Seattle Transit Blog

Renton Rethinks Downtown Transit

Potential revisions to downtown Renton transit operations (Map: City of Renton).

The ST3 program included, at the suggestion of the City of Renton, a new transit center with a 700 stall park-and-ride in South Renton near the intersection of I-405 and SR 167. Relocating the downtown transit center, however, left observers questioning how much transit would serve downtown in future. Mayor Denis Law, among others, viewed a relocated center as a positive step for downtown.

“The current location does not provide adequate public transportation services for Renton residents; nor does it meet the needs of businesses and commuters in the valley area of the city. As downtown redevelopment continues it will also pose challenges for buses to navigate. This new transit vision will lead Renton into the next phase of our community’s growth, both in our downtown core and at the new transit center location.”

The downtown transit center, in the view of the city, was not compatible with plans for a pedestrian-oriented downtown. There were issues with crime, and drivers to the parking garage added to downtown congestion. The city intends to restore two-way traffic on South Third and South Second streets, revitalizing them as neighborhood streets rather than commuter routes.

Planning to improve Renton’s downtown has moved forward. With it has come a more worked-out view of future transit service. Renton now intends to maintain a downtown transit center, but with several operational modifications to reduce supposed impacts to downtown.

Twelve routes serve the downtown transit center with 3,500 daily boardings. Eight of those routes layover there. Many riders transfer, particularly from ST 566 and RapidRide F to local routes. All routes should continue to serve the downtown transit center. Some routes will be extended so they do not terminate in downtown and continue to South Renton.

The existing park-and-ride in South Renton, operated by Metro, serves just 1,000 riders a day, but could see more service as downtown routes are extended, and much more service as I-405 BRT begins serving Sound Transit’s new South Renton TC in 2024.

Sound Transit’s planned transit center in South Renton (Image: City of Renton).

These proposals are expected to add operational costs for transit operators. Layovers west of downtown mean 6,000 – 8,000 additional deadhead service hours per year (~$1 million). Layovers in more distant South Renton could add 15,000 – 20,000 service hours per year (~$3 million). Removal of layover space from the transit center could begin within 1-2 years, with stop restructuring a year later.

It’s welcome that Renton leaders are reconciling their downtown revitalization plans with transit. Nevertheless, the thinking remains that the presence of buses in downtown are an impact to be mitigated, even at significant cost to operators.