Photo by Oran

Starting today, the curb lane between the Dexter off-ramp and Mercer on Aurora Avenue southbound will be converted to a BAT (business access and transit-only) lane.  Unlike some other BAT lanes in the city, the right-turn and transit-only designation applies all day and night, which means single-occupant drivers can get dinged for a citation if caught traveling in the lane, even at 2 in the morning.  The conversion helps pave the way for the E Line in 2013 while also acting as mitigation for upcoming roadwork.

From SDOT (.pdf):

King County Metro Transit will be starting RapidRide E Line service on Aurora Avenue North in 2013, but the lane will be designated earlier to keep buses moving during several ongoing construction projects. Metro carries almost 30,000 passengers a day on the Aurora corridor, which helps significantly reduce the number of cars on the road.

Two upcoming projects are the City’s Mercer West Project and the WSDOT’s Route 99 Tunnel Project. Traffic congestion is expected to increase on southbound Aurora when lanes are temporarily closed for these projects and optimizing transit travel will provide commuters with a better option for avoiding possible delays.

For more information, questions/comments can be sent to the project lead, Jonathan Dong, at

44 Replies to “New Aurora BAT Lane Starting Today”

  1. The post states the curb lane between Dexter and Mercer. Should this be Denny and Mercer?

  2. Of course, since the lane doesn’t extend to Denny, buses will still get stuck in traffic there.

    I don’t travel Aurora in peak hours – how bad was the traffic in the area where the BAT lane has been added?

    1. It can be very bad. Some days, when the weather is bad, traffic can back up to the Aloha Inn area. Car drivers will be hating this new restriction, but bus riders will be happy.

    2. I drive this corridor every day. This morning wasn’t bad. It might get nasty on game nights and when school starts up again next fall.

    3. South bound traffic on Aurora is almost always terrible in the afternoon peak, although sometimes the backups don’t start until just before, or even inside the Battery Street tunnel. This is because the viaduct is reduced from 3 to 2 lanes just before it is truncated and goes down to the surface near the stadiums. Anyone who thinks reducing the number of lanes on a street does not create traffic congestion should just drive southbound on Aurora and the viaduct around 5 pm almost any weekday.

      Last Friday, I took Aurora northbound from just north of the Battery Street Tunnel to the exit by Canlis, and southbound traffic was backed up almost all the way to the Aurora Bridge. I can easily imagine southbound traffic backed up to the Aurora Bridge with this new lane closure.

      What a mess.

      1. Yes, the point of the tunnel is to open more capacity to get through Seattle.

        Yet now they take away capacity to get into the tunnel.

        So any increase in speed through the 1.5 mile tunnel is instantly negated by the loss of laneage in the miles of 99 leading up to it.


  3. The traffic only sometoimes backs up here in the evening due to Viaduct const in SODO.
    This will get people used to only having two lanes when mercer/99 const. brings SR99 down to two lanes each way over mercer for a couple of years…

  4. Besides being good for the E line, doing this early to prepare for the roadwork is a really great idea. Losing a lane to roadwork is going to make traffic a nightmare no matter what, so giving people at least one option (the bus) that’ll get them there in a timely matter is a great idea.

  5. Hmm, a lot of people on bikes ride in the city’s bus lanes, and official stances on that have always been seemed like a lukewarm, “Yeah, I guess that’s OK.”

    I’m curious if anyone has heard any chatter about bikes riding in the Aurora bus lanes. I would prefer Dexter, but a lot of people ride down Aurora anyway (often on the sidewalks).

    1. My lovely experience has been that bike riders pretty much ride where they want to. They obey the rules they want to. And they sue when they fall.

    2. On a street like Aurora, I would not recommend riding a bike in the bus lane. Buses can travel at fairly high speeds through the area and there are a lot of buses there at all hours of the day.

      Why would you want to use Aurora anyway? How would it a better bike route that the adjacent streets?

      1. I don’t want to ride Aurora. But I’m guessing some people will either to access the homes and businesses or because it’s all they know (see response to David below).

    3. Buses are moving at 40+ mph through there; the lane is narrow; there are blind curves; traffic is dense, so it’s hard for the bus to move over; and there is a terrific alternate route one block away on Dexter.

      Why would anyone bike on Aurora (unless trying to get to the Aloha Inn)?

      1. People (especially those new to cycling) ride what they know. To many, Aurora is just how you get around. That’s why you see so many people on it even when there are good parallel routes.

        And bus lanes are far more inviting that general highway traffic lanes, which is why I’m curious if more people will give riding in one a shot.

      2. Also, as a side note, I think there should be better signage for people biking on Aurora (the whole road) letting them know how to get to calmer parallel bike routes (the Interurban North route). But right now, signage is limited or non-existent.

        But it’s legal to bike on Aurora, and people biking are certainly road users and should be considered.

      3. Honestly, as a cyclist and general defender of cyclists’ rights, I feel that biking on Aurora is unsafe and should probably be disallowed. It’s just too narrow, blind, and fast. I’m thinking in particular of the curve right after the Aloha Inn southbound. If I had been driving a bus in the right lane there at the legal limit of 40 mph and came across a cyclist at exactly the wrong point, I’m not sure I’d be able to stop in time. Fortunately I never did. To be honest, I haven’t seen all that many cyclists there at all.

      4. To clarify: the part of Aurora between Denny and Winona. With the parked cars and slower speeds it’s considerably safer north of Winona.

      5. I’d sooner make Aurora less like a freeway, and more hospitable to self-powered traffic, along that whole stretch than I’d ban biking on it.

        There’s less reason to bike along this stretch of Aurora than farther north. However it does have a favorable grade compared to many other routes. In particular it’s a much smoother grade crossing the ship canal than any other route. Were a road built in the same corridor today I’d hope it would have better pedestrian and bike access than Aurora does. The same basically goes for 15th Ave W and the Ballard Bridge.

      6. Al, unless you’re going to upper Fremont or lower Phinney, there are better, much safer ways. Use Dexter to 34th to Stone to get to Wallingford. Use Dexter to Leary to 3rd NW to get to upper Phinney. Neither of those routes has a severe grade — in fact, they’re flatter than Aurora, which is rather steep on the bridge.

        Even to get to the area around the zoo, I’d rather do the steeper grade, but in vastly safer conditions, on Fremont.

      7. Given the road conditions that exist today, I’d ride up any hill in this region to avoid Aurora on my bike. But I live in upper Fremont, and when I’m out running south of the ship canal I often take Aurora to get home if I’m feeling tired and lazy. It’s certainly easier than any other route. And hills make a much smaller difference when running than when biking. If the road conditions for biking on the Aurora Bridge were better I’d use it all the time.

        These road conditions were not handed down to us from the gods. We made them. We can change them. And I believe that when the time next comes for major work on Aurora we should take that opportunity to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. Also we should add a station at 34th or 35th for all those bus routes up on Aurora with marginal access to lower Fremont.

    4. I occassionally ride Aurora for a block or two. It is the most terrifying stretch of rode that I ride in town.

    5. Before the new fencing was built on the Aurora Bridge, there were proposals from folks who live and work under the bridge on the north side to close off the walkways completely.

      SDOT representative at a meeting said ‘no way’ and the first reason he gave was that if they took that away, people would be cycling on the bridge deck, which seemed like a really bad idea. Obviously the walkways have stayed open (I was just up there last week).

      I see folks on the sidewalk on bikes on Aurora from time to time, usually from Denny north to the bridge. To me, that would feel safer than being on Aurora itself, even in the bus lane.

  6. “Metro carries almost 30,000 passengers a day on the Aurora corridor, ”

    Compared to Central Link’s 24,000 boardings per weekday. How much is the E link going to cost? How many boardings per weekday is the E line expected to average?

      1. It’s especially efficient when you take into account the fact that most of the capitol expenditures are going towards replacements for aging buses that would have soon needed to be replaced anyway.

        I don’t think it’s valid to compare this with Link – they’re too different corridors. Yes, the initial corridor for Link was not the section of the line that has the most demand – we’ll have to wait another 10 years for that. But the demand in the current Link corridor isn’t bad. And when more homes and businesses open up near the Ranier Valley stations, and when it finally becomes possible in 4 years to travel through downtown without a bus transfer, ridership should go up further.

      2. So, in capital costs, Central Link cost $2.6 billion for 24,000 boardings per eay, and RapidRide E will cost about $50 million for 6,500 boardings per day.

        So, Central Link cost about $108,000 per weekday boarding, while RapidRide E is expected to cost about $8,000 per weekday boarding. In other words, the capital cost of Central Link is expected to be about 13.5 times as high as RapidRide E pre boarding. 13.5 times as expensive per boarding for light rail compared to RapidRide bus.

        And the operating cost is about $5 million per year for 6,200 weekday boardings for RapidRide E, or around $806 per year per weekday boarding. Central Link’s operating cost is about $50 million per year for 24,000 weekday boardings or about $2,083 per year per weekday boarding, or about 2.5 times as expensive as RapidRide E per boarding.

        So, Central Link’s capital cost is about 13.5 times as high as RapidRide E, and Central Link’s operating cost per boarding is about 2.5 times as high as RapidRide E.

        Proving once again that ST link light rail is stupidly expensive and is NOT SUSTAINABLE. We can not keep wasting this insane amount of money on little trains, when we could be putting a lot more people on transit by spending that money on buses, instead of trains.

      3. Link gives better service. Link runs every ten minutes, has the speed of an express bus (e.g., 7X), allows a greater choice of destinations in one line, and has more capacity than a single bus. Norman ignores all these and assumes Link gives exactly the same value as a local bus or RapidRide. Link is an improvement in the transit system, the beginning of a better quality transit system, and better quality costs more. We should still do it because improving the city for us and future generations is a good thing.

      4. Also, Central Link is just a small beginning in what will eventually be a line that goes from Lynnwood to S 200th, with a heck of a lot more ridership.

      5. Sheesh, people…don’t try to compare LINK to RapidRide E. LINK is building NEW rail, having to buy and demolish to create…RR E is going on the Aurora Bridge, which is already built and not having to be maintained by Sound Transit. Now, find some apples to compare to your apples, OK?

      6. I have to agree with Norman on this one. London, New York, Paris… I can’t even name all the cities that have figured out that it just makes more sense to buy buses than to build rail! Imagine how in debt those cities would be if they had invested their money in a subway system! Thank god their people are able to move about the city at ease in comfortable, economical buses that coexist peacefully with the rest of traffic.

    1. The E line will cost significantly less, of course, but we’ve already been over why that is an apples to oranges comparison. The BAT lanes will help the E line’s reliability but it’ll hardly be close to that of Link’s. Now, if we spent a few hundred million more on dedicated lanes and more light queue jumps, the two would get closer in speed and reliability….

    2. The 358 now runs at about 12-13 miles per hour (10.6 from 145th and Aurora to 5th and Jackson). Assuming that Rapid ride gets the 25-30% speed improvements that they are hoping for that would be about 16 mph. Link moves you at about 22 mph from Westlake to Seatac.

      1. How far apart are the stations on RapidRide E compared to Central Link? Will RapidRide E have exclusively offboard payment, like Link (cheap to implement, saves a lot of time)?

  7. Since I drive Aurora southbound from Greenwood/Phinney twice daily (my wife and I are technically a 2 person commute, even though to different destinations) I have appreciated the speedier less dense traffic in the outside lane, since I exit at Mercer to Wall and thence to 5th to get downtown. This change will really adversely impact my commute time. I’d have preferred that it be a “diamond” 2 or more person lane. I may just move over to Dexter (despite the rude and obnoxious behavior of a non-trivial percentage of the bicyclists), or Interbay. Frankly, given the fact that the buses now use the right hand lane, and that there is rarely a backup (although sometimes it’s caused by their stops, of course) I don’t think making it bus only will improve the transit speeds. But I have always been a little suspicious of the math models used by traffic engineers, since I’m familiar with the sources of some of them.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. I also carpool along Aurora until the Seattle Center. There wasn’t a problem with using the right lane for buses and car travel. I don’t understand how this change is making overall transportation better in Seattle.

    2. Obviously maintaining capacity for private vehicles commuting downtown should be our region’s greatest transportation priority.

      Wait, actually, it’s the opposite. Too much capacity for private vehicles commuting downtown is screwing up the joint. But go ahead and drive elsewhere. Those of us on the 5 won’t miss you on Aurora.

    3. By “rude and obnoxious behavior” do you mean avoiding the traffic jams while riding in the separated bike facility? I ride this route every day and, with the exception of folks turning left or those maneuvering to avoid cars/construction vehicles blocking the lane, I never see cyclists outside of the bike lane interacting with traffic. What is this “rude and obnoxious behavior” you speak of?

      1. Zipping between lanes, running red lights, obscene words and gestures, slapping the sides of vehicles as they pass. . . Shall I go on?

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