Arguments over dedicated bus lanes are heating up on the city’s Madison Street bus-rapid-transit project, just days after voters passed the Move Seattle levy.

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When Seattle voters marked their ballots for a $930 million transportation levy, one of the advertised projects was “Madison Street Bus Rapid Transit,” to provide crosstown service comparable to a rail link.

But days after the Nov. 3 win of the levy it promoted, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) revealed that buses might mix with other traffic east of 18th Avenue, in a revised proposal — instead of running farther in dedicated transit lanes.

Closer to downtown, much of the alignment would mainly use curbside bus lanes, where driveways and right-turning cars can intrude, rather than a quicker center-lane alignment.

Madison Corridor Bus Rapid Transit project

The city’s latest concepts will be displayed at an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday in the Seattle Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave.

A showdown is brewing with transit advocates who fret that the city is already retreating from Mayor Ed Murray’s vision for “state-of-the-art, high-capacity transit services,” as pledged in his Move Seattle plan.

And if SDOT compromises so early, will it have the mettle to improve six conventional bus routes that are earmarked for “RapidRide +” quality in the voter-approved levy?

“There is no reason for panic, but every reason for concern,” writes Zach Shaner in the Seattle Transit Blog, which formed a Facebook group called “Support High Quality Madison BRT”

“Having either mixed traffic or minimally effective [right-curb] lanes for 76 percent of the alignment would be disappointing and wouldn’t inspire confidence in the other six corridors going forward,” Shaner wrote.

Transportation officials say their proposals still would provide far greater service than today. Successful lines in Eugene and Cleveland include mixed-traffic sections, they emphasize.

The average travel time is predicted to improve from 16.3 minutes to 9.8 minutes, from the waterfront to Madison Valley, project manger Maria Koengeter said.

“This will deliver high-frequency, reliable, easy to use bus-rapid transit service to the corridor,” she said in an email.

The city’s latest concepts will be displayed at an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday in the Seattle Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave.

City concepts in May displayed bus-only lanes as far as 20th Avenue, with center-lane or right-lane options, including a possible center-lane option for nearly the whole alignment, costing $120 million.

Senior SDOT staff didn’t discuss possible Madison rollbacks during an October briefing with The Seattle Times, while City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said he was briefed a couple of weeks ago. Officials insist they are still proposing effective BRT.

Besides the Madison line, the city has promised to convert six conventional bus corridors to RapidRide corridors, with their familiar red vehicles, by adding bus lanes and signal priority, using levy funds: Route 120 (White Center, Delridge), Route 40 (Northgate, Crown Hill, Fremont, South Lake Union), Route 70 (Roosevelt, Eastlake, downtown), Route 48 (University of Washington, Central Area), Route 44 (Ballard, Wallingford, UW), and Route 7 (Rainier Valley, Chinatown International District).

No retreat, city says

The Madison line will be eligible for federal grants as long as 50 percent of lanes qualify as dedicated, which can include right-side lanes, Koengeter said.

In addition to dedicated lanes, the project calls for frequent service; signal priority at intersections; high station platforms and low bus floors for quick passenger loading; sidewalk ORCA card readers so riders can enter multiple doors; and arrival-time information signs.

SDOT predicts bus use on Madison would increase more than two-thirds, to an estimated 12,000 daily passengers by 2030.

The city is “absolutely not” retreating from campaign promises, said Jason Kelly, the mayor’s press secretary.

“I want to underscore that Madison BRT is going to improve transit travel time by an estimated 40 percent along the corridor,” he said. “The mayor is interested in hearing the feedback from transit advocates as we work to finalize the alignment of project.”

Rasmussen, chairman of the Transportation Committee, said city staff have worked two years on outreach to a wary community — and finally “they’ve gotten buy-in from the neighborhood on this.” Compromises are inevitable in a built-up city, he said.

Bus flow

At street level, it’s challenging to guess how well buses might flow.

Transit-only lanes were originally envisioned to stretch to 20th Avenue but have been curtailed to 18th Avenue in the new option.

Koengeter said the stretch of Madison just east of 18th Avenue operates with little or no traffic delay, so bus lanes aren’t essential there.

Also, SDOT says more riders would be reached with the new option by continuing down the backslope of Capitol Hill to Martin Luther King Jr. Way East, rather than terminating at 23rd Avenue, as earlier envisioned.

Koengeter said maintaining vehicle left turns at 19th “is important to maintain overall access for all users in the corridor.” In addition, creating center bus lanes would force the city to narrow sidewalks at Cayton Corner Park, and other intersections, she said.

At Thud Suan Kitchen & Bar, at 18th and Madison, manager Boyd Sivatitikal said deliveries and to-go orders make up half the business. He said drivers would need to detour three blocks, if the city were to create bus lanes outside his door.

“I don’t think it’s that necessary yet,” he said.

Jeremy Downing, a barista at Queen Bee cafe, said bus lanes would necessitate a side-street loading zone, for takeout customers who drive. “I take public transit, so from my perspective, it would be better,” he said.

De Charlene Williams, who has owned a hair salon and clothing shop since 1968, next to a bus stop, said she worries that people living beyond the BRT line, especially seniors, will need to hop two buses, or walk longer distances to a stop.

“They’re making everything less mobile in the area,” Williams said.

“It’s a shame they don’t think it out,” she said. “They thought it out with the developers. ”