Roosevelt-Eastlake BRT is officially RapidRide J

Atomic Taco (Flickr)

SDOT and Metro are kicking off another feedback session for the newly-named RapidRide J, formerly known as Roosevelt-Eastlake BRT. The route combines pieces of Metro Routes 67 and 70 to provide service through South Lake Union, Eastlake, the University District, and Roosevelt, terminating at the Roosevelt Link station.

Continue reading “Roosevelt-Eastlake BRT is officially RapidRide J”

Roosevelt RapidRide goes before Council

Last week SDOT released new designs and introduced legislation seeking funding for Roosevelt RapidRide. A culmination of two years of process, the Locally Preferred Alternative SDOT is taking to Seattle City Council, and soon thereafter the FTA, represents some wins and losses for transit riders compared to the design shown at last year’s open houses.

The most exciting news is that Roosevelt BRT, now officially called Roosevelt RapidRide, gets a lot closer to rapid, especially through SLU and the Denny Regrade. In addition to using the existing Stewart BAT Lanes southbound as previously proposed, SDOT intends to invest in new Transit Only Lanes on Virginia St northbound, creating a transit couplet between the 3rd Ave Transit Spine and SLU. Unfortunately, it appears that the transition in the Denny Triangle between the couplet and SLU, such as the short southbound segment on Boren Ave, will have the route go through mixed traffic.

In SLU, the plan is for BAT Lanes in both directions along Fairview Ave, from Valley St to Denny Way. This shared bus/bike lane is a huge improvement compared to last year’s concept that had the BRT route fight through mixed traffic by the Mercer Mess. Continuing the good news into Eastlake, the line is now slated to travel on Transit Only street/car lanes on Fairview Ave between Valley St and Yale Ave.

North of Yale Ave N, the line continues in mixed traffic as previously proposed through the rest of Eastlake and into North Seattle, splitting into a couplet, with queue jumps at unspecified intersections, though presumably similar to the ones explicitly mentioned last year. Importantly, the funding proposal sets the terminus by the future Roosevelt Light Rail station, with no extension from Roosevelt to Northgate in the near future, and SDOT still intends to electrify the route. For bicyclists, the project invests in protected bike lanes throughout Eastlake through Roosevelt, such as along 11th/12th Ave, Eastlake Ave, and parts of Fairview Ave.

The legislation will be heard by the Transportation Committee on July 18th at 2pm. Should the Full Council adopt the Locally Preferred Alternative and accompanying funding measure (this is separate from Move Seattle funds which is already secured), the City can go to the FTA this fall to seek additional grants, with an outcome next summer. If federal funding cannot be secured, the Roosevelt-Downtown HCT project will have to go back to the drawing board for revision. In the mean time, now is the chance to learn more about the project and engage elected officials as they formally consider Roosevelt BRT.

Who Would Ride Roosevelt-Eastlake BRT?

Atomic Taco (Flickr)
Atomic Taco (Flickr)

In debating the relative merits of transit and bike priority in the Eastlake and Roosevelt corridors, it’s easy for each side to instinctively defend their own prior preferences. But largely unanswered in the debate so far is the fundamental existential question about the corridor, namely: How important is it from a mobility perspective, and for whom? 

SDOT’s continued prioritization of the corridor, and its inclusion in Move Seattle, goes against Metro’s own planning instincts. Metro, having noted the poor off-peak performance of former Route 66, decided to break the corridor in two for the ULink restructure, and add peak-only service from Northgate (Route 63) and Roosevelt (Route 64) to South Lake Union to compensate. And we’ve already catalogued the dwindling importance of the corridor from a policy level, from the McGinn-era “rapid streetcar” dreams to the dangled possibility of real Bus Rapid Transit, to the current concept of modest improvements, electrification, and protected bike lanes.

So then, a question that needs answered: In 2021, which trips would be faster by bus, by Bus + Link, and by Link alone? With an educated guess of 20 stops in each direction, there are total of 380 possible trip pairs, and I won’t analyze them all. Rather, I’ll look at travel times for every southbound stop to each of the 6 major destinations along the corridor: Maple Leaf (75th), Roosevelt Station (65th), UDistrict (45th), Eastlake (at Lynn), South Lake Union, and Downtown.

One of the first things to note is that for all the proposed investment, baseline travel time would still be worse than today’s scheduled times. Travel time improvements are relative to worsened baseline assumptions for 2021, not today’s travel times.  Nearly all of the congestion is between Downtown and the UDistrict, with a travel time of 40 minutes to travel 3.8 miles (an average speed of just 5.7 mph). The trip from Roosevelt to Northgate is projected to much speedier, traveling the final 3.4 miles in just 16 minutes (average speed of 12.75 mph). Average speed for the entire end-to-end corridor would be roughly 7.7 mph.

Link, of course, will be 5 times faster from Westlake to the UDistrict (8 minutes), 5 times faster to Roosevelt (10 minutes), and 4 times faster to Northgate (13 minutes). Average corridor speed between Northgate and Downtown will be roughly 35 mph. So it’s clear from the outset that the bus corridor will serve primarily a shadow function, either connecting riders to their nearest Link station or facilitating trips between two in-between destinations (say, Eastlake to Ravenna Boulevard).

But from my attempt at a travel time analysis, assuming 6-minute frequencies on both Link and bus, it’s even trickier than that. For most riders, Link alone, the bus alone, or a simple same-direction transfer between bus/Link will yield the fastest trip. But if the analysis is close to correct, there are several major trips for which a 3-seat ride (bus-Link-bus) or a backtrack (Link to bus) will be faster. Prominent among these are trips to South Lake Union from Northgate, Roosevelt, or even the UDistrict, for which backtracking from Westlake will save time. Others fast backtracks are Westlake to Maple Leaf (via Northgate), or Westlake to Upper Eastlake (via UDistrict Station). Trips from Maple Leaf to Eastlake or South Lake Union would be fastest via a 3-seat ride, using Link between UDistrict and Roosevelt in between two bus trips.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 8.21.59 PM

Continue reading “Who Would Ride Roosevelt-Eastlake BRT?”

Roosevelt BRT Will Not Be Rapid

Northgate-Downtown HCT-01
Latest Concept Design – Graphic by the Author

At an open house last night at the TOPS School in Eastlake, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) presented updated ‘concept designs’ for the Northgate-to-Downtown High Capacity Transit Project. Like Madison BRT before it, the concept design will be refined and completed over the summer, after the which the project will seek funding. As a RapidRide+ corridor under the Move Seattle levy, the public will surely have an expectation that they have already funded most of the work, though they are likely to be disappointed in that regard.

When we last left the project, SDOT was analyzing three levels of investment, RapidRide (basically nothing), Targeted Investments (“Rapid Ride+”), and full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Mobility outcomes between the three options varied widely. The “Targeted Investments” alternative – clearly being telegraphed as the most likely – would yield 28% faster travel times, improving from 6.5mph to 8.3mph. The Full BRT option would yield nearly nearly light rail speeds, improving to a 21.5 mph corridor average.

Average Speed Roosevelt BRT

As expected, SDOT has chosen to advance the Targeted Investment option, largely foregoing dedicated bus lanes in favor of a patchwork of Business Access and Transit (BAT) lanes, queue jumps, and small intersection improvements. In short, though the investments in frequency and electrification are fantastic, there is very little in the plan that could plausibly be called High Capacity Transit or Bus Rapid Transit, and the project will have far less in terms of transit priority than Madison BRT.

So what did SDOT show last night? Details after the jump… Continue reading “Roosevelt BRT Will Not Be Rapid”

SDOT Presents Bus Options for Roosevelt-Downtown


SDOT held two open houses for the Roosevelt-Eastlake HCT, on Wednesday at TOPS elementary school and last night at UW Tower. The project is the second of the RapidRide corridors partially funded as part of the Let’s Move Seattle levy.

While it’s still early days for this project, we’re getting a better idea of what SDOT meant by the somewhat vague “RapidRide+” that appeared in the levy campaign materials.   Though the initial Transit Master Plan had targeted this corridor for possible streetcar treatment, the city has narrowed the study to focus on buses. That’s consistent with what we’ve seen previously from the Murray administration, which has been selective about streetcar investments.

The latest transit study focused on a route that runs from Westlake Station to Northgate via Roosevelt Avenue and Eastlake.  Think of it as a “local” version of Link light rail, which will travel underground along a similar route. From Westlake Station to Eastlake Ave E, the route might take Westlake Ave. N or Fairview Ave. N.  The Westlake routing is a holdover from when this was a streetcar proposal. Now that buses have been chosen as the preferred mode, Fairview seems like the wise choice, based on current bus routes and the available right-of-way. The buses themselves would continue on to Northgate, but major capital investment would stop at NE 65th St.

The Goldilox menu includes three options:

  • “RapidRide” is the minimum bar and least expensive. It would be similar to other RapidRide corridors: branded buses, station improvements, and transit signal improvements.
  • “Targeted Investments” is being pitched as the sweet spot: it’s what we might think of as RapidRide+. It would add queue jumps for buses at major intersections and possible electrification, along with some bus lanes.  SDOT seems eager to push for electrification as far as possible.
  • “Full BRT” would have exclusive right-of-way and center island stations. It would take away parking and have the highest per-mile capital costs. It would also have the fastest travel times.

The full Roosevelt-to-Downtown corridor has a long and varying right-of-way. Getting exclusive lanes all the way through is likely to be cost-prohibitive. Conversations with Metro on bus integration are still in early stages, though SDOT is obviously aware of the similarities with the new Route 67.  The “targeted investment” approach also leaves the most room for an “Open BRT” system used by both this route and other Metro routes.

Removing all parking is likely to encounter some opposition from some in the Eastlake neighborhood, especially since most demand for higher speeds and reliability will come from passengers on either side of Eastlake, not the neighborhood itself.

The bike options seem the most fluid: bikes may be located on the side of the street, in a 2-way protected bike lane, on a parallel street, or a mixture of all three.

Speaking of parallel corridors, while they are usually rare in a hilly city like ours, the U-district is unique in that there are 5 major N-S corridors within 1/2 mile: I-5, Roosevelt/11th Ave, University Way, 15th Ave, and, of course, Link. Rather than spread out capital and service investments, it would make sense to have a single point of view from Metro, SDOT, and Sound Transit on where to put biking, transit, pedestrians, and cars.

Project engineering will begin next year, with the new line slated to open in 2019.  Documents from the open house will be posted shortly on the project website.

Thanks to reader Tim Fliss for contributing to this report.