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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?

9 Replies to “14 Summit in 1946/A Summit Plan”

  1. Metro’s long term plan for the 47 route, according to the Long Range Plan, is to continue the 47 north to the University District via Lakeview Boulevard and Montlake. Pretty weird idea for that route, no?

    It would be nice to get it onto Bellevue in both directions, even though I live on Summit and love having it there.

    1. That’s to restore coverage service in the 25’s corridor. It’s like the 25 but on Bellevue instead of Eastiake to absorb the 47. Then it goes on Boyleston Ave in front of the school. (Is that new service or did the 25 do that?) But it doesn’t go all the way down to the University Bridge and backtrack; instead it stops short and turns east on Roanoke. Fuhrman Avenue is served by another route that zigzags the opposite way: Pine, Olive, John, 19th, Aloha, 24th, Boyer, Fuhrman, University Bridge, U-District. It’s an interesting question what the Fuhrman, Boyer, and Delmar residents will do, since they rarely rode the 25, and they’re now making do with no transit service for a several-year gap. Lynn Street has a forgotten commercial center that’s down to one or two businesses. That could be a place to revive a small urban village and have micro-apartments. But the surrounding houses are now large affluent water-view things, so they probably wouldn’t like the idea.

  2. I suspect the biggest change occurred in 1979 when buses started running on Olive/John when the trolley system was rebuilt, before they were all on Pike-Pine or Broadway. Running on that Olive/John stretch cannibalizes much of the 47 route especially the densest and busiest and most mixed use part. Now add the 8 and 10 plus the diminished 43 in that section.

    I think the 47 should be the one interlined thru-route Capitol Hill bus route serving as an extension from the south of downtown like with the 14-Mt Baker as it was not too long ago. Its so short of a route anyway, its barely a stand alone line. That would also drive a lot of riders to the line to get the one-seat ride the full length of downtown and into Pioneer Square. Keep the 10,11, 43, 49 on Pike-Pine with turnback on 2nd as is the case now.

    “when new residents move into these newly built, denser neighborhoods, too many of these new residents bring their cars with them”
    …and most then proceed to sell it shortly thereafter or never use their car because they have a good parking space. Plus FWIW, you’d be surprised how many 1920s apartment buildings do have parking on Capitol Hill.

    Does anyone know what the density is of this neighborhood? I actually suspect its significantly denser given its age preceding most anti-density zoning, building, parking, fire, accessibility codes than any modern high rise neighborhood could be.

    The big thing Capitol Hill needs is much better parking management especially west of Broadway. Cars are left on the street untouched for weeks and longer. Why pay $150-250/mo for off-street parking especially if one rarely uses their car when the street is free? Free street land for 200 sf of automobile while 400 sf apartments a few feet away go for $1300-1700/mo.

    1. The 14 was split because Metro is eliminating turns on 3rd between Stewart and Yesler for reliability and to avoid being congestion. The Capitol Hill routes are now fully done. The 3 and 4 are waiting for trolley wire on Yesler. Metro tried to split the 2 in the 2012 C/D restructure or the 2014 cuts or both but there was so much opposition it withdrew it whole set of restructures for the 2,3,4,13. The 2’s status quo activists are the most vocal in the city, and the 12’s are second. People on Seneca complained the elderly couldn’t walk two blocks to Madison, and people in Madrona said everywhere they go is on the 2 and it would be unsafe to transfer on 3rd Avenue. The 14 is now connected to the 1, which is probably a good match for ridership and means it can stay consistently north-south through all of downtown.

      1. Now that Capitol Hill Station is open and proving to be a screaming success it will be interesting to see how the next round of restructuring will play out. How many concerned citizens who previously fought against Metro’s restructure proposals will now be demanding direct service to CHS?

  3. I think upping the frequency on the 47 and putting a serious amount of investment into the route is a misguided idea based on old ways of thinking. Route 47 is basically a special bus for a 7-block-long segment of Bellevue and Summit avenues. When do such short segments of streets get their own dedicated bus? It’s not even a route that is through-routed with other service (as it used to be when it was route 14 that continued to Mount Baker), it’s its own bus (which is why it has unusual 17/35 minute headways)? Even the recently split 8/38 and 45/48 route pairs all don’t even come close to the limited scope of the 47. The precedent is not there, and if it was, the 47, 43, 49, 10, and 11 would be 15-20 different routes that each terminate on a different avenue between Summit and Madison valley, and all running every 30 minutes or less.

    Also, nobody needs the 47. Summit, Bellevue, and (worse case) Melrose avenues are respectively 4, 5, and 6 blocks from Broadway, which has frequent (and now more reliable thanks to U-Link) service on route 49, average distance is about 3 blocks. The absolute northernmost point on Melrose Avenue is 6 blocks from Denny and 8 blocks from Olive, so the average would be 3.5 blocks, but Denny service merges with Olive and Olive turns north, AND the stated boundary of Summit also turns south, so the average distance to Denny/Olive (which has very frequent overlapping service on the 8, 10, and remnants of the 43) is probably even less than that of Broadway.

    In my opinion, tolerating 3-6 blocks of walking is a bare minimum expectation requirement for using transit, period. Again, what if we want to make sure every acre of Seattle is less than 3 blocks away from a bus route? That would result in an unusable system where no corridor has frequent service. The fact that a seven-block long section of two streets within 5 minutes walking of good frequent service has a dedicated BUS during the day (and TWO dedicated buses during peak!) is an artifact of history that Metro has eliminated in the past (like the 25, which it eliminated with U-Link), but for some reason caved and brought back (as Metro tends to do).

    On car dependence, if people are using their cars in the presence of a 1-6 block to frequent reliable service, they will not get out of their cars for a 0-2 block walk to a not only infrequent bus, but a bus with irregular frequency that doesn’t line up with the frequency of any route that they would need to connect to in order to get to where they really want to go (we’ve established that they would only want to walk 0-2 blocks, so presumably the 47 alone would only get these riders to their destination if they are going within 2 blocks of both Pine and Pike streets). Is there a serious argument that this would get people out of their cars?

    1. My point in the post is that Summit is a fairly unique neighborhood in that it hasn’t kept up with the times; i.e., Summit was built before the auto-dependent era and it didn’t really embrace the car culture era by widening its streets and knocking down buildings to build parking lots,. Now that pedestrian oriented neighborhoods are experiencing a renaissance, Summit is in the enviable position of having skipped most of the auto-centric modernization phase and it may be an excellent place to build a truly modern and pedestrian oriented neighborhood. If Summit does evolve into a pedestrian oriented neighborhood, should frequent transit service be part of the evolution?

  4. The 47 lost the west half of its walkshed when I-5 was built. Families with children filled the apartments in the 1950s. Later families insisted on an ever-growing house size and a separate bedroom for each child, and they didn’t value walking to Broadway or Pike-Pine, which had deteriorated into hole-in-the-walls anyway.

    David Lawson suggested in his frequent transit network to beef up the 47 and downgrade the then-43. Things have since superceded this, but I think he’d still argue that the 47 has potential to be the core route in southwest Capitol Hill. Metro’s #3122 is somewhat between these poles: it restores 30-minute service in Summit but doesn’t make it frequent, and it extend it to try to make it more useful.

    The 47 currently has the interesting status of being the only trolleybus coverage route. It would never get wires in its present form, but because it already has the wiires it still uses them. However, extending the route will require dieselizing it.

    “nobody needs the 47.”

    Elderly people do; they can’t walk up the steep hill to Broadway. They’re one of the main reasons it was reinstated.

    I lived in a pre-parking apartment there but that didn’t bother me since I didn’t have a car. My friend who lived two blocks away did have a car and an interior garage, and he always drove because he’s not a transit person. I finally convinced him to take the D to the Ballard Farmer’s Market to avoid circling for parking and ending up in a pay lot. I’d guess about half the buildings have off-street parking now.

    The reason to make transit more frequent is not to convince drivers; it’s to give non-drivers more places to live. Drivers will change on the margins, depending on whether they’re die-hard drivers or they have a threshold of transit service they’ll use. Sometimes they don’t realize what the threshold is until frequent service starts and they realize it goes where they want to, or when their car breaks down or needs major repairs and they say sayonara to driving.

    When I lived on the 14 it was half-hourly, and it was a bit frustrating to have to tailor my schedule around it or not use it. Most would-be riders in Summit feel that way about the 47l they’d ride it more if it were more frequent. I’m glad I moved further south to where the 43/47 overlapped before the 47 was deleted. I was only partway up, but I did look at an apartment at the end of the 14 which I didn’t take. I walked from there to Pine Street to see how long it would be, and it’s further than it looks on a map. That’s another reason the 47 still exists. I’m not saying it must be frequent but there are arguments for it, and it’s the densest neighborhood in Seattle outside the highrises.

  5. This post began as an idea for the Rainier Valley neighborhood bordered by Rainier Avenue, Othello Street, MLK and Graham Street. During the 1970s that area was a center of drug activity and other crimes. The city’s response to the problem was to divert auto traffic away from the area by blocking through streets and turning the streets into a maze that was nearly impossible to figure out. The result was that most drivers learned to avoid the area completely. Most of the diversions are still in place, although once Link opened Holly Street and 44th Avenue were re-opened to through traffic.

    As I walked through the Rainier/Othello/MLK/Graham neighborhood many times, I began to wonder if it would be possible to re-invent the neighborhood as a truly transit and pedestrian oriented neighborhood. Somehow the idea morphed into a pondering piece about the Summit neighborhood, mostly because I didn’t think that STB readers would be familiar enough with the Rainier/Othello/MLK/Graham quadrant and the piece would die without any comments. After a few trips to the Summit neighborhood this summer it became obvious that there is a tremendous amount of pedestrian-oriented development potential in the Summit neighborhood and I pivoted the piece to focus on Summit instead of Rainier Valley. Maybe I’ll post the RV idea in the future.

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