Traffic in Seattle is sluggishly slow – you know that already. It’s eating three hours more of your life now than it did two years ago.
That’s why the City of Seattle announced improvements this week to help buses move more efficiently through the city. Advocates say the small improvements add up to faster, more reliable bus service.
On Tuesday, at the corner of 4th and Battery in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, Seattle Department of Transportation crews stenciled the words “Bus Only” onto a lane of traffic that they have painted entirely in red.
That’s to reinforce the restriction. It has always been against the rules for cars to drive in this lane unless they had to turn right, but apparently cars weren’t adhering to the rule.
At a press conference in the middle of the red lane, SDOT Director Scott Kubly stood at a podium. A few feet away, commuters on their way home rolled down their windows and gawked.
“The streets of Seattle are the track way for Metro buses," Kubly said. "And when that track way has issues, Metro’s passengers experience frustrations and delays."
Kubly said two thirds of downtown commuters arrive some other way than driving, whether it's taking transit, carpooling, walking or biking.
"We need to focus on how do we use our streets more efficiently," he said.
Shefali Ranganathan of Transportation Choices Coalition was also at the press conference.
"These improvements, they may seem small, but they have huge impacts. We’re talking hours. A couple minutes each trip adds up pretty quick to the average commuter," she said.
Seattle has lately been rethinking how it uses its roads. Officials say transit is the most efficient way for downtown to accommodate more commuters.
Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington, said painting roadways offers a quick and effective way to try new approaches.
"If you have to go build concrete barriers and berms and curbs and whatever like that, it’s a much more expensive outcome,” Hallenbeck said. “If it doesn’t work, then you have to take them back out which is even more expensive."
With paint, Hallenbeck said, mistakes can be painted over.
SDOT's Scott Kubly said if the painted bus lanes work, then red bus lanes will become the new standard for designated bus lanes throughout the city.