Cities can’t rely on employer RTOs to recover

Photo by author

Last week, Amazon announced a three-day return-to-office (RTO), sparking muted fanfare among the downtown business community but backlash from its workers. Starbucks announced a similar policy several weeks back and it remains to be seen what the long-term trend will be for major employers in our region.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the post-pandemic recovery of cities and transit. Pessimists are calling this the death knell of cities as we know it while optimists envision an opportunity to reinvent our whole concept of the city. The one thing obvious to both camps is that a complete return to the pre-pandemic state is a virtual impossibility.

A successful RTO by Amazon and other employers will undoubtedly provide a short-term boost to downtown life and transit ridership. But it would be foolish for cities to hang their hat on RTO mandates. Some companies will go back mostly in-person, some will stick to mostly remote, and the rest will be somewhere in-between. A hybrid world is our most likely future state.

The silver lining is that mass remote work was likely going to happen at some point so it’s not like this is some inconceivable future that no one thought of.  That said, planners would have been graced with a much longer time scale in a pandemic-free world. That benefit has evaporated with the system shock brought on by COVID.

If the pandemic made anything egregiously obvious, it’s that American cities were just built wrong. We often cast this indictment on the suburbs but it holds equally true for downtowns. The idea that we zoned the hearts of our cities to only accommodate a flood of workers within a 10-hour period each weekday seems comical now, but it’s a reality we have to contend with.

Moving forward, there are certainly practical questions, like the viability of converting office space to residential or rightsizing transit investments. But beyond the practicalities, it’s worth looking to our friends in Europe or Asia, where dispersed density has been the model of urbanism for hundreds of years. Even if downtowns will never be the same again, their loss is every other urban neighborhood’s potential gain.


Seattle Bus Restructure for Lynnwood Link

This is another in a series of posts about the bus restructure following the Lynnwood Link extension. This one is geared towards Seattle, although the maps include north King County as well. As before, they cover a number of themes. There is one additional theme worth mentioning:

  • Whenever possible, overlapping buses should increase frequency on worthy areas.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. If timed, the routes can form a nice branching system, where the “trunk” has justifiably more frequency than the “branches”. However, timed branches tend to be “brittle”, in the sense that any change requires a similar change on each branch. For example, the 347 and 348 each run every half hour, but combine for 15 minute headways along a popular corridor. We can’t improve frequency on the 348 to 20 minutes without doing the same for the 347. Otherwise service would be worse for that shared section. In contrast, with enough buses along a common corridor, they can form a “spine“, where timing is not important. But you need lots of buses to get to that point.

Challenging Neighborhoods

There are several neighborhoods in northwest Seattle that are challenging to cover. The first is the Haller Lake neighborhood. Other than Northwest Hospital, this is a very low density area (for Seattle). The hospital is especially difficult to serve (it isn’t “on the way“). Northwest Hospital has surprisingly poor ridership, but that may change over time, given its expansion. I came up with at least a half-dozen ways of connecting it to the network, but none of them are particularly satisfying.

The Four Freedoms area, in contrast, has a lot more riders. My guess is there are plenty from the facility itself as well as surrounding apartment buildings. This particular part of town (close to Linden, between 125th and 145th) is one of the more densely populated north-end neighborhoods, and it continues to grow. The 65 will serve some of the riders, and a stop at Four Freedoms House would complement it nicely. However, detouring to the stop is just not worth it. It makes more sense to end a route there, if possible.

Finally, there is Broadview. It isn’t that far from Broadview to the 130th station, but I couldn’t find a combination that was worth it. Like Metro, I find it hard to justify service there, unless the city (or county) had better overall coverage.

Austere Proposal

As with the previous maps, you can make it full page (in its own window) by selecting the little rectangle in the corner. There are a lot more routes, so I put them in different “layers”, visible on the legend (to the left). Thus you can hide or display the unchanged routes or those that are the same as the Metro proposal. Selecting individual routes highlights them. Feel free to ask questions in the comments if you find it hard to understand (there are a lot of lines).

The baseline frequency for these routes is 15 minutes. The exceptions are the 333, 334 and 336, which would run every half hour. It is worth noting that the word “austere” is a bit misleading. This covers less of the city than the “robust” map (although more than the Metro proposal) but that doesn’t mean it is worse. It has fewer routes and the routes are faster. Thus for the same amount of money, many of these routes could run a lot more often. I would especially like to see better headways on the east-west routes (like the 44, 61, 62, 65, 72 or 348). I could see many of these routes running every 10 or 12 minutes.

Most of the routes are the same as the previous austere map (for north of Seattle). The exceptions are:

  • 76 — The simplest way to cover this part of Lake City Way.
  • 348 — Sent to the U-District instead of Northgate. This saves money, as there is no need for the 67, and the bus spends less time making turns. Riders lose their one seat ride to Northgate, but gain a one-seat ride to the UW. I expect riders on the main cross streets (185th, 145th, 130th) to take an east-west bus to a Link station (that is much faster to access than Northgate) while those in between those cross streets access Link via 185th or Roosevelt Station.

Robust Proposal

With the “robust” map, there are a couple additional modifications:

  • 46 — Northwest Hospital is still connected to Northgate, but via 5th Avenue NE, which means a faster connection from the hospital to Link.
  • 76 — Extended to Four Freedoms.

Several routes are combined for good headways along major corridors, while increasing coverage. The 65 and 76 combine for 7.5 minute headways along 125th/Roosevelt/130th corridor, similar to how the 344/346 and 348 combine along 185th.

Likewise, the 46 and 346 would run every half hour (opposite each other) for combined 15 minute headways along 5th Avenue NE. They would then combine with the 61 (running every 15 minutes) for 7.5 minute headways between 5th Avenue NE & Northgate Way to the station.

As with the previous proposal, there are a lot of options, and I would like to hear what people think in the comments.


News Roundup: Cars Running into Buildings

Following a Seattle Times article, the Seattle Bike Blog joins the discussion. (I think the buildings should wear more visible clothing, and stop talking on their phone.)

The Urbanist looks at Sound Transit adding retail to the stations.

There will be some late night work on the Link rails starting tonight. For a complete list of Sound Transit service alerts, check here.

Metro Transit looks to the future (Seattle Times article).

Streetsblog writes about the importance of transit to community colleges.

This is an open thread.


The case for Automated Light Metro Technology for Ballard and South Lake Union

Sept. 2020 rendering of 160 Street Station on the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain Extension. (TransLink)

ST3 passed enthusiastically in the Seattle region because voters were excited to get mobility improvements. However, Sound Transit has had trouble coming up with compelling designs to deliver on this promise. To address this problem, we should revisit some of the design assumptions.

Vancouver’s SkyTrain and Montreal’s REM took far less time to design and construct. We can learn from them and adopt automated train technology. If Sound Transit would interline trains in the existing tunnel and keep the Ballard to Westlake line separate, the new line could use different technology.

Continue reading “The case for Automated Light Metro Technology for Ballard and South Lake Union” | 249 comments

Ask Sound Transit to Study Sending Ballard and West Seattle Trains Through the Existing Tunnel

The deadline for comments on studies for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions is today. Please ask the board to study sending the trains into the existing tunnel, rather than building a new one.

Benefit to Riders

From a rider standpoint, reusing the existing tunnel would be fairly simple. All the trains would mix, just as East Link will mix with the main line. Transfers would be much better. Same-direction transfers would be trivial (e. g. Rainier Valley to the UW). Simply step off the train and wait for a different one (on the same platform). Even reverse direction transfers would be fairly easy (e. g. Seattle Center to the UW). Just go up and over, using the existing stairs, escalators and elevators.

In contrast, the proposed transfers vary from bad to terrible. Simply going the same direction could take anywhere from three to five minutes, maybe worse. For many this will mean a new, onerous transfer (e. g. Rainier Valley to the UW). For others, an unnecessary hindrance to the new addition. Someone going from downtown Bellevue to Denny might very well ignore the new tunnel and new line, given the poor transfer experience.

Travel to and from downtown would be worse for most riders as well. The stations in the new tunnel are not as good as the old ones. They are deeper, and there are fewer of them. The vast majority of riders, given the choice, would prefer using the stations inside the old tunnel.

Possible Issues

Sound Transit has expressed fear that the trains downtown would simply be overloaded. I seriously doubt it. As a city and a nation, we are rapidly becoming less peak-oriented. There is still a rush hour, but from a transit standpoint, a smaller percentage of trips occur during this time. With some work, it is quite possible the trains could run every 90 seconds, according to Sound Transit. Even running them every 2 minutes would provide the same potential throughput (30 trains an hour through downtown) as a second tunnel could provide. Running the trains more often would require elevating or burying the tracks in Rainier Valley — something Sound Transit has never even considered. But it is also quite possible that we never see 6 minute trains in Rainier Valley anyway, which means the downtown tunnel could handle the extra load with ease.

In the highly unlikely event that we do have capacity issues during rush-hour, there is a very simple, much less costly solution: run express buses. There are plenty of riders who would love to have their express buses back. You wouldn’t need to bring all of them back, just the ones that have proven very popular. For both train and bus riders, reusing the existing tunnel is better.

Sound Transit has suggested that getting rid of the tunnel would be “Not consistent with ST3 plan”. If find this hard to fathom, given they are studying the elimination of stations like Avalon and Interbay (Dravus). Unlike those changes, this would actually be better for riders, not worse. To the extent that people even care about a new tunnel, I’m quite confident they prefer better transfers with better downtown stations.

There are other technical issues that may make it difficult to reuse the tunnel. That is why a study is needed. It is possible that mixing the tracks (otherwise known as interlining) is more disruptive and expensive than adding three new stations (and a tunnel). I doubt it, but stranger things have happened. That is why it makes sense to study the technical issues, to get an idea of the various trade-offs.

Deadlines for comments are today. Please let the board know you want them to study reusing the existing downtown tunnel for West Seattle to Ballard Link.


Sound Transit reviews WSBLE study results

[UPDATE: Several factual corrections, courtesy of Sound Transit. – MHD]

Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee met on February 9th to review the results of studies on details of the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE). The full ST board will meet February 22nd to consider this, and March 23rd to choose a preferred alignment (routing) for project, if it’s ready to do so. This article explains the study findings without much opinionating. Future articles are in preparation that will make specific recommendations.

ST has released a 3.5 hour webcast of the meeting, and a 124-page slide deck of the study results. Meeting timestamps: 0:00:00 roll call, 0:04:30 intro reports, 0:16:30 public testimony, 1:14:00 Everett Link studies, 1:43:00 WSBLE studies.

Last year the board selected a preferred alignment in West Seattle, but asked staff to study Chinatown/International District station (CID) and a few other details a bit more. The studies ST ordered last year concern how to avoid negative impacts in the CID, opportunities to mix and match South Lake Union stations from the two routes studied in the DEIS, refinements to the Smith Cove / Interbay stations, and how to reduce cost and improve access in Ballard.

The report presents a lot of alternatives. These address some of the issues identified last year. They may also add construction time, risk, and another $900 million to the already much higher cost than originally planned and promised to voters. Skipping some stations may eliminate those cost increases.


The report first presented ways to reduce the impact of the 4th Ave Shallow option which was studied in the DEIS. This would avoid impact to existing buildings, but would add $700 million in costs, raising the cost of the Pike St to Holgate St segment to $3.1 billion, and the Midtown station would still be 200 ft deep.

Continue reading “Sound Transit reviews WSBLE study results” | 135 comments

$1 low-income fare will expand to Pierce Transit

Pierce Transit 2021 Gillig Low Floor Electric 526
New Pierce Transit electric bus / photo by Zach Heistand

The Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners voted unanimously today to approve a proposal to have Pierce Transit join the ORCA LIFT low-income fare program, bringing its extent to all transit services that accept ORCA except Washington State Ferries. Pierce Transit’s ORCA LIFT fare will be $1, joining King County Metro, all Sound Transit services, the Seattle Streetcar, Everett Transit, and Kitsap Transit buses and intra-county ferries in charging just $1 for riders in the program. Pierce Transit’s low-income fare will take effect April 1.

Continue reading “$1 low-income fare will expand to Pierce Transit” | 6 comments

News Roundup: Bangkok

Bangkok has four rail systems. (RMTransit video) Thailand’s development went through a car-oriented phase, but is now turning toward transit, and is building high-speed rail lines and improving Bangkok transit. This is similar to the trajectory The Netherlands went through forty years earlier. At 12:39 you can see a train door and interior that looks a lot like Link, and a route-number display similar to what ST is planning in ST3.

SDOT has a Seattle Transportation Plan Online Engagement Hub website with a proposal for Seattle’s next transportation plan. The interactive site is taking comments through February 21st.

How to lower subway costs. (RMTransit video, referencing Alon Levy’s transit cost research.) At 10:12 he calls out Link, saying its stations are larger than necessary.

This is an open thread.


News Roundup: Streetcar

Seattle’s streetcar dithering criticized in federal audit ($). Federal grant administrators are getting anxious about delays in spending the City Center Connector grant money, and grants for the Broadway streetcar extension (from Denny to Roy), and a SODO overpass grant.

But the feds also gave Seattle a grant to improve SODO’s pedestrian and bicycle safety. ($)

Free transit is extended to Seattle low-income housing residents ($)


Emeryville, California is an urban success story (Thomas Y)

Egypt’s new capital is an Ozymandian nightmare (Adam Something)


North End Modifications to the Lynnwood Link Connections Plan

This is another in a series of posts about the Lynnwood Link bus restructure. This covers the area north of Seattle. I have two maps, but neither should be considered a full-fledged proposal. They are a set of ideas, and I doubt either would be adopted in its entirety. The first one is austere — a bare-bones system that is intended to provide coverage where it is needed most. The second covers more of the region, while providing an important corridor with very good frequency. It is unlikely we can afford the latter, or have to settle for the former. We would likely get something in between.

Common Themes

Despite the differences, there are some common themes:

  1. Straighter routes. Turning takes extra time, especially at major intersections. Traffic signals favor cars going straight, which means a turn may take several light cycles.
  2. Avoids roads that are congested, but have few riders. 145th and 175th, for example, don’t have many apartments, but lots of traffic.
  3. Infrequent routes should exist for coverage, not connectivity. An infrequent bus that runs along the same pathway as a frequent bus will not get many riders, even if it saves some people a transfer.
  4. Coverage routes should save riders a considerable amount of walking. The routes should be spread out whenever possible.

Austere Proposal

It is easier to read the map if you expand it to full size (it will open in its own window), providing a legend on the left side, listing each route. Selecting a route brings it to the foreground. The 333, 334 and 336 on this map would be infrequent (30 minute headways in the middle of the day). This proposal saves service hours by following the general guidelines mentioned above as well as cutting back coverage, frequency and direct connections, such as:

  1. No service along the county line between Aurora Village and Mountlake Terrace. Very few riders use those stops.
  2. No service along 145th, west of the Link Station. This is more than made up for with service along all of Meridian. The service hole that the proposed 46 creates along Meridian between 130th and 145th has a fair number of riders.
  3. No service along 175th. There won’t be many riders either way, but at least going north-south is very fast.
  4. No coverage for parts of the proposed 336 (NE 150th, 30th Avenue NE). These areas are close enough to more frequent buses.
  5. The 334 (replacing the 331) is extended east to Bothell, to cover a service hole mentioned in this post. If Sound Transit added a bus stop for the S3 at 83rd Place NE (where there is a crossing and existing bus stops) you wouldn’t need this extension. That would save Metro a considerable amount of money, while giving riders in the area better bus service.
  6. No 324, which means no direct connection between Lake City and Kenmore/Bothell. I don’t believe this is necessary, nor do I think the 324 would perform well. Relatively few people are taking this trip. Those that are going this way will likely take a more frequent bus simply because it will arrive first.
  7. No direct connection between Aurora Village and Mountlake Terrace. Riders can take the 130 or a Link/Swift Blue combination. Some of the riders who make this trip right now are transferring to Swift, in which case it would be the same number of transfers, while also saving them wait and travel time (Link is fast and frequent).
  8. No direct connection from Aurora Village or the northern part of Aurora to Shoreline Community College. The RapidRide E is very frequent, running every 7.5 minutes in the middle of the day. Riders can easily hop on the E, then take the bus directly across 160th, instead of waiting for a bus that winds back and forth to get to the college.
  9. No direct connection between parts of Aurora and Link. The proposed 46 and 334 run along a corridor served by the very fast and frequent E. Very few riders will bother waiting for their direct connection, and instead just take the E and transfer. In both cases the buses are going the opposite direction most people want to go, further hurting ridership. People generally don’t like going the wrong direction, especially if it would take a while (e. g. north up to 175th, east along 175th, then north up to 185th to the station before heading south).

Overall, with the exception of the first item, coverage is largely a wash. Some people have a longer walk to a bus stop, others are closer. Frequency is reduced, but in areas with relatively few riders. A few direct connections go away, but the extension of the 72 makes up for it. Not only does this give a lot more people a direct connection to the college, but it gives those same riders a connection to the RapidRide E. While there are drawbacks to this proposal, they are largely worth the cost savings, and it would mean better service elsewhere.

Robust Proposal

This proposal provides additional coverage, direct connections and frequency. Specifically, it:

  1. Covers the greater Hamlin Park/Briarcrest area (east of 15th NE) with the 335.
  2. Restores coverage for the Hillwood neighborhood (west of Aurora Village) with the 336.
  3. Covers 205th (south of Lake Ballinger) after all. The 333 could be timed with the 130 to provide good combined headway between Aurora Village and Mountlake Terrace.
  4. Extends the 334 (from Ballinger/North City) to Aurora and Shoreline Community College. This adds a direct connection to an important destination, while also giving lots of people a good connection to the RapidRide E.
  5. Individual routes are as infrequent as with the austere proposal, but the combined headways along 185th would be excellent. If timed properly, you would have 7.5 frequency connecting Aurora with North City (and the station). Some of the trips would still involve two transfers, but with fast and very frequent service along 185th and Aurora, this would make up for it.

There are a range of options here, and I would like to know what people think in the comments.


All of Lake City Way Should Have Frequent Bus Service

As we covered a while back, Metro is gathering input on bus routes following the implementation of Lynnwood Link. They have initially proposed a sizable service gap along Lake City Way, as well as limited connectivity in the area. This should be fixed.

Current Service and Future Plans

There are three buses that run on Lake City Way south of Northgate Way: The 322, 372 and 522. The replacement for the 522, the S3, will no longer go on Lake City Way. Metro is planning on eliminating the peak-only 322. The 372 (or its replacement, the 72) does not go south of Ravenna Avenue. This would leave a considerable stretch of Lake City Way with no bus service at all.

Ridership and Coverage

The 522 currently serves a bus stop at 20th and 85th, along Lake City Way. Before the pandemic, more 522 riders used that stop than any outside Seattle. Close to 400 people used the bus stop every evening on that bus alone. This was for an infrequent 522 that did not connect to Link. Prior to Northgate Link, the stop was served by other express buses (like the 312 and 309) which had another 150 riders. This was happening before the current boom in development around the bus stop.

But it isn’t just the ridership from that one stop. Without service along that corridor, the coverage gap from eliminating the 73 grows larger. It is easy to argue that riders of the old 73 should walk to Lake City Way or Roosevelt to catch a bus, but if there isn’t service on Lake City Way, a lot of riders would have a very long walk to the nearest bus stop. The 372 does not serve 95th (as it has to move over into the left lane to get on Ravenna Avenue) and there is no crossing Lake City between 20th (85th) and 95th. This makes the trip to the nearest bus stop much longer than it appears. To get from these apartments on Lake City Way to the nearest 372 bus stop is quite the trek, no matter which way you go.

There is also the fact that the 522 and 372 go to different locations. The 522 connects to Roosevelt, a growing and increasingly important neighborhood. Directly connecting the Lake City and Roosevelt neighborhoods (as well as the places along the way) is a worthy endeavor, and will increase ridership along that corridor. It is also a much faster way to get to Link. According to Google, it takes about 20 minutes to get from that neighborhood to Link via the 372 while it takes only 5 minutes via the 522. This time savings applies to anyone along Lake City Way south of Northgate Way.

Route Options

There are a number of different ways to cover this area, but I assume it will require a new route. For sake of argument, I will call this new route the 76.

Option 1: Lake City to Roosevelt Station

The cheapest option for the 76 is to go from Lake City to Roosevelt Station. It is short and fast enough that a bus could make a live loop using 65th, as shown above. While short, it is likely this would be one of the most useful, cost-effective buses in the area.

Option 2: 145th to Green Lake Park and Ride

The second option is to basically do the reverse. Instead of starting in Lake City, it would start at the Green Lake Park and Ride. It could then do a live loop in Lake City, using 30th, 145th and Lake City Way. This would connect to Stride S3 (522) as well as more of Lake City. With bus service this far north, we could truncate the 72 at the Fred Meyer location, or double the service (and halve the headway) between 145th and Lake City.

Option 3: Lake City to U-District

The third option is to run from Lake City to the U-District, providing one-seat rides to the second biggest destination in the city. I show the bus laying over at Campus Parkway, but there are other options, such as through-routing with a bus going through campus or going further to the UW Station. A bus serving the U-District could potentially live-loop on either end, although it might be too long of a route.

With any of these options, the bus should be synchronized with the 72, providing very good headways along much of Lake City Way for relatively little cost.

No matter how it is done, the area should have frequent bus service along this corridor. Please let Metro know by commenting on the Metro Restructure for Lynnwood Link by March 10th.


News Roundup: Lots of Things

Sound Transit releases

WSBLE study results and new options (for the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extension). Public input until February 17.

ST2 Link openings scheduling. Staff are exploring the possibility of opening the East Link starter line without delaying Lynnwood Link’s opening, a partial ST Express restructure with the starter line (no specific routes yet), and a “Federal Way starter line” (opening Kent-Des Moines before Federal Way).

ST is seeking volunteers for its North King Community Oversight Panel. Seattle is seeking volunteers for its Move Seattle Levy Oversight panel.


Why it’s hard to build good and inexpensive transit in the US. Two people asked me to post this RMTransit video about what drives quality down and costs up in projects that are built. Link is the first example at 1:47. “Seattle’s experience with Link Light Rail that has the costs of a subway system but the capacity and service quality of a light rail system should be instructive here.” He says an automated system with smaller trains and higher frequency could have cost less, had higher reliability and better service, and attracted more riders. He goes on to list other US transit systems and issues. I hear a lot of diagnosing problems but not many concrete solutions, so that leaves me at a loss with what to do. Maybe I’m not understanding the video.

American cities with a combination of higher walkability and lower rents. (CityNerd)

Urban gondolas around the world. (RMTransit) The recent wave started with Mendellín’s metrocable in 2004. Reece discusses which situations gondolas work well in.

Other News

Metro’s Lynnwood Link restructure open house registration. Scroll down to “Community Engagement”. Dates are February 4 and 27.

Seattle Comprehensive Plan virtual open house January 30.

Free transit passes are now available for Seattle low-income housing residents ($) and Climate Pledge Arena events ($).

Bus Doggy Doggs in Alaska ($).

The Federal Transportation Administration has a new grant fund for equity transit projects ($).

Amtrak Cascades has a survey for its long-range plan update. (Urbanist)

SDOT pats itself on the back for its best accomplishments in 2022.

RapidRide G (Madison) construction is 40% complete.

This is an open thread.


Rethinking ST3 in the Covid Era

Like many people in the Puget Sound region, Covid has changed my commute patterns and my use of transit. As a result – and perhaps not surprisingly – my posting here has gone down dramatically as well. But one thing I have been thinking quite a bit about is how the ST3 package could pivot for the post-Covid era. While the world has changed permanently, Sound Transit still seems to be planning for an era that is unlikely to ever arrive. 

Outside the US, transit ridership is rebounding. Maybe not all the way back to pre-Covid levels, but in many places where transit has always been integrated into daily life, ridership is approaching a sustainable “new normal.” Domestically, transit ridership has rebounded to varying degrees, with commuter-focused services seeing the smallest return of riders. So how does this relate to ST3?

Cast your mind back to the Summer of 2021.  Vaccines were finally available en masse (for adults, at least).  There was optimism that some kind of normal might be around the corner. This is the time when companies were still putting out “return to office” dates.  Against this backdrop, Sound Transit engaged in realignment planning.  While Covid may have been the initial impetus for hitting pause on the projects, the main problem was surging construction costs that put many ST3 projects over budget.

Continue reading “Rethinking ST3 in the Covid Era” | 252 comments

Does the Stride S3 (522) Need a Shadow?

The buses in the north end of the county will be restructured with the arrival of Lynnwood Link. A big part of this is the new Stride S3 route (also known as Stride 522). Some have called for a “shadow” of this new frequent and fast, limited-stop route.

What is a bus shadow, anyway?

The term “shadow” is a bus that makes all the stops, while the other bus does not. A good local example is how the 101 “shadows” Swift Blue. Swift sometimes has very long distances between stops — well over a mile in some cases — while the 101 makes a lot more stops.

The 372 and 522

Currently, the 372 and 522 follow much the same pathway from Lake City to Bothell. The 372 makes more stops, but not a lot more. The Stride S3 will make even less, and it won’t go to Lake City. Metro is proposing to do away with the 372, and replace it with two buses — the 72 and 324. While the 324 does other things, it also operates as a shadow for the S3. In the following I break down the S3 bus stops into sections to see what stops might be missed without the 324.

148th Station to Lake City Way

The proposed 72 covers this section. Even if Metro alters their plans, it is highly likely some bus will run here.

145th to Ballinger Way

There are only two bus stops that the 372 covers that Stride will not. The first is a southbound-only stop at Bothell Way & 39th Avenue NE. This bus only carries 3 riders a day (on average). The other is very close to the Ballinger Way stop (about 200 meters) and is not covered by the existing 522.

Ballinger Way to Kenmore Park and Ride

The S3 will continue to use every bus stop in this stretch. Even if it didn’t, the 331 (or its replacement) will cover this section.

Kenmore Park and Ride to 96th Ave NE (Waynita Way)

This is where things get interesting. There are no planned S3 bus stops along this section, while there are four existing 372 stops, and one 522 stop. Prior to the pandemic, these stops served about 150 riders a day. I think it is fair to say that most of these riders would walk quite a bit farther to a bus stop if there was no bus along that stretch.

96th Ave NE to Bothell

There are no S3 stops between Kenmore and 98th Avenue NE. Fortunately, the 230 meets Bothell Way at 96th Ave NE (Waynita Way) then heads northeast towards Bothell. The 239 crosses the river and the highway on 102nd Avenue NE, before covering the heart of downtown Bothell. Basically those two routes have it covered.


While seen as a “limited stop” bus, the new S3 will make almost every stop along its route. The one area that lacks service is between Kenmore and Bothell. The 230 and 239 cover some of this, leaving only the section between 68th Avenue NE and 98th Avenue NE needing coverage. That is the only section where a shadow would make sense. This could take the form of a 331 or 225 extended eastward from Kenmore to Bothell.


Open Thread: North American Buses

KUOW’s Week in Review podcast today discusses several relevant topics: Kshama Sawant will leave the Seattle city council this term to form a national movement. The state legislature is considering a wealth tax, a basic income for low-income people, and raising the minimum zoning in single-family areas. Possible zoning alternatives are 2-plex, 4-plex, 6-plex, either within some distance of major transit stops, or everywhere. Tech layoffs. Two of the panelists are Eric C Barnett (former STB author) and David Kroman (a Seattle Times transportation reporter).

Reece Martin has a video on Why buses in the US and Canada are worse than buses in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Australia. Not the routes and frequency this time, but the vehicles themselves. The answer is that due to North American regulations, the rest of the world has more bus companies and more bus types to choose from. Bonus: He calls articulated buses “bendy boys”.

This is an open thread.


Downtown Retail Inventory

Here’s a list of the retail open in selected parts of the midtown retail district in downtown Seattle. I inventoried Westlake Mall, Pacific Place, Pine Street between 9th and 3rd Avenues, and the emptiest part of 3rd Avenue between Olive Way and Union Street. I also did a less-extensive look at Pike Street, and did Pine Street between 3rd and 1st from memory. I see these retail establishments every day, but others who don’t go downtown as much may be less familiar with what’s currently open. I’m also hoping that this will help people support downtown businesses during this difficult period.

Westlake Center

Asean Streat (1st Floor): A new section with several southeast Asian restaurants. Bani Tea, Cool Coco (coconut ice cream), Mimi (crepes), Crawfish Chef, Burgis Street (Chinese), Phanny Pho, Rolling Wok, Hi Fry, Zaab El. The tables were busy midafternoon. None of the restaurants take cash.

Bite on Pine (2nd Floor): Sushi Burrito, Xi’An Noodles, Zuba, Soupwich, Cali Burger. I’m not sure if Matcha is still open.

3rd Floor: Renovated monorail station. Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th (replacing former food court).

2nd Floor: Zara. One escalator was closed.

1st Floor: Zara, Custom World (custom T-shirts), 1 toy store, 1 jewelry, 1 variety, Pressed Juicery.

Pacific Place

4th Floor: AMC movie theater, Johnny Rockets, Thai Ginger, Pike Place Chowder, Din Tai Fung (Chinese). 4 empty storefronts.

3rd Floor: 2 art galleries (one specializing in women’s culture), The Handmade Showroom, 2 clothing stores, Hai Dilao Hot Pot. 4 empty.

2nd Floor: Tiffany & Co, 1 women’s accessories store, 1 perfume & stuff. 9 empty.

1st Floor: 5 clothing stores, 1 perfume, 1 variety. 7 empty storefronts.

Basement: AT&T, Midnight Cookie Co, 1 clothing store. 2 empty storefronts (one being the large Barnes & Noble space). The empty storefronts on all floors tend to be concentrated on the east and south sides.

Pine Street

9th Avenue: Convention Center expansion (under construction), Paramount Theater, The Carlisle Room, Dough Zone (Chinese).

8th Avenue: Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Paramount Hotel with cafe, Caffe Ladro, Chan Seattle (Korean).

7th Avenue: Club Monaco (clothes), Hotel Theodore (Roosevelt) with Rider restaurant, Cafe Yumm. 1 empty storefront (Timbuk2).

6th Avenue: Nordstrom with E-Bar, Pandora (jewelry), Seattle Eye (optometrist), Seattle Sun Co (sunglasses), Eileen Fisher, Pho Saigon (on 6th). 1 empty storefront (Forever 21).

5th Avenue: All Saints (clothing).

Westlake Park: Food trucks, Sephora, Arc’teryx, Bof A. 5 empty storefronts.

Century Square: Yard House, Van’s, Dr Martens. 2 empty storefronts (Abercrombie & Fitch).

Ex-Macy’s: Uniqlo (clothing), Victrola (coffee & tea).

2nd and 1st Avenues: Pike Place Market is full of open shops and thick with shoppers and tourists. BECU, H-Mart (Korean supermarket). The other shops around 1st and 2nd are mostly tourist-oriented.

Third Avenue

Pine Street: Victrola (in Macy’s building), McDonald’s, Money Tree, 2 tobacconists, Metro (cell phones). 5 empty storefronts.

Pike Street: Piroshky Piroshky (just reopened), Pho 25 (has good pho broth), Myano (spa), Chipotle), Walgreen’s, Ross. 6 empty storefronts.

Union Street: Subway, Gelatiamo, Post Office, Benaroya Hall. 8 empty storefronts (Wild Ginger).

Pike Street

The emptiness continues east on Pike Street from around 3rd to 6th. I didn’t inventory the open businesses on Pike.

Happy shopping!

This is a semi-open thread on downtown Seattle. Other topics belong in the open thread article after this one. [Ed: Changed comment scope.]


Ballard Station Workshop

On January 11th, Sound Transit held the second Interbay-Ballard workshop to prepare for a route selection by the Board in March. The workshop summarized the findings from the first workshop and online responses, and then presented a few new options for tunnel stations along 14th and 15th Ave NW. These options were to address some of the Board’s concerns and to reduce cost with the goal to deliver the Ballard extension closer to 2037 rather than 2039. The presentation also provided more details on construction impact.

For Ballard, Sound Transit is trying to refine the options by limiting property acquisition costs and improving station access, in particular from both sides of Market St.

1. Sound Transit could save $100 million by locating the station on the East side of 15th Ave NW. The main entrance would be in the middle of the station on the Southeast corner of Market St. A pedestrian tunnel would also connect to a Southwest entrance and could potentially be extended to another entrance on the Northwest corner for an additional $30 million. There would also be small emergency exits on the South and North ends of the platform.
2. Similarly, they could locate the line right under 15th Ave for similar savings. Lanes on 15th Ave would need to be reduced for up to 4 years. By pushing it further North straddling Market St, they might be able to add an entrance North of 56th Ave.
3. By locating the station on the East side of 14th Ave straddling Market St, they could avoid acquisition of Safeway and save $140 million. They pointed out it would reduce the opportunity for TOD and make the entrances less visible.

One of the concerns with the 14th Ave station is that riders would need to cross 15th Ave. They presented various ways to improve the crossing using bulbs, a pedestrian bridge or a pedestrian tunnel. They also envisioned an underground retail concourse combined with TOD which would connect the 14th Ave station underground and extend under 15th Ave for an additional cost of up to $100 million.

Even though during the DEIS public input many residents had requested better access to downtown / historic Ballard, they did not look at alternative stations along Tallman Ave, Russel Ave, Market St, or 56th St. When I asked why not, they responded that they had not looked at those but that a station requires a large enough staging area, and they try to avoid impacting historical buildings.

During their December 12th workshop Sound Transit had presented a few alternatives for the Interbay section to address earlier concerns. Sound Transit now presented some new findings:

1. A station under Dravus St would require a partial closure of Dravus for 18 months but save $30 million.
2. A Mercer Place tunnel portal turned out to be infeasible though the alternative station locations may also work with the tunnel portals already under consideration.
3. More tunneling with a single consolidated station along 15th Ave may reduce impact and simplify transit connections but reduce neighborhood connectivity and increase cost by $210 million.


Open Thread: 130th in 2026

130th Station in Seattle is estimated to open in mid 2026. (Thanks to eddiew for the link.)

This would fit in with other openings thus:

  • 2023: RapidRide H (Delridge) in March. T Line MLK extension.
  • 2024: Lynnwood Link (Lynnwood – Angle Lake) -OR- East Link starter line (Redmond Tech – South Bellevue) in Spring. RapidRide G (Madison). Swift Orange (Edmonds College – Lynnwood – Mill Creek – McCollum P&R). If ELSL starts in Spring, Lynnwood will be delayed until Fall/Winter.
  • 2025 : Link Line 2 (Lynnwood – Redmond Downtown) in Spring. RapidRide I (Renton-Auburn).
  • 2026: 130th station (Seattle) in midyear. Stride 1 (Burien-Bellevue). Stride 3 (Shoreline-Bothell).
  • 2027: Stride 2 (Lynnwood-Bellevue).
  • ???: Federal Way Link (Lynnwood – Federal Way). Postponed for viaduct redesign.
  • 2032: Tacoma Dome Link (Lynnwood – Tacoma Dome). West Seattle starter line (Alaska Junction – SODO).

I couldn’t find a date for the Swift Green UW Bothell extension.

Sources: ELSL/Lynnwood proposal. ST3 realignment adopted Aug 2021. T line. RapidRide G. RapidRide H. RapidRide I. Community Transit 2024 restructure open house. Swift Orange. Swift Blue expansion.

This is an open thread.


New Metro Restructure Proposal for Lynnwood Link

Metro is seeking input on “Phase 2” of Lynnwood Link Connections. In Phase 1 they gathered input on what the public wanted, and now they have taken those ideas and proposed a restructure. There are several themes common with this proposal, which are listed after the map.

Fewer Routes and Less Coverage

After the Northgate restructure, there were 5 express buses from the north end. Now that is down to just one — the 322. It is the only bus to go over the I-5 ship canal. Buses will instead connect to Link. This reflects a move away from expensive, peak-only express routes, towards a more all-day system.

But that isn’t the only place where service is being simplified. Several corridors will no longer have coverage. The 73 is gone, which means no service on 15th NE between Pinehurst Way and 75th. 5th Avenue NE, between 120th and Northgate Way (served by the 75 and before that the 41) will no longer have service. The 346 is gone, and with it is service on Meridian between 130th and 200th. There are more, but the most controversial change (to me, anyway) is the loss of service along Lake City Way between Ravenna Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue.

More East/West Service

One of the big suggestions to come out of phase one was to improve east-west travel in the area. Several routes help accomplish this goal. The 61 replaces the 20, linking up Greenwood with Northgate and Lake City. The 65 now covers the 125th/130th corridor, connecting Bitter Lake with Lake City and 35th NE (making a trip from Ingraham High School to Nathan Hale High School a one-seat ride). Instead of going north, the (3)72 heads west, to the station at 148th. Riders can continue to Shoreline by taking the 333 further west. There is now coverage along 175th (via the 334) while the 336 and 348 go over 185th. Finally, the 333 runs along the county border, connecting the Mountlake Terrace Station with Aurora Village and Shoreline Community College.

Routes are Split Based on Demand

The 372 is split into two routes: The more frequent 72, and the less frequent 324. The 75 ends at Lake City, which means it is largely a coverage route for Sand Point Way. As a result, it is slated to run less often (30 minutes outside of peak). The 331 is more or less split into two, with the eastern half (the 334) running a lot less often than the western part (the 333).


Overall, I consider this a strong step in the right direction. I have ideas for changes, but I’ll make that another post (along with comments here). Survey ends March 10th.