Rainier Ave S Bus-Only Lane

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Updated November 14, 2022

Improving transit reliability and travel times 

What's Happening Now?

We're working with King County Metro to evaluate options to extend the northbound bus lanes on Rainier Ave S to S Grand St. Thank you to everyone who took our survey! Our survey was live for over 6 weeks, and we received over 1,100 responses. We are now reviewing what we heard in the survey and our other outreach activities this fall. We’ll share a summary on what we heard and next steps for the project early next year. Your feedback will help us better understand how you use Rainier Ave S and how we can make the bus a better transportation option. 

Did you miss our virtual public meeting on October 25? You can view the meeting recording and our presentation. We are working on a summary of the questions asked and answers provided. We will post the summary to our webpage in the coming weeks.  

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

Quick facts about bus-only 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-only lanes to make right turns into driveways and at intersections
  • People biking can use bus-only lanes
  • Emergency response vehicles can use bus-only 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-only lanes help keep buses moving more reliably by separating buses from other vehicles. Bus-only 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-only 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-only lanes on Rainier Ave S. This work will occur in two phases:

Phase 1 (completed July 2022) We installed a northbound bus-only lane between S Alaska St and S Walden St, and a southbound bus-only lane between S Oregon St and S Edmunds St. A travel lane was converted into the new bus-only 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) We're evaluating additional changes to further improve transit reliability and travel times, including expanding bus-only lanes further north on Rainier Ave S. We're currently evaluating options to extend the northbound bus-only 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.

We are evaluating two alternatives:

  1. A continuous northbound bus-only lane, one general travel lane, and two-way center turn lane between S Grand St to S Walden St
  2. A continuious northbound bus-only lane between S Grand St and S Walden St that maintains 2 northbound travel lanes and removes the two-way center turn lane between S Grand St to S College St

Additional information about the two alternatives, including benefits and other considerations is below. 

Typical existing conditions between S Grand St to S Walden St

  • Two general traffic lanes in both directions 
  • Two-way centure turn lane  

Graphic rendering of the existing street design

Image looking north. 

Alternative 1

  • Continuous northbound bus-only lane from S Grand St to S Walden St
  • One northbound general travel lane
  • Maintains two-way 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 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. 

Alternative 2

  • Continuous northbound bus-only lane from S Grand St to S Walden St
  • Between S Grand St to S College St, maintain two northbound travel lanes and remove the two-way center turn lane

Benefits:

  • Adds two new traffic signals at S Grand St and S College St to promote transit reliability and safer crossings. New traffic signal at S College St will provide protected left turns.
  • Estimated to save nearly 5 minutes of transit travel time when conditions are more congested than usual
  • Maintains two northbound travel lanes for I-90 access
  • Makes riding the bus a more reliable and attractive transportation option
  • Makes progress toward City climate and equity goals

Considerations:

  • Restricts left turns between S Holgate St and S Walker St
  • Requires adjusting all travel lane widths
  • Potential for traffic diversion on neighborhood streets
  • Travel times for people driving northbound on Rainier Ave S may increase by 5 minutes during AM peak hours
  • May need more investments to address barriers to taking the bus 

Street design between S Grand St to S College St (looking north)Graphic rendering of the Alternative 2 street design between S Grand St to S College St

Street design between S College St to S Walden St (looking north) 

Graphic rendering of Alternative 2 street design between S College St to S Walden St

We want your feedback on these alternatives. Please take our survey!

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.

Route 7 had one of the highest transit ridership 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 transit reliability and travel time on a route where transit ridership remained high throughout the COVID-19 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 transit 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 transit 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-only 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-only 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-only lanes on Rainier Ave S will improve transit reliability on Rainier Ave S, including frequent routes with high ridership such as the Routes 7, 48 and 106
  • Adding bus-only 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-only 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-only 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-only lane is installed. During the most congested morning trips, people on the bus can save 6 minutes with a bus-only 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 transit travel time savings by extending the bus-only 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 

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