Metro 8: Connections Comprehensive

(Part of a series highlighting high-performing transit routes in the Puget Sound region)

Route 8, King County Metro, in Seattle. North points down and to the right. Illustration using Google Maps.

Metro 8 performs well at all times of the week, with its particular strength being the amount of rides it carries for its level of service. Its total ridership is eighth among Metro routes, with 4,828 rides per weekday, but it does that with fewer platform hours than anything above it on the list, which is the reason it performs so well on rides per platform hour. It places second in that metric among Metro routes on weekdays, carrying 34.7 rides per platform hour during peak periods and 32.3 daytime off-peak. That means a single 8 trip taking 45 minutes provides a ride to an average of 26 people. I was interested in what accounted for its success, so, as I did with RapidRide A, I went looking for answers. I took the light rail to Mt. Baker, where I hopped on the 8 heading north.

Riding the 8 on that weekday afternoon, it was interesting to me how much the 8 felt like two routes in one. The first section, which aligns north-south mainly on MLK Way, runs through the leafy pre-war neighborhoods of the Central District. The trip during this leg was fast and lightly boarded. With the exception of a clutch of people who boarded at the deviation to 23rd Avenue (near the excellent Communion restaurant), the bus was almost empty.

The north-south leg of the 8 runs through the leafy neighborhoods of the Central District. Photo: Google Maps.

The second leg of the route was much busier. This is the section that runs east-west from Madison Valley to Uptown, ending a block from Climate Pledge Arena. Almost immediately after the bus turned west, a large group of people boarded outside an apartment complex. The bus was suddenly busy, and it remained so through the end of my trip, despite big turnovers of people at the major stops. As we passed through Capitol Hill and South Lake Union, people came and went so rapidly that it was hard to keep track. Finally, the bus stopped, and I realized (after everyone else had debarked) that this was the end of the line. I wandered around, bought a sandwich, and looked for a way to get home.  

What makes the 8 successful on its productivity measures? It has the benefit of going through some very dense places of Seattle, plus serving points of interest like Seattle Center. But it is hardly unique in this regard. In fact, its performance (on total ridership, on rides per platform hour) is better than other routes that serve even denser areas, like Routes 2 and 10. Those routes have similar frequencies throughout the day to the 8, so frequency cannot explain it, either. The 8 does avoid deviations, except the one to 23rd Avenue. That counts in its favor, but that alone does not make a route a top performer.

The 8 (in yellow) and the 2 (in orange) both run through areas of high residential density. Both are strong routes, but the 8 has higher daily ridership and rides per platform hour. Map by author.

Judging from how busy that east-west leg was, I would argue that the major, useful connections along its east-west leg account for its success. In less than three miles of travel, it makes connections to Link, RapidRides C, D, and E and the 40 and 48 bus lines. All of those are among King County’s busiest transit lines, and a rider on the 8 can access any corridor that they would like. Because it runs cardinally east-west and makes perpendicular connections with those lines, it is the most direct route to connect them. In this city where so many travel routes run north-south, it makes sense that a route providing a useful connection with all of them would be highly productive. I believe that is what we have here.

There are other ways to conceptualize the 8. It takes an indirect route between Mt. Baker and Uptown, meaning it is not good for end-to-end travel. But it does connect the midpoints of the route to either end, directly. You could think of the 8 as two routes, heading west and south from Madison Valley, that just happen to be through-routed with each other for efficiency’s sake. The 8 also is a part of what Jarrett Walker calls a “spiderweb grid,” playing the role of a circumferential by joining routes radiating from Downtown on two sides. One of the interesting things about the study of transit is there are so many ways to think about how a single line fits into a larger network. When you consider all the possible connections and routes a person could take, the possibilities are almost limitless.

Overall, the 8 suggests the importance of transfers in the success of a transit line. It doesn’t serve downtown. It does not have a clear niche to serve a particular type of travel pattern. Yet because of the way it connects to other routes, it becomes significant and useful enough to count among Metro’s best-performing services. There is a larger lesson to this observation: after all, even though this series is focused on high-performing lines, it ultimately does not matter where a single line can get you, but where the whole transit network can get you – and how quickly. Each individual line is subordinate to its position in a greater network, a greater ecosystem. By making so many quality connections to other routes, the 8 points to the importance of all the other routes that enable it to succeed.

The 8 near its terminus in Uptown. Photo from 2015. Photo: Google Maps.

Transportation Events August 2023


Sound Transit:

There was a Citizens Accessibility Committee Meeting on August 1 (details), and on August 3, a public hearing on the 2023-2028 Transit Development Plan (details), an Executive Committee Meeting (details), and a Rider Experience & Operations Committee Meeting (details).

Community Oversight Panel Meeting: Wednesday, August 9, 5:30pm – 8:15pm. details

System Expansion Committee Meeting: Thursday, August 10, 1:30pm – 5:00pm. details

Board of Directors Meeting: Thursday, August 24, 1:30pm – 4:00pm. details

King County Metro:

Transit Advisory Commission Meeting: Tuesday, August 15, 6:00pm – 8:00pm. details

Regional Transit Committee Meeting: Wednesday, August 16, 3:00pm. details

Continue reading “Transportation Events August 2023”

Pierce Transit Trying to Salvage BRT Project

On July 10, the Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners gathered to examine a new plan for the Pacific Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, which would build the first line in Pierce County’s “Stream” BRT network. The hope was that this would be a workable solution to the financial problems that have been growing for the project. However, the transit benefit has been watered down in the new plan, and financial risks remain. Because of these problems, the project’s future looks uncertain.

The Pacific Avenue BRT project was initiated with funding from the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure. The project planned to add a BRT line, named the “Community Line,” on Pacific Ave (SR 7), with exclusive right-of-way, wider stop spacing, advance fare payment, level boarding, and other amenities. It would run with 10-minute frequency from Downtown Tacoma to Spanaway, with a deviation to serve Tacoma Dome Station.

The original Community Line BRT plan included 3.3 miles of exclusive right-of-way on Pacific Avenue (SR 7), through Tacoma, Parkland, and Spanaway in Pierce County.

However, the cost of the project expanded due to COVID-related delays, inflation, and planning mistakes. The initial concept planned for 3.3 miles of bus lanes and business-access-and-transit (BAT) lanes to be added to Pacific Avenue without reducing general-purpose lanes. But new lanes and stations turned out to require unplanned road widening, which would add major costs for buying neighboring land. Converting general-purpose lanes to bus lanes to avoid these costs never seemed to be on the table. By early 2023, the project estimate had increased to $311 million, a total that exceeded the available budget by over $100 million.

Continue reading “Pierce Transit Trying to Salvage BRT Project”

Transportation Events July 2023


Sound Transit:

Rider Experience & Operations Committee Meeting and Executive Committee Meeting (typically first Thursday of the month) are cancelled.

Community Oversight Panel Meeting: Wednesday, July 12, 5:30pm – 8:15pm. details

System Expansion Committee Meeting: Thursday, July 13, 1:30pm – 5:00pm. details

Board of Directors Meeting: Thursday, July 27, 1:30pm – 4:00pm. details

King County Metro:

Transit Advisory Commission Meeting: Tuesday, July 18, 6:00 – 8:00pm. details

Regional Transit Committee Meeting: Wednesday, July 19, 3:00 PM. details

More below the fold.

Continue reading “Transportation Events July 2023”

Transportation Events June 7 – July 5


Sound Transit:

System Expansion Committee Meeting: Thursday June 8, 1:30pm – 5:00pm. details

Community Oversight Panel Meeting: Wednesday June 14, 5:30pm – 8:15pm details

Board of Directors Meeting: Thursday June 22: 1:30pm – 4:00pm details

King County Metro:

Transit Advisory Commission Meeting: Tuesday June 20, 6:00 – 8:00pm. details

Regional Transit Committee Meeting: Wednesday June 21, 3:00 PM. details

Community Transit:


Pierce Transit:

Board of Commissioners Meeting: Monday June 12: 4:00 PM. details

Everett Transit:

Transportation Advisory Committee: Thursday June 15: 8:00 AM. details

Continue reading “Transportation Events June 7 – July 5”

Understanding King County Metro’s Suspensions of Peak-Only Routes

Red lines are King County Metro routes marked for temporary suspension in September 2023. (map by author using King County data.)

Two weeks ago, Metro announced the decision to temporarily suspend twenty peak-only routes as part of its service cuts. The focus on peak-hour reductions aligns with Metro’s current operational challenges, like fielding the high number of operators required for lots of peak-time service. But some riders are disappointed that their peak routes will be shut down. Is Metro right to suspend peak-only routes versus other areas that could be cut? Here, we will explore Metro’s choice by getting into route-level productivity data on the suspended routes.

To define what we are talking about, peak-only routes run only during the morning and evening rush hour, contrasting with other routes that run throughout the day. Almost all of these routes run one-way only, and many serve limited stops. The rationale for peak routes is to connect areas that are specially associated with trips at peak hours, like downtown business areas and suburban residential neighborhoods. By designing a route to serve this specific travel pattern, transit agencies can serve a large volume of trips quite efficiently.

That was the way things were before the pandemic, for the most part. In 2019, peak-only routes held the top six spots in passenger miles per platform mile. This measure, which tells us the average loading of these buses was very high, means those routes were popular and effective at transporting people long distances. As you can imagine, the commuting pattern of people needing to go to city centers in the morning and return to their homes in the evening created this immense demand that the peak routes served.

Then, of course, the pandemic changed everything. Metro axed most of the peak routes during the early days of the pandemic, inferring that stay-at-home policies would eliminate most peak commuting. Many of those routes never returned, and the ones that survived have not been the same.

Continue reading “Understanding King County Metro’s Suspensions of Peak-Only Routes”

The Surprising Efficiency of RapidRide A

(Part of a series on high-performing transit routes in the Puget Sound region)

Every year, King County Metro provides statistics on their bus services in their System Evaluation, available online. One measure that is presented for all regular bus routes is Rides per Platform Hour. It answers a core question: “how many people does this route serve for each hour a bus spends driving it?” Using this measure, King County Metro can assess the time efficiency of routes and make choices on future service.

Which route performs the best at Rides per Platform Hour? You might be surprised. One might guess that the most time-efficient route would ply the densest parts of Seattle, where there is the highest concentration of riders. But this would be incorrect. In fact, the best performing route on this measure is RapidRide A, which connects Federal Way to Tukwila along Pacific Highway South (SR99). Not only does it have the most Riders per Platform Hour at both peak and off-peak weekday times – that means Monday through Friday, 5 am to 10 pm – it also performs well on nights and weekends. Altogether, RapidRide A serves 7,116 rides per weekday, which is 4th among all Metro bus routes.

Continue reading “The Surprising Efficiency of RapidRide A”