For a city that prides itself on its green reputation, it may surprise you to learn that only 1 in 4 Seattle households lives near frequent transit, where the bus or train comes every 10 minutes or less. That’s not King County, mind you…. that’s within the city limits. If we’re going to get more people out of their cars, we’ll need to put more frequent transit service closer to where people live.
Fortunately, Seattle DOT has a plan to do just that. With money from last fall’s Let’s Move Seattle levy along with 2014’s Prop. 1, SDOT envisions a world where 72% of Seattle households are within walking distance of 10-minute transit service by 2025, almost triple the number today.
A key piece of that agenda is expanding the city’s RapidRide network, which Move Seattle called “RapidRide+.” What is RapidRide+? How is it better than today’s RapidRide? And how will it put frequent transit near the front doors of 3 in 4 Seattle residents? Today we’ll look at the system all-up, and then tomorrow we’ll look at the individual corridors.
RapidRide 1.0 was hobbled by a couple of key problems. The initial six routes were spread around the county, but Metro didn’t own the streets the buses run on, so they could do little to speed up travel times. On top of that, the recession hit and decimated the agency’s balance sheet.
Still, the current Seattle routes are among the most well-used in the city, carrying almost 37,000 daily riders combined in 2015 – about as many as Central Link does today.
SDOT is well-positioned to address all of the aforementioned issues with RapidRide+. The levy funds aren’t from a volatile revenue source like sales taxes and SDOT owns the street right-of-way and can optimize it for buses. Here’s how the campaign levy materials described RapidRide+:
Building off the success of King County Metro’s RapidRide bus network, the replacement levy will fund seven new RapidRide+ corridors that will take the network to another level. With improvements such as dedicated bus lanes, superior bus stops, and new sidewalks and bikeways to access transit, these RapidRide+ corridors will provide a new alternative for people to quickly get where they need to go.
With the levy’s passage now in the rear-view mirror, SDOT has wasted no time updating the 2012 Transit Master Plan with an addendum (PDF) that reflects the current administration’s priorities. The addendum is more or less the playbook for Let’s Move Seattle. While it represents the most clear vision to date for LMS’s eventual implementation, all of these projects are still in early conceptual phases and will go through plenty of costing, design, and public feedback before any hardhats show up.
The addendum makes a forceful case for the RapidRide brand and the need to expand it. There’s no talk of a separate Seattle BRT brand. In addition to the three corridors that currently run through Seattle (C, D, and E), the city is proposing seven more, for a combined 10-line, 80-mile rapid bus network.
RapidRide+ will use a basket of infrastructure tools, including queue jumps, exclusive and semi-exclusive lanes, and signal timing, to increase speed and reliability. All-door boarding and off-board payment are also discussed. SDOT estimates this will result in a 14-40% reduction in travel times depending on the route.
The city also is creating a 5-year plan to achieve a rating of silver or better on the ITDP scale, and has proposed its own internal scorecard:
- Mixed traffic for no more than 50% of corridor acceptable with intersection enhancements to prioritize transit (e.g., bus bulbs, far-side stops or near-side stops with queue jump lanes, transit signal priority)
- RapidRide corridors limit transitions between median- and side- running alignments along corridor extent
- Provide transit priority at congested intersections by providing queue jump lanes and/or signal priority treatments
- Alignment provides connectivity to local and regional bus, planned Link light rail, and other modes of travel; the alignment is direct and easy for customers to understand
- Maximum stop spacing is every 0.5 miles with no overlaid “local” service
- Stations to be upgraded to a full featured RapidRide stations, offering a base level of passenger amenity
- Safe, intuitive, and proximate paths are provided between RapidRide stations and local bus stops, Link light rail stations, Colman Dock, regional express routes, and Pronto Bike Share stations
Astute observers will note that 50% mixed traffic is greater than 0%, indicating that Seattle has set itself up for a goal of less than “full” BRT, defined as 100% exclusive right-of-way. But keep in mind the baseline. Overall, the RapidRide+ corridors are improved from their previous iterations in the 2012 TMP. Recall, the TMP was created in an environment where ST3 was still pretty hazy (and in many ways the TMP itself pushed Sound Transit to study Ballard), so the emphasis was on rapid streetcars to Ballard and Roosevelt. With Sound Transit now planning light rail to Ballard and West Seattle, the new TMP directs more money into core bus lines. That also tracks with what we’ve seen so far from Madison BRT and the Roosevelt-Eastlake project, where RapidRide+ is referred to as the “targeted investment” alternative, between basic RapidRide and “Full BRT.”
Once the seven additional corridors are up and running, we’ll have a bus network that, in combination with Link, will cover most of the city’s urban villages with frequent service, even late into the night and on weekends. Within 10 years, RapidRide+Link could serve well over half the daily rides in Seattle. If you are one of the 72% of Seattleites who live near a RapidRide stop, you’ll be able to walk to the station almost any time of day with confidence that a bus will arrive relatively quickly to take you to any of the city’s urban villages with at most a single, frequent, well-lit transfer. That kind of guarantee is fundamentally transformative to the way people view transit and is a game-changer for car-free or car-light lifestyles.
The new TMP marks seven corridors for RapidRide+ treatment:
- Roosevelt Way & Eastlake Avenue, Northgate to Downtown
- Metro Route 40, Northgate to Ballard & Fremont to Downtown
- Market & 45th Streets, Ballard to U-District
- 23rd Avenue, Judkins Park to U-District
- Madison Street, Madison Valley to Downtown
- Rainier Avenue, Rainier Beach to Little Saigon
- Delridge Way & East Marginal Way, Delridge to Downtown
In a follow-up post, I’ll look at what we can expect from each.