Share story

Lost on the waterfront?

Tourists and commuters along Seattle’s Alaskan Way can now take a free bus past the construction barricades and cab queues, all the way to Seattle Center or Pioneer Square, until Oct. 1.

Blue-and-orange, wheelchair-accessible buses show up every 25 minutes from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and serve nine stops between Seattle Center, Colman Dock and King Street Station.  The pilot project began in late July and may be revived next summer depending on ridership.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company, Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »

About 8,000 people rode the shuttles in their first 16 days, said Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s seafood restaurants and a longtime waterfront-projects booster. “We’re experiencing success. We’re as pleased as could be about it,” Donegan said.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Business groups are looking at possibly more-frequent trips, or a similar shuttle uphill to hotels near the state convention center, he said.

North-south buses can help visitors keep their bearings, amid temporary road lanes or sidewalk detours, said Margaret Steck, a project spokeswoman. A drawback is occasional congestion; local transit activist Bruce Engelhardt tweeted Wednesday afternoon his shuttle “took 20 minutes to go four blocks” on Western Avenue near Yesler Way.

The privately operated service is subsidized by gasoline taxes through the Washington State Department of Transportation, in planning partnership with the Downtown Seattle Association.

The state manages a $30 million “parking mitigation” fund aiding waterfront merchants during construction of the Highway 99 tunnel and connecting streets — a $3.2 billion megaproject displacing as many as 1,200 surface parking stalls between 2012 to 2021. The fund also provides discounted rates of $3 per hour in private parking garages, and temporary surface stalls that shift locations as excavation sites change.

Tourist shuttles fill a void left when the vintage, underused George Benson Waterfront Streetcar was evicted in 2005 to make room for Olympic Sculpture Park and Highway 99 construction.