Saying they’re tired of watching single-occupancy drivers cruise through the bus-only lane, a handful of transit-friendly vigilantes took matters into their own hands Monday.
Inspired by a viral video of a woman instructing drivers at Sixth Avenue and Olive Way to “get the [expletive] out of this lane,” about 15 people deployed to the same intersection Monday during the afternoon rush hour.
They waved red flags at drivers, stepping into the street to urge cars to get out of the bus lane and then scurrying back to the sidewalk when a bus was headed their way. They brought candy to hand out to bus drivers.
“It’s really important that the bus-only lanes are only for buses so that they can transport more people and have an efficient flow of traffic in our city,” said Yes Segura. “People that are riding the buses — it’s not just one person. It’s actually people that have jobs, people that are going to appointments, people that don’t have access to a car.”
Seattle officials have said deploying police officers to enforce bus-only lanes is often unworkable and attempted to get state permission to use automated cameras to ticket people driving in the lanes.
A bill to allow Seattle to use the cameras failed to pass this year’s legislative session.
In a video posted to Reddit over the weekend, a woman is seen standing in the bus lane and gesturing at cars and SUVs using the lane.
“Get out of this lane,” she tells drivers, pointing toward the general purpose lane. “It’s a bus-only lane.”
“Get the [expletive] out of this lane,” the woman says later as another person at the bus stop applauds. “Bus-only lane,” she tells another driver. “You’re in the wrong lane, honey.”
Some transit riders hailed the woman as a hero and said she should be featured on the new city flag. Staff at the conservative Washington Policy Center, meanwhile, took issue with online criticism of drivers, calling it elitist.
On Monday afternoon, drivers generally complied with the impromptu bus-lane enforcement, though some returned to the lane after passing the group.
On the next block, signs say drivers can use the bus lane to turn right. The restrictions vary along Olive, but are generally in place from 3 to 7 p.m. and sometimes during the morning rush as well, according to signs.
Mark Ostrow, co-leader of Queen Anne Greenways, said the group was “helping to…gently whisk cars out of the way.”
Reaction from public officials was mixed Tuesday.
Peter Rogoff, the CEO of Sound Transit, whose buses use the stop at Sixth and Olive, called the group “heroes.”
“Pity that they must take to the streets like this,” he wrote in a Tweet.
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) and Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) said the demonstrators were risking their own safety.
SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said frustrated transit riders should channel their feelings into “more productive” efforts like lobbying lawmakers to allow camera enforcement. Whitcomb said bus-lane enforcement is “a regular area of focus” for traffic officers but stationing officers on crowded downtown streets during rush hour can worsen congestion.
In 2018, about 870 tickets were filed in Seattle Municipal Court for drivers violating bus-only and carpool lanes within the city. (A spokesman for the court said he could not say how many were for bus-only lanes because they’re violations of the same law.) So far this year, about 570 of the tickets have been issued, according to the court.
“Bus lanes are for buses,” Whitcomb said. “They’re certainly not for cars and they’re definitely not for people who are directing traffic.”
In a statement, SDOT spokesman Ethan Bergerson said, “While we empathize with bus riders’ frustration over drivers who disregard this law, it also essential that people on foot obey the law and stay out of the street for their own safety unless they are crossing the street at the appropriate place and time.”
This story has been updated to clarify the criticisms of the Washington Policy Center.