The insane Night Owl loops of Routes 82, 83, and 84 will finally meet their end under a new proposal by King County Metro and SDOT announced this morning. Remnants of pre-Metro Seattle Transit that have remained mostly unchanged since the 1950s, the Night Owl routes have always been poorly-ridden, difficult to understand, and unnecessarily complex.
Routes 81 and 85 were terminated upon introduction of the C and D lines, and by finishing the job, the new proposal brings a healthy grid of simple, comprehensible overnight service to Seattle for the first time.
If approved by the County Council, the proposal would boost total overnight service by roughly 50%. The proposal would:
- Replace Route 82 with Night Owl trips on Routes 3 (to Seattle Pacific), Route 5, and Route 62 (to Roosevelt only).
- Replace Route 83 with Night Owl trips on Route 70
- Replace Route 84 with Night Owl trips on Routes 3 and 11
- Add Night Owl trips on Route 120
- Upgrade RapidRide C, D, and E to hourly overnight service, up from 75-90 minute frequencies currently
- Extend Route 124 to SeaTac Airport when Link isn’t running.
This is an excellent start for a reliable, comprehensible all-night service network, and it’s exciting that after a half-century we’re finally getting here. SDOT currently funds the entirety of the Owl network to the tune of 3,900 service hours; the Owl network was slated for elimination before Mayor Murray deferred Ship Canal Crossing study funds to save it in 2014. The County Executive’s recent budget proposal includes some funding for the final year of the current Night Owls.
The airport extension of Route 124 is particularly welcome, as South King and Pierce County have had (half hourly!) overnight service to the airport for years via Sound Transit 574 and Metro Route 180. Though the last Route 124 trips today have a timed connection to RapidRide A, this connection is nearly useless for airport workers or travelers, since the Link walkway is closed overnight. Intrepid commuters trying to use the 124/A connection would need to walk along International Boulevard and then Arrivals Drive, an insane proposition. The extended 124 would pull all the way into the terminal, like Sound Transit 560 and 574, and would offer bi-directional Night Owl service. Since Link’s first full-length service arrives at 5:30 am, and assuming a minimum 1-hour check in time, the extended 124 will make transit a viable option for the 27 daily flights that depart before 6:30am.
Another big change would be the end of the 2:15/3:30am pulse. The new network would deemphasize transfers downtown, and instead offer more service staggered throughout the night. Metro and SDOT seem to believe that more consistent activity will be safer than the pulse, and also that the benefit to through-riders (who would no longer have to hold 5-10 minutes downtown) outweighs the burden on the relatively few transferees.
The largest remaining holes are service to Northgate and Lake City, where service would continue to end around 1:00am on Routes 41 and 372. In a presentation to the Seattle Transit Advisory Board last week, Metro and SDOT staff say that preference was given to routes that most closely approximate the current Owl loops, but that a small reserve of hours will be available to respond to the public comment period. Northgate service could be most easily accomplished by extending the Route 70 Owl trips as Route 67, telegraphing the coming Rapid Ride service on the corridor. Lake City service could be accomplished by adding two or more trips on Routes 41, 372, or 522.