The VA Hospital

[UPDATE: Reader Mike Skehan points out that the VA has moved their shuttle stop much closer to Beacon Avenue, so perhaps this can be fixed without a massive amount of renovation.]

One of the mild nuisances for riders of the 39 and 60 is the ~4 minute loop buses take through the parking lot of the Veterans Administration Hospital. The Hospital is a classic 1950s design, with the entrance hidden behind acres of surface parking. Given the large number of mobility-impaired customers, it’s entirely appropriate that buses come right up to the entrance.

Unfortunately, aside from increasing travel times*, this setup has had unfortunate impacts on transit planning. In particular, one reason Metro abandoned the idea of reinstating Route 50 from Othello to West Seattle (via Columbia City and Sodo) was because it would mean loss of the 39, and thus the one-seat ride from downtown to the hospital. Metro got a lot of mail on that subject.

Google Maps

What’s doubly frustrating about this situation is that one of Metro’s workhorse routes — the downtown-bound 36 — is mere steps away from the building on the Beacon Avenue side, on the right side of the map above. What’s needed is a remodel of the facility to create an accessible entrance on the Beacon Avenue side, and possibly some redeployed trolley wire to bring buses right up to the building.

Sen. Patty Murray (wikimedia)

However, it’s no one’s role to make this happen. The funding would come from Congress, and it’s the kind of thing Patty Murray specializes in. But Sen. Murray isn’t going to do something the VA doesn’t ask for, and they seem satisifed with the status quo. Meanwhile, Metro has neither the competence nor the authority to request a remodel of the facility, even if it solved several headaches for them. Someone in government, City or County, would have to step up to make this happen, informally coordinating the various agencies to make sure everyone’s interests are addressed.

*By my count 144 buses serve this stop every weekday and 91 each on Saturday and Sunday. If it’s really a 4 minute diversion,the back-of-the-napkin estimate is that it’s about $360,000 a year in operating time.

37 Replies to “Serving the VA”

  1. Not only that, I’d like to see the VA required to build parking garages so that the divided boulevard between Spokane and Columbian Way could be restored, and the bike path extended north.

  2. It isn’t a 4-minute diversion. Try 10 minutes. I’ve been through that lot crawl many times. I’ve even seen three 60s lined up trying to get through the lot.

    Plus, there is the time for the 60 to turn off of, and get back on, 15th Ave S.

    Somehow, the bus and paratransit pickup/dropoff points need to be separated from the valet parking lineup. People pull their personal vehicles to the front entrance building, while transit riders have their dropoff about a block away from the building, letting the valets then take their cars. I don’t know how this valet service started, but it is an inconvenience for those who choose to ride the bus to the VA. The VA should either separate the entrances, or be told the valet service has to go away.

  3. Or, here’s another suggestion:

    If the valet staff is a permanent fixture, move the bus stops back out to the streets (15th, Beacon, and Columbian), and install call buttons on each bus stop. The button would ring someone in touch with the valet staff. A valet would get in the company’s lift-equipped van, head out to the bus stop, and bring the patient to whichever front door the patient requests. As patients exit, they could request a valet-driven lift to their choice of bus stop (among the six, that is).

    One valet’s wages and benefits would be significantly cheaper than the bus service hours for all the Metro routes that crawl through the parking lot.

    If this works, it could be a model for the Pill Hill medical centers trying to get patients between the Capitol Hill Streetcar and their various building entrances.

    1. With 144 buses a day and and a 4 minute diversion, that adds up to just over 9.5 hours of extra service per day just to serve the VA. With that much service, it would be a lot cheaper to run a shuttle back and forth. Since appointments are scheduled during the day, they could run it say every ten minutes during the day. Then perhaps have a call box to use during the evening.

      This is really something that the VA should pay for if they think that it’s necessary. Looking at google maps, it looks like the entrance is at most 1000 feet from the street. Most people should be able to walk this easily, and those that can’t would likely qualify for access paratransit.

      1. Again, it’s much more than 4 minutes. That 4 minutes is if the lanes are clear, which they only are late at night.

        Whatever the delay, I think Metro has to look at moving the 60 and 39 back out to street stops, given the budget problems.

        And this isn’t just about the VA. It’s about dozens of buildings all over the county that get specialty off-street service (often with extra-head along a connecting street), and even a few P&R pulloffs where most of the time there really isn’t anyone getting on or off. These premium stops probably cost routes as many riders as they add, by pushing commuters into driving.

  4. This sort of routing reminds me of the 345, which serves both Four Freedoms and Northwest Hospital by going around/through their respective parking lots.

    1. My thought exactly. It can be so frustrating to be running tight on time to work and see the 345 down the street on it’s way (already running late) but then turn off to go do the hospital loop.

    2. Me too. It’s important to serve communities with mobility impairments, but it’s also important to serve commuters and others who don’t have a half hour to waste getting from Bitter Lake to Northgate. I wish they’d run two versions of the 345–one that makes the stops at Four Freedoms and inside the hospital campus, and one that doesn’t take those detours. They could alternate, with the detouring bus on the hour and the non-detouring bus on the half hour. Much faster service but less frequent, that’s a trade-off I’d be willing to make.

      1. The 355 and 5 provide the more direct route to those coming from the Northgate area and headed to Shoreline CC, so at least that’s an option.

      2. Actually, that would require a transfer. There are 2 versions of the 5, one that goes to Northgate and one that goes to Shoreline CC–there is no version of the 5 that goes to both. The 355 also does not go to Northgate–it would only get you as close to Northgate as either 105th & Greenwood, or 85th & Meridian. The 345 is the only option short of a transfer (in which case, you could take the 5 or 355 south to 105th & Greenwood and then transfer to a northbound 5 or an eastbound 75–not sure that’s actually any faster than just taking the slow-poke 345, though).

      3. Except I have found that the 5 and 75 are usually very close to one another. There are two buses every half-hour.

      4. Suddenly I’m reminded of our route-map thread and the possibility of re-numbering one of the two legs of the 5… this may represent the best case for it!

  5. The 36 uses 1/3rd of its service hours trundling down Jackson & 3rd.
    It also goes by 2 light rail stations.

    It should turn around at Pac Med.
    This would reduce the daily backups on 3rd, and allow better trips elsewhere in Rainier Valley.

    1. Even better the 36 should continue up 12th to John then Broadway to Aloha. Yes I know this would need new wire between Yesler and John on 12th, but it would give 12th the transit service they were clamoring for without duplicating the First Hill Streetcar.

      1. I think it would require additional wire at 12th/Jackson. As I recall from a MEHVA tour, volunteers had to jump the trolley to continue through on 12th Ave. That could be very expensive.

  6. Sometimes simple solutions work better than multi-agency ‘ear-marked’ federal projects consuming hundreds or thousands FTE staff hours to pass and manage project deliverables such as the one Martin is proposing.
    How about a test? Reroute the 39s along the road between the south side of the buildings and the south parking lot. Add a stop where people are entering the complex from the south parking lot and see how much time is saved, if any. The only downside is closure of the stop at Angiline, for how many riders? If it unsticks the 39 then it’s a good trade off and a proper shelter and amenities through the buildings can be handled by the agencies charged with those kind of things.

    1. PS. If the test works, then reroute the 60 via Spokane-Beacon-VA S.lot Rd-Snoqualmie. It’s a 1/10 mile shorter than the current routing, should be much faster and only effect a handful of riders at the 15th/Dakota stop. Everyone else on 15th would be within a 1/4 mile walk of either Spokane St or Snoqualmie.
      “All changes have winners and losers”.

  7. The VA has planned an expansion of the hospital on Beacon Hill as part of the stimulus program. Their Request For Proposals didn’t specify a location within the site for the expansion, so it’s quite possible that whoever won the contract to design it (my firm was in the running, but unfortunately didn’t win) will address street frontage with their design. It seems like something that should be brought to their attention as a design opportunity that will help to reconnect the building with the surrounding community, which if I recall was one of the goals of the brief.

  8. Why can’t Metro lobby Patty Murray for help in fixing VA hospital transit access? Especially if there’s construction already planned. Maybe Murray can tell VA that improving the transit operability is a requirement.

    1. How would Metro cost this, let alone design it? At the minimum, you have to get buy-in from the hospital.

      1. Not asking Metro to design anything – asking her to put a condition on money for the remodel that they have to create an accessible entrance on Beacon

  9. I think the route 42 should serve the VA, turning west on Columbian Way from MLK. This would allow the 39 to be changed into the 50.

  10. In reference to route #36 “one of Metro’s workhorse routes”, it is perplexing why (the amount) of money was spent to bring this route to Othello Station, yet for the past few months the trolly has not been going to Othello Station due to the disrepair of 38th Avenue South. Shuttle service between Beacon Ave South and Othello Station now complete this missing trolly link. The inconvenience and relative infrequency when compared to the #36 is noticable. When will this ‘work horse’ be back running at it full potential? When will 38th Avenue South be repaired??

  11. Maybe I just imagined it, but I swear I was on a 36 a while back and it made the detour through the parking lot of the VA hospital. Of course it was a diesel artic and not a trolly bus.

  12. I find it interesting that the question of how much ridership the VA was generating was not asked and that all sorts of reroutes are being proposed without the data backing it up.

    Until you know the ridership, everything else is academic.

    1. Maybe academic, but common sense is a pretty good indicator. Requiring 15th/Dakota riders (about 150 households within a 1/4 mile walk to the stop, at 2+ per HH times 10$ daily boardings) is roughly 30 per day compared to the VA of maybe several hundred or more per day. They would be required to walk up to 8 blocks to catch a bus, but many more riders would have a shorter trip. What’s that worth?
      By the time I made an information act request for the actual stop data, and got my answer in a month or two, this thread would be stone cold, and closed to comments.
      Your call.

      1. The point that I was making is that some deviations are worth it from a ridership perspective – i.e. you get enough ridership to warrant dragging a load of people through there.

        I am usually ruthless in getting rid of deviations, but only after comparing the total loads on the bus not accessing the deviation as well as the ridership at the stop(s) that are being deviated to. You can’t convince me (or the public or electeds) that cutting this is a good thing without the numbers.

        That being said, I have yet to see a VA facility anywhere in the country generate high ridership (have never looked at Seattle’s), and I can tell you from personal experience it is difficult, if not impossible to get out of those due to politics.

      2. OK, we’re on the same page.
        One of my pet peeves is that Metro has gotten themselves in a box (budget wise) that is increasingly difficult to get out of.
        All these little deviations to routes (or mutations, as I call them) start to drag the system down – kind of like vampire loads in your house causing the power bill to go up).
        Saying NO has not been easy in the past, especially when funding was available.
        If metro can save a few minutes each route/run by finding an alternate entrance to the VA (which they seem to have found for themselves), and it doesn’t cause undue burden on existing riders, then it should be considered. That’s all I was proposing, without aid of actual numbers.

      3. Yep, we’re on the same page.

        Metro is not unique in this aspect. So many systems have gotten into the trap of not saying “No” and it has compromised the overall system integrity.

        It’s amazing how often addressing the route directness/deviation issue results in greater ridership in the long run.

    2. It’s not academic at all if the plan is to serve the exact same market more efficiently with a different route.

      1. I’d be very curious how you would define “the exact same market” without knowing the ridership and load patterns.

  13. BTW, the map is inaccurate. The buses do not pull up to the front door. Only private vehicles get that privilege (at which point the valets take the keys).

    The buses follow the straighter blue line, turn left to a shelter a block from the front entrance, and then use a row between parking lanes as the turn-around.

    The Access vans have it worse. They have to dig their way to the north end of the parking lot now.

    Most other specialty stops just add loop-de-loop time. This stop adds several minutes of sit-in-line-with-the-private-vehicles congestion.

    Mayor McGinn and Chairman Rasmussen, do you realize that the city is subsidizing having the 60 and 39 sit in line with these private vehicles who then get to pull to the front for valet service, while the buses turn off to second-tier stops? The cost of this sitting in line adds up to a lot more than chump change over the course of a year.

  14. Its too bad Metro and the VA cant arrange for a shuttle inbetween Beacon Hill and Columbia city stops, that primarily serves the VA. you could transfer either station from a number of services and it would keep the mainline routes out of the hospital complexes (you could always walk in from the street as well). Could be a Transit now project inbetween the va, king co, and sound transit to operate the service

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