In January, we reported with some excitement on Metro’s initial plans to restructure bus service around the three new Link stations opening in fall 2021. Since then, a combination of COVID-19-driven resource constraints and some mixed public feedback has dampened Metro’s ambitions. The agency’s latest restructure proposal largely maintains the first proposal’s approach of replacing downtown bus commutes with more frequent Link connections, but cancels many of the proposed changes to the all-day network that we praised in January. The resulting network is a missed opportunity for non-commuter trips.
The largest change is the elimination of the proposed route 61, which would have created a slew of new east-west connections to Northgate. Other headline changes include the retention of current, slower routing on routes 45 and 62 that will slow Link connections to Greenwood and Wallingford; the retention of a truncated version of today’s route 26; and retention of current routing on route 67 that will prevent easy transfers at U-District Station.
If voters approve the planned measure to partially renew Seattle Transportation Benefit District funding, it is conceivable that the City of Seattle will be able to fund a restoration of the proposed route 61, although neither Metro nor the city is yet in a position to address how STBD funding would be used in that level of detail.
Metro is still accepting public input through a survey. While some of the changes in this proposal are driven by resource constraints, others were driven by public feedback. If you have feedback of your own, please provide it.
Details about the changes around each of the three stations are after the jump. (UPDATE: Metro reached out to correct an error in the original post on Route 44 routing in the U-District and to clarify a couple of other items. See corrections/clarifications below.)
The Northgate Downgrade
Of the three stations, it is Northgate that comes out the worst loser, at least in terms of the all-day network. The damage does not end with the route 61 cancellation, which eliminates what would have been useful frequent connections to Crown Hill and Greenwood.
Users in Meadowbrook and Victory Heights will actually lose the frequent connection to Northgate they have today. Route 75, which serves that connection today, changes routing between Northgate and Lake City to replace deleted route 41. Metro originally planned to replace 75 service to these areas with the new route 61, but that is cancelled without even an infrequent replacement. The only service for this connection will be on the new route 361, a peak-direction, peak-hour commuter route. The area affected includes the Idris Mosque, one of the city’s largest and a major transit destination. I had a difficult enough time believing this outcome that I reached out to Metro for confirmation, and Metro’s Jeff Switzer confirmed it. Users in the affected area will be able to get downtown using more-frequent route 522 or route 73, but it will get much harder for them to get to Northgate or the rest of North Seattle without a long walk.
Other all-day connections to areas near Northgate on routes 26, 40, 67, and the 340 series will remain essentially the same as they are today.
The proposals for peak-hour service are mostly unchanged from those in the first proposal, but there is one significant loss: the originally proposed route 68, which would have provided new peak-hour service between Northgate and Uptown, is replaced by a connection to South Lake Union (on route 361) that is largely the same as today’s route 63. Notwithstanding that loss, the peak-hour proposals should be convenient for many peak-hour commuters, as they will replace infrequent express buses with more frequent connections that users will not have to schedule as carefully.
Roosevelt: One Big Change
Metro implied in a press briefing that customer feedback was not positive about some of the proposed network changes near Roosevelt. The result is that three of the four frequent all-day routes serving Roosevelt in the proposal—the 45, 62, and 67—will all remain exactly the same as they are today. This eliminates routing changes that were intended to allow faster connections between Link and Wallingford (62) or Link and Greenwood (45). Instead, both routes will continue to spend time getting through pain points. For the 62, that means an indirect route through tiny streets in East Green Lake. For the 45, it means continuing to navigate the traffic-choked sections of Wallingford Ave N and N 85th St near Blanchet High School. It is also worth noting that route 45 is now planned to be through-routed with route 75, likely reducing reliability. (UPDATE: Metro believes that the 45/75 through route will be at least as reliable as existing 45 service, because using Stevens Way through campus is more reliable than using Pacific St. Metro also believes that eliminating Fremont Bridge openings will improve reliability for 75 riders.) The overall result will be to make Link connections less attractive for users in north Wallingford and Greenwood, despite the slow speed of one-seat bus alternatives to downtown.
The good news is that most of the new all-day connections to Roosevelt survive. Sound Transit continues to plan a diversion of route 522 to Roosevelt, which will restore a long-dormant connection between Roosevelt and south Lake City. Metro will also replace route 312 with a new route 322, which will provide additional frequency in peak hours. The new local route 79 connection to Wedgwood, View Ridge, and Bryant also survives.
The peak network from Roosevelt is very similar to that in the first proposal. In addition to Link, commuters can connect to a more-frequent route 64, serving both SLU and First Hill, as well as Sound Transit express service to Redmond.
University District: Some Longer Walks
U-District Station has perhaps the fewest changes to the proposed all-day network, but there are a few, some of which will result in longer walks between the station and bus transfers. Those changes, affecting routes
44, 48, 65, and 67, are largely driven by pavement maintenance concerns on NE 43 St, where Metro and SDOT appear to have determined that there was no funding to reinforce the street to deal with the very high volume of buses Metro originally planned. (CORRECTION: I was wrong about Route 44. Routes that will move to NE 43 St are 44, 49, 70, and 372.) Other changes, including the retention of route 73’s tail to UW Medical Center, appear to have been driven by customer feedback. But the U-District network is notable for what remained in the proposal, more than what changed.
First, the major change to route 31 and 32 routing mostly survived. They will continue to use NE 45th St east of U-District Station, providing a much faster and more direct connection to U-Village and Children’s Hospital than exists today. They will lose their through-route with route 75 (which will be through-routed with route 45 instead) and lay over at the upper Children’s Hospital bus turnaround on NE 45 St, providing a partial replacement for deleted route 78 service to Laurelhurst.
Second, while Metro’s original route 23 local service proposal was a casualty of the decision to keep today’s route 62 routing, there does remain a local connection between U-District Station and north Wallingford. Route 26 remains in place as an all-day route, but only north of NE 50th St; from NE 50th, it is routed to U-District Station. Based on planned frequencies, it seems possible to me that Metro could realize further efficiencies (and potentially restore some service frequency elsewhere) by through-routing routes 26 and 74 in the U-District.
Finally, there are no major changes proposed to other frequent corridors serving other essential connections to U-District Station, including routes 44, 45, 48, 49, and 70. Unlike at Northgate or Roosevelt, no current or planned frequent connections from U-District Station are lost in this revision of Metro’s plans.