There seems to be wide agreement that enhanced bus service on Madison Street between the waterfront and at least 23rd Avenue would be a great asset for the city.

The debate here on STB seems to be whether to move forward with dedicated, center-running lanes and median platforms, or bus/right-turn only lanes on the outsides of Madison with platforms constructed on current sidewalks. This center vs side debate exists in part because, though center-running lanes provide protection from right turns (leading to improved travel times and reliability) and afford greater visibility, the current center-running configuration seems to necessitate buses with left-side doors, precluding open BRT as the rest of the Metro fleet does not have doors on both sides. So the center-running vs side-running discussion has really become a discussion about closed vs open BRT.

As it turns out, no operational compromise is necessary to achieve open and center-running BRT on Madison. Below I explore two options (one of which SDOT seems to be considering but doesn’t get much attention) that are compatible with the center-running and open BRT concept.

Option 1: Center-running contraflow lanes

What if we could have all the benefits of center-running bus lanes and joint median platforms while allowing multiple routes to make use of different segments of the Madison BRT infrastructure?

Madison Street center-running BRT mockup

One way this is possible is to have contra-flow, center-running bus lanes that allow buses with right side doors to drop off and pick up passengers at a median platforms. With this arrangement, there is no need to purchase buses with left side doors or exclude other buses that might travel down Madison—like a Broadway to Madison route 49—from using the infrastructure. Center-running contraflow lanes would allow us to retain future operational flexibility while still building what is necessary for a premium BRT the length of Madison.

This center-running contraflow concept creates a few complications:

  1. intersections at which non-Madison buses turn onto Madison Street to access the BRT infrastructure would likely become more confusing;
  2. crossing Madison anywhere but at signalized intersections would become a bigger gamble as pedestrians would have to account for traffic going a different direction in each of the lanes across Madison;
  3. if a coach is disabled in the BRT right of way, going around the immobile bus might involve pulling out of the dedicated lane into an oncoming lane of bus or general traffic.

Madison BRT single-phase turning movements

The first concern can largely be handled with clever signal timing and transit priority; using the Broadway/Madison example visualized above, turns onto Madison would require no special signal treatments, while turns from Madison would require separate turn phases for buses and general traffic.

The pedestrian crossing concern can be addressed with bulb-outs, pedestrian-activated crossing beacons, and median pedestrian refuges, where possible—all measures in support of the project’s commitment to “enhance walking conditions”.

In the instance of a disabled bus in the BRT right of way, in-service coaches could pull around the immobile bus using the opposing transit-only lane.

SDOT says they eliminated this option early in the process because the added signal complexity lengthened the light cycle and negated much of the time advantage.

Option 2: Center-running split platforms

Another way to achieve center-running open BRT is by splitting the stop into a pair of far-side platforms, a concept SDOT created graphics for. Yet looking at SDOT’s simplified options (center or side?), it’s not immediately clear this one is on the table.

Madison BRT center-running split platform concept

You maintain a similar footprint as median platforms, reap the level of service benefits of center-running buses while avoiding some of the confusion of contraflow lanes.

A couple of challenges:

  1. constructing twice as many platforms on hilly Madison through downtown would double the substantial accessibility task SDOT has set before itself;
  2. with stations split across an intersection, non-Madison buses accessing the infrastructure at an intersection with a stop (like the earlier Madison & Broadway example) would miss one of the platforms when turning off of the BRT alignment—the solution here could be shifting the offset platforms to mid block.

SDOT says this option is still alive, but they are not keen on it for reasons that are unclear.

No compromise necessary, really

The center-running-and-closed BRT vs side-running-and-open BRT dichotomy is a false one. There are certainly tradeoffs between the different arrangements. But in the case of Madison BRT, we don’t have to compromise on reliability or flexibility. Center-running contraflow lanes or a split platform arrangement would allow buses to enjoy the quicker and more reliable travel times that come with center lanes free of turning vehicles while enabling any bus route to access the infrastructure.

The discussion of concepts for Madison BRT could use a bit more nuance. Let’s hope SDOT recognizes this false tradeoff—that center-running must mean closed BRT—and continues to pursue and promote operationally flexible concepts.

61 Replies to “Center-running open BRT on Madison”

  1. Hmmm I’m beginning to realize the reason why SDOT prefers an “closed” BRT. Looking at the Taipei satellite photo again, notice the eastbound queue. The buses in the back will definitely have to stop more than a few times. It would have to absorb not only its own dwell time, but the dwell times of all the buses in front of it.

    1. Of course that would only happen if:

      1. If there were many other buses using the lanes (depends on service restructuring). Likely won’t be too big of a problem seeing as only the 2, 11, 12 and 60 run along this section of Madison.
      2. Metro doesn’t time the buses correctly and coordinate with the BRT to arrive at consistent intervals
      3. Other buses using the lane are late to arrive, leading to bunching along the BRT lane

    2. Right, but there are only a few routes it makes sense to run down any substantial length of Madison (an all-Madison route and a 49 route down Madison are the only ones I can think of). The other buses that are on Madison briefly (2, 60 etc.) can remain in the outside lanes. I find it unlikely individual bus lines will ever run at below 5 minute frequencies (seeing as every 15 minutes qualifies as frequent and only a few routes today touch every-five-minute-frequencies for any period of time e.g. the 550) so I don’t imagine queuing of this nature to be a problem.

  2. Right, but there are only a few routes it makes sense to run down any substantial length of Madison (an all-Madison route and a 49 route down Madison are the only ones I can think of). The other buses that are on Madison briefly (2, 60 etc.) can remain in the outside lanes. I find it unlikely individual bus lines will ever run at below 5 minute frequencies (seeing as every 15 minutes qualifies as frequent and only a few routes today touch every-five-minute-frequencies for any period of time e.g. the 550) so I don’t imagine queuing of this nature to be a problem.

    1. Actually, running the 2 down Madison between 3rd and Union would make a lot of sense, so you could have three bus lines on western Madison. That doesn’t change your larger point, though.

      1. You’re right about the 2, I’m just speaking to the likelihood of getting that route moved to Madison given how well some members of the route 2 constituency organize.

  3. This is why they are studying right-door island platforms for the center lane option … so overlapping routes can share the stops as it would be mass confusion for people if some buses stopped in the center island and some on the curb.

    1. Good. Soon after moving to San Francisco, I almost missed the northbound 22-Fillmore at Church+Market because it stops in the outside lanes, whereas I was waiting on the island platform where the J stops.

    2. Gordon, are you suggesting all buses running on Madison should be in the center lanes or that local buses would weave between the general lanes and right-door island platforms to serve both the BRT alignment and its more frequent curb stops? Or just have all buses run down the middle?

  4. You can’t really address the pedestrian concerns of contraflow bus lanes with flashing beacons at non-signalized intersections — these still require pedestrians to look for traffic and make sure everyone has stopped before actually stepping out into a lane. That’s harder to do when traffic is coming from an unusual direction. Crossing at signalized intersections becomes more dangerous, too, because people actually do jaywalk (and rightfully so).

    Seattle and ST mostly manage to keep Link moving on MLK through signaling. But Madison presents some different challenges: it has a lot of intersections and doesn’t have a lot of space to create left-turn pockets in addition to bus lanes… it’s not easy to deal with left turns in this situation, regardless of whether the lanes are flowing normally or contraflow. If we require a different signal phase to get buses through than to get cars through straight on Madison (because the car phases are mixed with left arrows), and then another different phase for buses turning off of the busway (in a contraflow scenario), we’re going to create some big delays and backups for a lot of people; it will take serious discipline to ensure we don’t have backups in bus lanes. The northeastern bit of the SLU Streetcar and some sections of San Jose’s VTA Light Rail show that the job isn’t over when you build lanes in the center — the operational details of signaling are still important.

    1. (The other thing is that once you get into these really complicated signal cycles you know for sure it’s going to be a terrible pedestrian situation. SDOT can say they want to enhance both pedestrian conditions and transit times, but as the signal cycle gets more complicated these things are really in direct conflict. Hopefully we can simplify a lot of intersections by just not allowing left turns…)

      1. I could not agree more, and that’s why I think SDOT did the right thing to eliminate the contraflow option from consideration. On the surface, the split platform idea sounds like a good alternative.

      2. +100

        Please no push-button activated pedestrian signals. That just encourages jaywalking (which is not inherently dangerous, but it slows traffic down a lot).

        More phases would be unwelcome as well. Madison already has some bad pedestrian intersections (Broadway, 12th, and 14th come to mind). If we start having “right-green” phases as part of a “Vision Zero” strategy to separate vehicle and foot movements, pedestrians will wait even longer or get frustrated and jaywalk.

        Every bus rider is also a pedestrian. Speeding up buses but making it worse for pedestrians is counter-productive. Seattle is actually better than many cities for pedestrian-friendly street crossings (not many push-buttons, more and longer pedestrian phases, etc.). Let’s not make it worse.

    2. Is it unreasonable to expect operators to stop when pedestrian beacons are flashing? I don’t think so. So then you only have the general vehicle traffic to worry about and only a single lane in each direction as opposed to the two today. This also doesn’t speak to how infrequently there will be a bus in the bus-only lanes compared to the general lines. In situations where a pedestrian activated beacon won’t solve the problem, we can add island refuges as I suggested.

      I also think it’s reasonable to expect the number of left turns permitted on Madison to be curtailed with the installation of any center-running arrangement.

      My point was not to say that one option was better than another but to add to the discussion of what our options are and what flexibility they afford and limitations they have to deal with. Contraflow lanes is one way to achieve center-running open BRT but you have to take on some complexity to gain that flexibility. This complexity is more than SDOT is willing to deal with so option 1 probably won’t fly.

      (and yes! to the no left turns)

      1. A pedestrian crossing the street at a marked crosswalk or RRFB has to make like Reagan: trust, but verify. This is a little different from where I grew up — in the suburbs of Chicago there’s no “trust” involved, the cars ain’t stoppin’, you wait for a gap and go. Here there’s a complex social dance of passive aggression.

        Anyway, a normal traffic signal shows a yellow light through a caution phase, then red, and after red is showing, then the walk sign is given. The beacon just starts flashing. Can an operator be expected to stop a heavy bus from 30 MPH instantly? Of course not! I can’t even be expected to stop a bike from 15 MPH instantly! So there’s some amount of time you should wait after hitting the button before stepping out in the road, but how long is it? Lacking a clear idea, people watch the cars. If one of those cars is a bus, and it’s coming from the opposite direction… or if traffic is backed up and stopped in the normal travel lane a pedestrian might press the button, see that all the traffic is already stopped, and start walking immediately, not noticing that a bus is moving in the opposite direction.

        Also, if it looks clear, a pedestrian might not even activate the beacon. Law says drivers are still supposed to yield, after all, beacon or no, even when there’s no marking at all! Why bother warning non-existent drivers that you’re crossing the street? And the button might be a few steps out of the way, or the RRFB on the opposite side of a side-street intersection, and the pedestrian might be in a hurry. It would be easy to make a fatal misjudgment in this case, with a very large vehicle coming from the opposite direction you expect.

      2. (There are some places where banning left turns would be tough — at Madison/Broadway there’s no great alternative to a Broadway/Madison left. That said, even SF’s classic no-left-turn streets have exceptions, and the elimination of most lefts off of streets like Market and 19th Ave still looks like a win to me.)

  5. while the split platform option would require more platforms to be built …

    8th Ave would have the eastbound platform on 8th, and the westbound island platform would be on flat ground on Madison west of 8th ave.

    Terry Ave would be the only potential problem platform for the one on the west side of the intersection. East of Terry Madison is flat again.

    The Summit/Boylston pair is on flat ground again so no problems.

    Additionally, split platforms will only be handling 50% of the traffic at a stop so the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of room is somewhat mitigated.

    Regardless … I think that it is a safe bet that SDOT/Seattle/Metro will not select a route that will require the purchase of two additional bus fleet types just for this one route.

    1. Gordon,

      I would consider the split platform option as good if not better than any single central platform option simply because of the complexity created by single central platforms (either left side doors or contraflow). I do hope you’re right that SDOT and Metro are likely to toss out the left side boarding idea.

  6. There is a third option. Median running in the same direction of traffic but crossovers at stations. SDOT looked at this option at 17th Street but also didn’t highlight this option.

    1. Do they weave to the other side right before a station? I don’t remember seeing that, but that sounds absurd to do at every stop.

      1. The option you linked to wouldn’t require crossovers before stops because those outside platforms accommodate right-side doors. However, there likely isn’t enough right of way on Madison for two platforms on the outside of center-running bus lanes unless they are narrow. SDOT doesn’t seem to be looking at this option.

  7. I’d politely disagree with the author that there is wide agreement.

    – I’ve had several people tell me that they don’t like the idea because of the growing traffic congestion that result by adding thousands of apartments and condos in the neighborhood along with trendy restaurants.

    – I also think there is a possible environmental justice issue — as this route serves more expensive hospitals, higher paid office workers, and a corridor which has lots of apartments and condos that are some of the most expensive in Seattle — as opposed to a nearby corridor like the 3/4, which serves the public hospital and lower income neighborhoods.

    Anyway… I would note other specific factors which lead me to not support a center lane (in addition to some of the others mentioned):

    – The line is not convertible to light rail, because it isn’t really possible given the slopes on lower Madison.

    – To get minor travel time advantages of center lanes appears to occur primarily because left-turns are eliminated (SDOT doesn’t seem to want to tell the public about how many left turns are involved, and how many more will be involved when other units are added). The street grid south of Madison doesn’t easily allow for alternative routing, especially between Broadway and 12th.

    – Side running more easily allows for inter-lining with other routes — makes it easier for buses to swerve around other buses and shuttles on Madison. Consider how Route 2 would be affected around 12th, for example.

    – A center lane configuration would mean that any stops on Madison in the right lane by anyone would result in all traffic being completely blocked. This is a major emergency vehicle hazard for a street that has emergency rooms on it so there are ambulances several times a day. Center-running is a reasonable choice to consider for wider streets or a route that is completely on one-way streets, but not for a narrow cross section like this..

    1. 1) SDOT’s survey shows that twice as many people think that transit speed/reliability is very important or important compared to vehicle travel times.
      2) Madison has long been identified as a priority so it makes sense that it’s improved before the 3/4. Your EJ argument is misdirected and actually makes the case for more investment in transit, not less.
      3) You want to go big with BRT when rail will never be built. Madison is a perfect example.
      4) There are currently few left turn lanes along Madison which creates safety issues. Just yesterday I almost saw two collisions on Madison. The median running option would provide left turn pockets at major intersections, greatly improving safety. E-W there are streets called James and Yesler. Last time I checked they connected Broadway and 12th…
      5) Shane’s post clearly shows that interlining of other routes can be achieved with median running.
      6) Ambulances and police will likely use any bus lane so the fastest, most reliable option is the best for them. Again the median bus only lanes wins.

      1. Adam — The Madison BRT has not been “long” identified as a priority. It was not in the 2005 Seattle Transit Plan (although that plan had several BRT proposals). It did not appear until the 2012 Transit Master Plan. Even then, if you go back and read through the 2012 TMP, you will find that Madison was not clearly the most productive corridor in the Level 1 screening, and that several other corridors were ultimately recommended for improved designs to provide enhanced transit service. The idea appears to be only 3 years old and it wasn’t the top one in the TMP!

        Also, my point about the buses and shuttles are not because of scheduled Metro service. It is more because there are paratransit and other vehicles (even taxis) that need access to the hospitals. Access is a major issue here if we design the center lanes in a way that does not allow for drivers to move out of their remaining single lane and into a center lane. This is especially an issue for a contra-flow operation. Consider too that with lots of pedestrians, making right-turns will also create delays at intersections and with the short blocks, spillbacks are going to occur. At the very least, emergency vehicles will need to have mountable bus lanes to get around traffic and that will affect how to design a center lane safely..

        Any transportation project in a built environment has tradeoffs. I’m pointing out that some of the tradeoffs appear to be significant enough to diminish the justification of a Madison BRT project with center lanes.

      2. – Madison was 1 of only 3 corridors evaluated for HCT by the TMP. I don’t know how you construe that as not being a priority.
        – I can’t think of any load/unload zones for taxi/paratransit on Madison? All of the ones I can think of either have off-street turn around areas (Swedish) or designated load/unload zones on side streets (blood bank).
        – Your point about pedestrians blocking right turn vehicles is exactly why median running BRT is needed. You want to put buses in the slow lane, I want to put them in the fast lane.
        – Emergency vehicles will use the bus lanes. That isn’t an issue.

    2. Emergency vehicles are supposed have priority over everything else. This includes the right to use the bus lane if the driver feels it is moving better than general-purpose lane.

    3. Let’s see if I can address all your arguments (I like a challenge):

      People don’t like the idea because they think it will add congestion by adding thousands of apartments and trendy restaurants. I think those people don’t understand what drives new apartments. They are coming, regardless of what transit is added. This sounds like you are basically arguing against improving transit, since it might lead to more apartments — is that your argument?

      I also think there is a possible environmental justice issue. Nonsense. Most hospital workers are nurses and nurses aids — hardly hoity toity rich people.

      The line is not convertible to light rail, because it isn’t really possible given the slopes on lower Madison. I’m not sure what you mean by “light rail”? Do you mean a street car, running on the surface? Then you are absolutely right. But so what? What advantage would a streetcar have over BRT. Or put it another way, if you don’t like the BRT, why would you like a streetcar? They would have the exact same issues. If you mean a tunnel with a light rail line inside it, then this won’t effect it one bit. I really don’t understand your reasoning behind this argument.

      To get minor travel time advantages of center lanes appears to occur primarily because left-turns are eliminated (sic). The travel time savings aren’t minor. They are huge. Without it, you probably won’t have anything that comes close to being BRT. You can’t stop people from turning right, but you can stop people from turning left (we do that for huge sections of Denny, for example). In general we should do that for way more areas in the city. Taking three rights is often better (ask UPS). Traffic would flow a lot better throughout the city and there would be a lot fewer accidents if people avoided left turns.

      Side running more easily allows for inter-lining with other routes — makes it easier for buses to swerve around other buses and shuttles on Madison. I don’t see that as an issue. First of all, the whole idea with BRT is that they operate like light rail — they have off board payment and level boarding — so you don’t need to swerve around another bus. When you do need to go around, you just go around the other way. A Metro 2 bus driver, meanwhile, is really not effected by this much either way. If there was a bus lane on the right lane, it would essentially end right where it merged onto Madison. In other words, by the time the Metro 2 gets into Madison, a right lane bus lane would be mixed traffic — again, because people will be turning right. This is likely to be the congested area (right turn vehicles waiting for pedestrians) and there is little that can be done for a bus like the 2 through this area.

      — Ambulance issue — already dealt with in other comments.

      1. Environmental justice is not about whether a project serves lower-wage employees. If it did, then it would be reasonable to take the project into Broadmoor to serve the maids!

        Environmental justice is about where money is spent. If we are spending it to serve new apartments that cost $1500 a month or more to rent, and not improving transit to lower income neighborhoods all over Seattle, there is a valid environmental justice issue. We should probably be building the Delridge BRT first, for example!

      2. To get minor travel time advantages of center lanes appears to occur primarily because left-turns are eliminated (sic). The travel time savings aren’t minor.

        Please define minor or non-minor time improvements.

        Eugene’s EmX had double the ridership in the first 10 months of operation. Do you think double the ridership would be a significant change to this corridor?

        That first EmX line improved transit time by 6 minutes over the previous service. It might not seem huge, but try telling the ridership that.

      3. It makes sense to serve the most people for the least amount of money. Besides, not too long ago, this *was* the low income neighborhood. This, and Rainier Valley (Rainier Valley has light rail, by the way). In the next few years, it is possible that Delridge will no longer be low income as well (hard to tell). But from a social justice standpoint, this does quite well. There are only a handful of maids working in Broadmoor (or any other house) but there are thousands of low wage workers working along that corridor, and they would benefit from such an improvement. If you live in Kent and work in one of the hospitals, you are going to have to transfer, and this transfer would make life a lot better.

        But I agree that we should improve the Delridge line, which is why BRT along there makes sense. To really make a difference would cost a lot of money, though, since it would mean building the WSTT. That is by far the biggest bottleneck. The two together would make a lot of sense, since the WSTT would have a stop on Madison, thus allowing for a quick transfer up the hill.

      4. Al,

        Using your own definition of EJ, in addition to serving $1,500 apartments (a cost that may be split multiple ways), this serves people who don’t live in $1,500 apartments or who work, visit, and travel through the area. You’re right that this project isn’t specifically targeting people or neighborhoods who have historically been discriminated against and are subject to remnant systemic racism/classism. It’s just serving regular old people. It will benefit anyone in the group I defined above. EJ has to be one consideration but it is nowhere close to the only consideration, which is the reason why SDOT isn’t building Delridge BRT.

        But this comes back to quibbling over the definition of “wide”, supported by anecdotes (so is mine, arguably) and a definition of EJ whose interpretation I don’t quite agree with.


        Might increased legibility and a frequency bump also be responsible for the EmX’s increase in ridership over previously existing services?

      5. The environmental justice issue is linked to not only Madison BRT, but also the First Hill Streetcar and U-Link. We have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars to improve Capitoal Hill transit; service. There are huge areas of the city of Seattle that are not adjacent to Link or Rapidride that have dense, low-income populations. This will be the third major transit investment within a half-mile of Pike and Broadway.

        That’s on top of how our ridership demands will change once these new transit services open. Already, we saw with Metro through Alternative 1 that Madison is a debatable corridor as a continuous route. Capitol Hill commutes will be radically different in a year, and it may leave us wondering why Madison BRT makes any sense in the first place, especially east of Broadway.

        Meanwhile, apartment costs in Capitol Hill are rising so fast that there is a huge exodus going on right now. Aren’t the U-Link and streetcar transit investments a factor? I suspect that they are.

        I’m just saying that we’re pumping all this transit capital money to connect Capitol Hill and Madison with downtown and that’s not fair to the low-income residents of other areas. It’s an undiscussed “privilege” bias that occurs when some Metro staff and a TMP steering committee members are more concerned about getting to the doctor from their office building than in serving underrepresented residents who are too busy working long hours to comment or show up at transit meetings.

      6. According the Madison BRT boards the travel time savings in this instance are minimal to zero (Board 11). Reliability is only improved by 12 seconds in variation between longest and shortest run. Center running (without left-boarding vehicles) costs about $20M more. So there could be a legitimate question about whether the additional cost is worth the apparently negligible benefit. However I’m guessing that modeling is for opening year and not 20 years from now, and I’d also guess that even if there are relatively few right-turning vehicles, there may be more pedestrian activity that impedes right-turning cars than was accounted for in the modeling (with pedestrian volumes also growing the future). Center-running would be better protected against future increases in vehicle volumes as well as pedestrian volumes along Madison. Either way designing the facility so that other existing or future routes could take advantage of priority treatments is critical.

      7. Traffic models always underestimate pedestrians, if not ignore them completely for the sake of simplicity.

      8. “We have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars to improve Capitol Hill transit…”

        …and not doing a very good job of it. But that is sorta beside your point, Al. While you’re correct that all of these investments have served part of Capitol Hill, they have also served the Rainier Valley (Link), Yesler Terrace and parts of the Jackson Corridor (Streetcar). Additionally, Sound Transit has been the one moving forward on those projects and ST sees its job as purveyor of regional mobility. Capitol Hill is a regional destination so it’s received quite a bit of investment.

        I completely agree with you that an all-Madison route isn’t necessarily a slam dunk (the sub-text of this post). If SDOT is intent on pursing BRT infrastructure on Madison I think it needs to afford as much operational flexibility as possible due to some of the fluctuating patterns you mention (this speaks to your point, too bree) and other routes that could benefit from improved reliability.

      9. @Bree. It is very hard to model how pedestrians impact right turning traffic and systematically modeling software underestimates these impacts. Models doesn’t take into account increasing pedestrian traffic, nor do they take into account bad actors (cheating cars, pedestrians crossing at the last minute). All of these things make side running less effective.

    4. I agree the ambulance point is a red herring. You could just as easily argue leaving the 4 lane design would risk public health due to more collisions. Center BRT looks like a big improvement to me!

  8. I see a few additional issues with center lanes. 1) having the stations in the middle consumes more valuable ROW space. 2) provides an imediment for pedestrians to get from the sidewalk to the bus stop in a moments notice. 3) reduces space available for pedestrian infrastructure and improvements such as a larger sidewalk. 4) reduces space available for bike lanes. 5) reduces space available for barriers to protect pedestrians and bicyclists from moving cars such as trees, planters, parklets, and even parked cars.

    1. Would you support median running if it was rail? If so then you should support median running for BRT. All of the same advantages/disadvantages apply.

      1. That is a good point. I see positives and negatives with each. If it was a streetcar on this corridor, I would rather support side-lanes for the same reasons I mentioned above plus the added benefit of supporting any bus. If it were light-rail, or any system reaching speeds above 30mph, I would want it in the center of the road and as far away from pedestians as possible.

      2. I don’t support side running because people violate those types of bus lanes much more and they do particularly poorly in more urban environments where pedestrians and right turning vehicles conflict with each other.

    2. My rebuttal:

      1) Yes, it does take more space, but it is worth it. A fast, frequent bus can move way more people than an extra lane of cars can. In other words, it is a very good use of the space available — arguably the best use.

      2) Yes, it does provide an impediment for pedestrians to get from the sidewalk to the bus stop in a moments notice. That is just a trade-off for very fast, frequent service. If you miss the bus, another one will be along shortly, and it will travel much faster than if it was on the right side of the road. By the way, most of our light rail line doesn’t allow you to get to a stop in a moments notice, either, but I don’t think anyone wants to run it on the surface, mixing with cars.

      3) It reduces space available for pedestrian infrastructure and improvements such as a larger sidewalk. Another reasonable trade-off.

      4) Reduces space available for bike lanes. The city is planning on making “parallel” bike improvements as described here: This is the way the city wants to do this — make bus corridors on one street, and bike corridors on another (hopefully quieter) street. This makes sense to me. If you run lots of buses down here on the right side, where exactly would you put the bike lanes?

      5) Reduces space available for barriers to protect pedestrians and bicyclists from moving cars such as trees, planters, parklets, and even parked cars. Another reasonable trade-off. In general this will make Madison a lot slower, since Madison will be one lane for regular cars. This will be, in effect, a road diet. This leads to a lot less speeding, and those issues (needing a barrier) are less of an issue. As it is, I think there will still be enough of a barrier — I don’t think it will be like walking across the Aurora bridge.

  9. Excellent post. This is really interesting. I think you did an excellent job of explaining the issues and trade-offs.

    In my opinion contra-flow doesn’t make sense for this line. You could do it, but I don’t think it would be worth it. Too much pedestrian confusion and too much hassling with signals. On the other hand, contra-flow for a new bus tunnel (the WSTT) would make a lot of sense. That is a completely closed system (a tunnel) while this is part of the city.

    I think center platforms make a lot of sense, though. That could easily work and I think the drawbacks are very minor.

    I could go either way. Unlike some areas (e. g. the tunnel) I don’t think a closed system would be that bad. There are only so many buses that would go through there. The closed area could actually be extended. So, for example, if we really want a bus to go down Broadway and then turn down Madison, then extend the closed area and buy more buses. This might actually be cheaper in the long run, depending on how much the buses cost and how much building the platforms cost. We may need more buses anyway (so we might as well by a handful of double doored ones). This also simplifies the off board payment issue. I could easily see BRT buses running here every five minutes. If other buses integrate with it, a BRT bus could be held up by a regular “open” bus. Even if Metro plans it really well, problems like this could easily happen.

    For example, let’s assume that we mix a bus coming from Broadway with a bus on Madison. They are timed so that the bus from Broadway is supposed to arrive three minutes after the Madison bus. But the Broadway bus is delayed (wheel chair lift, bad traffic, etc.). Now it arrives ten seconds before the Madison bus. A handful of riders fumbling with change getting on that bus, and you’ve slowed down your BRT. Do that over the course of a day enough times and you’ve thrown away one of the big advantages of BRT (reliable scheduling with no bus bunching).

    I really don’t see that many bus routes that we will want to mix into Madison. When we do, we could simply extend the closed system (off board payment, level boarding, signal priority) so that they can mesh properly. If anything, I see other areas where we would want to extend BRT. For example, along 23rd. So having a small fleet of buses with double doors would probably get used up fairly quickly.

    1. Thank you, Ross. I’m happy to help deepen the conversation on this issue. In the spirit of your comment, in a way I think it would almost be better to step back from this infrastructure issue and figure out what we want service in and around Madison to look like. Madison BRT is an SDOT project but it must interact with Metro. Figuring out how to do this was part of SDOT’s Transit Master Plan but I feel we’ve lost sight of that. Additionally, the SDOT TMP focused a lot on what the city could do to enhance current service patterns with infrastructure but without a vision for what service could actually look like in 20 years (the job of the current Metro long range planning effort). Of course, we can expect service in high-ridership places to remain relatively the same because high ridership is indicative of stable markets and land use where demand won’t evaporate. Also, I have a hunch that SDOT’s and Bellevue’s Transit Master Plans finally spurred Metro to embark on a long range planning effort.

      1. I think it is hard to plan ahead for twenty years without knowing what Sound Transit will do, and it is almost impossible to tell at this point. It is quite possible that they will simply be a management agency, with very few big projects of their own. The state would allow local taxation, which would mean a city like Seattle funds their own project.

        Either way, a light rail line replacing the Metro 8 makes a lot of sense. An additional light rail line under Madison seems unlikely, but possible. So with all the possible light rail lines, it is pretty hard to figure out exactly what BRT lines make sense.

        I think the big thing I would like to know is if Seattle wants to make a big investment in BRT. If so, then buying buses with doors on both sides sounds good to me. We can always figure out new places where BRT makes sense, if the city wants to make it a priority in the future. Some of these might be replaced by rail in the long term, while others wouldn’t. Personally, I would like that approach. It makes a lot more sense than investing in streetcars, which aren’t even possible on this stretch (and many others) and have other disadvantages. Besides, worse case scenario, we have buses with doors on both sides that just operate like regular buses. That is still a lot better than streetcars, which can’t leave their tracks.

  10. I initially liked contraflow lanes because they work well at Bellevue TC. But on Madison I’m afraid it would lead to a lot of accidents, not only with pedestrians having to look unusual directions, but also with cars and buses going opposite directions right next to each other outside the traditional division. Especially if the street is not wide enough for physical barriers and it’s just paint. The only way it would work is to make it look like two adjacent two-way streets; then the division would be like the traditional one and people’s instincts would be right.

    1. The confusion of contraflow lanes is certainly a drawback. Overt physical barriers are definitely not the answer though, both for street character reasons and for operational flexibility e.g. allowing a bus to drive around a disabled bus or allow work to be done on the infrastructure alignment without shutting down or significantly changing the Madison service during work. Striping would be more appropriate. Another option that includes some physical separation is having the bus lanes on pavement a few inches above the general lanes with a soft curb transition.

    2. Metro drivers are pro’s. It’s the other 99.99% of the vehicles who are just average drivers using a contra-flow configuration that make it a collision magnet. Buses appearing to be going the wrong direction is a recipe for disaster – negating any time savings in the big scheme of things.

  11. Remember the monorail collision?

    Even with all the safeguards in the world, complicated traffic flows are going to lead to collisions.

    Simple traffic flows with all the vehicles going in the expected directions will minimize confusion, collisions and deaths (and hence will be faster overall).

    1. Yes this is very true. People don’t drive correctly now as it is! Accidents happen every day. Contraflow lanes would be a huge accident problem.

  12. In my mind, we don’t need buses with “wrong side” passenger doors to have center lanes. Just put two transit-only lanes in the center of Madison and have island stops on both sides (a la 4th & Jackson, but in both directions). Of course, with the counter-flow concept illustrated above, only one island would suffice.

  13. I attended a meeting with Metro and BRT and the cost of the BRT is up to $100 million with 85% from federal Matching funds if they Mayor’s $930 million dollar property tax passes and provides $15 million of the needed money. The second notable point was that the BRT would run with dedicated lanes to 20th Ave East and run as a local bus from there to Madison Park.

    Isn’t there a more important place to spend $100 (if we get it) like take the street car and or bike lanes off of Broadway or fixing the Denny Disaster with another freeway overpass!

    The few minute possible increased frequency on a Madison BRT are not worth the cost in doing to Madison what was done to Broadway.

    1. Interesting news! Did they say where would the $100 million would be spent? And what program are they planning to get the $85 million on, and can we use it for other corridors as well (or instead)?

      1. It appeared that the full amount was for the Madison BRT. It seams that the story changes each time I hear it and I check with other attendees and they heard the same thing. BTW, this is not what I heard at the May 5 meeting at the Miller Center.

        The did again confirm that if SDOT was looking at running every other bus to Madison Park and that extending the BRT to Madison Valley from 23rd would cost an addition $13 million and that it would cost the same or more to go to Madison Park.

  14. Another option is to put the money in on an 11 that is reliable, easy to use with user friendly bus stops form Elliot Bay to Lk Washington.

    1. Any improvements for Madison BRT would also benefit any water to water Madison route.

  15. “Split platforms”, aka “far side platforms”, are a preferred design most places.

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