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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Seeing red in bus lanes


Downtown Spokane has dedicated bus lanes that are, unambiguously, for bus-only use.  Nevertheless, bus drivers are often delayed by everyday cars and trucks using them despite street markings.

Buses are given exclusive lanes to improve traffic flow and reduce emissions of caused by impediments to movement.  To thwart unauthorized occupation of bus-only lanes, the city of New York has been painted many of them red to send a clearer message than the old white diamond.

Closer to home, the city of Portland has just painted its first red transit lane, with more in the works.  Faced with the universal intrusion of those lanes, downtown Portland painted a bus-only lane totally red.  It’s even timely, being adjacent to a green-painted bicycle lane — just in time to look Christmassy.

Are color-coded lanes beneficial?  New York officials believe so — they claim that most drivers even comply with the ones with specific additional written requirements like, “M-F 7-9 BUS.”

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the Bureau of Transportation, thinks so too, remarking, “These new red lanes signal our commitment to doing everything we can to make transit an attractive option for more Portlanders and prioritizing tangible climate action in the face of looming climate catastrophe.”

TriMet (Portland transit) has high hopes that the bright color can make a big difference on the existing lanes dedicated to buses only.  Portland had to get the OK from the Federal Highway Administration to paint its streets red as part of the effort to make it blindingly clear for drivers, in particular, that the lane belongs to transit.

Portland had to get approval from the Federal Highway Administration to paint its streets red as part of the effort to make it blatantly clear to automobile drivers that the lane’s use is forbidden.

TriMet offered no actual statistics regarding drivers illegally using the existing transit lanes or how much delay those drivers cause.  As reported by Andrew Theen, of the Oregonian, Tia York, a TriMet spokeswoman, said the agency’s bus and rail operators see that type of behavior “all the time.”

“We know there are a lot of distractions for drivers,” York said, “they may be listening to navigation, or they may be unfamiliar with the area. “We hope the red paint will help get their attention so that they can more easily recognize bus-only and other transit priority areas.”

The city is partnering with TriMet, Metro regional government, Portland Streetcar and Portland State University on the project.  PSU will help collect before and after data to determine whether drivers are, indeed, staying out of the bus-only lane.

Portland city officials added three rules:  1) People driving may not enter a solid red lane, including drivers of cars, trucks, taxis, and ride-hailing vehicles like Uber and Lyft.  2) Red does not change how the lane can be used.  The lane is still defined by the markings, signs and signals on the road.  And of course, typical of Portland’s bike friendly attitude, 3) In some locations, cyclists may use red lanes, where indicated by signage and markings.

Should the lanes be red in Spokane?  I’m not sure — I’ve always been able to read the current white diamond and “BUS ONLY” lettering.  Maybe it just comes down to aesthetics.  How would we agree on the shade of red?

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at