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.