I want to share my recent experience as I rode Metro’s Route 5 north to the Greenwood neighborhood and how this corridor would be different if Prop 1 passes. I ride transit throughout the city, but I frequent routes 5, 44 and 358 the most because they all serve my neighborhood. Route 5 stands to benefit significantly if Proposition 1 passes next week. The route connects the major job centers and transit hubs of Downtown and Northgate, the neighborhood business districts of Phinney Ridge and Greenwood, Shoreline Community College, and significant residential populations along the route.

The Phinney Ridge/Greenwood/Broadview corridor is called out in the city’s Transit Master Plan (TMP) for speed and reliability investments which Prop 1 would fund. So, what exactly does that mean? It means investing in a series of infrastructure investments along a transit corridor to make the bus service operate much more efficiently. Here is a undown of some of the investments slated for this corridor:

  • Bus Bulbs: Bus bulbs are a brilliant low cost/high return investment. There are 35 locations identified in the TMP where bus bulbs would be installed along Route 5. The benefit of bus bulbs is easily illustrated.Anyone who rides the bus is familiar with this experience. When the bus pulls out of traffic to pick up or drop off a passenger, it only takes a few seconds, but often the bus is trapped by passing traffic, forcing the bus to wait up to 30 seconds or more before there is an opening to re-enter the travel lane. This happened on my trip north, but could be a thing of the past if Prop 1 passes. Bus bulbs extend the sidewalk or passenger platform out to the travel lane, allowing buses to quickly drop or pick up passengers while remaining in the travel lane. Then the bus can be on its way without waiting for traffic to clear.
    Click to Enlarge

    On average, each bus bulb can save up to 8 seconds for a bus. With 18 bulbs in one direction, that’s 2.5 minutes off of each trip, every day, indefinitely into the future. These minutes alone add up to a regular commuter, but they also bring significant savings to the system. Route 5 makes about 75 trips in each direction on a weekday. The minutes saved add up to over 1,600 service hours for this route. Those 1,600 service hours saved can be re-deployed to add more service to the system every single year, without us having to pay for additional service hours year after year.Aside from providing a travel time benefit, when bus bulbs are paired with crosswalks, they serve to narrow the crossing distance of arterials, making it safer for pedestrians.

  • Transit Signal Priority. The TMP calls out 14 traffic lights to be modified for transit priority in this corridor. Buses are given priority at a light when an approaching bus signals to the traffic light, causing the light to stay green if it is currently green until the bus passes, or switching to green earlier if the light is red. It is estimated that these changes will save up to 10% of wait time at each signal. This means more time saved for bus riders, and more service hours for the system.
  • Queue Jump Lanes. Four queue jump locations are identified in the TMP for this corridor. These are implemented at busy intersections and allow the bus to clear the intersection ahead of other vehicle traffic. Queue jumps can save up to 25% of travel time at these intersections. While riding the Route 5, at 85th and Greenwood, my bus missed a complete light cycle. A queue jump would have allowed the fifty of us riding the bus to get through that light swiftly and in advance of other vehicle traffic.

The beauty of these investments is that while any single one may make a rather modest savings in time, when combined, they start to add up to a real meaningful travel time savings for each rider. Metro estimated up to a 20% time savings on each corridor upgraded. Adding up the savings on the TMP corridors will result in a savings of thousands of service hours, which then can be re-deployed back into the system to improve service. Best of all, once we make these investments, we reap the benefits for years to come.

Please join me in voting yes on Prop 1 and encouraging your friends to do the same, so we all can enjoy the great transit service we all want for Seattle.

The author is a Seattle City Councilmember.

43 Replies to “Mike O’Brien’s Commute”

  1. In addition to Greenwood being a great place for bus bulbs, the part south of where the Interurban Trail joins it would be an especially great place for Dexter-style stop islands, so that buses don’t conflict with bike traffic.

    1. Buses don’t conflict with bikes when each is driven competently — when bus drivers don’t cut off cyclists and when cyclists don’t try to pass buses on the right (it is usually foolish to pass cars on the right, buses even more so because they frequently have to pull out of traffic to the right). The islands encourage cyclists to pass buses on the right like they don’t exist, but this merely puts them in conflict with people getting on and off the buses, and these people behave much less predictably than bus drivers. Really, a cyclist should no more pass a stopped bus on the right in the presence of an island than in its absence. An island also puts cyclists in conflict with people walking to the bus stop, who may arrive at any time, and who don’t necessarily watch for bikes.

      Not only do the islands actually increase the number of conflicts a cyclist encounters, and make the conflicts less predictable, they reduce a cyclist’s ability to do anything about it. While passing through the island the cyclist is hemmed in by curbs. In an open area a cyclist has the ability to maneuver around obstacles. With the curbs in the way we have no choice but to stop. Stopping is actually more dangerous than maneuvering because bikes are hard to balance when stopping.

      Bus islands only provide an illusion of safety to people that don’t understand how to ride a bike on the road. This isn’t some elitist thing. Anyone can learn to ride a bike on the road, but people do have to learn. Otherwise we’ll be stuck with facilities designed to get bikes out of the way of cars, instead of ones that actually help them get around.

      1. Your opinion seems to be a minority one. Everyone else I know raves about the new Dexter.

      2. Al, I’m an experienced cyclist and have ridden Dexter both before and after the improvements, and I disagree with every single one of your points. Better separation from cars and buses makes the entire corridor safer whether you like it or not, and not having to leapfrog with buses means traffic flows incredibly more smoothly for everybody. Also, you discount perceived safety, but the best thing we can do to make biking safer is getting more people on their bikes, and perceived lack of safety is the biggest obstacle.

      3. Bus islands are standard in European cities that have much higher bicycle and transit usage than here.

      4. Well, I will side with Al on this one based on the philosophical reasons of how our roadway system was set up and continues to operate. That being said, I think that experiments like those on the new Dexter are worthy of analysis and that we should see how they turn out.

        I am curious though about Zed’s comment about the usage in Europe. When I was in Europe, I noticed they used a lot more cycle tracks which made this style of bus bulb more of a requirement than an option. Did you run across any situation where there is a bike lane like is done in the US and a bus bulb like what was done on Dexter? Thanks.

      5. I was hugely skeptical of the Dexter project. Having walked it, taken transit on it, and biked it, I have to say it has been successful beyond my wildest dreams. I don’t see the bus/bike interactions that used to frustrate both cyclists and Metro drivers alike, 26/28 trips *feel* faster than they used to…as far as I can tell it just works.

  2. Wonder if Mike has seen Metro’s plan to run the 5 via Fremont and Dexter. I thank that will blow any time savings from the Prop. 1 improvements.

    1. So average travel time would be the same while more riders were served and the walkshed extended?

      1. Average travel times the same? Seriously? The reroute will likely add a good 10-15 minutes to the overall trip for folks north of Fremont on a good day.


        In the midday:

        28 schedule time from Fremont/34th to 3rd/Union: 15 mins
        5 schedule time from Aurora Bridge Ramp to 3rd/Pike: 14 mins

        Note that I referred to average travel time. Going through Fremont will make the 5 less reliable. Of course, the new 28X will be much more reliable, and the peak express network will remain essentially unchanged.

      3. Bruce-

        You’re not taking into account the time difference between the current routing to Aurora and the trip down Fremont from 39th to the Fremont Bridge. You’re also comparing the scheduled time not the actual time (the 28 schedule is a best case scenario in my experience). I believe routing the 5 local through Fremont will make average trip times significantly longer for 5 riders who live north of Fremont and reduce reliability.

      4. Are you, in fact, arguing that it will take nine or more minutes to get from Fremont/39th to Fremont/34th?

      5. I used to live at 46th and Greenwood (a few blocks from Mike O’Brien, actually), so the 5 and 44 were my main routes as well.

        In my experience, Fremont Ave was never a bottleneck. Between 46th and the bridge, the only slowdowns were [a] the ridiculous diversion along 43rd, especially the turn from 43rd onto Fremont, and [b] the traffic light at 39th to get onto Aurora.

        Also, Dexter really isn’t much slower than Aurora. The only exception is that the stops on Dexter actually get used, which can add about 5-10 seconds per stop.

        If you straighten out the 5 so that it turns on 46th or 50th instead, and you optimize the light to emphasize N-S traffic on Fremont and deemphasize Fremont Way (the bridge entrance), then, aside from bridge unreliability, I really don’t think the reroute should cause a significant time penalty for points north. And anyway, I would be happy to trade a minute or two for the extra connectivity. Probably my most common trip on the 5 was heading down to 38th and walking to Fremont (or the converse), and it would have been really nice if that were a direct trip.

        Now, the unreliability of the Fremont Bridge is real. But we’ve got to serve Fremont somehow. So either we terminate a route in Fremont; or we ask everyone in Fremont to walk to service that doesn’t need the bridge; or we build a new higher bridge; or we pick a N-S route and send it through Fremont. I think the second option is pretty decent actually — I’d definitely like to push the Aurora-elevator idea, and extending the 3/13 to the tail of the bridge — but that will take a while.

    2. It’s interesting that the TMP map above shows the corridor jumping from Aurora from the south down to the Fremont Bridge. It includes plans for queue jumps to give buses priority across the bridge.

    3. Yes – but more accurately from N 39th to the south side of the Fremont Bridge (as well as along Dexter which I mentioned above). The routing via Downtown Fremont means that the 5 local has to negotiate two highly congested intersections as well as the Fremont Bridge heading southbound – that’s likely an additional 5 minutes right there. While a late evening run may breeze through there through most of the day the bus is likely to get stuck at some point and the average person coming from further north will have a significantly longer ride. Not sure if you’ve taken the bus through Fremont – the whole area can lock up when the bridge goes up with everything stuck for multiple cycles. This will be true northbound as well from the Dexter side.

      I’m not sure how much they can improve the bus access through Fremont although getting rid of the loading zone in front of Starbucks on the west side of Fremont would be a good start – I’ve been on buses that get stuck on the same block as the stop heading south but have to wait to drop folks off because they can’t get around trucks in the loading zone.

      1. Right, so five additional minutes to get through Fremont, which is roughly what this TMP work might reduce the overall trip by. I’m still looking for the other 5-10 that you claimed this would cost.

      2. Bruce-

        That’s a minimum of 5 plus delays related to Bridge congestion. Are you seriously implying it’s faster to route over a draw bridge (and the lowest one in town) than a fixed bridge?

      3. No, that is not what I said. I suggested that the travel time increase from the Fremont routing would be about a wash with the travel time decrease from the TMP improvements, while extending the walkshed and serving more riders. I acknowledged that there would be a decrease in reliability, but also noted that the existing express routing over the Aurora Bridge will remain intact for peak riders.

      4. Bruce-

        So you believe that 5 local folks will see the same length of a ride from points north of Fremont and I think based on bridge congestion and the Fremont rerouting the ride will take 10-15 minutes longer on average. I guess we won’t know until Metro implements the route change. Still – promising faster service to folks who will likely see service that at best takes the same amount of time (and will be less reliable) seems like a bad political promise (my initial point).

        At least 5 local riders aren’t being screwed out of a one-seat ride to Downtown like big chunks of Wallingford.

    4. When I first read the proposal to route the 5 through Fremont, I was a bit skeptical, but I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that the 28X is now going to run all day, instead of just the peak. So, riders on the 5 who want to bypass the Fremont bridge can take either 28X if they’re coming from the west, or the 358 if they’re coming from the east. Unless you happen to live right on Greenwood or Phinney, your walk to the 28X or 358 isn’t like to be significantly longer than the walk to the 5. Plus, if OneBusAway says the 5 is coming first, you can still take it. In addition to serving the center of Fremont, I can also see the reason to have some bus go down Dexter, given the limited crossing points between Dexter and Aurora and the elevation gap between them. Since the 28 won’t be doing that anymore, the 5 takes it over.

  3. Even being generous, the improvements cited by CM O’Brien would save only 4 minutes out of a 45-minute run from downtown to the Seattle City Limits, or about 9 percent — a far cry from the 20 percent savings systemwide that Prop 1 advocates proclaim.

    And he omits any pavement improvements on this route; should we believe that all the streets that Rt. 5 operates on current on their maintenance needs? None of them would qualify as deficient in the Seattle Times’ recent expose?

    1. 4 minutes on each commute is over 33 hours a year. That is all time that can be spent doing other things.

      I am grateful that all of our elected officials in Seattle support Prop 1.

      1. Buses ride on pavement, WRD, and I know from daily experience that smooth pavement is a godsend to good bus service (’cause I definitely don’t have it on my Rt. 36!).

        Transit advocates are making a huge mistake by buying into the notion that basic street maintenance is somehow a sellout to the automobile. Buses and bicycles run on pavement too, and we’re making a big mistake by deprioritizing the maintenance of essential infrastructure.

      2. Pavement maintenance is where the biggest chunk of Prop 1 money is going.

        And the Seattle Times “exposé” is kind of stupid. SDOT has been bitching about their unfunded maintenance backlog for decades; thanks to the Bridging the Gap levy, we’re slowly but surely getting caught up. How does this qualify as an exposé?

      3. Read the Seattle Times article again, Lack. Talk to SDOT engineers again (off the record, if they will). Bridging The Gap is only slowing the rate of deterioration; it is NOT getting us “slowly but surely caught up.”

        The Times’ article is an expose because it exposes the elephant in the living room — the deplorable condition of our city streets at a time when too many well-intentioned people are all rah-rah for streetcars!

        I’ll say it again — what good does it do to make all these great transit improvements and continue to operate the buses on streets that are falling apart? Go ride the 7 or the 36 trolleycoaches up and down Jackson Street! The best way to improve service on those routes is to rebuild the damned street. It’s PRIORITIES, folks.

  4. So what would it take to get bus bulbs and a few queue jumps for the 49 on 10th/Broadway? Pine and Broadway to the UW takes 10-12 minutes in the early morning when traffic is light, but the evening return trip is generally 30-40 minutes. Most of the delay is waiting for multiple signals at a few busy intersections and getting stuck waiting to merge during the slog up the hill.

    1. That’s one of the corridors targeted for those exact type of improvements should Prop 1 pass, so vote yes on Prop 1 and get your friends to as well.

    1. Go take a look at how it’s been done on Dexter, they work together quite well. The cycle tracks are added right of the bus bulbs, making them into islands that separate cyclists from buses. Unfortunately, both Google and Bing street views are outdated and don’t show the new setup.

      Go down and take a look yourself, the corner of Dexter and Howe is a good example.

  5. I’m glad that practically the whole line from the north terminus south to Fremont is being considered for stop consolidation. Look at all those tiny little bubbles right next to each other from 80th south to 45th. It’s maddening riding that part of the line.

  6. the pavement management situation should be addressed by gas tax increases at the state and county levels; Seattle and its TBD do not have that option. the gas tax is efficient, fair, easy to collect, and has good price effects on consumers. the TBD funds should be used for projects not eligible for 18th amendment revenue; the TBD revenue is flexible, not subject to the 18th amendment.

  7. Setting aside my extreme displeasure with the Transit Master Plan itself, Prop 1 cannot possibly be expected to fund the entire plan, can it? If it doesn’t, WHY would any supporter hold up the TMP in order to encourage a Yes vote? A simple look at opponents’ use of the failure of Bridging the Gap to actually bridge the gap should demonstrate the folly of such a campaign message.

    1. My response would be similar to Oran’s. What funding measure would voters accept to actually “bridge the gap”? The Pedestrian Master Plan represents another $800 million unfunded needs in pedestrian infrastructure in its first tier alone.

      Perhaps the problem is planning based on what we want versus what we can realistically afford.

  8. A few seconds to pick up or drop off passengers? What city do you live in? Metro buses rarely pull out of traffic for their stops, anyway. Regardless, passengers usually wait until the bus makes a complete stop to collect their things, stand up, walk to the front of the bus, pay their toll (if it’s an exit toll) and then FINALLY leave. If you rode like that in another city, you’d miss your stop. Metro could save just as many hours by educating Seattle riders how to ride appropriately.

    1. karin01 – the extent to which that’s true greatly depends on what route you’re on and what time of day it is. If it’s a bunch of newbies riding, yes, that’s true. But, if it’s people who are all used to riding the bus, have Orca cards, and know how to do their part to make the system run smoothly, that’s not true. Among regular users, picking up of dropping of a passenger really does take just a few seconds.

      1. …and how Metro could educate regional riders ‘how to ride appropriately’ is an interesting concept. In my experience, on in-city routes during all parts of the day, the majority of riders who are in good physical condition move relatively quickly.

        Going to pay-as-you-enter at all times on all routes, and allowing exiting through the back door, would have a significant time impact on the routes I ride. More so than any rider education campaign I can think of.

  9. The 5, which I also ride to work almost every day in the same area as described in this post, takes forever not only because of the lack of bus bulbs, but because it has a stop approximately every 0.125 miles (8 stops in 20 blocks / 1 mile). I also want to see this route improved, but I’m really not sure that slowing down traffic to the speed of what I’ve come to see as a terribly designed route is the right solution.

    Also – if the sidewalks that are already in Greenwood are any indication, then I absolutely do not want one installed on my street. Every block that has them has turned into a congested mess. I live a couple blocks north of where some have put in and I haven’t talked with many of the owners, but I know quite a few have trouble getting their mail (the once abundant – but ugly – street parking is now crowded with cars blocking mailboxes).

    So I hate to be in this position but this is probably the first time I’m going to vote against what I see as a measure intended to spend money on the kinds of investments I would normally eagerly endorse.

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