Pike Street
SDOT Photo

Quietly and without much fanfare, two weekends ago Pike Street got a lot better for buses. In conjunction with the bus bulb extension completed a couple months ago at 6th/Pike, two weeks ago SDOT installed 24/7  bus lanes on Pike between 2nd Avenue and 7th Avenue. (Right turns will be permitted at 3rd, 5th, and 7th.)

The ultra-frequent eastbound Pike corridor, which handles up to 20 buses per hour mid-day and up to 50 per hour during the PM peak, should see a decent increase in speed and reliability. This will be a welcome improvement for the thousands of  long-suffering Capitol Hill and Madison Park residents accustomed to traveling Pike at less than walking speed on routes 10, 11, 43, 47, and 49. All-day route 522 and peak-only routes 301, 306, 308, and 312 will benefit too, despite their need to merge left after 6th Avenue to access the I-5 express lanes at 9th.

Of course, there are still significant sources of delay on Pike that this BAT lane will not improve, namely the 3rd/Pike layover spot and the lack of off-board payment. It is peculiar to build a bus-only lane from 2nd to 7th but retain a layover space at 3rd, forcing live-looping buses to enter the GP lane to detour around layover buses. Meanwhile,  buses can be delayed by up to 3 minutes per stop due to on-board payment, routinely missing multiple light cycles as a result. The combination of this new BAT lane and off-board payment would be the real game changer, but there are no current plans to add off-board payment on any non-RapidRide routes.

Still, many kudos to SDOT for this new lane.

71 Replies to “Pike Street Gets BAT Lanes”

  1. Let’s do the simple thing and forbid cash payments first [i.e. Orca only]. Then, and only then, if there are still significant delays because of one door boarding, we can look for alternatives [either readers at every door, or off board payment]. But it doesn’t make sense to make a huge capital investment, and incur huge ongoing costs (for revenue inspectors) until we’ve done everything we can with the infrastructure we have in place.

    1. Installing ORCA readers at the back door would be a real cheap investment to speed things up. We already have new trolleys coming and adding 2 more readers would be trivial considering the buses will already have the computers to power them. San Francisco already does this, so it IS doable. They’d also be effective at every stop whereas fixed infrastructure is only effective at the stops we put them at. Also, adding anything to the sidewalk will require power hookups, data connection, conduit, bolts, ongoing maintenance, etc.

      To solve the 1-person, 2-person, etc, get on at the front.

      1. Actually it’s not a cheap investment. Those readers are so expensive they didn’t even install them on a multi-million dollar streetcar line until they absolutely had to. They’re few and far between even in the DSTT.

      2. I’d love to see rear-door Orca readers on all the ETBs … although I really think the 40′ should have 3 doors and the 60′ ETBs should have 4 doors like in the rest of the world …

        regardless … Metro’s arguments against it have been the multi-zone fare issues … the driver can’t set the rear one … but this is not an issue on the ETB fleet

        so therefore I see two issues.

        1. fare evasion … would require FEOs unless the time savings outweighs money lost
        2. driver training … some of them are serious door nazis when it comes to shutting the rear door … they’ll close it on you as you try to enter/exit sometimes … so getting them to keep them open for people … and then making sure they pay is an issue

      3. The trouble with rear-door ORCA readers is that it’s very simple for people to stand near the back door, watch for FEOs, and then swipe before the FEO gets on the bus. Back-door standing could become the new-age transfer hoarding.

      4. The reader itself isn’t too bad (I have the cost in front of me). Most of the cost is the infrastructure required to power the reader. The bus already has most of that in place, therefore no pavement messing around is necessary.

        I’m more than ok with hiring a few FEO’s if it means minutes of savings on every route. Those minutes add up to savings as well. According to the Times’, fare evasion on RapidRide is around 2%, so it doesn’t sound like too big of an issue overall. And if they tap in the presence of a FEO, cool; it’s worth it to speed up the buses. Additionally, the presence of FEO’s might help clean up some of the trolley routes as well.

      5. people tapping in when they see an FEO … would be fine since the fare is the same no matter when you tap your card … of course if it makes the beep then it becomes obvious that someone was trying to cheat

      6. David, people who stand at the reader and tap when they see an FEO were going to evade the fare anyway. It’s just overhead.

      7. “Metro’s arguments against it have been the multi-zone fare issues … the driver can’t set the rear one”

        Eliminate multi-zone fares and the problem goes away. Charge $3 (or more) for routes with express segments more than 10 miles long, and $2.50 for all other routes including the E, 41, 150, 120, etc.

      8. Feo’s should be plain clothes. The orca readers at the rear doors would disable anytime bus is moving. Feo’s would check fares once bus moves. Problem solved.

      9. John, if you disable the Orca readers as soon as the bus starts moving, you either screw over legitimate riders or you force the bus to remain stopped until the driver believes everyone who will pay has done so.

  2. Couldn’t agree more with William A above. Let’s at least charge a premium to cash customers who are gumming up the works. That would invent more folks to get their ORCA pass. But better yet, at least in the DT corridor, have them purchase their ricket at kiosks or retailers prior to boarding.

    1. Swift did it smartly: use Parkeon meters to serve as ticket vending machines. Cheap, simple, remotely programmable, and self-contained. We’re also familiar with the machines as many of use have used them to pay for on-street parking.

      Yes! Incentive for ORCA users! $0.25 or $0.50 discount. Tons of other agencies do it. To really do things right, Metro should have sent out those 8 free ride tickets on an ORCA card to get them into the hands of nearly everyone in the region.

      1. Parkeon pay stations aren’t that cheap. Or particularly remotely programmable. You’re right that they work as TVMs, though (Seattle uses them for the SLUT).

    2. Just returned from London. On the Underground a cash ticket is £4.70, vs £2.20/2.80 (off peak/peak) for using a pre-paid Oyster Card.

      1. And TfL just stopped accepting cash for busses at all – before now they had a cashless zone, but now every one of their busses is cashless. You pay with an Oyster, RFID Bank Card, or buy a ticket from a vending machine. Easy.

      2. Whereas where I lived in West Yorkshire, not only do buses take cash, but the operators make change. SMH.

      3. Then the question becomes, where do people get an Oyster card if they don’t have one, never considered taking the bus until this moment, and aren’t near an Underground station? Do they have to know which chain stores sell them and where they are?

      4. Maybe TfL has more faith in Londoners to prepare for their journeys in advance.

      5. The underground goes virtually everywhere, so that part isn’t a problem.

        What is a problem though, is that the machines to add value to an Oyster Card have a lot of quirks. Many of them, you have to refill in £5 increments, it has to be cash, coins only (can’t just stick in a £5 bill), and no pennies accepted.

        It is absolute madness that you can’t just dump a pile of change (or bills, for that matter) into a machine, without pre-counting it, and having whatever value those coins are worth added to your card.

      6. I remember boarding the London Underground as being one of the more bizarre ticket buying experiences I have ever had. The machine doesn’t accept cards, only coins. The ATM only spits out large bills.

        So, it was wait in line at the airport ATM, then wait in line at the ticket booth to exchange the bills for coins (because, oddly enough, the ticket booth no longer sold tickets as the machine was supposed to do that, but they had to have someone there to make change for the ticket machine) then wait in line again at the ticket machine for actually buying the ticket.

        I’ve been told that this process has been vastly improved since I was last there.

        There was an article in the newspaper not too long ago that suggested that the credit card processing agencies are going to start making a serious push for banks and merchants to start using pin and chip credit cards like Europe does and move away from the magnetic strip cards. Maybe we will start to see some improved ticket buying methods available if that starts to happen.

  3. Seattle is planning to replace all its parking pay stations. Can the new machines be programmed to dispense bus tickets?

    1. This seems like a really good idea. Has anyone proposed this? It worked for the SLU streetcar.

    2. That is a really good idea! I believe the issue with them is they’re not re-programmable on the fly, so they can’t do dynamic parking. But Metro never changes its price, so that wouldn’t be an issue.

      Perhaps if they’re all owned by SDOT, and SDOT is doing tons of improvements for our bus network, they could include cut a bunch of red tape by doing the installation themselves as part of the improvements.

      1. The lifespan of a parking meter is about 7 years; so if we start proposing the idea now, we may be able to get it in place in about 14 years…

    3. When I discussed this with Kevin Desmond (a couple of years ago) the problem was that the coin chambers weren’t big enough to deal with the volume of bus tickets you’d sell if these things became really popular.

      1. If these things became really popular, then maybe it is time to have ticket vending machines?

  4. I don’t live in Capitol Hill anymore but unfortunately Pike was the most convenient (albeit still horrific) street to use for biking up the hill. Pine is much better but it can be difficult to get to where it becomes 2 ways. Are cyclists able to use the bus lane?

    1. Cyclists are using the BAT lane already, which is fine by me because they are going faster than the #$%^&ing SOVs up that gentle grade to and through the convention centre. This has taken 5 minutes off my commute home on the 11 for which I am grateful; I retire next week so the benefit for me will be fleeting.

    2. I hate being that guy, but from watching the cyclists chug up Pike, they frequently get in the way of full peak buses and can slow ’em down. As usual, we need a dedicated bike lane to separate bikes, buses, and SOVs.

      1. I agree with you. There needs to be a dedicated lane for cyclists. Pine needs to have a protected bike lane in both directions the entire way that connects it to Broadway. Even with the beautiful cycle-track on Broadway, I barely bike to Capitol Hill anymore because there simply is not a safe way to get there.

      2. Indeed we do. OR make Pine two-way transit/bikes/peds only from 1st to 15th avenues?

    3. I think a better solution for bicyclists on the Pike/Pine corridor is a two-way cycletrack on the south side of Pine.

      1. I’m quite uncomfortable with the idea of a 2-way bike lane on a hill. Maybe if it were a lot wider than a normal one? I have been using the new bus lanes for biking, but I generally try to stay out of the way of the buses. Not that hard when they take 3+ minutes to load.

      2. A cycletrack down Pike/Pine is a recipe for a bike/ped collision. I’ve had enough close calls being stopped in traffic with a bicyclists slipping between traffic at full speed downhill, hopping curbs, running red lights. Now giving them a dedicated lane may put pedestrians walking to/from/thru downtown at greater risk at a highspeed bicycle collision.

      3. Yes because that’s really a problem. Since when do Bikes kill thousands upon thousands of pedestrians a year like cars do? Discouraging biking only gives more road space to cars and more pedestrian fatalities.

      4. @Charlotte: How would building a decent bike facility on a major bike route make things worse exactly? By encouraging more decent, honest Americans to (cue horror music) turn into cyclists?

        Just about everywhere they’re built, better bike facilities result in better biking behavior.

      5. @CharlotteRoyal I and a friend were doing that down first the other day. We weren’t going anywhere. We were just having fun. Now we didn’t end up racing down first on accident. We know that downhill cycling in intense car traffic gives an unbelievable adrenaline rush (some car driver got pissed and was shouting and tried to catch us. Even after we lost him I had to pedal to keep my legs from shaking). Obviously I and my friend wouldn’t be doing that in a cycle track. The cycle track isn’t for junkies like us, it’s for the reasonable cyclist majority and for the even larger number of people who would cycle if not for the fear of getting crunched in a steel sandwich. But even for the thrill seekers like I, cycling in a calm place has a psychological effect causing us to be calm and bike calm.

        @Mike B Yeah, I try not to be that cyclist.

  5. umm … as a FREQUENT rider of the 10/11/43/47/49 … I can say that after 4th ave, good bus drivers NEVER use the curb lane because of all the SOVs, taxis, etc trying to turn right onto 5th, 6th, etc … they use the center lanes.

    And as for the layover space between 2nd and 3rd … this is not an issue since 99.99% of the buses turn left onto Pike off of 2nd Ave … either to stop at the layover space or to pass it and go right to the 4th ave bus stop.

    1. Yup. It’s one of innumerable places in town where adaptive driving beats “what the paint says” any day of the week.

    2. What bothers me is that Metro changed the 10/11/43/47/49 to not stop at 6th Avenue eastbound, but they still inevitably get caught behind the 6th Avenue traffic light every time.

    3. @Gordon — That argues for more traffic changes. Are cars slow when it comes to taking that right, or are there just too many of them? If they are slow, and if it is because of pedestrian traffic, then maybe a change is in order. Treat the street like 1st and Pike, with a cycle just for pedestrians. Then, when a car needs to turn right, they have the green arrow. They might be overkill (and unnecessary) but I wonder if that approach, along with simply banning turns on some streets might help the situation. Then again, it might make it worse (which is why traffic engineers make the big bucks).

      1. I’d rather the pedestrians be put before drivers. The parking garages make it bad enough already. Banning turns at problematic intersections would be a step (ha!) in the right direction.

      2. Yeah, I suggested that, but it was buried in my comments (“banning turns on certain intersections”). I think you could do that on some streets, but not all of them. I think a mix of “no turn” and “turn only when no pedestrians want to cross” might work well. Again, I’m not sure if it would necessarily help the situation, though.

  6. Bus-only lanes not clogged with a dozen parked cars? Priceless.

    Has anyone done the math on what it is costing taxpayers every day to run extra RapidRide buses during peak, since they have to use general-traffic lanes in the counter-peak direction? Some other routes that follow portions of these same streets also incur an operational cost.

    Divide that cost by the number of cars actually parking in the lane, and make that the price for using that parking spot.

  7. What about pay away from downtown with all-door boarding downtown? Oh, darn, we had that and somebody was worried about the 2-3% of fare evaders who just jump off.

    1. There is no reason pay-as-you-board needs to be nearly as slow as it is in this city. San Francisco manages it fine. New York manages it fine.

      Don’t hold up the “Pay As You Shove To The Exit” canard as a solution.

      1. Exactly. Pay-as-you-exit was setup to keep traffic moving for cars downtown. It doesn’t make the trip faster for bus riders at all.

      2. What are the reasons why the boarding is so slow? TriMet sells lots of cash tickets too, so it isn’t as if the laws of gravity are different here than in Seattle. Three light cycles for everyone to board?

        The only thing I have been able to come up with is that TriMet doesn’t use cards of any type, but simple printed tickets or passes. This means multiple bus riders can pass someone in the front door by simply showing the driver the pass as they walk past the person paying cash. Sometimes here riders will be asked to pay their fare at the next traffic light if they are doing a bunch of digging for coins. A lot of people seem to use the day tickets so the cash payment happens in the morning only for those passengers.

        What else is going on?

      3. My guess it that the three light cycle part is an exaggeration, but I do think printed tickets or passes that are shown are even faster than swiped (or tapped) cards, especially when mixed with cash fumbling riders. The fare box is right next to the ORCA tap area, and I don’t know how many people can easily “get around” a struggling rider. My guess is that people are used to tapping errors, so they simply wait their turn. On the other hand, those with transfers are used to just “show and go”, so they get around the group quickly.

        Compounding the problem is that most riders who use change now days are not experienced riders, so they don’t understand the etiquette. If you get on a bus and go “Oops, sorry, I though it was $2.25, I have another quarter here, keep going, I’ll find it”, then step to the side so the driver can pull away from the curb (with full visibility) and others can get by, then everything runs pretty smoothly. But if the rider just stands there, blocking everything (which is more common) then that puts the driver in a tough position. He or she has to explain to the rider that the bus will continue moving (or other riders will exit or enter) but that fare is still required. By the time the explanation comes, the rider has found the money anyway, and the bus can start moving. But multiply that confusion at every stop and you are talking minutes of wasted time.

      4. Haven’t headed up Pike between 4pm and 8pm in a while, have you?

        Not an exaggeration.

        Frankly, it wasn’t any better when the Free Ride Area existed. Some drivers really need to learn when and where to flatly, heartlessly disallow stragglers from “catching” them as yet another light changes.

      5. Not just a Seattle problem. I’ve seen three-cycle boarding delays in Chicago (most memorably as the result of a single passenger arguing with the driver on the Blue Island bus) and SF (the number of times Muni has completely failed for me as a percentage of times I’ve tried to use it is shocking) as well as Seattle.

      6. Most definitely not an exaggeration. And not just during peak: regularly happens on nice Saturday afternoons, as well.

      7. I suppose on of the problems you have is the sheer number of buses that aren’t low floor. TriMet isn’t 100% there yet, but those have made a huge impact on the busiest routes.

        Even in the depths of the cost cutting in the recession, they continued to buy those as possible (my closest route was slowly converted to 100% low floor from only having them occasionally, from 2009 to 2013). TriMet apparently felt that each low floor they added saved enough in operations to be worth the continued investment.

      8. We don’t have that many high-floors left. Unfortunately, about half of the remaining high-floors consist of the entire trolley fleet, which are the buses that serve the busiest and slowest routes and load the highest number of passengers with mobility impairments. They will be gone by the end of 2016, and the remaining diesel high-floors (which are almost all on suburban service) should disappear not too long thereafter.

    2. Pay-as-you-leave was also persistently confusing to people. Especially when it changed depending on the time of day.

      1. … or even the bus. I used to catch the 73 or 373 (whichever came first) from the U-District to the north end. The 73 came from downtown, so you pay when you leave. Not so with the 373. I would usually get it right while boarding, but sometimes I would try and leave from the backdoor on the 73, only to be told “fare please” by the driver. Things are much better now (and I don’t have to look like an idiot quite as often).

      2. My favorite was the westbound 44 during the evening rush. You had no idea whether an individual bus began in the U District or as a 43 coming from downtown, so you _had_ to board at the front regardless of whatever fare rules were in play. And hopefully your driver remembered to change their fare sign!

        Good riddance to the ride-free area.

      3. Kyle –

        The westbound 44 was always Pay as you Leave during the hours the Ride Free Area was in operation. Always. No matter if it came from downtown as a 43 or started at the UW Med Ctr terminal, it was always Pay as you Leave.

        There should never have been any confusion. No one should have collected fares as you entered.

        On the other hand, whether the operator would open the rear doors to load (after any disembarking passengers had made their way to the front to line up and pay) was entirely at the operator’s discretion.

  8. It would be great if similar improvements were added to other east-west corridors from downtown. Including routes 2, 3, 4, 12, etc. I can only jealously imagine the travel time savings.

  9. For riders who exit at one of the three stops between Belmont and 10th, I hope Link will become the preferred option starting in 2016. If so, this should improve the quality of service for riders who need to go beyond Broadway. The biggest factor degrading evening rush service, especially for 10, is the large number of riders who simply want to go to Broadway. Once past Broadway, service on the 10 and 11 improves noticeably.

  10. As has been said, this is good but it’s not going to speed things up dramatically. Going up the 10/11/49 or 578 almost all of the delays are from people who are new to transit and haven’t figured out how cash fares work. So they are constantly fumbling for that last quarter. One way to deal with this. Make it an ORCA/Printed Ticket only system. Get every 7/11, short-stop, and grocery to carry them next to the stamps. No fussy TVM’s that need work and emptying/stocking. No change fumbling. Just fast boarding. Ticket in the box or tap your card.

    SIDE NOTE: I watched a very confused man literally “tap” his card the other day. Getting a constant stream of errors until someone showed him the proper, “hold until it beeps” method of ORCA-ing. Similar to the people, who don’t look when using the Sounder readers, and are constantly out of sync, Starting their trips at the reader in the evening, and canceling that trip in the morning…

  11. With a very active enforcement program coupled with the contrast colored pavement paint options recently discussed on this blog, BAT won’t improve much.

    Every single day at 5th and Battery and beyond the bus lanes fill up – it just takes 1 car per cycle at which point everyone else pulls into the lanes. Ride the Ducks uses the BAT lanes by default (not sure if they are considered a ‘bus’ in the lane designation context).

    It would be great if there was a way to take advantage of all the smartphone-wielding people sitting at the bus stops: an iOS and Android app that let you report violators via photo sure would be fun, innovative, and forward-thinking… if city ordinence could then allow sharing BAT violation proceeds with app users, I imagine we’d have an army of people enforcing these lanes all day long!

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