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Metro Route 41 is one of the two most frequent routes slated to be kicked out of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. The One City Center plan calls for it to live loop on Pike & Union. But why just there? During the peak hour, there’s enough runs and ridership to justify splitting it in two, decreasing the number of 41 riders who would have to transfer from Link.

I also think it’s possible to save driver hours in the process. Most passengers get off at the Northgate TC; if we run fewer buses to 125th, fewer buses have to sit in traffic on I-5 southbound from 130th.

To illustrate this, I’ll focus on the evening peak hour, as has already been discussed a bit in recent blog posts discussing the One City Center plan and alternatives.

Route 41 already has two different variants; the peak-only variant goes from downtown to Northgate as an express, stops at all local stops until 125th, and either returns to base or gets on I-5 southbound for another run (getting stuck in heavy congestion all the way from 125th). The all-day variant (including one in three runs during most of peak, one in four runs during the peak half hour) follows the same path but turns right at 125th to head to Lake City.

When I’ve ridden this route during peak, most riders disembark at Northgate TC; fewer than 1/3 of riders continue on. So we should be able to truncate half of the runs there, taking 5th Ave to the ramp on NE 75th St at 9th Ave NE (just like the southbound 41 does during the evening peak). To avoid confusion, this should probably get a new route number. The existing 41 would still have some runs that continue to Lake City and some extra peak runs that stop at 125th, just fewer runs than the new route.

So what about downtown? I’m less sure about that, but here’s a starting suggestion. One route would live loop in north downtown, perhaps using Stewart – 9th, entering the I-5 express lanes behind the Paramount Theatre. This would require a new peak-only stop on 9th somewhere near Pine St.

The other route runs would live loop in a different part of downtown, perhaps Union – 5th, entering the I-5 express lanes at 5th & Columbia.

The good? We get better downtown coverage, and probably save service hours in the process by improving the return path to downtown for service runs. The bad? Neither of my specific route suggestions is that close to Link. The 5th & Seneca stop is two blocks uphill.

Are there other downtown routings that would be better for this?

7 Replies to “Rethinking Route 41”

  1. I’ve always wondered why some peak runs go to 125th but no further. There’s no particular density dropoff at 5th & 125th to explain it. Maybe it’s to serve the stop at 112th & Northgate Way that a fair number of people use (and where the the Northgate P&R used to be), and there’s no closer place after that to turn a bus around.

    1. Yeah, I think those are the main reasons. There is fairly good ridership along 5th, pretty much all way to the old park and ride (now a park) at 112th. You could turn around there, but it wouldn’t be easy, and wouldn’t get you much. If you are headed back downtown (which seems likely, since it would only run this way as part of peak service) then you might as well just keep going and take the 130th on ramp. Around 125th you also have some apartments, so it is a decent stop (might as well serve them). This also allows you to avoid a turn — and turns are inefficient. Not only does it take extra time, but you serve fewer people (there is more of an overlap in service). This makes the truncation less painful than it would otherwise be. For example, someone who lives on, say, 123rd and Roosevelt walks two blocks instead of one with the truncation, heading west instead of north. That doesn’t happen with a straight bus route.

    2. Its so they can loop them back around to downtown do another 41. 5th & 125th is the last stop on 5th before the Lake City 41s turn off to go to Lake City. The 125th, 41s go upto 130th and turn around back downtown.

      Part of this is also layover space on 5th that is used in the morning, as there are also 41s that start at that spot.

  2. You are basically arguing for what? Half hour service for the full 41 — because of anecdotal evidence (a bunch of people get off at Northgate). My experience has been different, but that misses the point. My guess is Metro has looked at exactly this situation, and said it is worth it to run it this way. If we are going to make service cutbacks, I doubt this is the place to make them. Maybe we should — I don’t know — follow the standard service guidelines when we do that sort of thing. We don’t need to make reduce service, and it misses the point. The reason service changes are being proposed has absolutely nothing to do with whether the 41 (or any other bus) spends too much time serving the neighborhoods, it has to do with congestion downtown. Specially, too many buses trying to make their way through downtown when many of them are forced out of the tunnel.

    One way to solve that problem would be to do what Brent proposed for route 591 (https://www.seattletransitblog.com/2017/02/10/st-express-591-more-necessary-than-ever/). Alex suggested doing the same thing for the 550. Both routes are very frequent and express in nature, which makes the idea relatively painless. One bus goes to one end of downtown, and soon after, another bus goes to the other end of downtown. This relieves the pressure on downtown bus traffic while arguably being a feature. If you miss your “old bus” (the one that took the traditional route) then you still don’t have to wait too long (ten minutes or so). But if you are headed to the other end of downtown, now you have something that is better.

    Given the frequency of the 41 — at least from Northgate — the same thing could be done. During rush hour it runs about every five minutes, so splitting would be painless. As far as routes go, run one to the south end of downtown, but then have the other bus follow the old 77 route, and use the express lane HOV ramps at Columbia and Cherry. But unlike the old 77, it wouldn’t double back, but continue south.

    This would only run during rush hour, in peak direction (because of the express lanes) Outside of peak and in reverse direction, the 41 only runs every 15 minutes, so they could just run on the surface all the way through downtown. This means you would have three variations:

    1) A midday/reverse peak option. This would run very similar to the old bus route (basically the same route that is taken when the bus tunnel is closed).

    2) Peak direction serving the north end of downtown. This would be similar to the first bus, but turn around somewhere in the middle of downtown, say Madison or Marion. If push comes to shove, this could follow the proposed route — turning around at Union — but that would still leave a pretty big hole.

    3) Peak direction south end of downtown. This would use the Columbia/Cherry HOV ramps, and then continue south, turning around somewhere similar to where it terminates now (International District).

    By having buses serve either end of downtown, you relieve a lot of the pressure. You’ve basically cut the number of buses that go to one end of downtown to the other in half (during rush hour). Given the numbers involved (every five minutes or so) that is a big reduction. If similar steps were taken with similar buses (the 550 and 591) it would be a pretty painless change, if not an improvement.

    1. I’m definitely not arguing against the standard service guidelines. I didn’t know where to look up the actual on/off data; if the data that says that there’s enough demand along 5th to be running 14 arctic buses during the peak hour, then of course we should keep it.

      But yes, I’m arguing for two separate changes that both affect route 41. As you note, even just the downtown split would help. I do like what Brent proposed for route 591 (I drafted this before I saw his post), the trick is finding something equivalent that works well for a north-end route. Thanks for chiming in with ideas there!

  3. In my 4 years of riding the 41, the Lake City 41 has gotten busier than in the past, more than a 1/3 remain on the Lake City 41s. Remember that if you live in Lake City, you would put a premium on catching the Lake City 41 vs the NE 125th only 41. You get a bit of a drop off at the Safeway, and a drop off at 130th.

    Plus the 112th street stop seems to be busiest of the 5th Ave stops. If I was to armchair transit plan, I’d live loop at Northgate Way (just the NE 125th runs), making a left before the Ross.

    With a live loop on both ends, that’s a bit unfortunate for the driver. Part of the reason that 41 has a nice tail like that is the final stop (Fred Meyer) and restroom therein.

    1. Huh. It hadn’t occurred to me that I probably have a biased sample; I’m (almost) never trying to catch one of the Lake City 41s and those will have more passengers continuing beyond Northgate TC than the other 41s.

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