Last summer, I posted about the construction of bus bulbs and other transit improvements along 45th Street. After a recent post about proposed changes to N. 40th Street, Wallyhood got an earful about the bus bulbs on 45th. So I thought it would be a good time to check in with Mr. SDOT, Jeff Bender, who explains all manner of transit and traffic improvements to the willing lay person.
To recap, bus bulbs, or sidewalk extensions that allow buses to load and unload passengers without pulling out of traffic, were installed along 45th to try to improve the speed and predictability of buses on route 44. In recent years, 45th Street has seen a marked increase in traffic which has increased travel time for both cars and buses. One solution to this problem is to encourage more people to take the bus. However, people are reluctant to take the bus when it is always late. So, improving the reliability of the bus is an important step in increasing bus ridership.
Bus bulbs are needed because even though the law directs cars to yield to buses when they signal to re-enter traffic, many drivers ignore the law and make it nearly impossible for the bus to pull back into the lane. Over the course of the bus’ route, this failure to follow the law leads to extensive delays. (It can also lead to a $124 ticket, FYI).
All of that makes sense, but given the noise I was hearing in the comments section, I wanted to know if the newly installed bus bulbs are working. So I asked Mr. Bender how SDOT evaluates the bus bulbs’ effectiveness. He replied:
“SDOT will measure the transit travel time savings for the Route 44 corridor once we have completed installing transit signal priority at selected signalized intersections. Prior to installing the bus bulbs in Wallingford for the Market/45th Street project, we estimated that the bulbs would generate a transit travel time savings in the range of 4 to 14 seconds per trip.
After a recent visit to Wallingford post-bus bulb construction, SDOT’s consultant reports that between Latona Avenue and Stone Way, bus dwell times (time from when the bus arrives at the stop until it departs the stop) decreased 7 to 16 seconds per trip on average throughout the day (ignoring outbound AM trips, and inbound midday trips because they were influenced by wheelchair lift use). This savings adds up significantly considering that Route 44 has about 90 trips per direction per day. They also observed that from a transit rider’s perspective the bus bulbs provided a more comfortable waiting experience.”
While 7 to 16 seconds might not seem like much, over the course of the bus route those seconds add up. If you look at the chart below, you’ll see that more efficient loading and unloading shaves 4.5 to 8.7 minutes off the transit time from the bus’ point of origin to termination.
I could already hear Wallyhood readers chorusing, “But what about the cars?!? Saving time for buses is all well and good, but my commute stinks and it’s the fault of the bus bulbs!” Mr. Bender begs to differ, saying:
“For east-west travel in the Market/45th corridor, travel times for cars will improve, in general. This is an ancillary effect of revised channelization and increased green time at signalized intersections to help keep transit, i.e. Route 44, moving. With more signal green time being given to east-west traffic flow, cars using the north-south side streets experience a slightly longer travel time. In general, overall intersection vehicle delay does not change significantly. The corridor will also move more people because improved transit speed and reliability will attract more riders.”
Mr. Bender noted that he does not yet have data specific to Wallingford to support the above statement, which he made based on studies of other areas. However, later this year the transit signal priority (TSP) system, which gives buses their own signal, will be installed along the Market/45th Corridor. After installation, the vehicle wait times for cars and buses will be re-evaluated. After that: hard data.
I mentioned to Mr. Bender that several readers had noted difficulty in turning left at the intersection of Wallingford Avenue and 45th Street. He said that SDOT has that intersection on its radar:
“During the course of the NW Market/45th TPCI project, SDOT staff investigated changes to the 45th and Wallingford intersection to improve Route 44 transit travel time and liability. One of the changes was to provide a protected permissive west-bound left turn to accommodate high volumes of left turns. SDOT staff will review intersection operations in the near future to determine if left turn signal phases in the eastbound and westbound directions need to be adjusted to improve NW Market/45th Street corridor transit/traffic operations.”
Because I was pretty sure that I wasn’t the only one confused by the new concrete islands in the center lane opposite the bus bulbs, I asked for clarification as to their purpose. The concrete barriers were, in fact, installed to increase pedestrian safety and decrease vehicular and vehicle/pedestrian accidents. The barriers prevent cars from pulling around the bus when it is stopped to let passengers disembark. As a bonus, they confuse people turning left. Just kidding.
Wallyreaders should know that if the transit corridor improvements have caused unintended traffic consequences, you can contact SDOT to request an evaluation of the issue. SDOT has engineers in its Traffic Management Division whose primary job is investigating such matters. You can email Mr. Bender (Jeff.Bender@seattle.gov) or call 206-684-ROAD.