Once Upon a Time
In 1946, Seattle Transit route 14 Summit, which is almost identical to today’s 47 Summit route, operated with 5 coaches during midday periods and 7 coaches during the afternoon peak period. Today, the 47 Summit uses 1 coach during the midday off-peak hours and 2 coaches in the peak hours. In 1946, With 5 coaches operating during off-peak periods, service headways could easily have been as frequent as every 10-12 minutes and PM peak service might have been as frequent as every 7.5 minutes. In 1946, the 14 Summit route path was slightly different than it is today because most downtown streets were still bi-directional: the 14 Summit used Pine Street both directions and then operated southbound on 3rd Avenue to Columbia Street, then northbound on 2nd Avenue and outbound again on Pine Street back to the Summit terminal. The current 47 Summit takes about 28 minutes to run a full loop off-peak and about 35 minutes during peak hours. I don’t have a paper timetable from 1946 but I would estimate that a 1946 roundtrip took, at most, about 35 minutes off-peak and 40 minutes peak to complete the entire route.
For the Summit neighborhood, the drop in transit service is very dramatic and it’s hard to pinpoint what has changed in the neighborhood to cause service levels to drop so significantly. Buses that might have come every 10 minutes in 1946 are now runnig on 35 minutes intervals. Most of the existing housing inventory seems to have been built during the 1920s or the 1960s, so if anything, the Summit neighborhood is denser in 2016 than it was 70 years ago. Perhaps, however, transit riders are more inclined to walk a few blocks for a bus ride than they were in 1946. In 1946 there wasn’t any transit service on Olive Way other than the 14. The 8 didn’t exist until the early 1990s and the 10 (or its predecessor, the 43) didn’t compete for riders on Olive Way in 1946. But still, it’s amazing to see how much transit service Summit/Bellevue has lost in 70 years.
Is there a case for rebuilding transit service on the Summit line or should the neighborhood continue to receive the sparse service that is currently offered? Maybe the region is better served by running the 8 and 10 frequently on Olive Way and just providing limited coverage service into the heart of the Summit neighborhood. Or, are there changes could be made to revitalize the Summit neighborhood enough to justify re-establishing frequent/very frequent transit service?
The Summit Neighborhood
First, I’ll define the Summit neighborhood as the walkshed of the 47 Summit route, the area between I-5 and Broadway, bordered by Olive Way on the south side and Roy/Belmont on the north side. It’s a neighborhood that has many apartment buildings and a few single family houses. Most of the apartments appear to have been built during the 1920s or during the 1950s/60s post war boom and the architecture definitely creates the feeling of a traditional, higher density neighborhood similar to the residential area on lower Queen Anne. Because of the neighborhood’s convenient location near downtown, Lake Union and First Hill, the housing has traditionally been in high demand despite the deterioration in transit service. Unfortunately, one consequence of having so much older housing stock is that there are very few ADA compliant buildings in the neighborhood.
The neighborhood’s commercial inventory is limited and consists mostly of small cafes and a few professional services. Chain retailers have mostly chosen to locate on Broadway and left the Summit neighborhood for smaller, more independent businesses. Parking is also limited in the Summit neighborhood. A few of the newer units feature off-street parking but for most residents and businesses, on-street parking is all that is available. Combining the poor transit service with the limited parking availability, Summit residents must be, by necessity, avid walkers.
A Summit Plan
One of the problems with the existing efforts to build denser neighborhoods that are transit and pedestrian friendly is that–too often–when new residents move into these newly built, denser neighborhoods, too many of these new residents bring their cars with them. The inevitable result of adding more people and their cars into a neighborhood is greater traffic congestion which leads the existing residents to resist further efforts to densify neighborhoods. And, unfortunately for density advocates, creating more traffic congestion also leads to slower and less effective transit service which drives potential transit riders back to their cars. The slower moving buses are also more expensive to operate which makes providing the necessary frequent transit service more costly and less productive.
The Summit neighborhood, however, was born in an era when cars weren’t the default form of transportation and, for the most part, Summit has avoided re-forming itself into a auto-dependent locale. Reviving frequent transit service in the neighborhood wouldn’t be terribly expensive thanks to its close proximity to downtown. Metro currently schedules an off-peak round trip from Summit to downtown and back again at about 28 minutes. That means that 3 buses could easily provide 12 or 15 minute off-peak headways. During peak hours, 4 buses would likely be needed to maintain frequent service standards (peak hour round trips take about 35 minutes). So, reinstating frequent transit service wouldn’t be an extremely expensive undertaking.
With frequent bus service reinstated, the Summit area would be a perfect location for more micro-housing units. There already are some micro units and I’m not aware of any negative neighborhood reaction to what has already been built. If parking is the biggest fear that residents usually have about micro housing, then micros should be welcome in a neighborhood that offers frequent transit service and doesn’t offer much parking inventory to begin with.
Summit seems to be lacking housing for multi-generational families. Studios and one bedroom apartments are the most commonly advertised available living units. Currently, kids are noticeably absent from the Summit neighborhood, but there isn’t any obvious reason that kids wouldn’t be welcome in the neighborhood–other than the lack of 2+ bedroom housing. There are plenty of nearby parks, a library and several K-8 public schools–Lowell Elementary and the Seattle World School (the old TT Minor building) are within a reasonable distance. The nearest public high schools are either Garfield or the Center School, both currently a one-seat ride via route 8.
The high cost of new construction and the expensive rents that living in new construction entail could possibly be averted by rehabilitating the sturdy existing buildings when possible and infilling with smaller scale commercial-plus-residential new construction to provide affordable multi-generational and accessible housing. The Summit neighborhood is not a location for out-of-scale 20 story residential skyscrapers, but more density and more commercial property is needed in the neighborhood if the goal is to re-establish frequent transit service.
The Summit neighborhood is different
The bright lights and spectacle of Broadway and Capitol Hill attract thousands of visitors every day. Those attractions fuel a vibrant and evolving society that is creative and an important part of the Seattle fabric. But too often, Summit seems to serve as the on-street parking lot for Broadway’s attractions. Instead, Summit could be focusing on creating (and re-creating) its own separate and unique identity as an inclusive and complete neighborhood that is close to popular attractions but still scaled to foot traffic and away from the automobile. Should a frequent service bus line be included as one of the Summit neighborhoods assets?