Via Yesler
Via Yesler

Similar to Route 14, Metro’s Route 27 has deep roots, extending back to the 1888 construction by Seattle Electric Co. of a cable car on Yesler from 2nd Ave to to Leschi Park, where the original rail bridge still stands. In the 1940’s, when Seattle’s streetcar network was dismantled, the cable car was replaced with motorcoach service which (I believe) alternated between Lake Dell Road and Frink Place, serving Lakeside in two different segments; at some point, the route was consolidated into the existing alignment that serves Lakeside from Alder St to Colman Park.

For students of Seattle neighborhood history, and lovers of the city generally, I highly recommend a ride on the 27. The route goes through diverse and historic parts of First Hill and the Central District that are changing fast. Ride out to Lakeside Ave, then enjoy Leschi and Frink parks, which are particularly beautiful in the fall. Walk north on Lakeside to Madrona Park, which has public piers jutting out into Lake Washington, and catch the 2 back downtown from its terminal.

Chart and discussion after the jump.

Ridership Patterns on King County Metro 27
Ridership Patterns on King County Metro 27

Note that the scale on this chart is different to that of the 14, and that colored lines for early morning and night service do not exist on this chart due to the lack of significant amounts of service in those time periods.

Route 27’s patterns are very much a weaker echo of Route 14. Performance is good out to the commercial district centered at 23rd Ave, although well below that of the 14; beyond that, only a handful of stops exhibit much activity. Arguably the strongest parts of the 27 are those parts that are three blocks north of the 14 on Jackson St, although between 3rd Ave and Boren there is a steep hill between Yesler and Jackson.

Ridership seems to be much more peak-oriented on the 27 than the 14, although this may be distorted by the fact that Metro operates more peak trips on the 14 than the 27, while midday frequency is the same. In addition, the evening schedule exhibits an uncommon asymmetry, with mostly hourly frequency inbound to downtown versus half-hourly outbound to Colman Park; presumably the ridership lost to that lower frequency is sufficiently small that Metro prefers to deadhead the bus back to base.

20 Replies to “Ridership Patterns on Route 27”

  1. Hi! I read the blog all the way from Ireland. Love seeing these posts that chronicle the ridership of particular routes. I have one question and that his how do they measure the on’s and off’s in Seattle? Is it people have to tag on and off the bus or is it a camera that counts the on’s and off’s?

    Love the blog, keep it up!


    1. Its been a while but I remember asking this question of Jack Lattermann. I think he said it was a combination of infrared sensors and/or pads that sensed when folks were standing on them.

      One thing he did tell me is that the old 99 busses that were wrapped didn’t have any sort of passenger counters on them, and they were pretty surprised at its lack of productivity when they put normal buses on them with the passenger counters.

  2. I hope Metro isn’t going to get rid of this bus past 12th Ave outside of peak times. This is the only way I can conveniently get to work with the bus. I can take the bus to work during peak times, but I hardly ever leave before 6 PM, when peak times end.


    1. Well, the 3 and 14 will continue, so if you can get to Jefferson or Jackson, you should still have service. The 3’s getting a big bump in frequency at the same time the 27 gets cut back, and when the 3/4 reroute around Harborview is completed, it should get much faster and more reliable.

  3. Any interest in diverting the 27 at 12th Avenue to serve as the bus line that the Seattle U neighborhood was asking for when the FH streetcar alignment was being debated? There would need to be a decision on how the bus would get downtown–maybe it could replace the 2 in the Virginia Mason area and go to 1st Ave./Ferry Terminal via Seneca/Spring?

    1. There are two reason to divert the 2 from Seneca/Spring. The first is that traffic (esp. west of I-5) is a nightmare, and the second is that First Hill is better served with one 7.5-minute frequency corridor than two independent 15-minute ones.

      One of the 27’s virtues is that it’s actually pretty darn reliable. So sending it through an I-5 ramp mess would kind of suck.

      As I’ve said elsewhere, I think it would make more sense to serve 12th Ave with a merged 9/49/36. My impression is that 12th (south of John) should have roughly the same level of demand as 10th Ave E (north of Roy). So that way, you get to have a roughly straight N-S route, that connects with Link and the FHSC, and that connects multiple destinations without any major diversions.

      If providing front-door service to Virginia Mason is a necessity, I think it would make more sense to reroute the 60.

    2. I think 12th ave will actually end up being served by a N/S route like the 9, once the FHSC and U-Link open, with a terminus at the Capitol Hill station. That seems more likely to me than a 27 reroute down 12th.

  4. I love this series.

    It seems like the general trend is that the streetcar-suburb residential tails exist because of the streetcar route but contribute relatively little ridership today. But they’re hard to delete, because some neighbors along the tails do ride the bus sometimes, and those people know how to make themselves heard at city hall.

    I have two thoughts about this:

    1) To some degree, this reflects a challenge for making better bus routes and making better neighborhoods. As Oran noted, good routes have trip generators at both ends, so theoretically one compromise could be to get neighborhoods that want tails to accept neighborhood commercial or lowrise zoning along the tails. But even some routes with what would seem to be at least minor trip generators (e.g. Green Lake neighborhood and park at the end of the 26, Madrona at the end of the 2) still have pretty bad tails.
    2) I do wonder how much trip time is distorted by Bruce’s (admittedly very cool) charts. The charts are by stop, but stop spacing doesn’t necessarily mirror time spent on a segment, and time on a segment is what determines cost. My suspicion is that tails have less traffic to merge back into, may skip stops, and might have shorter stop dwell times, partially from lower ridership. For example, it may be that there aren’t a lot of people riding the 26 by the time it gets to Latona, but it also doesn’t take more than a few minutes to make it from 40th to Green Lake, whereas crossing through Fremont always takes an eternity. Fremont is clearly better for 26 ridership than Latona, but the magnitude by which it’s better may be distorted by the constant time per stop assumption implicit in Bruce’s charts.

    1. @1 I like that. That’s effectively the choice neighborhoods have already: long term, the best way to assure future transit service is to build density. Giving neighborhoods an explicit deal to keep tails if they upzone makes this choice more immediate and therefore attractive.

  5. My suspicion is that tails have less traffic to merge back into, may skip stops, and might have shorter stop dwell times, partially from lower ridership.

    This is definitely true of the 27. My apartment is on Washington, directly between the 14 and 27. Most of the day the two half-hour routes have synchronized schedules, coming within 5 minutes of each other, so I usually have the choice of which to take.
    When I have the choice, I always take the 27. It moves much faster than the 14. The 27 makes it downtown in the time it takes the 14 to get through Little Saigon. The AM peak-time schedule reflects this – 15 minutes vs. 21 minutes to get from 23rd to Pike. Of course, the majority of this time savings is due to skipping the insanely productive slog through Little Saigon and the International District; only a small part of it is due to the better traffic flow on Yesler.

    Yeah, it’d be better to show the time a bus spends on a section of route, to give a better idea of the service-hour cost, perhaps with thicker/thinner bars, but these charts take long enough to create already.

  6. My takeaways from the chart:

    Leschi has a small but constant all-day demand of around 4-5 riders, both on and off peak. In fact, the demand out of Leschi doesn’t vary at all by time of day (using the lakeside/yesler stop for my comparison). This is a small amount of ridership, but is still better than, say, the 42. Reducing the 27 to peak-only service does not make sense for Leschi – just looking at this neighborhood alone, it should either be preserved all-day or cut entirely. (cue my ongoing proposal for a Leschi – Mt. Baker – Columbia City route – 30 min headways with one vehicle, small bus required)

    For the duplicative stretch down Yesler, preserving peak service is necessary because the 14 does not have the capacity to absorb the additional demand in this corridor. We’re looking at 20-25 passenger loads entering downtown, at the same time of day when the 14 is already crush loaded.

    It might make more sense to cut the 27 entirely (once the 3/4 is rerouted through Yesler Terrace, obviously), and bump the 14 up to 10 minute headways during peak.

    1. Regarding the Leschi – Mt. Baker – Columbia City route, I also think extending the 38 to Leschi would serve the same purpose, and could still be done with half-hour headways on one vehicle.

  7. It’s great to focus on these tails, since they don’t really make sense anymore. The streetcars were built when most suburbanites (Leschi was built as a suburb) still did not own cars and those who did generally used them for recreation rather than for getting to work. Now most people in the vast low-density single-family zones have cars and it is very difficult for a bus route like this to compete. Some of them, like this one, have a small amount of demand that might call for a crosstown route with strong anchors or maybe a DART route, but don’t really work for a downtown radial. If a route does not have strong anchors at both ends, something needs to be changed so that it does.

    1. I wouldn’t go to the DART extreme. There’s a huge density difference between former streetcar suburbs, where single family lots are 3000-4000 square feet and the retail strips have moderate size apartment buildings, and the car neighborhoods, where single family lots get up to 10,000 square feet and the retail strips have have giant parking lots.

      The streetcar suburbs are full of people who take transit for downtown trips. They don’t necessarily need frequent, redundant all-day service to be preserved through tight budgetary times. But telling them they’ll need to use DART if they want to get anywhere on a bus is a sure way to lose transit voters.

  8. What I’ve always noted when taking the 27 is how much the bus labors when going up Yesler Way. It almost stops it labors so.

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