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  • Marie McKinsey

Here's Why West Seattle Needs a Comprehensive Transit Plan

Updated: Apr 2

The Metro 37 has been discontinued along Alki Ave. and Beach Drive for yea
Metro Route 37 has been closed for years.

Outside the well served transit hubs, at the Alaska Junction and Westwood Village, West Seattle residents have hit-or-miss transit options. Some routes, like the RapidRide C Line, are great, but the Metro 37 route has been closed for years, leaving some people without any access to transit. Other routes have limited hours or frequency. Some don't run on weekends.

I had hoped to at least find acknowledgement of these transit deficiencies in the just released drafts of the One Seattle Comprehensive Plan and the new Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Plan. Both look ahead 20 years and offer what officials believe will meet Seattle's needs.

I was disappointed to see that not only were these problems unaddressed, the only transportation improvements for West Seattle listed in the One Seattle Comprehensive Plan is the proposed light rail project. (Page 3.10-53)

And here is SDOT's explanation of the West Seattle portion of their plan:

"This project will capitalize on the opening of the West Seattle - Ballard Link Extension project, which will result in redirecting the RapidRide H Line to Admiral and Alki neighborhoods and provide more reliable transit access to these areas."

There's absolutely no mention of ways to improve transit throughout the peninsula, give better service to low income neighborhoods, or provide better connections between neighborhoods, which is what we actually need.

How We Can Fix This

  • First, let's look at the populations in West Seattle served (or not) by transit

  • Take inventory of current transit options

  • Make note of what works

  • What doesn't

  • Who is being left out

  • How to build on the best of what we have

  • Insist on cooperation from transit agencies and elected officials to give us the transit system we want and need.

West Seattle Populations

Image credit: West Seattle Blog

Here is an overview of neighborhood populations and median incomes.

West Seattle Total - 99,698 residents (2020 census) - median income $120,338

The data below is from of the City of Seattle's ACS Neighborhood Profiles. in 2022. Be aware that this site takes a long time to load and is probably not smart-phone friendly. Once you get it to load, look for the Neighborhood menu on the left. Scroll down to find the one you want. There's a lot more detail there than what I've shown here. You can also search specific census tracts if you have the tract number. You will see those numbers when the neighborhood maps come up.

Alki/Admiral - 11,161 residents - median income $132,166

Arbor Heights - Census Tract 120 - 3,308 residents - median income $118,487

Delridge (north) - 5,745 residents - median income $95,625

Fauntleroy/Seaview - 14,919 residents - median income $140,171

Highland Park - 6,219 residents - median income $94,671

High Point - 9,226 residents - median income $100,194

Riverview - 4,893 residents - median income $126,648 Roxhill/Westwood - 13,808 residents - median income $102,018

South Park - 3,902 residents - median income $81,724

Census Tract 121, which runs south of Fauntleroy and southwest of Arbor Heights - 2,842 residents - median income $179,792

( It isn't clear why it is combined on the ACS map with Tract 120 in Arbor Heights, making Arbor Heights appear far more affluent than it actually is. On other maps this tract is shown as part of the Fauntleroy neighborhood, which makes more sense in terms of income and geography.)

West Seattle Junction/Genesee Hill - 23,501 residents - median income $129,808

Lower income neighborhoods - those that are below Seattle's median income of $120,338 - are indicated in red. The number of residents living in those neighborhoods is 42,208. That amounts to 42% of West Seattle's total population.

None of them, except residents in North Delridge, will be served by the proposed light rail project. Everyone else lives miles away from the nearest station, and to ride the train, they will have to take a bus or drive a car to get to there. Connection via bus isn't guaranteed because some of these people have no bus service in their neighborhood at all, some routes have limited hours or days of operation, or buses from their neighborhood don't go to the Junction, Avalon, or North Delridge where the stations will be.

And because bus routes will be closed or changed once light rail is built, riders will have longer trips. Instead of a one-seat ride from the south end of the peninsula to downtown, everyone will be forced to get off the bus at a light rail station and wait for a train.

As a side note: Population figures for West Seattle as a whole may come as a surprise for many people who believe that we passed the 100,000 mark long ago. The fact is that, while the population of the City of Seattle has grown substantially over the past decade, growth has not been even across the city.

West Seattle's population has shrunk relative to the rest of Seattle over the past decade. That is why the geographic area of City Council District 1 was expanded last year to cross the Duwamish River and include Georgetown, the Industrial District, SODO, and Pioneer Square. The city uses census figures to redraw districts so that each one has roughly the same number of residents. The recent expansion of the district brings it to a total of 105,000 residents.

New boundaries for City Council District 1 as of 2023. Image credit: City of Seattle

The Inventory

Transit stop outside Easy Street Records  in the Alaska Junction.  Image credit: Marie McKinsey
Transit stop outside Easy Street Records in the Alaska Junction. Image credit: Marie McKinsey

Here is an inventory of bus routes that serve West Seattle. Routes that have been discontinued, don't operate on weekends, or have limited frequency (30 minutes or more) are highlighted in red. Lines that connect with Link Light Rail are highlighted in green. Where West Seattle Link Light Rail will duplicate existing transit is highlighted in blue, begging the question, do we need it at all?

Route 21 MAP

Area served: Arbor Heights, Roxhill, Westwood Village, High Point, Downtown Seattle,

Frequency: 15 - 30 minutes; Arbor Heights has only 3 buses a day on weekdays, no service on weekends.

Hours: M-F 4:44 a.m. - midnight; Saturday & Sunday 5:40 a.m. - 9:55 p.m. - hours vary by location, some run later.

Connects with Link Line 1 at the Stadium, International District and at two stops along 3rd Ave Downtown.

The 2042 expansion of Link Light Rail will duplicate the Avalon - Stadium, International Districts and 3rd Ave stops on this route.

No weekend service at SW Roxbury & 30th Ave SW or in Arbor Heights.

Route 22 MAP

Area served: Arbor Heights, Westwood Village, Gatewood, Alaska Junction

Frequency: 1 hour+

Hours: M-F 6 a.m. - 9:11 p.m.

No weekend service.


Area That Used to Be Served - Downtown Seattle, Harbor Ave SW, Alki Beach, Beach Drive to Lowman Beach, then switched back north through Seaview to the Junction.

Frequency - this route was suspended  indefinitely in 2020, leaving the length of Beach Drive to Lowman Beach, to 48th Ave SW up to the the Junction completely out of transit service, and making most residents along Alki and Harbor Aves dependent on the DART 775 and Route 775 Water Taxi Shuttle for transit.

Dart 773 MAP

Area served: Alaska Junction, Seacrest Park

Frequency: 25 - 35 minutes

Hours: M-F 6:13 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday 8:51 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Route 775 MAP

Area served: Admiral Junction, Alki, Seacrest Park

Frequency: 30 minutes Hours: M-F 5:57 a.m. - 7:20 p.m.; Saturday - Sunday 8:40 a.m.- 7:14 p.m.

Route 50 MAP

Area served: Alki, Admiral District, Alaska Junction, SODO, VA Medical Center, Beacon Hill, Columbia City, Seward Park, Othello Station

Frequency: M-F 20 minutes; Saturday - Sunday 30 minutes

Hours: M-F 5 a.m. - midnight; Saturday - Sunday 5:30 a.m. - midnight

Connects with Link Line 1 at SODO.

The 2032 section of West Seattle Link Light Rail will duplicate the Alaska Junction - SODO portion of the 50 route that exists today.

If you want to get an idea of what light rail ridership will be in 2032, look at the number of people who are already taking the 50 bus. In January, 2024, average weekday boardings were 1,055. That's for the entire route going from Alki to the Othello Station. The ridership from the Alaska Junction to SODO is obviously much less.

The 50 serves more riders today than Link Light Rail will in the future, because it starts picking up riders at Alki Beach, continues through the Admiral District, then along California Ave to The Junction.

Route 55 MAP

Area served: Admiral District, Alaska Junction, Downtown

Frequency: Service suspended in September 2023 because of operator shortage

Routes 56 & 57 MAP

Area served: Alki, Alaska Junction, Genesee Hill, Admiral District, Downtown Seattle

Frequency: 30 - 60 minutes

Hours: M-F 5:53 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Connects with Link Line 1 at two stops along 3rd Ave Downtown.

The 2042 expansion of Link Light Rail will duplicate the Alaska Junction - 3rd Ave portion of this route.

No weekend service.

Route 60 MAP

Area served: Westwood Village, White Center, Olsen/Meyers P&R, Georgetown, Beacon Hill, First Hill, Broadway

Frequency: M-F 10 - 15 minutes; Saturday & Sunday 30 minutes

Hours: M - F 4 a.m. - 11 p.m. Saturday & Sunday 5 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.

Connects to Link Line 1 at Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill stations.

Route 125 MAP

Area served: Westwood Village, North Delridge, South Seattle College, Downtown Seattle

Frequency: M-F 20 - 30 minutes; Saturday 45 minutes

Hours: M - F 5 a.m. - 10:45; Saturday 6:30 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Connects to Link Line 1 on 3rd Ave Downtown.

The 2042 expansion of Link Light Rail will duplicate the Alaska Junction - 3rd Ave portion of this route.

No service on Sundays.

Route 128 MAP

Area served: North Admiral, Alaska Junction, Morgan Junction, High Point, South Seattle College, White Center, Tukwila, Southcenter

Frequency: 20 - 30 minutes

Hours: M-F 4:50 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday 6 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.

Connects with Link Light Rail in Tukwila.

Routes 131, 132 MAP

Area Served: Burien, Highland Park, through South Park, to Downtown

Frequency: 12 - 20 minutes

Hours: M-F 4:30 a.m. - 12:30 a.m. Saturday & Sunday 6 a.m. - 12:30 a.m.

Connects with Link Light Rail at Union Station, and three stops along 3rd Ave Downtown.

RapidRide C MAP

Area served: Westwood Village, Fauntleroy, Alaska Junction, West Seattle, Downtown Seattle, South Lake Union

Frequency: 8 minutes

Hours: M - F, 24 hours; Saturday & Sunday 24 hours

Connects with Link Light Rail at Pike St. Downtown.

The 2042 expansion of Link Light Rail will duplicate the Alaska Junction - Pike St. portion of this route.

RapidRide H MAP

Area served: Burien, White Center, Westwood Village, Delridge, Downtown Seattle

Frequency: 10 - 15 minutes

Hours: M - F 4:22 a.m. - 2 a.m. following day; Saturday & Sunday begins at 4:30 a.m. and runs almost 24 hours

Connects with Link Light Rail Downtown at Westlake Station.

The 2042 expansion of Link Light Rail will duplicate the Delridge - Downtown portion of this route.

What Works

The "bones" of the West Seattle transit system are good. Riders seem happy with the RapidRide lines, which provide a system for delivering riders north and south and quickly connecting West Seattle with downtown. These routes provide a framework to build on and better connect neighborhoods.

The existing bus system already does what light rail is projected to do by 2042. Presumably, the reason to build West Seattle Link Light Rail was to connect the neighborhood with Sound Transit's Link Light Rail.

Right now, every bus line, and there are 9 of them, that leaves West Seattle connects with Sound Transit's Link Light Rail.

Image credit: Seattle Transit Blog

Since we already have connections up and down the line, why not shift funds to improve transit neighborhood-wide? Sound Transit can definitely do that. There is no mandate in ST3 to build light rail.

What Doesn't Work

  • Failing to prioritize low income neighborhoods. Low income residents are more dependent on transit than those who can afford to drive. They are likely to work nights and weekends and need transit that meets those needs.

  • Ignoring the consequences of discontinued routes. Because of the neighborhood's hilly topography, and few east-west bus routes, people drive their cars up hills to run errands, and park near bus lines to use transit, like the C Line. (Remember all those people stranded along Beach Drive and in Seaview because Route 37 is shut down?)

Short distance drives like that are major contributors to pollution because cars produce double the emissions in the first 5 minutes of a trip than they do once the engine is warmed up. The savings in CO2 emissions from taking the bus, may be cancelled out by driving the car to get to the bus. The same will be true of light rail.

  • Light rail. Light rail works where it works. People love it in Columbia City and the U District. Travelers are happy with the connection from downtown to the airport. But light rail will not improve local West Seattle transportation. Spending $4 billion on a train that does nothing more than duplicate the existing Metro 50 bus service from the Junction to SODO, makes no sense. We already have 9 bus routes that connect West Seattle with light rail. We do not need a "stub" in SODO.

  • Commuting. The focus should be on complete neighborhoods, and encouraging people to live where they work. Enabling commuting, with highway expansions and projects like ST3, do the opposite. They perpetuate the idea that commuting is normal and the best way to deal with it is to add more, faster ways to do it.

Regardless of the mode of transport, commuting is bad for our health and for the environment. Using transit funds to make it easier to navigate the local area should be the priority. Here are reports with statistics from recent census figures on commuting in the US.

The only people who should get a pass on working outside the neighborhoods they live in are low-wage workers who can't afford to live where they work. Part of the new Comprehensive Plan for Seattle should include plans to see that every worker in a neighborhood has affordable housing. It should also look at ways to reinvent what we have, and bring good paying jobs here so people don't have to commute. (Here are suggestions for how to put the "Village" into Westwood Village.)

Who is left out?

The Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center, Seattle

  • The Duwamish Tribe. There is no transit along West Marginal Way SW, (which should perhaps be renamed West Marginalized Way), where the Duwamish Longhouse is located. This road is unsafe for cyclists, pedestrians, and anyone who uses the visitor parking area across the street from the Longhouse.

    • (To add injury to insult, West Seattle Light Rail will take out a wide swath of the northern tip of the Duwamish Greenbelt, the traditional land of the Duwamish People. Three acres of tree canopy will be demolished. The project will threaten a heron rookery, salmon habitat, and what little is left of the environment that the Tribe has sought to protect for thousands of years.)

  • Route 21, serving Arbor Heights, Roxhill, Westwood, High Point, has no weekend service at SW Roxbury & 30th Ave SW. Arbor Heights has only 3 buses a day during the week, and no service on weekends. People with lower incomes are likely to work nights and weekends. Bus lines in lower income neighborhoods should have service 7 days a week and at hours that accommodate shift workers.

  • Route 22, serving Arbor Heights, Westwood Village, Gatewood, and Alaska Junction, has no weekend service. Frequency is only hourly during the week. Again, people in low income neighborhoods need transit every day.

  • Beach Drive has no service at all.

  • Most of Seaview (map) is without transit service. California Ave. SW is the eastern boundary and has lots of bus stops. But the rest of the neighborhood, which is broad and steep, has no bus service to connect it with California Ave. or the Junction.

  • Alki Beach has reduced service.

  • Routes 56 and 57, serving Alki, Admiral District, Alaska Junction, Genesee Hill, have no weekend service and only 30 - 60 minute frequency during the week.

  • Route 125, serving Westwood, South Seattle College, North Delridge, has no Sunday service.

  • Routes 131 and 132, that serve Highland Park, and South Park, do not connect to the rest of West Seattle and therefore, will not connect to West Seattle light rail.

Low income neighborhoods are indicated in red.

Building on What We Have

Let's find ways to get people from various parts of the neighborhood to connect with each other and with the transportation hubs that we have at Westwood and the Alaska Junction. We have the potential for a truly great transportation system, one that sets an example for other neighborhoods and small towns, right here in West Seattle. All we have to do is come together and make it happen.

King County Metro Flex

Image credit: King County Metro

I have hope that our new City Council Member, Rob Saka, aka "King of the Potholes"and Chair of the city's Transportation Committee, will facilitate discussions with West Seattle neighborhood associations about what people want and need. I'd like to see a grass roots process like the one we used to create the Comprehensive Plan for the Alaska Junction Urban Village in the 1990s. The best teams combine citizens and design professionals working together.

A lot of people live and work in the West Seattle, White Center, Burien corridor. They need quick, reliable transportation to get to and from work. Someone should measure how many people fit this category vs. people who work downtown. How much focus on downtown is necessary? And how can we make it easier for people to use transit to navigate this corridor?

Coming up with a solid transportation plan for West Seattle can't be done properly online. Planners from transit agencies need to be on site, walking the neighborhood, making observations, riding along with residents, asking questions, listening, and taking notes before drafting a plan. Some of this work will need to be done on weekends, or at hours that are convenient for shift workers.

Here are some ideas to get conversations started.

1 - The American Public Transportation Association has this list of first mile/last mile solutions and lots of stories about what is being done in other cities to help riders connect easily to main transit lines and to their final destinations once they get off a train or bus. Some of those ideas might work to connect people who are left out now

2 - Can we get King County's Metro Flex service in West Seattle? The app used to hail a ride gets mixed reviews, but it is a service with potential. Read the review from The Urbanist here.

2 - Where can we launch pilot programs? Before investing lots of money in a big transit system, let's think small and look for opportunities to try out potential new connections, routes, and modes of transit. Use vehicles that are climate friendly and use familiar technology to help riders connect.

If it works in a small section of the neighborhood, it can be scaled up, using data collected from that pilot project. If a pilot doesn't work, those vehicles can move on to another test project. Just keep innovating and involving potential riders until we get it right.

Image credit: The Seattle Times

A fun micro-transit example is Bellevue's Bell-Hop. A vehicle something like this could be used in underserved neighborhoods, like Arbor Heights, as a tool to design a good local transit system that ties into the RapidRide routes 7 days a week. Smaller vehicles like this might be enough for certain situations. Not every route needs a big ol' Metro bus.

It has been pointed out to me that people who live in NOMO (NOrth of MOrgan Junction and west of Fauntleroy) aren't likely to give up their cars and ride a bus. After all, the north end of the peninsula is the highest Tesla-per-capita area in West Seattle.

Some of these people will never use transit. They believe they did their part to help the environment by buying an EV and voting for light rail. This sentiment echoes that of Los Angeles commuters who voted for light rail, but don't use it. They want OTHER people to take it so they won't be stuck in traffic.

Still, let's do a pilot project. See how many people in NOMO would use micro-transit to get to work, run errands, visit the Farmer's Market, or go to grocery stores.

3 - Give preference in all situations to our low-income, underserved neighbors. What can be done to restore bus lines, increase frequency, and expand hours in those neighborhoods right now? What can be done to bring transit to West Marginalized Way? These improvements don't require expensive infrastructure mega-projects. Send transit planners to those neighborhoods to work out what people want and get started. That's how you achieve equity.

4 - Restore the West Seattle portion of Route 37. There's no need for the downtown part of that route because we have the RapidRide C. The new version of the 37 could be two routes. One could be a continuous loop from the Alaska Junction, north on California Ave SW, to Alki Ave, to 63rd Ave, to Beach Drive, up Jacobsen and back to the Junction.

The second loop would go up Jacobsen from Beach Drive to the Junction, then down through Seaview to Lowman Beach, then back along Beach Drive to Jacobsen.

Start with micro-transit vehicles. Add larger ones later, if needed.

These routes have the potential to serve hundreds of people daily, reduce traffic, and eliminate a lot of the short-distance, emission-belching starts that result from people driving their cars up the hill to park close to the C line or the Junction.

This route should run 7 days a week, and throughout the day, not just rush hours, so people can run errands, get to work, or go to the Farmer's Market without needing a car. Run the buses late enough at night so people can have dinner out, and enjoy an extra glass of wine knowing they don't have to drive home.

5 - Encourage the adoption of the No Build alternative to West Seattle Light Rail. This alternative has already been studied. Sound Transit admits that there is little benefit in this project for our community. No Build is a viable alternative and, if adopted, will free up money that can be used to make transit better for everyone in West Seattle.

6 - Regardless of what anyone says, the West Seattle bridge will need to be replaced sooner than later. And probably sooner. It may not have much more than 20 more years left of useful life. Even if it has 30 years, where will the money come from to replace it after billions of dollars have been squandered on light rail?

If you know the history of the bridges of West Seattle, you know they don't last, and that a whole lot of drama will inevitably surround building the light rail bridge. All we will get out of that project is a single-use structure that serves very few people.

It would be better to start now to plan a 21st century replacement for the current West Seattle Bridge. Make it multi-modal, with room for cars, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a protected bike lane, and whatever else makes sense to the people who live here. That's what West Seattle needs.

Tell public officials what you think

What is missing from the transit picture in your neighborhood? It's time to ask for what you want. Below there are names and contact information for people from the federal to the local level. From Secretary Pete to The Pothole King.

Contact them on your own... Write a letter, leave an email or voice mail. If you don't like writing, send a copy of this article with a sticky note that says "Read This!'

Or make it it a team effort. Get together with a few neighbors, have a discussion about what you want to have happen for your neighborhood, write a letter, and have everyone sign it. Be sure to include your contact information so officials can confirm that you are for real.

The team approach may be especially valuable in neighborhoods where English is not the first language for some residents or for those who have limited computer skills. If you can write and send a letter, reach out to neighbors and help give them a voice.

There's strength in numbers!

At the Federal Level

Sound Transit depends on federal funds for many of its projects including ST3. To qualify for those funds, certain conditions must be met. For example, the No Build option had to be studied and included in Sound Transit's Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Which is a good thing - their studies make a good argument for not building light rail in West Seattle.

Furthermore, the cost of building West Seattle Light Rail has more than doubled - from $1.7 billion to $4 billion. Some oversight is needed here.

Office of Transit Safety and Oversight

Federal Transit Administration

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20590

Phone: 202-366-1783

Pete Buttigieg - US Secretary of Transportation

Write to Secretary Pete:

The Honorable Pete Buttigieg

U.S. Department of Transportation 

1200 New Jersey Ave., SE 

Washington, DC 20590

Phone: 202-366-4000

Casey Sixkiller - Administrator for EPA Region 10

Former Deputy Mayor of Seattle, former manager of King County Metro. Currently, "he oversees the EPA’s work to protect human health and the environment across the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska, and 271 tribal nations. Sixkiller also is leading the EPA’s efforts locally to implement both the Bipartisan Infrastructural Law and Inflation Reduction Act"

Phone: 206-553-1234

At the State Level

Governor - Jay Inslee

Inslee is not running for reelection in 2024, so he doesn't have to worry about the political consequences of taking a stand. His Climate Commitment Act has a goal of "net zero" emissions by 2050. The amount of CO2 that will be produced in the construction of West Seattle Light Rail will likely mean that his goal will not be met. Be sure he is aware of that.

Washington State Secretary of Transportation - Roger Millar

At the Local Level

These are the people to address with your comments about the One Seattle Comprehensive Plan. You'll find names, titles, and contact information in the right hand column.

And these are the people to send comments to about the SDOT Transportation Plan.

Director of Seattle Department of Transportation - Greg Spotts

City Council Member District 1, and Chair of the City of Seattle Transportation Committee - Rob Saka

The Sound Transit Board

What does this board do?

From their website: "The Board establishes policies and gives direction and oversight. It is empowered under state law to identify ballot measures for voter approval of regional transit projects and maintains the Long-Range Plan that identifies potential projects to submit to voters.

At critical milestones of every voter-approved project, the Board makes key decisions by adopting budgets, identifying alternatives to include in environmental review, selecting the preferred alternative, determining the final project to be built and establishing baselines for project scope, schedule and budget. The Board also approves major contracts."

Keep in mind that no one is elected to this board. Everyone is appointed and therefore not directly accountable to voters. No one on this board is a transportation professional, except Roger Millar, the Washington State Secretary of Transportation. It seems like he should be responsible for oversight of this board, but since he is on the board, that is unlikely.

The Board Chair is West Seattle resident, Dow Constantine, King County Executive. The majority of the board members are his appointees.

(Constantine does not use transit himself. If local news reports are accurate, he may not even drive. He has been accused of using his security detail as a personal car service for himself and his family.)

Here is a list of the names of the rest of the board, the political offices they hold, and their contact information.

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