Okay, let’s get out of here. You got down here okay. Now let’s go back up. (this is the second in a series of posts detailing driving maneuvers on the 7/49. Click here for Part I: the southbound 7 and explanation of terms and assumptions).


  • You leave the terminal slowly, getting back on the wire smoothly—your side wire rejoins the main line as the front of your coach passes the cute green garbage can to the right—just past “the Circle,” where all the guys and gals hang out in summer. Give them a wave if you like. 
  • Preparing for the turn onto southbound Seward Park Ave—dip to the right and swing toward the left of your lane, hugging the double yellow on Henderson. As with all right turns, go forward until the middle of your front doors is parallel to the curb of the street you’re turning onto. 

Rainier & Seward Park Ave

  • Do not accelerate until the back of your bus (where the poles are!) has completed the turn—otherwise, you’ll lose your poles. 


  • After this zone, either go slowly or split the lanes to remain on the wire. There’s also a sectional insulator that lines up with a pedestrian crossing sign on the right.

Henderson NB

  • Let’s do this. Half of these guys are only going to Rose anyway, or maybe Othello. Creep up to the light. This red takes forever and a day; let stragglers on, or you’re in for an awkward 90 seconds. 
  • Do not signal right as you cross this intersection, because that will trip the right-turn wire. 
  • Keep it at 9mph through the intersection from the moment the back of your coach clears the nearside crosswalk until the front of your coach clears the yellow fire hydrant on the right, by the driveway.
  • Personally I like to split up until Cloverdale, because the right edge of lane 1 is bumpy and you’re a night operator. There’s no one out here and you have the luxury of such options.


  • Everyone forgets there’s special work here. Try not to. 


  • If you read the previous post about driving southbound, you know I love splitting lanes. We’re about to get crazy with splitting here. Why are we splitting? A couple of reasons: 
  1. I don’t like those parked car doors on the right. And—
  2. On this stretch of Rainier, the road often tilts to the right, causing the top of your coach to be at an angle farther away from the wire; the bus thinks something’s going wrong, even though nothing is, and will drop your poles in a fit of excessive caution. And by “this stretch” I mean from where we are now all the way to Graham. We’re about to get serious. Because…


  • Did you just lose your poles at Fontanelle, approaching the light at Othello? These new buses are awful sensitive. They pop off the wire like breeze-blown laundry. But there’s a way around it. Try the below, safely:

Staying on the wire on Rainier

  1. Get directly beneath the wire, even if it involves splitting lanes. 
  2. Throw on your 4-ways to alert cars you’re being weird. 
  3. Floor it. 

You’re invincible. Just stay directly beneath the wire. 

  • Where do you really need to do this, or slow down, or at least be mindful that you might pop off? At these locations southbound:
  1. Forest (hot weather only)
  2. After Walden, approaching the Letitia S-curves (hot weather only)
  3. Alaska (usually not necessary, but maybe)
  4. After Graham
  5. After Holly
  • And at these locations northbound:
  1. After 52nd
  2. Approaching Othello
  3. After Othello, approaching Frontenac
  4. After Edmunds
  5. After Alaska
  6. Before Oregon (hot weather only)
  7. After Genesee
  8. Before Grand (hot weather only)
  • The wire placement was designed for an earlier iteration of lane striping on Rainier; in most of these spots, if you simply drive as if the old lane striping (still dimly visible) was the norm, you won’t lose your poles.


  • There’s a sectional insulator well before the zone, across the street from the Shell gas station. 


  • There’s a deadspot at the wooden telephone pole. You need to pull all the way to the head of the zone to clear it. I’ll wait until there are no cars blocking. Another incentive to pull all the way forward—and I do mean all the way forward, until you’re clipping the stop bar—is because otherwise the back door opens into bushes.
  • Crossing Graham, there’s special work as your rear right tire drops into that big dip farside, which you’ll notice significantly rocks the coach; you can choose to avoid it, or use it as a convenient added excuse to slow down for the switch.
  • Merge left. For some reason cars are usually pretty generous about yielding for you here.


  • It’s almost comical how poorly lit this zone is. Double check for intending passengers.


  • As with the southbound direction, this is a camera light. As ever, try to stop for yellow lights unless it is unsafe to do so. If you must, know that your front bumper must clear the nearside stop bar before the light turns red, or you’ll get dinged. But try not to be that guy…

Brandon St S-Curves

  • Yes, there’s a lot of support wire, but you still want to be at or under 20mph through this. You may hear a “mythical deadspot”—a little beep where there is no deadspot. That’s the pole almost coming off. Wow! Not worth the risk! 


  • The light may turn without warning; look for pedestrians who’ve hit the crossing signal.
  • The brick roadway beginning at Hudson has become really bumpy.


  • If I’m early, I’ll wait here instead of the Genesee timepoint, because you’re more helpful this way. This is a popular zone.
  • Upon pulling out, consider either splitting or going slowly to avoid losing poles during that great big dip in the roadway’s right edge. If you remain in lane 1, you won’t hit the white street sign. 


  • The curve following this zone, if taken too quickly, will result in dropped poles. Keep it under 20mph, or else split the lanes.


  • Check your time. 
  • On pulling out, you may need to split the lanes to stay on the wire, although I haven’t had to do this in a while. 
  • I’ll sometimes split all the way up to Andover from here, as the dip in the road at Dakota can invite pole-droppage.


  • This zone doesn’t reeeeaally hold two coaches. It looks like it should, but your back wheel will be on the crosswalk. May as well give it a second for your leader to get out of the way. Speaking of which:

Skip-stopping recap: northbound version

  • We went over this on the southbound trip, but let’s recap because they’re not teaching this and it’s important.
  • Let’s say you’re a “7 to S Jackson” (meaning, you’re going only as far as 5th and Jackson before then going to Base). Somebody is at the zone, but your follower, a 7 to Downtown, is behind you. If you don’t have dropoffs and your follower is visible to the intending passenger, I say skip the zone, and your follower will pick them up. This speeds up both buses.
  • Let’s say that you’re instead a 7 to Downtown, and there’s a 7 to S Jackson behind you. You’ll have peeked in your mirror to see his signage, which is how you know he’s just a Chinatown bus. There’s an intending passenger at the zone, and you have no dropoffs. You need to pick them up. Why? Because he might want Downtown, and the bus behind you doesn’t go there. In order to skip people, the bus behind needs to go everywhere you’re going, and ideally, it should be visible to the intending passenger. I’ll signal with my hand, gesturing behind me with my thumb, as in, “Look behind me! Your savior awaits! I don’t actually hate you!” They may not understand now, but they will in a second.
  • Are you a 7 to S Jackson only, with a 106 behind you? You can skip. The northbound 106 routing is identical to you. 

Letitia St S-Curves

  • Run these at 20mph or under. The slow order is 25mph, but that’s redundant now that all of Rainier is 25mph anyway. 
  • There’s deadspot just after the bus stop bench. Pull all the way to the zone flag, and you’ll clear it.
  • Watch the blind driveway in the middle of the curve after the zone.


  • Let’s slow down a touch to see if there’s anyone hidden by those trees. Don’t worry about missing the light; it’s a short one.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Way

  • You probably know that I call out most or all of my stops. I’m not saying you have to, but you might do so for this one. OBS calls this stop “Mount Baker Blvd,” which is technically true, but misleading: “Mount Baker” in neighborhood parlance refers to the transit center and rail station  after this zone. For all intents and purposes, this zone is called MLK. 
  • Try not to kill people. Careful here in the dark, as jaywalkers have died here (read a story of mine about one such fellow here).
  • As with the opposite side, the folks waiting here may not appear enticing on first suspicion. But they almost always have destinations.
  • Are you late? No need to rush, but using the far right lane here will give you a bus green light and skip you out ahead of the rest of the cars.

Mt Baker

  • Check your time. Is that a supervisor van off to your right?
  • Yes, people can transfer to rail here, but it’s useful to know that if they’re trying to get downtown, the act of them deboarding, crossing the street, walking to the train station staircase, going up the stairs to the train platform, probably missing a train while doing all of that, waiting for the next one, and then riding into town… at night, your 7 is faster. Just in case they ask.
  • Note the special work above, crossing Forest, just past Forest, approaching McClellan, and while crossing McClellan. Slow to 9mph for each of these, or just drift at 9mph through the whole thing until your front end clears the farside crosswalk. Yours truly has gotten dinged here for going over 9mph.
  • At night sometimes I split between McClellan and Bayview. Why do I do this? I don’t know. Lane 1 just feels narrow to me. You won’t lose poles here.


  • This is another zone that looks like it can hold 2 coaches but only has room for 1. 
  • If traffic is amenable, I also split from here to Walker, and I know why: the right edge of lane 1 is bumpier than the Pacific Crest Trail. 


  • You’re approaching. Is a 4 creeping out on Walker, trying to turn onto NB Rainier? Consider blocking for him, or holding for him so he can do that turn. It isn’t an easy one.
  • Slow down for the crossing with the 4 wire; also, there’s a sectional insulator before the special work that lines up with one of those short pillars of the building to the right.
  • The light crossing 23rd is a long light. Sadly there’s no counter, but you’ll probably make this. Don’t forget to slow down for that crossing wire in the middle of the intersection, as well as again at Plum, where the special work lines up with the zone.


  • Maybe you’re behind me and you see me splitting as I approach Grand. Why is he doing that? Because I lost poles here once, and although it’s never happened again, it’s like my body never forgets!


  • This is a short light. Somebody wanted the 554 to Issaquah; they can jump off here and grab it across the street. 
  • Why are college-looking twenty-somethings getting on here who obviously don’t live on this line? They’re coming from the climbing place across the street, heading back to their homes on the Hill. 


  • Don’t block the intersection on the wishful thinking that this zone might actually, in some other universe, be able to hold two coaches. It can’t.


  • This light is a great place to sit around relaxing, because it’s at least a minute long. Pack a lunch. Throw on your hill holder to take the pressure off your right knee (as I do at all stops). Take your time finishing the left turn onto Jackson; too much speed and the poles want to come off here, because of the angle at which the turning wire trails into the straight Jackson wire. 


  • Who’s this big crowd of hulking men? Not to fear. It’s the NightWatch contingent. NightWatch is a placement program that assigns people shelter spots throughout the city. It’s complicated in a way that requires those use it to be a lil’ more mentally put together; they have to have acquired a ticket earlier in the day from DESC, allowing them entry to NightWatch for a meal starting at 21h00, after which they get a ticket to a shelter, usually in the U District (called Seattle Friends, at 40th and 9th, which they have to get to before 24h00). I used to drive these guys every night, and they were among my favorite passengers. 
  • There’s a sectional insulator that will kill you as you leave the zone. It lines up with a difference in pavement featuring a driveway (it’ll make sense when you’re there) on the right, right around the edge of the new pho restaurant.


  • Take it at 9mph through the whole intersection, checking to see if there’s space for you at the zone. Pull all the way forward, as with any zone, to make room for a 2nd coach behind you.
  • Watch the driveway as you leave the zone, and of course, check your mirrors all the time.
  • Your signage has changed—you are now the 49. Glorious.


  • Are you going home? Getting on that left turn wire without losing poles and making the light probably isn’t going to happen. I think we’ve all experienced this. Lose the light, make the wire.


  • Use the side wire. Who knows what might happen here. 
  • Check your time. 
  • Problems on your bus? The CBD is a good place to call for help at night. Help will arrive sooner.
  • Getting on the right-turn wire to 4th. Okay. This is the only place I use the override switch as well as the right turn signal (I usually only use turn signals for switches). I position myself a foot away from the curb and creep, waiting to hear that satisfying metallic click, checking my left mirror to see if I got it. (I don’t set my blind spot mirror vertically; that’s for amateurs. You can see enough with the horizontal orientation.) 
  • Did I not get it? I creep forward until I’m far enough forward to be able to switch the poles from the straight wire to the right wire. Wear your vest; eyes are watching. Afterwards, enjoy the act of legally turning into lane 3.


  • There’s a sectional insulator here, a bit before the light.


  • I’ll go for the side wire here, in case a 36 or someone wants to barrel around me.
  • Keep the wire over the right edge of your coach while crossing Yesler. Keep it around 10mph in lane 2 as you approach James, and mind that sectional insulator just past the crosswalk at Jefferson. 


  • If it’s late night, the signal timing is for southbound traffic, and you’re going to get a red at every single intersection all the way up 3rd. We’ll roll our eyes at it together and find something to enjoy about the experience, such as the fact that we’re definitely not going to run early now…
  • Crossing James—2 big deadspots, before and after the elevator on the right. Cherry and Columbia are your only northbound intersections without special work. 

Skip-Stopping on Third

  • Let’s go over where your coach should be positioned between here and Pike. As we know, the rule of thumb for Third Ave operations is:
  1. Is there a bus zone that isn’t yours? Get in the left lane so you don’t block other coaches from using it;
  2. Don’t pass buses that use the same stops as you (unless they have their 4-ways on);
  3. The bus in lane 1 (the right lane!) has the right of way.

In practice, what that looks like for you, a 7/49 going north, we can explore in this handy lil’ cheat sheet:

  • Leaving Prefontaine, get into lane 2 before Jefferson, and sit in lane 2 up until the light at James. 
  • Crossing James, you have a block to merge right. Be in lane 1 by the time you reach nearside Cherry. Service the zone at Columbia.
  • Upon crossing Columbia, get in lane 2 and stay in it through nearside Madison. 
  • As you cross Marion, the 2 big deadspots are just past the farside crosswalk. Keep it at 9mph. Sweet—you made it!
  • After crossing Madison, you have 1 block to get into lane 1 before reaching nearside Spring. Service the zone at Seneca.
  • Just after Seneca, jump into lane 2, so you’re in lane 2 before reaching nearside University.
  • Roll past Union in lane 2. 
  • Immediately as you cross Union, hit your right turn signal to get on the side wire for the Pike St zone. The back of your coach needs to be closer to lane 1 to get on the side wire. This means merging immediately into lane 1, the second you’re finishing up crossing Union. Take your time with this special work; you want to hear 2 deadspots. One deadspot means you didn’t get onto the side wire, which is also the right-turn wire. You’ll need to turn right at Pike to start your 49.
  • I think it’s always a good idea to get on the side wire here, even if you’re not a 49 and are going up to Virginia. Because coaches behind you might want to go around, and you might take longer than you think with deboarding passengers. 
  • Now it’s time to turn right on Pike. The side wire defaults to returning you to northbound 3rd, which you don’t want. You’ll need to activate your right-turn signal again to turn right onto Pike. Look for illegally parked cars on the far left side of Pike, where the bike lane is; if someone’s there, swing wide while still nearside of Pike so you can split and have more room for your turn.
  • This is one of my favorite turns. You’re transitioning worlds here, going from 7-land to 49-land, representing the shift from South Seattle to North Seattle in a single gesture. Pretty awesome.

See you in the next post, where we’ll take it to the U District!

Article Author

Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.