A RapidRide bus at Bellevue Transit Center Image: Oran Viriyincy

SDOT’s proposed RapidRide G line will now open in 2024 after SDOT and the Federal Transit Administration have agreed that the agency has the chops to complete the project. FTA had raised concerns in February about staffing issues and other timeline aspects of the 2-mile BRT line, first conceived in 2011. Those concerns threatened the project’s federal funding as part of the Small Starts grant program.

A “project management oversight contractor” was brought in to help correct some of the outstanding issues in SDOT’s original application. The extended timeline includes more contingency and clarity about the org chart and the balance of responsibilities between SDOT and Metro.

The contractor has also provided a set of recommendations that are not blockers for the current small starts grant but are interesting to consider and examine. It’s like having a federally funded transit blogger:

Provide justification for the use of left-side platforms on this route, which requires a unique sub-fleet of buses, beyond simply stating that “The left side doors will be used to serve island platforms located in the center of the Madison Street BRT running.” References should be made to documents that describe other options that were considered, as well as the alternatives analysis evaluation process utilized.

Reconsider the statement in the draft FMP that an unspecified number of the five-door buses may have their two left-side doors removed if their use on MBRT is not required, since it would seem to be an unnecessary expense that would preclude those buses from ever being used on MBRT if the future need should arise.

A great question! The custom bus fleet has been a concern of ours as well. There are no easy answers here, since the current route veers between running in the median and running curbside. (First Hill advocates argued for the unique center-running section, which makes for great BRT, but is challenging if only partially implemented). But it ought to make SDOT and Metro stop and think if they really ought to make this route such a special snowflake without bringing the rest of RapidRide up to similar standards.

Explain why the non-revenue mileage appears to be high. The draft FMP states that the MBRT bus sub-fleet will operate 1,725 deadhead and other non-revenue miles per week, which is 26% of the total of 6,625 weekly miles.

That’s quite of non-revenue miles for a short, center-city route. Leave your explanations in the comments and maybe the FTA will refer to them down the road.

Update 8/20: SDOT’s Ethan Bergerson responds via email with a note about the left-side doors:

Center-running buses with boarding platforms on both sides was originally addressed in the development of the locally preferred alternative in 2015.  Left-sided boarding is necessary to build the bus-only lane in First Hill and over I-5 which does not conflict with right-turn movements. This decision was based primarily on operational analysis showing that center transit lanes would facilitate 40% faster and more reliable service by separating buses from lanes with right-turn movements.  Center transit lanes not only lead to more reliable service, they also help make more room for pedestrians in areas with narrow streets or sidewalks. 

No doubt the center-running lanes are better. It would have been great to have them for the whole route (and a few other RR routes as well).

32 Replies to “RapidRide passes federal muster for Fall 2024 opening”

  1. Honestly, Bellevue Transit Center is both defense and prosecution EVIDENCE that a preempted signal letting a standard bus “cross over” and put its right-hand doors to the platform, for the whole length of the whole busway, can be done just fine with equipment available this morning.

    For the likes of Madison Street, one additional thing: We’ll need a vertical divider with regular traffic that’ll gently steer a truck-tire back into its own lane. Mile long planter-box full of either evergreens or barberry will let it mean aesthetics, clean air, and BUSINESS all at once.

    Somebody with a degree in Public Administration: What’s the technical term for “Just Do It?”

    Mark Dublin

      1. Since these are both driven by consumately professional drivers, no problems on this score whatever.

        Mark Dublin

  2. For platforms and other tight clearances, Eugene also bolts heavy-duty fiberglass strips along coach-side vertical concrete for tires to rub against without damage. For a trolley driver, should be an assist but not a necessity.

    Mark Dublin

  3. Which base will the G’s home base? It’s hard to believe they will rack up that many deadhead miles if it’s one of the SODO bases.

  4. Frankly if you could get left-side buses, then you should look at replacing the Seattle Streetcar lines with BRT. Just saying look, not do without more data.

  5. Run them out of Atlantic Base along with all the other trolleybuses and problem solved, Sam. Since base-wire has been there for decades, won’t need a puff of pollution to bring them under the wire they’re already attached to.

    Mark Dublin

      1. Well, our first fleet of hybrids definitely saved us from the Bredas. Reason we bought those monsters at all was that when we spec’ed then out, hybrids hadn’t yet been invented.

        Same for a low-floor bus that could do sixty. Though only way a Breda could do sixty was fall off a really high cliff, since it was so heavy no plane could lift it to the necessary altitude.

        Sometimes wish my Prius had at least a pantograph if not poles- driving really less interesting without them. Though when the pandemic’s over, maybe the Swedes will give me a CDL so I can drive a double-pan semi.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27100u7IcII

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-kUyV76X-g

        Notice that Dave Dudley’s guitar had not yet gotten electrified.

        Mark Dublin

  6. Or, if Broadway base-wire is too slow, if it they’re not there already, equip the new fleet with those new pantograph-and-socket battery chargers. Honest, and with many apologies, this procurement is not a hard one.

    Mark Dublin

  7. In my opinion the left-side doors are insanity, and for just 3 stops in the middle of the line.

    Running in the center of the road makes perfect sense, but you don’t even need Bellevue Transit Center-style contraflow lanes, you just need to separate out the platforms, e.g., on one side of the block you have the platform for one direction and on the other side of the black the platform for the other direction.

    https://stephensstorage.blob.core.windows.net/images/Split%20G%20Line.png

    The only drawback I see in the platforms are a bit smaller overall, but in exchange for these 3 platforms being smaller you get to use any bus in the fleet — seems like a no-brainer.

    1. This. Why Seattle feels the need to be special with the left-hand buses and island platforms is beyond me. Minneapolis/St. Paul opted for the floating side solution with their Metro Green Line (which is a train and could have worked with island platforms) and it works perfectly well. The platforms are still spacious enough to handle crowds, and protected from the street around it. Metro should just use standard trolley buses with floating side platforms and stop messing around with complicated, unnecessary solutions.

  8. Again I must ask this: Have they field-tested one of these buses on the proposed route? Since Metro is giving up on trolley wire, someone should be making sure it can climb the hill with a load of passengers.

    1. I’d definitely insist on “wire where warranted.” Anything on same hillside as a former cable-car route, for instance. Every tool to its use.

      Recall being told that, I think while still “Seattle Transit”, the system tore up a perfectly good fleet of 50’s-vintage diesel buses while the wire was being re-done. “Gravity Bats Last”, right?

      Mark Dublin

  9. I stopped reading after “2-mile BRT line” and “first conceived in 2011”. Dear.. gawd. 13 years to implement a short bus route?! I normally don’t get political on here but that is a testament to both the inherently slow nature of Seattle’s so-called progressive politics and government projects in general. That’s just excruciating.

    1. Also, why can’t the G line just start running with the regular RapidRide buses Metro already has, and switch to the fancy improvements later. Why does it have to be all or nothing?

      This same pattern applies with the First Hill Streetcar, which did not get a temporary bus while the streetcar line was under construction. Although, admittedly, the G-line should be a far, far more useful transit line than the first hill Streetcar.

      1. I think part of the stated reason was they don’t have enough RR-branded buses, but it wouldn’t remotely be the first time the regular fleet has been used extensively on RR routes.

        Hell, I’ve ridden Metro-branded buses running the 545 several times.

      2. I don’t think the current buses could easily climb the hill on Marion. This project moves the uphill route to Spring.

      3. The trolleys (new or old) or battery buses couldn’t handle it no, but the diesels could. That’s probably part of why it hasn’t started yet, it’s supposed to be an electrified route and they don’t want to lose face by running diesels on it, even for a start.

      4. For the loads it’ll have to handle, and the steepness of First Hill for its whole length, this line had better be as electric as the 3 and the 4 for the same reasons.

        And I’ll repeat, ’til somebody finally does it, that the Route 27 needs to be a trolleybus that can carry a heavy load of passengers from the Colman Dock walkway exit at First and Marion, switch left at Cherry, and follow existing though never-used wire a block south on Second, and a block uphill to Third.

        Where a half hour’s line-crew work at most can add the missing trail-in switch to a stop for Pioneer Square Station and the Courthouse, and from there follow Yesler to 32nd Avenue, Lake Dell Avenue, Alder Street and the Lake. Return trip can trail-in to existing wire on northbound First.

        If we can maybe write that whole north-south slope into the Rapid-Ride contract, we can get a break on that Yesler wire. After thirty years, it is about time. Remember, San Francisco proves that if cable cars are good, they come back as trolleybuses when they die.

        Exactly like the balance sheet column that should show the cost of wasted operating time, whose ink really should be feedlot-floor brown. For that wire, along with all those DSTT platoon-coordination signal maybe foamy yellow, for equipment bought and after two weeks, just “thought better of.” Just hook it up and run it.

        Mark Dublin

    2. Lets also not forget that it doesn’t go by a Link station entrance — at least not until 2035 if not much later (if at all).

      1. Funny thing about bus routes. It isn’t that hard to change them.

        It is also worth pointing out the geography. Both sides of the current light rail system have stations to the east, relatively close to downtown. So who, exactly, would transfer from Link at the University Street Station if this served it:

        1) Rainier Valley riders: Maybe. But my guess is this sets off a big restructure to the greater Central Area (it should). A bus going from Mount Baker to South Lake Union via Boren is a must. That means a lot of riders would just transfer at Mount Baker (although that has issues as well).

        2) East Side riders. Same thing as 1, but with the transfer at Judkins Park.

        3) North end riders. Most of these riders are likely to transfer at Capitol Hill.

        In contrast, consider riders who would transfer from a bus:

        4) Ballard/Queen Anne/Magnolia.

        5) Aurora Corridor.

        6) Westlake/Fremont, Eastlake.

        7) West Seattle/White Center/Burien.

        8) Renton, and other express bus service.

        9) Ferry riders.

        Finally, there are riders who don’t transfer at all. In all of these cases, the route is just fine. There is no backtracking, no awkward trips, or any of the problems that epitomize ST3. The first three group of riders are tiny compared to the others. I’m not saying that the current routing is ideal, but even if you made the transfer as painless as possible (with a stop ride outside the door of the USS) relatively few would use it. The bulk of the ridership will come from other places.

        This is great contrast to other stations and lines. Mercer Island and South Bellevue are almost entirely reliant on feeder buses. That is the case with 130th, 145th, and pretty much every station to the north of it. It is essential that both the station and the buses are designed with that in mind.

        That isn’t the case with this route. It interacts quite well with the bulk of our transit system (the buses) and works quite well on its own.

      2. Thank you for pointing out that there is only one Metro bus route except for the very infrequent 9X (Once run much more frequently) that runs by Mt Baker or Judkins Park Stations that connects with First Hill, Ross! From Judkins Park, it’s a distance of 1-1.5 miles.

        It’s clearly negligent now, considering the relationship between SE Seattle communities and Harborview already. With increased reliance on Link in the future, it’s even more negligent.

        I don’t have a hard opinion on how to do it, but a frequent direct connection is needed. I’ll even go as far to suggest that it’s systemic white privilege that treats a direct connection to the ferry terminal more important than a connection to SE Seattle.

    3. At least it’s getting done. Unlike in Denver where I live that has “proposed” building BRT along East Colfax, which is one of the busiest bus corridors in the Denver metro that has been punted to be completed by 2029 or 2030. A whole 18 or 19 years after the intial studying of the validity of such a project.

  10. Think my cross-over contraflow might let platforms be larger and buses move faster re: traffic separation, but we’re both on-page in opposing more-complex buses with fewer seats.

    I also doubt that this stretch of Madison will be the only similar setup in the Greater Puget Sound Region. For all its years of service (original trolleybuses had hard rubber tires), fast-charge pantographs respectfully “pass the torch.”

    Though would be really nice if Jared Kushner would put in a word for me to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin about maybe letting me drive that Crimean mountain “wire”, in return for an anonymous campaign contribution to Jared’s father in law. Like that FM 96.9 country song says, loneliness makes the heart ruthless.

    Mark Dublin

  11. I could see an argument for the fancy both-side-door buses on the 7 RapidRide route. That would enable the buses to share the FHS’s center platforms for the Jackson segment, and further support making those center lanes transit only.
    So if the Madison RR could share the same sub-fleet, then the investment in the special buses would be much more compelling. However, as trolleys were ruled out for Madison RR, that point is moot.

    1. If the decision is to acquire left-door buses, I’d actually like to see RapidRide G linked to a RapidRide for Route 7. The Rainier median left-turn lanes could then be used for some stops. It’s also true that except for a few infrequent Route 9X buses, most SE Seattle residents can’t get to/ from Capitol Hill/ First Hill without transferring or taking a laborious hike (Only 1-4 miles apart) and a linked route would solve that. It would mean Route 7 riders couldn’t get to Third and Pine — but Judkins Park Link will get to Westlake much faster than Route 7 will (even waiting for a train if East Link Line 2 delivers on frequency).

    2. If the idea of island platforms and offside boarding is ditched, then it becomes easier to use trolleybuses on the line, as there isn’t such a difficulty about engineering changes for a small special order.
      Having dual motors on articulated trolleybuses is ideal both for hill climbing and adhesion in winter. Two 160 kW motors is typical for hilly systems in Europe, but SDOT can specify whatever power rating they want. For such a small order, why not ignore the burocracy of the FTA and the “not invented here attitude” of US makers and just go to somebody like Hess of Switzerland. European trolleybuses are much cheaper than US-made, so even if you lose Federal grants, you could end up with a reasonable deal and a bus made to your specifications.

  12. Okay, buses like the G-line and the 27 will travel east to west, but that hillside stays about same degree steep from the Ship Canal to the end of Beacon Hill.

    Mark Dublin

  13. These are special buses, but it isn’t like they can’t be used on a regular route. At worst you just keep the left side doors closed. In comparison, the streetcar can only be used on a teeny, tiny piece of our transit network, which will never come close to 1% of it. These buses can be used everywhere, including over the streetcar route (current and proposed).

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