Who does what in Seattle when it comes to transportation? It is not always easy to sort out. In general, King County Metro Transit provides bus service, and the Seattle Department of Transportation takes care of the streets. The two agencies work in tandem—like peanut butter and jelly—to provide a quality, seamless transportation system.
Or, if you add Sound Transit (regional express buses, light rail and commuter rail) to the metaphor, Metro and Sound Transit could be the peanut butter and jelly that are applied to the city’s streets—the bread. It is a simplified way to think of the partnership between the three agencies. Well, you could add airports and marine travel, but I won’t take it that far—the picnic basket is already full enough for now.
In addition to providing the present street system, the city developed the Transit Master Plan to serve as a blueprint for an integrated transportation system that will serve the city through 2030. The plan identifies the type of transportation that would best serve the city—trolleys, buses, rapid transit, streetcars and light rail—and also identifies the corridors where these different kinds of travel would best be located.
With the city’s plans in hand, and in coordination with plans of the transit agencies, work gets underway to turn concepts into engineered designs, and then into physical reality. Or, you could say, this is how we get to lunch.
Sound Transit builds and operates light rail through the city and to surrounding areas. Seattle has been working closely with Sound Transit to ensure integration with the city’s transportation system and to oversee construction work in city streets.
SDOT has built the South Lake Union Streetcar, and will finish work on the First Hill Streetcar, funded by Sound Transit, this year. Metro transit is operating the South Lake Union line and will also operate the First Hill Streetcar. Seattle also owns and maintains the downtown Seattle Monorail.
Another system in the midst of implementation is Metro Transit’s RapidRide, and Metro is not working alone on this. SDOT has been making improvements to three city corridors for RapidRide routes—West Seattle, Ballard and Aurora Avenue—including bus shelters, seating, lighting, bicycle racks, transit priority signals, and “next bus arrival times” kiosks.
To keep regular buses and trolleys moving, SDOT has been making transit improvements around the city, such as designating Third Avenue through downtown as a transit priority street. Also, SDOT makes spot improvements, such as “bus bulbs” to enable buses to load and unload passengers without leaving the traffic lane, and traffic signal systems that give transit the priority over other traffic.
And then we get to the real bread—the pavement surface. SDOT upgrades pavement when needed to support heavy buses. And, since the city encourages people to take the bus if possible when it snows, SDOT gives priority to Metro’s snow routes when planning which routes will be cleared of snow and ice.
There’s also another kind of bread—funding. SDOT provides $1.5 million a year from the Bridging the Gap levy in partnership with King County’s Transit Now program to pay for more frequent bus services in key corridors.
Transit ridership has been climbing. Seattle appetites are big for more of this kind of peanut butter and jelly on bread.