Route 545’s Detour in Capitol Hill

Every now and then there is a simple fix to an existing inefficiency that improves transit access, decreases travel time, and costs very little.  Such an opportunity exists at the Olive Way/Melrose Ave on-ramp to northbound I-5.

In a well-known story, in 2005 Anirudh Sahni successfully lobbied for a morning-only Capitol Hill stop for Sound Transit Route 545 at Bellevue/Olive, sparing mostly Microsoft commuters living on the Hill an unpleasant walk over I-5 to Olive/Terry.  (In the afternoons, however, Route 545 commuters still have a longer and even more unpleasant walk back up the hill from Denny/Stewart or 9th/Stewart.)

Made by 30 AM trips,  the Bellevue/Olive deviation requires 5 turns in ½ a mile – 3 of which are signalized left turns (from Boren to Pine, Pine to Bellevue, and Bellevue to Olive) – adding a minimum of 5 minutes to each AM trip.  Simply adding a stop at Melrose/Olive/I-5, a mere shift of about 750 feet, would save 2-3 hours of cumulative delay every day on the 545.

But the benefits of this stop would extend well beyond just the 545.  At the cost of perhaps 30 seconds per trip, and without changing any routing at all, the stop could be also served by:

  • U-District and Northgate express routes in the AM peak (41,71,72,73,205)
  • All SR-520 PM peak routes (250,252,257,260,265,268,311,424)
  • All outbound trips on the 255 and 545
  • All off-peak northbound trips to Lynnwood (511) and Everett (510)

In all, over 350 daily trips could serve the stop.  Just as one example, UW students living in the Summit Slope/Olive Way corridors – many of whom likely take the much slower 43/49 to the UDistrict rather than walk/bus to Convention Place – could see their travel times halved.

Olive/Melrose/I-5, Photo by the Author

Sound Transit included this idea as a service change concept in their 2010 SIP (Service Implementation Plan), but calls and emails to Sound Transit and Metro staff indicated that there are no current plans to add the stop.   Even more, the intersection has recently received a pedestrian safety upgrade (see photo above), and all that is needed now is a shelter and signage.

If you live on Capitol Hill, would you like to be able to get to Northgate, the UDistrict, Kirkland, Redmond, Everett, Lynnwood, etc much more quickly and without walking across Boren and I-5?  Equipping dense neighborhoods with regional mobility is a central mandate of our agencies, and to me this stop seems to be very low-hanging fruit.  How can we get it done?

32 Replies to “Olive Way Freeway Station?”

    1. I live in the CBD of Seattle, and take the 545 every morning to the eastside. Realizing that the Bellevue stop serves many Capitol Hill riders, one tolerates the otherwise non-sensical 5 minute detour to serve this stop. But, that’s 5 minutes daily that I’d dearly love to get back. Generally one day a week, I take the route mid-day, which doesn’t take the detour, and love how direct-to-freeway the route becomes. This proposal appears to be an excellent compromise. Please, ST, make this so.

    2. Yet another benefit of this is for people getting on the 545 later along the route, like myself. If we could get rid of the detour, the 545 would experience less bunching, which directly translates into less waiting at the bus stop and less squeezing into an already-overcrowded bus.

      This seems like an absolute no brainer. We should have done this back in 2005.

  1. I live on Capitol Hill and I want. this. now. I picked my apartment specifically so I would be within a 5 minute walk of the convention place station so I could get to the 255 easily and this would really expand this area, especially to the north. I already get off the bus at Stewart and Denny and this stop would be a good compliment.

    I would also add that SDOT/WSDOT really should add a crossing at the northern corner of Olive and Minor. Anyone that stands out there in the evening will see there is lots of demand for a safe crossing and it could be accommodate by simply starting the HOV on ramp lane 50-100 ft north and adding a two lane crosswalk. The HOV lane is unnecessarily since the ramp meter has/will never be used and traffic rarely backs up to this point.

    1. And, it would be perfectly fine to eliminate the HOV lane in favour of a transit lane. Few would be terribly inconvenienced (perhaps 10-30 seconds) while many would be better served.

  2. Seems like an easy fix. The buses would be blocking the crosswalk during the stop. Does that violate any laws or policies? They’d probably also need to switch the two onramp lanes so the bus was in the carpool one and other traffic could get through while the buses were stopped.

  3. yes!!! anytime i visit my grandmother in overlake, i walk from thomas/summit, wait (sometimes for quite some time) until someone stops for me at this crosswalk, and invariably i’m passed by the bus i’m trying to catch just before i get to boren or so. i swear i can hear it taunting me sometimes.

  4. Could STB please agree on what is an acceptable distance to walk, and what isn’t, and then stick with it? In a Light Rail Excuse of the Week post, a half mile walk from the the light rail station to the Rainier Beach Art Walk was a perfectly reasonable walk, but now just a quarter mile walk over Boren and I-5 to the CPS is too far?

    1. No-one is suggesting that’s too far. Zach is suggesting that you can get more riders for very little money or effort.

    2. There’s also a superseding factor – regardless of distance, walking over I-5 is generally considered a barrier to ridership (among just about anything else – when was the last time you enjoyed walking over an 8 lane freeway?

      1. I actually kind of like it on Pine and Madison, but I’m weird that way. 45th or 50th, not so much. Madison in particular has very wide sidewalks, which may be part of it, but sometimes I like watching the flow of I-5 through downtown and the shape of a freeway most people don’t see when they’re driving along it.

      2. Every time I walk over 8 of the 16 lanes of the Dan Ryan (I-90/94) after getting off the red line I smile, But, I’m kind of generally an infrastructure geek, and I like seeing things go fast. I’ve always loved walking over and looking down at I-5 when I’m home in Seattle, its a thing of beauty to me. the same way the Northside Main Line is(4 lanes of city-trains)

    3. There’s also a difference between walking half a mile to attend a one-off event and walking that same half mile every single day to catch a bus. Many people do it anyway cause it’s not a huge deal, but if you can cut several minutes off peoples’ trip at almost no expense, why wouldn’t you? Also, it’s generally annoying to walk to a bus stop in the opposite direction of the bus’s route. You can just FEEL your time being wasted.

  5. Isn’t that on ramp 2 lanes–one HOV and one GP? HOV on the left, GP on the right? So GP motorists, whom generally have zero respect for buses, will swerve in to the HOV lane because they can’t wait 10 seconds?

    I use a few of those Metro routes, though generally not in that direction in the AM peak, and while I would find it annoying if I’m on the bus, it usually won’t make any difference to me. So I neither support nor oppose it.

  6. I fear that because it is such a great idea, Metro probably won’t do it. At least that is the lesson I have learned since moving here two years ago.

    Prove me wrong Metro, prove me wrong.

  7. As is often true with transit, the devil is in the details.

    Buses would have to use the general-purpose lane, rather than the HOV lane. If there were traffic in the general-purpose lane (which is rare, but does happen), they would have to wait in it. Then after completing the stop they would have to move over to the HOV lane, which would be unsafe because they are directly in front of a blind corner.

    This could all be solved relatively cheaply by reconfiguring the onramp a bit to move the GP lane to the east and build an island for buses in the HOV lane to stop, but it’s harder than just plonking down a stop sign.

    1. Or, simply swap GP and HOV lanes for the on ramp. The HOV lane only exists for the brief extent of this on ramp, it doesn’t interconnect with a HOV lane elsewhere.

      1. The trouble with that is that then the HOV lane and the GP lane coming from the east have to cross each other.

  8. I’ve heard of this idea and I love it. One side benefit may be the restructuring of stops for the 14(soon to be 47) and 43 along Bellevue and Olive. The joint stop with the 545 is horribly close to the stop at the NE corner of Bellevue and Pine. Maybe we can trade one for the other? :-)

  9. Another pertinent point of observation: The short section of Bellevue Ave on this detour is almost completely fronted by multifamily residential buildings. There must be several dozens of units directly facing Bellevue Ave on its 2 blocks of this route. I’d expect that all or nearly all of their residents would be over-joyed to trade a slightly longer, one block walk to a bus stop for eliminating those 30 early-morning passings of the supersize 545 bus down their residential street.

  10. I live kitty-corner from City Market and every morning I walk down to Convention Place Station. It takes me about seven minutes to walk there, and about 15 minutes to bus to the U District. A stop here would reduce my travel times significantly, and it seems like such an obvious choice. Why not?

  11. I have long thought this would be a great improvement. Probably it will be realized just before Northlink opens.

  12. With Rt 47 not serving anything south of Pike St, I would definitely ride a SR-520 bus from S Jackson St (where I work at least part of the time) to this new stop and walk the rest of the way home up on Bellevue Av. During the summer, I have been doing the same thing, getting off at Olive & Terry. Easier than a 2-seat ride for me.

  13. I thought this was approved and funded

    Seems like the operating cost savings on the 545 alone would justify it

  14. Small detail — that left turn from Olive to Melrose is currently illegal, you have to go up to Melrose Place and then drop back down to Melrose — its a relatively tight turn for my VW Jetta — an articulated wouldn’t make it. Of course, a left protected left turn signal COULD be installed — I wouldn’t find that objectionable at all!

    Otherwise — for what its worth — got my vote.

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