The Route 41 bus from Northgate pulled off the Interstate 5 express lanes into Convention Place Station in downtown Seattle yesterday morning...
The Route 41 bus from Northgate pulled off the Interstate 5 express lanes into Convention Place Station in downtown Seattle yesterday morning, just as it had last week. Only this time, instead of proceeding straight ahead into the tunnel under downtown, the bus turned right, uphill onto Ninth Avenue.
“This is just as strange for me as it is for all of you,” the driver announced to those on the standing-room-only bus.
Yesterday was Day One of life without the downtown bus tunnel, closed for up to two years to be retrofitted for light rail. The shutdown forced hundreds of rush-hour buses onto surface streets, affecting close to 100,000 weekday riders.
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Metro officials said there were few problems yesterday morning and evening, though they acknowledged that many riders were confused.
More passengers ride the 41 than any other former tunnel route. As of today, it follows Ninth Avenue, Stewart Street and Third Avenue south through downtown.
Those aboard the 41 bus that left the Northgate Transit Center at 7:27 a.m. said they weren’t surprised by the change, and they seemed to take it in stride.
That doesn’t mean they liked it.
“I haven’t been looking forward to this,” said Steve Lynch, a technical and legal editor who lives near Northgate and works near Pioneer Square. “I know it’s going to take longer.”
He was right. King County Metro’s new schedule anticipated some delay without the tunnel — up to six more minutes to the north end of downtown and up to 10 more minutes to the route’s terminus in the International District from Northgate.
Yesterday the 7:27 a.m. bus took even longer than that. It was supposed to reach Third Avenue and Pike Street in 19 minutes, Fifth Avenue South and South Jackson Street in 27. Instead, the trips took 22 and 33 minutes, respectively.
That didn’t bother Tony Tideman of Shoreline, who copies, files and shreds documents for Public Health — Seattle & King County. He didn’t have to be at work until 8:30.
“It’ll be interesting,” he said of the switch to the surface. “I think it’ll be all right.”
Alison Madsen looked puzzled as she stepped off the 41 at Third Avenue and Pike Street. “I don’t know where I am,” she said.
Barbara Page rode the 177 bus from Federal Way to Seattle and said the trip took about an extra 20 minutes. She blames it on the bus leaving late and being slowed on Interstate 5 because it couldn’t use the tunnel.
On top of it all, she said, the driver was new, had never driven the route and couldn’t help passengers navigate.
On Third Avenue, almost every vehicle was a Metro bus. While the tunnel is shut down, the street is closed to all through traffic except buses during peak periods; cars must turn right at the first available opportunity.
Police motorcycles swarmed the street, directing traffic and ticketing motorists, although Debra Brown, spokeswoman for the Seattle Police Department, said 95 percent of those stopped yesterday were warned, not cited. She couldn’t say how many tickets were issued.
But even jaywalkers didn’t escape the law.
Jeronimo Martinez-Santillano was issued a $46 ticket after he jaywalked across Third Avenue and Pike Street. “I don’t know what’s happening,” he said, peering at his ticket. “I don’t understand.”
Before turning the Route 41 bus onto the restricted avenue, the driver announced where he would be stopping — Pike, Seneca and Columbia streets — so passengers could plan where to get off. Rather than stopping at each bus stop as in the past, Metro has consolidated stops on Third Avenue to move buses through downtown faster.
That helped, Lynch said, but the bus still had to stop for red lights. There weren’t any in the tunnel, he noted.
Despite the longer trip, Lynch said he never considered abandoning the bus and driving to work when the tunnel closed.
“Heavens no!” he said. “Half my paycheck would go for parking if I did that.”
Seattle Times staff reporters Susan Gilmore and Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report.
Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org