In between the University of Washington and Interstate 5, there are three parallel local transit corridors: 15th Ave NE, University Way NE, and Roosevelt Way/11th Ave NE (Roosevelt for southbound, 11th for northbound). The former two are just a couple blocks apart and get a large transit volume. 15th Ave NE is decidedly more car-centric, with wider streets, and even a grade-separated pedestrian bridge (unfortunately, obviating any pedestrian crossings in that area). University Way NE, by contrast, is a much more pedestrian-oriented street, with business access right at the sidewalk rather than behind parking lots. For personal vehicles, this corridor offers little in the way of speed, with frequent pedestrian crossings, no passing lanes, and frequently-stopping buses. Aside from access to paid street parking for business access, there is little reason to drive on University Way over the faster 15th Ave NE.
Transit service is split between the corridors, with the much larger share going to 15th Ave NE. University Way gets the 45, 73, 373, and currently suspended route 71 (likely to be replaced by routes 74 and 79 with North Link). 15th Ave NE gets all trolleybus routes (43, 44, 49, 70), plus routes 48, 271, and 542. While both corridors get some combined transit frequency, there are problems with having transit run on parallel corridors that are this close together.
With some service suspended, this leaves fewer buses to go around. Having two parallel transit corridors so close means that frequency that could be combined to provide a more convenient and usable service has to be spread thin (and in this case, thinner in the corridor where passengers would be more likely to want to make a quick stop along their journey). University Way NE has just one frequent route (the 45), and it is only frequent 6 days/week. And while infrequent routes can overlay to provide combined frequency, the 73 and 372 are not coordinated with each other or the 45, and there aren’t enough routes for random timing alone to be enough to effectively boost frequency in the corridor. On 15th, the corridor of choice for cars is also the corridor of choice for buses, with better speed for through-riders, but (with the exception of the university itself) worse access to most destinations in the area, including the future Link station. Lastly, there is the issue of which street is best to wait on for the next bus. While it seems pretty obvious which street has more service, it can be a tricky decision when you see bus stop signs with many routes on both corridors, and when coming out of a business on The Ave, taking a chance may not seem worth it.
The solution? Make University Way NE a transit mall, like 3rd Ave in downtown Seattle, and consolidate service from 15th Ave NE onto The Ave. To mitigate the relative slowness of this street, make it a transit-only street from NE Pacific St. to NE 45th St., and allow buses to travel unimpeded by vehicle traffic. Since there is some on-street parking on both sides of The Ave, this space can be repurposed to build two-way bike lanes along most of the corridor, with space left over for even wider sidewalks or greenspace. Bus service would not only be closer to businesses along The Ave, but access to the U-District station would be easier and require a shorter detour than Metro is currently planning.
While the end result may be better for passengers and businesses alike, the process of getting there would require a painful (if temporary) period of construction. In addition to the reconfiguration of University Way NE, this would require new trolley wire, worsening the disruption and adding to the cost of this project. It would also have access impacts on local businesses and the new Link station. Because of this, the ideal time to make this change would have been in coordination with construction of the U-District Link Station. But given how much better this corridor could be with these changes, late is still better than never.