Corridor 6 from the Transit Master Plan

In addition to the rapid streetcars for the North End, one interesting aspect of the recently-finalized Transit Master Plan is the proposed Madison Street BRT. (Martin did some analysis of this line a year ago).  The line would run on 5-minute headways from 5am to 9pm and 15 minute headways evenings and weekends.  The corridor is challenging, as the plan notes, due to  “the diagonal nature of Madison (which leads to many intersections and odd traffic movements) and the frequency of signals.” Nonetheless, Madison Street is taking on a ton of new multifamily development between I-5 and 23rd Avenue, which makes it a good candidate for high-capacity transit of some kind.  Since the 9% grade is too steep for rail, BRT is a good alternative.

Meanwhile, an alternative service to First Hill is under construction in the form of the First Hill Streetcar.  While Martin and Zach have already made good arguments about why the streetcar isn’t primarily designed to Downtown-First Hill traffic, once both are operational it will be interesting to see which mode gets the lion’s share of blue scrubs in the morning.

54 Replies to “Madison Street BRT”

  1. For the Transit lingo impaired (like me) BRT = Bus Rapid Transit.

  2. Of course their analysis says building “BRT” in this corridor would have a per-mile cost on par with building the Eastlake or Ballard “rapid streetcar” and the buses would be crush-loaded all day long, but hey, why not?

    1. Rail isn’t possible in this corridor unless it is in the form of a subway or cable car. The former is expensive and the latter hasn’t been built to operate in mixed traffic in over 100 years.
      BRT is the best we’re going to be able to do on Madision in the near term.

      1. Yes, I recognize that. The City wants to build something inadequate at rather than recognize that grade-separated transit is called for.

  3. The streetcar will provide a decent service to South and East King commuters going to Swedish First Hill and Swedish Cherry Hill and will definitely allow us to eliminate the 211. But Madison BRT plus a Yesler-ized 3/4 have much more potential to facilitate easy 2-seat rides for Virginia Mason and Harborview commuters and hopefully would obviate the need for the 64/193/205/265/303/309.

    1. A 309 alternative that doesn’t go through the Mercer Mess would be greatly appreciated! The 309 has an unfortunate tendency to get stuck in traffic, which cuts down on the benefits of the one-seat ride.

  4. I’d like to the city do some work to help make our upcoming BRT (LOL) lines actual BRT and not just a slightly fancier bus line first.

    I really have very little faith in either Metro or SDOT to have the courage to do what is necessary to make these lines successful at the present time.

    1. I would just add that cost certainly is a factor. Both agencies could and should be more aggressive, but they really are doing BRT on the cheap and that holds a lot of the blame as well.

      1. But doing it on the cheap is probably worse than not doing it at all. Any new riders you attract with your branding get driven away once they realize it’s the same ‘ol same ‘ol.

        Seeing as how they’ve done RR on the cheap, why should we expect any different from them on this corridor?

      2. I would agree that it’s worse from a branding perspective, at least for BRT in a general sense. However from a riders perspective RR is an improvement in quality though, however mediocre we think it is.

        I don’t think Metro should pass up doing RR just because it could weaken the brand sometime in the future. Really RR is just another example of American BRT.

        Now if the question is should Metro be making these improvements without the branding that’s a different question. It many ways that branding is part of the package, say for example in the service levels or fare payment system. There is a consistency across the brand. On the flip side though it does steal some thunder for a westside rail line.

      3. I personally think RR D opening will be great for generating enthusiasm for Seattle Subway.

        Generally people like being told for years how great something will be, but then it turn out to be SLOWER than their existing service.

      4. How much does it cost to take away GP lanes or parking or to put in TSP?

        Those are issues of political will more than anything.

  5. Street Cars are capable of climbing a 9% grade (actually often more).

    In fact, the FHSC spec specifically calls out 9.02% for max sustained grade.

    1. Yes; I don’t know where this idea that “9% is too steep for rail” comes from. I believe even the SLUT cars are specced for 9%.

      1. It’s a holdover from the days of the monorail (SMP). Back then the monorailists used to through the 9% myth around like it was gospel, but in reality there is not a shred of truth to it.

      1. No idea what the rest of the grade is for the rest of Madison, but if 3rd and 4th is the issue, you could have a madison streetcar combine into a 4/5th street couplet that would link up with the SLUT.

      2. Why would anyone want to run a regular streetcar straight up and down the hills in downtown Seattle? I’d use a funicular, although it does sort of make you wonder why we pulled out the old cablecars that used to run on that route.

      1. Dear Robert;
        Matt and others are the ‘lone wolves crying in the woods’ to promote gondolas. I fully support his efforts.
        With that said, I’m launching a ‘Mattmobiles for Booze’ campaign and would be delighted to make a convert out of you – although the cannon ride sounds like a nice way to end the workday.
        So, what’s it gonna take?

  6. I wish this proposed Madison St. line had real destinations at each end. In downtown, turn it north to serve the retail core and maybe Belltown also, or turn it south to serve the financial district and Pioneer Square, and maybe the stadia too.

    Extend the east end to Madison Park and eliminate Rt. 11.

    It’s unfortunate that this City proposal is seen as an overlay on top of existing Metro service. They should be working with Metro to develop improved routes like this that are totally integrated into and a part of the Metro network.

    1. It does have a western anchor: Coleman Dock. I understand extending it to Madison Park and killing the 11, but perhaps an alternative would be to send the 8 to Madison Park instead, and send the 43 to the Rainier Valley via 23rd.

      It’s a system so simple you can draw a map of it with your eyes closed.

      1. And for what it’s worth, the TMP proposal has the line splitting into two legs that serve Madison Park and Interlaken.

      2. Within downtown Seattle, Colman Dock is a very minor destination. Most riders will be destined well north or south of the Madison St. corridor, necessitating either transfers to other routes or multi-block walks. Same problem that was identified earlier with the failed proposal to break Rt. 2 and operate the south leg on this same routing.

        Good transit practice is to put destinations at both ends of the route wherever possible.

      3. Except how many of the people getting off the ferry during commute hours are headed to First Hill in the vicinity of Madison St?

        During off-hours, the effective anchor becomes downtown Seattle. Sure, it’s not as nice as if we’d actually had the guts to build First Hill Station on Link, but there are multiple 200ft+ apartment towers going up on First Hill right now that will benefit from frequent all-day access to downtown.

      4. Swedish Hospital and Seattle University form an East Anchor. When I ride the 12, that’s where most of the people get off. I’m not convinced there’s enough demand to maintain BRT level service east of Seattle U.

      5. I still want to see a new 43-12 replacement which goes from downtown to 23rd via Madison, and then heads north to the U-District. This switches capacity from the overserved Thomas (between 15th and 23rd) to the underserved Madison, and provides a new route to the U-District for a large area that will not be within walking distance of Capitol Hill Station.

        And for god’s sake, kill 19th Ave service already.

      6. Daniel: Especially with all the new apartments, there is definitely a lot of consistent all-day demand between East Madison and downtown. Right now, it’s split between the badly-coordinated 11 and 12.

        Rationalizing the schedule would increase demand. So would adding a bit of trolley wire and turning north to the U-District at 23rd.

    2. The TMP is more about corridors than routes. The route suggestions are just placeholders, showing the smallest possible change to the existing network. First there’ll have to be a decision to fully design and budget the corridor, and that will or will not include money to add a dedicated BRT route to 23rd or further. (Hopefully a trolley or streetcar.) If there is a dedicated route, the 11 and 12 will have to be downgraded to avoid overservice. If there’s not a dedicated route, then people will have to decide whether the project is worth it. Street improvements alone would be a minor benefit, but just reconfiguring the 11 and 12 without adding hours would be weak and would not realize the corridor’s potential. Also, University Link and North Link will come online in 2016 and 2021, at the same time this line will (maybe) be designed. So they’ll have to consider Madison routes in the context of this larger Capitol Hill restructure.

      The 12 suggestion is obviously weak because it backtracks four blocks. There’s also the issue of whether the 11 should remain Madison-Pine or switch to Madison-Madison: both alternatives have a lot of support. Madison-Madison is simpler but the market for trips between Madison Valley and Pine Street is probably stronger, because there’s little on western Madison except offices and pharmacies (plus the library and McDonald’s), and it’s the furthest from any Link station.

      I have suggested merely exchanging the heads of 12 and 43. That would get the stronger route out to 23rd, and avoid a debate about removing transit on 19th. But I could see some people in 23rd/24th/Montlake being angered about being further from the Capitol Hill core and Capitol Hill station.

    3. Heading out of downtown, of the three possible direction the bus could go at Madison and 23rd, Madison Park is the worst. It simply doesn’t have the demand to warrant that level of service. One soulution could be to have some buses only serve part of the corridor say from downtown to the 23rd area. The other is to have the bus go north to UW/520 or south to Mt. Baker station. From a utility perspective this would be a roundabout way to get to Mt. Baker, so I would tend to lean toward sending the route up 23rd.

      1. The key here is building corridor services for the first time. Hard right and hard left turns don’t do that goal any favors.

        Having a “Madison Long” (to Lake Washington) and “Madison Short” (turnaround at 23rd, or perhaps at 28th, which is busier than you think) designation is the best option for maintaining undiluted this east-west rapid line’s primary purpose.

      2. The turn from Madison to 23rd is very gradual, and already prioritized. (In fact, this is the designated route to go downtown if you’re heading south on 23rd.)

        Also, adding 4.5 blocks of trolley wire — 19th to 23rd on Madison, and then Madison to John on 23rd — is entirely feasible, whereas electrifying all the way to Madison Park is pretty much not gonna happen.

        A corridor doesn’t have to be a straight line. I would rather have a route with anchors at both ends, and which connects growing neighborhoods that are heavy transit users, rather than extending a route to a low-density residential neighborhood just because that’s where the street goes.

      3. @d.p. I usually agree, however in my opinion one of the biggest weaknesses of Cap Hill/CD/Queen Ann service is the lack of large anchors on both ends. Most of the routes in these area just dies out on the non-downtown end. This is just going to happen, there is no way around it, but for high frequency routes like this I would rather have no variations, and connect the highest ridership destination rather having a straight corridor.

        All this will play out in about 3 years when the Cap Hill station opens.

      4. Nothing against the idea of BRT replacing the 48, but attaching that to the Madison corridor makes for a very different beast.

        Firstly, by running it to Montlake and the UW, you are more than doubling the length.

        Secondly, you’re transforming it from a route that runs primarily as an east-west connection through a very high concentration of activity centers to a route that spends much of its time in the traffic-heavy but destination-sparse 23rd/24th corridor.

        Thirdly, UW/Montlake Bride/520 traffic is suddenly able to make mincemeat of your westbound headways on the busiest and most important part of the route. Just like the 43 today. That this Madison BRT should be detached from destructive externalities is the whole point!!

      5. Also, despite being on the cusp of a very ritzy area, I think you’d be surprised just how well-used transit is on the Madison corridor, as far as the 28th/MLK junction. This is where both the 11 and the 8 start to get an influx of passengers — enough to start slowing the buses down when they pay cash or load bikes. The Madison Valley commercial district is as much of an anchor as you’re likely to get anywhere (without crossing the 520 and the Montlake cut). It also becomes a major transfer point from east-west to north-south if and when the 8 is necessarily uncoupled.

        Past 28th is a different story; it will never be worth sending high frequency all the way to Madison Beach, despite the large number of middle-class apartment dwellers. 1/2 or 1/3 of corridor buses would be more than adequate. Fortunately, branded service actually makes it easier to explain short-turn service: “Line M Long – Madison to 43rd” and “Line M Short – Madison to 28th” is a lot clearer than “well, this 5 keeps going straight on Greenwood, but that 5 takes a right and goes somewhere completely different.”

        The New York subway proves that riders can handle service variations as long as the shared corridor is unmistakeable.

      6. Lastly, I have to say that I’ve never really understood Seattle’s fetishism for its current trolley wire. There are simply too many lights missed and block-long segments traversed at 2 mph or less to give me any warm-fuzzies. I can think of almost no segments of trolley I use on regular basis that don’t improve dramatically when substituted with diesel.

        Of course I understand the benefits of trolley wire. Vancouver air is cleaner for it, as is West Cambridge/Watertown air. But those trolley wires are fast and seemless.

        Completing “missing links” in our present wire, while ignoring the need to wholesale replace our failing wire, would negate the “R” in any “BRT.”

      7. It’s only fifteen blocks from MLK to Madison Park. So if you send it to MLK you might as well send it to Madison Park to simplify the network.

  7. Looks like a sensible corridor over the hill. You want those kinds of headways here, and all but the waterfront block interlines with existing routes. A near parallel corridor that can handle rail? Pine, Broadway, Union, MLK. That gets you to Madison Valley with decent capacity.

  8. I’m not knocking this proposal and would be glad to have more frequent, more reliable service from the E. Madison area to downtown,which I would use. (I was sorry to see the plan for improved route #2 service killed.) But, but can someone tell me about the impact on Madison Street “livability”. With more mixed-use buildings on the street there’s the expectation that much of E. Madison might have an improved pedestrian environment. However, the sidewalk is comparatively narrow and removing more on-street parking and speeding up vehicle traffic will do what? Any plans to deal with this unwanted side effect?

    1. No that I know of and I wouldn’t hold my breath. Unique diagonal corridors like this are extremely desirable for all modes and unless a city went in a made them really large, Paris for example, it’s a big fight to do anything along them that slows down traffic. N/S street (Broadway,12th,15th,19th,23rd) are the traditional areas for pedestrian oriented spaces and I don’t see that changing.

  9. Could we eliminate the series of clumsy turns on sixth avenue? That’s where a lot of the delays going up the hill come from. Maybe make Madison two way for transit only?

    Also, would this line be Diesel or ETB?

    1. Like Sam, I also need to be more positive: I would appreciate BRT service on Madison! Please make this happen, Metro!

    2. Maybe make Madison two way for transit only?

      This is such a no-brainer. Loop it around from Alaskan to Western before it even “gets going” up the hill.

      Voila. Two-way, unobstructed transit corridor in the center of the downtown!

    3. 40′ ETB due to the grade.

      Madison/Marion already has trolleywire.

      1. If you’re building curb-bulb quasi-platform and putting in signal enhancements, then you can go all the way and string the whopping seven new blocks of wire. Really, you should replace all the wire to bring it into the 21st century, eliminating any “1 mph through this junction” interruptions.

        Don’t call it a BRT corridor and then proceed to half-ass anything!

      1. Though not nearly as bad as Spring or James, uphill buses on Marion do have to fight some general traffic, especially prior to 5th Avenue. And given that the steep grades don’t allow buses the best acceleration or maneuverability, even a single right-turning car at 2nd or 3rd can result in missed light and a very long wait for the next green.

        A contra-flow lane on an otherwise downhill-only street fixes these problems completely. There would be no blockages, no compromising on “bus-and-turn” lanes… nothing in the way, ever. Passengers board, and on the next light you get to go unimpeded.

        And all you lose is some waste-of-space angled parking!

    1. The current midday headways are 30 for the 11 and 15 for the 12, an overall headway of 10 minutes. In the peak, the overall headway is 5. If this BRT is branded and implemented well, and connections to other service past Madison are facilitated, there is no reason why the frequency shouldn’t double.

      I know this isn’t Seattle, but RR B is twice as frequent than the old 253, though it is not that much faster. You can’t call it a complete failure – it’s a 60-foot bus and it’s fuller than the 253 was.

  10. Bring back the Madison Cable!

    (San Francisco Muni can build cars for Seattle)

    1. I don’t know about Muni building cable cars for Seattle, they have their hands full just keeping Muni running, so I doubt that they’ll have time for Seattle.

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