Bus Rapid Transit (and other options)

Streetcars are not the only possible solution for Highway 305, just the best fit for the community.


What if every major intersection along Highway 305 included a Park-and-Ride? Plus a safe location to park bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles? Is that sufficient to get more people out of their cars and onto existing buses?

If the buses continue to ride the same congested highway as automobiles, then likely the answer is no. It is unreasonable to expect a driver to park an automobile and wait for a bus, only to sit in the same traffic they just exited. Park-and-rides will work only if they are convenient and if the public transport solution includes a separate right-of-way which bypasses the automobile traffic.

Four Lane Highway

The most obvious proposed solution to decreasing congestion on Highway 305 is to add two additional lanes of automobile traffic to the entire length of the highway. This will eliminate traffic for perhaps the next decade, but continued population growth will eventually fill up the highway once again.

I-90 traversing Mercer Island

What is less obvious is that a four-lane highway design brings with it issues for each of the many intersections along the highway, most of which do not include traffic lights. How will automobiles safely enter, exit, and cross the highway? Will a four-lane highway need a divider? Will that highway grow to the width of Highway 3, with its imposing overpasses, cloverleafs, etc.?

Few residents of Bainbridge Island want a 4-lane highway, and thus this obvious and seemingly simple solution is a non-starter.

Bus Rapid Transit

Another expanded highway design includes two exclusive bus lanes for a bus rapid transit system. While at first glance such a system seems lower cost and more flexible than a streetcar, the problem is that day after day, the automobile commuters look at the barely used bus lane.

Over time, these lanes become HOV lanes, or toll lanes, and then eventually are just as clogged with traffic and just as wide as a four lane highway.

In addition, study after study show that commuters prefer rail-based solutions over buses. Streetcars are simply far more comfortable and attractive than buses.

Light Rail

A light rail solution is similar to a streetcar, but with larger, longer trains, carrying more riders, and limited to a purpose-built right of way, never sharing lanes with automobile traffic. Light rail is also much more expensive than streetcars.

It is possible to use a light rail line to help alleviate traffic on Highway 305, with the tracks placed in the center of the highway like the streetcar plan, but since the majority of traffic on Highway 305 is not heading to/from the Bainbridge ferry, light rail is the wrong solution. With the larger capacity, light rail must have less frequent service and fewer stops. A light rail on Highway 305 can at best simply replace the 90 and 91 buses, swapping a handful of buses running about once per hour with two or three trains running at the same frequency.

Given the need for a dedicated right of way, it is impractical to expand a light rail system beyond the Highway 305 corridor. Even if it were possible to fit a light rail line in Winslow or out to Lynwood, the scale of the solution exceeds the scale of those neighborhoods.


Back in 2006, a monorail was proposed to “solve” the Highway 305 traffic issues, flying passengers at high speed from the Bainbridge Ferry Terminal to the Park-and-Ride at the Agate Pass Bridge, and potentially onward up to Poulsbo.

Like light rail, a monorail is capable of moving a large number of riders on and off the island quickly, but as stated and restated, the highway traffic is caused more by other commuters than ferry riders. Furthermore, monorails are large, imposing structures, well outsized of the rural setting of Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap.

Monorail stations are even more imposing. The Seattle Center monorail station is almost the same size as the Bainbridge Ferry Terminal. With the size and cost of such stations, it is impractical to include stations at the many stops on Highway 305 where the existing 90 bus stops. A monorail is thus really just a point solution for off-island ferry commuters to park-and-ride their way on to the island, with no possibility of getting them beyond the ferry terminal on a second monorail line.


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