Seattle Transit Blog: Is Metro’s #4 bus redundant?

Seattle Transit Blog’s Bruce Nourish dug deep into ridership figures to figure out a way to increase reliability along the corridor shared by King County Metro’s 3 and 4 buses. He concludes that moving the route to Yesler between 3rd and 9th Avenues would increase reliability. He also suggests that the southern leg of the 4 (south of 23rd and Jefferson) is redundant and could be cut.

From Seattle Transit Blog (Warning: This post gets super geeky and specific and includes some hard-to-read but info-packed graphs):

  • Crush loads from downtown to Harborview in the AM peak. The average load tops out at 45, just off the chart. Keeping in mind that a Gillig trolley nominally seats 42, this means every coach is full as it heads up James. Presumably this overcrowding is already dissuading additional choice riders. This is another point in favor of the First Hill Streetcar: even though it’ll be slower, it’ll be a much more comfortable way for suburban commuters to get from the Downtown Transit Tunnel to First Hill, especially if Metro is unable to add capacity to this route in the near future. More on this below.
  • Very little activity after Jefferson & 23rd, except at the two stops on 23rd at Yesler and Jackson. These two stops, in addition to frequent north-south service from the 48, have faster one-seat rides to downtown with similar headways from the 14 and 27 respectively. South of these two stops, loads are light in all time periods; boarding activity and loads increase briskly as the bus heads down Jefferson. (I’m suspicious of the apparently large number of boardings at the terminal stops on Walker; even if those numbers are true, those people have many better bus options to almost anywhere).
  • Very little use of the Lighthouse for the Blind stop on Plum & 25th. While providing the ability for people who cannot drive to live and work independently is a vital function of transit, the stop here is so thinly patronized — about 15 boardings and four deboardings per day —  as to suggest that, in the context of the minimal use and almost complete redundancy of the long tail of this route, finding alternative ways to serve this facility are in order.


From the timetable

The idea of changing the 3/4 routing from James to Yesler for the I-5 crossing has been tossed around before (CDN wrote about it last year). After just a couple blocks on Yesler, the route would cut back to Jefferson at 9th Ave and continue east into the CD as it does today.

There would need to be some trolley wire changes, which could cost millions. If voters approve the $60 vehicle license fee in November, it’s feasible that some of the $20 million allotted for trolley improvements could go to this project, Nourish notes.

What do you think? Do you use the southern portion of the 4 (between 23rd/Jefferson and MLK/S Walker)? Are areas along this portion served well enough by other routes that they could be cut?

0 thoughts on “Seattle Transit Blog: Is Metro’s #4 bus redundant?

  1. Not often, because I usually commute with bike or car, but once in a while I ride the #4 to/from 23rd & Yesler. Losing it would mean a walk of seven blocks to the #3 during the exact conditions when I don’t want to walk – dark, rainy, late. Or waiting for the 48, which often runs late, and then making a transfer. Takes much longer. Elimination of the south portion of the 4 would be a loss for me.

  2. With the route proposed at STB the #4 would still go to 23rd and Yesler. The proposed route makes a lot of sense, but there’s more to it than the story’s headline might suggest.

  3. I live on 24th Avenue South and the bus goes down my street. While I do ride the 4 sometimes, I don’t mind walking two blocks to take the 14 from 23rd and Jackson- I do this anyways because the 14 is far more reliable. The number 4 is dangerous going up and down 24th Ave S and 26th Ave S. A car going the opposite direction and the bus cannot fit on the street at the sametime causing scary situations where cars either pull into driveways quickly or have to back down the street for a long way in order to let the bus go by. I am in favor of elimintating the South 4 route.

  4. I can’t say how I feel about the #4 vs just more #3s. Remember these two routes directly serve important areas of SU, Harborview, and Swedish with high ridership and very crowded. I am not sure why people agitate to change them from that route especially since they serve extremely important employment centers and have a high ridership. Perhaps the #4 is not important around Judkins, but the number of #3s would have to be increased to serve the already served areas. E. Yesler would not be a suitable substitute.

    I have occasionally used the #4 to get to the Judkins area. But, find the #48 suitable for my purposes. However, the #4 does serve a small area that otherwise does not have easy access to a bus to downtown.

  5. One would hope that the service hours saved on the #4 would indeed get more #3 trips, at least as far as 23rd. The new wire on Yesler would be a huge time savings compared to the mess on James, and would provide additional service for the new folks living at whatever becomes of Yesler Terrace.

    Hopefully the First Hill Streetcar will also free up some service hours to increase frequencies on the #27 and #14 as well; I suspect Metro planners are already thinking about changes once the streetcar is in and the light rail station opens on Broadway.

  6. Direct access to SU, Harborview, Swedish would be disrupted. E. Yesler is not nearly as convenient to these facilities, which are not only employment centers but also used by patients and users of services. E. Yesler is not a suitable substitute. Yes, Yesler Terrace has will have other options. SU students and Swedish and Harborview employees and service users will not. The #3 and #4 would then have to fight for space along 3rd with a lot of other buses already there between Yesler and James.

    Sometimes a faster route does not serve the users as well. Speed is not everything especially when you are talking about taking direct access away from three major institutional users. Having to walk or carry things for a distance can be detrimental to the use of time for many. While time is important, the most important aspect for me when I plan trips is direct access to each spot. I read or do other work while in transit and prefer not to use my time walking to and from the stops or carrying loads of stuff far. I like to hike and walk in other situations.

  7. SU, Harborview and Swedish would still be served by this route, which would turn back to Jefferson at 8th/9th as soon as Yesler crosses I-5. The only stops negatively affected are the ones currently at 5th/James and 8th/James, according to STB. The rest are the same.

  8. Nonetheless, bypassing Harborview is an important and big one. Also remember that the First Hill Street Car will also be traveling on that portion of Broadway if the thinking is to have it travel from Jefferson to Yesler on Broadway. There are already a lot of transit already stopping in front of the County and City Buildings on 3rd and the current stops on James don’t compete there. Where would the stops be for the #3 or #4 on 3rd for access to the City and County buildings? I don’t think there are any major advantages and that the disadvantages outweigh them. As for the Judkins corridor the trolley wires are there and unless there is new and great idea for them I don’t see taking the service away. By the way what is the ridership at the other end on Queen Anne? Is it high? Where is the major ridership at that end?

  9. Surely we must be able to agree on eliminating something. Anything? Number 4 is definately something we can through under the bus in times of trouble. Let’s get this wasteful bus off the streets – leaving suppor for something people care about. Nobody really cares about #4.

  10. Oh! I see. I’m sorry, that’s confusing. Ignore the dotted red line on the map. That’s the snow routing. That’s just the map currently in the timetable. I cropped out the “snow routing” label on accident (will make a note).

    Here’s an idea of where the route might run (from the comments of our previous post):

    As for serving the city and county buildings, service there could be hurt by the changes, and people headed there might have to go to walk from 3rd. That could bring up some ADA concerns.

  11. jogs on Spruce to Yesler, right? I am not convinced that would give any advantages since then turning onto third would put in competition with a lot of other transit and traffic and still not serve the City and County buildings. Even if it stopped on 3rd in the area it would be competing with other buses on third for stops and be a slog up the hill. This route may be one of the few that does a good job of providing ADA access to the City and County buildings.

  12. I see lots of people at the stop on 26th and Dearborn waiting to get on toward downtown.

  13. I never understood why the #3 ends where it does. Why not have the #3/#4 end on Yesler? It’s only a few blocks away and there is usually plenty of space for the bus to layover near the library. This would be more convenient for everyone who lives south of Jefferson.

    My biggest complaint is the lack of late buses at night, which is a whole other issue no one touches due to the short metro funding right now. I work nights near Pike Place and I’m sick of having to catch a cab home at 1am, even though I live near 23rd and Jackson. Why does the only local late night bus have to be the #7? A good portion of its route isn’t even through residential areas. I’m not willing to walk up Jackson at 1am. At least loop the OWL bus up Jackson, down MLK, and then back onto Rainier. I know at least 30 people in my neighborhood who work nights and complain about this exact issue.

  14. I agree that is an issue that has to eventually be addressed especially for those who work night shifts and also for those who go out in the evening.

  15. I want to add that all public schools should have one bus that allows families almost direct access to the school. The #4 is the only bus that would fit into that category for Thurgood Marshall.

  16. I am a resident of Center Park Apartments, a low-income public housing community owned and operated by Seattle Housing Authority and am also an elected officer with the Resident Action Council (RAC), a grass-roots coalition of Seattle Housing Authority residents. Because of this, I am adamantly opposed to ANY reduction in service on this route for the following reasons:

    1. This route serves two destinations that generate a considerable number of transit users–Center Park, an apartment community specifically designed to accommodate people with disabilities; and the Lighthouse for the Blind, an employment center for people with vision impairments. This route is relied on by people who live and work in both of these locations–many of whom have NO OTHER MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION available to them.

    2. This route also serves the RAC office and location where our meetings have been generally held. While there is transit service on Rainier Avenue South (two blocks to the west) and on ML King Jr Way itself, it is NOT easily accessible, due to the need to travel those two blocks (or climb a fairly steep hill). In addition, the Rainier Avenue service going southbound also requires passengers to cross Rainier, a rather busy arterial. Although there is a signalized intersection near the southbound bus stop, the pedestrian light generally does not allow enough time for a person with limited mobility to safely cross the street.

    There have been several attempts and reducing or eliminating Route #4 service south of 23rd and Jefferson—all have been adamantly opposed by riders in this neighborhood. In fact, when METRO had to curtail service on the route due to construction on the I-90 freeway in 1984, a number of people at both Center Park and the Lighthouse complained enough that METRO temporarily “solved” the issue by “creating” a temporary route (which operated until they diverted another transit route to provide the replacement service). While the service was somewhat adequate at the time, it is NO REPLACEMENT for the Route #4 service that is currently available, because this route serves many of the medical facilities Center Park residents need to get to on a regular basis, such as Harborview, and Swedish (Providence and First Hill. It also provides easy access to several major shopping destinations at 23rd and Jackson. It is for these reasons that the Route #4 service be left AS IS and not changed in any way.

    Thank you for considering this input!!

  17. Not for residents of Center Park or workers at the Lighthouse! See my comments for more info.

  18. If the Route #4 is eliminated, how will you accommodate the people from Center Park and the Lighthouse for the Blind? See my comments below.

  19. J.M Bush, I took the liberty of posting your comments on the the transit blog with attribution.

  20. Under the proposal, every #4 would be turned into a “turnback” #3 that ends at Ezells. So service from 23rd to Harborview and Downtown would be completely unchanged.

  21. From Metro’s numbers, there’s an average of 1 rider per bus that gets on/off at Dearborn. I’m sure it’s more during peak, and none in the off-peak, but that’s the average.

    Under the proposale, they would either have to walk 3 blocks to the 14 (for downtown), or take the 8/48 and transfer to the 3 (for Harborview)

  22. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t want an analysis of all the bus routes before throwing this one under the bus. There are a lot of routes and even the proposer was surprised to find a higher number of people who board at Walker than he anticipated. Allowing any will nilly elimination of services without a full analysis is not wise for any route. I believe that there are people using the #4 in the area you propose to cut who value this service. While I don’t live in Judkins, I would not want someone agitating to cut any service without the full analysis which includes a comparison with other routes and services.

  23. Not sure, but I suspect the big counter-argument to this would be that we should be fixing transit access on Rainier, so riders feel safe catching the 7 or 9, rather than needing the 4’s tail. The 7 runs every 7 1/2 minutes at rush hour, so even with the extra walk time, it’s a faster ride to downtown. The 9 runs through Capitol Hill past Swedish, and Harborview + Providence will still be directly accessible by transfer from to the 3 from the 48 or 8.

    With Metro’s current funding crisis (which the much heralded $20 car tab fee only half-fixes), it’s becoming consensus that one-seat point-to-point rides (like Mt. Baker to Harborview) are going to be the first ones eliminated. In order to squeeze out the cost savings the county & state governments are demanding, everyone’s bus rides are going to need to involve at least one transfer.

    A bus with less than 10 people on it at average and alternative buses available, are exactly the routes in the crosshairs right now. The 4 south of Jefferson fits that description.

    However, this doesn’t mean the cut is a sure thing. The 42 is a similar route. It runs with an average passenger load no higher than 5 for its entire route, yet that route was saved by aggressive citizen comment to the County Council, who overruled Metro’s decision.

  24. The #8, with a transfer to the final destination.

    The realities of Metro’s funding situation means that 1-seat rides are rapidly going the way of the dodo.

  25. The “higher number” at Walker was still only 2-3 passengers. And since Walker is a layover stop, some of those “passengers” are the driver getting on and off to stretch his legs, thus setting off the automatic passenger counter.

  26. The #3 goes up to 34th to fill in what would otherwise be a gap in service between the 2 on Union and the (likely to be reduced) 27 on Yesler. Unlike the 4’s tail, the 3’s tail has no redundant service coverage at all.

  27. The 8 could easily daly past these establishments and allow for eliminating the #4 entirely.

  28. It seems like the numbers are just for Walker or just for south of Jackson or then south of Dearborn. Even the heavily used buses that turn around downtown like the #49 are pretty empty before they make their turn and then at their starting points for a few blocks. I had a non transit user complain that she sees empty buses downtown especially turning around 1st and 2nd and Pine and Stewart. That is because everyone gets off somewhere in between and then they are just beginning their routes. How many blocks of the #4 are we talking about here and how does that compare with all buses as a whole group? What time of day? Remember the #8 doesn’t directly connect to the #3 since it turns to go over MLK before it gets to E. Cherry or E.Jefferson. The #48 does. The #8 connects directly with the #2 at E. Union. Still how many blocks are we really talking since the rest of corridor still needs the service? I think there are much longer entire routes that have greater problems with numbers, if you are talking just numbers. However, we all want to be able to get to wide variety of places.

  29. After reading some of the other posts, especially the ones from “Lack thereof,” I must strongly disagree. Center Park is a low-income public housing community designed with people of disability in mind. Many of the residents in this community have extremely limited mobility and CANNOT use any other bus route except the #4. The #7, 9 and 48, while providing more frequent service(the #9 may be an exception, because it has no evening or weekend service), stop at Rainier and Waller. which is generally quite difficult for them to get to (and cross, if they are using the southbound bus zone).

    The #8 route is another “problem route” for a lot of residents, because of the fact that the route not only does not go downtown (or First Hill), but the only stops for this route adjacent to both Center Park and the Lighthouse are at ML King and South Walker, at the top of Center Park’s driveway. This driveway has a rather steep incline that would be next to impossible for anyone with a manual wheelchair to negotiate. In addition, the northbound zone generally requires people with mobility devices to cross ML King at an unmarked crosswalk (there is a marked crosswalk at S. Walker, which also has a light, but access to it is severely impacted by a curb ramp that has a very steep incline and cross-slope).

    For these reasons, I must emphatically say the Route #4 service to Center PARK and the Lighthouse is an essential part of this neighborhood’s infrastructure and MUST be kept AS IT IS!

  30. I’ll accept your argument if we can identify at least one route in the neighborhood that can be cut. Is everything we have needed? Seems like we have a heck of a lot and we could all cut back in many areas.

    I can tell you that I have cut back personal expenses by 25% in the past six months and will need to cut back another 25% over the next six months. Meanwhile City and County are asking for more.

    And here we have a spagetti map of bus routes. An extremely dense bussing system and what I here is – nothing can be cut. It is all absolutely required. Really? Men in wheelchairs will be dieing by the bucket full. Veterens will fall down drunk in their path. Children won’t make it to school or back home.

    Show us something to cut. Some Seattle government funded service that can be cut. Or shall we just gladly pitch in every last dime we have.

    I guess I could stop going out to dinner. Stop maintaining my property. $80 in car taxes, or, buy some landscaping materials for my yard and the traffic circle. Well, F the traffic circle for sure. More property tax? Guess I can skip fixing the fence and donating to the to the Muscular Distrophy Association. And perhaps I can stop participing in those 10K and half marathons I enjoy. That’s not really necessary.

    More taxes, guess I could forgo purchasing some new slacks for a while. Start looking really shabby like a true Seattlite. Is that whay you want – Shabby? Ooooh. Sorry. I have been missing the whole point of living in Seattle. The endless drive to make a beautiful place shabby looking. Grung. It’s dead folks. Kurt Shot himself in the head. Ever wonder why? Terminal ugliness enforced by Seattlites.

  31. OK why here when we also have an extremely high ridership? I can think of dozens of routes tacked on larger ones that could be looked at in all areas of the city if there is some criteria that says this is a major source of waste. Numbers 3 and 4 overlay each other on Queen Ann and the list would go on and on. We need a full analysis not some willy nilly pick and choose system. The #14 section that runs on Bellevue and Summit just parallel to Broadway for instance must have some reason for existing. However, I would need to know what it is. I use buses in that area all the time and never think to use the #14 to get to Capitol Hill.

  32. Numbers 3 and 4 overlay each other on Queen Ann and the list would go on and on. We need a full analysis not some willy nilly pick and choose system. The #14 section that runs on Bellevue and Summit just parallel to Broadway for instance must have some reason for existing.

    The entire Queen Anne leg of the 4 is on the chopping block, too, everything north of downtown. As well as the northern section of the 14 – it’s likely going to be turning around in the International District after the next major service revision. There’s more ideas coming up every day. I’ve got a massive list of Metro’s brainstorms that I might have to make a post of here – some very aggressive changes.

    Metro only revises one “sub-area” at a time, though, because that’s all their planning budget allows for. This past couple years have been focused on the Eastside, and those changes are about to be implemented. South King County is next. Then it’ll be back to Seattle. It goes in a cycle.

    Bottom line is they’re looking for the low-hanging fruit to cut service, to try and avoid the impact of a flat across-the-board cut to every route.

  33. Since there have been no alternatives presented we must go ahead and eliminate #4. I think we should add #s 7 and 27 to the “cut now” list.

  34. Again, I must state that cutting the #4 route is NOT an alternative, nor should it be. METRO made a significant investment in putting trolley wire for this route over 30 years ago because they saw the need for the service, especially to Center Park (a low-income public housing community designed with people with disabilities in mind) and the Lighthouse for the Blind (an employment center for people with vision impairments). For these people, the Route #4 is their ONLY means of transportation, since they do not have access to private vehicles and are not able to use the “alternative” transit routes serving this area, due to the terrain or difficulty crossing the two busy arterials that are nearby. I should further note METRO is looking at replacing the trolley coaches over the next four to five years and a part of that process, they’re being encouraged to improve the bus stop at 26th and Walker (the terminus for the #4 route), because it lacks curbing (and the new coaches will presumably be low-floors)

  35. Oops! I had some additional comments to make regarding the last posting (where cutting service on the #7 and 27 was mentioned as a possible consideration). Again, I am a transit user–and I use these routes on a regular basis (not so much the #27, since it doesn’t directly serve my neighborhood; I did have to use it several times last year to get to and from Yesler Terrace, where I had meetings to attend, because I was using a manual wheelchair and could not easily get to alternative bus service). Cutting these two routes should NOT be considered–the #7 is one of the most heavily-used routes in METRO’s entire system, while the #27 is the only route directly serving Yesler Terrace, and Downtown Seattle.

    Anyone who attended the three public hearings the County Council had prior to [wisely] adopting the Congestion Relief ordinance (aka: the two-year $20.00 car-tab fee) knows how important public transit service is to many people, especially those who have no other form of transportation. To us, public transit is an essential part of any city’s infrastructure–one that we, as taxpayers have already paid for, just like the roads, tracks and sidewalks. We should not have to decide when or how to pay for public transit–it must be an “automatic” part of any government agency’s budget. As was stated in one of the hearings, we as voters, elect the County Council and all other legislative bodies to do a job, and that job is to ensure that any services people require (fire, police, social services, public transit, etc) are adequately funded.

    While the economy is not in the greatest shape right now, these needs are still there–and there needs to be a way to make sure those needs are adequately met–cutting them should NOT be considered an option under ANY circumstances. How these services should be funded is a topic of conversation that everyone should be involved with. The only question is how to do so without creating more controversy.

  36. Joanna, I know Metro’s planners have the on-off numbers and trip times for these routes, and I know they know where the demand is and where the trouble spots are for the buses. If taking away the tail of the 4, from 23rd/Jefferson south, was going to take away service from a bunch of folks, I’d be dead against it. But there is already service all around them, and improving transfers by decreasing wait times is one way to make the system work better for the majority of riders.

    Plus, just b/c the planners want to do this, the County Council doesn’t have to say yes.

  37. It seems that METRO is looking at dropping the #4 route (in September 2012) and replacing it with the #3 (or something of the sort). Frankly, I have some reservations about this proposal at this point in time, since I don’t know what it looks like. I have spoken with someone at METRO’s customer relations office about this issue–they will be doing community outreach to get customer feedback. I am encouraging them to come to Center Park to get OUR feedback, since I know a lot of residents are going to want to know more about this proposal, how it will affect them and what alternatives will be available to them (I think the ONLY alternative to this proposal is to KEEP the route AS IS and NOT CHANGE the route in any way, shape or form). I will be keeping very close tabs on this proposal and will encourage residents of this community to do the same.

  38. I read the comments about “killing the wasteful 4” . Clearly these are special interests who don’t need to the number 4 bus to commute to work. I live close to 23rd ave. S and S. Jackson. I am a nurse at Harborview Medical Center. My employer has made it clearly cost ineffective to drive to work as parking passes at HMC are in the $200 dollar per month range. Biking is not for everyone especially in inclement weather and at late and very early a.m. hours, walking 30 minutes in foul weather is not something the “kill 4” peddlers would likely wish upon themselves.

    I’d propose we cut several of the articulated number 43s that come to the University of Washington medical center, back to back often with 2 or 3 passengers while a number 48 running late in the same area may come in 45 minutes packed with human cargo resembling sardines. The alternate 3’s and 4’s amount to a 15 minutes frequency to the busier part of the arterial they serve and a 30 minute service to the underserved areas they go into. Counting on a lumbering packed 48 to take up the slack is a slap in the face to the area I live.

    Has anyone proposed cutting the number 3?

  39. I hope a group is working on the #4. I think the ridership on the #48 and #43 justify their routes, but the increased service between 23rd and 34th on E. Cherry is related to the proposals for the #4 deletion. I use the #4 occasionally and have a sight-impaired friend who uses the #4 to get to the lighthouse and describes it as a lifeline to get there. I don’t have any figures regarding how many people that affects or what the Lighthouse is advocating as a solution. I know Metro is saying to transfer at 23rd and Jefferson, but I understand that waiting for two buses is much more work than catching one, and adding transfers for the sight impaired can result in real obstacles. From the figures on the link below no one can see the actual ridership on the portion of the the #3/#4 that is the #4 going south on 23rd, but Metro can get you those numbers. The fact that they are essentially the same bus for much of the route and the only portion that is being really negatively affected is to Judkins means that Judkins probably is challenged to find immediate allies. You should contact Ashley at Metro, Larry Gossett’s office and tell your story to Dow Constantine’s office. Larry Gossett’s office had a representative present when the Central District Council voted to give Metro the message that mobility (the ability for people to use the bus and get around on it) should be a consideration that is more important than just speed of the routes.

    Good luck in getting someone to listen and find real solutions. The process for these proposals were very flawed.

    Ashley DeForest
    Community Relations…
    read more
    King County Department of Transportation
    [email protected]