Correction: In Metro’s Phase 3 proposal, route 64 goes to South Lake Union. (New route 361 from Bothell will also go to South Lake Union via Northgate Station.) Also, route 309 is renumbered as 322 to reflect the detour to Roosevelt Station.
One of the most notable features of King County Metro’s North King County bus route restructure proposed for September 2021, when Northgate Link is scheduled to open for service, is the continued use of north-end and Shoreline express bus service for First Hill. The rest of the express bus service from the north end and Shoreline to the Central Business District will go away.
Metro plans to have four First Hill express routes in operation after Northgate Link opens, three of them competing with Link Light Rail:
- Route 193 serves Federal Way Park & Ride (S 320th St), Federal Way Transit Center, Star Lake Freeway Station, Kent – Des Moines Freeway Station, and Tukwila Park & Ride before expressing to First Hill.
- New route 302 would replace some 301 and 304 service, but going to First Hill, with a stop at Northgate Station.
- Route 303 serves Shoreline Park & Ride, Aurora Village, Northgate Transit Center, and then expresses to First Hill. Routes 302 and 303 are planned to provide alternating service between Northgate Station and First Hill.
- New Route 322 would essentially be a renumbering of route 309 (Bothell to First Hill), but with a detour to Roosevelt Station before jumping on I-5 to get to First Hill.
The First Hill expresses only operate during peak hours, and only in the peak direction. Given the 24/7 nature of all the medical buildings, this specialty service is mostly irrelevant to a large chunk of First Hill employees, unless they are the lucky ones working the latte shift.
The First Hill Streetcar is a straight shot to the Broadway sides of First Hill and Seattle U (albeit perhaps not as fast as biking, running, or scootering) from Capitol Hill Station. Unfortunately, it lacks enough fleet to be as frequent as Link during peak hours, and have a streetcar there waiting for each departing southbound trainload wanting to transfer to a streetcar to get the last mile to these major employers. It can do it off-peak, if the timing can be made reliable. Since the September service change, the streetcar now runs every 15 minutes mid-day on weekdays and all day until 11 pm on Saturdays. During peak, it runs every 12 minutes, which maxes out the fleet of five streetcars. For the duration of the pandemic, and the accompanying 15-minute off-peak headway on Link, there can be a streetcar waiting for each off-peak southbound trainload, including through the evening and on Sundays, if SDOT budgets the service hours to do so, or if First Hill employers provide gap funding to top up the service hours.
For as long as Link’s peak headway is 8 minutes, the streetcar could serve every other southbound trainload. Filling in the gap could be a “streetcar” bus alternating with the streetcar. Since the bus’s routing is more flexible, it could turn at E Jefferson St to serve the Cherry Hill Swedish campus, and provide two-way service to get graveyard shift workers back to Capitol Hill Station. RossB has graciously provided a map of how that might look.
It bears mention that diesel buses stuck in I-5 traffic have a higher carbon footprint than transferring to Link at Northgate or Roosevelt Station, taking the mostly wind-powered train to Capitol Hill, and then jumping on the electrified streetcar. The express buses then double that carbon footprint by deadheading back.
Route 60 provides the north-south path through the west side of First Hill, serving Harborview Hospital, Swedish Medical Center’s First Hill campus, Virginia Mason Hospital, and various other medical facilities. The route was the luck recipient of a weekday frequency bump in September, so it now runs every 15 minutes or better from 6 am to 7 pm on weekdays. That takes care of the weekday off-peak rider connections to and from Capitol Hill Station. Evenings and weekends, when the bus runs every half hour or worse, not so much. Bumping evening and weekend headway to 15 minutes, and restoring span of service, might provide for the needs of more First Hill employees than the express routes do. Given the length of route 60, having a short-run version of the route just between CHS and Harborview might be implementable at a fraction of the cost.
Picking up passengers at Northgate Station on routes 302 and 303 to head to First Hill, and dropping them off again in the afternoon, will take up precious bus bay space and time that might have otherwise allowed more Snohomish County commuters to transfer at Northgate. The extra Community Transit buses that have to head downtown have a carbon footprint, too.