Center-running open BRT on Madison

There seems to be wide agreement that enhanced bus service on Madison Street between the waterfront and at least 23rd Avenue would be a great asset for the city.

The debate here on STB seems to be whether to move forward with dedicated, center-running lanes and median platforms, or bus/right-turn only lanes on the outsides of Madison with platforms constructed on current sidewalks. This center vs side debate exists in part because, though center-running lanes provide protection from right turns (leading to improved travel times and reliability) and afford greater visibility, the current center-running configuration seems to necessitate buses with left-side doors, precluding open BRT as the rest of the Metro fleet does not have doors on both sides. So the center-running vs side-running discussion has really become a discussion about closed vs open BRT.

As it turns out, no operational compromise is necessary to achieve open and center-running BRT on Madison. Below I explore two options (one of which SDOT seems to be considering but doesn’t get much attention) that are compatible with the center-running and open BRT concept.

Option 1: Center-running contraflow lanes

What if we could have all the benefits of center-running bus lanes and joint median platforms while allowing multiple routes to make use of different segments of the Madison BRT infrastructure?

Madison Street center-running BRT mockup

One way this is possible is to have contra-flow, center-running bus lanes that allow buses with right side doors to drop off and pick up passengers at a median platforms. With this arrangement, there is no need to purchase buses with left side doors or exclude other buses that might travel down Madison—like a Broadway to Madison route 49—from using the infrastructure. Center-running contraflow lanes would allow us to retain future operational flexibility while still building what is necessary for a premium BRT the length of Madison.

This center-running contraflow concept creates a few complications:

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Load section charts from Metro spring 2014 data

I threw together a couple of charts to visualize how passengers have been using some of the routes that may be impacted by the U-link bus restructure. The data is hosted on Metro’s “For Transit Geeks” section of their U-Link bus network restructure proposal.

Here’s Route 48:

Notice how the passengers accumulate approaching the University District (45th St/15th or 50th St/15th, depending on direction) and begin to diminish when moving away from it. Also notice the higher passenger turnover when compared to the long haul 255 and 545 below (vertical comparison between colored area and grey area).

Here’s Route 255:

And here’s Route 545:

Both the 255 and 545 accumulate riders at a rapid pace until reaching the 92nd Av/SR 520 stop when going toward Seattle, with a few more getting off at Montlake than getting on. On the return trips, the 545 loses more than half of its load at the NE 40th and 51st St stops while the load on the 255 trails off somewhat steadily until the end.

Metro uses slightly different stops to define segments depending on which way the bus is traveling (inbound vs outbound); take heed when comparing the charts for the two directions. This visualization might be a lot more interesting and useful with break downs by time of day, by trip, or even by stop, but it doesn’t look like Metro provides that level of data. Bear in mind this is data for the whole day and is really only useful from that perspective.

An improvement I can already see is running these again on the same scale y-axis to get a better comparison between the routes; my intent here was simply to look at loading behavior across individual routes.

Are there any other routes folks would be interested in seeing?

Off-board fare payment concept for busy suburban bus stops

In case the main text is too small to read…

At major suburban park and ride stops, tens of commuters gather at a time to board express buses to the Seattle CBD. Currently all passengers must board at the front of the bus to pay a fare or flash a badge, an extremely slow process, especially when there are many commuters who need to pay with cash. All-door boarding would help speed the process and thus cut down on delay. All-door boarding could be accomplished with off-board fare payment, achieveable with installation of ORCA readers and/or ticket vending machines at major stops. Fare payment would happen before boarding the bus so as to not delay the bus when it arrives and passengers begin to board, resulting in a faster trip for customers on a bus route with higher frequencies or that is operated at a lower cost to the transit agency. Fare validation can take place on board the bus; peak hour express buses usually have a long no stop portion between the suburbs and the city center, a perfect time for a single fare enforcer to validate fares on the bus much in the same way as RapidRide.

Thoughts? Feedback?