In the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in “preemption” laws, whereby conservative states try to clip the wings of their liberal cities. Examples in the Trump era include banning cities from increasing their minimum wage or acting as immigrant “sanctuary cities.” Of the national preemption laws tracked by the progressive Partnership for Working Families, Washington State only bans rent control (and even that one is up for debate right now).
Automated bus lane enforcement may have died in the state legislature, but that’s no reason the city can’t get creative when it comes to enforcing bus lanes.
While true grade separation is the holy grail of reliable transit, an at-grade bus lanes can be protected much like a bike lane.
Chicago’s regional planning agency collected the above collage of protected bus lanes around the world. In each, the bus lanes is elevated or protected from general traffic, making it difficult for cars to enter.
Meanwhile New York City’s DOT tweeted out an image of one recently:
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.
SDOT and Metro are still hoping for a 2021 opening date for RapidRide H in Delridge, but some potential utility work could delay things until 2022, according to a presentation (PDF, video) to the city’s Sustainability Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
Staff seemed hopeful, however, that an agreement with Seattle Public Utilities to move the stormwater facilities off of Delridge Way could let the project proceed as planned.
Otherwise, the 30% design is looking good for transit, though not much has changed from the 10% design in December. Proposed improvements include:
1.5 miles of 24/7 bus lanes
1.2 miles of peak-only bus lanes
13 station pairs being updated with RapidRide branding as well as bus bulbs
Signal priority and two queue jumps
(Since this was a City of Seattle presentation, it was focused on the city’s side of the route. Burien will be seeing improvements as well.)
As usual, the messy tradeoff between bikes, buses, and on-street parking leads to some compromises. Parking will be removed in some areas, especially where SDOT is adding both bus and bike lanes. There will be some protected bike lanes and some diversion to neighborhood greenways on either side of Delridge. The (generally high quality) greenways themselves will be improved.
SDOT is responding to the community’s desire to extend the northbound bus lane further south, to reduce delays in the AM peak. We’ll know more at 60% design (this would be a good thing to advocate for if you go to one of the spring design presentations).
Finally, SDOT is interested in working with Sound Transit to coordinate capital improvements with a future Delridge link station, though it’s still very early in the ST planning process.
The long, narrow nature of the corridor and lack of major cross-streets means that there’s real potential for speed and reliability improvements with dedicated lanes, in-lane stops, and queue jumps.
The next round of outreach will happen this spring, with a goal of construction in 2020 and opening in 2021. Route 120 is the 10th busiest in the system, with 9,000 daily riders. The $70M project budget includes paving and stormwater as well as the bus & bike infrastructure.
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.