3rd Ave / photo by Zach Heistand

Laura Bliss, at Citylab, on “Tactical Transit Lanes”:

After all, the reason that more buses don’t have their own lanes has little to do with engineering. Setting up a special space for buses usually means taking it away from private vehicles and parking spots, and people literally get murdered for that. Less extreme, car commuters and their elected officials—a group that sometimes includes the very decision-makers who may ultimately decide the fate of a bus-lane proposal—often fiercely resist projects that threaten their existing vehicle space.

Which is why small-scale pilots can be useful. “They’re a great way to demonstrate the value of transit priority and engage those who benefit most—transit riders,” Matute said in an email.

On way to think of a “tactical” bus lane is as part of an inverted planning process: instead of doing a bunch of outreach and having to fight against the status quo, a transit agency can change the facts on the ground with a quick bus lane pilot, in some cases using nothing more than traffic cones.  Suddenly the bus riders who are benefiting from the change form a powerful new constituency for making the lane permanent.  A new status quo is born.  

Bliss references a UCLA best practices guide on TTLs, which includes some examples from around the country.  The study distinguishes “tactical” bus lanes from a more “strategic” BRT-style projects that involve more capital spending and land use coordination.  Everett, MA and Cambridge, MA stand out as being true “tactical” efforts, where the cones went up literally overnight

Including Seattle’s 3rd Avenue in the study was a bit of a head scratcher, though.  We’ve been lumbering towards making 3rd Avenue car free for literally decades. It’s not as though Seattle has a shortage of TTLs to talk about, either.  The post-Ducks-accident lane on Aurora, for example, or the Montlake offramp.  Reading through the full study I get the impression that Seattle’s pretty good compared to peer cities but could always be better.

4 Replies to “Tactical Transit Lanes”

  1. While 3rd Ave. gets most of the noise, I haven’t noticed enough cars on it during the off-peak hours to really impact bus service. On the other hand, there are certain problem intersections, such as the 8 approaching Broadway on John, or the 45 approaching Aurora on 85th, where a bus lane would made a big difference at all times of day.

  2. It’s an admirable strategy — except for one big factor: signals. (There are also many other factors like pedestrian safety.)

    Most bus priority strategies in Seattle involve signal modifications. Most of the non-signal or “easy fixes” have been identified and debated — and implemented where possible. The City and Metro have many, many years of experience in implementing good priority across Seattle — as the post clearly notes. Because some other things are locally controversial, they have not happened.

    Signals require more cost, more implementation time and more budget to create better transit priority than a mere “pilot” can usually provide.

    Generally, we are beyond the easy strategies. Implementing more sophisticated and often more controversial ones requires budgeting, objective study and outreach.

    Is the problem speed or reliability? How is it related to a nearby signal? Is it because of too much time collecting fares, too much time stuck behind cars at a signal or too much time stuck behind slow moving cars, or the bus stop being in the wrong place? Is it simply that a signal is malfunctioning or isn’t responding to current conditions (23rd/Rainier is the latest mega-bottleneck that has resulted for this reason)?

    While there are certainly spot areas where there are problems, I’d think staff pretty much know what they are — and why they haven’t been addressed at this point.

    So advocating for a generic “pilot program” to me seems like asking a college lit class to spend time on Dr Seuss stories. It’s a noble idea with some possible payoff, but not where we are at today. Instead, we should probably be looking at more complex strategies — and then ask if a pilot (as a tool in a toolbox) will resolve related controversies.

    My preferences would be:

    – to be take a ”clean slate” look at stops for our four new Link rail stations inside Seattle opening in the next four years (and perhaps revisiting some logistical issues at existing stations) to make sure we have the right designs for buses that will be mixing with pedestrians, bicyclists and lots of dropping-off and picking-up.

    – to focus on RapidRide corridors generally.

    – to use the GPS data from buses to hone in on other problem areas — including indentification of where conditions have recently gotten worse — followed by targeted field studies to define the issues contributing to each problem and what solutions would solve them.

    1. I realize there is one more bullet point:

      – assess the flow issues that have resulted from the tunnel opening and the removal of buses from the DSTT to address any new or worsening problem locations.

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