Route 545's Detour in Capitol Hill
Route 545’s Detour in Capitol Hill

Two-and-a-half years ago, Zach concisely made the case for an idea that’s been kicking around the Seattle transit world for a decade or more:

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. […] Made by 30 AM trips, the Bellevue/Olive deviation [adds] 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.

In a recent turn of events, the kind with which all long-time STB authors are familiar, we heard via a recent offhand remark that an idea we’ve been shouting (seemingly into the void) for years is now under serious study by an alphabet soup of agencies. Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray:

The short answer about the Olive Way flyer stop is, yes, we’re looking at it. No decision has been made whether to go ahead with it and if we do, it won’t likely be before mid 2016. We’ve been looking into it as a way to shave about 5 min off the 545 trip, which would be the only route to use it. It would replace the stop at Bellevue and Olive. Right now the City, ST and WSDOT are talking about logistics and scale, but we’re a ways from having much more to say about it.

So, on the plus side, I’m thrilled that this excellent idea is under study: I hope the Olive Freeway Station gets built as soon as possible. My thanks to Sound Transit for taking the lead on this smart, cost-effective, rider-focused project. My only area of concern is the restricted scope of the study that Gray outlines: there is no good reason that only the 545 should serve this stop, rather every bus that goes past this stop should be considered as a candidate. Zach’s post contains a comprehensive list of 2012 routes that could have served this stop, and while it is now a little out of date, it does capture which points of the compass riders could head from this stop.

While I could see that there might be legibility or peak period capacity issues with having many routes serve this stop, at a minimum, the scope of this project should be extended to include service from ST 512. The 512 never uses the express lanes, so it always uses the Olive ramp, creating no legibility problems for riders. The 512 provides off-peak service for ST’s flagship Snohomish County corridor, I-5 north to Everett, and reliably carries full seated loads every day of the week, well into the evenings. The ST board has decided that BART-like rail is worth the cost on this corridor, and thus the comparatively negligible cost to figure out how to make this bus stop work for riders in the intervening seven years must surely also be justified.

17 Replies to “Agencies Working on Olive Way Freeway Station”

  1. I don’t understand, isn’t the 545 going to stop making any stops past the new UW light rail station? What’s the point if it’s going to change in just a few short months?

    1. Under Alternative 1, the 545 would still be going downtown during peak hours. Off-peak, the service hours would be shifted to the 542.

      1. The Alt 1 545 proposal is peak only but bidirectional and shoulder peak too, so it would probably stop there more often than it does at Bellevue/Olive today. Probably something like 5-10:30am and 2:30-7pm.

  2. Thanks for continuing to cover this issue! The Olive Way freeway station was suggested to Metro by me and other Capitol Hill bus riders as long ago as 1999, and again to Sound Transit in 2004. As you note, it would benefit not only the 545 but every bus route that uses this onramp. The agencies’ response at the time was that WSDOT would have to get involved, as it was an I-5 onramp. As their collective inaction to date shows, bureaucracy doesn’t move, even for the most obvious winning ideas, unless pushed on by the right elected officials. The quote from Bruce Gray above sounds like some nudging by electeds is required to save this idea from being buried by other priorities.

    If someone wants to organize a lobbying effort to hurry this freeway station along I would suggest starting with Seattle mayor Ed Murray. He was a champion of the Capitol Hill bus route in 2004, and as the current SDOT head, ST board member, and former State House Transportation Committee chair, he has influence over all the concerned agencies.

  3. In response to another frequently expressed sentiment about the 545’s present route, note that the route I’d actually proposed to ST in 2004 was quite a bit quicker. See the map at http://1drv.ms/1aKFZr3 . It was to turn right from 4th Ave onto Pike St, then left on Bellevue Ave. ST chose the present route (http://1drv.ms/1BEWlM5) in order to preserve the bus stops on Stewart St. By doing so, they added 2 blocks’ distance and 2 turns to the route.

    Thus, it is just as valid to characterize today’s zig-zag as a deviation to serve *Belltown* residents (to save them from walking 2 blocks south to Pike) as it is to call it a deviation to serve Capitol Hill residents.

    1. That’s somewhat valid point. But in reality, a turn onto Pike St. would have cut the stop at Westlake Park, which is the transfer central of Seattle. I’ve met commuters from south, north and west suburbs who take express buses to Westlake Park to transfer onto the ST 545 for eastside destinations.

      1. So then, the present route is arguably a deviation to save these transfer passengers from walking 2 blocks south (or east), to the stop at 4th & University (or Pike & 6th).

        In reality, most buses dropping off passengers near Westlake Park are traveling north or south at that point, so most of these transferring passengers wouldn’t even have to walk further; they’d have to get off their originating bus at its next or previous stop.

        The number of boardings at the Capitol Hill stop, during its hours of service, is actually greater than the combined boardings at the 3 stops which would have been moved (viz. 4th&Pike, Olive&8th and Olive&Terry).

      2. (That last statement is based on Fall 2012 boarding data, which is the latest I’ve looked at.)

      3. I’d say that’s likely still valid today. The Capitol Hill stop has undoubtedly the highest number of boardings of any single stop. But Westlake is likely second most popular on any given morning run, and the sum of Westlake, 4th & U, and current Olive& 8th is often roughly equal to Capitol Hill. On most peak morning runs, the ST 545 has all seats taken by the time it reaches Bellevue Ave stop, so Capitol Hill boardings are left with filling standing room space in the aisle.

        Not that I agree with it, but two block stop spacing is the norm through downtown, so it must make a difference to some to walk two blocks.

        So, in sum, I don’t disagree with your points on the value of a Capitol Hill stop, it just always should have been at the Olive & I5 onramp.

  4. Too bad this’ll only be built at the same time that U-Link renders it much less useful.

    It’ll still be useful for the peak 545/256/424 and off-peak 512, though. Maybe the off-peak 41 will even be allowed to use it.

      1. The 41 serving NE 45th St would be an overkill of service. The 512 already serves it, and if riders want to travel from the U-Dist. to Northgate, then there’s the 66/67. Plus, I don’t think many riders would appreciate the deviation, only if it’s an extra 3 minutes.

    1. As an avid 512 rider myself, I would question the demand for folks traveling between Capitol Hill & Snohomish County. The current stop at Terry & Olive is less used than other stops throughout downtown, though not the least used. During peak hours, I assume many of the riders who use that stop are riders who work in the eastern edge of downtown rather than Hill-goers.

      Overall, there’s no harm in having the bus stop there because it’s on the way and the additional minute is negligible in terms of travel time. I have a greater concern about the logistics of whether or not there’s enough space for several 60ft coaches, holding traffic and impeding pedestrian access from Melrose to the north side of Olive.

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