Photo by the Author
Photo by the Author

As a concession to the various free on-street parking interests, many of Seattle’s Business Access and Transit (BAT) lanes only operate in the peak direction during rush hour. Unfortunately, the peak direction is defined by the downtown core, which is a mere subset of where the jobs are.

Witness the photo above, the situation in the evening going South on Elliott Avenue. The 24 is going in the “off-peak” direction and is therefore unworthy of adequate priority treatments. Traffic stopped at the light, combined with a handful of cars allowed to park in the right lane, mean that the bus has to wait until the light changes to come up and serve the passengers. Inevitably, this will take the entire light cycle and the bus will have to wait for another red light.

The dozen or so parked cars in the picture, allowed to use these spaces and saving their drivers perhaps a few minutes of walking, add to similar delays for substantially more people at this stop, and on this bus trip, alone. Multiplied over the many trips in the afternoon peak, the misallocation of space is staggering.

Within Central Seattle, the idea of “peak” and “contra-peak” directions is obsolete. Jobs are scattered everywhere in the triangle formed by Lower Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, and Sodo, and many cars and buses  there have to travel back into downtown to get to where they’re going. It’s time to abolish these distinctions and make sure buses can operate reliably.

66 Replies to “Full-time Bus Lanes, Please”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly but I also think that Metro will be operating a fleet of driverless buses before this happens.

    1. I agree too, but I think that sound transit will have built link to Alaska before this happens.

  2. Larry Phillips
    Council District 4
    516 Third Ave., Rm. 1200
    Seattle, WA 98104
    Phone: 206-477-1004
    Toll Free: 800-325-6165
    TTY/TDD: 206-296-1024
    Fax: 206-296-0198

    A few months ago, unusually heavy traffic in a usually congested place, southbound 9th between Westlake and 9th, I got off in inbound Route 40 to start walking toward Downtown. The bus I’d been riding on came past me 20 minutes later.

    A later conversation with another Route 40 driver- I counted four in the line behind mine- described an hour-long delay at that location. As I got off my bus, I counted the number of parked cars between Westlake and Mercer. Five.

    If a bus-only lane has not yet been installed there, regular Route 4 riders need to contact above name and address. This Councilman is friendly to transit. Passengers with councilmembers of same or different opinions- above info is available online.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I sent Councilmember Phillips an email after then Rapid Ride survey came out, showing satisfaction. I asked for signal priority throughout the D line route, and dedicated lanes throughout the same. I perceive some of these issues to be political, but he forwarded my email to Kevin Desmond. At this point, I’m not certain of the divide between what requires council action, and what can be done by Metro on its own.

      I’m sure giving dedicated lanes would require city action, right? And for that, should we be pushing SDOT? Or the council?

      1. Here’s one way to be sure your council member understands who you think is supposed to decide upon and initiate action on your observation: communicate again, immediately, with cc to the County Executive, and if problem persists, a media contact of your choice. The closer to Election Day, the better.

        You might also remind you council rep- especially if as often happens with public officials, policemen, and judges they weren’t born yet- that twenty years ago the voter of King County decided that King County and previously- independent Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle should merge into a single agency. Which resulted in one of them essentially taking over the other.

        Prevailing agency made a key campaign issue out of the fact that its victory would assure that directly-elected representatives would run the transit system to a greater extent than under the other agency. What’s voter’s recourse if a directly elected official keeps passing along the duties that a popular vote assigned him?

        In a phrase unknown twenty years ago: Just askin….


    2. The delay on the 40 and the 26/28 at both Mercer and Denny in the afternoon is just horrible.

      Unfortunately there is a vocal,subset of the public who perceives any reduction of space for private automobiles be it for bike lanes or bus lanes or anything that delays private automobiles such as bus bulbs and signal priority as part of the “war on cars”

      I’m not sure how popular this POV actually is but when combined with neighborhood merchant associations clearly the council and city is afraid of angering them too much.

      That said there are clearly many cases where the benefit of bus lanes outweighs the loss of parking. Especially in places where the parking is very lightly used.

      1. Aurora is full of sections where outside of rush hour, cars are allowed to park in the bus lane. The parking there is extremely lightly used, to the tune of about 1-2 parked cars per block.

        Unfortunately, a single parked car is all it takes to make the bus merge with the traffic to get around it.

  3. In a more likely short term solution, get rid of peak direction for bus lanes and just establish “peak” as 7-9 AM and 3-7 PM, regardless of direction. They do it on some of the no peak parking lanes.

    1. Better peak hours? All 24, except with midnight to five- same problematic hours as in Ferguson Missouri, grenades, tear gas and all- priority to street sweepers and garbage trucks. Would also be good if as many commercial deliveries as possible happen then too.

      Meantime, measure that would take zero capital or personnel expense would be to put every single arterial traffic light in the county to green or flashing yellow, and every cross street to flashing red. Would save a fortune in brake and engine maintenance and service hours.

      And medical cost of strokes and heart attacks among passengers compelled to wait aboard a stopped bus with no traffic within ten miles. Rapid ride with max speed for no expense. Even Tim Eyman would go along with that- he might even steal the idea. Would be worth it to pay him his usual wage to get this one.


  4. Madison St is another street where they need to do away with parking from 6th ave all the way to at least 15th ave … curb lanes should be bus / right turn only 24/7

  5. I just want to make sure I understand what this post is asking for. So on any road that a bus travels within the city, all on-street parking is outlawed 24 hours a day?

    1. No. Only on streets where a bus line would benefit from having priority.

      The question is whether a few “free” parking spaces are more of a benefit than reliable bus service on these corridors. The cars can generally park on a side street nearby, but the bus can’t take another route.

  6. My last few southbound rides on the E Line in the afternoon have been tight experiences. The time these buses spent limping along in and out of general traffic could have freed up a bus to decrease the headway a few minutes, and add one more peak-direction run on that freed-up bus.

    These few cars aren’t just impacting one or two buses. They are impacting every rider on that line, taking as much time out of the lives of thousands of riders as they are saving for these dozen drivers.

    But don’t get bus rage. The drivers aren’t doing anything wrong, per se. They are following the law. The law is wasting a few minutes each day of thousands of riders’ time, plus wasting every other taxpayer’s money, to benefit a dozen car parkers who are probably oblivious to their extreme negative impact (on both buses and the thousands of drivers in the other two lanes).

    BTW, the entity running those BAT lanes is SDOT, and the body deciding to make them BAT lanes instead of bus lanes is the Seattle City Council.

    1. The issue with the lanes you mention isn’t so much that they are BAT lanes (which means cars can use them for turning movements rather than being transit exclusive) but that they are part-time and parking is allowed in the non-peak direction.

      Making the lanes full-time would solve most of the problem without having to make the lanes transit-only.

    2. The “Don’t steal our lanes Metro” crowd apparently has either won a concession from the city or has illegally blocked out the afternoon restriction on all of the signs southbound from 41st to 38th. When traffic is backed up north of the pedestrian overpass at 41st, buses are delayed 1-2 minutes along that stretch. 1 minute x 40-80 passengers x 4-6 buses equals significant delays bus passengers for an average of ~12 drivers parked there. (Who likely could find parking on nearby streets. Hey, walking is good for you!)

      Another gripe: There is a very lightly used parking area in the BAT lane on southbound Elliott that often forces all buses to merge into general traffic immediately before going back into the BAT lane to service the stop at Elliott & Prospect. The bus passenger inconvenience to street parking benefit ratio for these one or two spots is very high…

      1. From the looks of SDOT’s page, the sign was improperly changed. Why do people think that this is reasonable to pull? And if someone is in the BAT lane during the hours when they’re not allowed to use it, is that still a ticket to the driver?

    3. My frustration with part of the RR-E BAT lane through Seattle isn’t necessarily the BAT lane hours as it is the pedestrian projects adjacent to the bat lane that forces the RR-E to become “not-so rapid” by forcing the bus to merge into general purpose traffic.

      Rather than have the BAT lane closed during the operation of the RR-E service, these ped improvements should have been during the 358-days (pre-Feb 2014). Back then, cars were allowed to park in the right lane for much of the day on most of the segments. Now, the RR-E is frequently delayed. I often see the NB buses delayed 12-14 minutes to N 160th St during afternoon peaks.

  7. This is my exact rebuttal to the anti rail/add more buses crowd. The concept of exclusive ROW and how much value it adds to the transit experience is completely lost on them.

    1. The sad truth is it’s more politically feasable to get more buses or even an underground rail line compared to giving up street parking. That’s why you see more of the former and less of the latter. And the obvious alternative — just make 24 hour BAT lanes — effectively means leave the buses crawling if it has little chance of success. Which is exactly what has happened the past thirty years.

      But good counterexamples are in Shoreline, Des Moines, Federal Way, and Snohomish County, where they have installed full 24 hour BAT lanes for their RapidRide A, E, and Swift. The problem in Seattle is that certain streets bog down peak hours, including Aurora, 15th NW, 45th, and Eastlake, yet the city has not seen fit to add full two-way transit lanes on these.

  8. You talk about wasteful parking garages, but using up a whole lane for a few parked cars? And maybe two one on each side. Add in delays for backing into the parking lane and you are maybe using up four lanes in total on some streets!

    Completely ridiculous that on street parking on any artery is not banned entirely for all hours of the day!

  9. Yes. All day BAT lanes on core routes. Also, it’s embarrassing that the city has not started to install the technology to give Bus’s signal priority… And full off board payment for core routes.

    1. If only SDOT and WSDOT would measure signal priority based on the number of people in the vehicles, rather than on the number of vehicles themselves.

      1. Don’t forget to include counting the number of people outside of vehicles, as in pedestrians at busy intersections in the central district.

      2. At the current time, Seattle is in the process of implementing adaptive signal timing. WSDOT has been installing adaptive signal technology along SR 522 from NE 145th to the Wayne Curve (96th Ave NE). Bellevue and Redmond have been using adaptive signals for a while.

        I never hear this concept brought up here. All I hear on STB is, “TSP, TSP, TSP!” There is more to the world of signals than transit signal priority. All that does is increase the signal cycle length and further increase delay for all.

  10. The priority corridors in the TMP should get bus bulbs, signal priority, and BAT lanes where possible.

    For corridors like 45th removing parking for bus lanes is bound to piss a lot of people (especially local merchants) off. But something needs to be done to keep buses moving.

    Paint and even bus bulbs and TSP are cheap compared to the lost service hours and delay to transit riders.

    1. Surely the city can arrange an inexpensive off-street parking lot to replace those spaces around the Wallingford businesses.

      1. Wallingford already has a lot of surface parking just off 45th. Currently it’s mostly lots for customers and employees of a single business, in typical suburban style, or sometimes for a group of businesses like that mall that’s in the old school building.

        If there were less free street parking available property owners would be more likely to convert lots to paid public lots with validation for businesses that pay for that, like some in the U District. Not one new off-street space is needed.

      2. Validation might work. By “inexpensive” I meant in the $1 range. Many people avoid the paid lots because they cost more than that.

  11. Unfortunately, the peak direction is defined by the downtown core, which is a mere subset of where the jobs are.

    Obviously the jobs are a subset, but even the whole is a subset of itself. So that means nothing.

    In reality, a quick scan of the literature shows that more than half the jobs in Seattle are in the downtown area:

    And nearly 80% of the jobs in the triangle you spoke of are in the downtown core. The data doesn’t really agree with you here.
    With another 15% in the UD. So

    1. Moreover, and I think this is really important, peak direction commutes to the downtown core is just about the only travel pattern in which public transit enjoys even a double digit mode share.

    2. I’m not sure why you’re pitting downtown jobs against those right outside the core. My suggestion would in fact enhance reliability of buses serving downtown jobs!

      Over 20% of the jobs is a lot of the jobs.

      1. Your comment:

        I’m not sure why you’re pitting downtown jobs against those right outside the core.

        Your post

        Unfortunately, the peak direction is defined by the downtown core, which is a mere subset of where the jobs are.

        Within Central Seattle, the idea of “peak” and “contra-peak” directions is obsolete.

        The original contrast was from you here, obviously. If “pitting” means “contrasting” I am just colouring the contrast correctly.

        Bus lanes are needed in many places even without parking. Take a bus down denny and it’s fairly obvious. Doesn’t have anything to do with “peak” or “not peak”.

      2. Reverse commuting isn’t uniform everywhere. It’s heavily to the Eastside and north Seattle, and smaller bursts to Boeing Everett and Boeing Renton. Reverse commutes to other areas exist and should have a transit alternative (at least to suburban commercial centers, not necessarily to isolated office parks), but they’re only a trickle compared to the general ridership flow.

      3. It’s heavily to the Eastside and north Seattle

        I think this is true from a car-standpoint, but not as much from a bus standpoint. The Seattle-Eastside commute is (or at least was a couple of years ago) less than the Eastside-Seattle commute. It’s just there tends to be more parking going to the eastside compared to the city, so there’s more car traffic going the other way.

        I don’t know as much about the North Seattle commute, but its easy to see around Northgate there’s a lot more parking than the UW, and even the UD has more parking than downtown.

    3. There are a LOT of transit users who work in the newer office buildings along Elliott W who are seriously inconvenienced by parking in the BAT-lane-that-isn’t during peak hours. There probably would be quite a few more riders (were there room on the 24 and 33 for them) if not for the major hits to transit reliability and timing caused by that handful of parked cars. As Elliott is far from fully developed, there will likely be even more transit-rider candidates presently.

      Ameliorating the Upper Belltown Transit Tangle would also help, though probably not quite as much.

      If these folks don’t work “downtown”, they are mighty close to it.

      1. The beauty of the parking on southbound Elliott is that if you start work at 9:00, you can claim a free parking spot all-day long since there is no time limit for those spots (other than the AM peak restriction). That way you avoiding paying for parking in the new office buildings–even though there is plenty of parking available in those buildings and/or nearby lots. 2-hour parking would be a better use of this curb space, and all-day bus lanes would be the best use of the space.

  12. Don’t get me wrong, I love bus only lanes… But I have one major issue with them. There is no enforcement. I look at the U-District where I usually drive, and I notice cars trying to turn west onto 45th from 15th (even though there is that painfully bright light up sign I can see from Campus Parkway that says no turn)… Plus on Pacific from the hospital heading to Montlake Blvd, where I commonly see a few cars who notice the open lane of travel and take it (even though it says bus only).. Added into that is the cars from the left 2 lanes on that turn who see the right green light and run their red lights on the bus priority signal.

    Then there is also 3rd Ave, which gets its fair share of cars who can’t, or won’t, read the signs that mark it as bus only… And I have only seen police on there maybe a handful of times during the years I drove through the CBD. I love the concept, it works great, but there needs to be enforcement as many drivers refuse to fallow the markings.

    1. Yeah. Enforcement is an issue. Go watch Battery Street any afternoon around 5:00, and you’ll see a bus lane that’s 75%+ cars. People seem to have figured out that they can get away with driving in it with little/no risk of a ticket.

      1. Cameras on the front of the buses; mail ’em a ticket. It works like a charm in San Francisco.

    2. I work downtown, and I see cops writing tickets to 3rd Ave violators on a daily basis. They are pretty ruthless during the posted hours.

  13. It isn’t widely known here but the term “BAT lanes” is pretty much a local Seattle term. It was mainly invented to make bus-only lanes to be more politically acceptable, but it leaves the impression that they have two primary functions. The first thing that transit advocates should do is to ask for “transit lanes” as make it clear that bus use is their primary function. Then, the local cities can look at how best to design around this — like allowing for right turns or driveway breaks or whatever. And certainly they should be clear from any on-street parking in them – and if absolutely necessary there should be replacement side street or off-street parking as a way to eliminate parking in them.

    1. BAT lanes allow transit and one-block right turns. I haven’t seen right turns being numerous enough to block transit, so i don’t see a problem with BAT lanes. There’s the issue of people illegally driving more than one block, but I haven’t seen much of that either, just one car here or there, not enough to block buses.

      On-street parking are incompatible with BAT lanes, so that means the BAT lanes are only part time.

      1. Matt,

        BAT lanes work reasonably well out in the neighborhoods where right turns are not blocked by pedestrians. They are a mess in the CBD or other high-pedestrian areas like the U-District.

    2. I’m fine with the fight-turn access. I’m merely saying that we should be using a different term. The term BAT actually suggests that businesses come before transit operations! Right turns are often not for “business” and other cities all over the US that have transit lanes that allow right turns and still call them transit lanes or transit-only lanes.

      The “business” issue is probably more associated with delivery trucks.

      I we must have a different term than “transit lanes”, I cautious propose calling them Transit and Right Turn or “TART” lanes for clarity’s sake.

      1. Not to self: My tablet keyboard is dropping letters!
        “fight-turn” should be “right-turn”
        “I we” should be “If we”
        “cautious” should be “cautiously”

      2. Well, TAB lanes then. The “business” part is that these are mostly on commercial streets, so it’s mostly cars going into a business.

  14. Another good spot would be 5 Av N between Denny and Mercer (routes 3 and 4). Northbound in particular, there’s a peak hour backup with lots of cars intending to turn right (west) onto Mercer, so most of the operators stop in the middle lane and stand in the right lane so that cars won’t run over the next driver. My understanding is that this technically against policy, but drivers who actually get into the right lane are basically wasting 20 minutes.

    One possible configuration would be to move the right-turners to the middle of the three lanes, give them a no-right-on-red sign, and then give the now-rightmost bus lane a signal of its own.

    It’s a frequent bike corridor, so they would like it too. The hard part is that lots of cars are going to try to ignore the signal, because most people are too stupid to read no-right-on-red signs.

  15. Lordy! Martin, look at all the troll food your admonition gave rise to! Feed the hippopotamus at Woodland Park that much and there’ll be chunks of him raining down on Moses Lake for days. Also wherever Sam lives. With a noise only the late Don Martin could create with exactly that definition.

    Really cruel to even talk about, but there’s an urban legend about mean little country boys- who always had Davy Crockett hats stuffing some poor raccoon’s treat with a lit firecracker. Horrible to do to a poor animal, let alone trolls.

    But Norse mythology contains a foolproof cure. If a troll loses track of time, like from the gold watch he stole from a human he just ate stops ticking- sunrise immediately turns him into a huge rock. Real source of a lot of rocks falling on highways in Norway.

    So huge amount of “rip rap” costs for large transit projects could be saved by luring the creatures, like with a trail of human body parts, with distance calculated to end at the top of a cliff at sunrise. High enough cliff and you won’t need any gelatin, caps, or fuses.


  16. I would also like to nominate the section of westbound Pacific St. in the U-district, between Montlake and Pacific Place for a bus lane. The nearside stop at Pacific Place, combined with the short block means that a single car waiting for a red light means the bus must either wait an extra signal cycle before opening its doors or open only the front door (because the back door would be sticking out into the right-turn lane).

    Furthermore, there are so many buses going down Pacific St., especially during the peak hours, that whatever vehicular capacity you gain by allowing two lanes of traffic is an illusion anyway – drivers in the right lane always end up stuck behind buses, and therefore have to merge with the left lane to pass anyway.

  17. So I would like to put something on the table for 45th and 50th; they should be changed to one way only, this would allow a dedicated bus only for each, and parking on only one side of the street. Or course, this is may change highway behavior; but if you think about it, it’s only 1 exit, that splits into 2.

    1. Of course dedicated cycle track + door buffer Most of this way is 5 lanes = 1 bus only + 1 bicycle & buffer + 1 parking (that should protect the cyclist) + 2 for private cars (which is the same amount of now)

    2. Angela,

      As rational an idea as this is, the Wallingford neighborhood would freak out because of the cross-traffic between 50th and 45th accessing businesses on 45th. Someone coming from the U-district who would normally drive on 45th to the Guild (for instance) would have to go on 50th and turn south on Meridian. Granting that Meridian is already an arterial, that’s not so bad, but someone returning to Ballard from the theater would have to go north on Bagley or Corliss. And if the driver from the U-district had been going to Dick’s, she or he would have used Sunnyside or Eastern.

      I’m not saying this is a show-stopper; it’s a good idea. But it’ll raise loads of local ire.

  18. Though the cost of on-street parking on busy streets is apparent to riders (and drivers too), it might make the argument more concrete to put a price tag on it, in a way that can be compared with the benefit to parkers and business owners. When a council member has in mind a business on Elliott that will be harmed, that’s pretty concrete, and an answer that says “x,000 commuter hours per day are wasted on lines 18,19,24 and 33 and by car commuters because of this issue” would make it less abstract.

    I’ll put it in my queue of work, but if someone else wants to take a stab….

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