Route 169 map from Metro website

In September, King County Metro route 169, which serves a major business corridor on Kent East Hill, got a serious investment, going from half-hourly all day to running every 15 minutes from 7 am to 6 pm on weekdays.

Its north terminus is Renton Transit Center, from which riders have to transfer to route 101 to get to downtown Seattle, the F Line to get to more of the valley, ST Express 560 to get to the eastside, or route 106 to get to Skyway and Rainier Valley.

As it happens, route 169 is the only route in the queue to be converted to RapidRide that would not directly serve the region’s planned light rail network.

Route 101 is a peak-heavy commuter route that drops down to half-hourly off-peak.

The fast path between Renton Transit Center and Rainier Beach Station,
without getting on the freeway [Google maps]
Extending route 169 up to Rainier Beach Station could be done in a revenue-neutral manner that would also double frequency for riders living along Sunset Way between downtown Renton and Seattle. Just scavenge the off-peak service hours being used to run route 101 up to and through downtown, and roll them into route 169, with the route continuing on Sunset Way and MLK Way up to Rainier Beach Station.

Such a route restructure will make even more sense when route 101 is streamlined to run directly between Renton Transit Center and downtown Seattle, starting in March 2018.

Making route 169 an all-day connector to Link could also alleviate some of the bus traffic jam that will happen when route 101 leaves the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel forever in 2019.

Route 101 doesn’t have to cease serving downtown, however. For peak commuters, it could become one of several routes that go to the north end of downtown via the Seneca St exit from I-5, and on into the booming South Lake Union business district.

All-day frequent connectivity to the regional light rail system, peak express service to the fastest-growing job center in the state, and improved local connectivity would be a win-win-win for the residents of south Skyway, downtown Renton, and Kent East Hill.

28 Replies to “169 to Rainier Beach Station, or Bust”

  1. One thing I have to wonder about is what is LINK’s capacity limit. I agree where practical routes should be connected to LINK, and unlike Portland we have done a really bad job at connecting LINK into the rest of the transit “grid”, however given the existing capacity issues and complaints what is its limit, and what will its limit be in the coming years? When the line is extended to Federal Way in the next 8 years, will the express buses all go away and that traffic be funneled into LINK? Will LINK be able to absorb all that additional traffic, or will the downstream riders fill the trains up leaving no room for anyone on MLK? Will more routes be truncated or otherwise funneled into the system causing a total failure? This is one area where I have seen little information and am curious to see what the long term effects will be.

    1. The current plan is to move to all 4-car trains when Northgate Link opens. However, the plan is also to roll back to 7.5-minute peak headway and 10-minute off-peak headway on the non-interlined portions of East Link and Federal Way Link at some point. Of course, ST went off-plan and rolled out mostly 3-car service several years ahead of plan.

      My understanding is that ST can run 3-minute headway on the interlined portion of Northgate Link, but doesn’t want to as a regular plan. Good luck getting ST to give a straight answer to the question of what element of the system sets minimum headway, and what the true regular minimum headway is. I suspect they don’t actually know until they get to test it.

      All that said, I find it a head-scratcher why people would drive to South Renton Park & Ride to catch a bus downtown that will get stuck on a freeway if they can drive to nearby Tukwila Sounder Station and catch a train that makes the trip faster, and with no traffic jams. Hence my suggestion to send route 101 to the north end of the Central Business District and South Lake Union.

      I don’t have a direct answer to your question, but I also don’t expect this restructure plan to add more to south-end Link ridership than the natural ridership growth rate the year it gets instituted, if it ever does.

      It should, however, have a long-term effect in jumpstarting TOD south of Rainier Beach Station along MLK Way, which is totally lacking in bus service between where route 101 jumps on I-5 and the station — currently a 1.5-mile dead zone for transit.

      1. “All that said, I find it a head-scratcher why people would drive to South Renton Park & Ride to catch a bus downtown that will get stuck on a freeway if they can drive to nearby Tukwila Sounder Station and catch a train that makes the trip faster, and with no traffic jams.”

        I can think of plenty of reasons:
        1) If person lives closer to South Renton P&R (shorter drive to station)
        2) If parking at Tukwila Sounder Station is full, but South Renton P&R still has open spaces
        3) Fare is less for the bus than the Sounder train.
        4) During peak hours, the bus runs more frequently than the Sounder train does
        5) If person needs to leave downtown after 6:30 PM, the 101 still runs, but Sounder does not. It’s still possible to return to the car via an extra transfer to the F-line, but who wants to do that?

      2. 6) I didn’t even know Tukwila Sounder Station was a thing. I figured that parking lot was part of the Boeing plant. I’ve only ever driven past it at arterial speed on my way to the big box stores off 180th.

    2. This article covers it pretty well:

      Of course that mainly covers the heart of the system (downtown to the UW) which doesn’t directly answer your concerns. The southern part of Link (downtown to the airport and beyond) has half that of the north end. That means 8,000 an hour. My guess is that is plenty, but I can’t really tell what we are like right now. ST has the number of riders per station. They also have charts showing peak ridership per train. But they don’t show ridership per car per station. In other words, they don’t have a profile of how many people are boarding at say, Tukwila, between 8 and 8:30. There aren’t huge numbers of people riding it from the south, but it may be that they are all pretty much boarding at the same time.

      For something like what Brent proposed, I doubt it will be a problem. This is not about peak, it is about midday operations. For peak, the 101 makes sense (regardless of which part of downtown it serves). His proposal would increase ridership on Link, but in the middle of the day, when it can handle it.

    3. Today, I believe that the biggest Link capacity problem is between Westlake and Capitol Hill, but I could be wrong. Even if I’m wrong today, this will be the case when Northgate segment stations open. (ST3 won’t help this at all — but that’s another whole big topic.) Link should be able to handle any additional riders for this service change.

      I do think that connecting every high-frequency Metro route to Link in at least one place should be a basic route design requirement. Link carries more riders than every RapidRide line combined and Link frequencies are too awesome to ignore!

      Another big factor here is traffic congestion. WA 900 between I-5 and Renton can be awfully slow at times. In that situation, the Renton Ave (Skyway) routing actually may be faster or at least more predictable.

    4. “I do think that connecting every high-frequency Metro route to Link in at least one place should be a basic route design requirement.”

      It depends how far the city is from Link and downtown. Metro’s calculation is that Link is too far away and Rainier Beach-Westlake takes too long for Link to replace the 101 or 150. When we suggested this reorganization during the cut debates, Metro said it would do it only if it couldn’t afford to run the 101 at 30-minute daytime/60 minute evening frequency. All versions of Metro’s long-term plan have an all-day Renton express. In 2025 Metro keeps the 101 and adds an Express on Auburn-Kent-Renton-downtown. In 2040 it extends the 101 to SLU. The argument against replacing the 101 with Link transfers is it’s 40 minutes from downtown to Renton off-peak, but on Link it’s 28 minutes to Rainier Beach plus 20 minutes on the 106 plus transferring makes 53+ minutes. All in all Renton is a difficult case because of its location (and its land use downtown and on the west side).

      The biggest flaw in the 101 and 150 is that they terminate in suburban downtowns where few people live, and even the cities’ TOD plans won’t make much of a dent comared to the vast hordes of people who live in eastern Kent and Renton and have to transfer in the city center (when one or both routes are infrequent). Aleks’ south King County network connected the residential areas directly to Rainier Beach, thus moving the transfer to the station rather than adding a transfer. This is the same as Brent is advocating. However, Metro is also extending the 169 the other direction to Auburn Station, so it would run from Auburn to Rainier Beach. That would be a long route, which might cause reliability problems.

      The 102 is like the 101 except it goes further east to Fairwood, serving one residential area, and it doesn’t go to Renton TC. Metro has been reassigning some peak 101 runs to the 102.

  2. “Such a route restructure will make even more sense when route 101 is streamlined to run directly between Renton Transit Center and downtown Seattle, starting in March 2018.”

    I think I missed something. Is the 101 being restructured? Is it skipping the South Renton P&R? The post on the 2018 improvements only mentions some 101s being turned into 102s I think.

    1. Route 101 will serve both, but with Renton Transit Center between South Renton Park & Ride and downtown, instead of serving South Renton Park & Ride between Renton Transit Center and downtown, which currently makes service to Renton Transit Center a backtrack.

      1. Gotcha. I think that makes a lot more sense. I remember thinking it was weird when I first saw that the 101 goes to south Renton first on the way to Renton.

        I think a good and less drastic change would be to remove the SODO routing from the 101 and have it exit at Seneca (like the 578), making it a “real express,” and moving the 124 to SODO busway to compensate.

  3. As the transit plan evolves for Renton, I expect/hope/pray that there will be an all day, frequent express route between downtown Seattle and the South Renton P&R that can make the trip in 35-40 minutes. Route 143 is Metro’s fastest existing link between downtown Seattle and Renton but it’s a peak-only route. However, the 143 is often SRO when it arrives in Renton. The current 101 is also frequently SRO from Skyway to downtown during the midday so there’s plenty of evidence that there is demand for better service between Renton and Seattle.

    Currently there is a well-timed connection at South Renton between the 169 and 101 that allows someone riding between Valley Medical Center and downtown Seattle to make the trip in about 1 hour. A sample midday journey using the existing schedules: leave Valley Med at 1020a (169) > arrive SRPR at 1033a > transfer to 101 at 1038a and arrive University Street Station at 1121–total trip time is 61 minutes and involves 1 transfer.

    The same trip using the modified 101/169 plan would happen like this: leave Valley Med at 1020a on the modified 101/169 and arrive at Rainier Beach Station at ~ 28-33 minutes later (depending on whether the bus serves or skips the downtown Renton TC), then allow 5 minutes for the transfer and 24 minutes for the Link trip to University Street. Total trip time is 57-62 minutes and involves 1 transfer.

    With an express bus from South Renton the same trip could start from Valley Med at 1020a and–with well-timed connections at South Renton–arrive in downtown Seattle sooner than either of the above examples.

    1. As I pointed out, route 169 is now every 15 minutes mid-day on weekdays and route 101 is still every 30 minutes. That’s not “well-timed”.

      Certainly, a one-seat ride will beat a two-seat ride, if you aren’t trying to get somewhere in south Seattle. But if we give everyone a one-seat ride downtown all day, there will be no money for a gridded network to get places other than downtown, and that’s no way to build a transit network that serves the needs of those who try to get around without a car.

    2. Express service like what you describe makes a lot of sense. In the middle of the day, the freeway isn’t a problem — a trip like that is very fast. Likewise, bus congestion downtown is also less of a problem. If you have the ridership to justify that type of trip (and it sounds like you do) then it would make a lot of sense.

      The tough part is finding the money. Express service like that is expensive, even if it is popular. Fare box recovery tends to be relatively low, even if the bus is crowded. That is because unlike a bus like the 7, or the E, you don’t have people constantly getting off the bus, making room for new people to get on. In other words, the fares per minute of service is relatively low. From the moment you leave the Renton Park and Ride until you start picking up people downtown, you have no fares.

      So yeah, I think it would make a lot of sense. The only question is whether they can afford it.

  4. Kent has done a good job with land use planning around Kent Station, now they need to improve conditions on the East Hill. The 169’s route path along 108th is prime, fertile ground for much better TOD that would create the need for even better transit service and more connecting options.

    It’s unfortunate that midday Sounder service to Tukwila and Kent isn’t in the near term plans. Even if the trains only ran between King Street and Kent Station, there would be so many more options available with midday trains.

  5. Looks like a fine idea. Note that this is actually in one of the S. King restructure ideas from 3 years ago (, which I think is good overall (exception being that I think the 184 should go to Renton on the corridor of the 153 and a straightened out version of the 183, and that sacrificing a potentially useful cross-county connector for simply a shadow of the A line is silly).

    Though I do see a potential issue with connecting a 15 minute route to a 10 minute route. This will cause fluctuating travel times, which isn’t great, especially for people who lost their fast, 1-seat ride to downtown.

    Though that’s not horrible either (like the time Pierce Transit had an 80-minute headway route connect to a 60-minute route… And the 80 minute route stopped running after 1pm… Designed to fail if anything ever was)

    1. “I do see a potential issue with connecting a 15 minute route to a 10 minute route.”

      It’s better than connecting a 15-mintue route to a 30-minute route. Although since the 10-minute route is Link, the bus part will be less reliable anyway due to traffic, so I don’t believe they can be coordinated unless the bus waits five minutes to ensure connections.

      1. “It’s better than connecting a 15-mintue route to a 30-minute route.”

        Gotta disagree. In fact, an efficient transfer-based network has to be filled with 15 to 30, 10 to 20, 10 to 30 (etc) transfers. The caveat is that these transfers need to be timed well (and this also seems to be the weakest part, since a lot of schedules seem to be more or less randomly placed). 10 to 15 is ugly, you will get variations in travel time, and you effectively get lopsided frequencies in the direction that starts with the longest headway.

        15 to 30, on the other hand, is very clean and elegant. It’s a virtual 30 minute route along your whole trip. It’s two buses to every bus. To take a real example, if you are on the A-line and you know that every other A-line connects to a 166, you can know to give yourself 30 minute granularity even when you’re on the 15 minute route (this works even when the A-line is every 10 minutes, which is one of the rare advantages that 30 minute headways have over 15 and 10, not that frequency isn’t more desirable of course).

      2. You can’t be serious. 15 to 30 means if you miss the 30-minute bus you have to wait 25-30 minutes for the next one. I’ve had that happen to me too many times. Taking a bus to Link is easy because your wait is never more than ten minutes, but going the other way you can end up waiting 25-30 minutes. 10 to 15 is much better. And as I said, I don’t believe you can time a 10-minute train to a 10-minute bus anyway and guarantee you’ll get the next bus, so you’re sometimes going to get the next one and sometimes the second one anyway.

      3. From a frequency standpoint, you’re right, obviously 10 to 15 is still more frequent than 30. But for the purpose of building out a link connection network, I think (reason being that Link is every 10 minutes off-peak) that going from 20 minutes to 15 yields diminishing returns (because transfers go from every other train to two trains in a row with a useless train after, and with two different travel times), and in many cases it may be better to take potential 15 minute routes that are highly dependent on link and make them 20 minutes, and use the saved hours to upgrade another connecting line from 30 to 20 (a frequency bump that doesn’t have the same problem as 20 to 15). The route could also be extended instead, possibly combining a different route and making a trunk route for the same price as a single 15 minute route.

        Though of course, if demand warrants it, 10 minute service is even better. I do agree that at 10 minutes, timing is largely unimportant (“so frequent you don’t need a schedule,” as RapidRide used to say to justify no schedule), but at 15 minutes, timing is important (and at 30 minutes and up, very important).

        And my own bias is being from suburban King County, where 30-60 minute routes are the norm, so my own priorities are #1 span of service, #2 coverage, and #3 frequency (timed transfers being implicit and essentially free in comparison). It’s a great convenience to be able to miss a bus and only wait 10 or 15 minutes for the next one, but it’s tough if it’s at the cost of many people not getting a bus ever, or making sure they never have to stay at work past 6pm or whatever.

  6. For several years after we opened the DSTT in 1990, my favorite route was the 107. I don’t remember its route between the Tunnel and Rainier Avenue- which I think hit Rainier at Orcas.

    It then followed Rainier down the lake-shore, turned up into the neighborhood at 84th, and through Renton. Before a long uphill wind east of the city. It was definitely weird to have a bus that size doing some of those streets.

    Doubt it really paid off. But sorry to have that stretch along the lake abandoned. Not only was it beautiful,, but it was traffic-free and fast. If only for the drive- I’d be glad to drive out and run it, just for a report.

    Definitely fastest route from Renton to Rainier Beach Station.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The 106 and 107 went down the busway, then on I-5 to Swift Avenue, Myrtle/Othello Street, and Rainier Avenue.

      1. Many thanks, Mike. In the very early days of the DSTT, a project I wouldn’t have traded for anything, the original Route 107 demonstrated every single necessary operating skill for a system based on dual-power buses.

        From running under trolleywire to negotiating numberless hills and curves in the neighborhoods across 405 from Downtown Renton, the 107 taught every secret of a brand-new trade. Which I still consider my life’s work.

        I wished that the whole off-freeway part of the route could have been wired. And that the Route 7 be wired into the Tunnel using the present eastbound ramps out of IDS, coming down to Rainier at Dearborn.

        Possibly creating an all-electric DSTT route all the way to Renton, via either the lake-shore or Renton Avenue. Or both. Metro had plans on the drafting boards. $12 million could’ve been worse spent.

        I wonder how much history is in the archives about the early days of the project. Not for antiquity’s sake, but as an object lesson as to how to keep a transit project moving in the face of a long set-back. By building in steps and stages what can’t be done whole.

        Between now and 2040 or so, could come in handy once or twice.

        Mark Dublin

        Metro had plan drawings on the boards. $12 million…

  7. At least from my limited experience visiting Renton, I would definitely prefer an frequent express to Ranier Beach over the 101 we have today.

    Some points were mentioning:
    – A large reason why the transfer idea looks bad today is because the 106’s path between Renton and Ranier Beach is local roads filled with frequent stops. According to Google, a direct drive from Renton Transit Center to Ranier Beach Station would take about 15 minutes.
    – What time the 101 saves by avoiding the Link transfer, it will easily squander on the streets of downtown Seattle (at least, once it doesn’t get to use the tunnel anymore). A few weeks ago, I rode the 101 to Renton while the tunnel was closed and waited and waited until about 15 minutes after the scheduled time, when the bus finally showed up. This was about 7:30 on a Saturday morning, about as light traffic downtown as you’ll ever get. This becomes even more true in 2040, when Link will provide a one-seat ride from Ranier Beach to SLU, while the 101 parallels it on the surface, getting bogged down in even more stoplights. And, delays downtown don’t just affect people traveling downtown. They delay anyone riding any portion of the route.
    – The 101’s path today through Renton is anything but direct, further wasting time.
    – For those needing to make further connections in Renton, such connections are impossible to time, even when I-5 is uncongested, because the time it takes to get through downtown Seattle is too unpredictable.

    1. If this was on the 23rd, it was because they were doing construction on 4th near Target, closing the intersection down to one lane. And then a tour bus stopped to let off passengers blocking the remaining lane. This would have been a good day to have taken Link to a 106 transfer, little did I know.

  8. My problem with this idea is that during the evening commute MLK Way S between I-5 and Rainier becomes a parking lot full of vehicles not moving much. Not sure about the other times of the commute. How do you plan on keeping the bus at a schedule during these times? A dedicated bus only lane?

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