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Madison Bus Rapid Transit design changes rolled out as project nears planned 2020 start of construction

How about some shorter crosswalks, for one!

The Seattle Department of Transportation and King County Metro are ready to roll out a near-final set of design updates for the planned Madison Bus Rapid Transit line that will reshape the street from downtown to the Madison Valley.

With a plan for a 2020 start of construction and service starting late in 2022, the latest Madison BRT design updates will be on display at a series of open houses and community tabling events in neighborhoods along the $120 million, 2.3 mile, 10-station route.

Madison BRT Open House

SDOT has also documented the project in an online open house where it is collecting feedback at

Changes in the latest round of updates follow an earlier series of community meetings on the project. The latest updates focused on improving conditions at key intersections including at 12th Ave and 24th Ave where the route will mix with busy traffic flows and bustling streets. SDOT says highlights include shorter crosswalks — and a major tweak that will prevent it from having to install trolley wires for blocks along the route:

  • Shorter crosswalks at key intersections so people walking have time to get to the other side of the street
  • New diesel-hybrid bus fleet which eliminates the need to extend the overhead trolley wire from 19th Ave to Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr Way. This also removes the small power supply converter (TPSS) from the design at Madison St and E John St.
  • New curbside bus stop on 1st Ave between Madison St and Spring St
  • Updated bus layover station at E Arthur Pl and MLK Jr Way with fewer poles and overhead wires
  • New pedestrian signal at 10th Ave to help people cross Madison St to get to Seattle University and other destinations
  • New underground stormwater detention tank on 10th Ave between Madison St and E Union St

SDOT says the project design will require removal of approximately 160 parking spaces “to make room for new bus-only lanes and bike lanes.”

New bike infrastructure along the route includes protected bike lanes on Spring St between 1st Ave and 3rd Ave, PBL on Spring St between 6th Ave and 9th Ave, the PBL on E Union St between 11th Ave and 14th Ave, new sharrows on 14th Ave between E Union St and Madison St, and a crossbike marking and bike box at Madison and 24th Ave E.

CHS reported on the E Union protected bike lane project here.

SDOT says it is also working with the Office of Arts and Culture “to enhance the urban design and streetscape along the corridor” as part of the One Percent for Art ordinance. Seattle artist Ben Zamora was chosen to create public works of art for the project.

SDOT’s open house doesn’t mention cost but half of the project’s budget is expected to come from the Federal Transit Authority. In its latest update to its nationwide Current Capital Investment Grant Projects, the FTA still lists the Madison BRT project in the first phase of the Small Starts Project Development grant process. In November, the FTA gave the project a “high” value rating.

With a push to build the project starting in 2015, the future RapidRide G line continues to take shape. The city says the line will provide “fast, frequent, reliable, and safe public transportation between 1st Ave in downtown Seattle and Martin Luther King Jr Way.”

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. Cyclists can also anticipate loading their bikes inside the bus.

As part of the project, SDOT will be transforming the Madison/12th Ave/Union tangle. The new bus line will reconfigure lanes and other elements like widened sidewalks and new bike lanes on E Union are also in the mix.

A few properties along the route will need to give an inch — or two. CHS reported last summer on negotiations with Capitol Hill gay bar Pony over an easement on a portion of the bar’s property so SDOT can widen the street as part of the major overhaul of the three-way Madison/12th/Union intersection.

After this round of community feedback, SDOT says the plan is to begin the process to select a contractor by January 2020 with a selection set by April. Construction would then begin in phases starting in June 2020 with a planned June 2022 start of service.

Estimates forecast the line could serve more than 17,000 trips a day by 2035.

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26 thoughts on “Madison Bus Rapid Transit design changes rolled out as project nears planned 2020 start of construction

  1. What’s wrong with the bike racks on existing busses? Ditch the interior bike racks for seats, so that a cyclist isn’t effectively consuming double the space (seat and an interior rack space).

    • Existing external racks are difficult to use if you’re not particularly burly. Internal bus racks are much easier as there is less need to lift as high, etc.. Swift busses on Community Transit have interior racks and they are much better and overall safer and made loading and unloading quicker. If we want people to use busses for everyday activities, like grocery shopping, tooling around town to their kids’ appointments, etc. etc. etc., then our equipment should accommodate that with the space required for bringing stuff on board. I’m not just talking about bikes, by the way. Have you ever tried to put anything other than a small backpack in the overhead rack on a Sounder train? You can’t, and under seat is not the spacious either. And since the seats are designed facing each other, and small, holding anything other than a small backpack on your lap is hardly comfortable.

      Transit equipment doesn’t have to be luxurious, but it needs to be functional so that all kinds of people can use it for all kinds of purposes.

      Another great thing about the Swift interior bike racks is that means cyclists don’t have to sit up front to exit near the front and tell the driver they are getting their bike. And that means less competition for seats near the ADA area.

      • Cyclists do not sit upfront now, they sit in the back and exit through the back door. It sounds like your idea who the majority of bike rack users are, is quite different from reality.

      • Hi K – I was comparing how front, externally mounted bike racks function with how the Swift internal, rear bike racks function. On busses with external front racks, it’s advisable to sit near the front do that when you exit you can inform the driver that you are taking the bike off the rack. They bus guidelines for cyclists ask that you do this. You don’t have to sit near the front, but obviously on a crowded bus it’s preferable for all kinds of reasons. On the Swift busses, yes, bike riders can sit near the back. I’m pretty familiar with bike racks on busses since I use them a couple of times a week.

      • AbleDanger – I commute to Snohomish County via Sounder to take classes at a community college that aren’t offered in Seattle. My backpack is not that big. It carries a notebook, one or two textboooks, and a meal for the evening, my wallet and maybe an extra layer like a long sleeve shirt on a cold day. Yet it doesn’t fit in the overhead racks or under the seats. Again, not asking for luxury, just asking for basic functionality.

      • Doesn’t change the fact that one person with one bike now consumes two places, and that’s assuming they’re actually used – otherwise it’s just wasted space for the most part.

        Like most things with bikes: it’s the wants of few affecting the needs of many.

        Re: commuter rail – it’s *commuter* rail – it was designed for going to work…not for the huge backpacks with crap in it that people seem to carry everywhere now.

  2. Forgive my cynicism, but using diesel buses (even hybrids) is a bug not a feature. Sure it saves $$ on trolley wire overhead – but not sure how we sell new fossil fuel infrastructure, even for buses.

    • Haven’t you heard the city and county are very, very committed to carbon neutrality? About as much as they treat homelessness as an emergency.

    • And actually removes the trolley wire from Madison.

      Why didnt they just design Madison BRT around the brand new existing fleet of trolleys instead of this overengineered hyper complex design requiring a dedicated fleet of custom buses that can only run on this line?

      • so, why not a BRT alignment that uses the existing overhead; there are three lines that connect with the Madison overhead. the reason the initial design did not extend to Madison Park could have been to avoid the cost and challenging NIMBYs; now, without the overhead, should the line extend to Madison Park? what will happen to nearby bus routes?

    • I guess there is some confusion. This is supposed to be BRT. The whole point of this project is to allow the buses to move a lot faster. For part of the way, they run in BAT lanes. BAT lanes (common in Seattle) are better than nothing (and likely sufficient for those areas), but they aren’t ideal. They allow cars to turn right. In very urban areas (like this) those cars hold up traffic, while they wait for pedestrians to cross the street. Thus the bus gets delayed considerably, even though it is in a special lane. Running in the middle of the street — in bus-only lanes — solves this problem.

      This does mean that you need buses with doors on both sides. The original plan was to buy trolley buses that had doors on both sides. Unfortunately, someone in the process screwed up. The bus company makes buses with doors on both sides, and they make trolleys, but they don’t make buses with both. They could make them, but they didn’t want to, for such a short order. So the new folks in charge did the right thing. Instead of scrapping the project (and running buses stuck in traffic, which would be no different than today) they bought diesel-electric buses.

      Hopefully, these will eventually be replaced with trolley buses with doors on both sides. The diesel electric buses can then be used for lines that will never have wire, or sold to a city that needs them.

  3. Hey Jseattle, where are you getting these images from? could you provide a link in the article?

    I tried looking through the “rapid ride g” links but couldn’t find anything. If a more detailed proposal is available, I’d love to see it!

  4. I think it’s a major short-sighted error to use a diesel-hybrid fleet rather than extend the trolley wires – what analysis has been done to look at the long-term rather than the short-term?

    • See my comment above. The short answer is that they tried to buy trolleys, but the company that makes them wouldn’t sell them.

  5. The issue with the trolley wire sidesteps the issue that SDOT had been planning the route with double-articulated trolley buses with doors on both sides of the coach (to accommodate the center running platform). No one makes buses like that.

    It is very disappointing that we are still moving forward with the exact design with diesel buses. Even more so when we are still waiting on a Federal grant for a very long time now.

    • This project should be done as incremental spot improvements utilizing the existing buses, it could achieve more for less money. Instead we have this weird overly complex design requiring custom buses with left doors and extensive construction (triggering more construction due to impact mitigation).

      • Spot improvements won’t turn a bus line into BRT any more than it has turned the streetcar into light rail. Yes, we are all disappointed that this isn’t running on wire. But only a relatively small portion of our fleet runs on wire. Eventually we will have lots more projects like this, and it is quite possible that we could convince the bus company to sell us those buses then. For example, the 7 could be modified to use the streetcar stops (in the middle of the street) while both are given the right-of-way. The 7 is a longer route, which means a lot more buses would be used. A purchase that big could be enough to get the bus company to build the proper vehicles.

        Abandoning the center-running (arguably the most important part of the project) because the buses will run using the same source of fuel as most of our fleet would be tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

      • Paint the center lanes red and place some floating islands like those on Dexter, doesnt need to be a $130 million project that rebuilds the entire street from building face to building face.

  6. It seems to me that most of the benefits from this complex and costly project could be achieved by eliminating those 160 parking spaces and running frequent express buses. And of course letting them continue on to Madison Park.

    • I also don’t get why they can’t just eliminate the parking on that stretch of Madison (which they’re going to do anyway), and run more frequent buses up and down Madison with more space between stops. Ridership really peters out by the time you reach Lake WA Blvd, but I imagine part of that is the current lengthy detour through the Hill. This project, as is typical with SDOT, has become another overly costly and massively delayed mess with public art and extra side projects that are probably not necessary. They’ve lost focus on what we actually need – frequent and reliable and quick transit on that corridor.

      • Public art is required by law.

        If there’s not a dedicated ROW for buses, then it’ll fill up with car traffic and there won’t be any improvements.

        Giving buses the center lane is by far the fastest, because it eliminates the cars stacking up waiting to turn right.

        Make sense?