Apparently fed up with rampant bus lane violations, an unidentified woman took the initiative last week and inspired equal parts of praise and outraged driver entitlement. She also inspired the Greenways movement to run a similar event Monday, which Heidi Groover covered ($).

Grasping the spirit of the moment, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff called them “heroes“. The organs of Seattle city government definitely did not:

SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said frustrated transit riders should channel their feelings into “more productive’ efforts like lobbying lawmakers to allow camera enforcement. Whitcomb said bus-lane enforcement is “a regular area of focus’ for traffic officers but stationing officers on crowded downtown streets during rush hour can worsen congestion.

The city establishment feels the pressure to fix the bus lane problem and does what they do best — deflect blame to Olympia. Lobbying may or may not make things better eventually, but the bravery this week improved some bus commutes immediately.

Meanwhile, there are things the city should be doing to make bus lane compliance better right now. First of all, simplify the rules to make the lanes 24 hour and paint them red. This will reduce confusion and inadvertent violations.

Secondly, although automated enforcement has some advantages over using police, the human version appears to work in Vancouver, Chicago, and Washington DC. SPD may be concerned about “congestion” (read: inconvenience for cars) but it’s easy enough to pull over violators into something not a bus lane if we’re ready to truly prioritize transit.

While I wouldn’t pressure anyone to insert themselves into a potentially dangerous situation, this courage on behalf of the greater good should be recognized for what it is. Rogoff had it right.

88 Replies to “Abandoned by the city, riders take matters into their own hands”

  1. There is no point investing in transit lanes if the city won’t ticket cars who use them. To build them without an enforcement plan is stupid.

    1. There is no point in investiing in the homeless and drug problem if the city isn’t going to enforce the laws. To say otherwise is just plain stupid.

      You could apply that theory to anyone of a thousand things in King County and still be correct.

      1. This is a bad analogy. “investing in bus lanes” is a specific policy. “investing in the homeless problem” is not a specific policy.

        Try again

      2. That’s not true at all. You can fund a drug treatment program, for instance, without enforcing RV parking laws. Transit only lanes are only worthwhile if they allow transit vehicles to travel unrestricted by SOVs.

  2. “The professionals” are failing to enforce traffic laws in the city of Seattle. They have all the tools they need to do so: officers and ticket books. If they are so concerned about “increasing congestion”, the officers could just record video and officially witness the illegal behavior and issue citations by mail.

    1. Not really possible. Tickets are issued to drivers, not license plates. You can’t identify a driver based on a license plate, so pulling them over and checking their license is how to ID them.

      1. Sorry, the owner of the vehicle can be ticketed, and the image of the driver blotted out. Don’t want a ticket? Keep control of your vehicle.

        That is how the bills have been drafted, to satisfy the ACLU.

      2. Tim, the issue has gone way beyond ticketing a few cars. Specific businesses, mainly small private charter and large rideshare companies, illegally use mass transit lanes for standard daily operation. You could ticket every individual vehicle for a month, and on Day 32 nothing will have changed.

        Criminal enterprise is a charge levied against companies, not individual drivers. Criminal enterprises need to be brought to heel here. Ticketing a few random drivers doesn’t acknowledge, much less address, the issue at hand.

      3. With 21st Century technology including facial recognition that I use on my phone a dozen times a day, it is most definitely possible to identify the driver, to within 99% accuracy. 99.9% if you the driver is also driving a car registered *in their own name*. Traffic enforcement in America needs to come in to the 21st Century.

      4. A-Joy: I know for a fact that rideshare companies do not absorb the driver’s tickets. And one ticket is pretty much a week’s worth or earnings for a full time driver (much more impactful if it’s a part timer). Rideshare drivers would have to learn to pull over at the closest place where it’s legal. And if the rider pickup is in an impossible location, we can cancel the ride and let the rider learn to request the ride in a sane location.

      5. This happens in NYC all the time when cars block the box. Police on foot approach your vehicle, ask you to roll down your window, inform you are violating traffic laws, and ask you to proceed to a curb lane where other officers with ticket books are writing citations non-stop.

        There is 0 reasons why this cant be done here.

      6. B, I’d much rather penalize the business than the driver. The former is creating the situation, and in some ways is paying the latter to perform the illegal act. I hold companies to a higher standard than individuals, as their centralization of goods, money and power warrants a greater level of responsibility. I am anticorporatist, not anti-person.

      7. Jack,

        Years ago I saw SPD do something similar on N 40th close to Latona in the Latona School 20mph zone. One officer stood in the downhill traffic lane with a speed gun, and directed each car that was exceeding 20mph (I watched for ~3 minutes, and it seemed about 50% of the cars were getting the treatment) onto a side street, where a ticket-writing operation was taking place. I’ve never seen it since then, but if that officer is still on the force, put her/him in charge of the traffic division, and provide a lifetime supply of doughnuts and coffee too!

      8. Then how are tickets issued based on speed cameras?

        They mail a form to the registered owner. The form includes a box which they can tick to indicate they weren’t driving, bringing the total punishment for the crime to the cost of a stamp.

      9. Tickets are issued to drivers, not license plates.

        Parking ticket are issued to the owner of the car based on the license plate. It really isn’t complicated.

      10. Parking ticket are issued to the owner of the car based on the license plate. It really isn’t complicated.

        Driving isn’t parking.

  3. This city desperately needs traffic enforcement with bright yellow vests and whistles directing traffic throughout downtown during rush hour. Drivers in the bus lane isn’t the only problem, I see constant box blocking and dangerous illegal turns. Drivers are either clueless or they don’t care because they know nothing will be done.

    Just another example of Seattle ignoring what works everywhere else.

    1. I should add by the way I’ve been stopped countless times by SPD for jaywalking over the years, sometimes in the dead of night. I wonder how many more jaywalking tickets are written by the city than box/bus blocking?

      1. Why have I never been stopped for jaywalking/running? Maybe there is a real racial element to this issue (unlike the lame fake one linked to downthread).

      2. Hah, my dad’s only story about Seattle was getting ticketed by the SPD for jaywalking in the early ’70s. He was a long-haired wiry hipster type on his way to Alaska and got a fat “don’t stick around” ticket. I guess it did the trick, because while he’ll jaywalk in other places, when he comes up to visit me he’ll wait for the walk signal while in Seattle.

    2. This city desperately needs traffic enforcement with bright yellow vests and whistles directing traffic throughout downtown during rush hour.

      We actually have that; problem is they’re being wasted metering cars out of parking garages.

      1. @Tim,

        No, not really. Those Garage Cops are off-duty and are not being paid by the city. They are actually being paid by the business owners to assist their employees in leaving the premises safely and efficiently.

        So no government waste or mis-spent resources, just some cops making a little extra money on the side. It can get a bit murky though, which is why there was that big brouhaha a few years back about scheduling and who got a slice of the off-duty work pie.

        That said though, there is no reason that bus riders, or their employers, couldn’t hire off-duty Seattle police officers to police the bus lanes. It’s just a matter of money, and where you want to spend “yours”.

        But why citizens should need to spend their own money to enforce the law is beyond me.

      2. Lazarus, maybe the city should hire its own police officers off-duty to actually enforce the laws that they can’t be bothered to enforce while on duty? Seems like a bad incentive, but it might be cheaper than trying to actually work with SPD directly.

      3. The important part here is that they are police officers. Not all of them are Seattle police officers; some come from counties outside King. The same staffing agency that provides these glorified crossing guards also supplies officers posted near the entrances to large shopping establishments, among dozens of other places.

        It’s not a staffing issue; it’s a lack of willingness to send the officers to enforce the law. Which is a bit bizarre in its own right: several police departments have publicly accosted users for posting the locations of speed traps, as traffic stops are an effective way of detaining and/or jailing those with active warrants.

    3. Yep. I walk through most of Downtown/Belltown on my daily commute, twice a day, and in the past year have never – not once – seen any enforcement of traffic violators, box blocking, bus lane blocking, unsafe riding on sidewalks, running red lights, and the like. Uber/Lyft consistently uses bus lanes to pick up/drop off passengers – the 100 people in the large vehicle being blocked be damned – or makes stops at corners blocking the crosswalk. Fewer and fewer people will pay any attention to laws if they are not enforced, and traffic laws downtown simply aren’t.

      Throw in the fact that construction frequently blocks off whole stretches of sidewalk for over a year – try walking down the west side of Second downtown; you may be forced to cross back and forth two or three times depending on your destination – with no taking of traffic lanes for pedestrians to use as is done in other cities means being a pedestrian can be an exceedingly frustrating experience. The feeling that nobody who can do something about it cares enough to make it better does not help.

      1. I thought they had passed a rule a few years ago that the construction was not to block the sidewalk, I want to say under Murray? Apparently, they’ve thrown that rule out the window, the Rainier Square development also hogs 3 sides of one block. SDOT seems to have no concerns.

      2. Second Avenue is a bit of a conundrum as on the west side the curb lane is a bus lane, which would be a bit more difficult to displace (and certainly shouldn’t be removed). On the east side it’s the bikeway where at the Wells Fargo building pedestrians are not allowed so that the bikeway isn’t displaced either. Again, this is understandable (despite there being an order of magnitude more pedestrians than cyclists, you can at least cross the street if you’re walking), but it’s a perfect storm with three buildings or sites under construction within four blocks and bike/bus lanes on each side of the street making moving pedestrians there difficult.

        Where it could have been fixed are on E-W streets along those blocks, but at least there you normally have the light and a narrower street to cross. Still – it’s often street parking adjacent and certainly that could have been removed during construction.

        Construction by its very nature will often take the sidewalk space – it’s difficult and unsafe to be building something immediately adjacent to pedestrians during many phases of construction, and there needs to be site access on at least one side of the site – but that doesn’t mean in many areas street space can’t temporarily be used by pedestrians (or structure built over the sidewalk to protect passers-by).

      3. The rule still exists and is in force, just there’s a clause that allows SDOT to waive the rule if maintaining the existing walkway is ‘reasonably impractical’. And they grant those waivers like they’re candy in a bowl at a bank teller.

        The ironic thing is, they actually trumpet the Rainer Square setup as an example of them sticking it to the developer in one of their blog posts in a way that doesn’t seem to jive with reality: https://sdotblog.seattle.gov/2018/01/23/sidewalk-and-traffic-lane-closures/

      4. Yeah, that’s pretty audacious. I work in One Union Square. For 36 years, I could run through the Rainier Square Tunnel to get to my bus on 3rd and Union. Now I have to cross Union St. twice and of course no tunnel under 6th and 5th Avenues. It’s a lot longer to get there (I’ve moved so take Link now, but in the other direction I take a bus from King St. Station that drops me off at the same stop so in reverse I have to cross Union twice).

        I’m unusual in that I don’t have a set schedule or a need to get home to pick up from daycare or the like. Other workers in the same and adjacent locations don’t have my flexibility.

        And, as I’ve pointed out a number of times, the left turn light from Union onto Fifth, which was put in because there were so many pedestrians crossing that left turning traffic was “inconvenienced”, is still there, even though there is no crosswalk there. That the city didn’t tell the developer to pay for reprogramming the light during and then after construction is outrageous. Pedestrians are required to stand at Fifth and Union to cross in the only possible direction for a light that is twice as long as it needs to be.

      5. +1

        The only enforcement I’ve seen recently downtown has been motorcycle SPD on 3rd Avenue in the AM commute, and even that has dropped off in frequency significantly.

        Meanwhile I’ve had 3 scary interactions with cars as a pedestrian in the last 3 weeks – 2 downtown, 1 in Ballard. It is so bad now that the drivers curse me out after nearly hitting me.

  4. If we can have dozens of off-duty cops making things easier for drivers exiting parking garages, why can’t we instead have them do an official version of what these riders did? No need to pull people over or hand out tickets, just stand on the corner in uniform with a whistle and tell drivers to get the hell out of the lane. Start with 6th/Olive, 5th/Battery, and other hotspots. As much as drivers deserve fines for breaking the law, bus flow is more important.

    1. SPD shouldn’t be in charge of traffic enforcement. I’m not sure how it works at NYPD but officers who write parking tickets and direct traffic aren’t regular police officers. They do wear uniforms because they were getting harassed but they don’t carry weapons or have power to arrest people.

      Just another thing SPD should consider. If officers would rather escort Lexus’s from private lots than work for the public good, the city can hire people who will.

      1. Good idea! Although even the NYC traffic cops don’t seem to care about bike lane and sidewalk blockages, it Twitter is any indication.

      2. SF Muni has parking enforcement officers photograph and mail tickets to box blockers, bus stop stoppers, and other violators. It’s not a moving violation though, may be easier to fight, and certainly won’t be heard of by the driver’s insurance.

    2. That’s a really good point: enforcement doesn’t always just have to be about punishment. Just get ’em out, which has an immediate effect and sets the culture a bit.

    1. The cops do enforce the jaywalking law , particularly downtown. But the cars tend to get a bit of a break.

      1. I haven’t seen a jaywalking ticket on 3rd Avenue in quite a while, whereas I used to see it quite regularly a few years ago. I think they may have stopped with the jaywalking tickets.

      2. Yeah, I’ve not seen it and I walk quite a bit downtown. It’s unusual to see an intersection where people aren’t jaywalking when they can.

      3. There used to be a motorcycle cop driving up and down 3rd Ave in the morning, but haven’t seen him lately. As I remember, he was rather sneaky; One time, I recall waiting on the street just ahead of the curb, looking as if I was about to walk against the red. But as the light turned green, my eyes turned to the right and I saw the cop pulling away from me as he appeared to be camped out waiting for me to jaywalk, that sneaky sob.

        I guess I’m still a little paranoid about getting stopped when I least expect it.

      4. Well, yeah, I don’t. My larger point is a Motorcycle Nazi who feels that he has to get within a half foot or so of where I’m standing in anticipating a jaywalk.

    1. Here’s a way to feed two birds with one seed: Give away thousands of rectangular red flags at Sounders matches, providing a ready prop for the masses to bring attention to when the refs miss a Sounder getting cleated, hit in the face, or DOGSOed. They can then be used by the many Sounders fans who get to the match by transit to clear out bus lanes while waiting for their bus.

      1. Surprisingly (or maybe not), a lot of people on Twitter had a negative reaction to this because they felt like it was another example of white privilege and white people thinking they have the right to boss people around, etc. I saw several people compare it to recent high-profile news stories about white people calling the police on Black people for no reason, which it is clearly not even remotely comparable to.

        In my opinion this is a very misguided take on the situation, but unfortunately online discourse has become increasingly toxic over the years so I’m not surprised.

      2. we could solve that problem by only allowing drivers of color of SOV violate the “bus only” regulations?
        how about if there were also prohibitions on SPD employees using their uniforms and status to make extra money facilitating the exit of SOV from downtown parking garages? Maybe some of those folks would take the bus if it was taking 45 minutes for them to get out of their $300/month garage rather than 45 minutes for a bus to move 12 blocks through downtown. And of course the inexecrable practice has metastasized to SLU – along with SDOT thinking it is perfectly fine for construction to close sidewalks for months on end, requiring multiple street crossings (if the box isn’t blocked).

    1. Yeah I wonder how often this “best selling author” and MSNBC contributor takes the bus. My guess is never. He’s almost certainly one of the BMWs that feel entitled to ignore the bus lane laws.

    2. Dude talks a big game about how he supports transit and biking, but his dumb tweets belie his true positions.

      He had another one where he was dogpiled for saying that biking isn’t a real form of transportation. He said he wanted bus lanes instead. Now after seeing this most recent meltdown, I’m not sure that was sincere.

    3. What a pompous jerk. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

      No, not that kind of “black”, but thus bozo seems not to know the difference.

    1. I still think red paint should be a requirement before installing lane cameras. The point should be to make it very clear cars are not to be in the lane, not to generate lots of ticket revenue. But once the red paint is applied, I have no qualms with the City using the fine revenue to add to bus service / capital projects.

      The amendments by some in the Legislature were directed partially at the fact that a private company makes lots of money operating these cameras and partially at Durkan’s traffic engineering ineptitude. (These are supposed to be bus lanes, not decongestion pricing lanes.) Spare us the ideological purity, please, do be fair to the drivers who are making a good faith effort to obey the law, and get caught because the pavement letters are so much harder to read than the color red. That means everyone should still get one warning. That’s education, progressive discipline, and being fair to those who can’t afford that first ticket.

  5. Can we reduce the confusion on bus lanes just a little? If they can’t be painted red because they are used by general traffic off-peak or on weekends, that begs the question: Is there really more traffic any time other than peak that would justify allowing general traffic in those lanes during those other times?

  6. It will be nice to allow citizen’s traffic ticket. Once the ticket is validated and paid, the fine is shared between city and citizen.

    1. Yes!! Although unfortunately I think the zebra strategy requires two elements missing among Seattle drivers: a sense of humor, and a capacity for shame.

  7. Funny how a typical Seattle driver (who hasn’t figured out a zipper merge) treats some I-5 lanes like lava, but it’s open season on the downtown bus lane.

    Brava to brave woman who began this. I hope she isn’t alone. Transit riders, take pride and defend your ride!

  8. Can we empower fare enforcement officers to issue traffic citations? At least for bus lanes and box blocking?

  9. Good to see the spirit, with ordinary citizens adopting a badly-needed transit measure as something of their own.

    But issuing commands really of any kind is police work. I’ve also noticed over the years that women officers seem to be more comfortable than men on this particular assignment- but think that’s lot more a matter of habit and training than innate ability.

    Considering the loss of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel in the face of so much need for it, this lane-reservation program deserves top priority and is worth whatever it costs.

    Mark Dublin

  10. Obedience to traffic laws is a tricky thing. For example, I see people getting in and out of Uber/Lyft vehicles in places where they shouldn’t stop. Seattle has lots of ambiguous signage and curb painting. Seattle has some terrible signs too (the “30 feet” one is the most vague; SFOT should just put a post+sign where “no parking” starts!). The ambiguous culture of so many missing or vague signs contributes to a culture that they can be ignored.

    1. Agreed on the ambiguous signage. The bus lane sign on Pike between 3rd and 4th on Pike is halfway down the block. I kind of can’t blame that out of town people don’t realize. SDOT needs to paint the lane red or sign this better, imo.

    2. One of those “No Parking –>” signs is posted near me. It’s frequently ignored. A traffic delineator is likely the only thing that would fix it.

  11. en vivo de CDMX/reporting from Mexico City

    There is a force of whistle toting traffic wardens (TRANSITO) who are dispatched to the most congested intersections during rush hours in CDMX. They don’t write tickets but they do keep the traffic moving and the intersections clear when the lights change. The idea of expanding the job of parking enforcement officers to become traffic wardens would be helpful. The wardens could write parking tickets during the midday hours but once the commutes are underway, they would be at the busiest intersections making sure that transit lanes are clear for buses and that pedestrians are able to get across the streets.

    Bus lane cameras should be a no-brainer, but the citations should be similar to fare violations on Link. The first time your car is seen in a bus lane, a written notice is sent to the home address of car’s owner. The 2nd time your car is spotted in a bus lane, a small citation is mailed to the car owner. The 3rd violation gets a bigger fine. (And the only way to appeal the fines is to go to a special court in Enumclaw.)

  12. Has Durkan said a damn thing about this? Is she indicating any effort on the party of the city to crack down on drivers illegally in the bus lanes?

  13. I did something like this four years ago in front of UW Med Center. I have a respectable telephoto lens on a digital camera. I just put myself about halfway between the exit driveway from the doctors’ garage and Montlake abd ostentatiously aimed at the front plates of cars in the bus lane.

    Most cars skedaddled to the center lane.

    More of this kind of guerrilla warfare with the autoistas!

    1. I like this approach a lot more. I’m worried that these bus lane heroes are eventually going to encounter one of the many maniacs driving around the city on a daily basis. I definitely would never put my body in front of a moving car unless it was directly threatening my family.

      1. Chris, absolutely true. To be clear, I was standing on the sidewalk, but right next to the curb.

  14. I love the comments. “The City should just do camera enforcement.” Current law doesn’t allow this. That’s why SDOT and SPD are advocating for the expansion of camera enforcement! They need laws changed in Olympia before proceeding.

    SPD resources are stretched horrifically thin, so dedicating police with pen and pad writing tickets is a waste of resources. We could further discuss the reasons why, but it’s “off-topic.” SPD is in rough shape.

    Lastly, the City has a wonderful thing called the surveillance ordinance which would make procuring these cameras a painful and bureaucratic nightmare.

  15. i have read all of the comments , good and bad……not sure how some peope can be so profusely ignorant and selfish ,but…………..
    bottom line is. the seattle police dept are not doing there jobs. they have allowed all of these small things build and build until even the small things have esculated into major issues now. there is no accountability , for poloice nor citizens. bicycles and pedestrians are allowed to do whatever they want wherever they want. as is the rule for the homeless and rv people. taxpayers are paying millions of dollars for a road system that bicycles have first priority and are seriously abusing.
    so without the police doing there jobs everyone drived how they want. it is horrible. bullies behind the wheel.
    someone needs to take control and use the word “no”.
    chaos is a horrible state to live in.

    1. someone needs to take control and use the word “no”.

      That someone is the mayor.

      I’m not sure what you mean by bicycles seriously abusing the road system, given that they are legal on every street except freeways.

      1. They’re legal on select freeways, too. I-90 has a stretch in East King County that permits bicycle use.

    2. “taxpayers are paying millions of dollars for a road system that bicycles have first priority”

      What??? Some cities like Paris put SOVs last priority but not Seattle. The Seattle bike network is on pace to take a century to finish. Bike lanes on 35th Ave NE were scrapped because a few businesses didn’t want to lose street parking. The Center City strategy that was supposed to get us through the Seattle Squeeze of 2019-2021 was mostly watered down to preserve SOV circulation. As for bicyclists acting like anarchists, there are drivers and pedestrians who act like that too. It’s hard to say whether one is worse than the others, except that drivers have a lot of structural advantages like the aforementioned deference to their circulation and parking, not to mention that they can kill bikers and peds without even trying while the reverse is unlikely.

  16. Assuming this is the fairly new 6th Ave bus lane between Seneca and Union the question I have for everyone jumping on the bandwagon is: when a driver exits the I-5 Seneca off-ramp to 6th Ave, where are they actually supposed to go?

    One is supposed to turn into the right-most lane, right? Upon doing so one finds it is a bus lane – I don’t think there’s any visible indication from the off-ramp of this new configuration or signage directing drivers to deviate from the standard right-most lane procedure. If the adjacent lane to the left is bumper to bumper that driver, not matter how pro-transit and well-intentioned, is likely to try to make some headway in order find a place to merge left.

    Why are the left-adjacent lanes bumper to bumper? It may have something to do the the Washington Athletic Club valet parking blocking off a travel lane mid block (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Athletic_Club).

    Are some motorists bad actors? Definitely. But it’s not the whole story. When I mentioned the WAC valet parking to Lisa Herbold (she came to my door at campaign time) she smiled. They have to apply for that permit every year and it’s never going to be denied.

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