The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) revealed on Saturday its preliminary timeline for rolling out the seven RapidRide+ lines promised in the Move Seattle transportation levy. Madison and Delridge come first in 2019, whereas the 23rd Ave E upgrade isn’t slated until 2024. Seeing the timelines makes the bus improvements seem real and that’s exciting. But some big unanswered questions still loom.

Here is the timeline they released:

2019:

  • Delridge
  • Madison

2020

  • Rainier/Jackson

2021

  • Roosevelt
  • Market/45th

2022

  • Northgate/Fremont

2024

  • 23rd Ave

Can We Unclog The 44?

Biggest in my mind: how can any bus running on the N 45th St corridor be rapid? There may be a way to thread the needle somewhat but it involves queue jumps and taking out a lot of parking and that still wouldn’t solve the I-5 interchange. Ultimately, it seems like a reliably rapid 44 would hinge on taking a lane away from motorists through this congested I-5 section or the shinier new bus will simply get stuck behind on-ramp backups in 2021 when this opens just like it happens today. That will require SDOT to wage a tough fight, but it could turn 44+ into a true asset. If not, it could be just putting window dressing on the same old tortuously slow bus.

Shadowy Shadow Service Along Roosevelt

Roosevelt HCT
The latest murmurs from SDOT is that the Northgate portion is cut and Roosevelt may be in jeopardy too as they scale the project down. (SDOT)

Will a shortened Roosevelt RapidRide+ terminating at Roosevelt or U District rather than Northgate still be a great line? Will Roosevelt be ready if Northgate Link is well ahead of schedule like U Link was? Roosevelt is shaping up to be a big improvement for bicyclists with protected bike lanes, but the transit service ideally would roll out even if the next light rail expansion is early and offer connecting service all the way to Northgate.

I can understand SDOT choosing protected bike lanes but cutting dedicated transit lanes for the Eastlake section. It’s inexcusable that they would split the line north of the Ship Canal and still not come up with space for dedicated lanes. SDOT is calling the package “targeted improvements” but they need better aim.

Mystery Line: Delridge?

Meanwhile, the Delridge line is scheduled for a quick roll out in 2019 but so far very few details have been revealed. It is not found anywhere on SDOT’s transit projects page. Madison, by comparison, is very far along in the planning process and could be funded in ST3 if passed. Now this might be because Delridge is an easier line to plan. SDOT could upgrade the stations and change the color of the buses on the Route 120 bus and call it good. This line is notable in that it is the only route planned to travel outside Seattle, that is if the Burien terminus remains.

Sound Transit studied this corridor for possible high capacity transit several years ago, and included a Delridge routed 120 replacement BRT line, which they estimated would cost around $2 billion despite only having 26% exclusive right-of-way. This also, I should note, included a segment extending the line from Burien to Renton as a way of serving more of South King County, adding to its cost. But not even Sound Transit saw much need for dedicated right of way along the corridor.

The 40 is shaped like a hook.
The 40 is shaped like a hook. Hopefully RapidRide branding lures more riders. (Metro Transit)

Will The 40+ Reach Northgate?

2022 is dedicated to rolling out RapidRide+ service to Fremont and Northgate, apparently by upgrading the Route 40 bus. That will make for a rather long line snaking through South Lake Union, Westlake, Fremont, Ballard, Loyal Heights, Crown Hill, and Northwest before finally reaching Northgate Transit Center. The line, if SDOT doesn’t cut it short like it did the Roosevelt line, will feed the Northgate light rail station which goes on line a year earlier. When the Ballard-to-Downtown light rail goes online circa 2035, it could also feed that line.

The line has great possibility if a dedicated lane can be guaranteed along most of its path. The 40 already has the benefit of exclusive lanes in South Lake Union on Westlake Avenue. If it’s done right, it will help Fremont feel less excluded from Sound Transit 3 (and 2, and Sound Move). And from not having a RapidRide E stop.

Rainier Roll-out With Vision Zero

Rainier Avenue has the distinction of being Seattle’s deadliest street. It’s slated for RapidRide+ service in 2020 which could catalyze the traffic calming and design improvements. That’s in an ideal scenario. It’s be great to see safety improvements even sooner to get the corridor more in line with Vision Zero safety principles before another road death takes place. The Route 7 bus, which the RapidRide+ would likely replace, is already a very busy bus so we can expect heavy ridership. Greater frequency alone is going to be a boon. BRT transit speed and reliability might be out of reach barring the unlikely addition of center running bus lanes. But if Rainier RapidRide+ infrastructure helps to cement road safety features then it will still be warmly welcomed.

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Doug Trumm is the Publication Director at The Urbanist. He joined the exodus to Seattle in 2014, leaving behind his home state of Minnesota. Living on disputed land between Wallingford and Fremont, he is doing his best to improve both neighborhoods. He is a grad student at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance and a marketing intern at King County Metro. His views are his own and do not represent his employer.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Northgate Link is opening in 2019 now? Not 2021 as has been planned? That would be fantastic! Do you have a link to a source? Considering tunneling is wrapping up late summer/early fall, I always thought ST was too conservative with their delivery date. I fail to see how the installation of rail, electrical, ventilation, emergency systems/egresses and stations & system testing would take 5 years to complete…

    Another trouble spot for the 44 will be the Market st hill up to 46th. Only 3 lanes from what I recall.

    • Sorry you’re right Andy. I was getting ahead myself. There is speculation that Northgate Link would be early but nothing official. Didn’t mean to get your hopes up. I’ve corrected that paragraph. Still crossing my fingers.

      Also correct the hill up to 46th can get a little hairy with traffic too. Hopefully a remedy is worked in there too.

      • The Market St hill is actually not too bad – where traffic backs up, is usually due to the lights at the top of the Hill at Phinney and Fremont Aves. I’m not really sure what can be done about them, but adding ROW along the hill section may not be needed.

        Side note, I hate that we have to wait until 2021 for the Rte 44 Rapid – moving it up as part of ST3 would have gone a looooong way towards building support among those of us in North Central Seattle who get squat out of the plan.

  2. Do you have a source on Northgate and/or Roosevelt being trimmed from the Roosevelt to Downtown HCT project?

      • Thank you, Doug! Huge fundamental shift for the route (especially after all the work that has gone into studying it to Northgate), though perhaps a win for efficiency in the long-run given the routes almost perfect alignment with incoming Link. Lots of mixed feelings.

  3. For reducing the transit time on the 44, I’ve emailed this proposal to Councilmember Johnson several times. Essentially, the worst bottlenecks occur between 15th Ave NE and I-5. In that stretch there are 5 available road lanes – I suggest converting the curb lanes to transit only between 15th and Wallingford. That would still leave three general purpose lanes: two for traffic and a center turn lane. Much of the congestion comes not only from backup on I-5 ramps but also from lane-switching by cars.

  4. Judkins Park Station will open in 2023 serving as a quick connection to downtown for much of central Seattle, but the Rapid Ride + doesn’t open for another year?? Why not open the 48+ at least simultaneously so that people switch their travel habits to transit and don’t just hide and ride the new station?

    • This is a very good point. East Link seems to be ahead of schedule at this point so being ready to open 48+ in 2022 might not be the worst thing.

  5. It’ll be hard to solve the I-5 on-ramp problem for the 44, but one solution could be to close the on-ramps at 45th to private traffic (or at least SOVs) and divert them to the 50th St on-ramps. No transit runs on 50th so any backups would have to become pretty massive to cause problems.

    Turning 45th into a transit-only street during peak periods (like 3rd Ave downtown) seems like a no-brainer too. It’s not just Metro that uses it during peak – all the CT buses serving UW use it as well, and there’s frequently traffic jams just from the buses, let alone car traffic.

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