Additional bus lanes will be coming to Rainier Ave S to speed up buses and improve reliability and safety. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) plans to install two short segments on Saturday and Sunday, after having been accelerated for implementation by the department after a dramatic collision. A third bus lane segment will come later this year.

SDOT will restripe the street by converting the outer travel lane in each direction to a business access and transit (BAT) lane, allowing right turns. A center turn pocket will be typical with the street rechannelization. The two segments planned for rechannelization are from S Frontenac St to S Fontanelle St and just north of S Cloverdale St to around the entrance of South Lake High School. Later in the year, a short stretch from S Eddy St to S Bateman St will also be restriped.

Locations for BAT rechannelization along Rainier Ave S in 2019. (City of Seattle)
Locations for BAT rechannelization along Rainier Ave S in 2019. (City of Seattle)

The rechannelization for BAT lanes will benefit Route 7, a busy trolleybus route that operates from Rainier Beach to the Denny Triangle, primarily along Rainier Ave S. The project should help improve safety on Rainier Ave S, the city’s deadliest street based on collisions per mile. “Reducing the number of general-purpose travel lanes has been proven to reduce speeding–a key factor in the frequency and severity of crashes,” SDOT wrote. If motorists respect the BAT lanes that seems quite plausible, but as we’ve seen with the case of Erin the bus lane hero, it sometimes takes extraordinary measures (e.g., human shields) for motorists respect bus lanes rather than cheat.

SDOT has already made some improvements on Rainier Ave S, with the most substantial implemented in 2015. The corridor is slated to get an upgrade with the Rainier RapidRide Line in 2024, which means much more than just paint. That means queue jumps, off-board payment, new bus platforms, and other RapidRide features are due to be rolled out. But SDOT will make ongoing improvements through 2022 ahead of full RapidRide upgrade.

The Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) coalition has been pushing the City to add bus lanes more aggressively, including the proposition in its MASS Transportation Package. This is a step in that direction, but with plenty more work to be done to keep buses from getting swallowed up in Seattle’s worsening congestion and hemorrhaging riders.

Rainier Ave S safety and bus improvements for 2019. (City of Seattle)

The department also plans to complete other safety projects along the corridor this year. For instance, SDOT is installing wider crosswalks at S Othello St and S Rose St and improving ramps at S Graham St and S Holly St. The department is also adjusting signals at S Othello St, S Henderson St, and S Cloverdale St to improve crossings for pedestrians by reducing wait times or adding a leading pedestrian interval to give them a head-start.

Time will tell how effective the bus lanes are at speeding up Route 7 and if the safety interventions are enough to reduce the carnage on Rainier and alleviate the pedestrian safety crisis we are facing.

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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.