Seattle Bus Restructure Takes Effect, And an Ode to the 70-Series

20160325_223418Last Saturday, one week after two new light rail stations opened in Seattle, King County Metro implemented its major service change intended to more efficiently connect people with the stations. The changes consist of new, revised, and deleted routes mostly north of the Ship Canal but there were also a few changes that effect riders in the Capitol Hill and Central District areas. With this post I’ll give a quick rundown of the changes and offer an ode to the 71/72/73, which have ended their reign as the workhorse routes between northeast Seattle and Downtown.

Metro, Sound Transit, and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) began planning the bus route changes over a year ago. The goal is to reduce or remove bus service that duplicates light rail service, and to take advantage of light rail’s much higher on-time reliability and passenger capacity. With Metro taking the lead, the agencies began a public outreach campaign and formed a Sounding Board of 25 Seattle residents who made specific route suggestions and provided feedback on different alternatives. I was on the Board and made series of posts on the process.

Metro's updated network map of central and northeastern Seattle. Left: All-day routes. Right: Peak-only routes. (King County Metro)

Metro’s updated network map of central and northeastern Seattle. Left: All-day routes. Right: Peak-only routes. (King County Metro)

King County Metro has a webpage detailing all of the bus route changes by area and by specific route. Here is a summary:

New routes: 38, 45, 62, 63, 78

  • Route 38 is the southern half of the route 8, which has been split in an attempt to improve the 8’s crosstown reliability. It has the same service span and frequency as the 8, and the two routes will connect at Mount Baker Transit Center.
  • Route 45 is the northern half of the old 48. The 45 has more steady 15 minute frequency at night and operate a longer span of service on weekdays, 5am-1am. The two routes overlap between University of Washington Station and NE 45th Street. The route 45 also runs on University Way rather than 15th Avenue NE; I have continuously critiqued this decision because University Way closes on Saturdays for the U-District Farmer’s Market and 15th Avenue has much higher traffic capacity and larger bus stops.
  • Route 62 is ostensibly a renumbered route 16, but its service area is so different it is considered a new route. It’s a crosstown milk run for northeast Seattle, no longer serving Northgate but connecting from Green Lake to Sandpoint. In the south it follows the 16’s routing through Wallingford, but now uses the Fremont Bridge and Dexter Avenue to reach Downtown rather than the freeway-like Aurora Avenue. Compared to the route 16 is has much improved frequency, running at least every 15 minutes throughout the day and as much as every seven minutes during rush hour. It’ll provide many new transfer opportunities with north-south routes.
  • Route 63 is also a renumbered route 66X, but it is now a peak-only route with seven morning trips and eight evening trips. Like the 41, it takes Interstate 5 from Northgate Transit Center, but it’ll use Mercer Street to provide service to the booming South Lake Union employment hub and the First Hill hospitals via Boren Avenue.
  • Route 78 replaces service between the U-District and Laurelhurst that is lost with the route 25’s deletion. It is a short route, running between Seattle Children’s Hospital and the southern half of the UW campus. Westbound it uses Stevens Way on the UW campus, and eastbound it uses Pacific Street and Montlake Boulevard. With Laurelhurst being such a low-density and high-income neighborhood, it only runs every 30-40 minutes 6am-6pm on weekdays.

Revised routes: 8, 10, 12, 26, 28, 31, 32, 43, 48, 49, 64X, 65, 67, 70, 71, 73, 74X, 75, 76, 238, 316, 372X, 373X

  • Route 8 is split and operates between Lower Queen Anne and Mount Baker Transit Center. It now has a slightly higher midday frequency and operate one hour later, until 1am, on weekends.
  • Route 10 service remains the same but now travels between the Pike/Pine corridor and 15th Avenue E via Olive Way rather than Pine Street. This was done to replace lost service with the route 43 reduction.
  • Route 12 operates slightly more often at night and operates an hour later, until midnight, every day of the week.
  • Route 26 is now 26X, an all-day route operating 5am-1am every 30 minutes, with 10 minute service during peak hours. It retains its routing from Northgate to Fremont, but now uses Aurora Avenue for getting to and from Downtown.
  • Similarly, route 28 is now 28X, an all day route operating from Crown Hill to Downtown 5am-midnight every 30 minutes. During peak periods it operates every 10 minutes and also extend to Bitter Lake and Carkeek Park to the north. It shifted to the southern edge of Fremont and uses Aurora Avenue to and from Downtown.
  • Routes 31 and 32 have moved to Wallingford Avenue N from Stone Way N to replace the rerouted 26.
  • Route 43 is cut to peak-only service every 30 minutes. Its Capitol Hill service area is replaced by the rerouted 10.
  • Route 48 is split and operates between UW and Mount Baker Transit Center. It also has higher frequencies on weekdays, running at least every ten minutes during the day, and runs twice as often at up to every 15 minutes during weekends.
  • Route 49 now runs every 12-15 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays.
  • Route 64X is revised to a similar routing as the new 63 to connect South Lake Union and First Hill with northeast Seattle via Interstate 5. Its northern terminus is the Jackson Park neighborhood.
  • Routes 65 and 67 are through-routed with each other through the UW campus. The 65, connecting UW to Jackson Park primarily via 35th Avenue NE, operates more frequently on weekdays and Saturdays. The 67, connecting UW to Northgate via Roosevelt Way NE, now serves the Maple Leaf neighborhood more directly. The 67Β  also operates 5am-1am on weekdays, has a doubling in frequency, and now runs on Sundays. Westbound the routes use Stevens Way and eastbound they use Pacific Street.
  • Route 70 has increased frequency during peak hours.
  • Route 71 now terminates at UW Station and no longer operates on Sundays.
  • Route 73 now terminates at UW Station, no longer operates on Sundays, and is reduced to operating 7am-10pm on weekdays and Saturdays.
  • Route 74X, a peak-only route, has added trips in the morning and evening and be rerouted to the Roosevelt couplet in the U-District.
  • Route 75 runs more often on weekdays and Saturdays.
  • Route 76, a peak-only route, has added trips in the morning and evening.
  • Route 238 on the Eastside is extended from UW Bothell to Woodinville.
  • Route 316, a peak-only route from Shoreline to Downtown, has added trips in the morning and evening.
  • Route 372X is a direct UW Seattle-UW Bothell route, has doubled frequency throughout the day, operates longer on weekdays 5am-midnight, and now operates on weekends.
  • Route 373X, a peak-only route from Shoreline, terminates at UW Station and has added trips in the morning and afternoon.

Deleted routes: 25, 30, 68, 72, 242

The deleted routes either had low ridership or duplicated the other new and revised routes and new light rail service.

The success of the network restructure will greatly depend on the promised ease of transferring. With consolidation some riders have lose one-seat rides to their destinations but that will be ideally balanced by short waits for a second bus. These two factors – frequency and geographical coverage – are what transit planners balance on a daily basis. This flip towards higher frequency is perhaps the largest service change Metro has implemented in years.

Again, for much more detailed information head over to Metro’s website. Seattle Transit Blog has also covered the changes extensively and made a brief post about them last Friday, and in all likelihood they will report on how the new network is working over coming months.

Farewell to the 71/72/73 University Express

I want to take a moment to call-out a particularly monumental change for northeast Seattle and the U-District in particular: The 71/72/73 series no longer provide express from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) to the U-District and Roosevelt. The 72 has been deleted entirely, while the 71 and 73 live on and connect to UW Station every 30 minutes six days a week; unfortunately for a lot of people in northeast Seattle, the 71 and 73 will not operate on Sundays.

The 71/72/73 used to follow a common trunk route from International District-Chinatown Station to NE 65th Street. From there they branched off into three routes serving, respectively, Wedgwood, Lake City, and Jackson Park. Individually they ran only every 30 minutes, but in the trunk they combined for highly convenient 10 minute or less frequency to Downtown every day of the week.

Until recently, from about 7am to 7pm on weekdays the 71/72/73 ran in express mode. This meant they skipped stops between Campus Parkway (the main transit hub in the U-District) and Convention Place Station in Downtown. In the morning southbound and the afternoon northbound the buses took the Interstate 5 express lanes, taking only 5-10 minutes and beating the new light rail option. However, outside of those times and directions the buses would operate in local mode, moving slowly through Downtown on Fairview Avenue and making every stop on Eastlake Avenue, a long arterial street without any transit priority features.

In September 2015 the three routes were boosted to all-day, all-week express routes using Prop 1 funding. The route 70 itself, the permanently local version which always runs down Eastlake Avenue, also had boosted frequency that continued with the changes on Saturday.

An interesting quirk happens on Saturdays. The University District Farmer’s Market takes place on University Way between 50th Street and 52nd Street, forcing any buses going through there to take a detour using 15th Avenue between 50th Street and Cowen Place. Even though the market closes at 2pm, the detour lasts all day to simplify the schedule for riders. I still often forget about it. This reroute will continue for the 45, 71, and 73.

Riders boarding one of the last 71s to run in the transit tunnel Friday night. (Photo: author)

Riders boarding one of the last 71s to run in the transit tunnel Friday night. (Photo: author)

The 74 partially carries on the legacy of direct U-District-to-DSTT service.Β It’s a peak-only route that branches off at NE 50th Street to serve Sandpoint. It has eight southbound trips in the morning and eleven northbound trips in the afternoon, exclusively using the I-5 express lanes and the DSTT. However, instead of running down the retail core of University Way it uses the Roosevelt Way and 11th Avenue couplet.

I lived just south of 65th Street for two years and also near the high frequency route 48, giving me fantastic transit options for not only getting to Downtown but also traveling to school, work, and shopping. When I worked a second job in Port Orchard, at least twice a week I used the 70-series for a one-seat ride to Pioneer Square Station, a 15 minute walk from the Washington State Ferries dock.

Standing room only on one of the last 71s, even at 9pm on a Friday. (Photo: author)

Standing room only on one of the last 71s, even at 9pm. (Photo: author)

Despite the crowding, or perhaps because of the popularity, I will miss the 70-series for the connections they made for me. I frequently used them outside of peak periods for getting to Downtown for public meetings, professional conferences, and inspiring lectures. I frequently ran into friends on the bus on my way to social gatherings. The routes helped me network and attend interviews as I neared graduation and started my full-time career. Quite simply, the 70-series had a part in molding me into the professional planner and active citizen that I am today. Ironically, though, after temporarily moving out of Seattle, the coming restructure influenced me to move to Capitol Hill and living within walking distance of work.

That’s because if I still lived in the U-District the new Link light rail connection wouldn’t have been nearly as convenient during peak periods as the 70-series was. While Sound Transit advertises eight minute travel time from UW to Downtown, UW Station’s poor location also requires a five to ten minute bus ride from Campus Parkway and a five to ten minute walk from the bus stop to the underground platform. For rush hour commuting, my estimate for getting from Campus Parkway to Westlake Station is 20-30 minutes by train, whereas the 71/72/73 University Express used to do that in 10-15 minutes using the I-5 express lanes. Transit-savvy Downtown workers who live in the core of the U-District will probably learn to love the 74X until the DSTT is closed to buses sometime after 2018. By 2021 Link will truly improve transit for the neighborhood when U-District Station opens at NE 43rd Street, at which time I would most likely consider moving back there.

Ultimately, regardless of my personal circumstances, the bus route changes will greatly affect how transit riders plan their trips and will offer new and enhanced options for residents who may otherwise drive to work. A pair of graphics Metro made for its August 2015 recommendation (slightly changed from the adopted version) show just how many people the restructure will ultimately benefit. In central Seattle the number of households with walking distance of 12-minute-or-less bus routes have more than doubled to 40,000. In northeast Seattle the number of households near 15-minute-or-less bus service have tripled to 28,000. Also coming up for northeast Seattle are a RapidRide line from Northgate to South Lake Union the slow but steady progress on Northgate Link. Ideally all of these changes will soon be reflected by land use changes as areas are upzoned around transit corridors and more people are able to live and work within walking distance of high-capacity rail stations and bus stops.

Cities’ economic, environmental, and social health and are intrinsically tied to transportation networks. As Seattle’s population continues to grow we must continue to plan for these investments in transit service to ensure people not only have the option to get around on transit quickly but that they make the choice to do so. High frequency bus networks are a key piece of the puzzle in ensuring Seattle remains a competitive and vibrant city.

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2 Responses to Seattle Bus Restructure Takes Effect, And an Ode to the 70-Series

  1. frfrgm says:

    The Montlake neighborhood and every along 24th/23rd Ave are screwed by the loss of the 43, which has had strong enough ridership to have frequent 15 minute service or better for many years, has trolley wire, and connects to the Capitol Hill station. The 48 is often crowded and bunched, and connecting from the 48 to the 11 is awkward and unpleasant, and heading the wrong way through Montlake Bridge congestion isn’t really a very good alternative either.

  2. πŸš²πŸš„πŸ’΅πŸš‡ says:

    The number of ne Seattle dwellers who will now have north south access to the stadium via 25th and campus east means many will rarely have a need to go down the ave (until 2021). I fear the north ave businesses especially will suffer.

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