At first glance, there is little rhyme or reason to which buses use which avenues in Downtown Seattle. In fact, there is some structure to these allocations, although there are a bunch of exceptions. Assigning rules does point to some situations where a swap or two could allow heavy bus users to commit it to memory.

For simplicity, let’s only worry ourselves with outbound buses.

AvenueRuleBuses that meet the rule but aren’t hereBuses that don’t meet the rule but are here
1stNo busesN/A125
2ndDeparting via I-5 South, I-90, or SR 50963037, 412*, 413*, 415*, 421*, 425*, 435*
3rdLeaving by neither I-5, I-90, SR 509, nor SR 52037, 12541, 304*, 355*
4thCT and ST buses that leave via I-5 North or SR 520412, 413, 415, 421, 425, 435
5thMetro buses leaving via I-5 North or SR 52041, 304, 355630

* Although the bus is ultimately heading north, board it at a southbound stop.

There are presumably myriad reasons for deviations from the rules. The 630, for instance, starts from First Hill so going all the way to 2nd would take time. But the simplicity advantages of swapping, say, the 41 for the 37 and 125 are pretty clear.

A glance at the CT system map doesn’t reveal any obvious rhyme or reason to the 2nd/4th split . As we have 5 years before all of those routes go away, perhaps a revision is not in the cards.

If I’ve missed something, please indicate that in the comments.

37 Replies to “Which avenue?”

  1. 355 is an express version of 5, So It does make sense to have them on the same street. 304 also has some overlap with 5. Consistency with related routes seems to win out here.

    1. But they go the opposite direction of the 5, so that seems to make the consistency largely irrelevant.

  2. And, so we learn that 1st Ave. is somehow worthy of $50 million (plus federal matching funds) to build a streetcar, yet simultaneously not worthy of a single bus route, save the 125. And, it’s two blocks from 3rd, which has numerous bus routes, including some very frequent routes that go everywhere on First Hill and South Lake Union that the streetcar goes.

    With I-976 being fought over in the courts, holding the $50 million in reserve is very big. It means that SDOT can continue funding bus service during the court battle, while still having money available to pay refunds, just in case.

    Yes, I know the federal government is paying for most of the streetcar, but let’s suppose a store of offering you 70% off a particular brand of shoes. Do you run to the store and buy it, just because it’s 70% off, without regard to how they feel on your feet, or whether you even need new shoes at all? Of course not. You look at what the remaining 30% costs and make a rational decision whether it’s worth it. The CCC is like an impulse buy to avoid seeing a coupon go to waste, without regard to reasonable cost/benefit analysis.

    Reasonable cost benefit analysis shows no mobility benefit from the CCC except for some people not having to walk two blocks between first and third. This does not justify $50 million.

    If we really want transit on first, we should just reroute a bus. It could even be a bus that already goes to the same destinations as the streetcar, such as the 7, 36, or C line. But, I personally think it’s not worth even that, and we should just leave well enough alone.

    1. The reasin no buses use First is the fustercluck at Pike. It takes five minutes to get through the intersection just about any afternoon.

      If you could get reserved lanes — which can’t be intruded — then, “Buses, yes!” But you can’t, whereas the streetcar was apparently valued enough in the City bureaucracy to get them.

      So, “Streetcar, yes!”

      1. Even if 1st has exclusive lanes the value over just running buses down 3rd, which is, effectively a transit exclusive street, is just saving riders headed to 1st two blocks of walking. This is not worth $50 million.

        And, of course, there is no technical reason why buses can’t run in an exclusive lane down first, either. Except that it’s not necessary, since the marginal value over 3rd is negligible.

      2. If you could get reserved lanes — which can’t be intruded — then, “Buses, yes!” But you can’t, whereas the streetcar was apparently valued enough in the City bureaucracy to get them.

        There are bus lanes on 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and now 6th. They added the bus lanes on 6th when they added service there. If they added bus service on 1st, they would have transit lanes there years before they actually lay the rail for the streetcar.

        As for transit lanes that “can’t be intruded”, those exist, but only on MLK (for the real train).

        There are contraflow lanes on 5th that operate with little to no intrusion, but an idiot (or daredevil) could use the lane, just as someone can drive down the wrong way on a one-way street. Likewise, there will soon be center running lanes on Madison, but without barriers (like those for Link) it would be fairly easy for someone to use them. I don’t think that is likely, just as it is extremely rare for someone to use contraflow transit lanes (or go the wrong way on a one-way street). The Madison BRT project will have a higher percentage of center running lanes than the streetcar, and they will cover a longer distance. There is nothing special about the streetcar from a practical or political standpoint. You actually have it backwards. If transit on First Avenue involved bus service instead of a streetcar, it would be there already. The delay (and possible end) is due entirely to the poor choice of mode.

    2. Does the world end at first? No. Ergo while third is two blocks from first, a steep walk up the hill by the way, third is four blocks from Alaska Way.

      Is bus service so good on Alaska as to make access to a streetcar on first irrelevant?

      1. There is (and should remain) a waterfront shuttle to address the vertical gap between Alaskan Way and tye rest of downtown. First is close enough to 3rd that the gap is much less. If you are able to walk up the steps from Alaskan to first, you can walk up a couple more blocks to 3rd. If you can’t, a streetcar on 1st wouldn’t help you anyway.

      2. Jas, exactly right. I live in Tacoma and went on a cruise this summer. To get to the terminal, we got off on a 4th Ave stop and walked down the hill to the terminal. But to get home, we took a god damn taxi to 2nd Ave because that is a massive hill to climb with giant suitcases (even with the Pike Place elevators)

        I didn’t see anything remotely resembling the waterfront shuttle that asdf2 describes in the Metro schedules or service map.

      3. It’s not branded as a regular Metro route, but if you Google search “downtown Seattle parking shuttle”, you can find it.

  3. Route 255 and related buses should be on 4th Ave with route 545 and related buses. The strange routing via 5th and 6th is inefficient and does not have stops in the principal activity centers downtown. Cynically I believe it’s designed to minimize ridership so that the ridership loss from truncation at UW looks less bad

    1. I think the problem is that, during peak hours, moving the 6th Ave. buses to 4th would overload 4th, and cause buses to get stuck behind other buses.

      The 255 also saves a few minutes traveling through downtown by being two blocks closer to I5.

      Agree that 6th is not conducive to easy transfers. When connecting to it from either Link or any 3rd Ave. bus, usually walk to Olive and 8th. Coming from Fremont, I have actually learned to get off the 40 at Westlake and Denny, walk down 8th, and avoid 3rd Ave. completely.

      1. The outbound 255 path through downtown seems slower than the 545 path in practice, given extra turns needed and it seems to hit a lot of red lights. Not having a stop anywhere near Westlake is a big loss – think the stops are 6th/University and then Olive/8th – that is a huge area to be without a stop – adding one near 6th/Pine or Pike would at least get a little closer to the retail core and Pike Place market. But it remains distant from key destinations

  4. I don’t think it’s because of highways. 3rd Avenue is for Seattle routes, and 2nd and 4th for suburban routes. The 41 is a Seattle route, and the 5, 355, and E are substantially Seattle routes. The difference with the routes on 2nd is the latter make no or few stops in Seattle between downtown and the suburbs.

    Historically I recall the 19, 24, 26, 28, and 33 were on 4th, where they were the only Seattle routes. That made transfers more difficult. They were moved to 3rd to consolidate Seattle routes.

    The 255 is on 5th and 6th because 4th is full. Before the DSTT it was on 4th. I doubt Metro wants any route on 6th but there was no room further west.

    Most suburban routes are on 4th-2nd but there have always been some on 4th-5th. I think those tend to be the north-only routes. When the 255 was on 4th it was through-routed with the 226 (now 550) so it came in on 520 and went out on I-90, so its 2nd Avenue routing made sense.

    The 41 descends from the 307, which ran like the 41 to Lake City and then the 522 to Woodinville. It was on 3rd. Again probably because it went to Northgate and Lake City. The 71, 72, 73, 74, 76, 77, 78, etc were all on 3rd. The 41 is a strange route because it’s the only all-day express. Why does Northgate get an express when Greenwood, Aurora, Rainier Beach, Westwood Village, and north Ballard don’t? The answer seems to be that it’s a shopping mall and the core of former truncations, and north Seattle is longer than south Seattle. That and it’s just in a holding pattern between buses leaving the tunnel and Northgate Link, so we might as well put it on 3rd. And it was on 3rd before the tunnel as I said.

    1. The 41 “descends” from no other route. It originally was the first “suburban-ish” freeway-express-with-a-pickup-tail in the United States, “The Blue Streak”.

      It is the progenitor of all the North Seattle “Express” routes which use the I-5 express lanes and have or had the reversible “wrong way” loop on Third, Yesler, Terrace, and Fifth Contraflow.

      1. I rode the “41 Blue Streak” in the 1970’s. It made a complete loop with my “8 Ravenna”.

    2. Why does Northgate get an express when Greenwood, Aurora, Rainier Beach, Westwood Village, and north Ballard don’t?

      Because it is right next to the freeway, and there are enough people there to justify the service. The 41 does well because it serves three purposes. First, it gives a fair number of people a good one seat ride to downtown. Second, Northgate is a transit center, with lots of feeder buses. Third, there is a fair amount of service along the way (e. g. Lake City to Pinehurst, Pinehurst to Northgate, etc.).

      Greenwood (along with Phinney Ridge) does get an express. It is called the 5. It skips over Fremont, Westlake and Dexter — sticking to the expressway (Aurora) instead. The 5 express is essentially an express of an express.

      Likewise, Aurora service by its very nature is a limited stop express. The only time consuming part is the Linden Avenue detour, which in my opinion should be eliminated. You could try having all day service to Aurora Village (by running the 301 all day) but I think you would find that it would be a terrible value. There wouldn’t be enough people there to justify that kind of service. It would compete with the E at a time when the E is not that frequent (ten minute headways), crowded or slow. The same is true for Rainier Beach and Westwood Village.

      Ballard is a bit more complicated. Crown Hill doesn’t have enough riders to justify something that skips places like Interbay and most of Ballard. Along 15th, the D “detours” to serve Queen Anne. But this detour isn’t that time consuming, and skipping it would probably have the same result (not enough riders to justify the service). The slow bus is the 40. Even when traffic is light it takes a long time to get from downtown to Ballard. I could see an all-day 18 (but truncated at 65th and 24th). You would pick up plenty of riders, double up service along much of the route, while those headed to the heart of Ballard would save a considerable amount of time. Rather than increasing service on the 40 (and the D), I could easily see adding in an all day 18 instead. That being said, midday service on the 40 is only at 15 minutes, and only at 12 minutes on the D. I would get both of those to 10 minute service before I added a third variation.

  5. The 125 was a viaduct route, and from the map it makes no stops on 1st. Its routing is only slightly different from the C. That may have been to spread the routes around so they all wouldn’t get stuck in traffic on the same street (or cause traffic on said street). I don’t see any reason to worry about it’s location. All the West Seattle express routes will move to Alaskan Way and Columbia Street when the waterfront rebuild is finished.

    As for 1st Avenue service, there’s a tradeoff between having some routes on 1st and making transfers to other Seattle routes more difficult. The streetcar is all about politics and tourists and where the existing streetcar termini are, so I’m no longer surprised politicians continue to think 1st Avenue needs a streetcar but not a bus.

  6. Community Transit cant place all of its buses on one pathway because of how many buses it sends through. So they work with seattle and king county metro to determine how many buses can go on each alignment to keep buses moving.

    Their strategy has been to ensure that most buses going to the same destination have the same pathway. But many buses stop at Lynnwood so they split them up to give riders a choice between 2nd and 4th. Going to Marysville? 2nd. Going to Snohomish? 4th. Lynnwood? 2nd or 4th. While some riders have a choice they can make most are limited to a particular route.

    1. This configuration makes it difficult for riders in the afternoon when buses are extremely delayed. If someone is waiting on 2nd Avenue for an extremely delay bus going to Lynnwood, they’re missing buses going by on 4th.

      1. I love such configuration because for people with disabilities, it is easier to get off the bus on 2nd, for example, in the morning. Again, catch a bus on 2nd to go home without fighting up hill or down hill streets.

      2. But unless you’re going to Lynnwood youre going to have to board at the opposing street you got off.

  7. I think the 15 would be a great candidate to go along 1st rather than 3rd. Yes, please, we need a bus on 1st for the north end of Belltown. Also, what’s with the numerous buses parked part time all over north Belltown and Lower Queen Anne?

    1. It makes more sense to me to keep both the 15 and the D Line on the same street downtown (3rd Ave), as the 15 is basically just a quicker version of the D Line (since it bypasses lower Queen Anne and Interbay). I usually take the 15 home to Ballard from work since it saves me a few minutes, but if the run gets cancelled or delayed I can just hop on a D instead without having walk two blocks (uphill) to a different stop.

      1. Yeah, that’s the challenge. You want buses that go to the same general area to be clustered together, on the same street. Done right, this provides very good frequency. For example, the 65 and 75 provide service from the same stops in Lake City to Children’s Hospital, U-Village and the UW. This enables very good frequency between those destinations, even though each route isn’t super frequent (nor should it be, given the relatively weak areas in between).

        For serving First Avenue, especially Belltown, this becomes a challenge. There are some possibilities. You could either send a cluster of buses down there (e. g. the D and the 15) or take a bus that serves a unique area outside of downtown (7, 70, etc.) and send it there. You can also create a new route (which is what the streetcar is). It should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about transit (or just thinks through the possible trip pairs) that the proposed streetcar route is terrible. It isn’t hard to do better.

        For example, I would replace the 27 with something like this: To the north, it would be truncated at Mercer (where the 8 lays over). To the south, I would go as far as 23rd, if not MLK. If layover space can’t be found, the route seems short enough to have a live loop. I think that would be extremely popular — more popular than the proposed streetcar. Thus you could justify 5 minute service along the entire route (although I would probably have 6, like Madison BRT).

        You would either lower the frequency of the 27 (because the tail is weak and the only thing remaining) or replace it with something else. I like the route “3033” shown on the Long Range Plan ( for 2025. You would have some overlap on Yesler, but not much.

        From a capital standpoint, this would be dirt cheap. Add bus lanes on the outside, a few bus signs and you are done. If you wanted to get fancy, then you run the buses in the middle of the street and it is still cheaper than the streetcar. From a service standpoint it wouldn’t be cheap; it would be far cheaper (if not revenue neutral) to just move a few buses around. But you would have some savings from either reducing service on the 27 or connecting the tail to something else. Either way it would be a much better value (way more riders per hour of service) than the proposed streetcar expansion, while still providing the key element (service on First Avenue).

    2. Those buses are laying over – I think most of them are 200-series buses that end up heading south on 2nd.

      (I also agree that First should have some bus service to/through Belltown – it’s the densest neighborhood in the state and in most areas except immediately around Pike/Pine requires a decent climb to get to buses.)

  8. The routing that the CT buses used to be way more common for KCM buses, being all about getting to Express lane entrance at 5th/Cherry and then serving Downtown in a sensible manner. IIRC, it was started with the introduction of Blue Streak service back in the late 60’s.

  9. The 630 and 125 are weird because they live loop through downtown. The 630 is extra weird because it uses a loop to serve both downtown and First Hill, since it needs both to have appreciable ridership.

    Also, any route that uses the Cherry/Columbia direct express lane ramp is necessarily going to be weird, since it has to start out going backwards. Maybe it should be a separate rule that 2nd and 4th also have the “backwards” buses.

  10. 125 used to be on same routing with the 11 so 11’s continued as 125’s and vice versa so that might be partly to explain.

  11. As a community transit rider, I choose 413, and 435 buses over #415 and #511 to downtown Seattle.

    In the morning, #413 and #435 fly through express lane using HOV lane while #415 and #511 jam in the traffic trying to get off Stewart. It is usually, at least, 15 minutes time saved.

    During evening, #413 and #435 again using bus only lane on 5th while #415 and #511 stuck on Olive and Howell.

  12. Martin, you seemed to have neglected the new 5th/6th avenues pathway that began use in March 2019 with routes 255, 252, 257, 311, 74, 76, 77, 308, 316.
    It is tragic, but 1st Avenue has no bus service because mayors Nickels, McGinn, Murray, Burgess, and now Durkan have been planning the Central Line and now the CCC Streetcar. 1st Avenue carried West Seattle and Ballard local service until disrupted by the AWV project in 2011. it carried routes again when the seawall project disrupted Alaskan Way. in fall 2012, routes 10 and 12 were broken; they used 1st, but it was jammed with traffic oriented to the Columbia Street on ramp.
    Route 41 is outbound on 3rd Avenue. in general, Seattle routes are on 3rd Avenue and suburban routes are on 2nd and 4th avenues. the 5th and Cherry routes of CT and Metro (304, 355) are anomalous.
    the main tactic is to match common markets with common pathways, even to common stops (note skip stop patterns on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th avenues), but there are exceptions in execution (e.g., E Line, 27, 125). the market seems more important than the highway. much will probably change in 2021.

    1. The 5th/6th buses are listed under 5th. I didn’t want to make this already more confusing than it already was.

  13. It seems to me that what buses riders choose is based on each rider’s origins and destinations first, then on which route is the most frequent or the fastest. For some riders, the position of the stop (not on a slope, for example) also affects things.

    With that in mind, is it better to pay to run buses or streetcars on First, or to build infrastructure to better connect (using inclines or escalators) up the hill using several of the less travelled (thanks to 99 ramp demolition) streets between Union and Yesler? Note that the grades at these two streets is generally modes even though the streets in between have big grades.

    I realize that the best system involves considering a number of factors, but First Avenue doesn’t have an unusual amount of attractions between these two streets and the waterfront and ferry terminal seem to dominate any nearby attractions. In addition, there are already several enclosed escalators to take someone from First to second or Second to Third.

    So I suggest that we not quibble too much about how First Avenue gets used and pay more attention to the use of each cross street and the effort required to reach a DSTT platform or Third Avenue buses.

Comments are closed.