The recurring message for Connect 2020 riders is that alternatives are your friend during the ten-week period. While many downtown-bound Sounder commuters have traditionally headed straight to the International District Link station (IDS) to reach their final destination, a smaller portion connects to buses at either the near-side or far-side stop at 4th and Jackson. During Connect 2020, Sound Transit has been heralding this much humbler connection point as a good alternative to Link for transferring Sounder commuters. But you don’t need a disruptive service event to make that connection palatable – 4th/Jackson is actually already a superior option for many peak commuters, thanks to high service frequency and ease of access. With a little attention, it could be even better.
By a rough count, both near and far-side stops at 4th & Jackson see a combined frequency of 125 buses per hour in the heart of the peak period, an average headway of 30 seconds, over 12 times regular Link frequency and over 30 times today’s.
Furthermore, 4th & Jackson is simply easier to access from Sounder than IDS. Sounder customers are already there after exiting the stairwells and one or two street crossings. Connecting to Link, on the other hand, means passing Union Station and then going back underground. The transfer is also subject to the bottlenecks not only at the IDS ingress points, but also in the tight pedestrian ways at Weller and, to a lesser extent, outside Union Station’s north entrance.
However, people see the KSS-Jackson-IDS hub more as two distinct rail stations with lots of bus service running through and less as a multi-modal transportation hub. Substantial improvements to the pedestrian / transit environment at 4th & Jackson would be a good start to fix this.
Last year, former staff reporter Peter Johnson wrote an excellent rundown on improvements to the “Jackson Hub,” both planned and envisioned. There are also existing improvements we can credit SDOT for, like painting of 4th Avenue’s northbound bus-only lane between Royal Brougham and Jackson – a worthwhile investment given the fact that buses can often stack all the way past Weller in the AM peak.
Beyond spot improvements and pedestrian safety upgrades, a fully multi-modal improvement project that creates seamless transfer opportunities – not just between Sounder/KSS and 4th but also between 4th and IDS – could include:
- Bus stop and shelter upgrades at both 4th/Jackson stops
- Other passenger improvements, like real-time info and ORCA readers for off-board fare payment (which necessarily means extending the 3rd Avenue all-boarding zone to Jackson)
- Curbside installation of tactile strips
- Potential route-stop reassignments or bay designations to relieve peak pressure at any given stop
- Cosmetic amenities, like human-scale frontage enhancements along the west-facing Union Station facade
The Jackson Hub plan also considers lidding the BNSF tracks. Although the vision is for this to be primarily a placemaking endeavor, it could also re-engineer passenger flow through the hub. If the agencies wanted to be really ambitious, a mezzanine between the Sounder platforms and street-level could pave the way for new station access points, perhaps at the KSS plaza or the east-side of 4th Avenue. Ideally, this would be compatible with any future ST3 station in the hub.
Once Connect 2020 wraps up, Link will likely get back to its pre-disruption ridership levels. But while diverted riders get a taste of 4th Avenue bus service in the interim, it can start a conversation about improved connections that drives the area’s transformation into a fully multi-modal hub.