Note: This is the second in a series of four posts describing the details of Metro’s proposed “Alternative 1” restructure, which would take effect at the same time as the planned March 2016 opening of Sound Transit’s University Link. “Alternative 1” is the more ambitious of Metro’s two U-Link proposals. Our overview of both proposals, and our short description of the minimum-change “Alternative 2,” is here. Although these posts are under my byline, they owe a huge amount to the hard work of the entire STB staff, and especially Zach Shaner.
As in Northeast Seattle, Alternative 1 in Capitol Hill and First Hill focuses on creating a grid of very frequent routes, and making transfers between those routes much easier than they are today. Capitol Hill, with its high density and ridership, would feature several major bus routes with 10-minute service. Most Capitol Hill routes will allow for easy transfers to U-Link at Capitol Hill Station (“CHS”). Many other popular trips will involve transfers between two 10-minute bus routes. To achieve these high frequencies, a number of one-seat bus rides to downtown and the U-District would disappear.
As we’ve noted in other posts, these high frequencies are before improvements funded by Seattle’s Proposition 1, so some frequencies are likely to be even better than indicated by Metro.
The Capitol Hill Alternative 1 proposal is also notable for what it does not contain. Metro decided not to restructure service in the Central District, or in South Seattle corridors (such as the route 36/60 corridor or Rainier Avenue South) served by routes that also serve CHS or UW Station. We understand that including all of these corridors would have made the scope of the restructure difficult for Metro planning staff to manage, and likely increased the political difficulty of implementing any restructure plan. Metro has not forgotten about these corridors; we can still expect to see further Central District and south-end restructure proposals in the future.
The following are the major frequent corridors in Alternative 1 south of the Ship Canal; for each one, we describe the service it’s replacing as well.
Route 8: 10 minutes. Alternative 1 splits current Route 8 into two routes, 8 and 38 (discussed below). Revised route 8 would get 10-minute frequency, while route 38 would get 15-minute frequency. The revised 8 would be identical to today from Uptown to Madison Valley, but instead of turning south on MLK it would continue on Madison to Madison Park. Unfortunately, there are no changes to Denny Way, so the 8 would still be unreliable and prone to bunching eastbound in the afternoon. Westbound, reliability should improve significantly as a result of the split and the improved frequency.
Route 8 would entirely replace the deleted route 11 along Madison, and represent a dramatic frequency improvement in Madison Park. Madison Park and Madison Valley customers traveling downtown would need to transfer to Link at CHS, but would usually have a faster trip than current route 11 despite the transfer. In exchange, riders in those areas would enjoy new connections to SLU and Uptown.
Route 8 would also replace the east/west portion of route 43. Customers traveling from John Street to the U-District would need to transfer to Link at CHS or to route 48, which would have 10-minute frequency, at 23rd and John. Customers traveling from Summit to downtown would need to use route 47, which (Metro has unofficially reassured us) will continue to operate after the restructure through Seattle Prop 1 funding.
Route 48: 10 minutes. The south half of Route 48 would be unchanged south of the Ship Canal, but receive a welcome and overdue improvement to 10-minute frequency. (North of the Ship Canal, it would be through-routed with revised route 67 to Roosevelt and Northgate, instead of the current north half of the 48, which would become new route 45.)
Route 48 would replace the north/south part of route 43. Riders between Montlake and Capitol Hill would transfer to 10-minute route 8 at 23rd and John. Riders between Montlake and downtown would use route 48 and transfer to Link at UW Station, which would provide a faster trip in almost all cases despite the backtrack and the time spent transferring. (This fact is a real indictment of current route 43, which west of Broadway often has an average speed slower than walking.)
Route 49: 10 minutes. Route 49, currently the second-busiest route in the Metro system, would be changed to use Madison St instead of Pine St between Broadway and downtown. It would receive a badly needed frequency boost to 10 minutes.
Route 49 would replace deleted route 12 for the great bulk of riders, who use route 12 to travel between downtown and First Hill hospitals. It would also provide a new very frequent connection between the First Hill hospitals, Capitol Hill, CHS, and the U-District. (Route 60 would remain unchanged for the moment, providing similar connections with much less frequency.)
East/west riders along Pine Street would use route 10, transferring to route 49 at Broadway if necessary. Riders between north Capitol Hill and the downtown retail core would transfer between route 49 and Link at CHS. Like current route 43 riders transferring from the revised 8, their trip would usually be faster despite the transfer.
Routes 3/4: 7-10 minutes. These routes are unchanged, but are worth mentioning because they provide very frequent transfer opportunities with the 10-minute route 48, the First Hill Streetcar, and new peak service (to be discussed in our downtown post) along Boren Ave.
Route 2: 15 minutes. Unchanged for the time being.
Route 10: 15 minutes. Unchanged for now, but if the 43 is eliminated, the 10 may lay over downtown at 3rd/Pike, live looping at Volunteer Park instead.
The route would likely gain additional ridership along all parts of its length. It would be the only remaining downtown service on much of Pine St after the deletion of route 11 and the move of route 49. It would also likely serve some riders along 19th Ave, four blocks away, where current route 12 service would be deleted. Given that route 10 already runs at capacity much of the day, route 10 seems like a natural candidate for post-restructure Prop 1 investment and increased frequency.
Route 38: 15 minutes. The southern/eastern half of the current 8 would be renumbered as Route 38. Most of the route, between Rainier Beach and Madison Valley, would be unchanged. Its frequency would be unchanged as well.
But the part of the route between Madison Valley and Capitol Hill would be different, and a bit counterintuitive. It would use Madison between MLK Jr Way and Pine; Pine between Madison and Broadway; and Broadway between Pine and its terminal at Aloha. The purpose of this Z-shaped routing is to connect a wide swath of southeastern Capitol Hill to CHS and connecting bus service, and to replace frequent coverage of the commercial area near 17th and Madison (Trader Joe’s fans, rejoice) now provided by route 12. The distance of these segments is short enough that travel times between Madison Valley and CHS should be only a few minutes slower than those on route 8. MLK or Madison riders wanting to go further west than CHS would have several frequent transfer options, depending on the desired destination: transfer to Link at CHS, transfer to route 10 along Pine Street, transfer to route 2 at MLK and Union, or transfer to route 8 at Madison Valley. The eastbound 38 would likely require a transit-only signal to be installed at Broadway/Pine, as left turns are currently banned at that intersection.
Route 9: 30 minutes. This route would be mostly unchanged, but would terminate at Group Health (16th and John) rather than Aloha St. Addition of the new terminal would provide a new commuter connection between the south end and east Capitol Hill. Between the 8 and the 9, on weekdays there would be 8 buses per hour between 15th/John and Capitol Hill Station.
Routes 11, 12, and 43 would be deleted entirely. Their replacement service is discussed in detail above, but to summarize: Route 11 would be replaced by a combination of routes 10, 38, and 8, all running more frequently than today’s route 11. Route 12 would be replaced by more frequent route 49 for most riders, and by a combination of route 38 and other frequent corridors within 1/4 mile for the fewer riders east of Broadway. Route 43 would be replaced by 10 minute service on both routes 8 and 48, with an assist from route 47 for Summit riders.
- Riders between Summit and Olive Way and downtown would see their frequent downtown service on route 43 replaced by the infrequent, weekdays- and daytime-only route 47. These riders would need to walk 1/4 to 1/2 mile, sometimes up or down steep hills, to reach CHS or frequent bus corridors serving downtown on Pine or Stewart. Summit is the densest neighborhood in Seattle and generates fairly good ridership on current route 43, so this problem warrants a solution. SDOT could use Prop 1 money to make route 47 more useful by increasing frequency and span, or Metro could plan some other service addition in the Summit area.
- Retaining only route 10 on Pine St may create capacity issues, as only 40′ trolleys could serve the corridor due to the narrow turnaround at Grandview Place at Volunteer Park. We think Metro should evaluate solving this problem by having route 38 continue west on Pine Street to downtown, rather than north on Broadway to Aloha Street. Buses could lay over at the current route 43 terminal downtown. While this would create a walk of about 1/5 mile for route 38 riders wishing to access CHS, there would still be a no-walk Link connection at Westlake for riders not wishing to walk. As a bonus, if 60′ coaches were used on route 38, this solution could pave the way for route 10 to move to John Street—which would also solve the Summit-downtown issue and create a new connection between CHS and north Capitol Hill.
- Downtown commuters along the eastern portion of the 8 (east Capitol Hill, Madison Valley, and Madison Park) would be subject to a serious reliability problem when they are traveling eastbound in the afternoon. When they emerge from Link at CHS, they will be waiting for a bus that is scheduled very frequently, but has an epic record of unreliability in the eastbound direction during afternoons and early evenings. While street improvements are beyond the scope of a bus-network restructure, Denny must improve to make Link-to-new-8 transfers acceptable. The city and Metro should fast-track whatever improvements they can, and consider implementing innovative ideas such as Zach’s, to ensure that Alternative 1—for all its benefits—doesn’t result in these riders waiting half an hour or more at CHS for bunched 8 buses and justifiably sour them on frequent transfers.