With the SR 99 tunneling project more than half done, it is worth considering what a revised Metro 8 bus route could look like in 2018.
By then the street grid will be connected, like so:
With that in mind, I’ve come up with a bold proposal for a new routing.
It is unlikely that all of this will come to pass. There are sections that would be very controversial, and quite possibly not be worth it. Here are my thoughts on the routing, section by section (I ignored the east end of the route, as it would remain the same).
First and Mercer through the Seattle Center
This could be rather controversial, of course. Running a bus through the Seattle Center might upset some people. During big events, the bus would have to re-routed (just as buses around Husky Stadium are). There aren’t that many events like that, though, so I don’t see this as a problem. Thomas Street does go through the Center, but some work (making better sidewalks) would have to be done. To avoid complaints about diesel exhaust, the route could become a trolley or a hybrid (running only on electricity through there). The advantage to running via Thomas is that it wouldn’t encounter any traffic through the Center. The second advantage is that it would enable a much faster connection to the monorail.
Running on Thomas avoids the worst congestion on Denny. Another alternative would be to skirt around the Center to the northeast (via 5th, then Mercer). That is likely a significant improvement, but I’m not sure how easy it will be to get additional right of way there. On the other hand, this would share part of its trip with the RapidRide D route (along 1st Ave. West and Queen Anne Avenue) which means that if those streets are given bus lanes, both routes would be able to take advantage of them.
Seattle Center to Eastlake
This is arguably the greatest part about the viaduct replacement project. The grid north of Denny (up to Harrison) will be connected. One of the great things about this area is that converting general purpose lanes to bus-only lanes won’t be that difficult from a political standpoint. There is no “taking” as people can’t drive that way today. It is quite reasonable to extend those bus lanes throughout this area, all the way to Eastlake Avenue. Even with the change, it isn’t a major through route, because you simply can’t go that far (I-5 and the Seattle Center cut off through traffic). This makes it significantly different than Madison or Eastlake (where lots of lanes were taken, while taking others proved too difficult).
Eastlake to Capitol Hill
This is another controversial change. Right now there are no buses on Belmont. This, again, is why it would make sense to run wire along this line, so that neighbors don’t complain about noisy buses struggling to get up the hill. By going over the freeway on Lakeview, the bus would avoid the traffic on Denny altogether. A traffic light (with signal priority for the bus) would have to be added to Eastlake at Thomas, but that is a pretty cheap addition. If more money is found, it looks to me like you could widen Eastlake (next to the freeway) or eliminate some parking to add jump ahead lanes. Lakeview is a bridge, of course, and it wouldn’t make sense to spend the money on expanding it. But if traffic overall is less of a problem there than it is on Denny, moving the line north would make sense.
As with the change through the Seattle Center, it might not be worth it. The big improvement will occur when the grid around Denny and Aurora is open. That, just by itself, will enable a huge improvement in speed and reliability for one of the most important buses in our system.