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Planners: Prop 1-powered Madison ‘bus rapid transit’ plan no less ‘rapid’ with shortened dedicated lane


Move Seattle’s election night victory assured a crucial chunk of funding for a new tram-like bus to run on E Madison, but the latest design proposal is not quite living up to what its name might suggest.

Instead of a “bus rapid transit” route running in a dedicated lane all the way up and down Madison, Seattle Department of Transportation’s latest proposal has the bus running in mixed-traffic east of 18th Ave.

“Travel time analysis doesn’t show that dedicated transit lanes are necessary east of 18th in order to (improve) transit time and reliability,” Madison BRT advisor Maria Koengeter told CHS, adding that signal priority would help speed up the trip to its MLK terminus.

A dedicated center lane with island stops would only run from 9th Ave to 13th Ave in the current proposal, which includes First Hill and part of Capitol Hill. The rest of the route would run curbside with right-turning traffic until 18th Ave.

Public feedback indicated support for center-running bus lanes and an MLK terminus.

But extending a dedicated lane out to MLK Jr. Way was never in the cards. Back in May, SDOT’s preferred option was to take the dedicated lane to 20th Ave. Along with SDOT’s time analysis, Koengeter said ending a dedicated lane at 18th Ave would allow left turns to continue at 19th Ave.

SDOT officials will discuss the latest Madison BRT plans at an open house Monday, November 16th at the downtown Seattle Public Library. You can also send comments to

The transit advocates at STB say the BRT changes are not necessarily cause for panic, but supporters of keeping the “rapid” in bus rapid transit should be concerned:

There may be good (or at least substantive) reasons for each of these changes, likely because transit priority is losing out to competing neighborhood concerns, right-of-way (ROW) limitations, parking garage egress, etc. But it is also wonderfully illustrative of how “BRT Creep” works in practice. SDOT staff are smart, hard working, and undoubtedly want to build a great project, but if we can’t even keep transit priority alive through a concept design, how do we expect the final product to fare once all the inevitable mitigations and concessions have done their work?

During the meeting, SDOT will also present its newest preferred layover option for the eastern terminal. After the original Arthur Pl layover for the MLK terminus faced staunch neighborhood opposition, SDOT planners drew up two other options (PDF). Option 1 included a layover on the south or east side of the E Arthur Pl/MLK Way/E Harrison triangle. Option 2 involved removing parking spaces for a layover on Madison just south of Lake Washington Blvd.

According to Koengeter, SDOT is now pushing for a new take on Option 1 that will include three layover spaces near MLK and Madison — details to be released at the upcoming opening house.

Madison St was identified as a priority for high capacity transit investment in 2012. The Madison BRT was one of the specific Capitol Hill projects included in the recently victorious $930 million Proposition 1 levy. The levy includes $15 million for the project, 12.5% of the estimated $120 million total. With that funding secure, SDOT will move into 30% design competition phase and continue to search for other regional and federal funding.

During a May open house, nearly 60% of attendees said they preferred the center lane option and the proposed MLK Way eastern terminus also won out big over a terminus at 23rd Ave. Others later spoke about the need for the BRT to go all the way to Madison Park, which SDOT officials are continuing to consider.

Figuring out how to run a parallel-ish bike route along Madison is another key issue for the project. In May, plans call for a protected bike lane along Union between 27th Ave and University, UPDATE: Seattle Bike Blog weighs in:

It’s going to take all of you getting active and making sure this project follows best practices. It will probably also need some innovation (for example, having street parking on the uphill bike lane side, but keeping views very clear for the downhill lanes). The E Union Street protected bike lane is noted in the Bike Master Plan as the major bike connection through this part of the Central District, and it’s a chance to show off how a bike lane done right can improve mobility in a neighborhood.

Madison is unique in that it’s the city’s only sound-to-lake street 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.

SDOT will host its Madison BRT open house on November 16th from 5 -7 PM at the Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Avenue (Level 4, Room 1). There will be a brief presentation at 5:30 PM. Visit SDOT’s Madison BRT page for more information. You can also send comments to

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32 thoughts on “Planners: Prop 1-powered Madison ‘bus rapid transit’ plan no less ‘rapid’ with shortened dedicated lane

  1. This will just destroy the already congested Madison St. corridor. While they’re at it, how about something up/down Boren instead of the 309 that only runs in one direction in the morning/afternoon?

    • Quit whining. I live off Madison and travel up and down it at rush hour both ways everyday and it’s really not that bad at all. Although a route up and down Boren would be nice, they can’t exactly widen the bridges so, that would mean even more congestion there (which is terrible).

    • Well the single occupant motorists only have themselves to blame for the congestion on Madison. One packed bus alone carries more people than that 8 block or whatever backup of cars on Madison.

  2. And so it begins. Just days after approval here come the revisions. This will undoubtedly be the first of many modifications, reductions, and outright deletion of projects the voters were “promised” in Prop 1. We saw it in Move Seattle, and we fell for it again.

    • This is why we need to come out on Monday night and urge SDOT to make the entire line dedicated. SDOT likes to appease the neighborhood, so it is important to show there is support for the entire center running busway option.

      • I don’t think it is bait and switch at all. There is so much pressure from every neighborhood group on what they “feel” is best. The Seattle Process is what it is, because residents push for too much change.
        If the neighborhood’s voice is strong and unified SDOT will most likely listen.

    • Please explain how a completely static, 10 year plan, where every cent is pre-allocated to a specific project and changes/revisions are prohibited would a good thing? And how much time and money should they have spent to figure out such a project list and funding for an initiative that may not have passed?

      We live in a city that changes weekly, we need a transportation plan that is fluid and fits the ever-changing city over the next decade. Your anti-revisionist arguments come off as a straw man for a deeper rooted belief that is probably along the lines of an anti-tax miser.

      • I just think voters should know exactly what projects they are voting for. After all, it’s our tax money. If I vote for candidate X for, say, Mayor, and he/she wins, then I don’t expect some other person to occupy the mayor’s office.

        Of course changes sometimes are necessary in large capital projects, but to change this one significantly just days after the election does indeed smack of “bait and switch.”

      • The City released a pretty detailed list of projects that were planned to be part of the funding. It was enough to convince the voters of Seattle that they were going to get a lot of bang for their buck.

        Your candidate argument is flawed at best. You should have stated that it’s like voting for candidate X because they promised Y, but then they don’t follow through with Y. Your argument would be similar to voting for Prop 1 to fix our streets, but then they use all the money to fix our parks.

        And the bait and switch you refer to in this article is called the “design process”. This project probably just got the funding to begin bringing the project out of the conceptual stage. A $120 million project is going to change quite a bit, especially with public comment.

      • OK, you’ve convinced me. You win this one!

        I just hope that SDOT actually follows through on their promises this time. With the previous levy (Bridging the Gap), they were guilty of “moving the goal posts,” as Danny Westneat convincingly wrote about in his Seattle Times column.

      • “The City released a pretty detailed list of projects that were planned to be part of the funding.”

        Yeah, they sure did. The ballot proposal also said all the projects mentioned were illustrative only “and shall not be mandatory”. They totally left their options open to bait-and-switch. I hope nobody’s surprised when it comes out nothing like what was (sort-of-but-not-really) promised. But don’t worry, the taxes that will soak us homeowners– yeah, you can totally count on those happening.

      • “Please explain how a completely static, 10 year plan, where every cent is pre-allocated to a specific project and changes/revisions are prohibited would a good thing?

        You’d get what you paid for, not some half-assed piece of junk?

        Look at Denver: they voted for Fastracks, and *they want what they were promised*.

  3. Why the people of Seattle want specialized, single-use modes of transit is beyond me. So much cheaper and flexible to use current busses, create bus only lanes (if thats the desire) and be done with it. By the end, this will be so watered down it will be pointless.

    Its like this is being driven by accountants, planners, analysts and developers who are looking to provide themselves with more work and not actually filling a legitimate need.

      • Yes, and they will have zero flexibility as they will be custom – left side entry/exit so can’t be used elsewhere in the city and an exorbitant cost that his highly invasive. I’d prefer a cheaper option and more buses serving more people instead of a specialized route serving a limited number.

      • Well I totally agree this design is getting too complex, simple bus lanes (preferably center lanes) with normal bus fleet is the way it should go. Church Street in San Francisco is exactly what I have in mind which was actually done on the cheap and without years of planning.

    • Flexibility may sound like a good thing if you’re a transit planner, but as a transit *user*, “flexibility” is another way of saying “unpredictable change and unreliable service”.

      I really like the idea of buying dedicated custom vehicles for this one bus route, because it means Metro can’t just fuck it all up and send them somewhere else after a year or two when they’re distracted by some other shiny prize. If I’m going to make changes to my life such that I depend on public transit, I want to know that the transit service I’m planning on is going to stay the way it is for a good long time to come.

  4. I travel Madison every single day from 20th to downtown and traffic annoying by 7:30am. I despise all the holdups due to cars turning left. With only 2 lanes in each direction, if there’s a bus on the right curb, and some dork turning left, it holds up cars a considerable amount of time. If they really want dedicated center bus lanes, I don’t see this working at all unless they completely ban left turns. Fact is, we wish Madison were 5 lanes (center lane for turning). But it ain’t. So quit trying to take away the few lanes we have left.

    • They can’t do 5 lanes at certain points due to the bottlenecks. In fact, what is pictured at 12th and Madison isn’t even possible unless you cut into the sidewalks. Its already a tight 4 lanes with average sidewalks – no buffer between the street. Yet somehow they will magically get a 5th, center lane in for dedicated for an island.

    • “We” definitely don’t all wish it was 5 lanes. It’s too wide as it is. As a pedestrian it’s a very hostile road and I’m glad this project will take lanes away from cars because it will naturally calm the street and create a more vibrant area for people walking along it, shopping and dining and recreating. Oh, and if we can get the design right, it’ll create a guarantee for buses to be able to get downtown very quickly, which you don’t get with even 5 lanes for cars.

      • It’ll be really easy to get across the street, since all the traffic will be at a dead stand-still from about Boren all the way to about 23rd or so. Maybe farther. You can just walk between the cars–they won’t be going anywhere anyway.

  5. Madison Park is much more powerful and persuasive than the much larger Capitol Hill. CH should take lessons. All we get is rainbow crosswalks and other silly things.

  6. This city has been screwed up for a 100yrs.We had light rail rail 100yrs. ago.Tacoma to Everett.We had electric powered buses,overhead wires,and gas or diesel.!00yrs. from now people will read as history that which is happening now.They will scratch their heads wondering,how Seattle can be so screwed up.

    • ???

      You mean screwed up like the idiots 50 years ago that ripped out all this transit infrastructure that now has to be put back in???

  7. The time to capitulate to the Seattle Times ed board/neighborhood crank constituency is at the end of the project, not while it’s still in the conceptual phase. This is the first, most visible project stemming from Move Seattle – it should be made as fast and efficient as possible.

    That said, I’d like to hear more about the cost of left-debarking buses and the potential inefficiencies of having to purchase a new fleet of buses that can only be used on this route. This city is already tied into new, inflexible, inefficient, expensive transportation technology (fixed-route street cars with no grade separation or dedicated ROW) that seemed really sexy at the time. It should think hard before diving into a new type.

    • Let’s adopt as many different incompatible vehicles as we possibly can. One per route, perhaps? It’ll make it that much more difficult for Metro to go fucking things up out from under us. A bad bus route you can count on is better than a good one that’s here today and gone in next year’s restructure.