Future Trolleybus Layover at MLK & Henderson
Future Trolleybus Layover at MLK & Henderson

Since the opening of Central Link in 2009, the process of restructuring the Rainier Valley’s bus service to feed the rail spine has advanced in fits and starts. With money from the 2006 passage of Transit Now, Metro extended Route 36 from Beacon Ave to Othello Station, connecting south Beacon Hill, and likewise Route 14 was extended to Mount Baker Station, connecting the Mount Baker neighborhood. Subsequent restructures eliminated the downtown-oriented Routes 34X and 39 in favor of a faster two-seat ride on the (unfortunately still-too-infrequent) Route 50. The notorious Route 42 finally croaked last February.

Despite this progress, one crucial loose end has remained: Route 7, the Rainier Valley’s core bus route, retains its pre-Link terminal loop in Rainier Beach, along with a complex turnback schedule whereby every third outbound bus continues on to the Prentice Street loop before returning to the layover on Henderson. This service pattern means the 7 can do nothing for riders heading south on Link, and the almost-useless Prentice St service pattern unsurprisingly attracts little use. A couple of years ago, I wrote (to mixed reviews) about one possibility to restructure this area, namely splitting the 7 and and connecting the two parts at Othello.

The recent failure of Prop 1 has brought about the next wave of changes in the Rainier Valley, which are a mixed bag. Several core routes are suffering frequency cuts in the midday and evenings, and loss of late-night service, all of which is very, very bad news. The redundant and underperforming Route 7X is being axed; that should have happened in 2009. One major, positive change is splitting Route 8 and combining the section south of Yesler with Route 106; this is very, very good for Renton, Skyway, and the Rainier Valley, although bad for a smaller number of riders in the Central District. The 7’s Prentice St loop will be cut back to a few trips in the peak, which is also bad.

More after the jump.

Map of Rainier Beach 7 Extension to Link
Possible trolley wire extension and restructure. Map by Oran.

Into this mix of mostly-positive structural evolution comes SDOT, with a plan to fix the last loose end in the Rainier Valley. As part of the Rainier Beach Transit Center Project, SDOT is studying an extension of Route 7’s trolley overhead to the Rainier Beach station. The proposed extension would run west from Rainier & Henderson, turn right at MLK, and then loop around using a new private roadway and layover facility, to be built in the City Light powerline right-of-way, between Trenton and Henderson. The study is funded to conceptual design by a state grant, but no funding for construction currently exists.

This project is actually a resumption of a Metro-funded effort (of the same vintage as the 14 and 36 extensions) that never made it to construction due to the collapse of sales-tax-revenue during the recession. Much of the design work from that project can be reused. While the resulting service pattern is still formally being studied, there’s really only one possibility that stands out: terminating the 7 at this new layover, and adding a Prentice St shuttle to serve that tail. Somewhat like today’s Route 47 on Capitol Hill, this route would only require a single 40′ coach to provide half-hourly service, making it cheap to operate.

This combination of shortened-7-plus-shuttle would probably be operationally cost-neutral compared to today’s service, but the failure of Prop 1 and subsequent uncertainty around funding makes matters a little more complex. By the time Metro’s rounds of cuts are complete, the Prentice St loop will have been cut back to a few trips in the AM and PM peaks. Without more funding, it might only be possible to run the shuttle in the peaks. Even if the city passes a revenue package of its own, it seems likely that most of the money would go (as it should) to restore frequencies on high-ridership routes; the Prentice St shuttle may be further down the list than the money can trickle.

As with almost all SDOT bus projects, my only complaint is that there aren’t more of them, with more funding, happening faster. Just like the new Denny trolleybus wire, this project enhances the structure and utility of Seattle’s route network, at no operational cost, minor capital cost, and minimal controversy or construction risk. I particularly like how this project uses an otherwise-unusable area, underneath a powerline, to benefit the riding public. Along with adding trolleybus wire to Yesler and 23rd Ave, these are the kind of transit projects I’d like to see funded, or at least provided with local match funding, in the next renewal of the Bridging the Gap levy.

44 Replies to “Connecting Rainier Beach to its Station”

  1. Couple of ancillary thoughts jump out: I take it that these sorts of things are allowed to be built in the SDOT ROW? Reading their easement use forms for another reason makes me wonder, though I’m sure Metro has better strings to pull than Joe Average Citizen. Also, why make a new route 46 on a tail that’s already underperforming and underused? Given how derided the 47 and 42 are/have been, why pattern a new route after them? (Though I seem to be in the minority since I, for one, will miss both the 47 and the 8N.) Could we at least give it a number in another spot on the list, just to possibly improve its odds? :)

    1. You could just use mini-buses on the 46 if the ridership is not their. They are a great investment for routes that don’t require 60′ or 40′ buses which would most likely be the 46.

    2. Unlike the 42, the 7 Prentice St Loop does at least serve a somewhat-unique coverage area. A shuttle would also attract more riders than the current service as it would actually go somewhere useful in both directions, whereas the current extended-7 service is usable only to travel south.

      But yes, if I were starting from scratch, I’d probably serve that part of town by realigning the 107 or just not have a bus there at all.

  2. When has the 47 ever been derided? The ridership is good and it serves a unique, dense area that wouldn’t otherwise be served.

    1. There’s a lot of criticism of the 47 out there, not least from Metro (which expects to delete it entirely this September). But if the 43 disappears after UW Link opens (which it should), the 47 or something like it will play a much more important role. I agree with you that the area — the densest residential area in Seattle — needs and will use service, but the current 47 alignment is limiting. It’s just difficult to design a better one because of the layout of the road network there.

      1. Given the demand that Amazon puts on the 8, maybe the 47 could be saved by dieselizing it and running it down Lakeview to serve Fairview/Mercer.

      2. I like a potential U-shaped coverage route that does that on the north end, serves Capitol Hill Station, and replaces only the Summit part of the 43 on the south end. But to make that happen you would need some physical upgrades to Belmont and Roy to allow those streets to handle buses.

    2. I would delete the 168 any day before the 47. In fact, I’d delete a lot routes before ever considering it.

  3. There’s also another very inefficient bus route in the RB area–the 107. One possible way to both improve the 107 and connect the Prentice loop to RBS would be to change the 107 route as follows:
    + from Renton TC the new 107 would follow its existing route through West Hills to Renton Avenue
    + instead of crossing Renton Ave. to serve Rainier View, the 107 would stay on Renton Avenue until Prentice Street
    + then follow the Prentice loop to RBS (via Henderson)
    + do the Henderson-MLK-Trenton-Renton Ave loop
    + outbound to Rainier View (the western part of the current 107) until it crosses Renton Ave again
    + direct route back to Renton TC via the 106 routing (skipping West Hills)

    This plan would likely keep the 106 at 30 minute headways between Renton TC and RBS, but most of the Seattle section could run at 15 minute headways (with a turnback at Rainier Beach).

    1. Good Thinking! Metro needs more of this, along with Bruce’s spot on commentary on the 7.
      I’d like to add extra layover spaces in the initial planning for Alex’s S.End restructure that let’s the South truncate routes like the 101 and 150 at Henderson also. She convinced me back then the transfer actually saved time for most riders. Her grid for the South make complete sense with better OD pairs and reliance on the trunk network AND was revenue neutral or might save some money.
      The Metro cut proposal should incorporate many of the well thought out plans presented on STB in the last year.
      More of it!

      1. +1!

        Let’s plan for adequate layover space for all the routes that might terminate at RBS. And make sure the bike path is part of the study, if it isn’t already.

        One question for mic: Why are so many commuters parking at S. Renton P&R instead of Tukwila Sounder Station? Is the 101 really that much more convenient? Or is there just no parking at TSS?

      2. My guess is that people prefer the 101 because it runs all day, whereas the Sounder is peak only, peak direction.
        Also, the S.Renton PR is a quicker intercept for most riders rather than slugging it out to get to Tukwila PR.

    2. I think Rainier View, which has a decent number of riders, needs better service than a one-way loop requiring either a double transfer or a very long ride to go downtown.

      I would keep the 107 as is and use the Prentice Street tail to connect with another coverage route if possible.

      1. Here’s an alternate idea for the 106/107, which both go between Renton TC and Rainier/Henderson.
        The 106 is pretty direct on Renton Ave, taking about 25 min, with 15min Pk/30min mid day service.
        The 107 tries to do too much on either side of the 106, taking 35 min, with 20/30min headways.
        Let them both alternate departures from Renton every 15 min, with the 106 doing the North half deviations through the burbs (Rainier Vista), and the 107 do the Lakeridge neighborhood on the south half, then direct RB-LRT Stn via Renton on the north half.
        Both would take 30 min, keeping the trip equal for either route, and therefore no preference for someone going the distance.
        This avoids the 107 wandering all over the place picking up scraps for riders, and saves a few bus hours along the way for both routes combined headways.

  4. A couple of other comments about Rainier Beach service…

    Would ridership along the Prentice loop improve with a direct connection to Link? The Prentice loop neighborhood was very active and organized in the Prop 1 campaign, but ridership is still pretty weak on most 7 RAINIER/PRENTICE runs. But it’s easy to see why Prentice riders don’t take the bus–existing service from the Prentice loop to downtown requires a transfer in RB (resulting in a total trip time of 45 minutes or more). Prentice riders could transfer at Henderson (or make a long walk) to Link; but, again, trip time would be 45+ minutes and require 2 transfers.

    Rainier Valley is also scheduled to lose most 9X service which will make the 7 much more crowded, slower and less appealing than it already is. Metro’s statistics show that the 9X provides over 40 rides per platform hour which is a lot of riders that will have to be absorbed by the 7.

    1. Well, the smart way to axe the 9X would be to do so while improving the 7 with increased frequency, low-floor trolleybuses, signal priority, a stop diet, and this extension to RBS, but life has dealt us the hand it has, so we’re just going to have make it work with only the stop diet and signal priority.

      1. If/when the trolley wire is installed on Yesler, I’d like Metro to look at the idea of moving the 7 to Yesler also. I don’t know if the benefit/cost analysis (and Rainier Valley residents) would support the move; but if the 7 ran on Yesler to 14th Avenue (following the streetcar routing between Broadway/Yesler and 14th/Jackson), the time-savings would be significant. Jackson St. would still have plenty of bus service and 7 riders who are heading directly to Jackson St. would have an easy transfer.

      2. I’d rather look at a 48S+7 23rd+Rainier RapidRide trolleybus route, then run a short-turn 7 from Mount Baker downtown via either Jackson or Yesler.

  5. I wanted to see if the RB residents themselves think that the route 7 not terminating at the Link station is a problem that needs to be fixed, and I couldn’t find any complaints coming from that community after doing a search. If the people who live there don’t think it’s a problem, is it really a problem?

    1. Did you search in Tagalog, Vietnamese, Spanish, Khmer and several East African languages? If not, that might explain your lack of results.

      1. Guy, all I want to know is if the RB community thinks this is a problem or not. If they do, there must be evidence of it. I’m not a “we know what’s best for you” type of person, that’s all. No need for sarcasm.

    2. In fact, this idea originally arose from a Rainier Beach neighborhood planning process done by DPD.

    3. I think it’s a problem, but you didn’t ask me. How’d you conduct your search? When did it happen?

      I don’t think Guy was being sarcastic, and if so, it’s still a valid point.

      1. Yeah, I think Guy was pointing out the mix of languages spoken as first languages in the area.

  6. Why not shake things up a bit further …

    – truncate route 7 at Mount Baker Station
    – use the savings to add frequency to every 7-10 minutes all day every day on Route 7
    – use the savings to add Link frequency between Rainier Beach and Westlake
    – increase service on Route 9 to provide connectivity to Mount Baker
    – add signal priority and other improvements to Rainier Ave.

    A lot of change for sure … but it’s time to make hard cuts and leverage the investment we’ve made in link. Running duplicative buses in the same corridor all the way downtown doesn’t make sense in light of the cuts that are on their way.

    1. – truncate route 7 at Mount Baker Station

      Layover would be hard to find. A structurally and operationally superior alignment would be to combine the 48S with the south end of the 7.

      – use the savings to add frequency to every 7-10 minutes all day every day on Route 7

      Yup, a high-frequency 48S+7 would almost certainly be cheaper to operate than the current 48+7.

      – use the savings to add Link frequency between Rainier Beach and Westlake

      There probably isn’t that much savings to be had, and there are a raft of practical and political difficulties upping Link frequencies.

      – increase service on Route 9 to provide connectivity to Mount Baker

      Again, there’s probably not enough money to do that too, and the off-peak 9 doesn’t perform that well.

      – add signal priority and other improvements to Rainier Ave.

      Already happening. SDOT has a state grant to do stop consolidation, bus bulbs, signal priority, pedestrian improvements and real-time arrival signs on Rainier. Much of that work is already done.

      1. “A structurally and operationally superior alignment would be to combine the 48S with the south end of the 7.”

        You’d want to put overhead trolley wire straight down 23rd. And reroute the #4 that way, eliminating the Judkins Park detour. Of course, this should be done anyway.

  7. It certainly seems that linking Route 7 better to Link improves regional accessibility for most of the corridor because Rainier Avenue isn’t very close to Link through much of SE Seattle. However, service planning in a neighborhood should also involve input from those most directly affected. I’d give some value to what comes out of neighborhood discussions because there are important community-serving locations like grocery stores in the area..

    There is one urban design issue that needs to be discussed with this: The design of the actual transfer facility. There is nothing more disconcerting to a potentially vulnerable rider than waiting for a bus in what appears to be an “unwatched” location. Any strategy to put more eyes on the bus stop would probably be really appreciated. Consider the uneasy feeling many get waiting for a bus at the well-lighted but seemingly unwatched Mt. Baker Transit Center to see what I mean. How a stop relates to windows and entry doors to/from a nearby business or community facility is important.

    1. As I noted above, this idea arose from a neighborhood planning process.

      One of the major problems with Rainier Beach, like Mount Baker, is that it’s in a rough part of town with little non-illegal street activity after dark. The only way to fix that is for the neighborhood to redevelop, and there’s no way to do that with transit money.

      Rainier Beach has a further disadvantage compared to other Link stations, namely the powerline corridor through the middle of it, which will prevent redevelopment of much of the station walkshed, and make redevelopment harder in the rest.

      1. How much would it cost to have a security person at Mt. Baker and RBS during evening hours? If either one would produce 200 extra riders per day it seems like a good investment.

      2. There already is a fairly regular security presence at RBS in the evenings, but because most riders are dispersing to one of 5 transfer points (or walking home), it’s hard to maintain the safety of a crowd. Rainier Beach is just a bad place to transfer, but hundreds of people have to do it every day.

      3. I’ve been at bus stops throughout the US that have much more illegal activity going than either Mt. Baker or Rainier Beach yet feel safer. While it contributes to uneasiness, the biggest factor that seems to make me feel safer is the presence of an actual business with employees and patrons that can see the stop – a McDonald’s or a Starbucks helps quite a bit. I’m always amazed when some transit advocates don’t consciously promote having active buildings adjacent to transit facilities (at least for windows facing the facility if even from across the street). “Eyes on the street” was a term introduced by Jane Jacobs in the Death and Life of Great American Cities, and it has loads of merit when it comes to major bus stops.

      4. Right, that is the “legal street activity” I was alluding to indirectly to above. It’ll be a long time before anyone opens a Starbucks at Rainier Beach.

      5. There’s a Starbucks in the Safeway in Rainier Beach just a few blocks away. Maybe you have some unfair biases about Rainier Beach?

        Also, there are several independent coffee places in the neighborhood. (It turns out that the coffee house is an important gathering spot for immigrants from several cultures around the world. Where they converge, it’s quite a happening place later in the day!) Finally, there are many fast food chains and storefront independent restaurants in that neighborhood. While it may not be the healthiest food, at least it’s activity and that can give waiting riders a level of comfort.

        All I’m saying is that Metro could try to be more strategic in relating surrounding parcels to bus stops when they propose transfer points. To paraphrase what a cynical transit planner in another area once told me, “we like to put our bus stops in front of liquor stores, vacant lots and anywhere else where no property owner would complain about waiting riders and idling buses.”

      6. I am well aware of the Starbucks in the RB Safeway. A coffee shop stuck in a supermarket is a very different enterprise than one that has to survive on street traffic. I have walked around Rainier Beach quite a bit, although it’s not a place I’d go for fun. I wouldn’t say I know the area well, but I know it.

        The location of this transfer point is dictated by the location of the Rainier Beach Station and the necessity of not intersecting the trolleybus wire with Link’s overhead (ST’s rule). There’s literally no other place to put it unless you want to bulldoze the businesses on the south side of Henderson.

        You are not the only person here who has read Jane Jacobs. If this transfer point were in an obviously-stupid place from an urban design or eyes-on-the-street perspective, I would have written a post to that effect.

    2. The transfer process at RBS is horrible. For riders heading to the Rainier Beach loop there’s a small shelter with no side walls next to dirt parking lot that is full of puddles in the rainy season and dust during the dry season. People taking the 107 to Rainier View usually walk down to Renton Ave to make the transfer because the current 107 routing has buses coming and going to Renton stopping at the same stop on Henderson. If, in the future, the 7 buses layover on Trenton, as shown in the photo, transferring riders will have to walk from RBS to east of Renton Ave on Henderson make their transfer.

      1. I agree the train-bus and bus-train transfers are poor at RBS. It is unfortunate the station wasn’t placed on the north side of S Henderson as this would have opened up possibilities for better transfers and construction of bus layover space at the same time. Perhaps there were some really good reasons to build it on the south side.

  8. Let’s get back to the original problem. The RB station should have been at Rainer and Henderson and not MLK and Henderson. Then traveled back to MLK and on to Tukwila. We wouldn’t be discussing this problem now if it had been designed correctly. There is always room for Link correction, will they ever do it?

    1. The original idea was to put the line on Rainier Avenue. That was nixed because of Rainier’s narrowness, congestion, and the major impact of multiyear construction through the entire commercial core of the district.

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