Broadway cross-section showing new transit lane

First Hill is an area in the city where SDOT is actively moving forward to add transit priority lanes, and they want your feedback.

As we wrote about last spring, the agency would like to create a transit-only lane on southbound Broadway between Union and Madison.  This is often a point of congestion in the PM peak, so transit priority would be welcome, boosting not just the First Hill Streetcar but Route 9 and 60 as well.

Creating a transit lane means eliminating the center turn lane, so SDOT is also proposing restricting left turns at Pike, Union and Madison.  The net effect would be a substantial decrease in travel time for all modes.  Transit could see a 2+ minute time saving, while travel time for cars would also decrease slightly.

Read about the program here and get your comments in by April 30 to or (206) 233-8564

23 Replies to “SDOT Recommends Improved Transit Priority on Broadway”

  1. Interesting that both drive lanes are not the same width. Also interesting that one of the drive lanes is wider than the bus lane.

  2. Banning left-turns for several blocks without a good parallel route will add traffic to side streets like Harvard and 10th. I can understand the benefit for place like Pike Street with all of its heavy pedestrian activity, but the streetcar has no stops near Union (although there is a bus stop nearby).

    Finally, SDOT is again ignoring that the streetcar does not stop very close to Madison. It remains a design flaw of the design in my humble opinion — especially since Madison BRT is so supposed to be so wonderful.

  3. Two comments with no reference to whether or not you might think this a good thing. Well, I think it’s a good thing and banning left turns is a no brainer through this stretch. Boren is (roughly) parallel on one side, while Twelfth Avenue is exactly parallel on the other. People who come often will make the appropriate adjustment to come from Boren if their destination is to the west of Broadway or from Twelfth if to the east.

    Sure, some seldom visitors to First Hill will be bunged up by the No Left Turn, but even they can do three rights.

    1. What exactly does “the net effect will be a substantial decrease in travel times” mean. Do the “travel times” include all travel between all destinations related to Broadway? Or just motorized travel along Broadway, but not necessarily to the destinations?

      1. Motorized travel along Broadway. All vehicles measured and transit vehicles measured.

        Lord grant me the serenity to wait in traffic where I must, the strength to paint red lanes where I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

  4. This will be great during PM peak, and I’m grateful for the effort. Yet the main problem with the FHSC is the slow Yesler/14th deviation. The Yesler/Boren, Yesler/12, Yesler/14th and Jackson/Boren/14th intersections are all slow and difficult for the streetcar to get through. The best money that could be spent on it would be laying rail to use Boren and 12th instead. That would cut out a full 1/3 of a mile and 3 traffic lights for which the streetcar is running against prevailing traffic prioritization.

    1. The best money that could be spent would be to replace the streetcar with a bus. That would mean changes like the one you suggest would be trivially cheap. Just move a few bus stops.

      Heck, you could simply eliminate the stop at 14th and save a considerable amount of time. Doing so would only cost a few hundred (throw a bag over the old stop and just inform everyone) but instead it would cost millions to make a change like that — because it is a streetcar.

    2. But what you’re saying would also remove the Little Saigon stop east of 12th Ave. That’s one of my frequent stops! Someone wise once said the only useless stations are the ones you don’t use.

      Those intersections are slow in large part due to lack of signal priority, so I’d say the best $ to be spent would be to give the streetcar full signal preempt. I wouldn’t want to give up on the stop on 14th until this is at least tried. A visitor from out of town once asked me, “What’s the point if the train has to wait for red lights behind the cars?”

      1. A bus taking the direct route would still stop on 12th and Jackson, which is close enough. You can walk two blocks to allow the bus to travel in a straight line.

      2. Except it’s not a straight line, it’s two left turns to get up the hill, and the bus would presumably run in the right lane on Jackson and experience the same boarding/alighting delays as all the other busses. It’s a route that’s limited by the geography and would require prioritization to get right whether bus or streetcar.

        Question: has any city successfully replaced a streetcar with a bus and got better service and increased ridership? I honestly don’t know, but it sure didn’t turn out well in the previous century.

  5. I agree completely. Simply eliminating left turns is a big improvement. In general, left turns are a bad idea (notice how Denny hasn’t had any for years). They are bad for both drivers and pedestrians. Instead of two traffic light segments (north-south, followed by east-west), you have three. The third segment is one where pedestrians can’t do anything. If you arrive at the intersection and want to cross either street, then you just have to wait. When traffic is really bad, people trying to turn left can’t even get into the turn lane. Since the streetcar is the main transit transit vehicle, it is a bad combination. All it takes is a car just a couple feet into the main road and the streetcar is stuck for another light cycle. I would get rid of most left turns in the city, but this one is especially pointless. As you said, there are easy alternatives (like using Boren). In many ways the transit lane (while a nice addition) is simply a bonus.

    The only reason there isn’t more excitement is because this isn’t very big. Still, every little bit helps, and if we keep chipping away like this everywhere it will make a huge difference. This is a very nice little improvement.

    1. [Oops, that was supposed to be a response to Richard’s comment (this is a good change)].

    2. Eliminating left turns along a 7 block stretch of Broadway and focusing them on John and Madison is most likely a really bad idea. This will mean that the busses on east-west routes will loose signal time at John and Madison intersections to accommodate the additional left turns. That means less reliability and longer transit times for those routes. SDOT is trying to make the streetcar look better at the expense of the bus riders on John and Madison. I’ve asked SDOT to show me the analysis that shows that this won’t be a problem but have not received a response. Can’t tell whether the analysis does not exist, other the results are too bad to share. Don’t know which is worse.

      1. I don’t see how Madison would be a problem, as this actually prevents turning left onto Madison. As far as John is concerned, just ban left turns there. Again, the idea is to ban left turns wherever possible, as a way to ease traffic and make pedestrian travel easier.

      2. People can make three rights if they don’t have the good sense to plan in advance.

  6. Great idea to restrict some left turn lanes.

    It would be good to remove the left turn lanes at E. John St. & Broadway too. That would help move traffic and key transit routes 7, 8, 10, and 43.

    1. That or have a protected left on the turn signal, but I’m thinking it’d be better overall to just not allow left turns there. A number of 43s do make a left turn onto Broadway from John, as a shortcut to get back to base I think, but I’d have a hard time believing they couldn’t work out an alternate routing. (Or I dunno, continue on the full route? — that or eliminate the route entirely)

      1. Is there a problem with buses turning left onto Broadway? That doesn’t delay traffic on Broadway; John yes, but not Broadway.

        Also, there’s southbound non-revenue wire on 15th Avenue between Pine and Madison. A short section straight between the southbound wire north of Pine and the southbound wire south of Pine would allow 43’s leaving service to continue south on 15th to Madison and then use the 13 base route via Broadway southbound. But again, the left turn is onto Broadway, not off it.

        It’s probably better to keep the 43’s on route as far as the Link station.

      2. Oh, I see. John is presumably advocating removing all four left turn pockets (and the turns themselves) at Broadway and John. That would be fine with me, but since John is the real “East Denny” traffic from SLU to north Broadway would have some difficulty.

      3. >> That would be fine with me, but since John is the real “East Denny” traffic from SLU to north Broadway would have some difficulty.

        Yeah, but that would change. Drivers heading from South Lake Union (on Denny) wouldn’t take Olive, they would take East Denny. They take an easy left at the light ( The only problem I see is you might have a lot more cars going straight, instead of everyone headed off to Olive. That could back up the right lane (where the bus stops). That could be solved by making the left lane left-and-straight, instead of just left.

        For the reverse, folks have to do a loop. Head north on Broadway, take a right on John, another right on tenth and you are at that same intersection. Just go through it, and you are good to go. Chances are (as with this change) people will find a different way to go. They will go over Belmont/Lakeview, or use Boren much earlier. That is the beauty of driving — it takes a while, but people adjust. You learn fairly quickly what is the fast way to go, even though it would have seemed ridiculous a few years ago. If I’m headed to Ballard from the UW in a car, I never take 45th/Market, even though that was the standard route growing up.

        Likewise with the other combinations. If you are very close to the intersection, you’ll have to take a bunch of turns. If you are farther away, you are better off avoiding that intersection. That is life in the big city. Capitol Hill, like downtown, doesn’t seem like a good place for amateurs to be driving, while (at least some) of the professionals have avoided left turns for years.

      4. Very well said, Ross. Driving in any big city requires forethought to avoid known problems and constant “reprogramming” to respond to unexpected ones.

  7. This should help reliability. One of the main reason for my limited streetcar use is that the streetcars rarely hold to a schedule or even the real-time arrival times (typically going by schedule times). I just want to be able to know accurately when the streetcar will arrive or leave its origin station. And auto traffic being one of the main reasons for the schedule unreliability.

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