Center lane route and MLK terminus get public support at Madison BRT meeting

By 2019, a swift moving tram-like bus along Madison is planned to shuttle passengers from downtown, through First Hill and along the edge of Capitol Hill on its way to an eastern expanse of residential neighborhoods. The idea is that the current 16 minute bus ride between 23rd Ave and 1st Ave would be cut to under 10 minutes.

But before that happens, the city has to make some key decisions on what that “bus rapid transit” line will look like in order to have a plan ready by July.

On Wednesday, the Seattle Department of Transportation held an public open house on the Madison BRT that included new renderings of proposed designs. The roughly 80 people assembled at the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences also had the opportunity to vote on a variety of questions transit planners are facing.

Among the biggest questions for SDOT will be whether the BRT should run on a more pronounced center lane route or more flexible side lane route. The center lane option garnered nearly 60% of the vote during Wednesday’s meeting. A proposed MLK Way eastern terminus also won out big over a terminus at 23rd Ave, while others later spoke about the need for the BRT to go all the way to Madison Park.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 3.06.11 PMFiguring out how to run a parallel-ish bike route along Madison is another key issue planners are hoping to sort out in the coming months. Current plans call for a protected bike lane along Union between 27th Ave and University, though SDOT is still looking for feedback on if that should be a 2-way lane or two one-way lanes.

The results were closely aligned to results from an online survey SDOT posted last year. You can view those here (PDF).

Madison is unique in that it’s the city’s only sound-to-lake street (you were so close, Yesler) and the corridor has one of the highest concentrations of car-free households. Supporters of the BRT line are hoping fast moving transit along Madison will help ease the housing crunch on Capitol Hill by opening up eastern neighborhoods to those looking to quickly access downtown.

According to SDOT, there’s currently a 7-minute variability in stop times on Metro’s Rt. 11 and Rt. 12 busses. Early studies show a Madison BRT could bring that variability to under a minute. Decisions about service changes to the two existing Madison lines wouldn’t be made until the BRT is closer to completion, according to BRT project manager Maria Koengeter.

In March, Mayor Ed Murray rolled out a 10-year, $835 million transportation plan for Seattle that includes the BRT construction. Next week, a $930 million levy proposal including funds to pay for the BRT project is slated to land with the Seattle City Council before going to the ballot for a vote this fall. 2015 will also see the first benefits of the voter-approved transportation district to better fund Metro bus service in Seattle.

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26 thoughts on “Center lane route and MLK terminus get public support at Madison BRT meeting

  1. I’m surprised to see 60% think the center lane option is a good one. I know the city likes to model itself after San Francisco but Madison isn’t Market Street. And are that many people needing to get from 23rd to 1st that we need to spend all this money to shave 5 min off the commute time?

    I know we’re supposed to be car-free but has anyone taken Madison at 4pm? Both WB lanes are bumper to bumper from I-5 to Boren.

    Going to 1 lane each way, removing left turns and buying specialty busses for this route don’t seem to be the best option for the city.

    I’m all for efficient mass transit and like the BRT concept, just not the one that is being proposed. Just remove the parking spaces on Madison, create better bus stops and add busses from the existing fleet. This adds efficiency at a lower cost and is more nimble.

    • Yes– millions of dollars, and more congestion, to SHAVE SIX MINUTES off the route. Ridiculous, but very Murray.

    • I drive every day from the Safeway on Madison down to the downtown core and it is true that traffic is terrible. I would eliminate all parking on Madison and banish left hand turns altogether. With all the pedestrians crossing, someone trying to turn left will hold up one lane of traffic, then there’s a city bus holding up the right lane. It’s really frustrating going down this stretch. We certainly don’t need to lose 2 lanes of traffic for one piddly bus that doesn’t serve a long-enough route to get any substantial social value.

  2. The utility of center lane bus stops is indeed questionable from a pedestrian safety standpoint, to say nothing of another mode-specific capital expense that doesn’t benefit the rest of the city.

    We need lanes. The rest is just window dressing.

    • How is it questionable for ped safety? Center lane stations seem safer for pedestrians they act as a safe refuge island for people crossing Madison.

      • Center lanes require 100% of transit riders to cross travel lanes rather than a portion of them. Once on the island, they have transit on both sides of them rather than one. This increases risk.

        Matthew, decreased travel times does not equal decreased ridership. Many who take mass transit do so because 1, they don’t have a car or 2, they have a car but no where to park it at their destination. If I worked downtown and lived on the Hills or Madison area, I’d take the bus too.

        We still have people who live in the area yet work in areas where mass transit doesn’t effectively reach. These people need cars to get them to their destination and we need to get them out of the area efficiently.

      • While more lanes may help those drivers in the short term, it becomes increasingly unviable as population density on the hill increases in the long term.

        Traffic in the greater Seattle area won’t be solved overnight. But the solution will come from continued investment in mass transit, not single-occupancy vehicles.

        This is coming from someone who loves the freedom of driving. It’s just not realistic for the majority of commuters to drive in a city the size of Seattle.

      • Even with outside running lanes, people will have to cross the entire street to catch a bus 50% of the time. Aren’t these long crossings more dangerous? With center lane stations, not having to cross the whole street without a break sounds safer to me.

      • Obviously the real question on the center lanes is how they are designed for pedestrian safety. But with SDOT’s record on this I’m not optimistic.

    • More lanes isn’t the solution! Many commuters (like myself) own a car but don’t drive it to work because of traffic. As car transit times decrease, more commuters will start driving instead of using a bike/bus/train.

      You don’t just need to add capacity for the CURRENT number of cars on the road, you also need to add capacity for the all the ADDITIONAL cars as people who will decide it’s now faster to drive to work than wait for the bus.

      It’s not realistic to add enough capacity for every car in Seattle. Even if you drive a car, you *want* the bikes/buses/trains to run efficiently so those commuters keep taking high-density transit and don’t spillover into single occupancy vehicles.

      We need high-density transit:

      • You misunderstood my statement on lanes.

        Buses need their own lanes. No net addition of lanes, of course there isn’t room for that.

  3. Buses running in the curb lane get stuck behind cars turning right, which often have to wait for pedestrians crossing the street. Center bus lanes would be faster and more reliable. Specialty buses are not necessarily required. It is possible to design the stations so that the bus lane would shift over so that right-side doors can be used.

    • Unfortunately Madison isn’t wide enough to support the island concept and retain right side entry/exit. You would need double islands with busses running the center lane then no room for traffic lanes at its current width. This leaves a specialty fleet as the only option to support island load/unload.

      With no center turn lane through most of Madison today, its already a stretch to conceive center lane loading with a bus lane and traffic lane each way.

  4. I’m relieved the “tram-like bus” will go all the way to Madison Valley shops and restaurants, but I’d argue that Madison Park itself (the beach, even more shops, even more restaurants) is an even more popular destination. Stopping an entire hill short of a primary destination is a waste of resources. No one wants to take a tram to MLK and then transfer to take another bus to get to Madison Park. Extend it to the beach!

    • re-read the information…it is by no means decided that this will go to MLK Way…the proposal requires a choice between an East Terminal at either MLK Way or 23rd…that’s what this decision making process is about.

  5. I love it. I travel the corridor every day and have for the past 10 years. East – west connections are horrifically slow and Madison has plenty of capacity to add this important improvement. Half of Madison is ruined by a few small spots where one car might be parked, so this is a much better utilization of such an important street.

    Center lanes are prefered so that car traffic never blocks the bus line. It also provides traffic calming features and a center island that shortens the pedestrian crossings. If you want an example of the best BRT line in America look at Cleveland’s Healthline running down Euclid.

    Build it asap!

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  7. Okay, so let me get this straight:

    We’re going to reduce the number of car lanes on the primary east/west arterial into downtown by 50% to 2 lanes


    we’re going to be running busses up the center (with a concurrent decrease in pedestrian safety) and these will not be busses we already have, we will have to buy new ones


    we’ll be cramming bikes onto the same thoroughfare?

    Who came up with this plan, The Marx Bros. or The 3 Stooges?

    How about this instead:

    We make ONE bus lane on the curb traveling east bound on Madison that runs all the way to 23rd. The busses then turn south onto 23rd and go until they hit Union, where they turn west and then head back for the inbound return loop, taking up only one (preferably) curb lane on Union as well. No street parking along the bus route. We need the room for busses and cars.

    Bikes will be shunted to their own, more lightly traveled streets to make east/west trips. Stuffing cars and busses and commercial vehicles AND bikes onto the same road is idiocy and should be avoided as much as possible.

    See, how hard was that?

    • The plan doesn’t involve bikes on Madison. Read the actual plan, not what you imagine the plan to be.

      See, how hard was that?

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