Emerald City turning red for faster bus service

SEATTLE -- The city of Seattle is looking to paint the town red to keep its buses running more efficiently.

Three neighborhoods will be part of a pilot program this summer, where 'bus only' lanes will be colored red to help remind drivers of the rules.

"These lanes move tens of thousands a riders a day in some cases. We just get reports from drivers that sometimes cars are in these lanes and actually blocking transit," said Bill Bryant, Manager of Transit System Development for the Seattle Department of Transportation. "There are safety issues and there are the travel time and the speed and reliability of the buses."

Bryant said three problem spots have been earmarked for the pilot program: westbound Midvale Place approaching Aurora Avenue in Wallingford, Pacific Street approaching the Montlake Bridge in the University District, and Wall and Battery Streets between 3rd Avenue and Denny in Belltown.

Each area is notorious for repeat violations, with cars traveling in the bus lanes, Bryant said. The price tag for one block of repainting is about $15,000, with nine blocks total earmarked for the pilot project. The money comes from SDOT's Transit Spot Improvement Program.

"I think that's ridiculous. I think we need the bus service more than we need to do that," said Pat Heim, a bus rider from Bitter Lake, as she waited near the University of Washington Tuesday. "I don't understand that, and they say they're going to have to cut bus service. To me, I hate to see that happen."

"Sometimes we all need to be said 'no' to twice to get the message," added Bill Thomas, a daily bus rider from Belltown. "I think it's money well-spent because we gotta grow. It's part of growing as a city."

Cities across the world have similar bus lanes, from New York City to Australia to London.

Seattle's bus lanes will be painted this summer, with crews evaluating compliance rates three and nine months afterward.

"When we can save those buses minutes off their schedule then the payoff is there," Bryant added. "When Metro (Transit) is facing a severe financial crisis, operating those buses faster and more reliably - more efficiently - is more important than ever."