Since Sound Transit has announced that Northgate Link will open on October 2nd, which is a few weeks behind a widely anticipated September 2021 opening, King County Metro has also changed the Northgate bus service restructure to occur on October 2nd as well. When we reported on Metro’s scaled back plans for restructuring service for Northgate Link, there were a lot of disappointments in how the plan was scaled back to match COVID-19 adjusted revenue expectations. But Metro’s plan assumed no contribution from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), to establish a baseline for the STBD to build on. Now we have details on how the city will spend its STBD money on bus service.
The plan is broken down into three broad categories: West Seattle, Northgate, and service reductions. West Seattle is getting special attention due to the effects of the sudden closure of the West Seattle Bridge last year, increasing travel time for buses on the lower Spokane Street bridge. The closure of the low bridge to general traffic also increases demand for bus service in the corridor. The Northgate area is going to be transformed by the opening of Northgate Link, so much of the service funded by the STBD is going to be adjusted. Finally, there are reductions to the STBD program that are necessary because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The STBD will provide 30,000* annual service hours in the West Seattle region, with extra investments in West Seattle to phase out in 2023 when the bridge repair is expected to be complete. Of these 30,000 service hours, approximately 14,000 will go to boost route 50, 9,000 to boost routes 120 and C-Line, and 7,000 for route 60.
Route 50, which runs from the Rainier Valley to Alki in a coverage-oriented route, will get boosted weekday frequency on the SODO to Alki portion of the route, specifically to provide a frequent two-seat ride from any Link station in the system to Alaska Junction, Admiral, and Alki. Though it’s specified that this will bring headways on this part of route 50 from 30 minutes to 15 minutes from 6 AM to 7 PM (implying the addition of short runs from SODO to Alki to provide that frequency boost), route 50 runs at 20 minute headways for most of that time. So this report implies that route 50 as a whole will be reduced to half-hourly frequency on weekdays, with boosted frequency on the part of the route west of SODO Station.
Route 120 and the RapidRide C Line will get midday weekday headways boosted from 12 minutes to 10 minutes. Weekday headways from 7 to 9 PM will be boosted to 15 minutes, ensuring frequent weekday service on both routes at least from 6 AM to 9 PM. The improvements here are specifically timed for when most drivers are not permitted to use the low bridge, which boosts demand for transit service.
Route 60 will have weekday headways improved from 15 to 12 minutes from 6 AM to 7 PM. From 7 PM to 9 PM, headways will be improved from 30 to 15 minutes, extending the span of frequent service. Route 60 is a useful alternative connection to West Seattle that avoids the West Seattle Bridge vicinity, and serves Westwood Village, South Park, Georgetown, Beacon Hill, First Hill, and Capitol Hill.
*Note that the due to the removal of the STBD contribution that decouples the C and D lines, Metro may adjust service here to make up for the loss of revenue
King County Metro bus service in Northgate is changing to connect with Link, with the most obvious change being the removal of route 41. STBD-funded service is changing too. Though the STBD currently funds 40,000 annual service hours in this area, only 26,000 hours will be carried forward for the foreseeable future to match service levels with projected program funding.
Route 20 will be a new route, running from the U-district to Northgate and Lake City. This replaces the current route 26. King County Metro’s base plan included route 26 in a truncated from from U-district to Northgate. Route 20 is the same route, except lengthened to run along NE Northgate Way and Lake City Way NE, terminating at the current terminus of route 41. This fills in a gap in all-day service along NE Northgate Way, where there would only have been peak-only service on new route 361. Frequency is also boosted on weekdays from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.
Night owl improvements are coming to routes 7, 40, 48, 49, 65, and 67. These routes will get back hourly night own service, partially offsetting the steep reduction of night owl service overall that occurred in September 2020.
Routes 40, 44, and 70 will maintain their existing STBD hours, which will be used to smooth off-peak frequency to be closer to peak frequency than it otherwise would be without STBD funding.
STBD is cutting some of its other investments to bring the cost of the program in line with reduced revenues. One big change is removal of funding for the RapidRide C/D Line split. When introduced in 2012, the RapidRide C and D lines were through-routed with each other, with northbound Cs turning into Ds, and southbound Ds turning into Cs at downtown Seattle. In 2016, the STBD provided funding to split these routes into their own separate trips, with the D Line ending in Pioneer Square, and the C Line ending at South Lake Union. This expands service and dramatically improves reliability, but is also expensive, costing 43,000 annual service hours. As part of cuts to the program, STBD will no longer provide this funding. However, Metro will keep this split and service to SLU and Pioneer Square, and will preserve this service by making unspecified service reductions in Seattle to counteract the cost of the split.
Route 41 will have all STBD-funded hours removed (13,600), as the route itself is being deleted. These hours will not be reinvested into other service, and are part of the overall reduction of the program.
Reduced UW and reduced weekday schedules are coming back. King County Metro normally reduces trips serving UW during times when the UW is out of session, and reduces certain peak-only trips during secondary holidays (such as Veterans Day). Until now, the STBD funded the removal of these reductions for routes that operate within the city. This meant that UW routes operated with full service year-round, and secondary holidays would run full weekday service. These enhancements will be going away, saving 6,500 annual service hours.
Routes 2, 3, 12, 24, 33, 43, 49, 62, 65, 125, 345, and 373 will see all of their STBD improvements removed (12,900 hours). This includes the entirety of the peak-only variant of route 43. Route 44 trips which deadhead to/from Atlantic Base will very likely remain, but might not retain the 43 numbering.