Metro’s plans for transit in West Seattle

[Editor’s Note: originally published on Metro Matters blog 7/10/2020]

The indefinite closure of the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge has brought unique challenges to those traveling to and from West Seattle and surrounding areas. Since the initial news in March, King County Metro and its partners renewed their commitment to providing reliable transit options for residents and businesses.

Metro quickly assembled a task force to develop short- and long-term plans to respond to the high bridge’s closure, and we continue to work closely with our partners at SDOT and elsewhere to coordinate our response. We are also monitoring transit patterns and ridership.

Since most commuters are teleworking in response to COVID-19, the High-Rise Bridge’s closure has not impacted Metro’s ability to meet current demand.

When compared to the same weekday commuter periods in 2019, bus ridership across Metro is down 68% and crossings between West Seattle and downtown/SODO are down 85-90%. Water taxi ridership is similarly down 81% as of last week.

However, transit options will be increasingly important as King County gradually reopens under the state’s “Safe Start” program and West Seattle residents heed the call to change travel habits as put forth in SDOT’s Reconnect West Seattleplan.

The short-term steps already in place are:

Redirecting high bridge routes to the low bridge
All West Seattle Metro routes that used the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge are currently using the lower Spokane Street Bridge. Metro also worked with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to install a new Metro bus stop at Harbor Island to assist local businesses.

Increasing water taxi service
The West Seattle Water Taxi has returned to a Monday-Friday schedule that includes six round-trip sailings each commute period and the restoration of shuttle routes 773/775 to bring customers to and from Seacrest Dock.

As a precaution, developing contingency plans if the low bridge closes
While a closure of the lower Spokane Street Bridge is not currently anticipated by SDOT, we’ve designed contingency plans just in case the low bridge closes. If needed, these plans would redirect one or more major bus routes to bring passengers north to Seacrest Dock and to use the First Avenue South bridge to the south. Again, these plans are only a precaution and can be implemented to the extent necessary, whether the low bridge is closed for hours, weeks, or months.

Preserving West Seattle’s transit network
To help with trip planning, we’ve created maps by region to show how West Seattle residents can connect to different parts of the region using transit.

We will continue to monitor travel conditions as residents identify and settle into new transportation patterns as traffic increases over the next several months.

Priorities for the coming months:

Supporting West Seattle remains a high priority even as Metro’s budget has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting loss of farebox and sales tax revenue. Metro’s new financial reality means that September’s service change still won’t be back to pre-COVID levels of service. Consequently, we’re working to identify third-party funding to assist with the following priorities:

  1. Add up to 50,000 bus hours on West Seattle routes to return to the approximate service levels prior to the pandemic.
  2. Add service for noticeable enhancements on major all-day routes to West Seattle neighborhoods.
  3. Add a second boat on the West Seattle Water Taxi route, significantly increasing capacity and departure options during designated hours.

If Seattle’s proposed ballot measure in support of transit service is approved by voters in November, some of that funding could be applied towards these priorities, but additional funding sources would still be needed.

We’re also looking ahead:

As funding allows, Metro is strongly considering the possibility of increasing service that is specifically designed to deliver customers to the Water Taxi at Seacrest Dock.

Additionally, while adding more bus and Water Taxi service will have the greatest impact on the greatest number of residents, Metro is exploring other mobility options, too—from VanPool, to supporting biking and walking infrastructure, to other first-mile / last-mile solutions.

In the months and years ahead, the West Seattle transit network will evolve to meet the needs of transit customers, and there may be multiple mobility options where historically there’s only been one.

Metro remains in close coordination with our transportation partners to ensure that residents of West Seattle and surrounding areas can get where they’re trying to go.

As travel patterns evolve and solidify, and additional funding becomes available, we will continue to work with community residents and businesses to develop and implement creative, robust transit solutions that meet West Seattle’s needs.

Tell us what you think!

We’ve worked closely with SDOT to develop the transit portions of their new #ReconnectWestSeattle survey. Help SDOT identify challenges, prioritize solutions, and create a plan that will help people safely bus, bike, walk, or take a water taxi to or from the West Seattle peninsula. Take the survey here.

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