Like many cross-lake commuters, I often find myself waiting for a connection on the Montlake Boulevard concrete island where Eastbound SR-520 buses pick up before traversing the lake. My favorite activity while stranded on this island is to refresh One Bus Away and watch the bus schedules go to hell as the U-district jams up in the morning. When I tire of that, my second favorite activity is to glare at the single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) who are banned from turning right but do so anyway.
The intersection is designed so that cars entering 520 use a slip lane behind the bus stop, leaving only buses and HOVs to approach the light at the stop and turn right onto an HOV-only lane on the freeway onramp. It’s a clever design that essentially creates a bus queue jump without needing a separate turn pocket, but it only works if SOVs aren’t allowed to turn right at the light.
[C]rews will restripe the westbound SR 520 off-ramp to Montlake and remove the ramp’s temporary bus-only lane that currently allows buses to bypass general-purpose vehicles to reach Montlake Boulevard. The bus lane was temporarily put in place last October, with a plan to close it in March for the Montlake Project construction. Recognizing the value that the temporary lane provided to transit, WSDOT worked with the contractor to keep the lane open as long as possible without affecting construction.
At the request of several Eastside cities, WSDOT looked at ways to preserve the bus lane, but none were deemed viable. It’s frustrating to see it go, but the project was a good reminder that agencies and concerned commuters can work together to make short-term improvements.
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.