In 2018 southbound buses will be able to bypass traffic using a bus-only shoulder lane along I-5 between the transit centers in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.
Credit: Sounder Bruce

In an effort to improve the speed and reliability of southbound buses along Interstate 5, late last year the Sound Transit Capital Committee approved funding for a bus-only shoulder lane between the Lynnwood Transit Center and the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center.

The Committee also approved funding for a feasibility study that would identify other potential opportunities to expand the program.  

The I-5 bus-on-shoulder project is part of ST3’s Early Deliverables Program, a “series of improvements designed to improve existing transit services, reduce travel time through bus-on-shoulder operations and other related transit priority elements, and construct new park-and-ride facilities.”

ST says the 1.4-mile project is basically shovel ready, requiring minimal modifications including the addition of signage and lane striping, and improvements to pavement and drainage. For this project, ST is partnering with WSDOT, who has already completed the design and environmental review.

Construction on the project is anticipated to begin in the third quarter of 2018, with the operation of the lanes starting before the end of the year.

Bus-on-shoulder lanes Credit: MetroTransit

Only buses are allowed to use these lanes and are limited to maximum speeds of 35 mph or 10 mph above the adjacent traffic’s average speed, whichever is slower. According to WSDOT’s website, bus drivers who use the lanes will be specially trained.

Authorized transit buses will be able to use the inside southbound lane to bypass congestion in the adjacent HOV lanes. The shoulder lanes are expected to reduce bus travel times by 1-5 minutes, and potentially more depending on traffic congestion.

The project is estimated to cost roughly $265,000. As ST board member and King County Councilmember, Claudia Balducci, pointed out during the meeting, this project is “a relatively low-cost way to get people moving quickly.”

Eighteen Community Transit and Sound Transit bus routes will benefit from this project.

“Traffic congestion continues to get worse, and bus commuters often find themselves experiencing the same delays as drivers in their personal vehicles,” said Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Peter Rogoff in a December press release. “While we continue work to bring light rail to Lynnwood and Federal Way in 2024, the bus-on-shoulder program will help improve the commute time for those who ride the bus into downtown from Snohomish County and other parts of our region.”

This project is just the first of the ST3 bus-on-shoulder lanes the agency is planning. During the Committee’s December meeting, board members also approved $375,000 in funding for a comprehensive feasibility study of the region’s highway system to identify other opportunities for operating buses in shoulder lanes. The study is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2018.

The ST3 package contains $102M in funding for the entire program. The transit agency hopes to have all bus-on-shoulder projects operating by 2024.

According to the approved motion, opportunities for additional bus-on-shoulder lanes exist along I-5, I-405, SR 518 and SR 167. I-90 will also be studied but, according to ST CEO Peter Rogoff, the ST3 package doesn’t allocate money for bus-on-shoulder projects in the East King County subarea.

Currently, bus shoulder lanes exist along southbound I-405 from the SR 527 on-ramp to the NE 195th Street off-ramp and from the SR 522 on-ramp to the NE 160th Street off-ramp.

WSDOT also recently launched a bus-on-shoulder pilot project in July 2017 along SR 14 between I-205 and Southeast 164th Avenue in Vancouver.

36 Replies to “Sound Transit Launches ‘Bus-on-Shoulder” Program”

  1. I really like this program. I hope they can find other opportunities for using the shoulder.

    I would really like it if they put some work into it, and widened the roads a bit in various places. It wouldn’t make sense to do that south of Lynnwood, with Lynnwood Link coming soon, but between Lynnwood and Everett, it would be very helpful. Adding lanes the entire way would be expensive, because you would have to deal with lots of bridges and underpasses. As you get close to Everett, there simply isn’t any room. But there are some very long stretches where there is nothing but dirt in the median, and adding a lane (or simply making the shoulder a bit wider) would make a huge difference. Add stripes making clear that it is a bus lane, and that there is a bus lane merge after each section (which they may do for some of the shoulders). This wouldn’t cost that much money, but be a huge improvement now, and even make sense when Link gets to Everett as a way to serve South Everett. I could also see them adding express buses from Everett to Lynnwood even after Link gets to Everett.

    1. Ross, I think the point of this (other than the much smaller cost and nearly immediate availability) is to specifically prevent what happens when actual lanes are added. Sooner or later, the SOV lobby shouts loud enough to reduce/eliminate tolls, change bus lanes to HOV/transit, change HOV 3+ to HOV 2+, etc. You still get people who think it’s okay to use bus lanes to pass or to skip around slowdowns because they are ever so important (see in-city bus lanes for further examples). If they are left as shoulders it’s still a pretty clear demarcation between “thou shalt not drive here” and the existing lanes. It also is politically more palatable, since you never actually took away or prevented something from being used that could be used for SOVs or anything else other than permitted buses.

      1. Has that actually happened, though? Has there ever been a case where an HOV-3 was changed to HOV-2. It seems like it would have happened now on 520 if it was going to happen. If anything, they have simply added more bus lanes (to places like the West Seattle Freeway and Aurora). Not as many as we would like, but that is the direction. There are cheaters, but there is no reason why someone wouldn’t cheat here, either. As soon as they see the buses using the passing lanes, they could do the same (just like people cheat bus lanes all the time). The bigger problem, though, is that cars will be stuck there, because it will likely be legal to park a disabled car there (since there won’t be an additional shoulder).

        I think it is all about the budget. Allocation money for paint is pretty cheap. Building new lanes — even in the median — costs more. I think it is worth it (because it doesn’t cost a huge amount) but it still costs more.

      2. It happened on 520 many years ago when they first instituted it – I was in architecture school at the time and the joke was that you could now call them the “datepool” lane (worked for me as my g/f at the time was an eastsider). We were interested in how the 3+ would work as that was more of a societal change that limited the number of eligible cars dramatically – it’s common to have another person in your car, less common to have 3, basically indicating carpools and families. If it hasn’t happened since, it’s because the feedback was enough to rarely implement 3+ after that in the first place.

        It’s not just the change in required HOV occupancy, though – it’s the creeping softening of the rules that were originally designed to prioritize high occupancy vehicles. We see that all the time such as changing the hours from 24 to daytime only (that’s happened in a number of places), transit-only lanes being changed to HOV (or worse) in design – I think you’re right that once they’re in they are likely to stay, but if you’ve indicated in design that you want them, and the final product doesn’t have them, they were removed in the same way changing the signs would be later.

        I also believe that shoulder driving won’t be as likely as it is on normal lanes/pavement that are just marked differently. I certainly could be wrong. As with any of this, it comes down to enforcement, which is something we just don’t do.

      3. The Times has a great headline today: “GOP Says It Wants Bigger Cuts in Car-Tab Fees”. Same issue as HOV-3 to HOV-2. they both defeat the ability of high-capacity transit or express buses to function effectively, and thus eliminate the number and quality of alternatives to SOV driving. The article notes what Martin said, that O’Ban’s bill has little chance of passing, but he advocates it saying the prevailing bill isn’t enough. ‘”The most consistent email and call we get is, ‘When are you going to reduce our car-tab fees?’… O’Ban’s proposal (SB 6303) would not only change the car-tab formula, but would slash the tax rate — which voters approved in 2016 — by more than 50 percent.”

        While there are some differences, there’s a significant overlap between those who don’t want HOV-3, want MVET cuts more than they want ST3, want to prevent tolls and convert HOT lanes to general-purpose, and want HOV lanes made general-purpose evenings. (Why they want to drive in the HOV lanes when the other lanes are practically empty is beyond me. For the principle of it, I guess, and to chip away at HOV lanes until they’re gone.)

      4. My understanding is that the only reason the lanes on 520 were 3+ was because they were narrow. They really wanted only a handful of cars (and buses) on that lane. My point is, once they widened the lanes (which they did recently) they didn’t change the lanes to 2+. Inertia is the general trend. They don’t like to change the number of people allowed in each lane.

        I don’t believe they have ever gotten rid of HOV lanes once they have them, but over the years they have added them. In most there were brand new lanes, but the result is more carpool lanes over time, even if they are only 2+. Bus only lanes (like on the West Seattle bridge) I believe were just “taken” — there was no expansion of the bridge.

        Good point about the time limits — that was added to placate the people who don’t understand logic. If the lanes are crowded, then you need a carpool lane regardless of what time it is. If the lanes aren’t crowded, then you should be fine without using the carpool lane.

        If I’m not mistaken, the HOT lanes were taken from HOV 2 lanes. So a lane that was HOV 2 (and crowded) is not HOV 3 or tolled (and less crowded). But I’m not sure if they constructed new lanes or not.

        The point is that it would be silly to worry about new bus lanes being built and then removed, given that this project is so similar. All I’m proposing is that we spend a bit more money to make them wider, and then get rid of the speed limit restrictions. If you can merge onto a freeway at 60 MPH, I trust a bus driver to merge back into the HOV lanes after driving (and passing everyone) in the bus only lane. The lanes should be very similar, so I don’t see why you would see more scofflaws if the bus only lane is wider.

      5. WSDOT erased the southbound AM peak-only HOV in Vancouver at the behest of “Helicopter Don” Benton a year after they opened.

        The FHWA hasn’t forgotten that they were stiffed on that project. They had no contribution to the CRC proposal.

      6. Thanks Scott. I think the SOV lobby – with Rep Harmsworth as one of their leaders – would just keep raising hell if we added bus-only lanes.

        Driving on the shoulder and keeping what we’ve earned & won seems to be our only options until ST2 & ST3 are mostly complete.

      1. Mike, right after the Berlin Wall came down my Russian language instructor gave ,me this insight into contemporary Russia. A citizen parks his car near a gate in the Kremlin wall. A policeman comes up and tells him, “You can’t park there! Our Soviet leaders use that gate!”

        Reply: “That’s all right. I locked my car,” But now, back to I-5 between Lynnwood and Mountlake terrace in 2018. The world’s people are starting to stop me on the street and ask me:

        “Aren’t both the Lynnwood ramps and the Mountlake Transit Center already along the I-5 median? Or are we talking about the shoulder to the left of the diamond lane? Well, now I know why the 512 was available for pick this morning!”

        Is something getting lost in translation? Because I just saw a black limousine the size of a double-artic driving out of North Base parking lot with all my tires and my sound system.


      2. Actually, I don’t think the Soviet Union had transit lanes: there were so few cars that there wasn’t traffic congestion. When I visited in the 90s, there were still not that many cars although it was increasing. I’d see residential towers housing a thousand people with two or three cars parked in the front yard, some of them with a fabric cover over them in lieu of a garage. It was clear that there that there was no possible way that in the future every unit could have a car and park it in front. If more people did buy cars it would lead to a “tragedy of the commons” in the front yard, and I don’t know how they’d resolve that. The residents would agree on who would get parking spaces? Ivan the Enforcer would get one because otherwise he’d remove your front door so that anybody could walk in and steal your stuff?

        I haven’t seen the current situation but the reports are traffic jams on the ring roads every day like we only get when there’s a collision or lane closure. And people driving all over the sidewalks and on the dedicated streetcar tracks to bypass the traffic.That didn’t happen when I was there.

      3. Best road rage I ever saw was related to shoulder driving buses in Almaty Kazakhstan. In gridlock it seems that buses were given permission to drive with right tire over the curb. A guy in a fancy German car tried to do the same and drive on the sidewalk to get around a bus and in so doing almost hit waiting riders. He was wedged in and felt slighted so boarded the bus slapped the driver and tried to intimidate him. A dozen passengers intervened, throwing him off the bus and kicking in a couple panels in his car.

  2. Now would be a great time to get rid of the stops at 145th. I realize the state put in a bunch of money to even enable that stop, but Metro pretty much ignores it, which means hardly anyone uses it. If you ran a bus along 145th, it would be a logical connector, but Metro doesn’t do that.

    The stop wouldn’t be a problem if it was in the carpool lane (like Mountlake Terrace). For Mountlake Terrace, if no one boards or gets off there, it is no big deal. The bus slows down, sees that no is there, and then speeds up again. That happens a lot more at 145th, but the bus first has to work its way over to the right lane from the carpool lane. All to pick up about 75 people a day (both directions). As someone who has used this stop, I just don’t think it is worth it.

    1. Peak hours, most of the buses bypass that stop anyway, and off peak hours, there’s no traffic, so getting over to the right to serve that stop isn’t a big deal.

      Also, while the numbers aren’t that large, the people that need it really need it. For better or worse, anyone living within a mile of that stop, walking to the 512 takes less than half the time to get downtown than any other alternative. And if you’re trying to get from north Seattle to Lynnwood, it’s even worse.

      1. The 512 runs southbound during rush hour, when traffic is usually terrible.

        Yes, the people benefit from this, but there are alternatives. It is a judgment call, but at less than 2% of the ridership, it just doesn’t seem like it is worth the cost to every other rider (and I’ve been one of those riders). At roughly a 50 to 1 ratio in terms of riders, this would make sense if it saved more than 50 minutes and the detour cost less than a minute. My guess is that it takes longer than that on average, and the savings for most riders is a lot less. I assume most of the riders use the park and ride, and there are other park and ride options (even if they are a bit slower).

      2. If only Northgate had an in-line flyer station. 145th Station is really a mitigation for that, because otherwise there would be no service between 45th and Mountlake Terrace.

      3. 512 in rush hour is reverse direction only. Does traffic really back up past 145th in the reverse direction? Normally, I thought, the afternoon southbound backup starts around Northgate.

      4. “512 in rush hour is reverse direction only.”

        Because Metro’s peak expresses are running in the forward direction to everywhere between 55th and Mountlake Terrace.

      5. @asdf2 — It often backs up to around 145th. So that means a bus gets over to the slow lane just fine, but spends a lot of time making its way back to the fast lane.

        >> Because Metro’s peak expresses are running in the forward direction to everywhere between 55th and Mountlake Terrace.

        Which suggests that they are taking a bigger hit. I don’t have stop data on those routes though, to know whether ridership at that stop represents a relatively large chunk of ridership or not.

      6. Hardly any of them stop at 145th. My point was that they’ll take you to whichever neighborhood you’re going to so you don’t have to get to the 145th stop.

      7. That’s fine during peak hours for travel in the peak direction, but off-peak, if the 512 doesn’t stop at 145th St., and you want to get from, say, Jackson Park to Lynnwood, what are you supposed to do? Spend 45 minutes riding a bus the opposite direction to downtown or the U-district?

      8. What are you supposed to do if you’re going from Lynnwood to Northgate or Lynnwood to Ballard, on or off peak? That has been an unanswered problem ever since Link was set up. I worked both places and had colleagues from Snohomish County, and I couldn’t suggest they take transit because all the options were really bad.

      9. Back when I lived around Northgate, I used to do it occasionally. The best option I was able to come with was to run or bike to the I-5/145th St. station and catch the bus there. That worked well enough if the trip was during the daytime and I needed some exercise. If the trip was in the evening, I just gave in and drove.

        Without the 145th St. station, doing the trip by transit would be much more arduous. You’d have to either backtrack all the way to the U-district or downtown, on a bus that either stops every block (the 67) or sits in traffic on I-5 (the 41). Or, you could abandon the freeway altogether and take the E-line and Swift (also quite slow, considering the distance, but at least not out of direction). Door to door, even biking all the way to Lynnwood is probably faster.

      10. @asdf2 — You wouldn’t go downtown if you are headed to Lynnwood from Jackson Park. You would take the 347 up to Mountlake Terrace, then transfer to the 512. Not as fast, but not the end of the world.

        As Mike wrote, there are dozens and dozens of slow trips within our system. For example, getting from Bitter Lake to Lake City takes close to an hour by bus for what is a ten minute drive. These two areas are much more densely populated than the trip you mentioned, yet it takes forever for people to make that trip.

        The thing is, in most cases, we can only speculate as to how popular those trips are. But in this case, we know that not that many people are actually using that bus stop. As I wrote, it is about a 50 to 1 ratio, which is much bigger than the times involved.

        Our bus system is riddled with little detours that just aren’t worth it. There is a long standing “might as well swing by the coffee shop” mentality that makes transit a pain in the butt for those who are close to the busy stops, while still not maintaining adequate coverage for those who aren’t. From the little detour to serve Linden on the E, to the jog of the 5 away from Fremont Avenue, it hurts the system. It makes it more difficult to actually add new routes that could provide the sort of functionality that would work for more people.

      11. I would use the 145th stop if there were more buses at it, especially an east-west route. But the 347 is half-hourly, so if you don’t time it right you’re waiting at a tiny freeway P&R in the middle of nowhere for half an hour.

        When I do want to travel between 100th-ish and Snohomish County, I usually take the E and Swift. If I’m at Northgate I’d probably take the 346 to Aurora Village. The 347 goes to Mountlake Terrace, but from there you’d have to find a half-hourly CT bus and see how long the wait is. Usually I just avoid these trips, and go when I can start from downtown, or from the U-District when the CT routes are running.

      12. 145th St. isn’t really comparable with the Linden detour. The Linden detour is about saving some people a block of walking. 145th is the only express stop in the whole area, and most of the day, there isn’t traffic there, and the time overhead of serving it, negligible.

        I agree with Mike that the lack of bus connections is a big drawback of that stop. One obvious thing Metro could do to help would be to extend the 65 one more mile, to connect the 512 to Lake City (better yet, run the 65 one additional mile and connect Lake City to Shoreline).

    2. Google maps once told me to use the stop at 145th to transfer from a southbound Express to a northbound 301 to get to Shoreline. When I got to Everett from the north I checked it again and it then decided to send me over to Swift instead.

  3. Are violations an issue with current bus in shoulder facilities? If so, might be a good excuse to implement camera enforcement. Both there and on the transit-only onramp lanes!

    1. It is not uncommon on the south side of MLT in the morning to see a car jump out of the HOV lane into the bus’s merge lane just to pass 2-3 cars on the left and expect to merge back in like nothing happened. It is an elevated risk for an accident for little gain.

  4. Shoulder-running for bus lanes brings back memory of my first accident. SR 520, WB morning rush. Non-preventable but never forgot or forgave either. Truck driver shouldered me into a guard rail. One bolt scratched my trailer.

    Unsettling feeling we’ve just time-warped back 36 years. Any chance one civilian flat tire could revert our lane to a shoulder? With all the times I’ve advocated temporary adjustments in the name of long-term success, no grounds to fight about shoulder lanes.

    But my real problem is with having to get a bus across several GP lanes from a center diamond lane to a transit center on the right. Memory fails….Northbound Canyon Creek, right? Would be worth whatever it costs to correct and avoid.


    1. The places close to this project where the bus has to make right-side entrances and exits are 145th (as discussed above) and I think Ash Way (exiting northbound and entering southbound, since the center entrance/exit facility was built around the 511). In both cases Link is the project spending whatever it costs.

      1. The Ash Way ramps could be bidirectional fairly easily (making them similar to Lynnwood or South Everett). You can see there is a stub for it, along with plenty of space in the median ( I’m sure the long term plan was to do that. Like Lynnwood, it wouldn’t be as fast for through-riders as Mountlake Terrace, but adding that would save a fair amount of time.

        Once Link gets to Lynnwood, the easiest solution is to stop treating Ash Way like it is “on the way” but serve it independently of routes to the north. Run a bus from Lynnwood to Ash Way park and ride which continues onto the surface streets (like 164th or Ash Way itself) but don’t send it immediately back on the freeway heading north. That means that folks trying to get from Ash Way to Everett would have to take a local bus or backtrack to Lynnwood, but the result would be much faster service to South Everett and Everett. There are only a handful of people who make that trip from Ash Way to Everett (35 a day), so it wouldn’t be a huge loss.

        Dealing with Ash Way service to Bellevue is much tougher. Ash Way ridership is higher than South Everett and Everett combined. So it would be crazy to skip it. The bigger problem is that the bus has to use the right lane to get over to I-405. So even if an Everett bus skipped Ash Way, it would still be in that right lane. One alternative would be to just send all the buses to Lynnwood. That means a two seat ride for everyone north of Lynnwood. You would have to run the Lynnwood to Bellevue bus very frequently to make up for the transfer. You would also have a fair amount of backtracking, along with the time spent getting off the freeway to get to the transit center. My guess is they leave the routes alone, and folks on the 532 just muddle along with the slog from Ash Way to Bellevue.

        Unfortunately, things don’t get much better when ST3 is complete. There is still no money for HOV ramps connecting I-5 and I-405. So that means that buses continue the slog from Ash Way to Bellevue. Alderwood Mall would be a closer transfer point than Lynnwood, but getting on the freeway northbound (to get to I-405) is not good at all from there. Getting from Lynnwood TC to 405 is actually slightly faster than getting from Alderwood Mall Boulevard to 405 ( versus So the only savings would be the time spent on the train from the north — you skip a stop. That is minimal, really, and not enough to make up for the fact that Lynnwood and Ash Way are much better suited as destinations. My guess is folks headed to Bellevue from north of Lynnwood will either have to get to Lynnwood, or continue to put up with the slog from Ash Way to Bellevue unless the state decides to add the necessary ramps (or they are funded in ST4).

      2. Run a bus from Lynnwood to Ash Way park and ride which continues onto the surface streets (like 164th or Ash Way itself) but don’t send it immediately back on the freeway heading north. That means that folks trying to get from Ash Way to Everett would have to take a local bus or backtrack to Lynnwood, but the result would be much faster service to South Everett and Everett. There are only a handful of people who make that trip from Ash Way to Everett (35 a day), so it wouldn’t be a huge loss.”

        The 201/202 runs every 15 minutes weekdays from Lynnwood TC to Alderwood Mall, Ash Way street, Ash Way P&R, Mariner P&R, express to Everett, express to Marysville, and Smokey Point. From Ash Way P&R it’s a reasonable local trip to Lynnwood and a semi-express trip to Everett (because Everett is not in CT’s service area). So that’s where you may find the other riders between Ash Way and Everett.

        I would support an STEX feeder route from Ash Way to Lynnwood, because otherwise people would drive to Lynnwood Station rather than use the Ash Way P&R. But for Ash Way to Everett let CT handle it.

  5. Mike, observation about former Soviet , though I’ve never been there:, Ffirst 45 years or so of my life, can say that nobody in this country had any idea what of what Russia would be like after Communism. Because nobody imagined there’d ever be such a thing.

    Now, old adage gets ominous: “Beware of the enemy you pick, because he’s the country you’ll most come to resemble.” Wonder what term for “deferred maintenance” is in Russian? Maybe same as ours for “Budget.”


  6. THANK YOU SOUND TRANSIT for doing this project! All of us ST 510 & 512 plus CT commuter route riders thank you profusely! In an era where transit riders don’t have star legislators, but the SOV Lobby does, this may be the best we can hope for as we wait for light rail in the North by Northwest.

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