After retreating from the edge of catastrophe, Seattle’s public transit system may be en route to becoming a regional leader by combining the efficiency and prestige of light rail with the cost and flexibility of buses.
It’s called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): essentially, a bus system that works like light rail. The City Council has coughed up $1 million to study a proposed $87 million BRT “corridor” along Madison, running from the waterfront up to 23rd Ave (by Madison Temple church and that psychic boutique shop).
To explain the project and get feedback from locals, the Seattle Department of Transportation will hold a community workshop about the Madison BRT corridor on Thursday from 5-7pm at the Silver Cloud Hotel on Broadway. Using “interactive design stations” inside the meeting room, SDOT will “present community-developed design ideas that focus on key intersections or a potential station location within each area. Each station will be staffed with engineers, planners, and urban designers to allow for an interactive conversation and sketching of design ideas to capture community ideas and feedback.”
TransMilenio bus system actually works much more like a subway on wheels than a traditional bus. Buses go on exclusive lanes. People pay when they enter the station. When the buses arrive, the station doors open simultaneously with the bus doors [which align with the station floor]. You can get a hundred people out and a hundred people into the bus in seconds.
In their own lanes, BRT buses bypass traffic jams; riders hop on and off in the time it takes to type a text message. See? Like light rail, but with buses.
This all assumes, of course, that Seattle’s BRT works like it’s supposed to; as this UC Berkeley paper discusses, shoddy “BRT lite” systems can get bogged down in the very traffic jams BRT is designed to escape.
And BRT is also green. SDOT brags that the electric trolley-buses it plans to use for BRT will be carbon neutral. It might be even greener than lightrail, since track construction is a big contributor to lightrail’s carbon emissions.
By the way, drivers weary of Seattle’s “War on Cars” may become apoplectic at the thought of ceding road space to BRT, but better public transit actually tends to reduce traffic congestion rather than increase it. A study released earlier this year reports that increasing roadways for cars tends to aggravate traffic congestion in the long run by enticing more drivers onto said roads. Public transit, on the other hand, can cut congestion by moving the same number of people in fewer vehicles. As Peñalosa puts it,
Many things about cities are counter-intuitive. For example, it seems to us that making bigger roads or flyovers or elevated highways will solve traffic jams. And clearly, it has never been the case, because what creates traffic is not the number of cars but the number of trips and the length of trips. So the more road infrastructure you do, the traffic will become even worse.
SDOT’s community workshop to explain and discuss the proposed Madison St. BRT route will be held Thursday, November 20 from 5-7pm, at the Silver Cloud Hotel, 1100 Broadway. You can learn more at sdotblog.seattle.gov.