Othello & Rainier

Any longtime bus rider has noticed that Metro tends to place its stops so that buses must pass through the intersection before they open their doors. That’s great for runners, but not so great if your transfer whizzes by on the cross street. It turns out that there are several great reasons for this. The folks in Metro’s Transit Route Facilities Department explained:

The jurisdictions through which Metro operates are the authorizing agencies for each stop location. While Metro doesn’t have a policy for stop placement, farside (after the intersection) stops are preferred because: it eliminates conflicts from vehicles making right turns in front of stopped buses; it encourages passengers to cross behind the bus; and it leaves more curb space for neighborhood parking. Also, where we have Transit Signal Priority in use, farside stops are preferred so that we can provide advance detection to the traffic signal.

While this policy is sensible, I wonder if it shouldn’t be tweaked under certain circumstances. There are, of course, truly unique cases like the 554 in Chinatown, but I wonder if the system’s gradual shift to frequent corridors with less frequent crossing service demands a change.

Specifically, missing a frequent-to-infrequent transfer is a bigger deal than the reverse. I’m inclined to believe that in spite of all the reasons provided above, the frequent service should stop before the intersection, maximizing the chance of catching the feeder.

Consider the example of Rainier Ave. and S. Othello St, where the (infrequent) 39 crosses the (very frequent) 7, pictured above. Riders coming from the Seward Park area and seeking a transfer to the 7 are not greatly inconvenienced if a 7 breezes by while they are stopped at a light: the next is perhaps 10 minutes away. Coming back on that 7, though, there’s a premium on getting off the trunk service as soon as possible in case a 39 comes by.

Of course, that frequent trunk service really ought to have signal priority, and if if it does this whole discussion is for naught. But since we’re apparently far from ubiquity even in Seattle, much less in the suburbs, this is a little thing that Metro could do to make riders’ lives a bit easier.

In my quest to find an example of this configuration, I discovered it’s much rarer than you might think; but as we progress towards a transfer-based system the current policy will make it more and more common.

What does everyone else think?

29 Replies to “Why Buses Stop After the Intersection”

  1. Late 8 is a perfect example of the newer after-the-intersection stop policy. Most 8 stops are before the light. The bus always misses the lights (partially yes because of traffic), but more importantly, dwelling before the light encourages runners to delay the bus and then follow up by missing the next light. Also, merging traffic conflicts only compounds the problem. Do unique situations exist? Sure, but they are an extreme exception. After-the-intersection stops are far superior by reducing opportunities for relay and conflict.

  2. Thanks for the explanation. This kind of “nuts and bolts” information is why this blog rocks!

  3. If you have near side on one route and far side on the crossing route you force some people transfering to cross the intersection twice, which means waiting through the cycle and possibly missing the bus that way. Far side is superior, but near side sometimes has other reasons to be favored or is simply necessitated by ROW or other considerations. The absolute best would be dedicated transit curb lanes, near side stops with adjacent farside stops for a crossing route and diagonal signaled ped crosswalk between the two corners with stops. Variations could work with center stops too and would allow some turning movements to occur during the ped cycle.

  4. If there is a dominant transfer pattern, then a nearside to/from farside pair can enable a transfer that doesn’t require any street crossings for the dominant transfer directions. Of course that means the non-dominant transfer requires two street crossings, though since you can go across the intersection in either sequence, you should be able to do that in 1 light cycle so long as the light isn’t programmed to skip the pedestrian signal if the button is not pushed.

  5. This is extremely interesting to think about. This could also a problem for link->bus transfers where they are across two lights: you can easily miss the bus. I can’t really think of any of these now, but I’m sure there will be some in the future.

    1. SODO Station to 50 eastbound. There’s no closer option.

      For riders in the tunnel wanting to catch the 50, it might actually be to their advantage to catch a tunnel bus and transfer to the 50 at the same stop they got off their tunnel bus (south of Lander). That would certainly be the case if their tunnel bus comes before the train.

      1. There is very little reason for anyone in the tunnel to transfer from Link->route 50 at Lander St. If you are, I ask where are you trying to go? If you’re going to West Seattle, you probably want RapidRide C (and possibly transfer to 50 or 128 at the West Seattle Junction), or perhaps the Water Taxi. If you’re going to the Seward Park area, you want to make the transfer to the 50 at Columbia City station, not SODO station, so you can bypass the VA hospital. And if you’re headed anywhere in between Columbia City station and I-5, you’re probably best either taking Link to the nearest stop and walking, or possibly transferring at Beacon Hill station to the frequent 36, not the infrequent 50. This is why the 50’s jog through SODO to connect with Link feels so non-sensical – I am hard pressed to come up with an actual trip where the connection this enables would make sense, in light of competing options.

  6. I think by and large, far side stops work much better than near side stops for the reasons listed and a few more. There a few exceptions I’ve thought of:

    1. Single lane street, traffic signal, in-lane stop. With this combination (The Ave, for instance), a far side stop would back up the intersection and chaos would ensue.
    2. Extreme high-use stops (3rd Ave). Similarly, if stops were far side, when the number of buses is more than the capacity of the stop, buses would spill over into the intersection or buses would have to wait on a green. Near side stops maximize the capacity by using the whole block.
    3. Planners choice. There are lots of examples like transfer points, land uses, etc.

    Also, I think most streetcar stops were near side because they essentially worked like #1 and by default were kept near side. So now there’s the challenge of moving them to far side.

    1. great observation on #1 – this is what I see as the biggest downside to far side stops – the constant pressure from traffic engineers to move them just a little bit farther away from the intersection to stop stacking of vehicles from impeding cross traffic, but thus making pedestrian transfer movements cover longer distances.

  7. I think drivers are already dealing with this on an ad-hoc basis, I frequently see Metro drivers stop ahead of the intersection to let a passenger jump out to catch a connection or a light that’s about to change, then continue to the stop a few bus-lengths ahead. Most commonly on the Eastside, but have seen it various other locations.

    1. Good luck explaining why you’re letting passengers off at non-bus stops if
      A. An SQ supe sees you
      B. They fall and sue the county
      C. Someone complains, ’cause you don’t do it for everyone all the time.

  8. Thanks for this timely, safety-oriented post!

    Anything we can do to keep people from walking or running in front of the bus (unless they are retrieving their bike, which means they will have informed the operator) is generally a good idea in my book.

    Stopping after the intersection minimizes the reasons for alighting passengers to run in front of the bus, so I think stops before the light should be limited to special exceptions, and these exceptions should be at least safety-neutral.

    Efforts to engineer various smoother transfers will have to depend on OnBoardSystems, not traffic engineering safety shortcuts.

    Beacon Hill Station is a particularly bad source of people running across the street to catch an oncoming bus. Please don’t do that. All the good drivers of the southbound 60 look to see if anyone is coming out of the station elevator. If they see someone, they wait for the transfering passengers to cross at the crosswalk and walk up from behind the bus. Those of you who do that will ruin the transfer for everyone else if a timed crossing light is installed. Right now, pedestrians control that crosswalk, and drivers really do stop. When an operator waits for you to transfer, call Customer Service and commend them.

  9. ET definitely does this. I think CT does too, in urban areas, but I don’t ride many of their non-ST routes.

  10. Isn’t this all just a matter of perception? If the bus you’re catching has, say, 15 minute headways, you’ll be just as likely (statistically speaking) to catch it vs. miss it no matter where the stop is (assuming you reach the intersection at a truly random time). Stop placement may affect the perception of how easy the transfer is to make (based on whether or not you see a bus that you just missed by 30 seconds), but not the reality of the average wait time. I don’t think you can generalize about wait times vs bus stop locations.

    Though we should also recognize that when it comes to transit, perception counts for a lot.

  11. Well, the counterargument is that since the bus has to stop for the stoplight anyway, it might as well be boarding passengers rather than stopping a second time after the intersection. The amount of time it loses by having to wait for a second light cycle is probably negated by the time it saves not having to make unproductive stops at lights.

    I do find a curious situation at 45th & University Way. Many times I’m walking southbound on the Ave wanting to take an eastbound bus, but the light forces me to wait at the intersection. While the light remains red, my bus comes, boards passengers and leaves, all in the time the light remains red. If the light would only change while the bus is loading, I could catch it, but no such luck. Sometimes the light does change and I run across the street; usually the bus has closed its doors but I can usually get the driver to open them. But they often act like it’s an unusual demand and an imposition, even though you’d think they’d look to see whether somebody is caught behind the light. So it’s the opposite of Brent’s Beacon Hill experience.

    1. I often walk up from the Seattle U campus on Columbia St looking to catch the southbound 9. While I’m stuck waiting for the light, the 9 whizzes by, picks up passengers at the farside stop, and leaves, and I’m left pissed off at the light for helping the bus and holding up me. (The light is really long for Broadway and really short for Columbia, as Columbia is just the Swedish entrance in one direction and a Seattle U driveway in the other.) For me, it’d be better if the stop were nearside and the light gave Columbia a green as or just before the bus stops there. Nearside would be better for someone getting off as well, as you don’t have to wait for the light if it’s red.

      1. Worth noting that for this particular intersection, Boyleston intersects Broadway just south of Columbia, so there probably isn’t space for a stop until south of Marion, on the same block as another stop. I suppose I could use Cherry, but Columbia feels less steep.

    2. I think you’ve just made an argument for:

      (1) in-lane stop (bus bulb)
      (2) near-side stop
      (3) “reverse signal priority”, where the bus triggers a red light before it arrives.

      That would seem to be about as good as far-side stops, wouldn’t it? The bus stops, and all parallel traffic gets stopped at the same time. (The corners would have to be “no right on red”, but this seems appropriate for any stop where there’s a traffic light.) People cross in front of the bus as needed to get to the bus stop; people trying to cross parallel to the bus won’t be able to and should get walking down the block to the next stop. By the time the bus has loaded, the light cycle will be about done and the bus will go on green….

      Of course if the buses are designed so that the driver can’t see people crossing in front of the bus, this would be bad, but that’s what I call a “bus design problem”.

      Normal signal priority (advanced greens) only really makes sense when the bus isn’t stopping, anyway.

      1. Worth noting that this makes more sense for busier stops where you know there are passengers to board. If no one is using the stop (say, 45th and Latona), you’re just aggravating passengers.

  12. This is one of my issues with the 39 at MLK to transfer to Northbound Link. Most of the time, the bus has to stop for the light, often for several minutes. I ask politely to be let out on the east side while the bus is waiting but drivers almost always*** say no and cite their fear of reprisal from supervisors. The consequence is that often I miss a connection to Link and have to wait a further 8-10 minutes. The vast majority of people transferring to Link are headed north from that location.

    I think Metro should make a policy exception with regards to Link and allow bus de-boarding on the side that would facilitate Northbound transfers if traffic conditions permit.

    ***I do not admit any knowledge that any driver has violated policy in allowing passengers the convenience of de-boarding on the east side of MLK. ;-)

    1. That happens to me at Convention Place too. I’m on a westbound bus, and the stop is a block west of the station entrance. I don’t ask the driver to let me off at the station but sometimes they do. Otherwise the bus crosses the intersection to the stop, and then I have to walk back across the same intersection to the station. How loony is that? Well, not as loony as putting the eastbound bus stop on Pike Street, three intersections away from the station entrance.

  13. Most of the time far-side stops rule. In a BAT lane (where all non-transit right-lane traffic needs to turn right at the intersection) far-side stops are a no-brainer because the bus can stop in lane, and get in a different lane to pass a right-turn queue if there is one.

    But there is a case to be made for advance greens as a way to pull out of a near-side bus stop ahead of other traffic. If you know the average dwell time at the stop and have a loop detector in the bus stop, a smart (adaptive) signal controller could try to adjust the cycle to deliver the advanced green at about the time the bus is about to leave. With all the traffic calmings over the past few years, buses find themselves stuck in pullouts more often and this is a means to avoid that. This could also be done where there is a pedestrian-only signal even more effectively, allowing the bus to exit the stop and passengers to cross the street directly after.

    (Side question to the site — why do your text entry boxes always scroll to the bottom of the text when I start typing, even when I’m trying to edit something at the beginning of a comment I’m writing? It means I have to type without seeing what’s being added, and then scroll back up to see whether I typed it correctly. I haven’t seen that behavior on other sites — just curious. I’m using Safari if that makes a difference.)

    1. Good points on the BAT lanes and using a dwell directer or other technology to improve performance for near side stops. 148th Ave NE (RR B) for example should all be near side stops. It’s ludicrous for buses to stop at a light, do nothing, pull a 100′ forward and block the lane for the entire green cycle and then “leave” just as traffic has come to a standstill ahead from the next light.

  14. As long as buses operate in mixed traffic, placing stops on the far side of the intersection is absolutely essential to keeping travel times remotely reasonable. In theory, placing a stop on the near side of the intersection could allow a bus to load and unload passengers while it would be waiting at the red light anyway. In practice, there’s almost always a few cars in front of the bus waiting for the light blocking access to the bus stop. This forces the bus to wait for the light to turn green and all the cars in front of the bus to move just to reach the bus stop. Usually, after a 15-30 second dwell time, the bus starts moving just as the light turns red. Which means the bus now has to wait a full two cycles to clear the intersection. It may not sound like much, but an extra delay of a minute or so at a stoplight every half-mile adds up fast and 5-10 miles of that can be excruciatingly slow.

    I grew up in a city where bus stops where almost always on the near side of the intersection and I experienced firsthand how much it slowed things down. This is absolutely not what we need here.

    That being said, there are, of course, exceptions. Sometimes, the lack of a sidewalk on the far side of an intersection can force a bus stop to appear on the near side for safety. And then, of course, there’s downtown, where the blocks are so short that no matter where you put the stops, it’s always going to be on both the near side of one intersection and the far side of another. But those situations should be exceptions, rather than the rule.

    By the way, I am a firm believer in the notion that anytime the bus is already in the curb lane, stopped at a red light or in a traffic jam, it should be the right of any passenger not in a wheelchair to get off the bus immediately upon request, regardless of whether there’s a sign there that says “bus stop” or not. We space bus stops a thousand feet apart to make the buses run faster, not because there’s anything magical about those particular points that makes getting on or off the bus safer than the area around them. If the bus is already stopped anyway, letting a passenger off the bus at an unscheduled stop imposes no delay on anyone else, and may even help the bus run faster in that when it gets to the next regular stop, it might not need to stop if no one else wants off and no one is waiting to get on. Forcing a passenger to wait three minutes for the light to change and the bus to cross a street only to wait another three minutes for the light to change again to cross the street on foot back the other way is just bureaucratic bullshit and benefit no one.

  15. Far side stops are better in my opinion at controlled intersections, as the coach is free to move when it is safe to do so after making the service stop. At Nearside stops, if the bus stops for passengers, the likelyhood of being able to pull away from the stop and clear the intersection on the light is minimal. Infact, theres an intersection in tacoma like this, that has a red light camera as well. The coach may start out on the green, but by the time it accelerates through the intersection the light has turned and SNAP! So at this stop, the drivers will stop on the green light, wait for the light to cycle, before proceeding through the intersection. Any advantages of having a nearside stop for passenger convience have just been taken away by having to stop so you dont get a lovely ticket in the mail.

  16. Far side zones also allow the bus to pull more fully out of traffic. By the time loading is done, often the traffic from behind the bus is gone and the bus can pull out. (For the situation where there is still traffic blocking the bus in the zone, I advocate for left-side flame throwers.)

    In places where a transfer is an issue and you need the bus stopping on the near side, perhaps a curb dimple 50 feet back from the intersection would do it. In front of the dimple would be a right-turn only lane,

    This is kind of vague, I’ll let you engineers work it out :-)

  17. I agree with asdf. This man elaborated the entire concept and true values of the topic.
    Appreciated the topic and discussion part too.

    – S
    Sarah Blue

  18. I Agree.. Metro should make a policy exception with regards to Link and allow bus de-boarding on the side that would facilitate Northbound transfers if traffic conditions permit.

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