Speaking of Seattle transit bumps, officials sorting Madison Bus Rapid Transit trolley problem

While we’re taking a spin as the Capitol Hill Transit Blog, the area’s next big transit investment is facing a major barrier to acquiring its much needed $60 million federal grant. It’s not Donald Trump. And it’s not this E Madison gay bar.

The Seattle Transit Blog broke the news last week — the Seattle Department of Transportation and King County Metro have been sideswiped by a collision of international trade barriers, the unique design of Madison “Bus Rapid Transit,” and the corridor’s challenging grade and are scrambling to find a bus design capable of meeting the $120 million project’s needs and plans for electric trolley coaches:

According to a source at SDOT, the vehicles intended for the corridor—60 foot, BRT-optimized Xcelsior trolleybuses from New Flyer—can’t handle the steep grades of Madison Street. The source added that New Flyer intends to discontinue trolleybus manufacturing after an ongoing order for San Francisco is finished.

The deeper problem is that the Federal Transit Administration requires that the fleet’s specifics be determined before an approved grant can be executed, STB reports. SDOT and Metro will reportedly meet in late September to come up with a plan.

“I can tell you Metro and SDOT will be meeting with the FTA in late September to review the project fleet strategy,” a Metro spokesperson tells CHS. “We are evaluating two options — diesel-hybrids and battery-electric buses.”

There were no specific technical reasons cited as to why trolleys were not feasible. The grade is a challenge but we viewed it as a workable issue. Our understanding is the vendor had concerns about the large impact of this project on engineering and production for a relatively small fleet (13-16 buses).

The Seattle Times reports that Metro is preparing a fallback plan and has been testing a non-electric solution:

Road tests are being done this summer with diesel-hybrid and battery buses, Metro spokesman Scott Gutierrez said. Managers need to confirm vehicles can climb the 10 percent grade up Spring Street near the Central Library, and the backside of Capitol Hill returning westbound.

“Bus Rapid Transit” on Madison is hoped to speed the commute through a key corridor from the waterfront to Madison Valley. 60-foot articulated buses will run every six minutes during peak times. Card readers at the station allowing riders to enter any of the five doors, 13-inch platforms making it easier for those with strollers or wheelchairs to get on the bus, and designated areas of the stations for cyclists and those in wheelchairs aim to make the loading and unloading process more efficient for riders.

Earlier this month, SDOT officials told CHS the plans for Madison BRT — Metro RapidRide G when it comes online — remain on track for a start of service in 2021.

UPDATE: SDOT tells CHS that the updated timeline lines up for a 2022 start of service — but only if the trolley problem gets worked out quickly:

FTA staff indicated the process to secure a Small Starts Grant Agreement takes approximately one year. As mentioned above, we anticipate beginning that process in October 2018. Therefore, we adjusted project timeline assumptions as part of the Levy assessment to reflect a Small Starts Grant Agreement in September 2019. The project would then go to ad and start a 2-year construction period in early 2020. Service would open on a regular Metro service change. This is an estimate developed as part of the Levy assessment, based on on-going discussions with the FTA. As a next step, we will refine and confirm any schedule change with the FTA and our partner, King County Metro.

While Madison’s G line will be the next RapidRide route to roll out, the furthest out in the planning process is hoped to eventually serve the overhauled 23rd Ave corridor. After a 21-month road diet, the first phase of 23rd Ave work was completed last month. By 2024, Metro and the city hope to utilize the infrastructure for the street’s own RapidRide route connecting Mount Baker to University District via the Central District.


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13 thoughts on “Speaking of Seattle transit bumps, officials sorting Madison Bus Rapid Transit trolley problem

  1. All I want are some safer pedestrian crossings and intersections on Madison. It seems like a lot of these would/should have been implemented a while ago but were put on hold because Madison BRT was coming. Now we’re stuck with nothing.

  2. The prospect of SDOT completing this project on schedule is slim to none. take a look at the gross mismanagement at SDOT with the Move Seattle levey and it’s underestimates of building and operation costs. Once again those running Seattle are failing their responsibility. Election time is here and there needs to be changes made. Council members take note.

  3. I agree with the sentiment but would note that council elections aren’t until next year. But I predict problems will continue through the election, so it’s unlikely that people will forget. I would also remind people that the rationale that folks like Sally Bagshaw and Rob Johnson used to ditch a First Hill light rail station was that Madison BRT would be an adequate substitute. Umm..no.

  4. I’m not sorry, but the route should be called “Metro RapidRide -M” for Madision (cuz that makes scense) not “G”. people from out of town will make the “M” for madison connection and not get lost or confused LIKE THEY ARE NOW. how they are naming the routes now are just lazy and not thought out. im sorry. i have ridden transit not just in other cities, but other countries. and the excuse if this how we have been doing it, still dont make right or make scense. RapidRide Route A &B dont connect to any other RapidRide Route. that dont make scense and if im wrong please correct me . and our light Rail WE NEED TO USE A COLOR SYSTEM, why ALOT of other MAJOR cities use this system, they have done the research and had the learning pains and spent the money of figuring it out. how about we learn from thier mistakes, No?

    • Also, having two stops with “University” in the name was not well thought-out either. I often hear visitors asking if the downtown University stop is for UW. Many others I’m sure don’t ask and just get out, and then discover themselves far from any campus.

      • True. They should’ve named it “Benaroya” in honor of the family that contributed so much good to Seattle. That would’ve been unambiguous. A sub-name could’ve been University Street.

    • Like Jim said, we don’t need a color system until we have a more hashed out system. When East Link opens in 2023, they will rebrand the two segments as Blue and Red. When Ballard and West Seattle (eventually) open up, they will likely add more colors, similar to Lisbon’s rail network.

      And why do the RapidRide letters matter or whether they cross other RapidRide lines? They are clearly going up the alphabet as they add lines. And no RapidRide crossed paths with another until the E line came into existence (if you ignore that the C and D were through routed in their early years).

      What tourist would assume that the line letter should match the street they traverse? In NYC, the subway is a spaghetti of numbers and letters that only make sense if you’re a transit nerd. There’s also colors, which indicate the trunk line that line uses in Manhattan, again useless unless you’re a local. Yet millions of tourist successfully navigate the MTA every year. How? A transit map.

      You’re not really wrong. You’re just misinformed.

  5. In the meantime, why not just eliminate parking on Madison from 1st Ave to 23rd Ave and put a dedicated left turn light for East/West traffic at 12th ave on Madison. This will eliminate congestion during the weekdays and allow the bus to move efficiently on Madison.

  6. Trolley Bus 12 already handles the downtown steep hill piece and serves 19th Avenue (How to serve 19th Avenue has not been determined in the the RapidRide planning. Our trolley buses have been proven to be better on hills than the diesel, The Rapid Ride project should just be scrapped for now and basic improvements should be planned. The process for planning this really needs to be rethought. How would the incline not be a part of basic planning? Why does it need specific branding as Rapid Ride. The length of the route is also substandard for federal funding as rapidride.

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