What does transit look like from West Seattle currently? Will light rail service improve it? Let’s look at getting from Alki, the Admiral District, Alaska, and Morgan Junctions, the Fauntleroy ferry terminal, or Westwood Village to other places such as downtown, First Hill, UW, Bellevue, Ballard, Columbia City, or the SeaTac airport.
While housing density along Avalon Way and Alaska Junction has increased with many new apartment buildings, West Seattle generally does not provide high housing density. Many parts of West Seattle lack decent transit service. There are urban centers along Admiral Way and Morgan Junction and a few larger buildings along Alki. Outside those areas it is still mostly single-family homes with a few townhouses in between. Former redlined neighborhoods further southeast, such as High Point, Westwood Village and White Center have also seen recent housing growth. Due to demographics these residents tend to rely on public transit far more than affluent apartment dwellers further north. But there is no plan to serve them by light rail.
Currently West Seattle has two high frequency (7 minute) transit corridors (red lines on the map): RapidRide C in the west and RapidRide H along Delridge in the east. Route 21 along 35th Ave SW runs every 15 minutes in between them. They all go to downtown. RapidRide C continues beyond that to South Lake Union. The 21 stops in SODO by the stadium and at CID Station, then continues as route 5 through downtown, Fremont, Greenwood, Bitter Lake, and Shoreline. Frequency on the east-west route 50 has increased recently, but it still only runs every 20 minutes. This line is a crucial east-west connection between Alki, the Admiral District, Alaska Junction, the SODO Link station, the VA hospital, Columbia City and other places in Rainier Valley.
That leaves many other parts of West Seattle with bus service only every half hour, only peak hours or weekdays, only by the occasional ferry shuttle, or not at all. This even includes major streets such as Fauntleroy Way (between Morgan Junction and Avalon Way), Alki Avenue, Beach Drive, and major destinations like South Seattle College (served by 125 every 30 minutes), Greenbridge and West Seattle High School.
West Seattle Link Extension
Sound Transit plans (see their diagram below) to bring light rail to West Seattle – first as an interim stub to SODO (current target 2032) and ultimately (at least 5 years later) with a full build through downtown and beyond.
Once the stub has been finished, all riders will not only have to transfer in West Seattle, they would also need to switch lines in SODO: go up an escalator, walk over to Rainier Valley track and down an escalator and then wait for a train. Fortunately, Sound Transit has promised that downtown bus lines will continue to run downtown during this phase. Once the line is fully built, Metro is expected to truncate the current bus lines at the various Link stations:
Junction: Both RapidRide C and 50 will serve the Junction station. While it currently takes the C 23 minutes to reach University Street station, with Link it may only take 14 minutes. But traversing two escalators and walking half a block underground and waiting for the train (every 10 minutes) may eliminate any advantage. If you currently continue on the C to South Lake Union, you will now have to transfer not only once but twice.
Avalon: The 21 will get truncated at the Avalon station. (Sound Transit is still considering whether to eliminate this station -then the 21 would need to detour to the Junction station.) Though you will need to cross an intersection and go down an escalator and wait for a train, getting to University Street Station may be a few minutes faster. As the 21 (which continues as the 5) serves many more stops than Link does, it may still take longer to reach your destination.
Delridge: RapidRide H and 125 will serve the Delridge station. The bus will need to detour into the station. Riders will need to get up two escalators and wait for the train. While Link may only take 12 minutes to University Station, the bus takes 16 minutes. If you take access and wait time into consideration, your journey will certainly take longer.
Let’s look at various transit scenarios in more detail:
Southwest Corridor (Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal, Morgan & Alaska Junction) – Alaska Junction station
If you arrive at the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal, every 7 minutes RapidRide C takes you downtown (3rd & Seneca) in 30 minutes. Morgan Junction is even shorter. From Alaska Junction it only takes you 22 minutes as most of the ride is on highways. You can even continue to South Lake Union. Or you can transfer downtown on a bus to Ballard or up First Hill. Or take two escalators down to take the light rail to the UW (every 4 minutes), or to Bellevue (every 8 minutes). To Columbia City you can transfer at Alaska Junction to the 50 (every 20 minutes). The quickest way to the airport is to take RapidRide-C south to Westwood Village and ride the 560 (every 30 minutes) in about an hour.
Stub: If the West Seattle light rail stub gets built, riders from the southwest would still take the bus to the new Junction station, then traverse down two escalators and wait for the next train (every 10 minutes) to ride to the SODO station. To get to the Rainier Valley line, riders would get off the West Seattle train, go up an escalator (or elevator), walk over the bridge and down an escalator to the parallel Rainier Valley line, and wait for the next train (every 8 minutes) north. Hopefully the train won’t be full by the time it arrives at the station. That train can take you to either downtown, Capitol Hill or UW. To Ballard or First Hill you would get off at University Station, go up two escalators, and take a bus. To Bellevue you can get off at CID station, go up an escalator, cross over to the south platform and go down an escalator to wait for the Bellevue train (every 8 minutes). To Columbia City or the airport you would wait for the Rainier Valley train at SODO station but go south. Sound Transit admits that travel towards downtown or Bellevue will take longer by light rail due to the transfers. Hopefully Metro will continue to operate RapidRide C towards downtown during this phase. Once downtown you can either continue on another bus or on light rail. If you travel north on the light rail, University Street Station will have twice the frequency and capacity as a transfer at SODO offers.
Full Build: Once the line gets connected to serve downtown directly, RapidRide C may get truncated or diverted to the Admiral District. Then riders will have to transfer to the light rail at Alaska Junction to go downtown or to the UW. They would still need to transfer downtown to a First Hill bus or at CID to a Bellevue train. Ultimately you could transfer at SODO not only to Columbia City and the airport but to Ballard, too. Each transfer would require switching tracks by going up and down escalators. Even if the light rail can travel a few minutes faster than the bus, any transfer from a bus at the Junction will take more time walking and waiting.
North Corridor (Alki, Admiral Junction) – Junction Station
The northern part of West Seattle lacks frequent transit. The highest frequency is provided by the 50 (every 20 minutes), which you can ride to the SODO light rail station or Columbia City. It takes 42 minutes from Alki to Columbia City as it meanders through West Seattle and SODO. Generally, it is faster to transfer to the RapidRide C line at the Alaska Junction or RapidRide H on Delridge Way (see above for details). If you live close to the Seacrest Dock or the ferry shuttle schedule (hourly) works for you, you can take the water taxi (every 20 minutes) to the downtown ferry terminal and from there to any places you can connect to via bus.
Stub: If a light rail stub gets built, riders could transfer from the 50 to Link but due to the transfer in SODO they may as well keep riding RapidRide C or H.
Full Build: Once the Link line gets extended downtown, we can expect that Metro changes the bus routes. Hopefully this would include a more frequent connection from Alki along Admiral Way to the Delridge station, may be even continuing to the South Seattle College. Going up two escalators and waiting for the train (every 10 minutes) will still take longer than riding a bus line to downtown unless you want to continue further on Link.
Southeast Corridor (White Center, Westwood Village) – Delridge station
Similar to the RapidRide C line, RapidRide H takes riders along the Burien, White Center, and Westwood Village corridor along Delridge Way every 7 minutes to downtown. From Westwood Village the ride takes 28 minutes. From downtown you can either hop on a bus to Ballard or up First Hill, or take two escalators down to take the light rail to the UW (every 4 minutes) or to Bellevue (every 8 minutes). To Columbia City you can transfer to the 50 (every 20 minutes). The quickest way to the airport is to take the 560 (every 30 minutes) in half an hour.
Stub: If a light rail stub gets built, riders could transfer from the RapidRide H at the Delridge station or continue to ride downtown. To transfer they would have to travel two escalators up before waiting for a train (every 10 minutes). Unless they ride towards Columbia City they would most likely be better off staying on the bus even if the bus gets slightly slower due to the detour around the new Delridge station.
Full Build: Once the West Seattle light rail line gets extended downtown RapidRide H will get truncated. (Instead, it may serve Alki via Admiral Way, see page 19 of Metro Connects 2050). Riders from Westwood Village would not have a choice but to transfer at Delridge station if they want to go north or east.
West Seattle is far more spread out than Ballard, for example. The two RapidRide lines have encouraged further housing construction around the two dozen stations in West Seattle. Those buses are easier to access (street level vs underground or above ground) and run more frequently than Link does (7 vs 10 minutes). Why even build a stub which requires two transfers? Once the line connects downtown riders will have to transfer to Link. Staying on RapidRide would be faster and easier than riding Link for most trips. Only if you live close to the Junction, Avalon or Delridge Link stations and you want to continue on the train toward Capitol Hill, UW or transfer to Bellevue, you might have a slight advantage. Riding West Seattle Link will mean more transfer complexity and access challenges and also a longer journey for most riders.