Tactical Transit Lanes

3rd Ave / photo by Zach Heistand

Laura Bliss, at Citylab, on “Tactical Transit Lanes”:

After all, the reason that more buses don’t have their own lanes has little to do with engineering. Setting up a special space for buses usually means taking it away from private vehicles and parking spots, and people literally get murdered for that. Less extreme, car commuters and their elected officials—a group that sometimes includes the very decision-makers who may ultimately decide the fate of a bus-lane proposal—often fiercely resist projects that threaten their existing vehicle space.

Which is why small-scale pilots can be useful. “They’re a great way to demonstrate the value of transit priority and engage those who benefit most—transit riders,” Matute said in an email.

On way to think of a “tactical” bus lane is as part of an inverted planning process: instead of doing a bunch of outreach and having to fight against the status quo, a transit agency can change the facts on the ground with a quick bus lane pilot, in some cases using nothing more than traffic cones.  Suddenly the bus riders who are benefiting from the change form a powerful new constituency for making the lane permanent.  A new status quo is born.  

Bliss references a UCLA best practices guide on TTLs, which includes some examples from around the country.  The study distinguishes “tactical” bus lanes from a more “strategic” BRT-style projects that involve more capital spending and land use coordination.  Everett, MA and Cambridge, MA stand out as being true “tactical” efforts, where the cones went up literally overnight

Including Seattle’s 3rd Avenue in the study was a bit of a head scratcher, though.  We’ve been lumbering towards making 3rd Avenue car free for literally decades. It’s not as though Seattle has a shortage of TTLs to talk about, either.  The post-Ducks-accident lane on Aurora, for example, or the Montlake offramp.  Reading through the full study I get the impression that Seattle’s pretty good compared to peer cities but could always be better.