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If you have complaints about the current service provided by RapidRide C or RapidRide D, just be glad you didn’t try to commute from West Seattle or Ballard to downtown 30 years ago using Metro routes 15 or 18.

The maps for the 15 and 18 show that their 1985 routings hadn’t changed much from 1941 when those routes were established as part of the original electric trolley network. Both routes added service north of NW 85th Street when they were dieselized in 1963, but those are the only obvious service additions I can see. The 1941-63 trolley version of route 18 did have 2 branches south of Morgan Street in West Seattle: the 18 Fauntleroy as pictured in the link above and the 18 Gatewood which is today mostly covered by route 22. The 15 West Seattle also had 2 branches in West Seattle: the branch to Alki that is shown in the 1985 map and another branch that was routed through the Admiral District/Genesee Hill area (similar to the current route 57). The bifurcated versions of the 15 and 18 in West Seattle continued to be operated by diesel coaches until 1978 when the Genesee Hill and Gatewood segments of the 15 and 18 were combined into a new route (the 49).

In 1985, the 15 and 18 followed identical routes from approximately Harbor Island to just north of the Ballard Bridge. Together, they provided local service on 1st Avenue South in SODO and operated through downtown Seattle on 1st Avenue to the Seattle Center and Ballard. Midday headways on both routes was 40 minutes, which provided service every 20 minutes for Interbay, downtown and SODO; but Alki, Fauntleroy, 15th Avenue NW and 24th Avenue NW only saw a bus every 40 minutes. Today, most of those corridors get headways of 15 minutes or less.

At night, service on route 18 improved to 30 minute headways, but route 15 was served by the always unpopular Night Shuttle service. On the north end, the 15 operated only from Blue Ridge to the Ballard Bridge on a schedule that created a timed meet with the 18. The riders on route 15 would then transfer to the 18 to complete their trips to Interbay, Seattle Center or downtown. Going from downtown to 15th Avenue NW required catching the 18 in downtown Seattle and transferring to the 15 Night Shuttle by the Ballard Bridge. On the south end, a similar transfer point was established near Harbor Island. The 15 shuttle buses were supposed to always wait for the 18 before leaving the transfer point, but I can testify that there were plenty of times when the Night Shuttle bus left without waiting for its transfer load.

Today, 30 years later, the 15 and 18 network has been replaced by a number of frequent service routes. RapidRide C, RapidRide D, the 40 and partial service from the 21 have all replaced segments of the service provided by routes 15 and 18 in 1985. Plus, we’re seriously entertaining plans to build frequent light rail lines to both Ballard and West Seattle. I wonder how much progress will be made in the next 30 years.

5 Replies to “West Seattle-Downtown-Ballard Transit Service in 1985”

  1. I like the fact that the routes have the same number all the way through instead of changing it in downtown Seattle. Do you know when and why this was done?

  2. The 15 and 18 West Seattle to Ballard network began as trolley routes in 1941 and remained fully connected until the 1981 Metro re-organization when the 2 branch lines in West Seattle were re-numbered as shuttle route 49. I don’t know when the 18 Fauntleroy became the 54 and the 15 Alki became the 56, but I’ll try to find out.

    The 1981 re-organization focused the signage system on whether the bus was headed to downtown Seattle or away from downtown Seattle. Prior to 1981, a southbound coach from Blue Ridge would be signed 15 West Seattle/Alki. After 1981, the bus sign would have read 15 Alki/via Downtown Seattle.

    1. I remember taking the 15 and 18 in West Seattle in the early 80s, and the 54/56 conversion although I don’t remember when that was, maybe around 1990. Several routes through downtown were split, including the 1 (36), 7 (49), 13 (12), 14 (47, now defunct), 15 (56), 18 (54). Probably implying downtown congestion wasn’t an issue earlier, then it threw the buses of schedule.

      Also the 43 (44, split in the U-District), 74 (30, 71/72/73 local moved from Eastlake to Fairview), 305 (66 and 348), 307 (41 and 522).

  3. Holy Crap, much of the overall design and aesthetics of graphing has not changed since 1985. That.Is.Pitiful.

  4. “The maps for the 15 and 18 show that their 1985 routings hadn’t changed much from 1941 when those routes were established as part of the original electric trolley network.” Great research!

    These bus lines were still operating until 2011 when they were cancelled due to the recession and the construction of the AWV. The assertion that the First Ave South bus service has been replaced by the Rapid Ride C and D lines is inaccurate because Rapid Ride does not pass through SODO.

    For 70 years, from 1941 until 2011, the 21-22 came across the West Seattle Bridge, got off at Spokane Street and ran north along 1st Ave South into Downtown. The 15-18 came from Ballard-Interbay and went through Downtown on 1st Ave, continuing south through SODO on 1st Ave South and directly onto the West Seattle Bridge at 1st Ave South onramp at Spokane Street. This “ride through” route from Ballard to West Seattle passed the stadiums, bars and restaurants until 1:30 am.

    Now the only remaining bus is the 21, which runs south on 4th, west on Lander to First and gets on the bridge at 1st and Spokane (and vice versa into Downtown). It does not pass the stadiums, restaurants & pot bars or large employers like Starbucks Corporate and Real Networks. Rapid Ride gets on/off the Viaduct at Seneca Street.

    In 2011, rather than re-routing the entire “ride through” combination Metro simply cancelled the Ballard to Downtown half of it. But that truncated the line and defeated the “ride through” functionality. This also eliminated the back and forth “local service” along First Avenue South for SODO businesses, commuters and sports fans. This places additional burden on parking and roads because there are no easy connections to First Avenue South.

    Perhaps if the 120 operated on a snow route it would bring some relief to the “transit desert” on First Avenue South.

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