Map of the proposed James/Yesler switch.
Metro proposes to move the James segment (double line) to Yesler (yellow).

Together, Metro routes 3 and 4 form a critical bus corridor connecting the Central District, First Hill hospitals (including Harborview), downtown, Belltown, and Seattle Center.  The segment between downtown and Cherry Hill is one of the highest-ridership parts of the Metro system, with standing-room-only buses running every 5 to 7 minutes during the day.  Unfortunately, it’s also one of the less reliable segments, almost entirely because of traffic delays on the short part of James St that the routes use.  That part of James includes a major interchange with I-5, and suffers from gridlock during most afternoon peak hours.

For years, Metro has studied moving routes 3 and 4 from James to much less congested Yesler Way, only between 3rd and 9th Avenues, to address the problem.  (Our own Bruce Nourish suggested the move in 2011, and Metro staff were already on it then.) The move wasn’t practical, though, until SDOT completed its Yesler Bridge Rehabilitation Project, after which the bridge will accommodate trolleybus overhead.  Now that SDOT’s project is nearing completion, Metro is formally proposing the move, and has provided a survey to complete.

Metro’s own analysis indicates that the move would save up to four minutes per trip during afternoon peak hours.  Notably, this is average saving per trip, which masks some much longer delays (to which I, a semi-regular route 3 rider, can testify).  Bruce’s chart below, based on historical Metro data, shows how much more consistent Yesler was in 2011—before recent increases in I-5 traffic.  The very worst trip on Yesler was more than six minutes quicker on average than the worst trip on James, and several other trips on Yesler had a similar advantage.  Today, the differences would even be greater, given higher volume on James.

Comparing Yesler to James
Comparing Yesler to James (2011 data from Metro). Chart by Bruce Nourish.

Moving routes 3 and 4 to Yesler would be a huge benefit to Harborview, First Hill, and Central District afternoon commuters.  It would also substantially improve transit service to Yesler Terrace, which is expected to add around 5,000 residents (including over 1,000 net new low-income residents) and several employers within the next few years, but has only a half-hourly bus to downtown.  The move does have one downside, though.  The stretch of James Street that would lose service includes several of the steepest arterial blocks in the city, and access to some destinations along James could get more complicated.  Although only two stops would lose service, at 5th and 8th Avenues, each serves some major destinations.  The stop at 5th serves core King County and Seattle government buildings, including Seattle City Hall, King County Administration, and King County Jail.  The stop at 8th serves the Jefferson Terrace public housing complex, with about 350 residents, and Northwest Harvest’s Cherry Street Food Bank.  We have already heard objections to the move on the basis that the walks from 3rd or 9th Avenues to these destinations are too steep for some users to manage.

These objections are overblown, and do not justify subjecting the great majority of riders to long and unpredictable afternoon delays.  Most of the James Street destinations remain accessible.  Between them, the King County Courthouse and King County Administration buildings allow a flat, fully accessible passage from 3rd to 5th Avenues, which in turn allows access to the other government buildings along 5th.  There is also transit access to 5th and James along very frequent Sound Transit routes 512 and 545, with fully accessible connections in both the Westlake and International District areas.  Jefferson Terrace has an elevated, accessible entrance along Jefferson Street that provides easy access to 9th Avenue bus stops, which will continue to be served.  The only major destination of concern is the Northwest Harvest food bank.  It would be worthwhile for Metro to work with Northwest Harvest to determine how many food bank customers are unable to walk from 9th Avenue bus stops, and find a solution for those users (for example, a routing change for Solid Ground’s free circulator on days when the food bank is open).

If you use routes 3 and 4, we encourage you to take Metro’s survey and help Metro implement this time- and hassle-saving change.

45 Replies to “Metro Wants Out of James Street Gridlock”

  1. Has anyone considered rechannelizing James in some way to prioritize buses? How would that compare to detouring buses to Yesler?

    1. It still wouldn’t work as I have sat on 9th for over 20 minutes trying to get to the intersection at James Street to turn left to come down the hill. The issue is in both directions and there really isn’t any way to fix the problem except by moving the bus routes.

  2. I ride the 3 every day and I can confirm that the traffic on James is hell. However, there is also serious congestion westbound on Jefferson street as it approaches 9th and Jefferson. This intersection needs to be signalized to handle the high traffic that passes through it every day.

  3. Anyone else remember how the older trolley buses would have trouble getting up James if there were too many buses on the line? Standing room only buses would start to slide backwards on the steep slope causing brief panic on board. After that tower of terror moment, you got to sit in the mess of intersections around Harborview. Those were the good ‘ol days.

    1. James St, Madison, Marion, Spring, Seneca are powered by the Main Substation Located 700 6 Av

      The issue was the coaches ability to carry the extreme heavy load. When coaches are loaded to capacity traction equipment can heat up quickly which equal power loss or…..clogged air filters can also cause power loss or short time failure. Trolley Coaches have “traction motor blowers” that push enormous amounts filtered fresh air…any restriction will affect traction performance also control equipment can fail for a variety of reasons bad connections, bad control card, Blown Fuse, Differential Failure Snap/Broken Axle
      There I have told why the coach may go!

  4. I’ve wondered if you could thread this needle someday. If 6th could become two-way all the way from Westlake to Yesler, you could add wire on 6th from Spring to Yesler and turn the right lane into a BAT lane, leaving the left two lanes for I-5 queuing. Routes 3/4 could stop at SPL like Route 2, turn right on 6th, left on Yesler, and then up to Harborview. You cut the mobility gap in half, still serve City Hall/the jail/SMC/etc, you avoid James, and you still serve Harborview.

    1. “… leaving the left two lanes for I-5 queuing”

      So much of our CBD transit mobility challenges are created by cars queuing up for freeway access. Is it time to start tolling the exit and entrance ramps in downtown Seattle? How much of a mode shift would be created by tolls on the downtown exits? If it costs $3 to use the Seneca Street exit and $3 to use the Spring Street on-ramp would enough people decide to stop driving to downtown Seattle that CBD mobility would improve for transit? Of course, the downtown business groups would freak out over a toll, but there’s excellent transit service to downtown Seattle from just about everywhere in the Puget Sound area. Tolling the downtown exits might improve transit service and move more people from their cars to mass transit.

      1. Maybe not the actual exit, but the lanes leading up to the exits should be fair grounds for tolls.
        There might need to be some lane reconfigurations, but the idea would be to keep the city streets fluid and not have traffic lanes being used as waiting queues for freeway access.

      2. If legally the city cannot toll the freeway exits, a congestion charge for the downtown core is generally seen as legal and should result in basically the same intended outcome.

      3. Tolling might be solution to quite a few traffic problems. For instance, if you can eliminate most of the jams, you don’t even need bus lanes, and this way you can free more space for cars as well. This is most practical on narrow streets with little spare space, or on streets with infrequent bus service.

      4. Is it time to start tolling the exit and entrance ramps in downtown Seattle?

        And, AJ, though nobody can toll I-5 itself in the absence of approval of a congestion control tolling test project or a major increase in capacity Seattle can curtain toll at the point where ownership changes from WSDOT to City of Seattle.

  5. As I said in the Future of Trolleybus Network thread currently active on PAGE 2, if Metro runs a wire up Yesler I’d like them to study continuing the wire to Boren or 14th and running the 7 on Yesler instead of Jackson. By the time any wire is strung, it may be the 70 that is actually the bus route serving north Rainier Valley to downtown, but running on Yesler would much faster.

  6. [ah]

    I have a better idea.

    Instead of making the lives of those with difficulties even more problematic, why don’t YOU get off of the bus and walk up/down James St — I mean since y’all seem to think that concerns over the second steepest street in Seattle are overblown and all.

    just to save FOUR [obscenity] MINUTES


    1. You could make this argument on most streets in downtown Seattle. Most of them are steep.

    2. The point wasn’t that people should walk up James (which is hard for lots of people); it was that very few people need to. There are flat, direct, fully accessible ways to reach every destination currently served along James except for the food bank.

      And “just to save four minutes”… 1) in the context of a 25-minute average commute, four minutes is a BFD, and 2) as stated in the post, the four-minute average figure masks chronic unreliability and many far worse delays. Yesler isn’t just faster than James; it’s far more reliable.

      I’d like to hear your alternative. I want to find ways to accommodate riders who can’t walk. But I also don’t think the current situation of having a core, ~10k rider/day service stuck in freeway gridlock is acceptable.

  7. The real issue on James is the uphill courthouse stop where almost no matter what time it is we have to stop and wait for10 to 20 people toshuffle aboard.

    1. The “real issue” is picking up people who want to ride the bus? At a bus stop?

      Forgive me if I misunderstand, but isn’t a stop where “almost no matter what time it is” “10 to 20 people” want to board the bus there a very useful stop? And isn’t that the only eastbound stop on James west of the freeway?

  8. There is a stop at 5th point is the courthouse stop is what is killing these routes

    1. What? Buses line up and wait for the turn at 9th & James all the time. It’s not just the stop at 5th. The stop at 8th can be slow too.

      Does “shuffling aboard” mean boarding at normal speed, boarding while all fumbling for cash, stepping slowly into the bus, or having a lot of wheelchairs and things?

      1. Not so much wheelchairs. Luggage carts and lots of other crap people bring on the bus.if we had dwell times for that stop I think it would be illuminating.

      2. Heaven forbid poor people with no car have to get their groceries from the food bank. How else do you propose they carry their food?

      3. Personally I don’t care where they get it. Unfortunately, I have a myriad of appointments at Harborview and both Swedish hospitals so I very much get to share in their plight.James street aside, metro seems completely unable to run a functional transit system.

      4. And it’s the only stop on James west of the freeway. For the routes that turn east on James from 3rd, I think you have to go all the way back to Marion to find the previous stop, so 5th is where people in that part of downtown are going to get on – carts or no. The time problem isn’t getting people on the bus, it’s the auto traffic on James. Assuming those people are going to ride the bus anyway – as is their right – moving the bus to Yesler doesn’t change the board time as they’d just go there to get on their bus.

        But yeah, I’m sure my bus would be faster if slow people, people paying with cash, cyclists not wanting to ride their bikes uphill, people with shopping bags, people with kids, etc. didn’t use it. /snark

      5. How much do the James Street delays cost in operating costs? It appears to be at least several hundred dollars a day or at least $10k a month if not $20K.

        It appears that finding a new spot for the food bank would be more cost-effective for Metro (aka King County). It appears cheaper to pay for a relocation than it is for Metro to leave the route on James. Surely there is a building space nearby that can accommodate the food bank. A relocation could even put more bus routes near the food bank!

  9. Anywhere else Metro would apply the standard so called fix..remove the stop.

    1. The VA hospital, for which route 60 no longer does an 8-turn knot to serve a single stop taking 10 minutes with few boardings? It certainly made the route more functional and improved ridership.

  10. Well when Metro rams this through and it is still a mess I will recall all of your great wisdom and explanations..

      1. Not much except as a disabled person the last thing I need is your hectoring condecension

      2. What would a non-mess be? What do you think Metro should do? That’s what I’m asking. Saying it’s bad and not offering specifics is borderline trolling.

    1. Holding a survey is not ramming something through.

      Asking for explanation of disagreement is not hectoring condescension.

      I have no opinions on this re-route proposal, but I also have no patience for people trying to get their way by screaming the loudest.

  11. Jefferson Terrace also has an entrance on Jefferson St (facing Harborview), with no hill climb at all to get to the bus stop at Jefferson & 9th. So, the loss of a stop at 8th on James shouldn’t be much of a problem for them. It’s a bit more of an issue for the food bank though.

    1. My solution for the food bank, preferably as part of a larger restructure: Move the 60 or 27 to 9th -> James or Cherry -> 8th -> SLU. Metro already wants to do something like this in their long-range plan.

      1. Not the 27. The riders on its tail are extremely wealthy Lake Washington view property owners. They want to go downtown and simply won’t ride if the bus doesn’t.

        The 60 makes sense since it crosses Link at BHS and shadows the 36 which does go downtown north of there.

  12. Waiting for the bus, waiting for people to board the bus, waiting for people to exit the bus, waiting in traffic, complaining about Metro – It’s all part of the Metro experience. Metro is not a smooth running, customer first, efficient organization. Nothing has changed. What is the real issue? Time penalty is part of the equation with riding Metro.

    1. “Time penalty” is “part of the equation” on any urban bus system. That’s because people actually use it. If you want a personal shuttle to your work, take a cab.

  13. My understanding is that the Food Bank is slated to move sometime in the near future. So “serving the foodbank” is a moot point for keeping the service on James.

    1. The fate of Cherry Street Food Bank ($) has been in limbo for awhile now.

      The good news is new apartments may go up on the site. The other good news is that the food bank could return after construction, in first-floor retail space. Having a bus line between the food bank and Yesler Terrace is a match made in compassion. But then, why not let the food bank move in at Yesler Terrace?

      1. A lot of unknowns in your comments @Brent. There is already a food bank in the ID, one block south of the Streetcar stop at 7th and Jackson that also serves YT residents. YT is positioned nicely between the two. Seems logical to me to move transit to Yesler where 5,000 new residents will be living soon. The easier it is for that level of density to access downtown jobs and transit connections, the better.

  14. That half hourly route is actually hourly on weekends! My rent is probably going up if this happens since the walk up the hill from ID station seems to deter a lot of people from living around there;)

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