The VA Hospital

A particularly aggravating deviation for many 50 and 60 riders is the loop into the Veterans Administration Parking Lot. Although most riders presumably are not churlish about providing services to old or disabled veterans, Route 36 is equally close, a one-seat ride to the downtown transit hubs, more frequent, and wouldn’t require such a detour. Unfortunately, it doesn’t directly serve the hospital’s main entrance.

It isn’t for the most environmentally sustainable reasons, but relief is in sight. Lisa Mizumoto of the VA:

Due to construction of a 1000 car parking garage there will not be enough maneuver space, at the VA, for the 50 and 60 bus, so it will have to drop off at points along S. Columbian way. The 36 bus however, will continue to run down Beacon Ave S. where employees and Veterans will continue to have access to the South Entrance.

This is a VA approved and funded project that was designed to address our parking shortages. The project is expected to begin sometime between November 2013 and February 2014. Construction is expected last to between last 18-24 months.

Ms. Mizumoto confirmed in a followup email that the service change is temporary, until construction concludes. Regular through riders on these routes can only hope that the Route 36 solution proves to be satisfactory enough in the long run.

38 Replies to “The 50 and 60 Will Get a Little More Direct”

  1. I always thought is was a mistake for Link to skip the V. A. It seems like the biggest destination (by far) for that area. It would have probably added some cost (for additional tunneling) and maybe fewer stops, but I think overall ridership would be higher right now.

    1. Not sure. But apparently there’s federal money for a 1,000 car parking garage in the area.

      1. It is a darn shame they can’t find sufficient funds to take care of our veterans’ health care needs without long waiting lists for life-saving services. But that isn’t the fault of the VA, AFAIK. That is just the bipartisan lack of support for our troops. At least they get valet service for parking their cars.

      2. I think it is more just a big software systems engineering issue. Basically, the systems that handle military information are different than the ones that handle VA records. It sounds simple to integrate them, but they are very old, and very, very large. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and money to change systems like that. As appalling as the software snafu sounds (in this day and age) it is typical for systems this old and this large.

      3. Traditionally, solving the software problem simply requires building the server farm and other facilities in the right committee chair’s district. Or have earmarks now been outlawed?

        Doesn’t the President have the authority to sign an executive order, and make the software solution happen?

      4. The federal fiscal year ends at the end of Sept. All funds need to be allocated by then, and sometimes some part of your department realizes they won’t be able to spend all of their money in time (for example if a project is delayed and needs to be paid for with next year’s budget). Letting the funds expire in Oct not only means you lose these funds, but it’s harder to convince Congress that you need more money next year (hey, you didn’t spend everything we gave you last year). This generally turns into easy, off-the-shelf projects like parking lots that are funded in Aug or Sept.

        I don’t know that this is what happened here – maybe they really feel they need more parking (in fact they probably do feel this way – I doubt they’d build it just to build it). But this is a frequent reason for mid-size dumb projects in the government.

      5. @Brent — It’s not a lack of servers, it’s a lack of systems engineering. They are working on it, but projects of this nature take a long time. There are probably millions of lines of codes to work out. Medical insurance can be extremely complicated. Give me a weekend, and I could build Facebook. Give me a few hundred developers, testers, managers and medical experts and it would probably take me twice as long to solve that puzzle than the folks who are working on it. We are talking years, not months.

      6. My dad was an insurance broker. It really is complicated, and RossB is not far off. At least half the overhead could be eliminated by streamlining the tax code and restructuring the regulatory incentives, but we’re a long way from that. And of course, even if we did that, there would be a large conversion process.

        I’m reminded of what a Canadian told me, that their hospitals and doctors’ offices have one part-time billing person compared to our army of paper-pushers. And the main reason they have that person is to bill Americans who get sick in Canada.

      7. At least they get valet service for parking their cars.

        Funny you should mention that. As I was dropping off a passenger yesterday at the VA in my taxicab, I was just thinking about how, if you arrive by Metro bus, taxi, Access, get dropped off, or any other way; then there is a couple of hundred foot walk (uphill) to get to the front door. (And it always bothers me to drop anyone, especially disabled vets, on the curb so far from the door.)

        On the other hand, If someone drives there in their own car, they pull up right in front of the main entrance, where a platoon of valet parking technicians are there to park their cars in the lot. Cars rule there.

    2. Where are the next-nearest VA hospitals? It may be getting patients driving in from all over western Washington, where buses are not a feasable option.

  2. My wife used to work at the V. A. The parking lot was always really crowded. Part of the problem is that they reserve sections for veterans, as well as some doctors, etc. Anyway, 1,000 spots may be too many, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it fills up. Then again, as they expand, they might eat into those parking spots The funny thing is, it wasn’t too long ago that they expected the V. A. to really contract, as the WWII vets died off. Not anymore; fighting two very long wars does a lot to create demand for V. A. services.

  3. Am I the only one who sees the irony in people asking why they need such a big parking garage at the same time they are taking bus service away from the complex?

    1. This is a very Will Douglasian definition of “taking bus service away.”

      It will continue to stop at the foot of the hospital driveway.

      1. Apparently you have created a monolithic STB beast in your head, containing all the opinions of anyone who ever posts or comments here. Believe it or not, there are multiple people who participate.

        Personally, I wouldn’t have the 545 deviate into OTC; I would straighten RR B to avoid the 152nd/Overlake P&R deviation; and I would take the 50 and 60 out of the VA. Other people (who are different people!) may have different opinions. Metro makes its standard clear in the Service Guidelines, although it hasn’t yet changed every legacy deviation to conform with that relatively new standard.

      2. Because the 36 goes there. If there’s really a strong ridership on the 50 and 60 starting or ending at the VA, then they should probably find a way to keep going there. But if we’re just serving the VA because it’s evil to make people with limited mobility walk a long way, well there’s still the 36.

      3. I’ve never been on the 50 or the 60, but I have been on my share of circuitous bus routes. They’re no fun. But they usually exist for a reason, and resolving it requires something more thoughtful than just saying “hah, screw you, we’re straightening the line!”

        In this case a big part of the problem is poor design. The VA hospital is designed for cars. Long driveway, lots of parking, a main entrance well off of the main street. That makes good bus service a real challenge. We should find a solution that is something other than telling people to just go up the driveway (and there may be an ADA rule or other federal rule regarding this issue).

        Instead the federal solution appears to be a huge new parking garage. That’s unhelpful. But what if they did something that was helpful? A long, covered, level walkway or moving sidewalk from Columbian to the building, for example? Reorient the main entrance to be closer to the street? Those costs would likely be lower than a 1000-space garage. And for those who use “funding is hard” as a reason to never try and think creatively or work to make things better, keep in mind that they have found the money to build this huge garage.

        A deviation up a driveway to a front door is fine for a time as long as some better solution that meets everyone’s needs is under development. Most people are willing to put up with it because they understand that you don’t just want to dump someone on a sidewalk and make them walk the rest of the way to a hospital. But neither does that have to be a permanent situation.

        As to the question of circuitous routes more broadly, they are almost always a sign that a building or destination is designed for cars and not for people/transit, or that we are asking a single route to accomplish too much. There’s always a solution that doesn’t require us to simply cut people off from service, but it often requires more buses, more routes, and more money. Those things are easier to achieve than people here seem to believe.

      4. Will, I agree with you that better pedestrian facilities would go a long way to reducing the need for the enormously slow and time-consuming VA deviation on the 50 and 60. But I think there is a better opportunity to install those facilities on the east side of the hospital, where Route 36 stops on Beacon Ave S. Unlike the driveway, the area near the Route 36 stops is flat, pedestrian-friendly, and easy to cross. Route 36 directly serves downtown (for now); has an excellent transfer to Link very close by (better than the one from route 50 in Sodo); and runs much more often than either route 50 or route 60.

        The route 50 deviation can add 5 minutes to a trip. The route 60 deviation can add 7 minutes, especially southbound. That’s solidly enough to turn “this trip is a bit slow, but I can put up with it” into “Screw it, I’m driving my car.” By contrast, the 36 doesn’t deviate at all.

      5. If people who insist that money is free would focus their efforts on winning capital improvements that improve connectivity while streamlining service, rather than suggesting we pour more money into overlapping, windy and duplicative routes, I’d probably take what they say more seriously.

      6. > Personally, I wouldn’t have the 545 deviate into OTC

        The thing that kills me about the 545’s two major deviations is that both of them would be unnecessary with a very small amount of capital spending. We need to double the size of the westbound 40th St freeway platform, and we need to build an Olive Way freeway station. Both of those would probably pay for themselves within a year. But without them, killing the deviations (especially the afternoon one) is probably operationally infeasible.

      7. What exactly is wrong with the Beacon entrance off the 36 to begin with that necessitates a deviation of the 50 and 60? Is it closed part of the day? Is it not Ada-accessible?

      8. @Will,

        Removing a deviation means that someone is losing service. In order to stop this, we should demand that once a route is scheduled to take 30 minutes (for example), we should demand that it never be sped up to take only 25 minutes. Maintaining all service in perpetuity means we have to maintain all inefficiencies in perpetuity.


        The VA is a large multi-building campus, with many “front doors”. We’ve created an expectation of one-seat rides from downtown to two front-door clusters on opposite ends of the campus (but recently eliminated a one-seat ride to one of those clusters). To remove any service, once implemented, is a violation of Will’s FIrst Law of Bus Routes. There is no Will’s Second Law of Bus Routes, since Will’s Third Law of Bus Routes is that funding increases.

      9. @Aleks –

        Actually, to remove the 545 deviation into the OTC, you’ll also need to build an easier way of getting across 520. Microsoft runs frequent shuttles from any number of buildings – to the OTC. As it is, you can now walk across the platform to the 545 into Seattle. To get to the westbound freeway stop, however, you need to head north along a non-intuitively-marked path pouring out onto the 40th Street sidewalk and cross two freeway ramps. So, to make all this doable, you’d either need to redirect the Microsoft shuttle service (there isn’t even a dropoff bay at the westbound freeway stop now) or, more likely, build a pedestrian bridge. IIRC, such a bridge is funded in connection with East Link, so who knows when it’ll actually be built. (I’m planning to show up at the next East Link open house, so if I remember, I’ll ask them then.)

      10. @William: “To get to the westbound freeway stop, however, you need to head north along a non-intuitively-marked path pouring out onto the 40th Street sidewalk and cross two freeway ramps.”

        You mean like legions of people do each morning when they park at OTC and walk across 520 to take the westbound 545, 542, 268, or 232? Making the westbound freeway stop larger would, I think, remove most of the need for the deviation into the OTC. Besides, if it’s that bad of a walk, why doesn’t the westbound in the morning also swing in there?

      11. @lakecityrider – Fair enough; I’ve never been at OTC in the morning, though I’d imagine the crowds are orders of magnitude smaller then than in the afternoon. I’d still like the pedestrian bridge to get built today rather than waiting for East Link, though.

      12. William C, in case you didn’t know, there’s a Bel-Red focused East Link open house on Sept. 10 @ Highland Community Center.

      13. Some other arguments for getting rid of the OTC deviation:

        1) Ten years ago, when the OTC deviation began, nearly all the Microsoft buildings were east of 520. Since then, Microsoft has done a bunch of expansion west of 520. The majority of the jobs are still east of the freeway, but it’s no longer as lopsided as it used to be.

        2) A pedestrian bridge connecting OTC to the westbound freeway station would not only be about access to the freeway station. It would get a great deal of use simply by employees walking from building to building for meetings during the day. It might even be useful enough for building-to-building mobility within Microsoft that Microsoft would be willing to pay a huge portion of the cost.

        3) There is plenty of room to make the freeway station bigger. Behind the freeway station, you have the 520 trail, followed by some landscaping. You could easily get rid of some of the landscaping to move the 520 trail around, providing more room for the platform.

        3) The bus is actually slow enough getting between the OTC stop and the freeway stop that it is possible to run to the freeway stop and catch a 545 bus that you just missed at the OTC stop. And the only reason you even have to run is to beat lights with long cycles so you’re not sitting there waiting for the light to change while the bus passes you.

        4) The freeway station is shared with the 542, enabling people headed to Montlake or Capitol Hill to take whatever comes first.

        5) The way the 545 typically fills, if you get on the bus at the OTC stop, you can most of the time get a seat, but if you get on the bus at the freeway stop, you will usually be standing. When you’re talking about a trip that’s 30-45 minutes minimum in traffic, getting a seat is a big deal. Enough of a big deal to induce some people who work west of the freeway to actually walk further to catch the bus at the OTC stop.

        The two-stop pattern also makes things somewhat complicated for people with bikes. The OTC stop puts you ahead in line over everyone at the freeway stop for a slot on the bike rack on the 545, but at the price of preventing you from taking the 542 if it comes first or if all three rack slots on the 545 are already filled before the 545 reaches OTC. Ultimately, it comes down to a big guessing game as to whether the 542 or 545 will be more likely to have an open slot on the rack. With one stop, it would be a straight first-come-first-serve which would eliminate these shenanigans.

        6) A service road actually exists just west of the freeway stop where Microsoft shuttles could, but currently don’t, drop people off. The walking distance between these two points is currently about 100 feet, but it could easily be cut in half simply cutting a whole in the fence between the station and the 520 trail and adding a ramp of stairway to bridge a vertical gap of about 4 feet.

  4. I’m betting the 60 will not stop on Columbian, even on weekdays, once the deviation into the parking lot goes away. That sharp right hook onto S Snoqualmie St is no fun. I was in a bus that had to do that once. I can see the 60 doing a V-shaped deviation northbound, but southbound would probably have to be a loop-de-loop. But really, passengers going to/from the VA have made it from/to the stops on 15th Ave S on weekends since the dawn of time.

    Any lost ridership will come from the daredevils who get off on 15th before the 60 goes into the VA, shop at McPherson’s, and are there waiting at the next stop south on 15th when the bus comes out again.

    We have good ridership data for the 60 from before the South Park Bridge was closed. If the ridership once the new bridge opens is much better during the time without the deviation, then don’t the service guidelines dictate that the straight path that produces higher ridership wins? (Though, to play devil’s advocate here, I suppose the same argument could be used regarding higher ridership if the buses didn’t accomodate wheelchairs, or the free-tickets-for-homeless program went away.)

    1. The service guidelines for deviation already suggest, and have suggested for years, that the 60 shouldn’t deviate. Of course, it said that for the 16, too, but it took Metro how many years of having buses sit in Mercer traffic to get them to fix the Seattle Center deviation?

      1. The 16 will likely be permanent. Once all the Mercer construction is done, that part of Aurora will be a normal city street, and the grid will be continuous south of Republican. Even the people who like the deviation don’t think it should come back after 2016.

  5. How much money is everyone willing to wager about whether the 50 and 60 will go back to deviating into the VA front door when the construction is complete?

    1. If ridership improves on each line, I bet the deviation never returns. But I’m not willing to wager money on it.

      1. The sad thing is all the people that tried the 50 or 60 once, realized how slow the VA detour was, and vowed to never use the bus again, won’t even know that the detour is gone, since they aren’t riding. Eventually, people will learn, but it takes a long time.

        Even last week, I observed a passenger on the 542 who thought he actually needed to get off at Montlake and transfer to the 545 to reach Redmond. Fortunately for him, the driver figured out where he was trying to go and told him he could stay on the bus instead.

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