Rainier Ave S Bus-Only Lane

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Updated June 27, 2022

Improving transit reliability and travel times 

What's Happening Now?

We're adding bus-only lanes to Rainier Ave S to help improve transit reliability and travel times. In early July, SDOT will begin construction to add a northbound bus-only lane on Rainier Ave S between S Alaska and S Walden streets, and a southbound bus-only lane between S Oregon and S Edmunds streets. The curbside travel lane will change from a general travel lane to a new bus-only lane.
  
There will be no changes to existing on-street parking, the two-way center turn lane, and freight access. Construction is scheduled to occur July 8 – 10. This work is weather dependent and subject to change. The road will remain open during construction, and people can expect periodic lane closures. People can also expect temporary bus stop closures of the northbound bus stops on Rainier Ave S at the intersections of S Edmunds St, S Alaska St, S Genesee St, 33rd Ave S and S Walden St. These bus stops will be closed for a few hours at a time and relocated bus stops will be provided nearby. Watch for notices and temporary changes at your bus stop during construction. 
Later this summer, we will begin outreach about potentially expanding the bus-only lanes further north. This webpage has more information about the project, and you can sign up for email updates to stay informed on project progress and opportunities to share your feedback. 

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 (construction in 2022) Add 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 will be converted into the new bus-only lane. No existing on-street parking will be removed. See the diagrams below for more detail.

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 studying a Phase 2 project that would extend the northbound bus-only lane from S Walden St to S Massachusetts St. A travel lane would be converted into the new bus-only lane. The project may also include several signal improvements to help further prioritize transit and keep other traffic moving efficiently. The Phase 2 project is in the early stages, and we plan to start community outreach later in 2022 to gather feedback to inform the project. 

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.  

Typical section of the existing street design (looking north):

A graphic showing the current design when looking north.

Typical section of the future street design with bus-only lane (looking north): 

Image showing a typical cross section of the street once the bus-only lane is added.

Existing street design between S Oregon St and S Alaska St (looking north): 

Image of current street design between S Oregon St and S Alaska St

Future street design with bus-only lane between S Oregon St and S Alaska St (looking north): 

Graphic showing the future street design once a bus only lane is added between S Oregon St and S Alaska St

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 

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
  • Mid-2022: Construction of Phase 1 project
  • Mid-2022: Begin 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 design phase of this project, specifically the early design.

Phase 2: 

A table showing that we are currently in the planning phase of this project, specifically the project development.

Related Projects

Route 7 Transit-Plus Multimodal Corridor

RapidRide R

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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