The bus stop at 38th Street and Fremont Way — the glorified name for the Aurora Avenue on-ramp — does the heavy lifting for transit users in Lower Fremont. From there it’s a quick ride Downtown on Aurora. One bus you won’t be catching there though is the RapidRide E. The reason is Aurora’s highway design does not allow easy off and on access; so, instead the E skips Lower Fremont entirely. Even without the E, bus routes 5, 26X, and 28X all pass through this stop. The 5 is in the frequent network and the 26X and 28X are supposed to combine to together to form a frequent network from 38th Street N southward. You’d think that would mean Lower Fremont’s service is excellent. You’d be mistaken. Long waits and crush loads are the norm for those boarding at 38th Street during the peak morning commute. To address this, I propose we add new RapidRide E stop for Lower Fremont at Aurora Avenue and 38th Street to help shoulder the load.

DSC_0154
This lonely bus stop astride the southbound on-ramp for Aurora Avenue handles the majority of Downtown commute trips for Lower Fremont.

Overcrowded Buses At Peak Times

The problem is in part overcrowding; many of the buses arrive to 38th Street full during the peak morning commute. Now I’m not talking ‘oh I didn’t get a seat, that’s too bad’ full. I mean packed to the gills, not one cubic foot more of human carrying space. Not infrequently bus drivers don’t even stop since they have no room. This can be demoralizing to a transit user waiting several minutes at a seemingly high frequency stop to hop a ride to work. And due to bunching caused by traffic farther upstream, the wait can drag into the ten minute plus range even when the 5 and 28 are at 10 minute headways and the 26 is (briefly) at 15-min headways. Ideally, one would hope those three routes would create 5 minute spacing or better.

Unleash The Workhorse E

There’s no heavier workhorse in Metro’s fleet than the the RapidRide E, which handles about 16,000 trips each per weekday and could carry thousands more if a stop could be engineered in Lower Fremont/Wallingford. The E reaches 5-minute frequencies at peak commute, far greater than any bus that currently stops at 38th Street. It would seem a no-brainer to stop in Lower Fremont, which is the densest North Seattle neighborhood in the Aurora corridor. However, the highway’s quirky design does complicate things and Metro Transit has yet to surmount the obstacles.

 Weekday RidershipWeekday Platform HoursPeak Frequency 
RapidRide E159002715 minute
5810015310 minute
164900163now the 62, running on Dexter
28 + 28E410010210 minute
26 + 26E37008815 minute
40930020710 minute (runs on Westlake)

Obstacles To Ramping Up Service

Aurora Avenue was shoehorned into the neighborhood; the northbound on-ramp is too narrow and the turn too tight to permit a bus to enter the highway from 38th Street. Additionally, Bridge Way’s median would force the bus to make a circuitous loop to reach the on-ramp in the first place. Meanwhile, southbound buses would have to turn right at 39th Street and make a sharp left onto Fremont Way at a congested five-way intersection (with Fremont Avenue). This would be time consuming and inefficient and inconsistent with an ostensibly rapid service.

The RapidRide E's southernmost North Seattle stop is at 45th Street. A 38th Street stop would open up a densely populated walkshed includes Lower East Fremont and southwest Wallingford.
The RapidRide E’s southernmost North Seattle stop is at 45th Street. A 38th Street stop would open up a densely populated walkshed including Lower East Fremont and southwest Wallingford.

Highway Level E Stop Could Get The Job Done

The simplest solution would be to put a RapidRide stop not on the on-ramp but on the shoulder of Aurora Avenue just north of 38th Street and then improve pedestrian access. We might want to build another staircase or widen sidewalks, but really all we need to do is paint better crossings and maybe some wayfinding. A stop on the shoulder keeps the RapidRide E rapid while also accommodating Lower Fremont transit users. The merge is a little rapid since the third southbound lane drops briefly for the Fremont Way on-ramp, but similar merges exist elsewhere in the route.

This is where a 38th Street E Stop would likely go.
An E Stop could go on the shoulder of Aurora Avenue just north of 38th Street. This would take the pressure off routes 5, 28, and 26 for Downtown trips.
DSC_0146
The staircase on the right would be one route up to the new E stop from street level.
Card readers switch the payment method to off-board which can translate into big time savings during peak commute times.

With the space just waiting there, it’s frustrating that Metro Transit hasn’t already added a E stop here. We could get a stop almost identical to the 45th Street stop with little effort. The only pitfall may be the need to take a few parking spots but this is a small price to pay for better bus service for an entire neighborhood. Building a new bus shelter with a card reader would be the only cost to get a stop operational.

Following the disappointments of the much-hyped but underwhelming bus-to-Link restructure, Metro Transit should improve RapidRide E service by adding a 38th Street stop. This small but hugely beneficial change would deliver real improvements to transit access in the area and regain some goodwill in Fremont and Wallingford. For folks living outside the neighborhood, the new stop would allow better access to Fremont’s bustling business district.

Seattle transit users have grown accustomed to waiting. Waiting for better funding to allow more service. Waiting for a rail plan. Waiting for the Seattle process to run its course hoping that course somehow arrives at good transit planning. Waiting for the results of the Seattle process only to find many good suggestions ignored or compromised into oblivion. And of course, day to day waiting for late buses and hoping they actually stop. After all this waiting, 38th Street would be one place where Metro Transit could speed this things up and score some immediate points at little cost.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. The problem I see is the E line can’t handle another bus stop in capacity.

    The 46 st is usually where the bus fills up going southbound.
    Nb the bus is packed until at least 46 st

    Often times its standing room only 7 miles out of downtown.

    • This is the same problem as the 5Xs, 28Xs, and 26Xs already have. At least with an additional stop serving more routes the load could be dispersed.

      Anecdotally my wife reports that many E appear relatively empty compared to the wall-to-wall-human 5s, 28s or 26s she ends up boarding.

  2. This can practically only happen if the bridge over 38th is widened on the southbound side enough to continue the bus lane and add wider sidewalk, the planting in the west side triangle reduced, and a ramp meter signal added to the Fremont Way ramp which goes red when a bus approaches. Right turns onto 38th would probably have to be banned in order to make the cross-walk safer.

    A bus starting up from a stop between 38th and 39th without such an extended bus lane would be at a terrible disadvantage to traffic. Remember; the red lane ends at 39th and the lane becomes the turn lane for 38th. A bus in the lane has to merge left into traffic there and is only able to do so because it is already moving.

    While a northbound stop wouldn’t suffer from having to merge, it would ideally be supported by widening the southside walkway a bit so that it is comfortable for people headed down to Lower Fremont to access the stairway under Aurora without having to cross 38th at street level.

    • This would definitely improve the merge, but I’m not convinced it’s 100% necessary. Buses already have to assert their will to cross the bridge. I’m not sure this would be much different starting from a stop from around 39th Street but having the hill to help gain speed.

      For pedestrian connectivity (and to extend the BAT lane), closing the 38th Street right turns from Aurora would help, and it seems relatively painless to me since it’s very challenging to make the following blind turn anyway.

      The infrastructure at 46th Street seems very similar to me. Narrow sideways. Awkward long staircases from the lower street level. Rapid merge with heavy traffic from the on ramp. It’s not pretty, but it works.

      • Maybe the hill would make it possible to force the merge without totally gumming traffic up. But to make it really work rear-facing cameras that record whenever the left turn signal is on should be placed on the Hot Dogs and when cars don’t yield, they get a sharp ticket.

  3. Another reason to do something like this is to improve the woeful connectivity between lower Fremont and places directly north of it. Going big and doing whatever it takes to build some kind of crazy elevator stop to the Aurora Bridge over 34th Street would be more useful than, like, half of what’s in ST3.

    • Bruce Nourish was onto something. Now that the E is at 5-minute frequency at peak it’s even more tantalizing to add a stop to make better use of that huge capacity. Frustrating that it hasn’t been done yet!

  4. Hi Doug – I understand the logic of what you’re proposing, but I’m not clear on the mechanics of providing it. Maybe I’m mis-reading your post? It looks like there’s probably room to add a SB stop on what is now the shoulder just south of the 38th St overpass – and conveniently, there’s already a stairway there! Unfortunately, that stairway kind of dumps passengers out in the middle of the intersection, and isn’t a great connection down into the neighborhood core, but it could work. In the NB direction, though, it doesn’t look like the bus lane striping is actually wide enough for a bus to stop. And in both directions – there is definitely not enough room for a shelter, and maybe not enough room to be ADA compliant.

    • Southbound I imagine the stop just north of 38th Street where there is space on the shoulder currently occupied at certain hours by a few parking spots which would be lost to make room for the stop.

      We could close 38th Street N to right turns from Aurora and extend the sidewalk from the stairway across 38th Street (upper) to improve pedestrian access. True it wouldn’t really be ADA friendly, but the 46th Street E stop isn’t either. I think there is space there for a bus shelter near the house at 3807 Aurora Avenue N. If not the house on the corner looks abandoned. I wonder if they could use eminent domain to acquire it to make room for a more extensive shelter?

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