Tilt shift of 4th & Jackson (Shane in the City/Flickr)

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.

2nd Avenue Extension over the BNSF mainline (Google Maps)

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.

36 Replies to “Connect 2020 is a reminder to improve 4th & Jackson”

    1. It’s not a matter of gold-plated; it’s a matter that Pioneer Square has transit up the gazoo while Ballard and West Seattle are miles from an ST2 Link station, and integrating these mid-sized urban villages into the regional transit network requires some kind of high-capacity transit to them.

  1. Believe me, plenty of Sounder riders have known about the bus stops prior to Connect 2020. I can personally attest to their awareness of the stop north of Jackson. I hate getting off of there in the morning when a train has just arrived and trying to work my way through the crowd to get to Jackson Street.

  2. Also this stop is useful for Bolt Bus arrivals. But, I’m very confused by one bus away listing for Route 2. Does the 2 bus ever appear in this area?

    1. Bolt cannot use bus stops like 4th and Jackson. Metro and ST stops are for mass transit, not private charters.

      1. Bolt Bus arrival is at 5th and Dearborn which makes the Jackson St. metro bus stops useful. But what’s the story on the no.2?

    2. There are a small handful of route 2 trips (as well as routes 1 and 13) that begin (or end) service at Jackson/5th on their way from the base. Most bus routes don’t pick up riders on their way from the base, but since this is a trolley route, and it tends to get stuck behind other in-service trolleys, they figured they might as well start service right away, even if it’s off the normal route.

      1. Trolleybuses sleep at Atlantic Base, and some routes put those base maneuvers on the schedule as extra service. The 43-Broadway and 44-Broadway and 49-Broadway have long done this, as well as the 7. I wasn’t aware the 2 did but it’s likely.

  3. That area is ripe for a redesign, and lidding the tracks would give the city the opportunity to really get creative with street and sidewalk design.

    However, a short-term improvement would be to extend the traffic light timing so pedestrians on Jackson can cross 2nd and 4th in a single cycle. It’s infuriating to cross onto the island and then have to wait another cycle to finish the crossing.

    1. I’m not around there very much, but I would guess that the lights are timed to allow cars to get through both 2nd and 4th in one go, so as to prevent cars from blocking the intersection while waiting for the light. So, all you have to do is sprint across both intersections at the speed of a car, and you should be good to go.

    2. You used to be able to make it across both 2nd Ave Ext and 4th if you walked very fast. However, the timing changed when the viaduct closed to give the northbound left turn from 4th to westbound Jackson more time. Most of the folks that are familiar with that intersection and on the south side of Jackson will jaywalk after the left turners have gone as it doesn’t need that long to clear the queue.

  4. Construction of new IDS platforms for Link should begin in 2025-2027. That suggests that both short-term minor changes and a comprehensive long-term vision are both needed. Short-term changes are probably best if they don’t build anything that doesn’t interfere with the longer-term vision.

    Central to this discussion is defining the role of Fifth Avenue through the ID. Any changes to decrease Fourth Avenue speed and capacity will inversely affect Fifth Avenue.

    Finally, and long term strategy should include considering station exits north of Jackson. The blocks south of Jackson are not great for pedestrian interest or safety. (If those blocks had more interest, they wouldn’t feel as scary and barren for pedestrians in my opinion.) I’m not sure how to make it happen, but I’m suggesting that it be considered.

    1. The north KSS station exit IS on the north side of Jackson. Going south of Jackson requires crossing 4th or 2nd.

  5. They need an underground ped connection between KSS and IDS. That way rail-to-rail transfers can be made in a safe, quick, unobstructed manner, and rail-to-bus transfers can be left to the surface and all its problems.

    The goal should be to completely segregate the two transfer types while improving the rail-to-rail transfer experience.

      1. ST does care about transfers, but can’t fully cover the infrastructure costs associated with improving agency-to-agency transfers by themselves. ST simply can’t be seen as using ST only tax dollars to subsidize Metro (for example), and so far Metro is unwilling to chip in. So basically ST is stuck.

      2. That’s not true, Lazarus! Given the current Station layout alternatives at a SODO, ID, Westlake, East Main and Tacoma Dome, planning for good transfers between Link lines isn’t even a major design objective (it’s lumped in with general access) and the current station layouts demonstrate the attitude that Ness is referring to. Ness is spot on!

      3. If ST had the right priorities it would already have published concepts for train-to-train transfers at Intl Dist, Westlake, and U-District (to the long-term UW-Ballard and UW-Eastside lines). Even if the station designs were tentative, they would show effort to keep the transfer distance short, minimize vertical movemements, and have center platforms. They would prioritize retrofitting Intl Dist and Westlake with center platforms. If these were impossible, they’d explain why and how and allow a meaningful appeal to possibly reverse the decision. They would commit to a set of principles with passenger convenience at the top. The reason we’re building light rail is to maximize people’s mobility, so avoid little inefficiencies that hinder it and add up. Then there’s the issue of the Bellevue station a half block away from the bus bays and across a signalized intersection (it should have been under 108th with an entrance on the transit center side), the Mt Baker train-bus transfers, and TIB with the F detouring into the bus loop even though the street is less than 30 seconds from the escalators (which slows down Burien-Southcenter through riders). Oh, and putting Shoreline South two blocks north of 145th instead of straddling the road. All this shows a lack of proper attention to transfers.

      4. Westlake and ID transfers will be dealt with in time. The board hasn’t even agreed on an alignment. We need to get through the EIS before moving into those kind of specific design issues.

        Designing U District transfers now is ridiculous. Technically, we don’t even know what mode the HCT will be. If you assume rail, which route? If it’s surface rail over 520, maybe Husky Stadium is the primary transfer? If it’s over the north side of Lake Washington, maybe it’s Northgate? Maybe Ballard Link heads north to focus on Aurora and doesn’t connect to the “Spine” until it’s out of Seattle. Wildly premature to complain about station specific transfers to line that literally doesn’t exist.

        For 145th, what’s the primary bus transfer that needs to be designed in? 1. 522 BRT, which terminates at Shoreline South and therefore needs a bus loop with some layover space. 2. KCM route from Shoreline CC, which will approach from 155th and 5th Ave to avoid the freeway interchange. ST didn’t design for an East West route on 145 because it won’t exist. Look at the Service Network Map, 2040 vision … Frequent routes 1019, 1998, and 1512 all either end or turn at the Link station. There is no Rapid or Frequent route that will drive on 145 without turning at the station. Good design reflects the articulated long term plans of your partners.

      5. ST does care about transfers, but can’t fully cover the infrastructure costs associated with improving agency-to-agency transfers by themselves. ST simply can’t be seen as using ST only tax dollars to subsidize Metro (for example), and so far Metro is unwilling to chip in.

        Oh, bull. Metro (and the city) has bent over backwards to serve the UW station, but it will still suck because it is in a bad location. If the terrible interface between buses and trains at Mount Baker Station is all Metro’s fault, how do you suggest they fix it?

        They are just bad stations from a transfer standpoint. The same is true for 145th. Likewise 130th, which will likely not straddle the street (as everyone suggested) but be down the street. Heck, ST cares so little about transfers that they didn’t even have 130th with the original plans! One of the premier bus transfer stations in our entire system, and ST didn’t even include it. Yet you want to blame Metro?

      6. Designing U District transfers now is ridiculous.

        No its not. There is no mystery as to what should be built next. It was even in Sound Transit’s plans. You run rail from the UW to Ballard. Not across the lake, but just from the UW to Ballard. The only reasonable option for rail in that case is underground.

        But that failure is excusable compared to the other ones. It was quite possible that after Link got to Lynnwood, that was going to be it. No money for anything in Seattle north of the ship canal.

        But there is no excuse for Mount Baker Station, or UW station, or 145th, or worst of all, 130th. Sound Transit just hasn’t focused on building a good transit network. They view buses as subservient to rail. They are OK with feeders, but a system where buses can do other important things *and* connect to light rail baffles them. They can’t understand how a train line could create a grid, making thousands of trips within the city much faster, even though there is a great example of it up the street (https://humantransit.org/2010/02/vancouver-the-almost-perfect-grid.html). We don’t have anything like that, and we won’t have anything like that as long as we prioritize stations like Northgate. The station location — essentially on a dead end — creates a huge transit hole, and buses not only zig-zag back and forth, but literally loop around just to get to the station. The 40 — a bus that should be RapidRide long before we use another letter on a rarely used suburban bus route — has to spend ten minutes (without traffic) going a half mile (https://goo.gl/maps/krUFHU5HgiF9hSqi8). I’m not saying I would put the Northgate Station anywhere else, but I’m saying that if you think that is good, then you just don’t understand transfers.

        There is no coordination between agencies. People at Sound Transit aren’t sitting down with Metro to discuss what would be the best approach for the overall transit system. Otherwise we would have a station at Montlake, where SR 520 crosses it. The Mount Baker Station would not be awful. The 145th street station would not be at 148th, but at 155th. This would save Sound Transit a fortune, while running the bus where there are lots of people, instead of golf balls and squirrels. And we would definitely have a station at 130th — straddling the street — as part of Lynnwood Link.

        If you think those are all old news — old, dated examples, and the agency has certainly learned their lesson, then consider some of the recent plans. The Interbay Station — likely to be the primary way that every single person in Magnolia gets off their peninsula — won’t be on Dravus. It will be several blocks away. I could go on — it is easier to think of the stations they got right (like 45th), but you get idea. Sound Transit just doesn’t care about transfers.

      7. “Westlake and ID transfers will be dealt with in time. The board hasn’t even agreed on an alignment.”

        The board can publish the principles that will guide its decision-making. It proclaimed ca. 2015 that it favors TOD at stations. It can proclaim that short transfer paths are a high priority, and a scale of Excellent, Good, and Bad distances. Then we can review the scale and hold ST accountable to sticking to the principles. Right now it’s all implicit: ST may or may not have this principle, we don’t know until the concrete proposals appear, and the concrete proposals to date are alarmingly bad. Voters should have reassurance now that transfers will be good, even if the station concepts aren’t outlined yet.

        “Designing U District transfers now is ridiculous. Technically, we don’t even know what mode the HCT will be. If you assume rail, which route?”

        That’s been ST’s excuse all along. The first time I brought it up in an open house, the rep said, “The line isn’t voter-approved yet, and it’s unclear whether it will even go through U-District station or futher south.” (At the time one of the alternatives was along Northlake Way to UW Station and 520.)

        Again this comes down to usability. The pedestrian concentration is at U-District Station, which serves both campus and the businesses and apartments in the district. Bypassing it for UW Station would lead to the exact problem we have now: a lot of people will have to shuttle down to UW Station to reach the line, more than those who would shuttle the other way. The 45th corridor is the densest east-west corridor in North Seattle, and denser than any corridor in south Seattle. So U-District Station should be the transfer point, and the station should have been designed with a transfer stub from the beginning to avoid disruptions and costs or missed opportunities later.

  6. It would be nice if the island stop was about 5 ft wider. Add 2 more benches and an Orca card reader on both the north and south side. Then make that stop all door boarding. Some of these suggestions are already in the article.

  7. IMO, the major issue with the surface area is it doesn’t really feel like a transit hub at all. The offices and Union Station basically close off the light rail station from the rest of the area, and the walk from the light rail station to King St is very out-of-the-way and feels like a nicer back alley.

    It would probably cost too much money to do, but at the very least we should eminent domain the Vulcan building to the south of Union Station and demolish it to open up a more obvious transit plaza, preferably weather protected. Union Station itself, while historical, is also mostly in-the-way, but I would imagine that would be a harder sell.

    1. Getting ST to expand the hours they keep the Union Station corridor between 4th and the IDS plaza on 5th open would help a lot there.

      100% agreed on the Vulcan building. Plus then they wouldn’t be scanning literally everyone that comes into the plaza.

      1. The quad doors on the south end of the Union Station building proper, roughly halfway between the (outdoor) paths between 4th and 5th. And not King Street, but a closer way to the 4th bus stops than walking all the way around north. Not available evenings or weekends.

      2. Huh.

        Judging from my memory and from StreetView, that in itself is not super obvious, and is another obvious starting point of “things they could fix” with the area.

        Union Station as it is set up today is hardly practical.

    2. it has never made sense to me that Union Station is not a station. They really ought to figure out how to use the building better, or go through-the-building to make it easier for riders to get from King Street Station to IDS (or vice versa).

  8. Curious about something. Recall that in previous years STB comments carried more feed-back from drivers and other operating personnel than now seems to be the case. Hope nobody’s being threatened for whistle- well, horn- and-bell blowing….are they?

    Really do believe that Seattle Transit Blog should have “column space” for regional coverage. But beyond-sorry that I had to move so far from Seattle that I can’t make the trip in daylight anymore to handle this one. Nature is a bitch for legal age-discrimination.

    But les, your metallurgy is just about right, but for destinations you might mention Vancouver BC and Olympia.


    Mark Dublin

  9. A vision concept:

    – Plan a new pedestrian crossing just to the south of the Union Station building where the double archways are.

    – Enable pedestrians the ability to walk underneath Fourth Avenue and walk over the train tracks by threading a walkway. That may require elevating Fourth Avenue 5 or 10 feet. If this couldn’t be done, add a second crosswalk signal there in lieu of asking pedestrians to wait to cross two places on Jackson at both Fourth and Second Ave Extended.

    – Possibly add a ramp/ nicer and wider walkway to Jackson along Second Ave Extended (the King St Plaza) if clearances over the tracks could allow it.

    I think the design mistake was choosing the Weller St alignment as the track and Fourth Ave crossing. Had the pedestrian bridge and Fourth Ave crosswalk instead been sited at a King St alignment (just south of the triangle split), crossing Fourth Avenue would have been lots more desirable for pedestrians. I strongly suspect that that location was considered, and guess that the politics of the situation forced it a block further south.

  10. Improving transfer environments has value, but there are limits. Especially which it’s mostly just a matter of comfort, and has only a miniscule impact on a passenger’s bottom line – where can you go, when can you go there, and how long, door to door, does it take to get there.

    Cheap improvements such as wider platforms and shelters are easy to do and should be done. But tens of millions of dollars on underground walkways, I’m less convinced.

    1. At least several people, myself included, believe that the current transfer environment actively makes transferring take longer. It’s not super obvious that Union Street can be passed through (and it’s not open all the time), and the transfer walkway at least between light rail and Sounder is indirect. To say nothing of wait times for crosswalks when making the surface transfer.

      Transfer time is among the worst perceived parts of a commute, and bad transfers actively discourage trips from happening. I’d say it’s well worth the cost.

  11. When I commuted on Sounder, it took only a short while to realize that buses going down Third were both frequent and easily accessible through the north entrance to the King Street platform, far, far quicker than going to IDS, plus the University St. Link station takes forever to get out of (even when the up escalators are working, which is rare). This was similar to what I learned with Transport for London; tube stations are deep and buses are on the surface.

    But that platform is one of the saddest places in the entire city.

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