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Bus Stop | Considering the alternatives

Metro is clearly trying to get you to think about frequency.

In the early 1980s, as Portland was building its first light rail line from downtown Portland to Gresham, the public transit planners in that city decided to make substantial changes to its bus network. Like Seattle now, Portland was served by a large number of bus routes that all headed downtown; if you weren’t going downtown you frequently found yourself there anyway because that was the only place to catch a bus to a different neighborhood.

After the reorganization, the redundancy that came from having so many buses running downtown was reduced, freeing up money to provide service between neighborhoods that were not connected before by bus, and to increase frequency of service along those routes. Service every 15 minutes all-day became the standard, making it easier to transfer between buses. The number of places that could now be reached in the same amount of time that it used to take you to only get downtown increased dramatically.

Last month, King County Metro released two proposals for what bus service could look like after the opening of two new light rail stations north of downtown in 2016. Capitol Hill Station and the University of Washington station are clearly envisioned as jumping off points for a reorganization proposal that will trade current levels of coverage for frequency of service. The first round of public feedback on the proposals closed with the end of March.

With a trip between Montlake and Westlake shaved down to 6 minutes, it makes sense to ask riders to transfer when their trip could become much faster overall. Alternative 1, the more ambitious of the two proposals, has the potential to mirror the transformation that Portland saw 30 years ago. What remains to be seen is how reliable the portions of the new, more frequent transit network that are not in their own tunnel will be.

Take the 8
Take, for example the proposed changes to the route 8. The route this bus currently takes will be cut in half, with the northern portion becoming an east-west connection between Seattle Center, Capitol Hill Station, and Madison Park. The Madison Park portion will replace entirely the 11 bus that used to run downtown, so Madison Park residents will lose their one-seat ride to downtown. But the new 8 comes with something the 11 never had: service every 10 minutes, at least, through the entire day. Night service would be every 15 minutes, down from 30.

If such a change does in fact get implemented, it will only become successful if Metro finds a way to improve reliability along this corridor; Denny Way is famous for delaying 8’s and there will be no route changes there at this point in time. Shortening the 8 so that it doesn’t go all the way to Rainier Beach should improve performance some.

The 43’s future is in serious doubt.

Metro will also need to find a way to address the gap in service that will be seen in Capitol Hill’s densest apartment district, west of Broadway. The deletion of the 43 will be compensated somewhat by the return of the 47 to Summit & Bellevue Avenues, but the 47’s return will only be to weekday service, with nights and weekends not planned.

University Link will change the transit habits of most Capitol Hill residents by itself, but having it become the catalyst for a transformative change across the entire neighborhood’s transit network is something that is still up in the air. It will require a neighborhood that has already seen quite a bit of change to embrace even more. Will it be worth it? We shall see.

Speak up
Though the March 31st deadline for the feedback on the proposed alternatives has passed, there is a citizen group meeting regularly to discuss the process — including a Sounding Board meeting this Wednesday, April 8th and another on the 29th. You can learn more about the advisory panel — and how to engage — here.


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14 thoughts on “Bus Stop | Considering the alternatives

  1. 1) Can you really trust transit planners who label 23rd Ave E as 23rd Ave NE?
    [OK it was historically NE once, but not since the 50’s or earlier?)

    2) How does the #8 example work when the Madison BRT starts running (as it surely will) between downtown and the Madison Valley (as we hope) or 23rd Ave E (as the planners wanted)? Will that be an excuse to cut back on the #8 frequency over the 23rd to Cap Hill Station portion, as it duplicates the Madison BRT, and then leave Madison Park undeserved?

    • And what happens to the rest of the #8, which now serves as a major backbone for the Central District connecting to Mt. Baker light rail? Everyone now has to spoke back into downtown? Great improvement for the “haves” on Capitol Hill adn South Lake Union at the expense of a lot of working people in the CD.

      • thanks for clarifying that, somehow I missed the proposed roll-out of the #38 in info released. I’ll miss the single-bus to Seattle Ctr. and Denny, but making a transfer isn’t a huge sacrifice if it improves reliability. Faster turn-around for special events to beef-up #8 service to/from Capitol Hill station, too, without having to run all the way to/from Rainier Bch.

      • The south portion of the 8 becomes the 38, except instead of taking John Street it takes Madison to Pine and then up Broadway to Capitol Hill Station. This route should be considerably more reliable than the “new” 8.

      • So from 15th Ave E and E John (currently served by the 8 to Madison Valley) one would have to transfer to go to Madison Valley? The 11 already serves the Broadway-to-Madison Valley/Park route on Madison. Why duplicate the 11 with that part of the 38’s route?

      • The 11 would not exist. It would be replaced by this extension of the new 8 between John Street and the foot of Madison St.

  2. The routes should not be changed until after the new service is in place for 6 months. Changing service should not be done as new service is implemented but as people change the ridership habits.

    • Habits won’t change much if people still have to pass through Downtown to reach their destination. The new scheme can always be tweaked as needed. That’s a nice thing about buses, and this plan seems to take advantage of it.

  3. Is this all free? People are talking as if we’re just deciding, buses here or buses there. It would be a good idea to realign routes and improve frequency, but at what cost? We’re already spending several billion dollars for our one-stop train from downtown to Montlake. As I understand it, we won’t see more frequent service unless we pony up the additional billion dollars or so the Mayor is proposing for funding transit. I realize that it’s only money, but a few billion here, a billion there, and oops, no money left for schools, public safety, etc. So now we have a shiny new streetcar to get people to and from Seattle Central, a real asset of our city, which starves for funding, since, really, there isn’t an unlimited amount of money for transit and an unlimited amount of money for education both.

    • Excellent question. Prop 1 pays for increased bus service, but this is entirely independent of that. Metro’s proposals here are revenue neutral within their own budget, and create higher frequency by reducing inefficiencies. The extra service that Prop 1 pays for will be on top of this, and include extra service on the 10 and the entire bulk of the 47’s operating hours.

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