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.

Phase 2 Project Area (SDOT)

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.

21 Replies to “Rainier Avenue Bus Lane Advances”

  1. Rainier Valley bike commuter here. I cannot understand why the city would even consider a bike lane here if it comes at the expense of a dedicated bus lane. Bus lanes move far, far more people every day of the year. I’m happy enough to ride over Beacon Hill if it means that literally thousands of others can get through the mess that is Rainier Ave more quickly.

    1. I think a bike lane on MLK, not Rainier, makes the most sense. There is very little competition with buses, so any slowdown caused by taking a lane is not that big of a deal. Those headed a long ways (where speed makes the most difference) would switch to taking the train or a bus on Rainier.

      1. This is the opposite of SDOT’s 5-10 year vision for these two corridors, though. SDOT wants to push car traffic currently on Rainier over to MLK as much as possible, and to let Rainier be refocused towards transit and (I’ll believe it when I see it) bikes. At least, this is what they’ve stated about their plans for the sections of these roads south of Mount Baker. A sticking point is that these plans assume we find funding for Accessible Mount Baker, which will eliminate the intersection of MLK and Rainier and dramatically reshape the chaotic roadways adjacent to the transit center.

        There won’t be a bike lane on MLK through the Rainier Valley. If we’re going to get decent bike facilities through the Rainier Valley, they’ll either be on Rainier or on a zig-zagging side-streets corridor that roughly parallels Rainier. Until then, cyclists will likely just use the new bus lanes on Rainier.

      2. And cyclists will be much much safer in the bus lane on Rainier than they are now. Cars will be moving slower in general, and bus drivers are considerably better about giving cyclists a safe distance.

      3. Link and cars on MLK; RapidRide 7 on Rainier. Link and cars on 15th NW; RapidRide 40 in Real Ballard. That’s the best Seattle can do.

        Maybe what ST and Seattle need is a copy of that French painting on their wall, the one showing a pedestrian plaza in Paris with cafes with outdoor seating along the sides and in the middle a stairway to underground with a sign saying “Metro”. Maybe that would remind them that the way to maximize transit’s ridership and usefulness is to put stations within a few steps of the center of urban neighborhoods.

      4. MLK is actually where the bike lanes are in the Bike Master Plan.

        Not that it means much.

      5. One irony about Rainier – because the existing conditions are so hostile to riding a bike, there is no existing consistency of bike riders on Rainier to push for better conditions, so the bus lane wins easily.

        On Eastlake, the existing cycling conditions, while not great, are good enough to have enough people using it, so when they push for better conditions, their voice gets heard.

      6. Martin Luther King is much flatter than Rainier and when there are hills, they’re gentler. But I do not see where there is room for a protected bike lane alongside it. Perhaps on the sidewalk most places, but that’s pretty slow riding because of the need to use cross walks at the cross-streets.

      7. @Tom — Just take a lane. It wouldn’t be the first time a four lane road was converted to three (or two).

    2. I think it’s pretty easy to understand why protected bike lanes are a necessity. People are already riding bikes on Rainier – and getting killed. There are a lot of businesses on Rainier that can be accessed by bike – MLK is only a solution for long-distance bike commuting.

      What’s hard to understand is why cyclists and pedestrians continue to die in SE Seattle and any safety plans continue to be delayed. Or maybe it’s not so hard to understand, the SE screwed once again.

      1. In the SDOT post-opening analysis, the reduction in accidents on Rainier through Columbia City was achieved only by diverting traffic to other parallel streets. The accident rate per vehicle did not fall!

        I’m not so sure merely taking a lane and slowing traffic is safer. It’s more about good design for everyone.

      2. I just checked the SDOT annual accident reports for this stretch of Rainier for the past five years. Unless I’m missing something or SDOT is missing something, there is no pedestrian or bicycle fatality on Rainier between Henderson and Spencer reported in those documents.

        They do show that there have been five bicycle collisions on this stretch of Rainier in the past five years — 2 at about Cloverdale, 2 at about Austin and 1 at about Morgan.

        The reports say there have been lots of pedestrian collisions on that stretch.

        The stretch south of Henderson looks much more dangerous, as does MLK generally.

  2. The whole playing-off of bus lanes against bike lanes thing is yet another sign we need more elected officials who put safety and climate action first. I can’t imagine a better candidate for City Council District 2 (well, for any of the districts) than Phyllis Porter.

    No, she hasn’t qualified for Democracy Vouchers yet, but she’d be my top recommendation of all the candidates in all the races for someone to help qualify for Vouchers with a private contribution of $10-$250. She is the main mover in trying to get Rainier Ave re-engineered to be safer for users of all modes. She is an avid biker organizer, and she’s not rich. She has worked within the system rather than screaming at it, while not relinquishing her values.

    1. We’ll see what happens in the next election. I’m pessimistic because we elected a lot of pro-urban councilmembers but even they backtracked on the HALA amendments (except the at-large members), and the next round may revert to more pro-car and more adamant on keeping single-family areas unchanged. I hope not, but if they successfully neutralized even Rob Johnson then I don’t know how many better candidates there can be or can win.

      1. At the end of the day, Rob Johnson is still a white single-family homeowner. I was disappointed that he acquiesced to kneecapping MHA, but not surprised.

        I feel pretty good about Shaun Scott’s pro-urban credentials in D4, assuming he gets elected. NIMBY candidates have gotten crushed in every recent election, and I don’t think that’s going to change. I’m mildly concerned about the lefty vote and urbanist vote in D3 being split between Sawant and Logan Bowers, though.

      2. My impression of Logan Bowers is that he’s a market urbanist Rob Johnson clone, but with fewer credentials and more tech/weed bro vibes. Am I off?

        Urbanism must avoid perpetuating racial and income inequality through unchecked gentification and economic displacement. Market urbanism steers right into that, and Kshama can make that argument forcefully.

      3. “Urbanism must avoid perpetuating racial and income inequality through unchecked gentification and economic displacement”

        Isn’t that putting impossible demands on urbanism?” It alone can’t fix income equality, or the wealth disparity that traces back to past discrimination (mostly before 1970) and tax cuts and and social-program deterioration (mostly after 1970). In a situation where a full-time minumum-wage job can’t even afford a studio apartment, there are hardly any options without causing some displacement. You have to look at the root of the problem, why rents are so high. They’ve been rising faster than income or purchasing power since 2003. That’s because we haven’t been building enough housing to keep up with the population increase, and that’s because of zoning restrictions that created an artificial scarcity of land and allowed building types (especially making missing-middle housing infeasible to build, which is less expensive than larger formats). That caused more people to compete for the same number of units, and made it easier for landlords and sellers to raise prices. The only way to stop this spiral is to build enough housing to match the number of people and jobs coming to the city, and it’s gotten so bad that we’ll need a lot of non-market housing to compensate for the increases of the past 10-15 years. At the same time we prefer compact walkable neighborhoods, which lowers transportation costs, energy use, etc. If you don’t build housing and increase density because you’re afraid it won’t improve the social demographics of who lives where, then you;re allowing the existing problem to perpetuate. What we need is a lot of both “market-rate” and “non-market rate” housing, and if there’s a lack of will to increase non-market rate housing substantially (and these mandatory-percentage requirements in large buildings are only a fraction of what’s needed). we shouldn’t throw away the market-rate too or blame it as the cause of the problem.

        That’s what Sawant should be saying, and the fact that she doesn’t is one reason I’m lukewarm about her. I’m in her district so I’d gladly vote for a more urban or less leftist candidate if one comes along. I will say in her defense that she sounds more reasonable and well-informed when she’s speaking in the city council or in an interview than she does in her political rallies or how she’s described in the news. I wish she would just give up this leftist excessiveness and focus on being pragmatic, because that’s what we need.

  3. How does this dovetail with often-debated Rainier Beach Link Station connectivity and the proposed Rainier RapidRide program?

    Rather than look at the street pavement and choose, shouldn’t we be finalizing any revised transit operations strategy and then lay out the bus lanes?

    This bus lane could be more beneficial if it connected to Link at Rainier Beach more frequently than the 9X does. I’d feel more supportive if the approach was not merely taking a lane but making that lane as productive as possible as part of the project.

    1. The plan is to turn west at Henderson Street and terminate at Rainier Beach Station. The only thing they have to get right is the turn at Henderson at the edge of the phase area, so I’m not worried about that.

  4. I disagree how the post suggests this will eliminate buses from choke points.

    My frequent experience in the corridor is that the choke points are in Hillman City and South of Henderson. This part of the street moves pretty well. It may be a safety issue but it’s not really a choke point issue.

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