I’m fond of criicizing local agencies (usually WSDOT) when events, planned and unplanned, bring pleas to take transit while those agencies take away any incentive to take that transit. So it’s only fair that, better late than never, I commend SDOT for their response to last September’s horrific Duck crash on the Aurora Bridge.

I finally got around to asking SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan a few questions about it:

How did the emergency bus lane happen?

The day of the Ride the Ducks incident (September 24, 2015) is the only time recently that SDOT set up a temporary bus lane in response to an emergency. Recognizing that the loss of Aurora Avenue North would have significant traffic impacts, especially for transit, SDOT established a temporary, bus-only lane to aid transit’s movement to the Fremont Bridge.

What other times has SDOT implemented this since then?

We have not created any other emergency bus-only lanes since that incident.

Are there any data that measure how well this works?

Given its short term nature, we did not have the opportunity to measure how well the lane worked. Based on our traffic engineers’ observations and the response of the public, we believe its deployment was successful.

What do you anticipate going forward in terms of conditions where SDOT would choose to do this? Any formal policy, or continued improvisation?

SDOT does not anticipate creating a formal policy for emergency bus lanes. We will keep them in mind as a potential option should a future emergency situation warrant it.


Let’s applaud the instincts of whatever operatives made this happen in an emergency. Here’s hoping we see more of this agility in the future, both on dark days like September 24th and during more banal construction activities.

9 Replies to “SDOT’s Good Emergency Instincts”

  1. Mr. Sheridan must not have been here during the Nisqually quake. The City was fairly quick to implement bus lanes on 1st Avenue S between downtown and the Spokane Street viaduct while the viaduct was closed for inspection.

    1. They are often used as a turn lane so if cars need to wait for a turn they can fill up for an entire block. Unfortunately this probably occurs at the high traffic times when the bus lane is going to be most needed. There is usually a pocket defined by a break in the solid white line or signage which designates how many non-transit cars should occupy the lane, keeping it predominately open for transit, but drivers seem to ignore those for the most part.

      There is a general propensity for drivers to line up early for turns rather than waiting in the general lane. Drivers turning left will line up far outside of the pocket in what is supposed to be a two-way left turn lane. This can make it impossible for other drivers to make a left in either direction or travel further back or to enter the roadway.

      A program of continuing education for drivers and enforcement of some of these rules could go a long way toward ensuring that what BRT infrastructure we do have works as well as intended.

      1. Joe’s pic is of the center bus lane on Howell. Pretty hard to make a turn from that lane.

        Greater enforcement is what’s needed all over the city. 3rd Ave is supposed to be entirely bus-only during rush hour (except for the 1-block right-turn gaps), but the rule is completely flaunted. Once a month, I might see SPD ticketing someone for it, but otherwise, every day, 3rd is clogged up with Mercedes and BMWs. There’s no “I didn’t know” excuse, either, because there are big neon do-not-enter signs hanging over the street at every intersection.

        Maybe we just need photo enforcement on that intersection. If it doesn’t have plates registered to a transit agency, mail them a ticket. That would clean it up in about 2 days flat.

      2. It would probably also help if SPD wouldn’t announce to the world on their Twitter feed that they’ve chosen a particular day and location to do their jobs.

      3. I wonder if photo enforcement is something that could be done on third and other bus lanes in the city.

        From what I’ve seen NYC already does bus lane enforcement, but I’m curious if any other city has a bus avenue with the same restrictions as Seattle’s third ave? I’d expect that you’d have to monitor the middle lanes (to catch left turners) and the right lanes to see if any vehicles appear on two blocks.

        Anyone have a guess how much bus lane camera enforcement systems cost?

  2. “SDOT does not anticipate creating a formal policy for emergency bus lanes. We will keep them in mind as a potential option should a future emergency situation warrant it.”

    Mr. Sheridan, since the situation, meaning traffic within one spilled fish truck of an hours-long regional gridlock so obviously warrants a clear plan for both developing and implementing such measures…..

    Who on the City Council or in the Mayor’s office needs to anticipate getting recalled in order to have all out elected officials give your entire Department grounds to anticipate being unemployed if those measures aren’t in place, shined, and polished next time they’re needed?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Agree with Mark here. SDOT’s response was actually “we didn’t study what happened the time we actually did this; we don’t have any contingency plans, even of a broad nature, for future incidents planned or not; nor do we intend to come up with any.” While their incident response for the single horrible Aurora closure was commendable, their answers aren’t actually answers. This was an odd piece to write and doesn’t give one a lot of confidence that this sort of solution has been added to their arsenal.

      Generally speaking I feel SDOT is much more responsive than, say, their compatriots at the state level, but this particular response is meaningless.

      1. This sounds like something that we should write our council members about..

        Most of the locations where an emergency bus lane would make sense seem like they would be city controlled roadways. Are there any spots where people foresee a state controlled roadway needing an emergency bus lane?

Comments are closed.