There’s a pretty lively thread over at Magnolia Voice as to whether or not the BAT (business access and transit) lanes on 15th Ave are “working.” I can’t think of a worse way to resolve that question than asking random people to comment, but here are some associated thoughts:

  • If we have to have this argument in Magnolia, there is no hope regionally.
  • I’d like to levy a $5 fine to the next person who argues that congestion wastes fuel, and that therefore impediments to driving are not environmentally sound. There is simply is no end to the highway projects you will support using that logic.
  • There are absolutely people who genuinely support BRT and think it’s a better investment than rail. As someone who wants both BRT and rail, I hope I see those people come out in these discussions, when there is direct competition for resources between transit and cars.

49 Replies to “Magnolia’s BAT lanes”

  1. I take the 18 express in the morning (and sometimes the 18 or 17 express in the afternoon) and am very appreciative when the bus can zip through. Yet there are times when the bus driver does NOT use the BAT lane, which must annoy car drivers no end. That said, the signage is such (and I had to call transportation on it because I really needed clarification) that through car driving is never allowed in the BAT. I don’t really see why it can’t be used by cars on Satudays or Sundays in the event that the traffic load (for whatever reason) would justify it.

    1. I took a couple outbound 18Xs in the past few weeks, and each time the driver moved out of the BAT lanes after the Magnolia Bridge. My initial thought was that maybe it had to do with the Dravus underpass: either a failure to recognize that the bus doesn’t have to change lanes from the BAT lane to continue under Dravus, or not liking to drive in the outside (and usually narrower) lanes of a confined section of road (cf. 358 drivers taking two lanes on the Aurora Bridge). Another thought is that these drivers have been bitten by parking violators (and subsequent attempts to re-merge with traffic) and are wary to use the BAT lanes unless they’d lose significant speed by staying in the general purpose lanes.

      What’s Metro policy regarding use of the BAT lanes? Would notifying Metro of drivers who don’t use them do any good?

      1. More thoughts. Being in the right-most lane when you take the road under Dravus means you have to watch for folks coming from the overpass and trying to beat you at the merge; perhaps some operators don’t like dealing with that. Also, if you’re in the right-most lane on 15th NB, you wind up in the Nickerson/Emerson exit lane. Buses can go straight through, but they have to re-merge with traffic from both the left and the right at the bridge.

      2. Good points all. But there is NOTHING that bothers me more (as a bus passenger)than a bus driver NOT getting to the right after Dravus NB to avoid getting stuck in traffic backed up due to the bridge opening. I have been on a bus waiting as much as ten minutes for that right thru lane traffic to reach the bridge when all the driver had to do was to take the far right Emerson exit lane, which, as you state, they are allowed to do. Any wait to remerge at the bridge is miniscule compared to the time wasted as per the above scenario. In fact cars usually defer to a big bus.

  2. Quickly, subjectively, and unscientifically counting and sorting those comments, I found that as of 2:53pm:

    59.7 % were in support of the BAT Lanes/Constructive/Pro-Non SOV modes
    40.3% were in support of Bruce/Anti-BAT.

    However, the decision I made for which category each comment goes under is very subjective and up for debate. My findings are a bit like a Tomatometer Score in that is says a bit, but is not a reliable sample.

  3. Good god, it’s like reading the Seattle Times comment section. It’d help if there was the illusion of more buses and business access on what is almost a limited-access (at least on the west side) urban highway. At least HY99 where Swift operates, BAT lanes work pretty darn well as it’s only real purpose is to keep people from going though the traffic lights by forcing non-bus vehicles to turn.

  4. Magnolia may be more conservative than the region as a whole. At least as far as the sorts who think buses are for the stinky masses.

    It’d be nice to see official counts of people carried per lane.

  5. Well, they may have a point… The lane is not useful if it’s moving less people per hour than the other lanes. It would be interesting to get a count.

    After all, an empty or congested HOV lane would not be operating properly either.

    Of course, perhaps the answer for those of us here is to suggest that Metro should run more buses more often in the lane if it’s so empty! ;-)

  6. What I don’t get is people who chose to drive on congested routes when there are decent alternatives. The comments indicate there was an accident on 15th Ave NW when the pictures where taken, but if it’s often congested people should use an alternate route. No other routes are quite as direct, but there are alternatives.

    I know in my area the approaches to I-5 and the highway itself are congested at 5pm every single day, and yet people choose to use it instead of other routes (or better, carpool or transit). It makes things worse for themselves and everyone else, the tragedy of the right of way.

    1. Would you please describe the a way of getting off of Magnolia that does not involve taking 15th or Nickerson, both of which are congested?

      1. 15th Ave W is only congested if you drive. If the Magnolia Community Club gets its way, *all* the lanes will be congested, so nobody will be able to commute from Magnolia to downtown in a timely manner.

      2. I rarely encounter congestion when I take the bus from Magnolia, and never encounter congestion when I bike. And as mentioned below, there’s always Dravus. Follow the arterial to get to get to Queen Anne, I-5, or 99.

    2. Well, it depends where you are going of course but there’s also W Dravus. I know you’re probably thinking “but that only connects to slow streets” but that’s the whole point.
      Everyone heads for the big arterial because in theory that will be fast but most trips are less than 5 miles, so the time difference between 15 mph and 40 mph is negligible.

      Meanwhile a simple two-lane road can actually handle up to about 20,000 vehicles per day (about 40% of what 15th Ave W carries). This is stuff learned over the past 30 years or so in Europe; cities such as Copenhagen have been able to dramatically reduce traffic injuries and deaths by lowering speeds, with little impact on capacity or mobility.

      Subjectively, lower speed also make drivers more likely to notice nearby businesses–and maybe shorten the trip by not needing to leave the neighborhood at all.

  7. “I’d like to levy a $5 fine to the next person who argues that congestion wastes fuel, and that therefore impediments to driving are not environmentally sound. There is simply is no end to the highway projects you will support using that logic.”

    If you raise it to $10, you will fill Metro’s funding gap.

  8. “I’d like to levy a $5 fine to the next person who argues that congestion wastes fuel, and that therefore impediments to driving are not environmentally sound.”

    Are you saying that is not logical?

    The main point about the 15th W. bus lanes (and I drive along this street several times per month, but not during peak traffic hours), is that you need a certain minimum number of buses per hour to make it sensible to prohibit cars from that lane.

    One bus every 5 minutes is not good use of a traffic lane, in my opinion.

    One bus every two minutes is better.

    If you run one or more bus per minute, then you are possibly making some sense prohibiting all other traffic from that lane.

    So, how many buses per peak hour are currently using the BAT lanes on 15th W.? And how many buses per peak hour will be using the BAT lanes after RapdiRide starts? That is the key to debating whether or not those BAT lanes on 15th make sense.

    In any case, allowing bicycles to use BAT lanes is stupid beyond belief. I have seen one jerk bike rider riding down the middle of that BAT lane at about 10 miles per hour with three buses stacked up behind him. I defy anyone to claim that that makes sense.

    1. Would someone provide a little background for a suburbanite. Were these lanes GP lanes or were they parking before being designated BAT lanes? I just don’t get the Seattle pave it and park’em paradigm. Although Bellevue in particular seems to be wed to the idea of paving and providing left turn lanes to nowhere which is even more useless than free parking.

    2. Come on Norman. It doesn’t take long to actually look it up. I did it in 2 minutes on OBA.

      Right now there are roughly 9 buses per hour during the morning peak. With rapidride it will go to something like 12 buses and hour.

      I think it is important to note that urban roadway capacity is typically not determined by the number of mid-block lanes but by intersection capacity. If you have an intersection downstream that is a choke point more lanes upstream won’t do any good, it will just become a larger parking lot.

      Along those lines, while I’m not extremely familiar with this area but I have a hunch that the intersection capacity in the area where Elliot and Western meet you will see that it is much lower than the capacity farther north. The extra capacity that a 3rd lane gives is simply wasted, leaving buses stuck in traffic.

      1. Wait, seriously? Only 9 buses per hour peak?

        I’m possibly more critical of Metro service levels than anyone else I know, and even I would have thought the 15, 18, 15X, 18X, and 17X added up to more than 9 buses per hour at peak time. That’s a really pathetic use of potential capacity, Metro!!

      2. There are actually more than 12.

        There are:
        15: 3
        15X: 5
        17X: 2
        18: 3
        18X: 4

        That’s a bus every 3.5 minutes.

      3. Don’t forget the 19,24,33 that use these lanes between Downtown and the Magnolia Bridge.

      4. If those numbers are correct, then having a lane exclusively for just 9 to 12 buses per hour is really absurd. I don’t blame people for being angry about it.

        Elliott is three lanes approaching Denny, and two lanes go to Denny, and one goes straight south, continuing as Elliott, so your argument does not work at that point.

        Same thing heading north: 15th W. is 3 lanes until crossing under Dravus, then the right lane exits to head east on Nickerson, while the other lanes continue over the Ballard Bridge.

        So, for this street, there really is no intersection at either end which makes the third lane “irrelevant.” Having that third lane available for all traffic along that entire stretch between a few blocks north of Denny, and the Ballard Bridge would make a large difference in how many vehicles per hour could travel that stretch of road.

      5. Norman,

        The 3rd lanes would not be “available for all traffic” but for parking (that’s the “Business Access” part). The alternative to BAT lanes to keep transit moving would probably be to make the parking permanent and install curb bulbs at the bus stops as on 3rd Ave in Belltown.

        Also, I don’t drive on 15th all that often but my experience is that a significant amount of the traffic is actually headed to Mercer to get on I-5, not downtown via Elliot (the non-express 15/18 get off at W Mercer Pl too and have stops in Lower Queen Anne).

      6. I drive it a lot, and there is a lot of traffic exiting to Mercer, but also a lot more continuing on south into downtown, and on the right-hand lane which continues south to get onto the viaduct. There is a lot of traffic south of where the exit to Mercer is. Enough to use 3 lanes, for sure. Of course the third lanes would be available to all traffic, during peak hours. Like many Seattle streets, parking was prohibited during peak hours, even before the BAT lanes were installed.

      7. My number were too low because I forgot to include express routes. If you really care check the thread higher up.

    3. Despite the loss of the 194, it seems Norman really does get around.

      This is the same argument some of the MCCers are making. To whit, those inconsiderate bikers are clogging the BAT lane, so why not let drivers clog the lane?

      The SOV enthusiasts consider bike trails (especially incomplete, dead-end ones) to be comparable to bike lanes.

      But the point remains, for which I don’t have a good answer: How do we get slow bikes out of the way of buses on 15th Ave W?

      1. Because that stretch of pavement would be empty — non-productive — almost all the time. What’s the point of a lane of street with no vehicles on it? It’s just a waste.

      2. No, bikers should NOT be riding on the sidewalk.

        What needs to be done is user education. If a biker is able to safely move to the side of the road to allow traffic to pass, then it should be done. There is no reason why a single biker should be blocking this lane and “three buses” behind it.

        The Cascade Bicycle Club needs to do a better job at communicating that.

        With that said, I’ve seen, with traffic congestion, buses get backed up right behind each other… Think of 5th Ave N and Mercer. the 3/4 and 16’s always get back logged there.

      3. I don’t give a dam about the bicyclists. I thought that was obvious. Just keep them out of the way of motor vehicles, including buses. If they can’t keep themselves safe on sidewalks, let them take the bus! Why the heck are their bike racks on buses??

        Not rocket science.

      4. If you’re ever a pedestrian—even to get from your parked car to your destination—I suggest you give a damn about bicyclists on sidewalks. Force us all onto sidewalks and I give it six months before you’re flattened into oblivion.

      5. It’s the least safe for everyone if bicyclists are forced on the sidewalks. Regardless about your personal feelings on the subject, the law states bicycles are vehicles and are allowed to be on the road.

        If it weren’t for people treating every road like a highway and going highway speeds, then there wouldn’t be this “Ah damn cyclist is blocking my way”. A driver can easily and safely pass any of us anyway.

        You need to get over it and realize that this is a city. You live and/or work in the city and there is going to be a very diverse population with different transportation methods and needs. If you don’t like it, you are more than welcome to leave the city and enjoy the “Public Transportation Free” suburbs and rural areas where there aren’t traffic problems.

      6. I ride on 15th Ave. W with some regularity, and I have to say it is not terribly hard to check conditions and briefly pull into either the gp lane or the sidewalk to let a bus pass.

      7. Can we make it a law for bikes to yield the lane to buses?

        (To which the law-breaking Magnolia speeders will say that bikers don’t obey the law anyway.)

  9. I know this was only a tiny part of this article, and doesn’t really at all relate to the main drive of either the article or the comments. However I’d like to think that transit options are not so much a continuum with rail presiding as the greatest form of public transportation that we know of. I’d prefer to think transit options are different tools suited to different jobs. A BRT to Magnolia makes sense because it clearly has the density to support a commuter-style AM and PM runs BRT, OR even an all day service, and yet clearly has no business being considered for it’s own rail line. At least yet. Some kind of protected, or increased speed right of way is needed or a BRT is just a fancy bus. The point that Adam made about intersection capacity is a good one. Bottlenecking is a function of the size of the neck of the bottle. The size of the jug really has no bearing.

    1. Magnolia has three routes, none of which are a good match for BRT. When I take a bus to Magnolia, my biggest complaint is having to zig-zag to get anywhere in West Magnolia. If Magnolia had frequent east-west service, taking advantage of the bridge connections to 15th Ave W and the Line C, then I think more commuters would be enticed to ride it.

      As it is, the Magnolia routes are Lower Queen Anne milk runs. Unfortunately, the Line C is kinda that way too.

      We must not lose this battle over the bus lanes on 15th Ave W, or we’ll lose the battle on all the other lines that were supposed to be rapid ride.

      1. It seems insane to me that there are no buses which travel east-west on Dravus. There is already fairly fast and frequent service on 15th with the 15/18 – you would think there would be connecting service to Magnolia.

      2. I was referring mostly to Dravus at 15th. It seems the logical place to connect Magnolia to frequent downtown service, but all the Magnolia routes go directly downtown. And as Oran points out, there is no direct service between Magnolia and Upper Queen Anne. I am interested to know if the all-buses-must-go-downtown mentality will remain when RapidRide D is implemented. Based on experience with Link, I suspect it will.

      3. The topography of Magnolia is challenging. There are actually 2 steep ridges and a valley bisecting the area, making direct east-west travel difficult.

        I wonder also, why is it so hard to get from Magnolia to Upper Queen Anne by bus? A transfer at SeaPacU or downtown is required.

      4. As someone who lives on the top of Queen Anne and has good friends in Magnolia, I have to say I continually find this frustrating, but at the same time understandable. There just isn’t much demand.

        It would, however, be nice if the 31 ran past 7 pm or had any weekend service. Instead we usually walk or catch a bus down to 1st Ave. W. and Mercer to catch the 33.

  10. The lesson I take away from this debate (MCC vs. bus riders) is that bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders need to start showing up at our neighborhood meetings.

    I’ve been regularly attending my neighborhood’s traffic subcommittee meetings, and it has made a world of difference on their focus.

    Just one transit advocate showing up at the MCC or Queen Anne Community Council meetings could be worth thousands of dollars in better-directed city spending.

  11. I think that you could make the argument for rail over BRT at the point that you completely automate the light rail. That is something that is still a decade away for autos and buses.

    In fact, isn’t BART in SanFran completely automated? Why not here in Seattle…a system that was built decades later….

Comments are closed.