The Seattle Department of Transportation has begun work on making Metro’s route 40 faster and more reliable. With these changes, Metro can substantially improve the transit network in the north end if it alters two very popular routes.

Improvements for the 40

The 40 is often delayed around the Fremont Bridge. It isn’t the bridge opening itself that causes the big delay, but the traffic that backs up behind it. The 40 also experiences congestion close to downtown as well as around Market Street in Ballard. Fortunately, plans by the city address all of these delays and more. Buses will be able to travel in their own lane, avoiding the worst bottlenecks. Not only will this make the 40 substantially faster, but it will make it a lot more reliable. With this increase in speed and reliability, Metro could reroute the 40 and Rapid Ride D in the north end, like so:

One concern with a change like this is the time it takes to operate these routes. The D would be roughly as long as the 40 is now, so it should be fine. The 40 would be a little bit longer, but the time savings from the SDOT improvements (and the more direct routing to Northgate) would more than make up for the extension. The scheduled time plus the addition to Lake City would be roughly as long as some route pairs (e. g. the 124/33), even before the time savings. But reliability will be the big improvement. Right now these changes simply wouldn’t be possible, as the bus is often delayed substantially. The SDOT changes will not only decrease the average travel time (by a significant amount) but mean that the bus should consistently complete its route on time.

With this change, the northern half of the 20 becomes unnecessary. The southern half will become unnecessary once SDOT hardens the roadway to enable Metro to alter the 62 as they proposed.

The combination of these two routes would dramatically improve east-west travel, creating a much better network. This would speed up trips from Lake City to Ballard, as well as everything in between (Lake City to Greenwood, Northgate to Greenwood, Greenwood to Ballard, etc.). The Northgate/Lake City corridor would be better connected to north-south buses like the 5, 28 and E. This means that trips to places like Phinney Ridge or the west side of Green Lake would be faster, more direct and involve fewer transfers. The D would be extended, connecting riders on 15th to more places, like North Seattle College and Northgate. Along 85th you would have double the service, with each route connecting to Link. This would, in turn, lead SDOT to improve that corridor, speeding up the 45.

Before the pandemic, the D and 40 each carried over 13,000 people a day, the second and third most in the state. A lot of those trips were taken north of Mercer, outside of the downtown core. The SDOT improvements alone should increase ridership substantially as the bus becomes faster and more reliable. Extending both buses in this manner would create an even more effective transit network that would help thousands upon thousands of riders.

25 Replies to “Improving Metro 40 and D”

  1. As a Greenwood resident there’s a lot to like about this (and I pushed hard for a variant of this when route 40 was implemented). We now have no direct connection to some of out most proximate destinations (Ballard and Northgate) without inconvenient and uncoordinated transfers, so it’s often faster to walk. Meanwhile, the D line is begging go continue on to Northgate – while the D and 40 run redundantly on Holman so people on the D headed to Northgate can transfer along the way.

    I think of the D line as an express connection for fast commuting along a high capacity spine, and I think of route 40 serving a different function connecting all the neighborhoods that aren’t on that spine to their neighbors. This approach would follow that philosophy. If we want people to take transit seriously for non-commute trips, it’s important to get to the destinations that are most proximate to each neighborhood.

    So – one yes vote from me.

    1. Agreed, Greenwood feels a bit isolated in terms of accessibility. It can take up to three buses to reach certain parts of Greenwood (185th & Aurora to 115th & Greenwood or the Phinney Ridge area). Same goes for Lake City. To travel anywhere west of Northgate, it requires 2 or 3 buses. This proposal is definitely needed.

  2. I’m sure this has been explained previously, but since this an effort to re-work the northern tails of the D and 40: now that North Seattle College has a direct pedestrian bridge to Northgate Station, is the diversion to NSC still worth the ridership?

    1. It sorta depends on what you mean by “diversion to NSC”. I can think of that two ways:

      1. The current 40 turning on Meridian/College Way, instead of staying on Northgate to 1st, and going to the transit center that way. I could see this happening, but there are concerns and trade-offs. First, the city would probably have to add BAT lanes along Northgate Way and maybe 1st. This seems quite plausible, but I don’t know any plans. The trade-off is that riders along College Way would have a two seat ride to the other parts of the route. They would take the 345/346 and then transfer. It isn’t just folks from the college, it is people in apartments, offices and clinics on that street. There are about 100 riders a day who get on there (heading towards Ballard) along with 150 at the college, and another 50 around 92nd. That is a fair number of people who would have a pretty long walk. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but it doesn’t seem like an obvious improvement to me.

      2. The diversion on 95th to this bus stop here: Right now the 20 is the only bus that makes this stop. Neither of these buses should stop there, in my opinion. If any bus should stop there, it is the 345, which makes other, similar detours. I would convert the 345 to a DART bus for that reason (folks that are more able bodied would walk to more frequent service).

      1. I’m being somewhat selfish because until WSBLE opens in like 20 years, I’m hoping to continue living in central Ballard adjacent to the 40/D lines, and would greatly appreciate as straight a shot as possible to the Northgate transit center. The “diversion” I’m talking about is the turn from Northgate Way to Meridian/College, going around the south end of the college then north to the Northgate Transit Center.

        I’m just wondering if that extra mile of route really picks up enough riders
        to make folks heading to/from Crown Hill sit through that section. I haven’t ridden the 40 to Northgate for the reason the cut down around NSC turns a 3.3-mile trip to a 4.2-mile trip, and it’s simply faster and easier to make the drive.

      2. I’m just wondering if that extra mile of route really picks up enough riders
        to make folks heading to/from Crown Hill sit through that section.

        That is a judgment call, but on the existing 40, about 300 riders go from there to places south (Crown Hill, Ballard, etc.) while about 200 round the horn. With this change, riders from Crown Hill would have a faster option (using a bus that goes on 85th, instead of Holman Road). It would be only the folks close to 15th or Holman Road that might regret that detour.

    2. I think it’s important to maintain easy access to colleges. Yes, the 345/346 offer 15 min service. But the more popular and significant the destination, the more reason there should be a one-seat ride – even if it means redundancy.

      Unfortunately, like all colleges, ridership has fallen post COVID. Right now, it makes way more sense to stay on Northgate Way. But I’m thinking long-term.

      @RossB a BAT lane on Northgate would be result in disastrous back-ups. The arterial already experiences lengthy line-up’s in its 4-lane configuration as cars enter/exit I-5. Even a transit nerd like myself would concede a BAT lane as being unfair. However, if the roadway were 6 lanes wide, then a BAT or Bus lane would be okay.

  3. I really like this idea. With that, I’d suggest a twist: keep Route 40 as-is, extend D Line to NGTC via 105th & Northgate Way, and have Route 15 perform your proposed alignment between 15th/85th and NGTC. This would provide a balance, speed, reliability, coverage, and accessibility. With ST’s D Line infrastructure money on the table, this could be an interesting opportunity to provide local/limited service on the Elliott/15th corridor in a similar manner to CT’s Swift/101 on SR99.

    Connecting Greenwood & 85th Corridor to Link is an excellent goal.

    1. Your proposal would provide better coverage, but it would cost a lot more. As a result, it would likely be worse overall. The more routes you add, the less frequent they come. It is always a tricky trade-off. I try to minimize overlap for that reason, but unfortunately, that becomes very difficult. If nothing else, the areas that overlap should at least be relatively popular (which is true in this case).

      My proposal would actually save money, by my calculation. For the most part you have swapping (the D covers Holman Road instead of the 40, the 40 covers part of the 20). You also add the cost of the 40 from Crown Hill to Northgate (via 85th). But that is more than made up for by the elimination of the
      northern tail of the D and the southern part of the 20. Coverage is worse, but connections are better. Money is saved, so buses could run more often.

      There is also a minor improvement that I don’t mention: buses keep going straight. The tail of the D takes time, as it has to make turns into and out of its layover. The 40 turns from 85th to 15th. All of these turns would be eliminated, saving time.

      1. I’d caution against an analysis which focuses too much on comparing costs and coverage since we have a money to add service hours to Metro. Coverage, frequency, and service, which are all key to good transit, costs money.

        If all those routes continue to each have ten minute service, I’d say that’s a huge win for usability, mobility, and connectivity, and are worth the cost. Interlacing for five minute headways on 15th/Elliott corridor would be fantastic for mobility since it’s a corridor we’ve long since identified for frequent, high-capacity transit. Providing ten minute headways on 15 & D tails between 15th & 85th to NGTC would be reasonable level of service for these areas as they pair with Routes 40 and 45. Keeping D out of stopping every block and the NSC loop ensures it delivers high quality RapidRide-type service to Link while 40 continues local coverage. Eliminating some D stops could be in the mix as well if a limited/local overlay were to occur.

        In addition, this could be used as justification to add new transit infrastructure to help offset operating costs by improving speed and reliability. As an example, the Route 40 Transit Plus Project does exactly this as Route 40 has become a juggernaut (in interest of full disclosure, I worked on this project). I’d be concerned adding nearly three more miles extending Route 40 beyond NGTC because it’s already a long local route with speed & reliability issues, and adding length can compound these problems. An extension would have costs since operators need longer layover periods with additional padding to ensure schedule recovery and long enough breaks. SDOT & KC Metro decoupled C & D Lines for this very reason since, when combined, they were too long.

      2. If all those routes continue to each have ten minute service

        The D has 10 minute service, but the other two routes don’t. The 40 runs every 15 minutes, while the 15 only runs during peak time. This was service levels before the pandemic and before the city council cut the money going into the Seattle Transportation Benefit District.

        I’d caution against an analysis which focuses too much on comparing costs and coverage since we have a money to add service hours to Metro.

        I would caution against the opposite. We can’t assume that we will have a huge increase in funding (way beyond peak funding levels) which is what you are suggesting. Even if Metro and Seattle get a lot more money, I doubt running the 15 all day is the best use of funds. The 15 is more or less a peak-oriented express overlay, meant to deal with crowding. Yes, it would be nice to have 5 minute frequency along 15th, but you could say the same thing for 24th/Leary. I would run the 44 every five minutes long before either. I would probably run a new east-west bus on 65th before I ran a brand new all-day 15.

        Regardless, a transit system with a huge amount of extra funding (which is essentially what you are suggesting) is a completely different thing, and outside the scope of this (or any) plans.

      3. Eliminate the D’s Uptown detour and then you have the equivalent of an all-day 15. The detour is what’s making the D’s travel time so long. You can still walk to Seattle Center or transfer to the 8 at 3rd & Denny.

  4. Even though Northgate Link involved a restructuring, I think it’s useful to mention that it’s ok for an operator to tweak bus routes. MLK between Rainier and Henderson went from being served by Route 8 to Route 48 to Route 106, for example.

    So is this an idea to add to the Metro Lynnwood Link restructure or the 130th Station restructure (if the station opens later)? If so, should this be presented as such?

    I realize that Metro can change routes at any time. It just takes enough public notice, feedback, and modifications in the field like bus stop and any other physical changes. I’m mainly wondering what the right date for opening day for the change is.

    1. It is largely independent of other projects. Basically it could happen any time after they make the improvements. It isn’t a small project though, because it involves extending the RapidRide. Even if this saves service hours you would need more red buses, along with new “stations” (not stops). You would probably want to do something for 85th, which means it is more than just shifting buses around there as well. As I wrote below, I would expect this to be part of turning the 40 into RapidRide.

      While it is largely independent of things like Lynnwood Link and the 130th Station (Lynnwood Link B) it might piggyback on it. It is better if changes occur in bunches, so people get used to it. It is also possible that Lynnwood Link could result in changes to the 20, which might mean too much churn. We are looking at the changes for the 40 being done around 2024, but this would require extra planning and construction as well (because of the RapidRide and maybe work on 85th) which means it would most likely be done a couple years later (unless they start planning soon).

  5. A solid concept. A cost of branding is that the number of red buses becomes a constraint; the longer Dee would need more red buses. The back door pathway via North 92nd and the college is not slower if the I-5 interchange traffic is considered and many riders want it go to and from the college. The North 95th street stop was improved by state funds and could be a great transfer point. It does not add linear blocks to the pathway of routes from and to the north.

    1. The North 95th street stop was improved by state funds and could be a great transfer point. It does not add linear blocks to the pathway of routes from and to the north.

      Yeah, all the more reason why it should be served by buses like the current 345/346, not the 20. If the D is extended to Northgate, I’m not sure if they want to put a stop there. I guess if it doesn’t cost much in time, they might as well.

      Yes, the nature of the RapidRide complicates things. You would have to have more red buses, as well as more stations along the current pathway of the 40. I think it would be worth it though. I think eventually the 40 becomes RapidRide anyway, and this could be part of the same project. I would also make 85th faster as part of that project (especially since SDOT may have made all the big improvements on most of the line by then anyway).

      The back door pathway via North 92nd and the college is not slower if the I-5 interchange traffic is considered.

      Yeah, I said as much in response to another comment. For a bus to continue on Northgate Way under the freeway, it would have to have BAT lanes, if not bus lanes. Interestingly enough, Metro at one point suggested the bus keep going to 5th. This is another variation, that is a bit of a compromise. It isn’t as fast as turning on 1st, but faster than going over 92nd (without traffic). You would eliminate some one seat rides, but pick up some others. You would save a huge amount of time if you were transferring to Lake City. But again, SDOT would have to dramatically change the streets under the freeway for any of that to make sense.

    2. Red buses may not be as essential as they were. Metro sometimes has a regular bus on RapidRide lines when it doesn’t have enough red buses. The federal grant that required a distinct brand was eight years ago for the D: how long does Metro have to run red buses to fulfill the terms? The C and D will disappear or stop going downtown with WSBLE, originally scheduled for 2036, so at that point they won’t be serving the federally-funded corridors. If Metro can do that in 2036, can’t every fourth bus be green and yellow in 2022 until we can procure more red buses?

  6. This concept would be much more legible if the map showed the existing as well as proposed routing.

  7. What do we think about splitting up this version of the 40?

    >Truncate the 40 at Ballard and Market (Downtown Ballard)
    >New frequent line from there to Lake City, like proposed
    >Extend that northern line eastward on Market to 14th to connect to RR-D and eventually Ballard Link station

    1. Where would the bus layover and turn around if it ended at Ballard/Market? Is there room for an extra bus at the 44’s layover point near the Ballard locks?

      1. The old 75 used to layover on Leary just south of Market. I’ve always envisioned an extended 45 laying over there, but a split 40 could too.

    2. If Metro feels like the new 40 is too long, there are several ways this could be split. There are issues with them in terms of layover, as well as overlap. Overlap is tricky. If buses overlap too much, then it costs money. If they don’t overlap enough, then transfers increase. Transfers are inevitable in any system, but same direction transfers for relatively short trips are unfortunate. Two transfers for short trips is especially bad.

      A big part of the problem is that a grid simply isn’t possible. There is no bus across 65th (it is too hilly, and Green Lake is in the way). A lot of people are exclusively dependent on north-south buses. This makes east-west service all the more important.

      Here are some options (taken north to south):

      1) Northgate. This is the obvious choice, although there are some not-so-obvious flaws. For a lot of people, it means a three-seat ride. There are a lot of people who live on Fifth or on Northgate Way (north Northgate if you will) — a hefty walk to the transit center. These folks in north Northgate will have to make a transfer to get to the 40. Fortunately, this would be fairly frequent. The second transfer would occur as they try to get to places like Phinney Ridge and Licton Springs. It might be possible to overlap, by extending the bus up Fifth, and laying over at the old 41 layover. That would minimize the transfer penalty, while providing more frequency along Fifth. You would also have a two-seat ride from Lake City to Ballard, Greenwood or Crown Hill (they wouldn’t have a 3-seat problem as soon as they get a bus to Bitter Lake).

      2) Greenwood. There is layover space there, so that wouldn’t be a problem. The eastern part (from Lake City to Greenwood) becomes a decent size, and provides many of those connections. The three-seat rides involving north Northgate and the 5/E would go away. The 45 would provide the overlap from one part of 85th to the other (which means the other two buses wouldn’t need to). The 45 also helps with transfers in Greenwood. Westbound, you would have two buses that could get you to Crown Hill from Northgate. Eastbound, you have two buses that could get you to Link. You still have some three-seat rides, but not that many. Folks from Loyal Heights could still have a two-seat ride to Phinney Ridge, but it would be a three-seat ride to Licton Springs (and other E locations). The biggest drawback is that you would have a two-seat ride from (24th in) Ballard to Northgate or Lake City.

      3) Ballard. I think the first challenge is layover space. Beyond that, I think you would need some overlap. There are roughly a thousand people that board north of Market on 24th. Asking them to make a transfer (involving a bus that at best is running every ten minutes, but realistically would run every fifteen) would be tough. Fortunately, there are good overlap options. One would be to just run it like the 18, ending north of 85th. Another would be to dogleg on 65th, and serve Sunset Hill. About 250 people would lose their one-seat ride to downtown (and Fremont, etc.) but others would get all-day service for the first time in a long time. I think the challenge becomes where to lay over the other bus in Ballard. The bus might need to head over to the other side of 15th long before Link gets there. Overall, this would make it more costly than the other options, but it would provide a good split in terms of the size of the routes. The geography works in terms of minimizing transfers as well. There would be very few people who would benefit from a long 40 versus having a split like this. The only drawback is the extra cost of the layover.

      I think I would rank these based on cost. The third option involves around 15 minutes of overlap, but is ideal. The Northgate option only sounds good if you extend the bus up Fifth, which would add about 5 minutes of overlap. The cheapest options (Northgate or Greenwood with no overlap) both have their flaws — it is hard to say which is worse.

  8. I’d be concerned adding nearly three more miles extending Route 40 beyond NGTC because it’s already a long local route with speed & reliability issues, and adding length can compound these problems.

    This is an important issue, which is why I moved the comment to a different thread. Originally this essay was titled “Future 40 and D”. Everything about this post is based on the improvements made for the corridor. The speed and reliability issues are being addressed by SDOT. I’m well aware of the issues and costs with running a very long line. My point is that after SDOT makes these change, the route will no longer have the speed and reliability issues, making this possible.

    An extension would have costs since operators need longer layover periods with additional padding to ensure schedule recovery and long enough breaks.

    Yes, but that is more than made up for by eliminating the 20. One long route is a lot cheaper to operate than two short routes. Whenever possible, routes should be combined. I believe it is possible here, but Metro would have to do the math (after SDOT made all of the speed improvements).

    By the way, I can’t say enough positive things about what SDOT has planned along this corridor. It sure looks to me like every major bottleneck is eliminated (as well as many of the minor ones). It is quite possible that if they looked at an extension, the problem becomes 85th. But if they took a similar approach on 85th as they did for the existing 40, that would be significantly faster and more reliable as well (thus helping the 45 in the process). I see this being possible once the 40 becomes RapidRide, if not sooner.

    If Metro feels like this route is too long, then there are several options for splitting it. I will address those on NM’s comment, since he brought it up.

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