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There are a lot of bus routes that go to Downtown. However, since Downtown is so overcrowded, many Downtown routes get major delays. I think Metro should move some routes of Downtown. People have mentioned the future Link and RapidRide systems, but here I only talk about what Metro can do at this moment to reduce Downtown congestion. I will talk about some specific routes in this post.

SR-520 Routes

Instead of traveling south to Downtown, SR-520 routes will run north to University of Washington, serving the station at Husky Stadium. These routes can layover elsewhere on the UW Campus. Maybe a couple peak-only routes can continue serving Downtown, but there should only be 1 or 2 of them.

Routes 21 and 125

West Seattle already has the RapidRide C Line and Route 120 providing frequent connections to Downtown. Routes 21 and 125 will be modified to serve Alaska Junction instead of Downtown.

Routes 7, 48, and 106

There is a plan for Route 48 to take over Route 7 between Mt Baker TC and Rainier Beach. I think Metro should proceed with this plan. Trolley wire for Route 48 is currently being placed, so the combined route will still be able to operate using trolleybuses. Route 106 will be moved off of Jackson and onto Boren and Fairview to serve First Hill and South Lake Union.

18 Replies to “Moving routes out of Downtown”

  1. I would add that a new Eastlink 23rd Avenue entrance at Judkins Park will add connectivity to a Route 7/48 that isn’t there today. While that won’t actually change Route 7/Eastlink connectivity (because it currently runs on Rainier Avenue at Judkins Park Station location), it does free Metro to shift the route alignment to interline with Route 48.

    1. I’m not sure if I follow you. Judkins Park station will have a couple entrances, one at Rainier and one at 23rd. The first will serve the 7, the second will serve the 48. Ridership on both routes will likely increase.

      The two bus routes converge where 23rd and Rainier converge. What type of shifting would occur to better interline the two routes?

      1. The shift I am mentioning is if the outer Route 7 is combined with Route 48. I’m not sure what the inner Route 7 would do as it connects Rainier Ave businesses with those in the ID today. I’m also not sure how the 106 would ultimately interface here.

        I will also add that it a rider is already on a bus on outer Rainier, it will likely be faster after 2023 to transfer at Judkins Park to get to Downtown (IDC is the next station – just 3-4 minutes away), then to transfer at Mt Baker, get across a busier Rainier Ave and go another half-block to get to the station, and then have to ride a train through 3 more stations as well as a slower SODO segment before reaching the IDC Station.

      2. Ah, OK, I follow you. I also agree with you. That exact setup is what SDOT has planned for their RapidRide+ service. Corridor 3 goes from downtown to Mount Baker (via the inner part of the 7), making some very impressive speed improvements. Corridor 4 will go from Rainier Beach to the UW, following the outer part of the 7 and the 48.

        I also agree with your point about the Judkins Park station. It is going to be a much better transfer spot to get downtown. That may be why the city decided to pair the routes that way, instead of following the traditional bus routes. Of course it is also the ability to go the other way (to the East Side) that makes than an especially good route. I also think having two RapidRide routes (meaning high frequency) eases the pain for riders who used to take the 7 from, say, Rainier and Jackson to Rainier Beach. They will have to transfer, but with both buses being very frequent, it will be a painless one.

        Assuming off board payment and bus lanes for both buses (along Rainier) it will be interesting to see what they do with the other buses that use Rainier. You don’t want regular buses slowing down your BRT buses. That isn’t the end of the world (a bus can fairly easily pass another bus, even if traffic is heavy) but less than ideal. Plus you have less need to serve that corridor. I’m sure some of the ridership of the 106 and 9 are just folks that missed the 7 and don’t want to wait for the next one.

        The 9 provides a connection from Capitol Hill to Rainier Valley that is almost (but not quite) served by the streetcar and the 7. You could run the 60 more often, extend it a bit farther north, and then get rid of the 9. That still means a three seat ride end to end, but I wonder how many people are actually riding it that far.

        The 106 is a bit trickier. It is a shadow for Link as well as a Renton to downtown bus. I doubt many people are taking it from the outskirts to downtown, when there are very easy transfers to be made to Link (e. g. Othello). I think the best thing to do is just terminate at Mount Baker, and add some service hours. You could also try and send it on MLK to Yesler, and then west to downtown (following part of the 48, and then the 27). That gives you more service on the core of Yesler (MLK to downtown) along with the same old one seat ride that some folks were used to.

  2. Truncating the 7 at Mount Baker (and extending the 48 to Rainier Beach) doesn’t change the number of buses that will go downtown. I doubt Metro would cut frequency on the 7, as it is one of the most popular buses in the system. It ranks third, behind the D and E.

    As far as not having buses go downtown, sending the 520 buses to the UW is probably the best opportunity. Metro has also talked about sending West Seattle buses to First Hill, but that is still basically downtown (just not through downtown, like so many buses). You could truncate those buses at SoDo (or truncate a few in West Seattle as you suggest) but I doubt people would prefer that, even if the bus came more often.

    It also gets tricky if you want to send buses from places like Renton to Link (e. g. Rainier Beach) instead of downtown. That would likely be slower than using the freeway, even when the freeway is clogged.

    Those are all the truncations I can think of, and my guess is most of them won’t happen. Metro aggressively restructured the northeast end of Seattle after Link got to the UW, but I think there were several factors there. Existing headways in the area were fairly low, and the truncations saved a huge amount of time. This meant that buses could run a lot more frequently. I don’t think that is the case with a lot of the 520 buses. While they spend a lot of time slogging through downtown, the rest of the run is fairly long as well. It just makes for a harder sell. You increase headways, but not to the same degree.

    You also had a very big, very good destination. That would be the case for truncating the 520 buses, but not the case for the other ones. Spots in West Seattle or SoDo, for example, just aren’t going to be as popular as a direct run to downtown.

    1. My 7/48 idea completely deleted the portion of Route 7 between Mt Baker and Downtown. Sorry if I did not make that clear enough. I had Route 106 take over some of that portion.

      Alaska Junction is one of two major transit centers in West Seattle, the other being Westwood Village. Right now Routes 21 and 125 do not serve that, so while the riders on those routes might lose their one-seat rides to Downtown, they would have new transfer opportunities at Alaska Junction. My plan would make it easier to get to Alki Beach from either of those corridors. After all, Metro did truncate some routes in West Seattle, the best example being Route 22.

      I do agree that SoDo is not a very good transfer place. There is not much there, and it would make more sense to just send the bus Downtown. It is different from my 21/125 plan because it does not open up new transfer opportunities.

      1. OK, I see what you are saying now. But I seriously doubt it will happen. The core of the 7 is Mount Baker to downtown. I’ve mentioned the Mount Baker station several times on this blog. The relatively low ridership suggests that the transfer is so awful that people aren’t doing it. They are simply staying on the 7, instead of transferring to the train to downtown. So improve that transfer and you can reduce the demand for the 7.

        Except that what people mention over and over is that the 7 simply serves a different corridor. It isn’t about Mount Baker itself to downtown, but the areas in between. There are thousands and thousands of people getting on and off the bus north of Mount Baker Station every day. You could juggle things around and have the 106 do that, but the only way you could meet the demand is by sending more 106 buses to downtown (as many as you currently do with the 7).

        Besides, the 7 is in such high demand (as a corridor) that the city is going to make it one of the “RapidRide+” corridors (Corridor 3 here: I can’t imagine they cut service right before they are about to increase service.

        West Seattle is a trickier issue. While Alaska Junction is a much more pleasant place to transfer than SoDo, it is still a minor destination. The 22 has very low ridership. The 128 isn’t much better, despite running a lot more often. The 120 and 21 both show up on this list: In other words, the only West Seattle buses that manage to get over 5,000 riders a day go downtown. The 128 is the type of bus you are talking about. It allows you to get to Alaska Junction or Westwood Village, yet it still isn’t that popular.

        Sending the 21 to Alaska Junction would not only mean a transfer to get downtown, but an awkward one. If you are headed downtown, you would wait for the bus to make the turn on Alaska, ride it a few blocks to 35th, then cross the street and ride the bus back to make the turn on Alaska again. Metro could add another stop for the C (making for less backtracking) but my guess is they haven’t, as they want the C to be in that left lane as soon as possible.

        Sending the 21 to Alaska Junction would make the grid worse, not better. Right now the 128 and 22 cut across the peninsula. A big part of their value is that they connect to fast north-south buses, heading downtown. For example, if you on Silvan, midway between 35th and Delridge, you can take the bus up the hill and catch the 21. This not only gets you to downtown, but to Avalon. If the 21 no longer serves Avalon, then it would be a two seat ride between there and High Point, despite being on the same corridor. I just don’t see it.

        I think at best we could nibble around at the edges. There are a lot of less frequent buses that go downtown. A lot of these are rush hour only, which is the worst time to be sending buses downtown. The 55, for example, seems redundant (you could take the 128 and transfer to the C). With the 56, 57 and 37, you could send them under the freeway, and back around to Alaska Junction. This might even be faster as a means to get downtown in rush hour (the only time these buses run), as there is congestion getting on the freeway from the north, but from the south there is a bus lane (for the C). This could be improved in the future as well. Of course, in the evening folks lose out, but this is one of those cases where added headways (on the West Seattle only buses) might make up for the transfer.

        Another possible change would be the 125. Unlike the 21, it doesn’t serve a major corridor, which means it doesn’t run very often. But it still serves South Seattle College. Instead of sending it downtown, you could truncate at Delridge (when it merges with the 120) or send it west on Genessee up to Alaska Junction. This would allow you to smooth and simplify the 128. You would no longer need to do the out and back to the college, as long as you get headways frequent enough.

        To me this gets to the heart of the matter, though. Right now I can take a bus from downtown to South Seattle College. It runs every half hour. How frequent must the other buses be, before I consider the transfer to be beneficial? The 120 runs every fifteen minutes, and if this new bus (that doesn’t go downtown) runs every 15 minutes, is that frequent enough? Maybe you want the 120 (the second most popular bus to serve West Seattle) to run every 10 minutes. If so, then you haven’t reduced the number of buses going downtown. You may have improved the overall system — provided better connections and much better headways — but you still have a bunch of buses going downtown.

        I think the only way you can reduce the number of buses downtown is if you target relatively empty buses. In other words, unused capacity. That is why Link truncations work. We were able to truncate routes by taking advantage of a lot of unused capacity within our trains. That may be the case with some buses in West Seattle, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it isn’t, and the buses are full when crowding is the biggest issue (rush hour).

      2. The 106 could partly compensate for splitting the 7 because MLK and Rainier are close together from Columbia City on North. But at Rainier Beach and Othello they’re too far apart to be interchangeable, and I haven’t checked Graham. But there’s another factor. An urban route performs best when it goes in front of the high street storefronts, which are on Rainier.

        Metro’s calculation may be that Rainier becomes industrial north of Mt Baker so few people from lower Rainier will miss the one-seat ride to it. But people live in the houses east of it and might go to Columbia City. And people go through it to Jackson Street. And people go to Goodwill. Although Goodwill may be replaced by gentrification sooner or later.

        However, as I write this I started feeling better about the 7/48. Maybe replacing a one-seat ride to the industrial part of Rainier with a one-seat ride to Judkins Park Station, 233rd & Jackson, and UW will benefit more people than it hurts. I have missed the 48 no longer going to Columbia City, and this would put it right in the center of the neighborhood rather than on the periphery. I just wish 23rd would become more mixed-use so there wasn’t such a residential-only gap. However, I know the people in those houses ride the 48: at rush hour people are getting on and off at every stop. That amazes me: who leaves their house at 5pm? Are people working in those houses?

      3. I’d give Metro the benefit of the doubt on the 21 and 125. West Seattle is intrinsically hard to serve with its hill and cliff barriers, and the Junction center being west of 35th, Delridge, and 16th. 35th is a lower-rent area that Metro rightly upgraded to 15-minute service in the 2012 restructure. South Seattle College has unique career programs that draw people from all over Seattle, and if they can’t connect anywhere closer than the Junction, it will be a 3+-seat ride for them. When Link vastly improves the frequency and transfers and one-seat rides, then we can look at truncating the 125. Because it’s an infrequent coverage route avoiding the most congested bottlenecks, it’s not that many service hours.

      4. Isn’t Metro planning to operate Route 70 between Mt. Baker TC and downtown/ Eastlake/UDist if the 7/48 connection is established?

      5. >> Isn’t Metro planning to operate Route 70 between Mt. Baker TC and downtown/ Eastlake/UDist if the 7/48 connection is established?

        I think so. Basically that connects Corridor 3* with Corridor 7*. On the map for Corridor 3 it says “… evaluate a route extension from South Lake Union to the University District via Eastlake Avenue” (which is basically the Roosevelt HCT). Map:

        * Corridor 3 is Mount Baker to downtown (following the route for the 7). Corridor 7 is Roosevelt HCT.

    2. I’ll chime in to vote against truncating WS routes at Sodo. I’ve tried taking 50 to Sodo several times, rather than C Line to University Street Station, for my trips from the junction to UW. The 50-Sodo route is always much worse, and much more unreliable. The scheduled time from AK Junction to Sodo station is 20 minutes, but I’ve never seen it done in less than 30 minutes at morning rush hour. It’s just a garbage connection. For people whose destination is downtown, it’s an even worse deal because they’re not doing the Link transfer eventually like I do.

      I’m not sure what makes it so god-awful. Could be the frequent stops mean that the 50 hits every light red. I know the left turn from Genesee onto Delridge is also horrible — even though Delridge has a bus lane from there down, the bus can’t reach it because cars gridlock that intersection preventing cars in front of the bus from turning left, leaving it stuck for several minutes.

      Then again, once the viaduct comes down, I think all West Seattle routes will be much worse than that, so maybe it’s time to get creative. All surface streets from 99 into downtown will be parking lots with travel time upward of 60 minutes, so maybe just forcing everyone to transfer to water taxis will be the only hope?

      Or get serious about doing the Sodo transfer right: pare down all the stops like they’ve done for RapidRide. Time the lights to actually get buses through. Make one of the left turns from Spokane viaduct onto 1st Ave bus-only. And speed up the Lander overpass so buses don’t get stuck waiting on freight there just a block from the Sodo station.

  3. >> I’d give Metro the benefit of the doubt on the 21 and 125 …

    I think the 21 is fine. It is fairly popular bus that follows the grid and runs often enough (every 15 minutes) to be popular.

    I am not thrilled with the 125, though. 30 minute service is just not very good. I think the dynamic is very similar to the restructure in northeast Seattle, and similar to what will likely happen when Link gets to West Seattle. It is all about headways. In the case of U-Link, obviously it had a speed advantage over the old bus service. But the transfer was so bad — and the direct service of many of the buses so fast — that from a total speed standpoint, the old direct bus was faster. But better headways made it for it.

    Truncating the 125 will make the most sense when the 120 becomes a RapidRide+ route (Corridor 2). At that point the 120 will likely be very frequent. When that happens, the 125 could be truncated at Genesee, or sent to the junction. It is a three seat ride to the college, but we just need to get used to three seat rides. Right now it is a three seat ride from Children’s to First Hill, for example. As long as the headways make up for the transfer, it all works out.

    1. OK, I’ve got a better idea. Connect Georgetown to West Seattle like so: If you could run this every 15 minutes, then it would do several things:

      1) Connect the two South Seattle Campuses.

      2) Makes it easier to get from southeast Seattle to the main (West Seattle) Campus of South Seattle College. Right now, if you are at South Beacon Hill and want to go to SSC, you have to wait for the infrequent 60, then transfer way down at White Center to catch the infrequent 128. With this change it is a more direct and more frequent two seat ride.

      3) Direct and more frequent service to Holden, which means folks in the apartments have a shorter walk. More importantly, they have an option if they miss the infrequent 131 (they would take this bus, then catch the 132 or 124).

      4) Provide a one seat ride from the Alaska Junction to either campus of South Seattle College.

      5) You can get rid of the “out and back” to South Seattle College of the 128. It just looks unnecessary at this point, even if there is a bit of a detour for some folks.

      6) Adds service along Genesee (along with the 50). This is a good neighborhood to neighborhood bus, improving connections along the way. For example, if I’m at the Delridge Library and want to get to the Junction, I take the 120 north, then this bus west. Connecting buses need more frequency to be effective, and this would add it.

      In an ideal world, this would go farther east, and connect to Othello Station, or Rainier Beach, or both, like so: This (or even part of this) would do a few more nice things:

      1) One seat ride from Othello (or Rainier Beach) to Georgetown.

      2) An alternative to the 50 (that would be faster for a lot of riders) for travel from the south end of Rainier Valley to West Seattle.

      3) Better way to get from Rainier Valley to the main South Seattle College campus. Right now you can take the infrequent 50 and transfer to the infrequent 125. From Rainier Beach that is a three seat ride. From Othello it is a very slow two seat ride. You can try transferring downtown (i. e. take Link to downtown, then take the 125 back) but the transfer is all the way down at Pioneer Square.

      4) Eliminates the need for the “out and back” of the 107.

      Realistically, I don’t think the extension to the east could happen until we get Graham Street Station, and then the route could look something like this: That would provide the east-west connection for Graham, and make for an efficient set of bus routes.

      But I do think that you could have a bus connecting the two South Seattle College campuses, and have it run every 15 minutes once the Delridge RapidRide+ (Corridor 2)is finished. That will free up a fair amount of money, which can be used to create a reasonably frequent run like this, along with adding frequencies to other crossing buses, like the 128, 22 and 50.

      1. I have an idea similar to this in my West Seattle restructure idea, but instead this bus would go on Sylvan Way instead of 16th. I had the 128 run via 16th instead of Sylvan Way. This would create more of a grid-like system. I do think a West Seattle-Georgetown-Rainier Valley bus is needed, and I think the Graham station is the perfect opportunity for this. However, I do find your idea interesting to connect the two South Seattle College campuses. That would be pretty nice too. I still think there should at least be a bus running north-south on 16th though.

      2. Connecting the campuses is probably good but first we should see how much interaction there is between the two. If most students have a program entirely at one campus, then there may not be many students and staff traveling between campuses.

  4. I like that idea Anthony. I think it does make a lot of sense. Mike is right — it isn’t clear whether you really need to connect the two campuses. That was more of a side benefit, instead of a key element (although it would be interesting and pretty easy to see how many people do take classes at both campuses).

    So, basically there are two changes. The 128 starts at the north end of West Seattle and follows the current route through the junction and then onto Morgan and Sylvan. Instead of going south on 16th, it goes on Holden, then over to Georgetown (and maybe beyond).

    I would then change the 125. It wouldn’t go downtown, So, it starts at the Alaska Junction and follows the route of the 50 until Delridge. Then it follows its current course (south, past the college) to Westwood Village. That really is less of a change. You keep the connection from Westwood Village to the college.

    The key is to get enough frequency to make it all worth it. The 128 is a connector bus and would become more of a connector bus. The 125 would now become one. With a connector bus, a high percentage of the riders take another bus as part of the trip. For that reason, they need high frequency to make it palatable. In other words, it really is not a big deal if a trip from one campus to the other takes two seats, as long as each bus comes frequently. This makes it different than buses that go directly downtown, for example.

    Fifteen minute headways are essential, otherwise I wouldn’t bother, and look to simplify the system. That is how they were able to change things in Northeast Seattle. Lots and lots of people have a slower ride downtown. But the buses come way more often (just about every bus runs 15 minutes or better) which makes up for it. Of course it helps that Link runs so often. If the 120 (when it becomes a RapidRide+ route) runs every ten minutes most of the day, that would make this type of change very similar, and a lot more popular. Of course that means *more* buses downtown, not fewer (oh well).

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