How is the public transit in Seattle?
March 5, 2017 10:33 AM   Subscribe

We are considering a move to Seattle, and if possible we'd like to drop down to one car and mostly use public transportation. How feasible is this?

Some more location detail:
  • If we make this move, my office for work would probably be in either Westlake or Fremont.
  • My wife would be planning to skate for the Rat City Rollergirls, and their facility is in Shoreline.
  • I'm a curler, and the Granite Curling Club is in Haller Lake.
(All locations and neighborhood names from Google Maps, so apologies to locals if I'm getting things wrong!)

So based on those data points, we'll likely be trying to find a place to live in the northern part of the city. Ideally we'd like to use public transportation both for work/sports commuting, and just generally getting around.

posted by fencerjimmy to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was a no car owner in Seattle for a long time. It was a non-issue for everything but getting to the airport. I lived there for about a decade, before the light rail went in, so the airport is less of a thing now. Only thing about Shoreline (I worked there while living in the U District) is that the transportation can be more spaced out particularly on nights and weekends. They have a good website with trip planner so you can actually plan out some routes. Also unlike other big cities, it nearly stops overnight (there are late night buses but few and far between and they don't go everywhere). So assuming you are on decent schedules and not working third shift, this is totally workable.
posted by jessamyn at 10:59 AM on March 5, 2017

A general rule of thumb about transit in Seattle is that North-South movement is easy, and East-West is difficult. It appears that both the Rat's Nest (if that's where the Rollergirls are) and Granite Curling are just off SR 99 aka Aurora Avenue. You could take the Rapidride E line, which is as frequent and fast as Seattle bus lines get, to either location. The E line would also take you downtown relatively quickly although Aurora gets very congested. If you're OK walking six or seven blocks uphill you could also hike up from Fremont (Adobe/Google/etc. are down by the water, while the Aurora Bridge is maybe 100 feet uphill).

So yes, if you can locate pretty close to Aurora you'll be able to get to all of these locations. I wouldn't want to have to transfer to a crosstown bus every day, though. Ballard would give you access to the 40 down Westlake but you'd have to ride the 44 to Aurora to catch the E, and the 44 is sloooow. The Lake City area would also be possible but probably not great for returning home any later than 7 pm or so, when most buses become very infrequent. That's the advantage of the Rapidride lines - they run every 10-15 minutes all the way up until 11 pm.
posted by five toed sloth at 11:06 AM on March 5, 2017

I've never had a car as an adult; dropping down to one car is absolutely feasible if you're at all choosing where to live based on transit availability (which you are).

Getting to the curling rink and Shoreline is an easy (not necessarily fast) trip on the E line. Getting to Fremont / Westlake is easy from Downtown, South Lake Union, Ballard, and Wallingford.

If you come here, you will want to read Seattle Transit Blog and download OneBusAway (or another real time data app).
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:10 AM on March 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is totally feasible! If you can get a place within 0.5-0.8 miles of a direct bus to work for you this is ideal. In my experience bus transfers are a pain, you end up either sprinting or waiting. I have several friends who live in Wallingford (a neighborhood near Fremont) and commute to Shoreline every day with no issue, so you could definitely do the opposite and enjoy a significant drop in rent (Fremont is getting ridiculously pricey).

Looking a few years in to the future, the light rail will be extended all the way to Northgate, so living further north and working closer to downtown, if you have a job in Westlake, will be much easier. The light rail is extremely reliable and faster than buses by a long shot.

Keep in mind too that you can take bikes on buses and on the light rail. If you invest in some rain pants and a good lock, this can turn a bus ride + 25 minute slog into a bus ride + an 8-10 minute ride.
posted by leafmealone at 11:26 AM on March 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hey! I know that rink! Personally speaking, it's absolutely feasible but if you're used to fantastic public transport, like Portland, you will definitely struggle with the transport in Seattle, because it's really no where near as good. It's still pretty good, but parts of it are frustrating. You will totally need patience, especially if you're commuting all the way up to Shoreline occasionally.

Location is everything. I've lived in Shoreline and I don't drive in the US generally (I am from a country that drives on the left, so I'm a bit wary of driving there), and my partner doesn't drive. The biggest frustration I found with public transport is waiting for buses. They are often late, often full, and I found myself walking vast distances occasionally rather than wait for a bus. There is also a lot of transferring depending on where you want to go (as five toad sloth said, east-west is harder, north south is pretty easy) We waited for buses a lot-- and if you miss a bus, ouch. Especially on weekends. Often, if we had important stuff to get to though, especially if we were going at night, or coming back past 10pm, we'd be foreced to Lyft/Uber.

That said, the transport itself is easy, although stops were confusing to me as a first time traveler, and the website is kind of confusing at first. As I said, location is everything. E-line is a straight shot down Aurora Avenue, from Seattle to Shoreline, and is probably the easiest and most common line of the Shoreline commute. If you're commuting somewhere near any part of Aurora, then it'll be pretty easy to get to and totally doable, especially daily.

If you live past Shoreline, the commute becomes a bit more of a pain, because you'll need to switch transit line completely from the King County Transit (E-line) to the Swift BRT-- and vice versa, and Swift buses are more intermittent, especially at night, and require a different ticket and system. I know someone who is forced to do this because of rent prices being so high in Shoreline now too-- they are pretty comparable to Seattle, (a quick look at tells me the average rent between Fremont and Shoreline is the same) and it's a huge pain for him to get down to Seattle and back from Edmonds.

Anyway hope that helps. I wouldn't get rid of the first car, but you could totally be one car pretty comfortably and get around.
posted by Dimes at 11:53 AM on March 5, 2017

Completely feasible. It is a lot easier to move north/south than east/west in Seattle, so take that to heart when making a decision about where to live. Aurora is a very long and broad avenue with lots of traffic and not much sidewalks, and while it's not a pleasant commute, there are lots of buses. (Rat City Rollergirls is on a sidewalked section and across from a park and ride lot, so not terrible to get to, transit wise.)

I live in Shoreline and love it, but personally I wouldn't recommend it to a newcomer who is looking to go car-free as much as possible. If you're new you want to get around with a minimum of fuss so that you can figure out where you want to be.
posted by stowaway at 12:53 PM on March 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

We are a one-car family in Seattle. It is completely feasible. I commute to the eastside, my husband takes the bus/lightrail to work (and he takes the kid to daycare on the way). It's not a problem. You will want to plan where you live with an eye towards where you both work, either so that you can walk/bike to work or take a single bus. If you still have one car, my guess is that you'll end up taking it when you make rainy late-night trips to Shoreline or Haller Lake, but mostly just for ease and speed. You could do it without a car, you'd just spend more time waiting (particularly at night). The real problem isn't going to be transit, it's going to be housing. :) Good luck!
posted by leitmotif at 1:46 PM on March 5, 2017

It's feasible, but you need to be very careful about picking a place to live that's a short walk from your primary bus line. The Google Maps "Directions" feature does a pretty decent job at transit route planning and time estimates, so you can punch in your work address and prospective apartment address. Also, be prepared for jam-packed standing-room-only buses during peak hours, every day.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:56 PM on March 5, 2017

We started with one car and dropped to none during our first year in Seattle. My husband was a five minute walk from his office and I took the bus to Bellevue. I didn't need to transfer and I was the first and last stop, so it worked fairly well, but there were definitely times some people halfway through the route had to wait for multiple buses.

During the weekends, between walking, busing, or using Lyft/Uber we never really missed having a car. And our building had Zipcar for the rare occasion we wanted one.

OneBusAway was a godsend so I would know when to hurry up and catch the bus vs walk up just in time to see it pull away.
posted by ghost phoneme at 2:21 PM on March 5, 2017

In Seattle, nearly all buses go to and from Downtown, but there are a few crosstown buses here and there. The crosstowns, though, are dozens of blocks apart, so if you can avoid using them entirely, that's expand the areas where you can reasonably live in between the crosstown arteries.

Generally, though, what you talk about is entirely feasible. If you're not accustomed to bus-rides, though, you'll probably have to thicken your skin, particular on Aurora Ave's Rapidride-E, which is the latest in a long series of bus-lines with the worst reputation for weirdos, drug-addled behavior, and so on. Safest during commuter hours, but just weird in general outside of those hours. Aurora's a critical artery, but it's also a redlight area for long stretches, it's the way to the methadone clinic, and so on. Also some good sandwiches at about 200th and Aurora, and Pho shops and used tires for days.

I (a single person) live in Seattle without a car just fine. Plenty of friends, in couples, who get along with 1 car; they just have to learn to compromise over it-- sometimes it means humping to the bus in the drizzle, and sometimes it means making a trip to pick the other person up.

You can supplement your single-car with Car2Go and ReachNow, the two rent-by-the-minute car services from Mercedes and BMW respectively, which are available in Seattle. That'll get you to Haller Lake, but won't take your wife to Shoreline (unless she stays logged into the car for the duration, which isn't cheap).
posted by Sunburnt at 2:51 PM on March 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

feasible, but have a plan-b. My commute is from east-side to downtown. it is PACKED at rush hour, but the buses (ST545) comes so frequently it is not usually a problem. Now on non-work days it can SUCK, as buses don't come that frequently. Get the app "One Bus Away" for your phone to gain a bit more predictability (note, it isn't perfect, and sometimes buses will "disappear"). downtown my rule of thumb is avoid 2nd and 3rd aves when possible.
posted by evilmonk at 5:36 PM on March 5, 2017

Dimes: because you'll need to switch transit line completely from the King County Transit (E-line) to the Swift BRT-- and vice versa, and Swift buses are more intermittent, especially at night, and require a different ticket and system.

One little tidbit here: These words apply only to paying by cash. Each bus, train, and streetcar system in Puget Sound has different fare payment rules when using cash.

However: King County Metro, Community Transit (operator of Swift and the blue-and-white colored buses in most of Snohomish County), Everett Transit (operator of the red-and-white colored buses in Everett and small slices of Snohomish County), Pierce Transit (south of King County), Sound Transit (regional bus and light rail agency), Kitsap Transit (Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, and west Puget Sound), and Seattle Streetcar all* accept the ORCA card. It is a reloadable tap-to-pay card that can be loaded with cash; by credit card online (slow), at an ORCA/ticket vending machine (fast), or some grocery stores (fast); or have a monthly pass (easy but frontloaded cost). If you load money onto an ORCA card and pay with that card on the bus, light rail, or streetcar, you can transfer between any of the ORCA-accepting systems at (usually**) no cost.

If you are a regular rider of transit, get an ORCA card. You can find them at most major transit centers (except Northgate, grr), Fred Meyer and QFC grocery stores, all Link Light Rail ticket vending machines, the King County Metro customer service kiosk at Westlake, and the King County Metro headquarters on South Jackson Street.

* Washington State Ferries accept ORCA insofar as you can pay for a ferry trip with money loaded onto an ORCA and you can buy ferry-specific passes but you can't transfer from a bus to a ferry or vice versa.

** When paying by ORCA, you wind up paying whatever the most expensive leg of your journey is. If you go from a bus that charges $2.50 to a multi-county bus that charges $3.75, when you look at your card balance for the day, you'll have been charged a total of $3.75.

posted by fireoyster at 12:42 AM on March 6, 2017

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