Orange and white Rider Alert signs are sprouting around the city like early March crocuses, which must mean it’s time for another Metro service change. Not so long ago, we dreaded these. Now we look forward to them. We’ve now had four years of improvements without any significant pain, as a combination of continued sales tax revenue growth and Seattle Proposition 1 investments have allowed the agency to address urgent needs and boost service levels throughout its network.
This service change, which starts Saturday, March 23, is a little different. The local economic music has not yet stopped, so Metro is still adding hours. But, this time, riders won’t be seeing commensurate network improvements.
The culprit is the closure of the downtown transit tunnel to buses, driven by the construction of the Washington State Convention Center Addition and the resulting loss of the northern tunnel entrance at the former Convention Place Station. A majority of the additional hours in this service change are dedicated to adding running time to tunnel routes, which is needed because their trips on downtown surface streets will be slower than trips through the tunnel. (Trips through the tunnel on Link trains, however, should be faster and more reliable with the buses gone.)
Another significant change triggered by the tunnel closure is the opening of a new northbound bus pathway through downtown. While the existing three southbound pathways (Third, Second, and Fifth Avenues) had sufficient capacity to absorb the buses displaced by the tunnel, there were only two existing northbound pathways (Third and Fourth Avenues), and they lack capacity to absorb more buses. In response, SDOT and Metro have created a third northbound pathway, using a bus-only contraflow lane on Fifth Avenue south of Marion and middle bus lanes on Sixth Avenue north of Marion. Those who have suffered through the Howell Street bus lane may be skeptical of the Sixth Avenue lanes; it remains to be seen how they will perform. The new pathway will host one all-day route, the 255 to Kirkland, and a number of peak-hour routes to North King County and the northern Eastside.
Also in an effort to improve bus capacity further, all-door boarding with off-bus ORCA card readers will be available at all stops on Third Avenue downtown.
In addition to these major changes, there are a few network improvements. See the details below the jump.
Former Tunnel Routes
All buses will be leaving the tunnel and migrating to surface streets, as follows:
- Route 41: 3rd Ave in both directions. Lake City-bound buses will stop on 3rd at James, Madison, Union, and Pine, and on Olive Way at 6th.
- Route 74: New 5th/6th bus pathway outbound, Union St and 2nd Ave inbound. Sand Point-bound buses will stop on 5th at Main, Jefferson, and Marion, and on 6th at University.
- Routes 101/102 and 150: Union St and 2nd Ave outbound, 4th Ave inbound. Renton- and Kent-bound buses will stop on Union at 6th and 4th, and on 2nd at Madison, James, and Jackson. Note that there are no outbound stops north of Union St.
- Route 255: New 5th/6th bus pathway outbound, Stewart St and 5th Ave inbound. Kirkland-bound buses will stop on 5th at Main, Jefferson, and Marion, and on 6th at University.
- Sound Transit route 550: Union St and 2nd Ave outbound, 4th Ave inbound. Bellevue-bound buses will stop on Union at 6th and 4th, and on 2nd at Seneca, Cherry, and Yesler. Note that there are no outbound stops north of Union St.
Routes Moving to 5th/6th Pathway
The new 5th/6th pathway, shown below, has stops on 5th at Main, Jefferson, and Marion, and on 6th at University. (On their southbound trips, Eastside routes will use a different path than shown, but the northbound path will be the same.)
The following routes will be moving to the new pathway for trips headed out of downtown:
- 74 to University District and Sand Point
- 76 to Roosevelt and Wedgwood
- 77 to Maple Leaf and Jackson Park
- 252 to Kingsgate
- 255 to Kirkland (all-day service)
- 257 to Kingsgate
- 301 to Aurora Village
- 308 to Lake Forest Park
- 311 to Woodinville
- 316 to Green Lake and Meridian Park
Accessing the 5th/6th pathway, especially the stops at Marion and Jefferson, may represent a significant climb for riders coming from further west. Those who have trouble making the climb may find it easier to use Route 12 to reach 5th and Marion, or to take 3rd or 2nd Ave service southbound to stops close to 5th and Main.
Note that not all north-end or SR-520 service will shift to the new pathway. Metro routes 268 and 312, and Sound Transit routes 522 and 545, will remain on 4th Avenue northbound. Metro routes 304 and 355 will continue to use their existing “reverse” routing through downtown.
All-Door Boarding on 3rd and Westlake
All stops along 3rd Avenue between Yesler and Pine Streets, and all stops along Westlake Ave N in South Lake Union, will feature all-door boarding. Riders can tap their ORCA cards at off-bus machines located at the stops. Unarmed Metro fare enforcement personnel will check proof of payment on routes serving these stops. Riders paying with cash on 3rd Ave and Westlake Ave N routes should get transfers and retain them while on the bus.
Other Network Improvements
While the bulk of new service hours will be helping to keep tunnel routes afloat, there are still a few network improvements, with a welcome focus on South Seattle. They are as follows:
Route 120 gets improvements that are a “sneak peek” of its future as the RapidRide H Line. Daytime service on weekdays improves to 12-minute frequency, while service improves to 15-minute frequency weekday evenings and Sunday daytime. This is welcome change for a route that has been slow to see improvements given its extremely high ridership. There is further room for improvement when RapidRide H arrives, though; service remains half-hourly after 9 p.m. weekdays and 6 p.m. weekends.
Route 40 gets targeted new weekday trips to improve frequency at certain crowded times. Southbound, frequency improves from 15 to 12 minutes throughout the late morning, until roughly 12:30 p.m., and from 15 to 10 minutes during the 6:00 p.m. hour Northbound, frequency improves from 15 to 12 minutes during the early morning, before full peak-hour service starts around 7:30 a.m.
Route 106 will improve to 15-minute frequency during the day on Sundays.
Route 50 gets new weekday midday trips that improve its frequency to 20 minutes throughout weekday afternoons. Service remains half-hourly during late mornings, nights, and weekends.
Route 204 will gain hourly Saturday service.
Peak Hour Crowding Relief
The following routes get additional peak hour trips to relieve crowding:
- Route 15 (one morning trip)
- Route 111 (one morning and one evening trip)
- Route 312 (one morning trip)
As always, there are a few other random details worth mentioning.
- Route 70 will operate with diesel or diesel-hybrid buses until the Fairview Bridge project is complete, which is expected in late 2020.
- Route 105 will straighten its routing in the Renton Highlands, eliminating its current jog onto NE 4th St. The stops next to the Vantage Point condo complex will be relocated onto NE 3rd St, making service faster but creating some difficult pedestrian crossings.
- Route 201, a Mercer Island shuttle route that serves approximately one rider on its single daily trip in each direction, will finally be deleted.
- Routes 204 and 224 will transition from regular Metro service, operated with full-size Metro buses, to DART (Dial-A-Ride Transit) service operated with wheelchair-accessible vans. As a result, these routes will gain flexible service areas, allowing riders to reserve off-route pickups in advance. DART service is subcontracted to nonunion contractors, and Metro’s contract with the drivers’ union limits the amount of DART service it can schedule to a certain percentage of Metro’s regular service. Metro’s additions to regular service over the last several years are also allowing it to add more DART service, facilitating this transition.