Battery St bus lane (3rd to Denny)
Photo Courtesy SDOT / flickr

The Seattle Department of Transportation and King County Metro recently announced several useful measures they will take to improve bus priority on 3rd Ave.

3rd Ave has the densest collection of bus routes in the state, and is pretty much totally packed with buses maneuvering around each other during peak hours. Every measure taken to speed up this armada pays for itself many times over in savings for Metro and the ability to redeploy the saved service hours. Indeed, saving service hours on 3rd Ave is about the only way Metro can add more service while waiting for an eighth base to open. Metro had to turn down some service-hour funding from the City in part because of this practical ceiling on deployable service.

The clearest solution for 3rd Ave remains red paint, designating a ban on non-permitted vehicles 24/7/365. However, various downtown blocks still have parking garage entrances, loading dock entrances, two-spot parking cutouts, or a whole lane of parking. Nevertheless, many blocks have little reason for cars to be there beyond driving straight through without stopping. These blocks ought to be able to be painted red, without political pushback:

Northbound blocks without parking/loading:

  • Yesler Way to James St
  • James St to Cherry St
  • Marion St to Madison St
  • Spring St to Seneca St
  • Union St to Pike St
  • Pike St to Pine St

Southbound blocks without parking/loading:

  • Lenora St to Virginia St
  • Stewart St to Pine St
  • Pike St to Union St
  • Union St to University St
  • Seneca St to Spring St
  • Madison St to Marion St
  • Marion St to Columbia St
  • Columbia St to Cherry St
  • James St to Yesler Way (although emergency vehicles have to stop there frequently to help the residents of the public housing on that block. Emergency vehicles would be additional beneficiary of a path through downtown not clogged by SOVs.)

The ban on left turns by private cars still leaves potential woonerf reasons (i.e. cars can go one block on a street, in order to turn around) why cars would want to access 3rd Ave northbound. But southbound, the woonerf reasons not to spread red paint will vanish. Northbound, the woonerf reasons will vanish as well, every other block between the alternating one-way eastbound and westbound cross streets.

Woonerf reasons could knock northbound Yesler-to-James, James-to-Cherry, and Union-to-Pike off the red paint list. But having three northbound blocks painted red would be far better than none.


Another simple fix would be for King County Metro to do a follow-up fare restructure to institute even-dollar cash fares.

  • Keep electronic cash fares $2.75, but charge $3 as the regular cash fare.
  • Lower the youth/LIFT (low-income) fare to $1, consolidating it with the $1 RRFP (seniors/disability) fare. (The low-income fare would still require use of loaded ORCA product.)
  • Ban the distribution of paper transfers on 3rd Ave, leaving them available to be deployed around the county where there isn’t ready access to ORCA vending machines, but still honor them everywhere. If necessary, have an exception for Metro tickets, which are mostly offered through human service agencies.
  • Sell ORCA cards loaded with $5.50 in e-purse, for $5.50, at various 3rd Ave bus stops for a month before and after the rollout of the $3 cash fare.

If the County somehow sees a social equity problem in such a proposal, then propose to raise the electronic fare to $3, and then see whether social justice advocacy groups favor the electronic fare being $2.75 or $3. Personally, I’d be happy with either so long as the cash fare becomes an even $3.

The benefits of and savings from such a fare restructure would be felt along the entire length of every Metro bus route, providing an additional source of redeployable service hours.

29 Replies to “Easy Fixes Not Deployed for 3rd Ave”

  1. Anyone know why Seattle just does striping for bus lanes, instead of an actual, fully red bus lane?

    1. Just taking a guess based on some prior info on keeping those yellow-red stripes at bus zones in place, it’s cost. Putting the paint on and keeping it maintained is likely very expensive. The stripes cut down on the full amount needed. Also, narrowing to the center keeps it from getting worn out by vehicle tires and reduces total paint needed. (Perhaps someone with more true data will comment.)

  2. “potential woonerf reasons (i.e. cars can go one block on a street, in order to turn around)”

    What do woonerfs have to do with this? A woonerf doesn’t ban cars, it just requires them to travel at pedestrian speed and be ready to stop. And it can be several blocks long. Woonerfs don’t require people to make three right turns to compensate for one left turn.

    1. Yeah, it is kind of a weird definition for woonerf. The main thing is, he is talking about a triple right turn situation, expressed fairly well with this sign: I think a better description is just that: triple right. Since going more than one block on Third (during restricted hours) is illegal, and left turns are banned, it is the only way for a general purpose vehicle to access the street.

  3. It would be far simpler to just treat Third Avenue bus stops like Link stops (minus the tap-off step). It is silly to allow off board payment, but still allow on board payment at the same time. Metro should also accept a payment made on another Metro bus as payment for a bus there. That way, someone who makes a transfer doesn’t have to do anything. Everyone else will have to tap the meter outside by the bus stop, or put in coins to get a fare ticket. That’s pretty darn simple, really. With enough signs it would be easy, and actually easier for tourists. I’m a pretty shy, somewhat neurotic person, and one thing I hate is holding up a bus full of people while I try and figure out where to put the money when I travel (do I put the paper money in the same place as the coins?). Having a no hassle, off board process (usually without much of a line) is way easier and preferable. This would also set things up for other places in the future.

    For example, when Link starts serving areas that are primarily used as bus depots, it makes sense to have complete off-board payment. All you have to do then is have enough Metro readers to handle the big loads of riders coming off the train. But once they have tapped, they can then just walk on the bus. Fare enforcement could be used very sparingly on routes like the 41, since most people will board the Northgate Transit Center after already paying for a different bus or Link.

    1. I think Metro is considering a couple sites in south King County. It may have to wait until Metro accumulates more revenue in the economic boom. I don’t think it has been scheduled yet.

  4. If we had a mayor that cared about transit we’d already have “something” done on 3rd. But nooooo….., she is too preoccupied with the CCC.

    But hey, blame Metro too. For the price of that silly little temporary ramp at CPS we could have a paid for and implemented solution to 3rd. But noooooo……, Metro would rather spend money on a short term patch so they can keep the buses in the DSTT and live in the past for just a few months more.

    Dumb all around.

  5. Long past time Seattle Transit Blog should’ve started posting and publicizing the price of every single minute that a transit vehicle is stopped when it should be moving.

    Tunnel fare-box delays would have long since gone to the shredder as fast as the fareboxes themselves soon as the figures hit the fan, I mean front page of The Seattle Times. Fast and easy: as STB always does with Open Thread paragraphs with financial implication, foot-note a little ($).

    Except that, like with HOT lanes, linked to real-time readout. Maybe also have a little soda pop bottle icon to remind taxpayers that stolen speed costs them more than tax-heavy greed. Hey, I’ve got it! A lottery where people can guess how much money is getting wasted!

    But we do need to re-think the color. Bad enough that our windshields could be splattered with blameless little hummingbirds attracted by all the red.

    And with Climate Change, the clouds of mosquitoes could result in sidewalks being blocked by places of refreshment populated by elderly people sitting in canvas chairs guzzling gin and quinine tonic (where that drink really came from!) and recalling their days with the Raj in INN-djah! Also having to post signs that a “Pith” helmet isn’t a lisp.

    And worst of all, every State Ferry on the waters loaded to near-capsize with really cute teenagers from Forks whose orthodontists now substitute sharpening wheels for braces. Putting on regulation bike helmets with red reflectors for eyes, so they can hang upside down from trolley wires drooling all night.

    But! ‘Tis an ill wind that blows only downhill from Transylvania. Money saved by five minutes’ removed delays could finish, in fifteen seconds, attaching the ten feet of wire and switches that for 28 years has cost our system ($) ’til the number 4 key on ever keyboard melts. Maybe Romanian government will pay us for some advertising aimed at tourists who don’t turn into a pile of ashes at sunrise.

    BTW, hope KC Metro can find new-hires in that category. Early morning runs are already Hell to fill. And “All Nighters” could start to have a lot of trouble in the summer, when the sun comes up at 4AM. Maintenance says their vacuum cleaners already burst their bags in half an hour.


    1. I sincerely hope you are kidding about the red paint attracting hummingbirds that then get struck and killed. If that is truly the case, then we need a full environmental assessment before proceeding with more red paint.

      This would kill the idea of painting third red for me.

      1. @Brock,

        If I had a dime for every time a hummingbird buzzed up to me and hovered just a foot away because I was wearing a red shirt I’d be reasonably wealthy.

        Nectar might attract them more than color, but that doesn’t mean that color doesn’t attract them at all. They are obviously attracted to color too.

      2. I see red
        And it hurts my head
        Guess it must be something
        That I read

        Thinking about the overhead
        The underfed

        Couldn’t we talk about something else instead?

        We’ve got Mars on the horizon
        Says the National Midnight Star
        (It’s true!)
        What you believe is what you are
        A pair of dancing shoes
        The Soviets are the blues
        The reds
        Lying in the darkness
        Dead ahead

        You see black or white
        But I see red
        (Not blue)

        — “Red Lenses”, Rush

      3. Many plants have evolved red flowers to preferentially attract hummingbirds over insects. Certain plants in certain environments will be more efficiently pollinated by birds over insects. Perhaps high altitude and cold temperatures make insects unreliable visitors during certain parts of the year or the individual plants are too widespread to be pollinated by a shorter-ranged insect. Because producing nectar and pollen comes at a cost it is beneficial to ensure that as much as possible is collected and distributed by the most efficient pollinator.

        Reality is a bit more complicated but birds are better able to distinguish red flowers from background green foliage than are bees and many other insects. A plant species that is more effectively pollinated by a bird will face selective pressure towards red-hued foliage as the redder specimens attract a greater ratio of birds that successfully pollinate and propagate a new generation over insects which also consume the nectar/pollen resource but are less likely to successfully deliver the genetic package to another individual plant and create new offspring.

  6. There is another easy improvement to 3rd Ave. not listed here. A left turn onto Denny. The current configuration where buses detour to 1st because they aren’t important enough to justify installing a traffic signal at 3rd does not make sense. This is something that would pay for itself with the service hours saved.

    1. Great idea. That would be very simple and fairly cheap. You only need to add a traffic signal there and remove the little barriers ( That seems like an easy and cheap thing to do.

      Probably the trickiest part is deciding how to time the lights. I don’t see a simple solution, but here is my thinking: Denny takes priority from a timing standpoint and you want the two lights (that are very close to each other) to be the same color at the same time. When the lights are red on Denny, buses on Third should get the green on both Broad and Denny. That way buses can cruise through bus intersections. So far, so good. However, that means southbound drivers on Broad will be out of luck. They will drive through the intersection at Denny, then have to wait at the very next block (Third). There are no buses that go there, so that wouldn’t bother me much. However, the city might not like a new mess there. People could back up into Denny (especially since this would be a change in the way the signals work).

      There are other ways of handling the problem. The simplest would be to focus on preventing cars from piling up on Broad between Denny and Third, even if that means extending the cycle. When cars are stopped on Denny (at both Third and Broad) southbound cars on Broad would still have a red light (while northbound cars would have a green). Eventually those cars would go, right before the light favors Broad on Third. That would mean a longer wait for drivers on Denny or a shorter cycle for those on Broad. There are other options as well, none of them very simple.

      I do think it is worth pursuing, but it would probably take a while for the folks to figure out the timing. As good as the modeling is, sometimes it doesn’t work, and has to be tweaked.

    2. I don’t get it. I often ride the 1, 2, 13, and D from 3rd to Key arena to get to work. 1st avenue crosses Denny with convenient signal priority and goes up the hill to Key. There is little traffic on Broadway and 1st compared to Denny. I wouldn’t want them or any other bus to sit in traffic on Denny from 3rd to 1st. The trolley buses also for some reason often stop briefly on Broadway to do some kind of check or adjustment of their connection to the wires though whatever they are doing might be able to be done elsewhere. I might also add the stop on 1st is across from Drip City Coffee (not a bad destination) and seems like it might be convenient to people living in some of the buildings on 1st and on Western (though there is only a stop in one direction).

  7. How about some signs prior to Stewart Street that actually give drivers a chance to divert before the restriction. We need to do a better job of giving excuses to even out of town drivers that they’re suddenly not allowed on the street in front of them. Not as big a deal for northbound since drivers have to turn onto Prefontaine Place. Lots of different ways signs could help but here’s my mock-up:

  8. I’ve often thought that a visual gateway or “moat” at the cross streets would be effective to deter auto traffic. Overhead electronic signs, overhead arched fixed signs announcing Third Avenue (like the arched signs in Downtown Modesto or Fresno), crosswalk pavers, or oversized bus stop canopies partly or fully over the street are all design options. Red paint isn’t the only solution.

    1. King Street in Toronto has physical barriers at intersection to ensure cars only drive 1 block before turning onto a cross street.

      1. That’s how Portland’s transit mall was, though the one way street grid of three lanes north and three lanes south makes that easier as buses get two lanes each direction and autos one, even with the current continuous auto lane.

      2. How can a barrier block cars from driving multiple blocks but get out of the way for buses or turns?

  9. Any improvement in the cards for Stewart St. busses–in particular, the turns off of Stewart St. to 5th and 3rd? I imagine there will be even more busses making these turns once the busses leave the tunnel.

    1. Short term yes, longer term, no, as these buses gets replaced by Link. By 2040, I can’t think of any route that would need to make that turn, other than the 70.

    2. Not many buses turn on 3rd. Most of the Stewart Street buses turn on 2nd, and a few on 5th. The goes east on Virginia instead of Olive, so maybe it could go west on Lenora. But the 70 will go away soon, I think by 2021 if the funding shortfalls can be stopped, replaced by Roosevelt RapidRide. And I don’t recall which street it’s planning to take.

Comments are closed.