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Originally published | Page modified July 11, 2009 at 12:55 AM

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Revamped bus routes to carry commuters to Mount Baker light-rail station

As Metro prepares to shorten bus routes, Sound Transit hopes light rail will attract bus riders and motorists alike.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

About the station:Mount Baker

PLATFORM
Elevated station, 35 feet high, on west side of Rainier Avenue South.

CONNECTIONS
Old pedestrian bridge to Franklin High School. New bus plaza across Rainier Avenue from the station. "Kiss-and-ride" drop-off lane behind the station.

NEIGHBORHOOD ATTRACTIONS
Tree-shaded Mount Baker neighborhood between the station and Lake Washington; Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park and Amy Yee Tennis Center is just north of the park; Asian Counseling and Referral Service. The Original Philly's restaurant — which moved in just as construction began — is right under the tracks.

DID YOU KNOW?
Protesters blocked traffic here in 2006 to complain that the rail project employed too few African-American workers, like independent truck drivers. Sound Transit hired a diversity director and promised reforms on its next tunnel, three miles to link to Husky Stadium.

Video | Light-rail ride along

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In a city said to be at war with the automobile, the Mount Baker Station is designed as a refuge.

The elevated station overlooks South McClellan Street and the X-shaped junction of Rainier Avenue South with Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, where 45,000 car drivers and well over 6,000 transit riders pass each day.

Sound Transit hopes more South End commuters will leave their cars at home after the light-rail line from downtown Seattle to Tukwila opens July 18.

To coax bus riders onto trains, King County Metro Transit will shorten some routes in September, so they will end here. Notably, the Route 48 coming from Ballard, the University District and Capitol Hill will halt at Mount Baker, instead of going on to Rainier Beach.

A huge, brightly lit bus plaza, for eight routes, will open in September along Rainier Avenue on land that used to be a Kentucky Fried Chicken. From there, people will walk across Rainier and ride up an escalator to catch trains every 7-½ minutes at peak times, 10 minutes most hours, and 15 minutes in the wee hours.

"We think people will see a reliability benefit. The amount of service, the frequency will be pretty high, compared to some of the [bus] routes we have," said Katie Chalmers, a Metro service planner.

But national experts say some riders are deterred from transit if they have to transfer, rather than remain in one seat for the whole ride. Metro decided to keep certain short-hop routes after public complaints, for instance, that elderly riders need bus service all the way to the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, to the south.

Unlike many big-city transit hubs, the Mount Baker Station lacks dense housing, though it should draw riders from Franklin High School across the street.

More people and traffic should eventually show up after the recession. Around the station, the city allows 65-foot-high commercial buildings, and in some places, mixed-use buildings, as well as four-story housing on several blocks nearby.

To create a community of pedestrians who rely on light rail, the city is allowing shops and housing in the area to be built without parking spaces, and has banned new drive-throughs.

The 35-foot-high Mount Baker Station meets the tracks as they emerge from the tunnel on the east slope of Beacon Hill, before they descend onto MLK Way. Its boarding platforms are 400 feet long, to accommodate four-car trains that won't be needed for many years. Sound Transit now will run mainly two-car trains.

At 30,000 square feet, the structure looms so large that transit rider Paula Evans thought for sure it contained a park-and-ride garage. There is none, because the city government is unwilling to entice cars into the neighborhoods.

Nonetheless, Evans said if she can't drive there, she'll still find a way to take the train to work at Seattle Public Schools in Sodo, "even if it's less convenient."

The site was once known as McClellan Station, because of the cross street. Before the Civil War, when Gen. George McClellan was sacked by President Lincoln for being reluctant to attack, he spent time with the Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle, and proposed a canal linking Lake Washington and Lake Union.

It wasn't until 1917 that a cut large enough for boat traffic was finished at Montlake. In 2016, light-rail trains will take a tunnel under that marine channel, to reach a station at Husky Stadium.

This report includes information from a Seattle Parks online archive, and from HistoryLink.org. Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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