The update to our recent Madison BRT post contained a crucial bit of information, namely that SDOT’s Concept Design is not considering transit priority east of 18th Avenue for Madison Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and that it will only have fully exclusive right-of-way for 10 blocks (from 9th to 13th Avenue).
There may be good (or at least substantive) reasons for each of these changes, likely because transit priority is losing out to competing neighborhood concerns, right-of-way (ROW) limitations, parking garage egress, etc. But it is also wonderfully illustrative of how “BRT Creep” works in practice. SDOT staff are smart, hard working, and undoubtedly want to build a great project, but if we can’t even keep transit priority alive through a concept design, how do we expect the final product to fare once all the inevitable mitigations and concessions have done their work?
SDOT has billed Madison BRT as the first high-quality BRT line in Seattle, intentionally differentiating Madison BRT and RapidRide and claiming to have learned from RapidRide’s mistakes. Unfortunately, the most recent changes to the Madison BRT plans call into question SDOT’s commitment to make Move Seattle’s seven BRT routes substantively better than RapidRide. SDOT has had mixed results with downtown Business Access and Transit (BAT) lanes, with widespread disregard and a relative lack of enforcement combining to reduce their effectiveness. Yet for all its flaws, the Center City Connector streetcar will have fully dedicated ROW as a first principle.
I think it’s important to remember that Move Seattle’s seven “RapidRide+” projects are corridors, not lines. They are capital projects to increase speed and reliability, and only secondarily should they be service planning decisions. The special vehicles, branding, off-board payment etc are necessary but not sufficient for building real Bus Rapid Transit, and they are secondary to the primary focus of right-of-way management. Having either mixed traffic or minimally effective BAT lanes for 76% of the alignment would be disappointing and wouldn’t inspire confidence in the other six corridors going forward.
There is no reason for panic, but every reason for concern. In any case, it’s a great reason to show up at the Open House on November 16th, support more robust transit priority, and ask hard and pointed questions of staff. Look closely at how the curbside bus lanes will work from 1st-9th Avenue and from 13th-18th, how the transitions to/from the planned center busway will function, and ask for transit priority along the full length of the alignment.
Facebook Event: Support High-Quality Madison BRT
When: Monday, November 16, 5-7pm
Where: Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Avenue, 4th Floor, Room 1