Montlake Transfers, the 48, and the 545

Bus Chick Carla (who, incidentally, evidently only lives a few blocks away from me and often rides the same series of buses) posted a blog post that is 1/2 of a post I’d been meaning to put up for some time: http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/buschick/archives/110849.asp

In this post, she points out the insanity that is the process of getting from the 520 westbound “flyer” stop when exiting the ST545 bus and up (and across) to the southbound “island” stop where the 43 and 48 buses stop. This particular exercise is typically the most frustrating part of my day, and it leads to some of the problems I’ve previously observed here and here.

Short version of her post: it’s like running an obstacle course to get from the flyer stop to the island stop. You have to go up a long (ramp) hill, south a block, and then cross ALL-THREE-SIDES of an intersection (squaring it off) or go down the set of stairs and under Montlake to “cross” the street. I’ve discovered that even at a fast sprint up the hill (presuming I am unable to “dart”, dangerously, through stopped traffic on Montlake), it will take nearly 5 minutes to get from the 520 stop to the 48 pickup. Just awful.

And it leads into the 2nd half of the post I had intended to make: timing.

Given how random the bus arrivals are (traffic, number of stops requested, etc) I can’t even imagine how they make it happen, but inevitably as I watch mybus from my phone while stuck in 520 traffic I know that I’m just going to miss the 48. Barely. And quite often because of the horrible walk/run up and across the street that takes so long.

What’s a typical scenario? Well, I gauge it takes (best case) about 12 minutes from the time the 545 leaves Evergreen Point until I can be standing at the Island. This works okay if there’s no slow/stopped traffic on the 520 bridge or at Montlake, and it also assumes I can get up and over the street in my 5 min estimate.

The “inevitable” bit is that — with 12 minutes left before I get there — there is seemingly always one southbound 48 bus (let’s say to Columbia City) estimated to be at the island in about 5-7 minutes. No way I’ll make that one, of course. And then there’s another one 5-10 minutes behind (say, destined to Rainier/Walden or Rainier Beach)… now that’s one I ought to be able to get to, albeit just barely and perhaps by sprinting for it. And, each day, I say to myself “it’s a good thing there’s one coming 1-3 minutes after I’ll get there… won’t that be handy” because I notice that the next one (another Columbia City bus, perhaps) is running way behind and it’s now 20-30 minutes behind the 2nd bus in the pack.

Here’s where it breaks down. Over the course of that last 7 minutes on the bus, the first bus loses 2-3 minutes. Somehow. Every single day. So it ends up arriving just 2-3 minutes ahead of my 545. Still no way I can make it. But since the first bus is running further and further behind, it’s having to pick up more and more people who have collected during the long window with no bus; and the 2nd bus — with hardly anyone waiting to be picked up — ends up just right behind it (I’ve blogged about this frustrating bus-drafting technique before).

Yes, that’s correct: during that 7 minute travel across 520, my situation has changed from “1 bus a few minutes before me and 1 bus a few minutes after me” to the far less pleasant “both buses left (or are leaving) the island as the 545 pulls up to the montlake flyer stop” combined with “… and the next bus isn’t coming for 20-30 minutes”.

I don’t have a good solution. But I’m increasingly tempted to follow Carla’s example on days when it’s obvious I’ll just be standing around Montlake for a while and just ride the 545 all the way to downtown and work my way back home from there. It shouldn’t be this hard.

Metro, are you listening? I’m a dedicated bus rider and this is driving me nuts!

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