Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of City Councilmembers writing about bus trips in advance of the Proposition 1 vote.

Photo by the author

On Wednesday morning, I took the 54 to get to City Hall. I wanted to see how folks were switching to transit and adapting from their normal commute during the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Riding the 54 was also important because I wanted to write about how the route will change both with RapidRide and with the improvements to the route if Seattle’s Prop 1 passes.

The 54 is one of Metro’s workhorse routes. It goes from White Center along Roxbury to the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal then along California Ave SW to the Alaska Junction. It then heads down the hill on Avalon and onto the West Seattle Bridge and into downtown via 4th Avenue. Along with the 120 bus that runs on Delridge, the 54 carries most of West Seattle’s daily bus passengers.

Next fall, most of the 54 will be converted into Metro’s RapidRide C line. Today the route runs at about 15 minute intervals during the peak commute hours. RapidRide will bring more frequent bus service throughout the day, but it won’t make a difference if those buses are stuck in traffic. That’s where Prop 1 comes in.

Photo by the author

Prop 1 will build on improvements already funded through Bridging the Gap, including more queue jumps that allow buses to get a head start at busy intersections and bus only lanes through stretches of the route where buses typically get backed up. Bus bulbs will be added to allow buses to more quickly load passengers and get moving again without having to merge in and out of traffic.

If Prop 1 passes, the combined SDOT investments in this corridor will reduce the time it takes to get downtown by 16% and will provide a level of reliability that makes it dramatically easier to plan your commute. More after the jump.

Starting at the Junction, I had to wait about 10 minutes at the California and Alaska as the 54 was running late. While I was waiting, County Councilmember Joe McDermott came walking up to catch the shuttle to the water taxi. It would’ve been nice to have real time arrival information at the bus stop, so we would’ve known whether we had time to get out of the cold and get a cup of coffee.

It was about 6:45am, still dark and very windy, which made me appreciate the fact that Prop 1 will pay for improved bus stops – better shelters, improved lighting, security cameras and real time arrival information provided with the GPS-equipped buses now coming on line.

As we started heading down Avalon, traffic was getting heavier but we were able to use the bus only lane. As we merged into the bus only lane leading to the West Seattle Bridge I could see the advantage of a bus-only lane. It was not only faster but prevented the bus from having to make a dangerous merge as it got onto the West Seattle Bridge. On the West Seattle Bridge, the bus only lane allowed us to zoom past traffic. We definitely need more of these through the corridor.

But then traffic hit gridlock as we exit onto 4th Ave S. There are no bus only lanes or queue jumps here, so we moved slowly through SODO (to a moving at a snail’s pace at some intersections) and even more so as we got closer to downtown and merged onto Third Avenue.

All in all though, not a bad ride. But, it was late and it wasn’t fast either – 42 minutes from the Junction if you include the 10 minute wait for the 54. I can’t help but wonder how many people don’t ride the bus because it’s not as dependable as it could be: late arrivals, stuck in traffic (especially on the parts of the route without any transit improvements).

RapidRide service will definitely make it better, but I know we can make this route and others across the city more reliable and speedier with passage of Prop 1.

In West Seattle, Delridge is also a high priority and will see improvement if Prop 1 passes. In addition to the bus corridor improvements, Delridge will also get new pavement. California and Admiral will get lots of new pedestrian safety improvements and we’ll have money to tackle some of the challenges on 35th Ave SW and other areas where it feels unsafe to walk or ride a bike.

Please turn in your ballots and vote with me for Prop. 1. We’ll get safer streets and faster transit with Prop 1.

The author is a Seattle City Councilmember.

38 Replies to “Tom Rasmussen’s Commute”

  1. What a pleasant surprise to hear a policy maker and leader actually walk the talk instead of just talking the talk. And in such depth that he really understands what transit can do when done right. Much better than a talking head riding the bus for a nice PR photo op.
    Thank you Councilman Rasmussen.

  2. Please, oh please, give us bus lanes on 4th Ave S!

    I appreciate what Metro is trying to do with the proposed new 50 route, but the key is connectivity. The bus lanes would make it politically feasible to run most routes down 4th Ave. This could include the ones currently running down the Busway and then making two extra turns unnecessarily, but leave the tunnel routes on the Busway.

    The ability to get to SODO station quickly is what will get West Seattle riders — most of them, not just ones along the proposed 50’s path — to be able to access huge chunks of Rainier Valley, and vice versa. The good connection on 4th Ave S would also give most of West Seattle a two-seat ride to the VA Medical Center, whether the connection is on the 39 or the proposed 50, as well as to jobs at major employers throughout the Lower Duwamish Valley.
    On the theme of bus lanes, is there any hope of making 3rd Ave a 24/7 transit-only street? Has the City been involved in studying the feasibility of installing bunches of off-board ORCA readers and cheap bus-ticket dispensing machines at all downtown bus stops? … and possibly converting 3rd Ave into a four-lane transit mall to align all the stops instead of alternating them? (but keeping them close to the tunnel entrances, and adding some signage so that riders can find those tunnel entrances)
    And on the question of access to bus service, I’m wondering what ideas the city council is looking at to make the bus fare system less regressive. (I’m much more concerned about that than the “regressivity” of charging poor drivers a $60 annual user fee to get improved mobility that is worth far more than $60.) Might it be feasible to set up a version of ORCA that one qualifies for based on, say, qualification for food stamps? I’d like to see the free ride program evolve into something that gives poor riders better access to bus service all the time, instead of just for appointments at agencies that give out free bus vouchers. I’m not suggesting free monthly passes, mind you, but just giving all qualifying riders lower fares. If we do it for seniors, disabled, and youth, then we certainly have the ability to do it for the poor.
    Thanks for reading the feedback to your most welcome post, and giving some response.

    1. If you own a car and cannot absorb a $60 charge (e.g. the cost of a tank of gas; nearly the cost of a proper half-yearly service; the cost of one low-end tire), you should not be operating that motor vehicle on the public highways.

      1. Your comment is very accusative. Many low-income drivers have no choice in their mode of transportation; their jobs and their residences are in low-density areas where land is cheap and Metro service is insufficient or non-existent.

        We, the body politic, are responsible for putting them in this situation by plowing billions of dollars into subsidizing roads every year. It is up to us to change the game to make other modes of transportation a reality for these drivers.

      2. Phooey. Take that rationale and apply it to all the poor, hard-working mothers and fathers out there who are barely scraping by. This has to be one of the most short-sighted statements in quite some time, and worse yet you do more damage to Prop. 1 than by helping it. You can guarantee that you sealed their vote against this now.

      3. It is up to us to change the game to make other modes of transportation a reality for these drivers.

        And how are we supposed to do that without any money?

        There are also many even-lower-income bus riders who have no choice in their model of transportation, because they couldn’t even hope to afford a car. By not passing the fee, we leave them in the lurch.

      4. Yes, I keep trying to tell people that the poor, conservatives, and other people that might not share your values or whose circumstances are affected by the issues, often DO vote.

      5. @Kyle S,

        This is a Seattle only Proposition. Not many low density areas in our city and driving requires parking. Which is not free downtown and in many other parts of town.

      6. @phil:

        “Not many low density areas in our city”? I beg to differ… I might agree when everything within city limits gets upzoned to a minimum of L3.

      7. When you get hit and hopefully-not-killed by some rust-bucket that never had that needed brake job or blew a bald tire (which nobobdy knew about since cars are not inspected anymore) then I’ll feel remorse for my “accusation”.

      8. The point of Erik’s comment (at least as I’ve heard others describe similar things) is that $60 will buy one or two tanks of gas. So if you can’t afford that, how are you paying for the dozen or more tanks of gas in the year, plus insurance and car payments and — wait for it — the car tab fee? That much money could pay for a lot of other necessities, or even (in some cases) moving closer to work or finding a better job.

        Yes, some people can’t find a job they qualify for without driving, and others can’t afford to move. But as Aleks said, the poorest don’t have cars. And the non-driving elderly, disabled, and under-16 depend on transit. Not improving transit means all of them suffer. And everyone, rich and poor, experiences more congestion.

      9. I guess Mike that you’ve never had to live paycheck to paycheck. When the car tabs come due it’s not $60 for car tabs. It’s $60 more for car tabs due all at once. It’s not a latte a week it’s more like your property tax just quadrupled! But how is it someone paying a mortgage on a $400,000 home couldn’t just absorb that without a blink of an eye? A tank of gas is a weeks commute to work. I guess these folks just need to suck it up and schedule vacation the week they can’t drive; assuming they have a job that actually provides benefits like that. Sure, for the liberal elite it’s no big deal but for the working poor this is a hugely regressive tax and most of it isn’t even supporting traffic infrastructure.

      10. Don’t worry, Bernie. This is a *Seattle-only* user fee.

        Surely, you aren’t afraid that the Bellevue City Council is going to propose a similar VLF to help speed up buses in Bellevue, are you?

    2. I agree with bus lanes on 4th and direct access from West Seattle to SODO Link station. When the Spokane Street Viaduct widening is complete, perhaps the bus only lane can be extended to the 4th Avenue exit (aka Cotsco Cut-off).

      1. The garages and delivery points (e.g. the post office) have already had to get used to peak-hour regulations.

      2. The peak-hour regulations allow a car to travel one block to a garage or the next intersection. Making Third a transit-only street would prohibit that.

  3. Where does the 16% reduction in travel time for this corridor come from? Bus only lanes?

    1. It sounds like a combination of bus lanes, bus bulbs and signal queuing. Makes sense since that is the most common hold ups for buses around here.

      1. It also saves a few minutes from not going all the way to White Center. ;) (and the 54 does some unnecessary zigzagging between the ferry dock and White Center)

        I actually strongly approve of moving the de facto transit center from White Center to Westwood, since there are more amenities there. And by not calling it a “transit center”, we aren’t making the buses slog through a parking lot, costing time to everyone on the bus including those being dropped off at the front door. Can anyone name a single transit center or park & ride where it actually saves anyone some time for the buses to pull through the facility?

        Of course, having transit lanes throughout the path on West Seattle, and then crawling on 4th Ave S and 3rd Ave, sets Metro up to look really silly. There’s also the matter of the wierd engineering on the West Seattle Bridge …

      2. Bellevue TC doesn’t have a parking lot. It’s may not be as fast as having all the routes go straight, but it lets you transfer at one easy-to-remember place rather than having to figure out which intersection one bus crosses another bus at and where the bus stop is.

  4. Prop 1’s a great (though small) step forward.

    But a gondola could have brought you to either downtown or the SODO station in about 10 minutes.

    1. How many different gondola lines would it have taken to give everyone in West Seattle who is served by a one-seat bus stop to have gondola service to downtown?

  5. I’ve ridden the 54 several times this last week, just to check out “Viadoom”. Tuesday afternoon, boarded 54 at 3rd and Pike at ten to five. Pretty good speed Fourth to Lander to First.

    At First and Hanford, where we were routed to turn, supervisor signaled driver, came aboard, told him long freight train was holding traffic. Driver had choice of waiting to cross tracks at Hanford, or continue out Fourth, and route Dawson to Marginal to Spokane.

    Our leader, a minute ahead of us, was already stuck at the crossing. Our driver did reroute, staying in motion. When we reached 35th south of Avalon, our leader was just ahead of us.

    Same trip Wednesday, around 1:30, except rode 106 through Tunnel from Westlake, and walked to Lander stop from SODO station. Trip time, about ten minutes, moving all the way. Five minute wait for 54. No train at Hanford, but fifteen minute wait at tracks re: traffic on Alaskan.

    Tom’s right about one thing: bus lanes mean at least passengers aboard buses move. Without them, absolutely nothing moves. But I also think that for duration of Viaduct removal, might be a good idea to send express CBD to West Seattle Junction service via the DSTT and the E-3, with bus lanes out Spokane or from Lander.

    54 driver gave me this alternative: Tunnel to E-3 to Fourth and up the ramp to I-5. Then Spokane Street viaduct across the Duwamish.

    Tunnel and E-3 amount to a huge and longstanding investment in Bus Rapid Transit itself. Capacity and joint-operations argument is for a posting, but briefly, I think that the system has always had capability we haven’t used.

    Before we resign ourselves to Viageddon, or in the Norse myth, Viaductnarok, it’s worth checking out.

    And Thanks, Tom. Whole City, and especially County Council should follow suit.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I spent 40 minutes waiting for a container train on Monday and there were 2 Metro buses right behind me. Did anyone at SDOT or WSDOT tell UP and BNSF that traffic was going to be heavy in SODO and ask that the train operators try to adhere to the 10 minute blocking rule?

      1. The 23 and 132 don’t need to cross the tracks at Lander. They could just go all the way down 4th Ave S to Georgetown, which would save some service hours. This would also reduce some of the back-up onto 4th Ave S.

        As for the routes crossing the West Seattle Bridge, they’re stuck for awhile. Lo siento.

        How difficult is it to paint bus lanes on 4th Ave S, and how long does it really need to take, now that buses carry a majority of the person-trips on that street?

      2. Okay, the routes crossing the West Seattle Bridge weren’t stuck that long, unless Metro keeps them re-routed for the entire pick.

        In the long run, I still want to see 4th Ave S as the primary conduit for buses going between West Seattle and downtown, with transit lanes. Such a routing would provide far more connectivity than the proposed 50 would.

        I don’t want to see buses ever have to take Edgar Martinez Dr again.

  6. One of the main reasons I stopped using the bus exclusively to get to my work on the Eastside was unreliability. It wasn’t quite as much of an issue before the October 1st changes. Now, however, I never know when the bus I take to Bellevue will be on time for me to make the transfer, or arrive late enough after being stuck in Montlake traffic that I will miss the connection, adding an extra 30 minutes to my commute. I don’t think there’s a simple solution to fixing traffic on 25th/Montlake Blvd (between U-Village and the 520 ramps) and my 243 is the only bus that uses the stretch between UW campus and Pacific, but traffic there is just awful in the morning.

    On the bright side, this unfortunate bus situation was the thing that convinced me that I should ride my bike to work (and bus across the 520 bridge). Now if I leave home at the same time as I would have to catch the bus, I actually get to work faster than I would have by bus. Not everyone, however, is able to ride a bike…

    1. There’s a reason that the 243 is the only bus on that stretch, which is that traffic on that stretch of Montlake is so horrendous that Metro has gone out of its way to route buses away from it.

      Long term, I believe Metro would like to have more buses there, but they need to come up with a reliability fix first.=

      1. My trip to work often involves jogging down the Burke Gilman next to Montlake Blvd. I’m often moving faster than the cars on the street.

  7. Mary Poppins: route 243 has very little service AND is stuck in Montlake Boulevard NE congestion; most of its riders could use routes 68 or 372 and transfer to routes 271, 540, or 542 in the U District and have better span, frequency, and choice of trip time. In 2014, how will WSDOT connect the new ped-bike facility on the new bridge to Seattle, if the new bridge only reaches the western high rise, as they are $2 billion short?

    Dublin et al: between 2012 and 2016, should routes C and 120 use SR-99 through WOSCA detour and not serve the south half of downtown Seattle?

    1. Not quite so simple. Believe me when I say I tried out every reasonable combination of buses including travel through UW Bothell, and having to take 3 buses actually increases transit time because something is always late somewhere around the U-district in the morning even around 7:30am when I generally have to leave (and gets worse for a couple hours after that). It ends up taking as long as when the 243 is late, or sometimes even longer. Sometimes it takes less time, but then the 243 way takes even less time when the bus is on time which does happen. It all comes down to reliability and it’s lacking in the 520/Montlake/UW neighborhood in the mornings right in the middle of the commuter rush. Compared to this, my bike+bus across the bridge is way more consistent. The ability to plan out a commute to ensure arrival to work by a certain time is a necessity for a lot of people. However, the problem that affects buses also affects cars. When I used to carpool to work, I’d have anywhere from 25 to 60 minutes to travel.

      Mary Poppins must be punctual, you know!

  8. I’d be a lot more impressed with CM Rasmussen if he told us he rides transit every day to and from City Hall, rather than just making a “special occasion” event out of it.

    Transit needs to be part of everyday life, not just a media event or talking point.

  9. The councilman could have found out just exactly when the next bus was scheduled to arrive if he availed himself of the OneBusAway service which can be accessed on a smartphone or simply using the telephone interface when you call 456-0609.

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