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A Growing Seattle Goes All In on Transit

Voters agreed to fund expansions and improvements for local bus and light rail systems. A short film shows how that choice is shaping the city’s future.

Right now, 25 percent of Seattle residents live near a bus that comes every 12 minutes. By 2025, as many as 72 percent of city residents should have that kind of access to transit, thanks to the success of a ballot measure for the largest increase in bus service since the bus system was created in 1972.

“We can’t handle any more cars than we currently have,” Scott Kubly, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, says in the new short film ”Seattle: America’s Next Top Transit City.” “Our mode split, over the next 10 years, needs to go from 30 percent single-occupancy vehicle to 25 percent single-occupancy vehicle. And the lion’s share of that is going to be carried on the bus.”

So Seattle is making moves to expand its transit system in an impressive way, changing turn lanes into bus lanes to smooth traffic and speed it along, easing congestion by making the bus system an appealing alternative to driving.  

Sixty buses an hour run alongside light rail trains in the downtown transit tunnel, the only joint rail-bus tunnel in the United States, according to Bill Bryant, the service development manager of the King County Metro. During a peak hour in the afternoon, more than 200 buses travel the street above the tunnel. Since 2002, bus ridership has grown at more than twice the rate of population growth, helped by the addition of the RapidRide bus network in 2010.

Bryant says in the video that he’s “never seen anything like it in 18 years in the transit business.” But if voters and planners in other cities follow Seattle’s example, he may see something like it again and again.

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