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.
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.
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.