"Where's Mt. Baker TC?", by Oran

An important part of Seattle’s decision to not build park-and-rides near most Link stations was the idea that people could take walk, bike, or take the bus to the train.  Indeed, one frequent criticism of Metro is that bus connections are not good enough.  Although Link is usually the better option if you’re actually at the station, close examination of transit options indicates that at the close-in stations if you’re already on the bus, the transfer generally doesn’t pay if you’re headed for the downtown core.

To reach Rainier Beach Station, riders may take the 106.  Simply remaining on the bus will get you downtown in about 38 minutes in the morning rush.  Link takes about 23 minutes for the same trip, so it will get you to work a bit faster, even when you factor in crossing a couple of streets and waiting an average of 4 minutes for a train.

At Columbia City, the 39 is your downtown-bound bus option.  Incredibly, the station is not a timepoint (!), but it’s about 26 minutes to University Street, vs. 16 minutes for Link.  However, in the peak, almost anyone on the 39 for any significant length of time can also choose the 34, which is 11 minutes faster to University Street,  beating 39+Link.  Off peak, the train is either better or a wash, but the 39’s headways are pretty awful.  The 42 is 20 minutes to the ID vs. 12 for Link. More after the jump.

At Mt. Baker, where Metro Sound Transit invested in a large but poorly-sited Transit Center, Route 7 is about 18 minutes to Westlake, vs. 15 minutes by train.  The 7X is only 13 minutes.  On top of the very close travel times, a transfer requires crossing a very busy arterial, walking about a block, and going up an escalator.  Furthermore, if you live along the densely populated Rainier Avenue corridor, this is generally your primary access point to light rail that doesn’t require quite a bit of walking, as East-West service through the valley is pretty spotty.  If you live slightly east of Rainier and Graham, for instance, you’re perhaps a mile from Othello and Columbia City, but taking a bus you have to go all the way to Mt. Baker, where the transfer no longer pays.

Finally, if you’re on the 36 by Beacon Hill station it’s about 11 and 20 minutes to the ID and Westlake, respectively.  On Link, the figures are 7 and 13.  Thankfully, it’s a pretty easy transfer.*

Aside from raw times, there are two biases at work here: one-seat ride bias, the understandable desire to not collect your stuff and give up an existing bus for a theoretical bus or train; and rail bias, the preference for a more comfortable and predictable ride.  However, if you need the bus to get to the train you’re filtering out the people not willing to take the bus.

Given sufficient resources, it’s possible to fix this by providing more direct connections to stations and maintaining direct service to downtown.  In the current budget environment, you’d instead be looking at redirecting downtown service to local station access, a trade that may be worse for riders that are sufficiently close to downtown.  A third possibility is to eliminate direct downtown buses and use the savings either elsewhere in the County or to improve connections from the target neighborhood into some other part of town.  Both parts of the third possibility were done with Routes 32, 42, and 194.

In Part II: Walking, and biking, and what it all means.

* There is no bus that passes by Othello, Seatac, or TIB on its way downtown.

40 Replies to “Rethinking Station Access (I)”

  1. Your examples are all for going “to downtown”, I think there’s even more resistance to using Link+Metro connections going “from downtown”. Who wants to get off Link on a cold, windy afternoon and watch from across the street as the connecting bus pulls out of the TC while you are waiting for the light to change? It’s those occasional 14.5 minute waits at a miserable TC that make it easier and more comfortable to spend a few more minutes on a warm, but perhaps crowded Metro bus.

  2. I use the Mount Baker TC all the time and it’s not miserable by any means. Again, transfers are common all over the world and in climates much worse than ours. Seattle transit riders are just going to have to get used to transfers, which I believe they are doing right now. As I have stated in the past, whenever I am in European and Asian cities, it’s very rare when I didn’t have multiple transfers.

    1. Although it probably wasn’t as cheap and easy to drive in those countries. When your top competition is an overly-invested-in car infrastructure, there is less tolerance to such inconveniences.

    2. Yes, but in europe they are much better handled than in the US. In most places in switzerland, the bahnhof also serves as the bus depot for both the post and local buses (if available) While there are exceptions to this rule, usually the transfer distance is short or there are connecting services available.

    3. I transferred from Link to the 48 at Mt Baker station today. Better signage showing way to Transit Center would be helpful — when I got off the train I wasn’t sure whether to turn left or right. Ended up following two Metro drivers who got off the Link and who I assumed were heading where I wanted to be.
      A place to get coffee while waiting 15 minutes for the connecting bus would have been nice.

      1. Better wayfinding at the stations is really needed. Mt. Baker is particularly bad.

      2. Actually, Chris, there’s a substantial Starbucks just down Rainier from the Mt Baker Transit Center…

  3. Thanks for this post! I ride into downtown from the Andover stop on Rainier every day and I often anxiously weigh the value of transferring from the 7 to Link at Mt. Baker. Sometimes it feels faster and sometimes slower so it’s great to have actual numbers.

    I can add, from my own experience, that transferring at Rainier and I-90 from the 7 or 9 in the morning to *anything* coming across 90 heading into the bus tunnel is faster than either transferring to Link or staying on the 7. Also, if you can catch either a 34x or 7x you’ll get to work with time to stop for a bagel in the lobby.

    As for the quality of the experience, anything is better than riding a non-express 7, non-stop, from Andover and Rainier to 3rd and Pine for my morning commute. Same is even more true in reverse at night.

  4. The biggest problem here is the fact that metro is loosing a lot of money by providing duplicate bus service from Link stations. Take the 36 for example. No one takes the 39 in the SODO busway, and if they terminated the 39 at Beacon Hill Station, they could provide more frequency. Metro needs to redo bus service again in the region to value frequency over one seat rides that take longer than taking Link.

    1. As is the case with many of Metro’s online route maps, that map appears to be outdated. It says nothing about whether the 39 stops at Columbia City Station or the 34x stops at Mt Baker Station.

      If I were living along Columbian Way, I’d prefer to go to Beacon Hill Station or Columbia City Station to do my transferring over going through the crushloaded busway slog. (I mean the busway is crushloaded, not the 39.)

      There isn’ much residential on Columbian west of 15th Ave S that is outside the walkshed of the 60. I say turn the 39 north to Beacon Hill Station, and help relieve the overcrowded, minimum-headway 36. Indeed, we should probably be doing a destination study on the 36 to see whether the 36 needs to be split into two or three routes, depending on where all its riders are heading on their southward journeys. Could ORCA route-transfer data help in that regard?

      At any rate, having the 34x start downtown instead of at Columbia City Station does seem quite a waste.

  5. “* There is no bus that passes by Othello, Seatac, or TIB on its way downtown.”

    I don’t disagree with your point here, but just wanted to point out that 2 of these stations do have bus service to downtown.
    The 36, 39 serve Othello (I know the road is bad so the 36 is ending at Beacon/Myrtle and there is currently a shuttle) I wouldn’t take either of these buses if I was headed downtown, that would be stupid. But the service is still there.
    The 124 connect downtown with TIBS, and I believe during the evenings the 124 is only between 5-10 minutes longer than Link. A choice many people with Reduced Fare Permits or anyone who doesn’t want to pay the extra quarters, would choose to avoid the higher cost of Link. It was funny, as a driver of the 124, the first shakeup of the 174 split. When the 174 dropped of its passengers, everyone went upstairs to catch the train, but since the new fare policies and ST not exceptng Metro transfers, everyone just flocks from the 174 , to the 124 stop. And the 124 outbound to the 174 is the same way. But don’t get me wrong, if I had the choice I would take Link hands down from any station, excpet maybe MT Baker. That is a toss up.

    Also, above you mention the travel times of the 42 vs. Link. What a joke. So many people pleaded with Metro to keep the 42, and they kept part of it. Luckily I haven’t had to drive it during it’s current routing, but everytime I see it, it’s either empty, or it has 1-2 people onboard. No on rides it, get rid of it and save the service hours!

    1. Casey,

      The word “passes” is chosen very carefully.

      I’ve ridden the 42 a few times in the peak and yes, you could run a DART van for that route.

  6. As much as people in SE Seattle and SW King County may hate it, Metro needs to aggressively restructure current service to force people on Link whenever possible. The good news is by eliminating redundant service lots of service hours are freed to run service to places other than downtown.

    As an example the Rapid Trolley Network plan has some interesting ideas on how the 7, 36, and several other routes can be restructured.

    Replacing the current 39 with the proposed route 50 would be another good improvement.

    1. Oh and to bring in a discussion from another thread: Combining the 574, 577, and 594 midday, evenings, and weekends as well as forcing a transfer to/from link at either the Airport or TIB Station would save a bunch of ST express service hours. The goal would be to keep combined headways roughly the same so if all are at 30 minute headways currently at a given time the combined route headway would be every 10 minutes. While it would make trips longer it shouldn’t be that bad based on my experience with the old 194. The frequent service should avoid any issues with crowding. Peak service of course should be point to point with a one-seat ride.

      1. Why force the 594 riders onto Link. That is a crazy idea. The 594 needs to be non-stop between Tacoma and Seattle, because it’s already a long trip. When you start taking expres routes like this and forcing passengers to transfer to Link, it will become more inconvienent and many people will go back to their cars.

        Some routes, yes, should be chopped up like the 174 was to try and get people onto Link, but then there are the others who park at Fed Way TC that want the express 577, non-stop to Downtown, otherwise they won’t ride the bus at all.

        Local routes are different from Express routes. If you start cutting express routes and making the time to get from A to B (Tacoma/Lakewood to Downtown) much longer and inconvienent, you are going to loose them and they will be back in their cars and on the freeway.

      2. Casey, it sounds like Chris only wants to do this during off-peak hours. (“Peak service of course should be point to point with a one-seat ride.”)

        As long as “peak” isn’t defined too narrowly (upon moving here I was quite surprised how late the morning rush hour lasts), what does it matter if riders are “back in their cars and on the freeway”? There will be plenty of capacity for them during those off-peak hours.

      3. Yes I understand this was for off-peak hours, but not everyone works regular hours. Those people shouldn’t be punished for trying to, leave their car at a park and ride during the day.

        Some routes should be changed to dump people onto Link, but a Tacoma to Seattle route is pretty important route, and at off-peak time it takes almost an hour to Tacoma or an hour and 20-30 minutes to Lakewood. Why add 20 or so minutes, plus a transfer to an already long ride.

        I guess if the point was to save service hours, then yes, at off-peak times combine the 577/594, to have the 594 stop at Fed Way, but keep the service to downtown. We want to make it better to get more people to ride transit, not make the trips longer. How do you think the Lakewood passengers would feel about being forced to link and make the trip longer. And if you want to combine more ST routes, how about the 510/511 at off-peak times. The Everett bus could easily stop at Ash Way and Lynnwood, evening and weekends by only adding about 5-10 minutes.

      4. Very well and clearly said, Casey. Peak period riders from places as far as Federal Way or Auburn should get a premier service, because getting one of them on the bus has huge congestion and GHG reduction benefits. Much more than adding another person to a 7X express in Seattle.

        Also, they are taking a risk every day that they’ll have to work late or leave during the mid-day for a sick child and ride some slow boat to China all stops to get home.

      5. Yeah, I use the 594 to get between Capitol Hill and Tacoma on weekends now and then, and the idea of a 2nd transfer each way is unappealing. It’s hard enough to make the 594 southbound when the 43 or 49 are behind schedule.

      6. I appreciate where you are coming from, Chris, but I think the point of truncation is to improve service, not force butts into Link.

        I think there are a few places where Metro and ST can still improve travel+wait time to downtown using this methodology, especially during off-peak hours. I want them to get over their political shyness in doing this.

        But if truncation results in longer travel time to major destinations, why do it? Don’t we want people to want to ride Link, not to want to start driving again?

        There will come a day when Link is crushloaded, and we’ll be looking to undo some of the things we’re urging Metro and ST to do to get butts in Link.

      7. When Central Link gets crush loaded at maximum train sizes and minimum headways, we should expand HCT with new routes, either through south Seattle to the west of Rainier Valley or Renton-Tukwila-Burien-White Center-West Seattle-downtown. We’re building a network here, right?

      8. It might save hours, but would detrimental ridership. The riders on the Seattle Express (at all hours) and the 577/578 want quick one seat rides into downtown seattle. It would be one thing if they were lightly used routes, but since they are all popular services…

        In addition, the existing facilities at Sea-Tac Airport and TIB are sufficently full allready and would need to have layover parking expanded for such a large venture (or another terminal selected)

        A good alternative though, would be to extend the 574’s northern terminus to TIB to allow a better connection with LINK light rail. The Sea-Tac station is not much of a terminal station like Mt Baker or TIB, and with the lack of a stairwell and decent facilities on the west side of int’l blvd makes for a poor connecting spot (i usually go for the airport proper myself).

      9. I suggest this with two goals in mind:
        1. Improving headways outside of peak periods. After all which is faster a bus that comes every 15 minutes or a bus that comes every hour but is 15 minutes faster?
        2. Not running empty coaches during low demand periods.

        If the demand is there, then run the one-seat rides but during low-demand times a slower frequent bus is better than a faster infrequent bus, or worse one that isn’t running at all.

        Even if you only combined runs nights and evenings it would allow more frequent and later service than is run currently. Another benefit of a re-think on the routes would be owl service along the entire I-5 corridor.

        After all the 590, 592, 593, and 594 are all combined into the 594 outside of peak periods.

        I do agree that having the 574 serve TIB would be a really good idea in terms of providing better transit connections. It’s only a mile further north and can’t require all that many additional service hours.

      10. I’d take more runs on the 574 over extending the 574 to TIBS. A lot of the 574 passengers really are going to the airport, and really do prefer getting out closer to the terminal. Getting to the return loop and going to the terminal adds five or more minutes to the route.

        I’d be happy if the 574’s headway can match that of the 594, so that going to downtown Seattle and backtracking doesn’t continue to be faster than accessing all the south-of-Seattle transfer stations.

        Of course, the final solution would be to complete Link to Tacoma sooner rather than later. Even then, rush-hour buses won’t go away, since their headway is as little as five minutes, and theoretical travel time will be 15-20 minutes faster than Link.

    1. Another con? Kinda dorky.

      Borrowed a friend’s for a week a few years back and couldn’t get past the feeling of commuting on something built for my niece. And I wasn’t exactly a speeding blur. A nice option for folks willing to spend $$$ on a second or third machine, but I’m afraid that’ll always be a fairly small market.

  7. “Aside from raw times, there are two biases at work here: one-seat ride bias […] and rail bias”.

    Aside from raw scheduled times, riders also take into account actual times.

    E.g. before Rte 565 was cancelled, it was the fastest way from Bellevue to Federal Way during rush hour. On paper. In reality, it was faster to take 550 into downtown Seattle and transfer to 577. Even given the variable wait to transfer, Rte 565 was delayed so much (often by 30 minutes) and the other two routes delayed so little (577 often reached its destination early) that statistically it didn’t make any sense to take 565. (I tracked the delays on a spreadsheet over a few weeks; I’m not complaining about a single unusual delay.)

    So you probably want to factor average delay into your calculations for each station, as riders probably do already.

  8. Metro planners know that the 132 is a painful route to ride, and not a desirable way to spend two hours getting downtown.

    I’ve asked in several fora and media for Metro to consider ending the southern portion of the 132, as well its express version the 122, at TIBS or Airport Station. That would give Normandy Park and western Des Moines denizens a much quicker ride downtown.

    Truncating and wrapping the 122 would enable all-day service between these neighborhoods and the airport, with 30-minute headway most of the day.

    Am I just a lone voice in the wilderness on this one?

    1. Brent,

      Now you’re suggestion is a good one. The 132 winding through South Park is neither fast nor fun.

      But the suggestion above to truncate the deep south KC expresses is not wise.

      1. Just to be clear: I am not advocating removal of bus service from South Park. :) We need it more than ever.

        But having the 132 head down Military Rd S to TIBS would improve its access to Highline Medical Campus, shorten the route, and spread out the rideshed of the route.

        Sending a route through Burien TC comes with the automatic rideshed minimization owing to there being no destinations west of Burien. Sending a route out of its way to Burien, when the route comes within screaming distance of TIBS, is a daily frustration.

        Burien already has lots of options for getting downtown, and the 131/134 to access South Park, plus several route combos for accessing South Park even faster.

        Riding the 132 down to TIBS and transferring to the 124 may become the fastest option for South Parkers to get to their jobs at Boeing, since the county deems the bridge too crumbly to handle foot traffic, and hasn’t come up with a plan for a foot ferry, gondolas, or paddleboats. Something about that determination smells fishy, but it is their determination.

  9. The #27 ends a mile before the Mt. Baker Station. So I have to drive to the station. The hills also prohibit walking.

    1. Is it your wish to see the 27 continue south along Lakeside Dr S and Mt Baker Park, turn right on McClellan, and terminate at Mt Baker TC? That would be cool, and make the route go from somewhere to somewhere (Franklin High).

      Consider also if the 27 were to take over that little spur to S Hanford St & Hunter Blvd S. That might solve the other problem of the confusion created by that short spur on the 14.

      I bet this could be accomplished for little extra cost (but not for free).

  10. What I think would be best for Metro to do along the LINK route is to have circular bus routes going from each LINK stop around the neighborhood. One circular route to the east and a different one to the west. With a frequency of 10 minutes so there are no long waits if someone is running but misses a bus. A circular neighborhood route is what is used in Singapore and many stops in Vancouver’s Skytrain. A person gets off the train, catches the bus and within a few minutes is let off near his/her home.

  11. Given how much we spend on the light rail system and how important bus transfers are to the success of the light rail system, we seem to put little effort, thus far, into really optimizing these transfers.

    I did not immerse myself in the planning process for Mount Baker Station. Forgive me if this is naive, but why don’t connecting buses just stop underneath the station, or adjacent? Then the wayfinding would be almost automatic. The whole area of the station was a basically a blank slate. As a sort of case study, what happened to the concept of a multimodal station there?

    1. I’ve asked that question before, but nobody seems to know why. Some of the original plans showed Mt. Baker Station with an integrated transit center, but somehow it ended up across the street. The huge area under the station seems like a big waste of space to me.

  12. The Mount Baker community has been adamant about retaining its 14 electric trolley bus. Trolley to Mount Baker dates from the founding of the neighborhood. But the 27 is not wired, and no way would its route ever be wired, especially south along the Lake through Mount Baker Beach.

    I like the idea of the 27 reaching Mount Baker station, though. I live above the end of the 27, and took it the other day to South Lake Union. It’s a much quieter run into town on Yesler on the 27 than down Jackson on the 14…

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