In 2017 and 2018, the Move Seattle project looked at options for reallocating the five lane widths of Rainier Avenue from Kenny to Henderson St, to improve safety and speed up buses. The safest and most climate-friendly strategy would have deployed two general purpose lanes, two bus lanes, and a two-way cycle track. But given the desire for at least some parking, and turning lanes at intersections, this was never an option. Instead, SDOT asked the community if they preferred a bus lane or a protected cycle track in this corridor
Outreach in 2017 didn’t indicate an overwhelming preference. In-person feedback was about 4:3 in favor of the bus lane. Online comments from the most relevant zip code where also slightly pro-bus lane, while Seattle-wide online comments were about 4:3 in favor of the bike lane. Interestingly, there was a form-letter campaign from the Cascade Bicycle Club for the bike lane option, presumably also reflected in the online response. Separately, the online responses had a wildly disproportionate racial composition for the Rainier Valley. Drivers heavily preferred the bus lane.
Regardless of how one spins the survey results, SDOT read it as primarily a call for a safer street and a more reliable 7. It decided to move forward with the bus lane option. 2019 will see various spot improvements at key intersections with a focus on safety. In 2020, after they “incorporate input” they will roll out a new street layout, depicted above.
From 3-4 GP lanes and 1-2 parking lanes, this stretch of Rainier will evolve into two GP lanes, a turn lane, and a northbound bus lane. The fifth lane will vary between parking and a southbound bus lane. Route 7 advocates would profit from close attention to the block-by-block battle that will ensue.
In 2015 Phase 1 of the project addressed the section between Alaska and Kenny Streets. It added a short stretch of bus lanes between Alaska and Edmunds, but for most of the segment 4 GP + 1 Parking lane turned into 2 GP, 2 parking, and 1 turn lane. Thanks to that and some signal improvements, traffic diverted to MLK, northbound transit times dropped 3 minutes, and there were fewer accidents. It was a mild win for transit and much bigger win for safety.
If SDOT follows through with its plan, Phase 2 promises to be a much bigger win for transit. While queue jumps and chokepoint relief certainly help, when the transportation system breaks down, there is no substitute for a dedicated lane that keeps the buses moving quickly when they are most needed.