Rainier Ave S Bus Lane

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February 2, 2024

Improving transit reliability and travel times 

What's Happening Now?

We have completed installation of raised street markings across the bus-only lane on Rainier Ave S at S Alaska St and additional signs nearby to reinforce appropriate use of the bus-only lane. We will observe traffic for up to six months and see if there is a reduction in speeding and misuse of the bus-only lane. In tandem with these installations, we will launch an educational campaign in the coming month to help people who are not familiar with bus-only lanes better understand the purpose of bus-only lanes.

We've heard your concerns about speeding and misuse of the bus-only lanes on Rainier Ave S and we're addressing these concerns to make the road safer as we move forward working with King County Metro to extend the northbound bus-only lane on Rainier Ave S from . 

    You can learn more about this effort to discourage speeding and misuse of bus-only lane from our recent blog post

    We're working with King County Metro to extend the northbound bus lanes on Rainier Ave S from S Walden St to S Grand St. 

    Moving forward with Option 1

    The goal of this project is to make transit an accessible, convenient, and reliable transportation choice for all people living in, working in, and visiting the Rainier Valley. We’re working toward this goal by expanding our network of bus lanes to create a more reliable and effective transit system.

    We’ve spent the past few months reviewing your feedback to better understand how you use Rainier Ave S and how we can make the bus a better transportation option. Based on your feedback we’re moving forward with Option 1 (detailed in the Project Overview section below). Option 1 includes a northbound bus lane from S Grand St to S Walden St, one northbound general travel lane, and keeps the center turn lane. 

    We heard in our engagement about the need for safety of people walking and rolling on Rainier Ave S and maintaining access to businesses. In working to balance the needs of all users, we also considered the needs of the freight community, who require lanes wide enough to move goods safely through the corridor.

    Racial Equity Toolkit

    Since you last heard from us we’ve been working to develop a Racial Equity Toolkit (RET) for the Rainier Bus Lanes project. This has included internal workshops and sharing a draft with community members for feedback. We’re now working to incorporate and respond to feedback community shared and will be finalizing and sharing the RET via email and on the project webpage.

    Next steps

    Project timeline: Our design team is building out more detail for Option 1 to share with you this winter.

    Using feedback: We’re using the feedback shared in last year’s survey to reach out to community about reducing barriers to taking the bus and ways to make it an option for more trips.

    Partnering with King County Metro: We’re partnering with Metro as they ramp up work on the RapidRide R Line and we’ll share feedback opportunities on our project website and through emails.

    Sign up for email updates to stay informed on the project.

    Quick facts about bus lanes

    • People driving cars and trucks cannot travel in lanes marked and signed as “bus only”. Lanes painted red are restricted to buses only 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
    • People driving can enter bus lanes to make right turns into driveways and at intersections
    • People biking can use bus lanes
    • Emergency response vehicles can use bus lanes when responding to an incident
    • Only public transportation vehicles are allowed to use marked “bus only” lanes. This does not include school buses, vanpools, work shuttles, motorcycles, carpools or charter buses.  

    For more information about transit lanes, including bus-only lanes, visit our transit lane webpage.

    Project Overview

    Bus lanes help keep buses moving more reliably by separating buses from other vehicles. Bus lanes reduce bus travel times, especially when traffic is heavy, by minimizing congestion-related delays. Our goal is to make transit an accessible, convenient, and reliable transportation choice for all people living in, working in, and visiting Seattle. One way we are working toward this goal is by expanding our network of bus lanes to create a more reliable and effective transit system that can move more people in less time.

    We're working in partnership with King County Metro to improve transit reliability in the Rainier Valley. Route 7 is one of Seattle's busiest bus routes, serving 8,000 riders per day (11,200 riders per day prior to the pandemic). While Route 7 buses are scheduled to come every 10 minutes or sooner, buses are often delayed due to traffic congestion on Rainier Ave S. To help improve transit reliability on this important corridor, we're adding bus lanes on Rainier Ave S. This work will occur in two phases:

    Phase 1 (completed July 2022): We installed a northbound bus lane between S Alaska St and S Walden St, and a southbound bus lane between S Oregon St and S Edmunds St. A travel lane was converted into the new bus lane and no existing on-street parking was removed. We’re monitoring traffic volumes on Rainier Ave S and on other nearby streets to better understand if and how traffic patterns change over the coming months. Based on what we learn, we may make future adjustments or implement other changes to help manage and calm traffic. 

    Phase 2 (outreach in 2022): In 2022 we conducted outreach to hear feedback about proposed changes to further improve transit reliability and travel times, including expanding bus-only lanes further north on Rainier Ave S. During this outreach we shared a survey, staffed pop-up and community events, met with community members and organizations, launched a multicultural media campaign, and hosted a virtual public meeting. To learn more about the this outreach, check our Outreach Summary Report and Survey Analysis Summary.

    Option 1, shown below, extends the northbound bus lane on Rainier Ave S to S Grand St. We estimate this change will save people riding the bus 5 minutes during congested morning hours.

    Option 1

    • Continuous northbound bus lane from S Grand St to S Walden St
    • One northbound general travel lane
    • Keeps center turn lane

    Benefits:

    • New traffic signal at S Grand St to promote transit reliability and safer crossings
    • Estimated to save nearly 5 minutes of travel time for buses when conditions are more congested than usual
    • Makes riding the bus a more reliable and attractive transportation option
    • Makes progress toward City climate and equity goals

    Considerations:

    • Potential for traffic diversion on neighborhood streets
    • Travel times for people driving northbound on Rainier Ave S may increase by 9 minutes during the AM peak hours
    • May need more investments to address barriers to taking the bus

    Graphic rendering of the alternative 1 street design

    Image looking north. 

    Project area map

    A project area map for the Rainier Ave S Bus-Only Lane, showing Phase 1 and 2 going up Rainier Ave S.

    View an enlarged image.  

    Project Background:

    Rainier Ave S is a principal arterial street that connects people to businesses and cultural hubs in the city. It is also a minor freight corridor that connects people moving goods to their destinations. Rainier Ave S is also an important transit corridor serving King County Metro routes 4, 7, 9, 48, 50 and 106.

    The Route 7 bus directly serves the growing Rainier Valley and communities that have been traditionally underrepresented and underserved. Many people who live in Rainier Valley depend on the Route 7 bus each day to access local services such as schools, grocery stores, jobs, and community gathering spaces. People continued to rely on the Route 7 during the COVID-19 pandemic and the bus route maintained some of the highest ridership numbers during the pandemic. In fall of 2020, Route 7 retained 60% of pre-COVID ridership. 

    An infographic showing the most popular bus routes from fall 2020 as they were used by the BIPOC community.

    View an enlarged image

    This project was selected in part as a near-term opportunity to improve bus reliability and travel time on a route where ridership remained high throughout the pandemic. By making these investments now, transit can continue to be a reliable and efficient transportation option for people as we continue to recover from the pandemic.

    The Rainier Ave S bus lane project builds from previous outreach and planning efforts to improve transit reliability in Rainier Valley. SDOT and King County Metro conducted outreach in 2017-2018, and again in 2019-2020 to gather community input on transportation needs and priorities along Rainier Ave S as part of the RapidRide R Line project. Through that outreach we heard:

    • People want reliable transit to reach destinations and essential services along Rainier Ave S (rather than just to commute to downtown)
    • Support for bus trips that take less time and connect to other transit
    • Safer access for people walking, biking, and rolling to bus stops (particularly at crossings near bus stops)
    • Support for a bus lane between Chinatown-ID and Mt Baker Link Light Rail Station
    • Most people support the proposal to remove on-street parking in favor of adding bus lanes, but there are concerns about potential impacts to small businesses 

    Want to read more about RapidRide outreach? Read our 2019 outreach summary

    Project Benefits

    • Adding and expanding bus lanes on Rainier Ave S will improve bus reliability on Rainier Ave S, including frequent routes with high ridership such as the Routes 7, 48 and 106
    • Adding bus lanes now will allow transit to continue to be a lifeline and better serve the Rainier Valley community as we collectively recover and rebuild from the pandemic
    • Bus lanes will smoothly connect people on the bus to the new Judkins Park Light Rail Station opening in 2023, in addition to existing transit hubs like the Mt. Baker Light Rail Station and the McClellan St Metro Transit Station
    • Rainier Ave S provides very frequent bus service in the morning during the AM peak period, with one northbound bus coming about every 3.5 minutes. Bus lanes will help more people get where they are going on-time and experience more consistent travel times. During an average morning trip, people on the bus can save 2 minutes after the bus lane is installed. During the most congested morning trips, people on the bus can save 6 minutes with a bus lane. 

    An infographic showing the average morning travel times and the average travel times when conditions are more congested.

    • We expect that the Phase 1 project will save over 1 minute for people on the bus traveling north between S Alaska St and S Walden St. We anticipate even more travel time savings for people on the bus by extending the bus lane further north toward I-90 where traffic volumes are higher and congestion is often greater. 

    Learn more about Rainier Ave S bus-only lanes

    We expect that completion of the Phase 1 project will save over 1 minute for people on the bus traveling north between S Alaska St and S Walden St. We anticipate there to be an even greater time savings if the bus-only lane is extended further north toward I-90 where traffic volumes are higher and congestion is often greater. We will continue to evaluate these potential time savings as part of the Phase 2 project.

    This project was selected in part as a near-term opportunity to improve transit reliability and travel time on a route where transit ridership remained high throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Through making these investments now, transit can continue to be a reliable and efficient transportation option for people as we continue to recover from the pandemic.

    No existing on-street parking will be removed for the Phase 1 project. Any on-street parking impacts from the Phase 2 project will be determined as project planning and design continue.

    No, access to businesses and/or residences on Rainier Ave S will not change with the Phase 1 project. People driving will still be able to enter bus-only lanes to make turns at intersections or into businesses/residences. Any access changes from the Phase 2 project are yet to be determined. 

    We do not anticipate significant travel time impacts for people driving cars and trucks after the Phase 1 project is built. As part of the Phase 2 project, we will continue to study potential impacts to people driving cars and trucks and work to identify strategies to manage or mitigate those impacts.

    We understand that some people driving will choose to take alternative routes through residential neighborhoods to avoid congested streets. Given current traffic volumes, we don't anticipate there to be significant traffic diversion (or people choosing to take alternative routes) from the Phase 1 project.

    We know that shifting more trips to transit will be important to:

    1. help more people benefit from a more reliable transit system, and;
    2. help lessen the impacts of traffic diversion in local neighborhoods.

    We will conduct additional outreach in 2022 as we develop a Phase 2 project to better understand how we can address barriers for people to ride transit. As part of that outreach, we also plan to listen to the local community to better understand:

    • concerns and potential strategies we can implement to discourage cut-through traffic
    • strategies to help more people shift more trips to transit or travel during less congested times of the day so that the streets can stay clear for when people need to drive.   

    We've heard that Rainier Ave S is an important street for people biking because it is often the flattest and most direct route. Rainier Ave S is also an important and frequently used route for transit, freight, and other vehicles. We must balance these needs and priorities when making decisions about changes to the street and the limited right-of-way space. To date, we've heard that the community's top two priorities for Rainier Ave S are to reduce crashes and keep buses moving.

    People biking are allowed to travel in bus-only lanes in accordance with Washington State law. People biking in curb-side bus lanes should remember that buses will often make in-lane stops and travel with caution. In accordance with State law, whoever is in front has the priority. 

    While bike lanes are not currently planned for Rainier Ave S, we are making other changes to Rainier Ave S that will improve conditions for people walking, biking, and rolling. Many of these improvements are being constructed with other nearby projects including the Route 7 Transit-Plus Multi-Modal Corridor. The 2014 Bike Master Plan recommends protected bike lanes on Rainier Ave S north of Mt Baker Blvd. As we evaluate options to expand bus only-lanes further north with the Phase 2 project, we will conduct further outreach to understand how people who live, work, and travel on Rainier Ave S use the street now and how people want to use it in the future.

    In recent years, we have made other changes to Rainier Ave S to improve conditions and safety on Rainier Ave S, including reducing the speed limit to 25 MPH, installing leading pedestrian signals, and building other safety and traffic calming measures as part of the Rainer Ave Improvements project.

    We have made or are making improvements to other nearby routes for people biking, including:

    Schedule

    • Early 2022: Complete design and begin outreach for Phase 1 project
    • July 2022: Construction of Phase 1 project
    • Fall 2022: Outreach on Phase 2 project
    • 2023-2024: Final design and implementation of Phase 2 project

    Phase 1:

    A table showing that we are currently in the construction wrap up phase

    Phase 2: 

    A table showing that we are currently in the early design phase of this project

    Related Projects

    Route 7 Transit-Plus Multimodal Corridor

    RapidRide R

    2019 RapidRide Outreach Summary 

    Rainier Ave Corridor Improvements

    Funding

    This project is possible thanks to 80 percent of Seattle voters passing the Seattle Transit Measure (Proposition 1) in November 2020, which created a revenue source for more frequent, reliable, accessible bus service in our city. Through a 0.15% sales tax (the equivalent of 15 cents on a $100 purchase) you are directly supporting access to transit in your community.   

    Materials

    Project materials will be shared here as developed.  

    Translation and interpretation 

    If you need this information translated, please call (206) 257-2201

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    Transportation

    Greg Spotts, Director
    Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 3800, Seattle, WA, 98104
    Mailing Address: PO Box 34996, Seattle, WA, 98124-4996
    Phone: (206) 684-7623
    684-Road@seattle.gov

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