UW News

March 17, 2020

Survey: What blocks your bus?

UW News

A King County Metro bus in Seattle.

University of Washington researchers are inviting the public to share instances where vehicles block buses in Seattle and Bellevue in a survey.University of Washington

It’s something every bus rider fears: Their bus is running late.

Under typical conditions, Seattle has some of the most congested traffic in the nation. To prepare for when things return to normal, University of Washington researchers are carrying out a research project to investigate reasons for these delays.

While a bus could be late for many reasons, one holdup is that it has to compete with other vehicles — personal vehicles, ride-hailing cars, delivery trucks, etc. — that might be parked at the bus stop or double-parked in a travel lane.

People riding the bus have the prime seat to witness potential events like this. That’s why UW researchers are inviting the public to share their experiences on their regular commutes in a survey. This project hopes to identify areas in Seattle and Bellevue where buses are frequently delayed by other vehicles and categorize the most common types of interference. From there, the researchers plan to develop potential solutions for these issues.

“Delays slow transit down and make it less attractive relative to driving,” said co-lead researcher Don MacKenzie, a UW associate professor of civil and environmental engineering who also leads the Sustainable Transportation Lab. “Some delays are necessary — such as waiting for passengers to board or pausing to make sure it’s safe to reenter traffic. But we suspect there may be cases where interference is happening. Are there cars or delivery trucks parked in the bus lane? Is there a cyclist, who for lack of a better space to ride, is in the bus lane? These are the kind of things we want to know about.”

The survey will ask people to fill out a few questions about where and when they notice problems and what types of interference they see.

Using the results from the survey and input from the project’s stakeholders, the team will identify up to 10 busy transit corridors — sections of a public transit route that may include multiple stops — to study in more detail. The group plans to develop an app so that research assistants can ride buses in the selected corridors to collect data on bus operation and mark cases of interference as they come up. Depending on the results, researchers will develop and test potential solutions.

A related project from the UW Mobility Innovation Center looked at how adding loading zones for Uber and Lyft drivers in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood affected the flow of traffic.

“We’re really excited about learning what the problems are and hearing what the public has to say,” said co-lead researcher Andisheh Ranjbari, a research engineer at the UW Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center. “This is an opportunity for us to engage the public in our work and for them to influence our research to solve long-term transportation problems in their cities. We recognize that many people are working from home right now, but we would value any comments about their usual commutes.”

This research is sponsored by Challenge Seattle, Amazon, Uber, Sound Transit, King County Metro, Bellevue Transportation Department and the Seattle Department of Transportation with support from the UW Mobility Innovation Center.

For more information, contact Ranjbari at ranjbari@uw.edu.