a sharp swing of the front left corner as pulls back into traffic. I always think this could be fixed, or at least mitigated, by moving the bus sign a few feet back in the stop and painting a striped triangular no-parking shape in to give the bus clearance to gently pull out. (If this description doesn’t invoke the proper visual, I should try to figure out how to post a diagram.)

      4. (Lots of typos there. Sorry?)

        Also: they’re putting Ballard RapidRide on 3rd? PLEASE tell me they’re not planning to sacrifice “rapid” to that stupid 1st-Broad-3rd nightmare!

      5. Utility trucks will often ignore the “no parking” stretch by the corner as well – and you have to have that corner in order to stay under the wire.

    2. The problem with doing this on 1st ave is that the “parking lane” is actually a traffic lane during rush hour. You can only get away with this when it’s a 24 hour parking lane. Seems like a better solution on 1st would be rush-hour bus lanes, a la 2nd/5th.

      That’s just what jumps out at me.

  5. “SDOT is being quite the unsung hero for aiding Metro provide reliable bus service.”

    Yes. I imagine the millions they’ve saved by not having to renegotiate their fee for the Ride Free Area in over 30 years has helped them find the ‘courage’.

    1. Realistically, how till we can get rid of the RFA? Will we have to have offboard payment throughout RFA first? Or just on a few key routes?

      1. Anc,

        We get rid of the Ride Free Area by getting rid of the ride free area. We do it every night NOW at 7 pm until 6am.

        Everyone pays as they board. With Orca riders will tap on and tap off to make sure they don’t get over (or under) charged. Works that very way RIGHT NOW after 7pm, 7 days a week.

        Failing that – at least the City of Seattle (I’m a resident) should pay the actual cost of providing the RFA.

      2. How do you measure the cost of providing the RFA? I think it’s more complicated than just looking at missing fares. Metro clearly has a preference to retrain the RFA, so it’s valued to Metro as well.

      3. John,

        From a driver’s perspective, the RFA is a major cause of on-board security incidents. As people (bad ones) board in the RFA who shouldn’t be boarding at all are causing problems as they exit outside the RFA – where police response is slow to nonexistent.

        At the risk of hijacking this thread (sorry guys), my last word on this one. Yay, bus bulbs!

      4. Jeff. You should ask if you can do a guest piece on the RFA. I’d be interested in hearing your (and everyone else’s) thoughts on the matter.

      5. And the City should reimburse all agencies if they want the buses to provide free rides (including Community Transit and Sound Transit).

      6. I may do a piece on my own blog about it. My own feelings on the RFA are mixed. No need to guest here – I’m more of a pragmatist, and the world needs STB ideologues too.

      7. I can’t see eliminating the RFA without providing at least all-door boarding if not off-board payment. The busier routes take forever to board inbound (see the 71/72/73 in the U District) and outbound after 7 PM. Even when everyone is using flash passes or ORCA cards it takes a long time to board 30-60 people using a single door.

      8. I don’t see the RFA going away without instituting pay-at-all-doors (meaning those paying cash pay at the front) for all Metro buses, and ramping up the Metro Police force several notches.

        I hope it happens, but I think we need to give RapidRide line A a chance to show it can work.

      9. The reason that Metro likes the RFA is that IT SAVES THEM ENORMOUS AMOUNTS OF MONEY. There’s no doubt that as Jeff says the drivers take the brunt of the downside at deboarding time with the deadbeats, but Metro isn’t losing any money from that. Those people wouldn’t ride if they couldn’t ride free.

        When people can board and deboard from all doors it enormously speeds up the dwell time. Just think how long it’s going to take to fill an articulated in the PM peak if everyone has to file past the operator. Oy-vey! Every minute sitting still costs over a dollar. Multiply that by thousands of buses passing through the CBD in the evening and you have a mess. An expensive mess.

        At lunch the RFA is a boon to restaurants because most of the reasonable eateries are not in the financial center. It’s too expensive there so the good places are on the fringe of downtown. If people have to walk they’ll be less likely to go.

      10. Good point, I’d be curious how other cities handle bus boarding in areas with heavy congestion and high transit use.

      11. Yes, I’ve always found the argument about causing congestion weak. Almost all other cities have pay-as-you-enter, including those with much higher ridership than Seattle like San Francisco, LA, New York, Chicago, and Vancouver.

      12. The difference in Portland is that the MAX trains and the streetcar are still free in the former RFA. Those services cover the transit mall and most of the places that buses go downtown anyway, so it’s really just a matter of waiting for the next train rather than the next train or bus. There’s even a new circulator MAX that just loops up and down the mall, just to keep the frequencies up. So, not much has really changed. You can still get to lunch.

        Even with the RFA, Tri-Met was always PAYE on the buses all along. (The “free” passengers would tend to say “just riding free” past the driver to avoid the awkwardness of getting on and not paying like everyone else.) There would be an occasional fare inspector a few stops past the zone line to try to keep people honest, but in my experience was not often enough to make much of a difference.

      13. Anandakos,

        [i]The reason that Metro likes the RFA is that IT SAVES THEM ENORMOUS AMOUNTS OF MONEY[/b]

        Cite, please. Would love to see some evidence of that.

    2. Are those related? Would the RFA fee be renegotiated if SDOT were not doing these improvements? If the RFA fee were indexed, would these improvements not be occurring? Does SDOT even pay the RFA fee?

      Please let me know where the connection exists.

      1. John,

        It’s probably off-topic. I was responding to the comment that Seattle DOT was an “unsung hero” for putting in bus bulbs – when it what it’s spending on them is a drop in the bucket compared the millions the City has saved by paying the same rate for the RFA that it has since the early ’70’s.

        And yes – SDOT *does* pay for the RFA. At the same amount it’s paid since 1973. It hasn’t even been adjusted for inflation.

      2. Does SDOT pay or does another part of the city government, is what I’m wondering.

        Perhaps Metro is unsung for taking a low RFA fee. There are many unsung heroes in the world.

      3. And SDOT hasn’t been compensated at all for building bus infrastructure, re-purposing lanes on city streets (all of 3rd ave a lot of the time). There’s many projects Seattle pours city money into that just benefit King County Metro.

        This is a door that swings both ways. Also, no one really knows what fraction of RFA trips are completely within the RFA; my impression is that the vast majority of people on the bus in the RFA are actually fare-paying riders, because who seriously rides the bus for a whopping dozen blocks?

        And, as Metro loves to point out, the RFA increases reliability of bus service, by speeding up boarding and disembarking at their most congested transfer points. It’s hard to monetize something like that. Once ORCA gets more popular among the ridership, that benefit will be diminished of course,
        but that’s not going to happen until Metro bites the bullet and ditches paper transfers.

      4. Lack Thereof,

        And SDOT hasn’t been compensated at all for building bus infrastructure, re-purposing lanes on city streets (all of 3rd ave a lot of the time).

        How do you know? Hasn’t SDOT reached for state, county, regional and federal funding buffers for enhancing municipal transit infrastructure?

        I don’t know that they have, but I’d be very surprised if they haven’t. Anyone got one of those fine tooth comb thingies to look at the city budget with?

      5. “And SDOT hasn’t been compensated at all for building bus infrastructure, re-purposing lanes on city streets (all of 3rd ave a lot of the time). There’s many projects Seattle pours city money into that just benefit King County Metro.”

        They benefit the residents and businesses of Seattle.

    3. We should get rid of the RFA, but not without instituting either off-board payment or Orca readers at all doors. I believe Metro is considering adding orca readers to all the doors and just opening all of them downtown. Sure, you’ll get some free riders not paying, but the savings for speed and reliability would outweigh that. Plus the drivers would not be responsible for collecting fares, saving more time and hassle. If we want buses to even approach the convenience of rail, drivers shouldn’t be collecting fares.

  6. SDOT is doing a great job lately. Bus bulbs, road diets, consideration of a cycletrack on Broadway, festival streets, etc. These are all signs of a progressive city agency willing to take some chances on good urban form. Let’s make sure they are not “unsung.”

    1. I don’t know, you all.

      I hate to be the consistently negative nellie on the thread, and SDOT’s proactive sidewalk work lately has been nice…

      But this is also the agency overseeing the traffic engineers who time all the light cycles in the city, and their work might be worse than anywhere on earth.

      Their method seems to be: decide which street at any given intersection is most important; give it 2 minutes (or more) of uninterrupted green; give everyone other right-of-way 15 seconds.

      It funnels too much traffic down the chosen arterials (often causing bottlenecks elsewhere).
      It makes any trip involving any cross-street unpredictable.
      It’s WORST for buses, who are more likely to “just miss” a light and then sit through the entire interminable cycle — sometimes every single block.
      And it’s a DISASTER for pedestrians, who eventually learn they can’t get anywhere quickly on foot and stop trying.

      Sadly, this needs to be first in mind when you think of SDOT.

      1. this is also the agency overseeing the traffic engineers who time all the light cycles in the city

        Here’s the latest example:

        Now that the new flyover is open between First and Fourth Avenues between Qwest and Safeco field, what happens when you get a green arrow going south bound on First to Royal Brougham?

        You run smack into a red light. Only about 4 cars can fit between that light on RB and First – meaning that during busy times, cars back up in that fancy new turn lane to the parking garages/Fourth Avenue flyover.

      2. Seattle really needs to upgrade all of its traffic lights to work as part of an integrated transportation management system. Unfortunately this would be rather expensive as it means upgrading the controllers in hundreds of traffic lights.

      3. Jeff, you might try contacting SDOT’s traffic signal folks about the flyover light timing. It seems that whenever SDOT finishes up a construction project, they forget to sensibly readjust the adjacent light timings. At least, that’s the impression one gets from all the Getting There and Bumper to Bumper queries that involve SDOT mea culpas for precisely that.

      4. I believe that the signal on eastbound Royal Brougham on the west side of the flyover is a new one. This would mean that there’s no “readjustment” to accomodate the new configuration, as the lights are part and parcel of the new configuration. The set of lights at Occidental should have been set up initially to correspond to the left turn light on southbound first at Royal Brougham. If they’d set this stuff up better – they wouldn’t need that bevvy or SPD on overtime directing traffic during heavy usage.

      5. Oh – and let’s not forget about all of those lighting yellow lights that get us bus drivers constantly accused of “always running red lights” LOL.

  7. Something like a third of the city has no sidewalks at all and we’re replacing serviceable sidewalks for somewhat better ones downtown. Yes, cost/benefit accounting at work here and the density of the urban core means that it will be put to good use, but those of use in unimproved parts of the city will continue to walk in streets lacking any sidewalks whatsoever. Until foundations are laid to to change our autocentric behavior in the single family districts, expect continued restance from those citizens who look on walking as eccectric and vote accordingly. I’m not against sidewalk improvement in the core, but we need to move first generation sidewalks in areas lacking them up the priority list.

    1. I think you bring up a very good point. There are tons of places within Seattle that lack proper sidewalks, including north Seattle between N 85th and N 145th Streets, the area that wasn’t annexed into Seattle until the 1950s. It amazes me that so many pockets of Seattle are pedestrian-unfriendly and car-dependent, even five decades later. These areas are ripe for infrastructure improvements, and even some mild gentrification, IMHO.

  8. On the topic of 3rd Avenue… why don’t they make 3rd Ave transit only?

    Maybe that’s a silly question, but wouldn’t it make sense to close it off to the public and make it a transit only busway, all day, everyday? This way we can allow more busses on to 3rd Ave and take some of the load off of 1st, 2nd, and 4th.

    Am I crazy for thinking this?

    1. Speaking of transit-only streets…why is the E-3 busway not called the E-5 busway since it’s actually 5th Ave and not 3rd Ave? Would be nice especially since 3rd Ave might actually become a transit only street. Anyone have any ideas why it was called E-3 in the first place?

      1. Yes, E-3 was the alternative like mentioned above. But now Metro, a couple shake-ups ago renamed it “Sodo Busway”

    2. Not crazy. I vote ‘yes’. The current timed system is helpful to transit – but also a major pain, as scofflaws, the reading impaired and just plain confused alike are out there every day flatly ignoring “do not enter” and “no left turn” signs.

    3. The reason given for not barring non-transit vehicles entirely from 3rd during peak hours was the need for folks to get to & from parking lots, delivery zones, etc. The loading dock for the Macy’s building, for example, is on 3rd. The building that the post office is in at 3rd & Union is a parking lot, with an entrance on 3rd. Basically if you banned off all non-transit traffic from 3rd, you’d be screwing with a lot of downtown businesses. Even if that were somehow a good thing from a transit perspective, it’d probably be a political disaster.

  9. the bulbs are 3rd Avenue in Belltown are long over due. this is a great SDOT project. In addition to helping transit flow by allowing coaches to stop in-lane, they also provide additional room for passenger amenities and shelters and increase sidewalk capacity. on 3rd Avenue, they serve many routes, including the QA trolleys, not just the upcominig rapidride. yes, they are also needed on 1st Avenue for three reasons: there are more pedestrians and the sidewalk capacity is needed; there is more traffic and transit is slowed by it more when waiting to pull out of the bus stops. however, no one knows yet if transit service will remain on 1st Avenue in Belltown after Ballard Uptown rapidride is implemented and placed on 3rd Avenue. the Nickels-Drago Central Line will probably not be funded.

  10. Went by 3rd and Cedar yesterday and they were pouring the concrete already!

  11. I think the bulbs they’re constructing around town are great. It benefits both transit and auto traffic. However, I am not so sure that they’re the best idea for some streets, for example, East Pine Street on Capitol Hill.

    They’ve constructed bulbs on both sides of Pine between Summit and Belmont. Pine is a two-lane street with parking lanes on either side. When a bus, or two or three, as the case can sometimes be, makes a stop here, everybody behind it is forced to wait. A few seconds at first. Then a minute. Then two minutes, three, four… Whether it’s a wheelchair ramp being used, an unruly passenger refusing to leave the bus, a mechanical issue, every car, truck, bicycle, and bus is forced to wait in line behind it.

    With adequate planning and in the right spots, these curb bulbs are valuable pieces of infrastructure. I’m just not sold on this one.

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