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Seattle is sometimes known for its extensive trolleybus system. Trolleybuses are nice because they are quiet, but the wires can be kind of a hassle. Also, battery-electric buses are improving, which could mean that trolleybuses would be obsolete some time in the future. Here I talk about what Metro could do with the trolleybus network. I talk about some specific routes here. Some of these ideas are plans that Metro already has.

Major Changes

Map of Major Changes: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1LOrhwCohaby9urDVOiSS_47ATX0&usp=sharing

Route 49 and First Hill Streetcar

The First Hill Streetcar will be extended north to U District to replace Route 49.

Route 70 and South Lake Union Streetcar

The South Lake Union Streetcar will be extended north to U District to replace Route 70.

Route 36

Instead of going to Downtown, Route 36 will run through First Hill via 14th and 15th, then terminate at Capitol Hill Link Station.

Route 11/RapidRide G

RapidRide G Line will run along Madison all the way from Downtown to Madison Park.

Route 2

Route 2 will be split in Downtown. The south portion of Route 2 will run via Pike/Pine instead of Seneca/Spring. The north portion will become Route 23, and Routes 23 and 13 will instead be through-routed with Route 3 (see below).

Route 3

Route 3 will get a frequency boost, and also run through Yesler Terrace instead of on James. Route 3 will also get split in Downtown, with the north portion becoming Route 34. Route 34 will be through-routed with Route 14.

Route 4

Route 4 will run peak only between Downtown and Judkins Park, but also loop at Mt Baker TC instead of at Plum St. It will no longer be a trolley route, but instead act as a 3 express along Jefferson.

Routes 7/48

Route 48 will take over Route 7 south of Mt Baker TC. Instead of going to Prentice St, it will serve the Rainier Beach Link Station. Route 7 will only run between Rainier Beach Station and Prentice St via Henderson and Seward Park Ave instead of Rainier. The portion of Route 7 between Mt Baker TC and Downtown will be served by Route 106 and an extension of Route 1. Route 48 will run at 10-minute frequency, and Route 7 will run at 30-minute frequency.

Route 44

Route 44 will run to Children’s Hospital instead of Husky Stadium.

Minor Changes

Route 1

Route 1 would get extended to Mt Baker TC via Jackson and Rainier. It will no longer be through-routed with Route 14.

Route 10

Route 10 will loop at Olin Pl instead of Garfield.

Route 12

Route 12 will be discontinued. Route 60 will be extended to Interlaken Park to replace Route 12.

Route 14

Route 14 will no longer serve the tail to Hunter Blvd. It will also get a frequency boost. Route 14 will be through-routed with Route 34 instead of Route 1.

31 Replies to “Future of Trolleybus Network”

  1. An Eastlake streetcar would contradict the investments planned in Roosevelt BRT. The team studied both bus and streetcar alternatives and chose bus as more cost-effective. The five-line streetcar vision was McGinn’s and the current administration thinks it was overkill. As DP said, streetcars can be more capacious and faster than buses but our streetcars are not. Trains are only worth the money if they get at least as much capacity and priority as Link, and then we wouldn’t call them streetcars.

    A 10th/Harvard Ave E streetcar might have problems with the hill grade.

    The 2S, 44 and 48 plans are already Metro’s. Except the 44’s eastern terminus hasn’t been decided yet.

    Metro is turning the 36 into an Othello-Beacon-12th-Broadway-UDist route, which is like your 36+streetcar. Is that OK with you? Most of it already has trolley wire; only 12th would need new wire, which is similar to he 48’s gap. The area between Prospect and the Ship Canal is not very dense; it’s low priority for a streetcar. Metro’s 36/49 would consolidate the 60N; the 60S would be spun off. Does that bother you? If instead Metro goes with your 36 and 60, then the 60 should become more frequent, and at that point it would overserve 19th Ave E. Metro plans to serve 19th by a “43 on ADD” as David Lawson calls it (John-19th-Aloha-24th), which may be half-hourly. What do you think of that? (John/Olive west of 15th would still have the 10 and an extended 47.)

    Metro has more extensive changes in mind for the 2N, becoming a Queen Anne – Capitol Hill – CD route (Aloha St, 23rd). So that would be the “more radical” option, and it would also further SDOT/Metro’s goal of whittling down the number of non-RapidRide buses downtown.

    A Jefferson Street express, interesting.

    1. Yeah, a combined 49/36 would be nice too, but I would prefer it go on 14th/15th instead of 12th. 12th is already rather close to Broadway, and I want more of a grid system. I was thinking maybe routes 9 or 60 could serve 12th instead so that there are not 2 frequent corridors extremely close to each other while there would still be at least some service along 12th.

      The modified 43 seems interesting, though I feel it would be too redundant to other routes unless it can serve Boyer Ave to restore service from the old Route 25.

  2. The streetcar extensions seem silly. FHSC is a mess, takes waaaay too long, over-budget, behind schedule, etc. I’d want to limit the damage of FHSC, not have it swallow the beloved 49. Right now it can no longer seem to get enough political capital to get to Aloha street, as it probably shouldn’t. The SLU streetcar extending on Eastlake has much the same problems, and contradicts the Eastlake BRT, and contradicts the CCC plan.

    Secondly, a lot of these seem like good ideas (never thought about extending the 60 to replace the 19th ave portion of the 12), but it seems like a whole lot of trolley wire.

    The idea with the 7 is good, though I think the major holdup on routing it to RBS is the lack of trolley wire on Henderson (to my previous point). The short 7 is OK, though I like it being the tail of another route better, like your West Seattle restructure idea. I don’t really like super short routes like 78, I think they make much more sense when we combine it with a route that has a “free tail” (like the 44. I always preferred an alternative where the 44 has a really small loop in Laurelhurst, smaller than the 25 but bigger than the 78).

    The 4 being essentially a 3x that goes to MBS is a neat idea. It would be kind of a south mirror of the 43. I know especially because trying to take the 3 between downtown and SU was very painful. If a 3x had no stops between Pioneer Square station area and 9th at the hospitals, then no stops again until 12th, then 23rd, etc., that might save a lot of time. Maybe routing it up Cherry EB would save time. It should be bi-directional at peak too.

    Not sure why you keep wanting the 10 to go to Olin Pl. Such a small change is probably not worth a new capital project to add wire.

    1. I agree with your point about the streetcars. As nice as the streetcars might be, the same service could be provided by bus rapid transit. Maybe Routes 49 and 36 could be combined in First Hill, and Route 70 can be modified in some other way.

      I was originally thinking the 44 and 78 could be merged, but then I decided there should instead be a route fully serving the old 25 loop, and the 44 would be way too frequent for that. I still think Route 44 should have its eastern terminus where Route 78 ends, while Route 78 could be modified to serve the old 25 loop and instead layover somewhere else in Laurelhurst.

    2. Metro is planning to ditch the Prentice tail completely. I think the reasoning is it’s close to the 106. The Prentice tail goes way back to when the 142 was running if not Seattle Transit.The 142 was I think hourly to Renton and daytime only, so the 7 would have given additional service in the area.

  3. There won’t be any bus running on Jackson Street to downtown Seattle from Beacon Hill if this plan is adopted. Sure, there will be plenty of transfer options at 12th & Jackson, but anyone who has ever ridden a bus on Beacon Hill knows that there is huge bus ridership between Union Station and Beacon Hill Station. Not everyone needs a one-seat ride, but Jackson Street to Beacon Hill Station needs to have one-seat service for the numerous senior citizens that rely on the 36. Either the 36 or a beefed-up 60 needs to run east/west on Jackson Street.

    1. You have a point. People could easily take Link between Beacon Hill and ID, but it seems like a lot of people use the 36 instead. I think this group of riders might actually be the people living along Beacon Ave, not just those traveling between Beacon Hill Station and ID. So maybe Route 36 could stay on Jackson, but terminate in the ID instead of somewhere else in Downtown. There is already such wire, so having Route 36 use it would be perfect. Route 60 can continue running to First Hill, but maybe it should go on Boren to South Lake Union instead of zigzagging through First Hill.

      1. The Beacon Tower on Massachusetts Street is a huge ridership generator but all of the stops between Union Station and Beacon Hill Station have big on/off numbers.

        If the Yesler wire is built for the 3/4, I would like to see the 7 moved over the Yesler and keep the 36 on Jackson.

      2. The Yesler wire would only go east to 8th or 9th, where the 3/4 would turn north to Harborview and Jefferson. Not far enough for the 7. Although since the project is not yet funded or I think designed, there’s the possibility of changing its scope. But rerouting the wire to Yesler would leave the 3/4 out in the cold. Harborview and First Hill are huge ridership areas. and disabled patients can’t walk up the hill from Yesler to Harborview. And rerouting the 7 to Yesler-Jefferson-Rainier would be a tight slow bottleneck for such a high-volume route and articulated buses. So the only way to accommodate both the 7 and the 3/4 would be to wire both paths: 8th north to Jefferson, and Yesler east to Boren.

      3. From 3rd Avenue the 7 route path would be straight up Yesler to at least Boren, maybe 14th Avenue. The 3/4 would turn left at an 8th Avenue switch, the 7 would continue east.

        Routing the 7 to Jefferson shouldn’t even be considered. The only question would be whether the Yesler to Jackson path should be via Boren or 14th Avenue.

      4. I think this group of riders might actually be the people living along Beacon Ave, not just those traveling between Beacon Hill Station and ID

        Ding!

  4. The First Hill Streetcar will be extended north to U District to replace Route 49.

    No. No it won’t. It isn’t even going to be extended to Aloha.

    The South Lake Union Streetcar will be extended north to U District to replace Route 70.

    No. Not it won’t. There might be a subway headed to Lake City someday with a couple of stops along Eastlake, but there isn’t going to be a streetcar. There is no room on Eastlake Avenue for reserved lanes, and no practical parallel arterial.

    Instead of going to Downtown, Route 36 will run through First Hill via 14th and 15th, then terminate at Capitol Hill Link Station.

    No. No it won’t. It might possibly be cut back to Beacon Hill Station and the outer end dieselized and run as you describe as sort of an express, but there are plenty of riders from Beacon Hill north of BHS who mostly want to go downtown. They are way too close to town to force a transfer.

    Route 44 will run to Children’s Hospital instead of Husky Stadium.

    No. No it won’t. You haven’t lived in Seattle long, have you? If you had, you’d know about the city-wide “Hurrah!” when the 30 (which used to go the Childrens’ on its way to Laurelhurst) was turned into the 43 to Montlake and, oh, yeah I forgot, the single greatest destination for all-day transit patronage north of the Ship Canal, the University Hospitals complex.

    Route 48 will take over Route 7 south of Mt Baker TC. Instead of going to Prentice St, it will serve the Rainier Beach Link Station.

    It makes a lot of sense to connect the south end of the Rainier Avenue line, whatever its number, with Link at RBS, and giving Prentice Street infrequent service is already happening. This would make it permanent. However, the transfer at Mount Baker Station is terrible northbound and pretty bad southbound. There are plenty of people in Columbia City and just to the south who are headed to downtown Seattle. In any case you will not have articulated battery buses that can run Rainier for its full length with all the stopping and starting. There is already a RapidRide to and from downtown planned for the route. It will either continue to be ETB or will be dieselized.

    Some of your other ideas do have some merit.

    1. Other than the streetcar plans, all the other ideas you mentioned are ideas that Metro already has. Your arguments make sense though, especially the ones about the 36 riders and Mt Baker TC. Keeping the 7 as it is now (except changing the southern terminus) makes sense.

      I have only lived in Seattle for about 15 years. When was this “30” changed to go from Laurelhurst to Montlake instead? The only 30 I remember is the one going along NE 55th St between NOAA and U District (and before 2012, Wallingford and Fremont). I do miss the 43, even though I didn’t take it much.

      1. Route 43, the Ballard/Wallingford/UD/Montlake/CapHill/Downtown version, was created about 1980 as a combination of the old 4 MONTLAKE (a trolley route from ~1941-1970) and the 30 BALLARD/LAURELHURST. At that time Metro simplified the routing in downtown Seattle of the old legacy trolley routes from WW2 and improved service between Ballard/Wallingford and Montlake by creating route 43. The new 43 was very popular but suffered from horrible timekeeping and was eventually split into the 43 and 44. The remnant 30 LAURELHURST never had much ridership even though it was eventually extended to Wallingford, then Fremont, then Magnolia.

    2. “There might be a subway headed to Lake City someday with a couple of stops along Eastlake”

      Not that way. ST’s long-range plan has a placeholder Bothell/Lake City line terminating at Northgate. Some have suggested connecting it to the Ballard line by continuing west from Northgate, or going to Roosevelt instead. When ST dusts it off and considers building it, it might route it to 145th instead and skip the Northgate hill. I have not heard anything about a line from downtown to Lake City.

      “There are plenty of people in Columbia City and just to the south who are headed to downtown Seattle.”

      They won’t get it with Metro’s and SDOT’s plans. The southern 7 will turn into the 48 and go to the U-District. If they’re going downtown, there may be a bus on MLK for them. But the gap between Rainier and MLK gets significantly wide at Othello if not Graham so it’s not a tiny stroll. (And some residents won’t do it because they think it’s still unsafe.)

      Going “to downtown” will change in the future, with implications for both Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley. Jarret Walker has tooted the horn on not routing everything through downtown but also to serve downtown-adjacent neighborhoods (e.g., Broadway, SLU). Many people are going to those neighborhoods, and many others can transfer there just as easily as on 3rd Avenue. So it’s likely that future Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley buses will go to Capitol Hill Station and the U-District or Boren Ave and SLU rather than 3rd Avenue. The Jackson and 3rd service may be provided only by the successors to the northern 7 and the 14. Maybe something extra from north Beacon Hill because it’s so close, but it might terminate at Intl Dist.

      I suppose the city would also like us to imagine that the SLU streetcar with the CCC extension will become a roaring success, and thus transferring at Jackson Street to the streetcar for whatever direction doesn’t get a one-seat ride will be more convenient than it is now.

      When I started riding Metro in 1980, the 43 was already running and I thought it had been there forever. (My first bus was the 7 so maybe I didn’t get to the 43 till a year or so later.) The 30 was also running, on 45th from Laurelhurst to Fremont or so. I always preferred the 43 because it was a trolleybus and more frequent (15 minutes instead of 30). I spent a lot of time on the Ave and later lived on campus, so the 45th & University stop was fine for me; I didn’t need it to go down to the hospital. And the health sciences industrial complex was smaller then. So I don’t think most people took the 43 because it went a little down 15th, they took it because it was a silent smooth trolleybus and more frequent, or they were going further to Capitol Hill or downtown.

      1. Mike, there should be some sort of “backbone” service on Rainier north of Orcas or so which turns at Dearborn, Jackson or Yesler and goes to third and on north to somewhere in Belltown or SLU. Sure, have a Rapid Ride from RBS to U-District via Henderson, Rainier, and 23/24th overlaying it. But the north half of Rainier is strongly linked with the ID and downtown. That is where it’s base-level service should continue to go. If you want RV to First Hill and Capitol Hill service, extend the Seward Park Avenue or MLK service as a north-half limited-stop overlay.

        Either that or rebuild MBS directly over the intersection of Rainier and Martin Luther King Blvd with a decent mezzanine which allows people transferring to and from Link never to cross the street to do so. If it’s ever elevated down MLK, such a rebuild could be a part of the revamped transition out of the tunnel.

      2. “There might be a subway headed to Lake City someday with a couple of stops along Eastlake”

        Not that way. ST’s long-range plan has a placeholder Bothell/Lake City line terminating at Northgate.

        But that doesn’t mean that such a line makes the most sense. Getting to Northgate from Lake City is problematic. If you go elevated, you will encounter local opposition. The same thing will likely happen in West Seattle (folks not wanting a train running next to their apartment) but West Seattle gets something out of the deal (a fast ride to downtown). Northgate riders get a fast ride to Lake City, which just isn’t the same. Another alternative would be to run on the surface, but that isn’t practical because of the turns and lights involved. Underground could work, except the station is above ground. You wouldn’t be able to tie into it.

        What is probably the most likely is to branch somewhere north of Roosevelt. So that would mean going underground for a while, then popping up on Lake City Way, where it would then go on the surface through Lake City. That would be fairly popular and practical. Signal priority on Lake City Way isn’t too difficult (125th and 145th are the only issues). That would mean six minute headways on trains heading north of 65th towards Northgate and Lynnwood, and six minute headways to Lake City. Three minute headways through the U-District is where it is needed, and Roosevelt just gets lucky and gets it as well.

        Some have suggested connecting it to the Ballard line by continuing west from Northgate, or going to Roosevelt instead. When ST dusts it off and considers building it, it might route it to 145th instead and skip the Northgate hill. I have not heard anything about a line from downtown to Lake City.

        I think that is unrealistic. The only way that could work is if you built a tunnel under the freeway, which means a tough connection between the two lines (underground to elevated). It could be done, I suppose, but that is really expensive, for what doesn’t seem like that much value added. If I’m at Lake City, standing right next to the train station, it might be just as fast to take the BRT to NE 130th, and make the transfer there. I’m a big fan of neighborhood to neighborhood rail, but I would put a line like that way down on the list, just because the key transfer (at Northgate) is tough, and there isn’t a lot of value added otherwise.

        In general I would say that Lake City, unfortunately, will probably never have direct light rail service. Other places, like Belltown, should be served first, and even they are not towards the front of the line.

      3. It all depends on how well 522 BRT performs. If it’s ridership is anemic, or if people think it’s good enough, then they may never get around to converting it to rail. But if they do convert it to rail, ST’s default terminus is Northgate, and I’m speculating it may get switched to 145th because it’s the closest Central Link station. In either case it would have to go up a hill or have a tunnel. I have no idea if ST has a presumed alignment to Northgate, or if it has even thought that far. It’s really just a placeholder now for “a line that serves the 522 transit markets”. When they dust it off the first questions will be “What are the 522 transit markets? Where do they want to go?” I think the answer will be “Woodinville to Lake Forest Park (maybe Lake City)” and “to Central Link, somewhere, anywhere along it”. That will lead to a terminus or crossing somewhere between Roosevelt and 145th. Roosevelt and 130th have been suggested by transit fans, but so far ST has not said one word in favor of them. In ten years ST might consider them or it might have different attitudes or different boardmembers, but what we know now is that Northgate is the default, and 145th is the closest and has a wide straight road to it and a P&R, and those are factors ST tends to favor.

    3. The later history of the 30: The Magnolia-Laurelhurst route was deleted in the late 80s. The 71/72/73 locals ran all day to downtown via Eastlake, each every 30-60 minutes. The 74 local was half-hourly from Sand Point to 55th, the U-District, Eastlake, Fairview, and downtown. The 70/71/72/73X were a spaghetti of express routes in the express lanes, Eastlake, and the 70 via 45th. In 1990 the DSTT opened, the 71/72/73 took on on their 2000s configuration, Campus Parkway became a major transfer point, and the 65, 68, and 75 were created or beefed up and transferred at Campus Parkway to downtown. At some point trolley wire was strung on Eastlake and the 70 local was created. It replaced the 71/72/73 daytime locals but ran along the 74’s Eastlake-Fairview routing. The 74 local was truncated at Campus Parkway. I don’t remember whether the DSTT or the 70 came first; I’ve forgotten how the gap between them worked.

      So the 74 express was peak to downtown, and the 74 local went to Campus Parkway. Later the 74 local was extended west on 40th Street to Fremont. There had been no all-day bus on 40th before that, just an anemic 46 express from Golden Gardens with a few midday runs. So you had to walk up the hill to 46th to catch the 43. The 74 on 40th became extremely popular, and soon it became as full as the 44 was. So now the local and express routes were extremely different: one went to downtown and the other went to Fremont, and that was confusing. So the 74 local was renumbered to 30. Later a 31 appeared, giving 15-minute service on 40th, and alternating with the 30 to Magnolia and Seattle Center. Then the 30 was truncated again at Campus Parkway, and the 32 was created to replace it on 40th, and the 31/32 were through-routed with the 65/76 to give a 15-minute one-seat ride between Fremont and Laurelhurst. This through route was also popular and addressed the underservice after the growth of the U-Village shopping center and surrounding apartments and the UW’s new strategy to house more people on campus.

      Then in the 2014 cuts, Metro raised various proposals for the 30 and ended up deleting off-peak service. Then in the 2016 U-Link restructure the 30 went away completely, replaced partly by the 62 and partly by more service on the 75, and nothing on 55th itself.

      1. I think the DSTT came before the 70. If I remember correctly, the DSTT opened in 1990 and the 70 opened in 1997. I heard somewhere that Metro originally planned for Route 70 to go into the DSTT, but somehow it was changed.

        I think Metro added more trips to the 74 to compensate for the loss of the 30.

  5. Most of this is pretty silly. The 7 will be shifted to RB station via Henderson St when SDOT finally upgrades it. We should shift it from 3rd Ave to Boren Ave north of Jackson, because Boren lacks enough service, and 3rd has plenty, while both 3rd and Jackson move slowly. A northern extension of the 7 into SLU could make sense too.

    Once Rainier & MLK is finally rebuilt with a defensible transfer at MBTC, the 9 won’t be needed, nor the 106 north of MBTC, nor the 4S tail (we can delete the 4 and just run the 3 more often). We should push to electrify all the new Rapid Ride routes, longest of which is the 40. Except the 120 which I understand isn’t practical to do across the bridge. Extending the 70 up to Northgate, especially along a street already slowed down for PBLs, makes very little sense.

    The 48 is already going to be electrified, and I’d do the 8 too.

    1. Sending the 7 along Boren Ave sounds like a good idea, but I think it should be an extension of the 106 instead so that Metro does not have to place too much new trolley wire. Battery-electric technology is improving, so trolleybus technology could become obsolete sometime soon. That is why I also think it does not make sense to electrify all the new RapidRide routes.

      I do agree that the 4S tail is redundant, though many people use it to get to First Hill. That is why I decided to run the 3 more often and keep the 4S as a peak-only express.

      Electrifying the 8 along Denny makes sense, though I’m not sure if electrifying the MLK portion makes much sense. Metro is planning to split the 8 again anyway, so they could just electrify the Denny and Capitol Hill portions.

      1. When the Battery Street Tunnel closes, there is a strong likelihood that the 8 will move to Thomas and if electrified may run (slowly) across Seattle Center. So it won’t be juice quite yet.

        The reality of Amazon may give Metro pause, but getting it out of most of the Denny Way traffic may outweigh the two block walk.

      2. Yeah, I think there is a 99% chance the the 8 will run north of Denny (at least part of the way) after the SR 99 tunnel project is complete. I would say that there is a 90% chance that it will run in bus lanes much of the way. A lot of those roads are very quiet right now, since they don’t go through. From a political standpoint, adding bus lanes would be fairly easy, since you aren’t “taking” general purpose lanes (unlike, say, Denny).

        I would say that the chances of a trolley running through Seattle Center are very low, even though I have promoted the idea.

    2. “the 9 won’t be needed, nor the 106 north of MBTC”

      Some would say the 106 north of MBTC is not needed right now.

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