Rainier Valley Restructure (Mt. Baker Station)

With all the focus on the plans to restructure service in the north end these days, I’d like to propose an Alternative 1 for the Rainier Valley with a focus on the routes that serve Mt. Baker Transit Center. Currently, transit service at MBTC is provided by Link and Metro routes 7, 8, 9, 14 and 48. The changes I’m proposing affect the 7, 8 and 9. The 14 is desperately in need of re-organization, but that’s a matter of neighborhood politics and I’m not going to get into that mess. The 48 is also not discussed because it is more involved with the north end restructures.

Route 7 This bus goes where almost everybody wants to go, but it’s just too damn slow. The change I propose would be to make the 7 an express bus from the MBTC to 12th and Jackson. From Henderson Street (the Rainier Beach terminal) to the MBTC the 7 would make all of its current stops. Then, on the segment between MBTC and Jackson Street, the 7 would make no stops except at the intersection of Rainier/Walker/23rd Avenue and at I-90 Station. Service would be provided every 10 minutes and would continue to provided by trolley buses.

Route 8 In order to avoid confusion, I’m going to designate the new 8 as the 88.

Between Rainier Beach and the MBTC the 88 serves as the shadow bus for Link, so I don’t propose any changes on that segment. But north of MBTC I would switch the routing to Rainier Avenue where the 88 would make all stops to Jackson Street (covering stops skipped by the express 7). At Jackson Street the 88 would follow the FHSC routing (14th Ave. S. > Yesler) to Boren. The 88 would then follow Boren all the way to Fairview and it would terminate in South Lake Union. Service would be provided every 15 minutes.

Route 9 Deleted

There would need to be an additional route designated to provide service on the MLK corridor between MBTC and Madison Valley, but I don’t think that corridor needs to be regarded as a high priority/frequent service corridor. The current 8 has generated some new ridership along MLK, but not enough to warrant high frequency service. And compared to the ridership that would be generated by the proposed new 88, I think it’s better to invest the service hours in a route that connects Rainier Valley to SLU via Boren.

The 88 would also relieve some pressure on the current 8. By using Boren, the 88 would provide an opportunity for riders to transfer to every Metro route that serves Capitol Hill, First Hill and the CD. Service on Boren would be congested during peak hours, but the 88 would provide an alternative to the 8 and the streetcar for commuters to the south end.

An Apology

Yesterday I posted this comment in the Alternative 1: Capitol Hill and First Hill thread:

The 11’s poor ridership in Madison Park was (is?) rooted in traditional local racism. Back in the day, the 11 was considered a fine way for domestic help to get to work, but no resident of Madison Park/Broadmoor would ever ride the 11.

Unfortunately I didn’t include any information about Seattle’s historic pattern of housing segregation (known as red-lining) which, until the 1960s, concentrated Seattle’s Black citizens in an area that was bordered on the north by Madison Street, but kept the Madison Park residential area whites-only. By failing to provide that historical context in my post, it may appear that my post is trying to say that Madison Park currently doesn’t generate great ridership because Madison Park residents are racist. That was not my intention and I would like to apologize to anyone that read my comment and felt insulted by my words. Also, an apology to the STB editors and staff for my clumsy self-editing. STB cultivates a well-mannered and intelligent readership. I hope my words didn’t make STB look like a haven or a mouthpiece for some crazy village idiot.

Red-lining was a policy practiced by banks and real estate companies that refused to allow people of color to purchase or rent property outside of a certain geographic area. Combined with the racially restrictive convenants that were often added to real estate deeds on property located outside of the “red lines”, it was nearly impossible for people of color to live outside of the red-line zone. In Seattle, those policies concentrated the Black population in the area that is today known as the Central District. For a better summary of the history of red-lining in Seattle, I can refer you to these on-line sources:

  • a 1960 map showing the effect of red-line segregation in Seattle
  • Seattle's Negro Population 1960

  • a page from the Seattle Municipal Archives about the Open Housing Campaign in the 1950s and 60s
  • this Depression-era map, created by the FHA, that labels the Central District as “hazardous”.
  • FHA map

    One result of red-lining was that the transit routes that served the Central District (2, today’s 3S*, today’s 4S* 11) were patronizing almost exclusively by Black riders. The wealthy neighborhoods located at the end of those routes (Madison Park, Madrona) accepted transit mostly as a means to convey their domestic help to and from work. Today, Madison Park and Madrona are much more accepting of public transit (and people of any race), but those low-density neighborhoods don’t typically attract great numbers of transit riders outside of peak-hour commuters. Meanwhile, the Central District has become gentrified and more transit oriented. So, what I was trying to express in my statement is my opinion that the history of segregation in Seattle still influences transit patterns–not that Madison Park is a enclave of racism. Again, my apologies to anyone who understandably took offense at my statement.

    *then know as the 12 E. Cherry or 12 – 26th Ave. So.

    February Orca Card Promotions

    February, being the shortest month of the calendar, is the least beneficial month for purchasing ORCA passes. Add in the President’s Day holiday plus the few extra days off in February for many school’s mid-winter breaks and, suddenly, buying a bus pass in February doesn’t seem all that worthwhile. I don’t know if ORCA pass sales take a noticeable drop in February, but many riders likely recognize that the value of an ORCA pass is lowest when the month is shortest. Many other businesses also suffer from lower sales in February (unless they are helped by Valentine’s Day), so many of those businesses choose to tighten their belts and wait for better days. But other businesses use February as a time to offer good deals to stimulate sales during a slack time of year. Air fares, for example, are usually very low in February to non-sunshine destinations. Could the ORCA card boost sales and reach new riders by offering discounts for February bus passes?

    How about a 20% off sale for all February passes or a 33% discount on February passes if purchased in a package deal with March and April passes? The various transit agencies would be able to track the purchases and see how many new riders are enticed by the February deals and how much additional revenue is generated by the February discounts. The discounts would also help to generate goodwill with transit commuters and they almost certainly would be more effective in driving sales than the Voice of Reason/Grandma ads. Most transit advertising seems to be focused on appealing to laudable concepts like environmental preservation and stress reduction in daily life. That’s wonderful, but a 20% off deal might be what finally drives people to get out of their cars and make the effort to find an ORCA vending location and purchase an ORCA pass. And, hopefully, come back for more.

    Connecting Rainier Valley to Southcenter

    Ask Metro’s trip planner to plot a journey from anywhere in Rainier Valley (south of Alaska Street) to Southcenter Mall and the results will almost always show a trip that takes roughly one hour and requires more than a quarter mile of walking. If your starting location isn’t near one of the light rail stations, your journey will always require 2 transfers (usually the unreliable 8 > Link > 128 or F). When you arrive at Southcenter, you will also be dropped at a location that may be far from your ultimate destination inside the mall and you will have to navigate through a parking lot that is not well lit in winter or in any way pedestrian-friendly during any season. Most automobile trips between Rainier Valley and Southcenter will take 15-20 minutes and, on most days, you will be able to park close to your destination in the mall. Of course, at the height of Christmas rush, in a singly-occupied vehicle under miserable weather conditions, your auto trip may take longer than 20 minutes, but your transit trip will also be lengthened under those conditions, too. One of my teen-aged neighbors worked at Southcenter during the Christmas retail season and she had to make that 60+ minute trip twice a day, often returning home late at night after making 2 connections, sometimes in very bad weather conditions. How could her trip have been more convenient and quicker?

    It might be possible to extend route 156 to Rainier Beach from Southcenter. The frequency and span-of-service provided by the current 156 would likely match the demand for service between Rainier Beach and Southcenter. The extended 156 would need to serve Rainier Beach Station and provide a connection to route 7. Metro could also extend the 156 to serve the Prentice loop and then terminate every route 7 trip at Rainier Beach. Extending the 156 to Prentice Street would also provide a direct connection to the Rainier Beach Link Station that might help to revive ridership on the Prentice loop.

    For a few years, Metro extended old route 39 (Seward Park) to Southcenter between about 9am and about 6pm. But that was before Link was built and the 39 had few riders. Today, Southcenter has become much more of a destination since the days of the 39 service and the city of Tukwila is making plans to create a walkable and more active neighborhood in the area surrounding the Southcenter mall. I think a direct bus between Rainier Valley and Southcenter would attract many more riders in 2015 than the 39 extension did in the early 1990s. But the current service that relies on an unreliable route (8), requires 2 transfers and can take 60+ minutes when everything goes right isn’t going to attract many riders.

    SODO Station Transit Center

    I have been advocating for quite some time to establish a large transit center at SODO Station and I’m glad to see that others readers are now debating the issue. I’d like to summarize my reasoning and present the outline I’ve created for the SODO Station Transit Center and invite others to build on my ideas.

    Why build a transfer station at SODO?
    Metro will be facing a transit capacity problem on the streets of downtown Seattle when the bus tunnel is finally closed to buses. During peak hours the streets are already congested with bus traffic and adding the buses that currently use the tunnel to the surface traffic will only make congestion worse. When the buses are removed from the tunnel, those riders who currently have a one-seat ride into downtown Seattle will experience a longer, more agonizing trip to work which will make transit less appealing. By creating the SODO Station Transit Center, many of the buses that would be making a one way trip through downtown Seattle on surface streets would instead turnback at SODO Station and riders would transfer to Link trains at SODO.

    Aren’t forced transfers one of the things that people hate about riding the bus?
    Yes! But building a transfer station at SODO is the best possible location for building a transfer station without forcing transfers. SODO is the Link station that offers the best connectivity to the greatest number of locations. Because of its close location to downtown, SODO could be connected more easily to locations like West Seattle, First Hill, Beacon Hill, Belltown and South Lake Union than other stations further south on the Link route. The most compelling advantage of SODO Station is that it can effectively offer connections to many more prime destinations. I’m purposely making a distinction between forcing transfers and offering transfers. A location such as SODO can be more effectively connected to many more locations than a location like Rainier Beach Station. The problem with Rainier Beach Station is that it is the definition of a forced transfer. There’s very little commercial activity near RBS, the walk shed is terrible and there is very little opportunity to improve density or commercial activity in the vicinity. Also, the geographic layout of the neighborhood makes it very difficult to make easy bus-to-train transfers at RBS without having to walk long distances or cross several busy streets.

    But SODO Station would still require that riders might have to wait up to 10 minutes to catch a train, isn’t that too long?
    Yes it is. My solution to that problem would be to terminate both the RapidRide D Line and the RapidRide E Line at SODO Station. The E is currently running on 12 minute (or better) headways and the D Line runs on 15 minute (or better) headways. That would add a minimum of 9 RR buses per hour between SODO and downtown. Combined with at least 6 trains per hour, if schedules were timed optimally, the maximum wait times between SODO and downtown could be as low as 4 minutes. Once the buses are kicked out of the tunnel and if all those buses are added to the surface streets, it’s inevitable that the one-seat ride trip time through downtown Seattle will increase. At that time, a 4 minute (or less) wait at SODO won’t be a negative factor.

    Another benefit of terminating the D and E at SODO would be that the C Line would need a new destination beyond downtown Seattle. How about Uptown for the C Line terminal? If the C Line is terminated in Uptown, the D Line could then skip the Uptown deviation and run faster to Ballard via Denny and Elliot Way. Hopefully, without the Uptown deviation, trip times between Ballard and downtown on the D Line would be about 5 minutes faster which would compensate for the added running time to SODO. If the D Line’s faster service attracts more riders, then headways could be moved to 12 minutes, which would add even more connectivity between downtown and SODO.

    Another suggestion for creating better connectivity at SODO would be to build a major bike share facility at the station with dedicated bike lanes to downtown and the other nearby neighborhoods.

    The SODO Station Transit Center isn’t a perfect solution to a complex problem, but it does offer the best solution I can see to provide timely and cost-effective connections between downtown Seattle and the more distant areas of the service area.

    What are your thought?

    Route Fail: 91 in 1991

    Metro has successfully started a number of new routes over the years. In previous posts I have written about the 43 BALLARD and the 8 CAPITOL HILL/UPTOWN–both great successes. But this post will look at a route that was a complete failure: route 91 INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT/DOWNTOWN, a downtown-only, off-peak trolley circulator that started from the International District/Jackson Street, ran to 1st Avenue then to Virginia Street, turned around and ran back to the ID. The 91 schedule operated weekdays and Saturdays with 15 minute headways. Other than pretty good frequency, there wasn’t much to like about the 91. There were plenty of other bus routes that connected the ID with central downtown and almost any bus that used 3rd Avenue or the just-opened bus tunnel would have been faster. In fact, the opening of the bus tunnel may have been the reason that Metro started route 91. During the bus tunnel construction phase, when 3rd Avenue was torn up, the trolleys that normally used 3rd Avenue were re-routed to 1st Avenue. The 91 may have been an attempt to continue serving 1st Avenue with frequent service once the bus tunnel was opened and the trolleys returned to 3rd Avenue. Unfortunately, ridership on the 91 was almost non-existent and within a few years, the 91 was history.

    If you read my post on The Creation of Route 8 you will notice that when Metro started route 91, they were still stonewalling community efforts to start route 8. Why did a dud route like the 91 get the green light while Capitol Hill to lower Queen Anne got the red light? The people who were advocating for a Capitol Hill to Queen Anne bus connection were being told that there weren’t enough service hours available for their project, but Metro was able to find the service hours to assign 4 trolleys* to cover the 91 route. How much of route planning is an art and how much of route planning is a science? And how much of route planning is political pressure and arm twisting?

    Metro’s new route 40 looks like it is performing well. Part of its success is that it connects Ballard with Fremont–a connection that the communities have been requesting for decades, but Metro had always resisted. Is anyone surprised that a frequent, one-seat ride between Ballard and Fremont is popular? I’m expecting the upcoming Metro marriage of routes 8 and 106 marriage will bring much success to those corridors. Now, how about a connection between Rainier Beach and Southcenter?

    *Metro did eventually adjust the 91 schedule to operate the route with just 3 trolleys.

    43 & 44 In 1979

    The 43 BALLARD/MONTLAKE/DOWNTOWN was one of Metro’s early hits. When it was created, the new route 43 combined most of the old 4 Montlake route with the busiest part of the 30 Ballard/Laurelhurst route and connected the University District with Ballard and Capitol Hill. Ridership soared on the whole corridor and by the late 1970s, the 43 BALLARD timetable shows peak hour service running as frequently as every 4 minutes between the University District and Ballard. Most trips, however, were operated using standard length diesel buses. But it was undeniable that ridership on the 43 was booming.

    Unfortunately, timekeeping on the route was atrocious. The current 43 and 44 routes are known to be slow and unreliable; but back in the 1980s, there were several bottlenecks that caused even worse delays. The turnback 43 MONTLAKE trips (from Ballard) used a terminal that was located south of the Montlake Bridge, so when the bridge opened, the bus would often be delayed. The turnback loop that the current route 44 uses has eliminated the need for 2 bridge crossings, which makes for much better timekeeping. There also was a different street configuration in the area where the current 44 passes under the Aurora Bridge. In 1979, to get onto Greenlake Way N. (the street that travels under the Aurora Bridge), the westbound 43 would head north on Woodland Park Ave. from Midvale and have to wait at a stop sign before making a pedal-to-the-metal left turn onto Greenlake Way N. The delay at that point could be very lengthy because of the high traffic volume on Greenlake Way. When the route was electrified, the city reconfigured the streets in that area to make it easier for the 43 to get onto Greenlake Way.

    Back in 1979, the entire route between downtown Seattle and Ballard was designated the 43. The 44 FIRST HILL route was an extension of the 43 through downtown Seattle that operated via 1st Avenue and Madison Street to 15th & Madison (weekdays only). The 44 augmented service provided by the 13 – 19th Avenue route on Madison Street.

    There are some interesting things to note in the 43 timetable. The extension to Shilshole was considered part of the 43 route and many of the trips from Shilshole ran all the way to First Hill (as route 44), which made timekeeping very unreliable. There also were trips that originated at 46th & Phinney during morning peak. Overall, the 43 and 44 of today look very similar to the 43 of 1979, but Metro and SDOT have made numerous routing and scheduling improvements that make the 43 and 44 much more reliable today compared to the service that was provided 35 years ago. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a subway between Ballard and the U District?

    14 SUMMIT in 1974

    The 14 SUMMIT was a bus route with strong ridership and frequent service until the mid 1970s. Today’s 47 SUMMIT provides just a fraction of the service that was offered by the historic 14 SUMMIT. The 47’s routing is pretty much the same as the historic 14 route, except that during peak hours the old 14 SUMMIT was extended to Main Street (southbound via 2nd Avenue/northbound on 3rd Avenue). There were also route 14 trips that live-looped in downtown Seattle and interlined with the 9 BROADWAY.

    The decline of route 14 began with the commencement of route 43. The historic 14 schedule shows service every 18-20 minutes off-peak and peak headways in the 5-12 minute range. Before the 43 was established, the 14 was the only bus route that operated on Bellevue and Olive. With the addition of the 43, the 14 began to share its service area with another frequent service line and the 14’s ridership began to fall. Effective in September 2014, the entire 47 SUMMIT route will be discontinued in the first round of service cuts. But with the 8 and 43 providing very frequent (although somewhat unreliable) service nearby, most of the 47’s riders will be within walking distance of bus service.

    The Evolution of Route 60

    In the mid-1970s, Metro had 2 routes that partially served the corridor that is today’s route 60 between Georgetown and Broadway. The 38 – 15th Ave S was a legacy route from the 1940s that connected Georgetown/Boeing Field with Beacon Hill via 15th Ave S. By 1975, the 38 schedule showed Monday – Saturday service with irregular headways and an infrequent tail to the King County Airport terminal. Metro had also created a new route, the 60 YESLER – BROADWAY that offered very infrequent and unbalanced service between Broadway and Jackson St. In 1975, a trip from Cleveland High School to Seattle Central Community College without transferring downtown would have required 3 buses (and a great deal of luck): the 38 – 15th Ave S, the 3 JEFFERSON PARK, the 60 YESLER – BROADWAY. Eventually, Metro realized the potential ridership on the Broadway-Beacon Hill-Georgetown corridor and by 1979, the 60 BROADWAY – GEORGETOWN bus was established. The trip that previously required 3 buses in 1976 could now be made with 1 bus. The span of service on the new 60 wasn’t good, headways were strangely irregular and the useless tail to the King County Airport remained, but more Beacon Hill residents had a one seat ride to Broadway or Georgetown.

    The sad irony is that the 2015 service reorganization proposed by Metro will eliminate the one seat ride between Georgetown and Broadway and re-establish the 3 seat ride of the mid-1970s.

    The cover of the 1976 YESLER – BROADWAY features a north-facing shot of Broadway taken from somewhere near Broadway and Madison. There is some distortion in the shot caused by a strong telephoto lens, but you can see a 9 BROADWAY trolley making the turn from Pine onto Broadway. That’s St. Mark’s looming in the background, but there are very few other notable landmarks that identify the dreary looking, traffic choked, early 1970s version of Broadway with the hip strip it is today.

    The Creation of Route 8

    In the early 1990s, I was working on Capitol Hill and became part of the Broadway Business Improvement Association. One of the pet projects of the Broadway BIA was to establish a direct bus link between the Capitol Hill and Lower Queen Anne neighborhoods. Prior to 1995, a bus trip from the Seattle Center to Capitol Hill required a transfer in downtown Seattle. The effort to establish the direct bus line between the two neighborhoods had been on-going since the late 1970s, with Metro steadfastly refusing to create the connection–usually citing a perceived lack of demand or lack of vehicles (a real problem in the 1980s). Finally, after nearly 2 decades of wrangling with Metro, a grand bargain was reached where service on other routes would be reduced and a new route–the 8–would run every 30 minutes, 6am to 6pm, weekdays only between Group Health Hospital and Lower Queen Anne. The 8 began service on Monday morning, February 13, 1995 and has been successfully serving riders every since.

    The Rider Alert pamphlet for February 11, 1995 details the reductions and changes on routes 2, 10, 12, 13 and 43 needed to fund service hours for the 8. I don’t have a timetable from February 1995 that shows the original service schedule; but, this timetable shows that within 1 year evening service had been added. Weekend service, service until 11pm, the extension to Madison Valley and Rainier Valley and 15 minute peak headways all followed within a couple of years. Despite Metro’s initial misgivings, the 8 has been a huge success, and in 2014, it would be difficult to imagine what transit ridership would be like without the 8.

    Transit Timetable History (8.8.14)

    Three new additions on the Flickr page:

    1 KINNEAR (1975)

    4 MONTLAKE (1975)

    13 – 19th AVE (1975)

    The 1 KINNEAR and 13 – 19th AVE maps show part of the original trolley wiring plan in downtown Seattle.  Inbound from Kinnear Park, the 1 operated on First Avenue to Pike Street, then eastbound on Pike to 5th Avenue and then east on Spring Street to 9th Avenue where the 1 would then continue as either the 12 E. CHERRY/26th AVE. S. (today’s 3/4 routes) or the 13 – 19th AVE. (today’s 12).   From First Hill to Kinnear Park, the 1 ran westbound on Madison Street to 6th Avenue, then north to Union Street and west to First Avenue.

    The 4 MONTLAKE  is the predecessor of today’s route 43.  By 1975, the 4 MONTLAKE had been dieselized, but it retained its trolley era routing in downtown Seattle.  The 4 usually arrived in downtown Seattle from Queen Anne Hill/Seattle Center East via 3rd Avenue.  After making a left turn off 3rd Avenue at Pike Street, the 4 MONTLAKE followed Pike all the way to Madison Street and then 23rd Avenue East to Montlake and the University District.  The 4’s University District terminal was right next to the future Link station at 45th & Brooklyn.

    In 1975, the 4 MONTLAKE was the only one-seat ride between Capitol Hill/First Hill and the University of Washington.  With weekday headways  in the 20 to 30 minute range, it suggests that Capitol Hill wasn’t as popular an area for student living as it is today.  Also, the 48 – 23rd AVENUE EAST route had started service in the late 1960s to offer service between the University District/Montlake and the Central District.

    Transit Timetable History

    I have 3 historical timetables uploaded to my flickr account:

    • 7 RAINIER (1970)
    • 42 EMPIRE WAY (1972)
    • 9 BROADWAY (1976)

    The 7 RAINIER of 1970 looks very similar to Metro’s route 7 of today.  The most notable routing difference is that the Henderson loop wasn’t used in 1970–there were turnback loops at Graham Street and Rose Street.  The midday schedule offered basic 10 minute headways on most of Rainier Avenue with every other bus turning back at Rose Street  (the Prentice loop was covered every 20 minutes).  Peak hour service added express runs and more local buses that turned back at Graham Street.

    The 42 EMPIRE WAY of 1972 shows what transit service along MLK looked like before light rail (and the name change).  Bus service on the old 42 corridor has been replaced by the 8, 36, 106 and 107.  The basic service pattern in 1972 was 30 minute headways along Empire Way/MLK with hourly deviations to Holly Park.  At Rainier Beach the route split and covered tails that are parts of today’s 106 and 107 routes with hourly service on each tail.  There were no extensions to Skyway and Renton (they were added a few years later).

    The 9 BROADWAY of 1976 was still using its historical routing that terminated south of the University Bridge at Martin Street.  Riders from Capitol Hill would then transfer on Eastlake to get to the University District.  There were a few trips that turned back at Aloha Street during peak hours, but the basic midday service pattern was 15 minute headways along the whole route with a live-loop in downtown Seattle.  The schedule also shows a Yesler-Broadway shuttle that ran just a few times a day, but eventually grew into route 60 and the First Hill Streetcar.