Twelve Metro bus routes from downtown to West Seattle, White Center and Burien will move from their temporary path on gridlocked First Avenue South to Fourth Avenue South beginning Sept. 9.

This route change follows rider complaints that public transit crawls so slowly along First Avenue that it can sometimes take an hour to travel a few blocks.

“Bus riders deserve reliable service, and we’re doing our best to provide that,” Bill Bryant, service development director for King County Metro Transit, said in announcing the change Thursday.

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The First Avenue route took effect in February when the Highway 99 tunnel opened, and bus lines serving 30,000 people could no longer use the shuttered Alaskan Way Viaduct. On many days, especially Thursdays and Fridays, buses in mixed traffic move slower than walking speed.

Sports fans, ferry traffic and crashes clog the area, while viaduct demolition obstructs a couple Alaskan Way lanes nearby at the waterfront, spreading congestion.

Metro experimented in mid-August by trying diagonal Second Avenue Extension South to reach Fourth, and liked the outcome. Average times won’t necessarily improve, but the wider corridor should make times more dependable, officials say.


“On very congested days, riders can hope to save 30 minutes or more,” Bryant said.

Northbound buses will continue to enter downtown via First until early 2020, when the city completes bus lanes both directions on Columbia Street. These will connect the Third Avenue busway to waterfront Alaskan Way.

Affected routes are the C, 120, 21X, 37, 55, 56, 57, 113, 121, 122, 123 and 125.

Samplings on four August weekdays found nine C Line trips southbound on First exceeded 25 minutes, another dozen lasted over 35 minutes and three more exceeded 45 minutes just from mid-downtown to Avalon Way Southwest in West Seattle. Fourth Avenue performed better, when on Aug. 15 only eight trips surpassed 25 minutes.

Transportation leaders didn’t grasp beforehand how badly First would clog, as Bryant speculated this spring about 15-minute delays. The city is unwilling to deter private vehicles from Pioneer Square by creating bus-only lanes.

Buses and trucks must use only the interior lanes in most blocks, to protect sidewalk foundations and underground passages built in the 1890s.

The southbound detour includes a new bus stop, at South Washington Street along Second Avenue Extension, whose cracked sidewalks pass a restaurant driveway, the Impact Hub coffee shop and campsites.

A few street changes will help buses, said Heather Marx, downtown mobility director for the Seattle Department of Transportation. These include traffic-control police, a temporary left-turn signal for buses from downhill Columbia to Second Avenue, and traffic signals providing a head start through wide intersections near King Street Station.

South of the stadiums, bus drivers can go from Fourth to First via South Holgate Street, or take Edgar Martinez Drive South toward the h-shaped Colorado Street overpass and then continue to West Seattle.

In related changes discussed Thursday:

  • For nine days starting Sept. 12, the inbound buses that normally take First Avenue will travel the northbound Sodo busway — as in January while Highway 99 was closed. That allows demolition crews to remove the last two viaduct spans next to First and Dearborn Street. Motorists can still use the Sodo interchange to continue north to the waterfront and Colman Dock.
  • Sometime next month, the right lane of northbound Highway 99 through Sodo will be re-striped for buses only.