Metro recently released a summary of community feedback on its proposal to move a short segment of routes 3 and 4 from James St to Yesler Wy. As we’ve come to expect with proposals to change the oldest parts of Metro’s network, the feedback was deeply muddled. Metro’s Magic 8-Ball said: “Reply Hazy, Try Again.”
Online survey respondents favored the change, 53 to 40 percent. Most of the few people who contacted Metro by email or phone opposed the change. Stakeholder organizations were split along geographic lines; First Hill Improvement Association and WHEEL (which operates a women’s shelter near 8th and James) opposed the change, while Yesler Terrace Community Council supported it. Supporters cited better reliability and improved service to Yesler Terrace, while opponents concentrated on potential difficulties accessing services on James for seniors and people with limited mobility.
In keeping with this split feedback, Metro plans to study a variety of options using both James and Yesler. The agency will study transit priority measures on James, to see if there is any way to speed up buses despite the very high volume of I-5 traffic. Previous studies have found bus lanes on James infeasible because the volume of I-5 car traffic trying to use James would create gridlock on other streets (including 9th Avenue, which the current routes use), but Metro will have another look. At the same time, the agency will continue designing trolley overhead and other infrastructure along the Yesler route. Finally, the agency will look at putting another (presumably less frequent) route onto James to provide access while moving routes 3 and 4 to Yesler.
By its nature, this feedback process could not include any voice representing the over 5,000 net new residents (including about 1,100 low-income residents) who will come to Yesler Terrace once redevelopment ($) is complete. Redevelopment will turn Yesler Terrace into one of the city’s densest areas, and no comparable development is proposed for the area around James Street. Yesler Terrace and downtown are currently connected only by infrequent route 27, which is obviously insufficient to serve the new population. As a regular route 3 rider, I think the combination of reliability improvements and Yesler Terrace redevelopment makes the move to Yesler the obvious best option for routes 3 and 4. Community feedback regarding access to the James/5th and James/8th stops, though, may warrant moving a low-ridership coverage route (the 27?) to James to serve those stops, despite the delays for riders that will certainly result.