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Monday, October 3, 2011

My Take on RapidRide: At Least the "Ride" Part Is True

Posted by on Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 4:35 PM

This weekend was the grand opening of King County Metro's RapidRide B line, which runs from the Bellevue Transit Center to Redmond Transit Center. RapidRide is Metro's bus rapid transit system, featuring supposedly more efficient bus lines, a faster pay-before-you-board system for passengers, and more frequent service. I'm a little bit of a transit nerd—while I one day aspire to be as wonky as our friends at Seattle Transit Blog, I'm more of a fan and by no means an expert—and so I went out and rode it from end to end.

Basically, my feelings on the RapidRide B line are the same as my feelings on the A line: While it's nice that there are dedicated bus stop "stations" along the route, and while the buses themselves are snazzy, and while it's great that there are plenty more buses along the route, this route really tests the definition of the word "rapid." If anything, the B line is going to get even more gummed up than the A line; my trip landed on the outside of Metro's time estimates. Metro predicts that route B trips could take as little as 35 minutes from start to finish, but it took my bus about 50 minutes to run the whole route. (And keep in mind that this is on a weekend; I bet the whole thing takes way more than an hour in rush hour traffic.) While I appreciate the re-envisioning of bus service to make the details run more smoothly—I wish every bus line in the city could be replaced with RapidRide buses and bus stops—this isn't anything revolutionary.

The next RapidRide line scheduled to open, about one year from now, is the C line, from West Seattle to downtown. The D line, from Ballard to Uptown, is scheduled for a vague "2012" start date. I do look forward to the frequent service that these route will bring; every little bit helps. But they're not going to cure Seattle's ongoing need for serious public transit solutions.


Comments (18) RSS

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Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 1
Of course the only people who go from Redmond "Transit Center" to Bellevue "Transit Center" are those constrained to use mass transportation.

The typical citizen goes from home, to work, to lunch, to shop.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on October 3, 2011 at 5:06 PM · Report this
It looks like they were trying to mimic Community Transit's Swift line, which has actually been a pretty good solution for the lines it replaced in terms of ridership and reliability. Of course the Swift buses connect northern Seattle via Aurora Village to Everett, and Aurora/Evergreen Way traffic is pretty dead nuts consistent compared to the traffic the "RapidRide" buses are going to deal with. You can only do so much about using the same roads everybody else has to vs light rail...
Posted by The CHZA on October 3, 2011 at 5:19 PM · Report this
I work on this line. It is a complete and utter joke. How do I know? because those "rapid" buses are sitting in traffic, idling right next to my car. They don't have a dedicated lane. Therefore there is absolutely zero reason to fucking get on one. "Rapid Buses" do not equal rapid transit. Trains, trams and light rail do. Anything else is a complete and utter waste of time and money.
Posted by Pol Pot on October 3, 2011 at 8:13 PM · Report this
The A Line from Tukwila to Federal Way is popular, according to a survey of riders a couple months into the service.

The trouble with A Line is too many stops. And look at the number of stops planned for future lines and again you'll see similar high number of stops, especially in downtown Seattle.

The reason Community Transit's Swift service works so well is the limited number of stops.
Posted by Concerned Queer on October 3, 2011 at 8:51 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 5
Y'all are forgetting that (at least as to how CT explains the Swift), BET isn't meant to be ridden from one end to the other. It is meant for quick two to maybe five or six block trips through an urban area.
Hence a high. Umber of stops per mile. Also BET uses sensors and programming to hold green traffic lights for the bus. It may take a couple weeks to optimize all the necessary timing plans.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on October 3, 2011 at 9:13 PM · Report this
Swift does BRT pretty well. RapidRide is just a bus with nice colors.

Swift has off-board payment at every stop, and a few miles of dedicated lanes. RapidRide doesn't. Snohomish County preserved the local bus service on Swift's route, allowing them to space Swift stops REALLY far apart. Metro, on the other hand, is using RapidRide to replace existing routes, and therefore has to have frequent stops to preserve existing service.

RapidRide is BRT in name only, so that we could get Federal money for the project. It's also an example of how BRT projects always get chipped away at, made cheaper bit by bit, cut corners along the way a thousand times, until they're "just another bus".
Posted by Lack Thereof on October 3, 2011 at 9:40 PM · Report this
seandr 7
Does a "serious public transit solution" have to be as fast as a personal car?

If so, forget it unless you are willing to fork out the kind of money that it takes to buy and maintain a car.
Posted by seandr on October 3, 2011 at 10:06 PM · Report this
mikethehammer 8
Calls to mind one of my all-time favorite pieces of reporting…

Posted by mikethehammer on October 3, 2011 at 10:29 PM · Report this
When will poor people start to understand that they aren't entitled to move around on a cleaner mode of public transportation that doesn't sit in traffic and rarely breaks down? They need to curb those thoughts immediately and remember that their job is to sit in place on the bus and keep their damn mouths shut while we whip by them on the freeway, or honk angrily when we get stopped behind a bus picking up a wheelchair passenger. It's annoying for a minute, but a small price to pay, and we can always roll up the windows and jack the A/C and the ipod up. And hey, at the end of it? They're stuck with all those smelly "commuters," and we're on our merry way.
Posted by j.lee on October 3, 2011 at 10:46 PM · Report this
@7 Faster no, comparable yes. The reality is that most people can afford to drive and will continue to do so until that changes (which we'll do our damnedest to prevent) or transit becomes a more convenient choice. That doesn't mean faster as transit offers savings, ease, and other benefits, but it can't take twice as long or more than driving.

Right now transit serves the poor, the very politically committed, and those that are lucky to live and work along routes that function well. That's all well and good but its going to get a huge number to give up their cars.
Posted by giffy on October 3, 2011 at 11:03 PM · Report this
Kinison 11
They canceled my route (#256) but didnt actually tell anyone unless you caught the bus at either the Overlake or South Kirkland P&R, where they posted a single, but obvious sign that several bus routes (that stopped at these P&Rs) were going to be canceled. But on the bus itself, they posted a totally different sign that made no mention of any bus cancellations, you would think they would at least post them in the any of the bus tunnel stations. Had a bus driver not mentioned it to us on the commute a month ago, I would have been very late for work yesterday. This is how most of the people who use the 256 found out about the route being closed.

Anyway, its not a faster or more efficient route. Its added 15 minutes to my commute and 99% of that is me standing (occasionally in the rain) at the South Kirkland P&R waiting for the 249 to show up, which is a short bus thats often filled with high school students, with large gym bags that take up the whole seat.

My commute is starting to become a pain in the ass.
Posted by Kinison on October 4, 2011 at 8:12 AM · Report this
@11 My god, if you didn't see any of the notifications about the routes that being canceled you really haven't been paying attention. I think they did a very good job of publicizing this one.

Posted by bigyaz on October 4, 2011 at 8:52 AM · Report this

At the risk of sending you down the rabbit hole of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) debate, do yourself a favor and Google "Rede Integrada de Transporte" and "TransMilenio."

With sufficient political will, lane-taking, and not-negligible capital expenditures, BRT can be built with many of the advantages of real rapid transit -- speed, frequency, capacity, and pre-paid stations with turnstiles and level, barrier-free boarding -- but without the costs of tunneling or total grade separation.

But North America lacks that political will, and lacks the kind of ubiquitous demand to "get it as right as possible." So our BRT is compromised, slowed, frequency-decreased, and cash-payment-on-boarded out of all meaningfulness.

Snohomish County's SWIFT is about as close as this continent gets, and it's not that close. 20 minutes is still a long time to wait by a highway in the evening. And it vanishes on Sundays.

RapidRide, though, is a worse corruption. Not frequent, not fast, not reliable. Not better. It's just another bus.
Posted by d.p. on October 4, 2011 at 11:40 AM · Report this
p.s. The Ballard RapidRide represents a 0% increase in service over the lines it replaces. Yes, really. Start your outrage now.
Posted by d.p. on October 4, 2011 at 11:41 AM · Report this
Kinison 15
@12 My god, if you didn't see any of the notifications about the routes that being canceled you really haven't been paying attention.

Let me illustrate this for you.

This is the notice they posted at the Overlake and South Kirkland P&R.

This is the notice they posted EVERYWHERE ELSE, including on the bus and even at the convention center bus tunnel.

One is painfully obvious about the cancellations, the other is clearly cryptic. If your a rider who doesnt need to get off and transfer at the South Kirkland P&R or the Overlake one, Monday probably came as a suprise to you and yeah I did see a few regulars walking out of the bus tunnels looking for an alternative route. So I would have to disagree with you, Metro failed to inform people, at least on the 256, that the 256 was going to be canceled.
Posted by Kinison on October 4, 2011 at 12:49 PM · Report this
Agreed. RapidRide uses nice, new buses and nice, new stations, but does very little to make the bus move faster. The only thing that helps is the use of off-board payment at stations, but that doesn't save a huge amount of time. What they need are either fully dedicated bus lanes or BAT lanes (which are only for buses and cars turning right). Most streets in Bellevue are wide enough for BAT lanes, but it takes political will to make that change. The Rapid Ride C and D lines will have some limited lane priority, but it is still pretty minor. The public needs to get on Metro's case and demand real transit priority improvements. The public should also vote for the Seattle Vehicle License Fee, which will fund a lot of these kinds of real improvements
Posted by zef81 on October 5, 2011 at 5:30 PM · Report this
If you want BAT lanes, make sure to talk to your local jurisdiction and get on their case too. They're a major provider of the roadway environment our buses operate on, and need to know that transit is a priority for their community members.
Posted by BusRider on October 13, 2011 at 12:33 AM · Report this
The fairly obvious thing (and one I thought rapid ride was going to do) was to make the traffic lights smart and make the bus coming force them to be green to let the bus through. No idea why they don't do this. Sure it costs money, but it would be so Awesome. And they for some reason spent a bunch of money replacing a lot of perfectly good (and attractive green and artistic) bus shelters in Bellevue with some more garish red mod ones. Waste. Also a waste is all the marketing for Rapid Ride since it doesn't take anyone long to discover it is not rapid.

Before car drivers get worried that they will have to wait longer at the intersection when a rapid ride bus forces a change, imagine the flip benefit - you see the bus, you pull your car nearby and you get to take advantage of the light changing to green for you. Awesome.
Posted by kbjam on November 2, 2011 at 4:33 PM · Report this

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