Few bus routes in Seattle are developing a reputation for unreliability like the 8. But let’s be fair: the 8 has it rough. It’s a huge route, traversing the entire Rainier Valley, the Central District, Madison Park, Capitol Hill, north Downtown, and Lower Queen Anne. And it’s the go-to route for people to get between the city’s fastest growing job centers of South Lake Union, Denny Triangle and Capitol Hill.
Unfortunately, it depends on the same road that most people in the same neighborhoods use to get to I-5: Denny Way. There are no other options to get across the freeway to Capitol Hill save heading to downtown streets which are already packed as well, or taking Lakeview Boulevard, which would be a detour so long it wouldn’t benefit anyone.
And the problem is getting worse, and spreading outside peak hours. In the 2014 Metro Service Guidelines Report, King County reported that the route 8 ran late 30% of the time- and 44% of the time during peak hours. In 2010 only 25% of trips were running late, though the peak hour percentage was relatively constant at 43%.
Bus Stop talked to David Seater, who recently started a job on the other end of the route 8 corridor. The trip should take 30 minutes from his home near 23rd and John. Instead he is ending up walking the route, getting home at the same time. If he takes the bus, he says, “I’d end up paying $2.75 every day to sit in an old, stuffy bus for an hour while it slowly rolls along Denny at a walking pace, burning limited transit dollars the whole time.”
This is a common story for Denny Way commuters. Not only are the buses incredible unreliable, but because of this they often end up packed. It’s enough to give someone pedestrian rage.
Okay, I hear you asking — what can we do about it? Well, the long term solution to the 8 is to get off Denny Way. When the Deep Bore Tunnel project is complete, the street grid will become reconnected on Aurora Ave N (to become 7th Ave N) between Denny and Mercer. This means there will be more streets that the 8 can run on, like Thomas Street, between Lower Queen Anne and I-5. Crossing the freeway still remains an impediment. An I-5 lid might help.
Seattle Prop 1, which injected money into King County Metro in the city, has already begun investing 2,800 annual service hours into reliability improvements on the 8 — around 10 hours per weekday during peak hours. However, it’s unclear exactly how that will help get riders home quickly without capitol investments, queue jumps, signal timing, and maybe even some limited bus lanes on Denny Way. Prop 1 money is prohibited from being used to fund capital expenses, but SDOT and Metro should work together to find ways to improve the 8 before things get much worse. A glance at the planned construction projects on streets that feed into Denny Way reveals that these projects have a combined number of parking spaces exceeding 20,000. That’s a lot of cars trying to get in front of the 8.
Of course, there are always dreams of a dedicated transit service on Denny — a route 8 subway. Or a gondola connecting South Lake Union to Capitol Hill. Riders on Denny Way will take relief any way they can get it. The sooner the better.