When Sound Transit’s new light-rail stations open Saturday, Bunnee Butterfield expects to shave as much as an hour off her travel time.
She’s been using a car — either driving herself or getting a ride from her husband, Bob — to get to medical appointments several times per week at UW Medical Center-Roosevelt.
Soon, she’ll ask her husband to drive her about 15 minutes from their home in Edmonds to the Ash Way Park & Ride. From there, she’ll take a Sound Transit Express bus to Northgate, where she’ll transfer to the train for the trip to the new U District Station.
“The thing that’s most appealing to me — apart from the fact that I just don’t like driving — is that the new stations give me a whole lot more flexibility,” said Butterfield, 71. “A lot of my appointments are early in the morning, and I-5 is just awful, so I have to leave pretty early to beat traffic.”
With the light-rail line to Northgate opening this weekend, transit agencies are counting on people like Butterfield to adapt and use both buses and light rail to get where they need to go. Agencies are adding bus routes and shifting existing lines to serve the new light-rail stations and avoid duplication of services.
In all, King County Metro will eliminate 18 bus routes and replace them with six new routes. Metro is also revising 27 routes to better serve offices in South Lake Union, hospitals in First Hill, and other medical facilities such as Seattle Children’s hospital along Sand Point Way.
Community Transit and Sound Transit will reroute some express buses from Snohomish County to end at Northgate Station rather than creep through heavy traffic to the University of Washington or downtown. Most riders going to those destinations will transfer to light rail to complete their trips.
The new and altered routes begin Saturday. Among the Metro Transit changes, Route 26 through Green Lake, Wallingford and downtown Seattle will be eliminated and replaced by a new Route 20 that will end at U District Station. Route 303 from Aurora Village will swing by Northgate Station on its way down Interstate 5, but Route 304 will end at Northgate Station.
Route 312, which connects Bothell, Kenmore, Lake City and downtown, will be eliminated, but riders can take the Sound Transit Express 522 bus and transfer to light rail at Roosevelt Station. A new Route 320 will go directly from Kenmore to South Lake Union.
For riders from Snohomish County, Community Transit’s 800 series buses will stop at Northgate instead of slogging through traffic to the UW. Sound Transit Express routes 511, 512 and 513 from Snohomish County will also end at Northgate Station. Community Transit’s 400 series buses and Sound Transit’s 510 bus will continue on Interstate 5 into downtown.
Metro’s changes prioritize connections between Northeast and Northwest Seattle and provide more convenient transfers between buses and trains, said David VanderZee, a transit planner for the agency.
But Carol Ravano, who rides Route 74 from the Ravenna/Bryant neighborhood to her job downtown, is concerned about the extra time transferring will add to her commute.
“It’s just disruptive. You can’t just sit there and read your book. You’ve got to get up and out,” she said. “Every escalator in every light-rail station doesn’t work at some point. It’s those extra little hassle factors.”
Metro will try to address those concerns with maps in each train stop that show the bus lines that the stations serve “so folks know exactly where to go to catch their bus,” VanderZee said. Signs in and around the stations will provide updated boarding locations and arrival times.
“We recognize that there is an adjustment period for folks who may have taken a one-seat ride, but now are potentially having to take a two-seat ride, whether it’s a bus to light rail or potentially two buses or whatever that combination might look like for them,” he said.
Metro also is adding buses to some routes to shorten wait times, VanderZee said.
At Northgate Station, buses will drop passengers off directly under the station platform. Signals on First Avenue Northeast have also been designed to prioritize buses.
The U District Station will feature some of the most dramatic transit changes.
Several buses, including routes 31 and 32, will stop along Northeast 45th Street next to the station instead of continuing through the southern part of the UW campus. Metro advises riders using those buses to use routes 45, 75 and 372 instead, along Stevens Way Northeast.
The Seattle Department of Transportation is building a bus-only lane on Northeast 43rd Street between 15th Avenue Northeast and University Way, also known as the Ave, for buses traveling west to provide riders direct access to the U District Station south entrance. Crews discovered additional underground utilities during construction that will delay that bus connection until mid- to late November, weeks after the light-rail opening.
The city is also altering portions of Northeast 45th Street to provide faster service for Route 44, which travels between Ballard, Fremont and Wallingford toward the U District. SDOT is building an eastbound bus-only lane on 45th between Roosevelt Way Northeast and 15th Avenue Northeast, and a southbound lane along 15th Avenue Northeast between Northeast 45th Street and Northeast 40th Street to ease buses through congestion there.
Not everyone is pleased with the bus route changes.
Dan Holm, 33, lives in Eastmont southeast of Everett and took Sound Transit Express bus 513 into work. He’s unhappy about changes that add new stops in Lynnwood and Ash Way, and then expect him to board a train at Northgate to Westlake Station, rather than the bus stop at Stewart Street and Ninth Avenue. So he plans to drive into South Lake Union and pay to park.
“It would take me a ton more time for me to get to work if I chose to commute by transit so I’m just really frustrated,” he said. “They’re trying to apply this one-size-fits-all solution that everyone should take light rail, but if you don’t work in the heart of downtown, you’re kind of being left out of this plan.”
Sound Transit spokesperson Rachelle Cunningham acknowledged that travel times will increase for 513 riders who get on in Everett, but added that frequency of service will also increase, with a bus departing every eight minutes for riders heading to downtown Seattle.
“The increase in frequency may mean they won’t have to wait as long for a bus, and the light-rail ride from Northgate will often be faster and more reliable than the bus journey on I-5 between Northgate and downtown,” she said by email.
Bus connections will change again when Sound Transit extends light rail to Lynnwood, scheduled for 2024.
Tim Ellis, who takes Sound Transit’s 510 bus from Everett to downtown Seattle, said he would support ending his bus route at Lynnwood, where the station will have a dedicated exit lane for buses. But the Northgate exit lacks bus ramps or bus-only lanes, potentially slowing the drive between Interstate 5 and Northgate Station.
For now, transit agencies say they will monitor the changes and adjust if needed.
Metro’s fall service change will also see the restoration of some routes and trips suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of Metro’s COVID-19 recovery plan, 48 bus routes will be restored or get more frequent service, such as routes 60, 255, 271 and the RapidRide C Line. Eighteen bus routes will remain suspended. In addition, 20 routes will see less-frequent trips because of reductions in Seattle funding for more buses.