King County Metro 7
King County Metro 7

When the Sound Transit board chose an MLK alignment for the Rainier Valley segment of Central Link — an alignment which comes tantalizingly close to serving the RV’s blockbuster ridership corridor on Rainier Ave — they unwittingly created a thriving ecosystem of bloggers and commenters trying to figure out better ways to connect transit riders with the train. The city is weighing in with its Transit Master Plan Corridor 5, which calls for electrifying Henderson and presumably extending Route 7 (or a successor route) to Rainier Beach Station.

After the jump, I’ll present a simple idea, one that I think is considerably superior both to current conditions and the city’s proposal.

Let’s start with an explanation of the current service pattern, shown in the left pane of the map below. Starting downtown, Route 7 operates via Jackson St and Rainier Ave to Henderson St, which is the cross street on which the Rainier Beach Link station resides. To Henderson, this route operates every 10 minutes in the weekday midday, every 15 minutes at most other times. The combination of high-floor buses, heavy ridership, long route length, and horrible traffic at the I-90 & Rainier intersection combine to make these buses very slow and unreliable.

Shortly after Henderson, the route splits, with two out of every three southbound trips looping back around via Seward Park Ave to lay over near Rainier Beach High School. Every third southbound trip continues down to Prentice St, via Waters Ave and a 62nd/64th couplet. These buses do not lay over at Prentice St, rather they traverse the entire loop outbound and inbound before returning to lay over near the high school. Inbound riders on the Prentice St loop must transfer to another bus to continue their trip.

Route 8 on MLK heads east from Rainier Beach Station to serve the same loop as Route 7 near the High School; it operates every 15 minutes Monday-Saturday daytime, every 30 minutes at other times. Route 9X to Capitol Hill, which operates every locally on Broadway and then with limited stops on Rainier, runs every 30 minutes during the weekday daytime only. Not shown on the map is Route 7X, which runs only a few trips in the peak, on a similar alignment to Route 7, but makes only a few stops after Graham St.

Route 7 Restructure Idea
Route 7 Restructure Idea. Line thickness corresponds to service frequency. Map by Oran.

Now let’s look at the restructure idea on the right pane. Trolleybus wire would be installed on Othello St from a turnaround loop on the east side of Othello station, to the intersection of Rainier & Othello, with switches to go north or south. Route 7 from Downtown would maintain its current frequency, but turn west at that point, terminating and laying over near the station. A new route, dubbed “7S” for the sake of this discussion, would operate from Othello Station on the current alignment of the 7 south of Othello St, but all trips would continue to Prentice St. This route might operate every 15 or 20 minutes during the day and 20 or 30 minutes in the evening, depending on how the costs and cycle times pencil out.

Here are the reasons I believe this proposal is superior to both current conditions and the city’s proposed trolleybus wire extension down Henderson:

  • More network connections*. Henderson St already has a frequent-service connection to Rainier Beach Station via Route 8; extending the 7 on Henderson would merely duplicate that. In addition, Rainier Beach Station offers transfers only to the infrequent 106 and 107. Othello has Route 36 (every 10 minutes) and the infrequent Route 39 to Seward Park.
  • Serves a bigger ridership center. Othello is a bustling commercial center, and the site of the one of the first large market-rate multihousing developments since the recession; by contrast, Rainier Beach Station is positively sleepy. Moreover, future development in the Rainier Beach station area is extremely constrained by topography and the presence of a power line, which prevents anything but low rise development in the most valuable land adjacent to the Link station. We should put our highest-quality transit where the most people can benefit from it.
  • Creates a simpler service pattern. If the 7 were extended along Henderson, the existing split service pattern of the 7 would have to continue, as the Prentice St loop alone does not connect enough destinations to form a viable route at sub-30-minute headways, unlike the proposed 7S.
  • Creates a more useful service on the south end of Rainier. South of Othello St, most of the factors that make the existing 7 horribly unreliable are absent. Even though riders on the south end of Rainier would suffer a loss of nominal frequency, the proposed 7S would be extremely reliable, and thus the frequency experienced by riders would probably be about the same.
  • Creates a vastly more useful service to Prentice St. Inbound trips to downtown would not be interrupted by a layover at the high school. Adding wire on Henderson would make things worse for Prentice St riders, as the bus would have to backtrack to and from RBS in order to reach its layover.
  • Allows for the abolition of Route 7X. Riders south of Othello would get a faster and more reliable trip to downtown simply by using Route 7S and transferring; Riders south of Graham St could backtrack on the shortened 7; as noted above, Riders north of Graham aren’t served by the 7X.
  • Matches service levels to ridership. Route 7 experiences its highest loads between Jackson St and Columbia City; loads are relatively low south of Othello St, so less frequency is required; the proposed 7S could probably be served by 40′ trolleybuses. I have stop-level data for Route 7, and I will publish it later this week, with more detailed discussion of ridership patterns on the current 7.
  • Is probably budget-neutral. A wire extension on Henderson will increase the run time of the 7 and thus increase costs. The proposal I’ve outlined here is almost certainly budget neutral, and may well save money, depending on the frequency and span of service chosen for the 7S.
  • Drives ridership on Central Link. There is no shortage of passenger capacity on Link; a Henderson extension of the 7 is unlikely to add many new riders, unlike this proposal.

So, what do riders in the Rainier Valley think of this idea?

* Even more interestingly, in an unpublished earlier iteration of the Fall 2012 service change proposal, Route 40 (from Alaska Junction, Morgan Junction and Georgetown) extended to Othello Station; it was cut back to Georgetown due to budget constraints. In addition to the proposed Route 50, the RV would then have had two connections to West Seattle. This would have been an a better route, and is worth pursuing in future.

55 Replies to “A Better 7”

  1. Nice ideas … don’t forget though … Metro hasn’t decided whether or not the 9 will continue to operate after the First Hill Streetcar starts running. It is conceivable that they’ll cancel it and have people connect to Link instead (most riders seem to be going to SCCC anyway)

    1. There are no changes planned to the all-day network as a result of the First Hill Streetcar entering service. I doubt the 9X is going anywhere for a while.

    2. That would be a terrible idea. Lots of people work in the hospitals who live in Rainier Valley, and the streetcar will not be an easy transfer. The 9 is a very useful and popular route, it just doesn’t run nearly often enough.

      1. trust me … I take it daily (although from First Hill to Capitol Hill and when I am not taking the 60) … my point was that it may change its route with the streetcar running down b’way

    3. Backtracking on the First Hill Streetcar, running with only 20-minute frequency, in general traffic, without signal priority, will not be an attractive alternative to the 9. If First Hill employees use Link to get to Capitol Hill Station, they’ll probably walk the rest of the way.

      There are also lots of neighborhoods and other businesses, as well as Seattle U, along the 9.

      1. The 60 offers better service to First Hill from Capitol Hill station than the 9.

        The streetcar is going to have 10 minute headways during the day.

  2. Nice ideas. I wonder if the new trolleys that are purchased would allow enough off-wire capability to cross MLK to use the same layover and turn-around as the 36 and 39? If so, this could also make it easier to electrify the 8 given the biggest problem would be having trolley wire cross the Link catenary.

    Also, if Route 124 is revised to serve Georgetown, would it make sense to combine Route 40 and 106 as one route that went from West Seattle to Renton? This might allow for a brief period of something greater than every 30 minutes on Route 40 since Route 106 has some 15-minute service levels.

    1. I plan to write about the idea of routing the 106 to West Seattle at some point — it’s a very good one.

      1. Rats! This used to be the single best option to get to downtown from Rainier Beach before Link was put in. The latest route isn’t as easy, so I guess finally connecting it with West SEatle may be a good idea.

      2. I rode the 106 once a few years ago to downtown from what is now Othello station. It was an awful ride – in spite of having a short jog on the freeway (since removed), it just took forever to get from Othello Street to the on-ramp, largely from stopping every couple hundred feet. The passengers were also extremely noisy as well – even though my destination was around Pike Place Market, I got off around Jackson Street and walked the rest of the way just to get away from that bus. And this was on a Saturday afternoon – on a weekday, I’m assuming it’s worse.

        Now that Link is available, I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind riding the 106 all the way from Ranier Beach to downtown. So turning it into a cross-town connection to West Seattle sounds like a good idea to me.

    2. Since the 106 has good service levels, why should the 124 be scoliated through Georgetown? Adding several minutes to the 124 will make it an even less desirable route for people trying to get to their jobs at Boeing.

      1. Moving the 124 was an oft-repeated suggestion during the run-up to the closure of the 16th Ave Bridge. The idea was that Airway needed decent service, and there was some push to not make the 131 go through Georgetown any more.

        I should have pointed out in these fora that the 106 provided this service, and that the 131 provided additional, but asynchronous service, so it really didn’t help.

        There is also the issue of serving Airway north of Lander (including the infamous meth clinic). I’ve asked Metro to look at where passengers actually get on or off in that stretch, and if it is really necessary for that stretch to have a bus route, given the river of frequency on 4th Ave S.

        If the 106 continues to head downtown, I would like it to stop closer to SODO Station.

  3. Bringing back the Rainier/Rose? The Valley has made it clear to Metro that they want the 7 to run all the way to Henderson. After years of turnbacks at Graham and Rose Streets, Metro finally gave the people what they wanted–a bus that goes all the way to Rainier Beach. Adding a transfer to get to Rainier Beach isn’t what the Valley wants.

    I agree that Othello needs more service east of MLK, but not from the 7. My suggestion was running the 8 on Othello (and I read your response to that idea.)

    Running the 39 to Othello Station looks good on paper, but if you spend any time in the south end, it’s pretty obvious that people aren’t riding that bus very much to Othello. How about turning the 39>50 onto Rainier at Othello Street and then running it up to the Prentice Loop. With 30 minute headways on the 39>50, the Prentice Loop would be appropriately served. During peak hours Metro could still offer a 39 Express with the route beginning at Prentice Street, running via Seward Park to downtown via Rainier Avenue and Dearborn.

    1. People don’t ride the 39 much to Othello because the 39 serves a pretty upscale walkshed well to the east of most of the people on Rainier who’d probably use that connection; it also serves it every 45 minutes at best, so most riders are better off walking.

      Frankly, your ideas about the 39 seem to make the route structure in the RV worse, rather than better. We need to create more (and more useful) Link connections, not more painfully-long parallel bus routes. You’d be running diesel buses under miles of trolley wire. I also don’t think having the 8 do a huge one-way loop on MLK-Henderson-Rainier-Othello really does much — I’m extremely skeptical of one-way loops to start with, and the layover required somewhere on the south end of the 8 will make it even less useful.

      I will admit that 15-minute headways probably over-serves Prentice St, but I’m willing to tolerate that to get a saner route structure in the south end.

      I was vaguely aware of the unpopularity of Rainier/Rose, but was that before Link? And was there a connecting service like this proposed 7S that would have provided a useful service to the south end? People complain now that they’d use the train more if it has better bus connections. Well, here it is.

      1. Rainier/Rose was several years ago. It never made sense to riders because it’s not a destination like Columbia City, it’s an arbitrary point. It made no sense to go almost to Rainier Beach but not quite.

  4. Ah, the poor 7 route. It used to layover at Prentice, then go all the way to the Udist. Then got cut in half in Seattle, then shortened to layover at Henderson, and now you’re proposing to cut it in half again. One more machete blow and it’s going to look like sausage, not a snake. I agree, the turnbacks at Rose were ‘baffling’ to the riders being ejected to continue their journey.
    Feeding Link at any cost isn’t the smartest choice for Metro to make on behalf of it’s loyal customers.

    1. I have family members who have lived in Rainier Valley and ridden the 7 and 39 for over 50 years. The 7 is a very frustrating bus route, it’s slow and prone to delays, but it moves a lot of people. Back in the 1960s it ran from Rainier Valley all the way to the north city limits. From downtown it covered what is now the 70 and from the U District it branched off to cover the routes that are now the 71, 72, 73. Everybody would like to see *A Better 7*, but coming up with The Better 7 is a daunting task.

      The current Valley service is very strange. There’s a ton of bus hours linking the Rainier Beach commercial loop with RBS (8, 9, 106, 107), but the problem is that there isn’t any activity at RBS, except the Link stop. The detached location of the station is a problem. I’d prefer to see Metro move service away from RBS and increase service to Othello station. Othello is a growing residential and commercial district and it gets good service coming from the west via the 36, but east of MLK on Othello there’s only one bus every 45 minutes (the 39). The 8 connects Othello with Rainier Beach, but it parallels LINK to RBS and then goes to Rainier Beach. It’s hard to understand why RBS gets so much bus service and Othello is left begging.

      1. Bus trips that serve a station are not a terribly useful metric. Comparing the two stations, toss out the 8 since it serves both, add up trips on the 36 and 39 serving Othello, and compare that to 106, 107, and 9 trips serving Henderson Station. At most times, Othello wins by a nose, thanks to the 36.

        Did you have certain destination pairings in mind that you’d like to see get a direct (or more frequent) ride to Othello Station?

      2. We seem to agree on premises (the 7 is unreliable, more service on Othello, less on Henderson) but I can’t see how the ideas you’re advocating serve your purpose. A large, interrupted, one-way loop serving Othello is a minimally-useful addition to that station’s service, and (I believe) you want to continue the 7 to Henderson, so more people have to use that less reliable service.

      3. Let me float these ideas:

        1) Run the 39>50 to Prentice Street: frequencies and span of service are a good match for ridership to Prentice, get over the fact that there are wires overhead.

        2) From Othello Station run the 8 east/west on Othello, N/S on Rainier to Henderson, then terminate at RB Station.

        3) Modify the 107 route slightly to serve the RB commercial area and RB Station, then extend it to Othello. This would provide 30 minute service on MLK between RB Station and Othello Station, but that likely matches ridership needs. If more service is needed on that segment the 8 could loop back to Othello.

      1. I’m siding with Zed on this one, MIke.

        Metro needs to stop worrying about shell-shocked “but-it’s-always-been-this-way”-ers and keep looking for ways to fundamentally improve service for all current and future users.

        Is there anyone who truly thinks the 7 was better when it crawled all the way from the U-District and Cap Hill? Is there anyone who thinks it’s the best possible arrangement now?

      2. I think there is a balancing point, but a different way to frame this discussion is to say a majority of Metro’s existing customers *don’t even use their service*. Focusing only on keeping your existing customers will only exacerbate that problem.

  5. Why wouldn’t you operate all #7s to Rainier Beach station and extend Route #8 to Prentice Street? It may be cheaper than the #7s, because you wouldn’t be creating a new route that would require an additional layover point, and it would provide direct bus service to an area the rail doesn’t serve while still providing a transfer to a much faster ride to downtown Seattle on the Link. I really don’t see how creating a new short route that requires at least one transfer to go anywhere useful improves transit service to that area. Rerouting buses to force people to use rail lines they don’t want to use is one of the reasons that Metro in L.A. has become unpopular in recent years.

    1. The 38 is a beautiful example of the futility of short routes. Are there any successful short routes in the system?

    2. Riders on Prentice St already have to transfer inbound to go anywhere other than Henderson; the same situation would exist if you extended the 8 to Prentice St, plus you’d be running a diesel bus under trolley wire — a huge waste. This proposal connects Prentice St riders to the commercial district at Othello and gives all riders south of Othello RV a faster and vastly more reliable ride to downtown.

      I can’t prove it definitively without far more time, effort and scheduling software, but I’m willing to bet that this change would be budget neutral. Metro would be running fewer buses per hour south of Othello (three or four vs six on Rainier Ave and two on Prentice St) but those buses would be better spaced, and thus more useful — for less money.

  6. I was hoping for more of an explanation as to why a layover by Rainier Beach Station wouldn’t work. All I see here is a presumption that the buses have to double back to perform the Prentice loop.

    Leaving the 9 off of the map undercuts the ability to sell this proposal (on which I’m not sold myself). Think of all the people along Rainier who just want to get to Rainier Beach High in the morning, and get home, without too much hassle, in the eveing. Checking the boundary between Rainier Beach and Franklin might help inform this discussion.

    I’ll submit that one of the mostly unspoken fears of transferring to a train is that riders who are used to getting cut slack on the bus for lack of funds don’t get cut such slack on the train. A few nights ago, a compassionate bus driver let a nonpayer on, and said “I don’t leave kids freezing in the cold.” I would have submitted a commendation for him, except that his act of compassion was a violation of Metro policy, and the kid tried to use a transfer with the wrong letter.

  7. The 40 was cut back from the wrong end due to budget constraints. It could have had its California Ave section (duplicative with the C line) eliminated to provide the hours to reach Othello Station (perhaps via Graham St instead of duplicating the über-frequent 36’s path).

    The eastern portion of Graham is well within the walkshed of the 7 and 8.

  8. I like some of the ideas on this proposal, and if it can be done to either keep service levels the same south of Othello I’m all for it. Next week in fact I’ll be house-sitting right next to the 7, and trying to get the eight blocks from my friends house to RBS isn’t that easy for the regular person, especially w/crappy weather. I’m fortunate I have my bike, but for seniors, etc its a PIA.

    RBS does seem to be turning back into a wasteland, to me this makes even more sense that a station should be put in at Boeing Field and I-5.

  9. The current 7x does serve riders north of Graham St. It stops on RAS at Orcas, Edmunds, Genesee, Andover, Forest, Walker and I-90. Plus a couple stops on Dearborn.

  10. …from a turnaround loop on the east side of Othello station…

    I know this isn’t the kind of detail into which your proposal delves, Bruce, but I think this needs to be stated from the outset:

    The turnaround must be designed so that arriving passengers can depart from a stop on the westbound side of Othello before the bus does any sort of looping or left-turning.

    It doesn’t matter if the train is running every 7.5 minutes. No one likes to see a train pull away while making a slow trolleybus maneuver that they didn’t need to be on the bus for. For a regular rider, this is going to happen a lot with a poorly-designed turnaround, and it is going to breed resentment.

    Other than that, it’s an excellent proposal as usual!

    1. (By “westbound side of Othello,” I mean heading west on Othello, but before reaching the intersection. Passengers should not have to cross to the west side of the intersection any more than they should have to pre-loop east of the station before getting to disembark.)

      1. The vast majority of people arriving at the Othello station on the 39 bus want to go northbound but the bus will only let you off on the West side of MLK (some drivers have it in their head that that is not a valid 39 stop and force people off down the hill from MLK) instead of on the east side of Othello.

      2. With the station in the middle of the street, it always makes more sense to be dropped off before the intersection rather than after any crossings, turns, loops, or shenanigans, regardless of which direction you’re planning to take the train.

  11. Interesting ideas! I haven’t read all the comments, so might be repeating something already written, but some quick observations:

    – The 7 Rainier Beach Station concept would include layover at the station
    – Prentice would need to be served some other way, possibly peak only, but not by Rt. 7
    – It follows that bullets 3, 5, and possibly 7 in the article don’t fully apply

    Also, there is (justifiably, I think) a view from some in the area that it would help ridership to be able to ride a southbound bus directly from anywhere along Rainier to a southbound Link train to head south to Sea-Tac and Federal Way.

    Overall, though, in my opinion, the SDOT transit plan concept and Bruce’s are pretty similar in their potential benefits. Operating cost would be a very important determining factor.

  12. Sounds good to me. Wouldn’t affect my ride much except perhaps by making the 7 more reliable. I walk to the 7 at 14th & Jackson when the 27 or the 14 aren’t coming for more than 10 minutes (with my schedule this happens most mornings). If the 7 also isn’t coming soon I walk another few blocks for the 36 and 1. I can’t imagine my commute without OneBusAway.

    So I assume the 7S would just be every other (or every third) 7, making a loop south before continuing?

    1. No, the 7S would be a distinct service, terminating and laying over near Othello Station and live looping at Prentice St. It would probably be 40′ coaches — ridership won’t require 60′ coaches.

      (One exception: Night Owl trips that operate after 2 AM, when Link doesn’t operate would probably be the same bus that served both segments.)

      1. Good. Then maybe you could coordinate the 7 and 7S to land at Rainier and Othello at the same time, and the current 7 tail riders will have almost identical service (with a transfer, but at least it’s a timed transfer).

      2. That would certainly be ideal, although with the unreliability of the 7, it would be hard to arrange in the southbound direction, at least during the daytime. In the evenings, when the routes might be less frequent but the reliability better, it should be doable.

  13. I’m a bit skeptical about the 7S route, primarily because it’s so short. There’s a general problem here that when riding a bus, there’s a minimum you have to travel in order for the bus to be worth waiting for. Nearly all of the 7S route is within a 1-mile walk of either Othello Station or Ranier Beach station (the exception is the southern tip, which is still within a couple blocks of the 106). These people could walk to the nearest Link station with a door-to-door travel time of about 20 minutes. Riding the 7S would entail about 10 minutes of riding + 10 minutes of waiting, plus a couple additional minutes to walk to the 7S bus stop, which would be no faster than simply walking the entire way. For people even closer to Link (within 1/2 mile), the usefulness of the 7S decreases yet again.

    In fact, about the only trip I can see where the 7S significantly beats walking is if you’re coming from the south end and your end destination is the Othello area itself vs. hopping on a Link train. But these riders would be just as well served under the current 7 routing. And, unlike the current routing, this proposal would completely screw over riders going from the south tail of the 7 to places a few blocks north of Othello, like Ranier and Graham Street.

    Even for trips to the airport, where suitcases can make walking difficult, the 7S still isn’t that useful because a taxi ride to the nearest Link station would be much faster and for such a short distance, the price is only about $5-7 each way. Given that most people only go to the airport at most once or twice a year, this is a very trivial cost and is still a huge bargain compared to driving to the airport and parking.

    1. Did you read the post?

      Are you personally acquainted with anyone over the age of 40, or who isn’t an athlete?

      I mean it.

      As comments divorced from reality go, this is up there with the one where you suggested people should ride their bikes up Marion in lieu of taking the 3.

  14. Although I’d prefer a more radical restructure, this is a significant improvement on the status quo. Connecting DT Columbia City with the Othello commercial district is a big win.

    Good work, Bruce.

    1. Downtown Columbia City to Othello is already easy–walk over to MLK and catch either the 8 or LINK.

  15. I used to live on the 1/9 subway in nyc and this reminds me so much of that same ride…I can’t help think about an all day 7X and a local version of the 7. Or even a skip-stop version of the 7…I know you can’t do that with trolleys, but still…

    1. Why can’t you do that with trolleys? Especially with the new ones? I’m not going to advocate for running a mountain of passing wire on Rainier (although that would be one answer) but with batteries…or am I missing something obvious here?

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