Northgate Link Bus Restructure Devolves into Austerity Cuts Ahead of Budget Reckoning

The opening of U District Station with Northgate Link extension on October 2nd while be paired with a major bus restructure. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

King County Metro’s bus restructure plan to serve the three Northgate Link light rail stations opening in 2021 has devolved into primarily cuts. With Metro worried about major budget shortfalls, many of the big ideas from a more ambitious proposal unveiled in January were axed. The new proposal (map here) revealed today cut Route 23, Route 25, Route 61, and Route 68 from the earlier plan.

The result leaves neighborhoods like Fremont and Wallingford with fewer bus options than they have today, betraying the restructure’s promise of improved east-west bus connections to serve the new light rail stations. In fact, Route 44, which should be the primary east-west artery to U District Station will see decreased frequencies. Midday service is going from 10-minute headways to 15-minute headways, making it harder to get to reach light rail and campus.

The proposal moves Route 31 and 32 to pass by U District Station and extends the overlapping routes eastward along NE 45th St instead of through-routing with Route 75–a change Metro hopes will improve route reliability and better serve Greek Row and U Village. That also means the routes wouldn’t go through the heart of University of Washington campus. Only Metro Routes 67, 75, and 372 would continue to ply the slow but convenient Stevens Way NE path through the middle of campus.

Metro's restructure map is quite a bit less dense.
Metro’s new map shows a revised Route 26 rather than the Route 25 and Route 23 pairing that replaced it in the earlier version. Red lines are in the frequent network and blue lines are not and deemed “local.” (King County Metro)

Route 26 meanwhile would be revised to go U District Station via N 50th St rather than passing through Wallingford and Fremont and on to Downtown via Aurora Avenue. The peak-only express Route 5X will become Route 16 and extend farther north to replace Route 355 north of N 85th Street. Route 62 is staying in the same routing, but frequency is tabbed to go down slightly at peak.

Riders exiting a Route 62 bus in Bryant.
Route 62 is staying pretty much the same in the restructure. (Photo by author)

In other words, the issue of weak coverage in Fremont and Wallingford that I highlighted with the January proposal has not been addressed. Bitter Lake doesn’t make out too well, either. A new east-west route hasn’t materialized to get to Northgate Station and points east. The extended Route 16 and added trips on Route 345 will offer new options at peak times, but good luck outside of it. And then there’s NE Northgate Way, which will lose local service between Roosevelt Way NE and Lake City Way NE.

Map of routing for the 74 and 79 through Northeast Seattle
The Route 79 serves the NE 75th Street corridor and Route 74 the NE 55th Street corridor. (King County Metro)

One bright spot: the new Route 79 remains which should boost service and access to Roosevelt Station from the catchment to the northeast. Route 79 through-routes with the revised Route 74, which will terminate at U District Station rather than continuing downtown. The pair would have 15-minute frequency at peak and 30-minute frequency off-peak under the proposal.

Budget shortfalls and the need for transit relief

While it’s understandable that the proposal had to be pared back to face budget realities, it’s still a bitter pill to take. Moreover, it underscores the need to boost transit funding at nearly every level of government. The County’s heavy reliance on sales taxes makes it very susceptible to economic downturns like we’re experiencing. If only we had a capital gains tax and an income tax to balance our our revenue mix…

Lackluster proposals like this underscore why the meager Seattle transit measure funded by 0.1% sales tax wasn’t enough to serve the city’s needs. The 0.15% sales tax version that the Seattle City Council opted to put on the ballot this November is better, but 0.2% would have better staunched the cuts. And more help is still needed, regardless.

Limited funds forced some tough decisions–though Metro did keep some express routes to Downtown and South Lake Union.

“Removal of route 61 from the proposal was a very tough one,” said Metro transit planner David VanderZee. “Many advocated for keeping it in Phase 3, but our budget constraints ultimately limited the resources we could invest in that new east-west connection, without the trade-off of breaking other connections.”

Give Metro your feedback

It’s also a reminder of the need to pass that Seattle Transportation Benefit District in November to avoid deeper cuts–and to find additional revenue beyond that. Contact your elected leaders and urge them to support transit and help avert cuts.

Metro has released a survey to gather input from riders. We encourage you to fill it out in hopes the final plan gets some improvements. Perhaps once the region rebounds from the Covid recession we can get the restructure we deserve.

This article has been updated to note Bitter Lake gets added trips on Route 345. Additionally, VanderZee’s comment and Route 74 details have been added.

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

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I nominate Metro’s survey for being the worst survey ever constructed. And the presentation to figure out what is the proposal is just as bad. (Is the list of route details totally random?)



This proposal doesn’t even make the simple changes that make sense, like modifying the 62. For the most part, the 62 travels through high density areas. The one exception is between NE 65th and NE 45th. But instead of taking a fast route connecting those high density neighborhoods, it wiggles back and forth, not sure what to do. Suddenly the low frequency 26 becomes the fast bus, while the 62 looks like a coverage route. The 62 does this:, when it should do this: That saves a considerable amount of time AND means that you really don’t need an additional bus in that part of (low density) Wallingford.

Speaking of the 26, why on earth does it use 50th? Why is Metro afraid to run two buses on the same street?!! Running buses on the same street is good. It means you can catch an additional bus if you miss the first one. Furthermore, someone who does find the 26 handy (I think her name is Maria) has to go all the way to the U-District to catch the 44. What if she wants to head west, towards the businesses in Wallingford or Ballard?

From the very beginning this has been a problem. It seems that some planners at Metro have this weird opposition to running routes on the same corridor. The 61, as good as it was, was supposed to be the only bus running on 85th. The 45 was supposed to move to 80th, which meant two buses, five blocks from each other, both running the same direction (east-west) and both connecting to Link. That would make some sense if both buses were running very frequently, serving an area like downtown or the U-District, with multiple, high density corridors (and frequent service). But that isn’t the case. Only 85th has density, and it could use overlapping routes (one to the UW, one to Northgate) to gain good frequency.

I don’t understand why the 26 continues with all-day service, while there is nothing similar for 5th Avenue NE or Northgate Way. In most cases someone has a shorter walk than they would if they got rid of the 26. If you are going to make a cut, this is where to cut.

Then there is the 73, which runs very close to other buses. Now it runs even closer, following the exact same route as the 67 to Roosevelt Station. It is a bad combination, that can be solved quite easily by combining the routes. Just run a bus from 145th to the UW, like so: You keep the same service south of Northgate Way, while connecting Pinehurst with frequent (i. e. useful) service to Maple Leaf, Roosevelt and the UW. You lose the connection from Roosevelt to Northgate, but everyone will use Link for that. You lose the connection from Maple Leaf to Northgate, but riders will just walk, since it is often faster to ( — notice that Google says you should just walk, and ignore the 67). Overall, this just lacks a coherent theme. I would suggest the following:

1) Consolidate similar buses on major corridors. Don’t run a bus a few blocks from another bus, unless there is high frequency service on both.
2) Don’t worry too much about transfers, especially when you are dealing with high frequency corridors (like Link or bus routes through greater downtown).
3) Avoid sending buses out of their way, like the looping 67. It should never be faster to walk between two stops on the same bus route.
4) Avoid forcing riders to go well out of their way to make a simple connection between two popular destinations. To go from Greenwood to Northgate (or Lake City) should not involve going all the way down to Roosevelt. There should be a bus from Greenwood to Northgate, and hopefully all the way to Lake City.

With all of the criticisms I have with this plan, the original wasn’t too far off. Bring back the 61, and run both the 61 and 45 on 85th. Get rid of the rush hour express runs to South Lake Union and First Hill. Make the 62 faster and get rid of the 26. Combine the 67 and 73 as I proposed above.

That’s about it, really (at least for now). Metro has obviously punted on a lot of ideas around the U-District, and I trust their decisions (maybe making the turn from Roosevelt to 45th was too difficult). I understand that we can’t have everything that was originally proposed. But I would bet that my proposed changes would be more than revenue neutral (than this latest proposal), which means that folks would have a more reliable, faster network, while we ride out the storm.


Capital Gains taxes are the most volatile and unpredictable taxes of all. Income taxes are also more volatile than sales taxes. The most stable taxes are property taxes, followed by sales taxes.

Too bad that the Dems that control Olympia won’t allow gas taxes to be used for transit. That is also generally a more stable tax.


The 18th amendment of Washington State prevents spending gas tax money on anything other than roads (or the maintenance of them). So you can’t expect, for example, a local gas tax, with all of the money going for transit.

However, the state gas tax could pay for *all* local road maintenance. This would mean that SDOT could shift that money into transit. I’m not sure if the city can pass a local gas tax, but this could be something the state could approve (and would pass constitutional muster). I could easily see the city of Seattle passing a gas tax to pay for all of the road and bridge maintenance projects. This could include the obvious (West Seattle Bridge, Ballard bridge, resurfacing) but it could also include things like bike lanes, bus lanes and maybe even additional sidewalks. The main thing though, is that it would allow Seattle to shift money from road projects into transit projects.

Then there is federal money. I believe that some federal “highway” money can be moved to transit projects (


That restriction in the 18th Amendment was overturned by the State Supreme Court on a 9-0 verdict in 2012, yet I still hear many people say exactly what Ross is saying. Why is that?


Maybe because we’re old, and remember how things were back in the day. Anyway, thanks for the correction.


Everything about this latest proposal is bad, including the presentation. Why aren’t the buses listed in order? They aren’t even grouped by category (revised, unchanged, etc.). It is a minor thing, but indicative of the overall sloppiness that makes up this proposal.

I understand that there is a budget shortfall. Why then, are we still running express buses to downtown, right by Link Stations? I understand that these buses serve different parts of downtown, but it is extremely expensive to run these buses all so that riders can avoid a simple, very frequent transfer (to South Lake Union or First Hill). There are several of these buses, and they aren’t short:

64 — Lake City, Wedgwood, Downtown via South Lake Union (24 trips a day)
302 — Richmond Beach, Aurora Village, First Hill (26 trips a day)
303 — Aurora Village to First Hill (26 trips a day)
322 — Kenmore to First Hill (37 trips a day)
361 — Kenmore to downtown, via South Lake Union (31 trips a day)

These routes mean that there will be less frequent service in various neighborhoods, including the ones “served”! No all-day service on Northgate Way, but during rush-hour you can get a bus directly to South Lake Union. It shaves a few seconds off of a transfer, while making others suffer. It smacks of elite projection (

There is very little about this proposal I like. Metro would be better off making minimal changes (like truncating the 41 and similar buses) and then just putting the money into retaining what frequency they have. That would require very little work, and then they could do the hard work of coming up with a better proposal later.