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Originally published | Page modified July 11, 2009 at 12:51 AM

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Rainier Beach light rail may shake up bus riders' routine

As the Rainier Beach Station gets established, a few major bus routes serving South Seattle will be revised or discontinued.

Seattle Times staff reporter

About the station: Rainier Beach

PLATFORM

Surface level, in the median of Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, just south of South Henderson Street.

CONNECTIONS

Buses 36, 48, 42 until September, when routes are revised or discontinued. Walk eight blocks east to buses 7, 9, 32, 34, 39, 106, 107 and 126.

NEIGHBORHOOD ATTRACTIONS

Rainier Beach Community Center, pool and playfield, The Vegetable Bin and Polynesian Deli, Rainier Beach High School and outdoor sports complex, Chief Sealth Trail, Vince's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria.

DID YOU KNOW?

MLK Way was originally called Empire Way, in honor of railroad baron James J. Hill, nicknamed the "Empire Builder," until the city changed the name in 1982, a controversial move.

Video | Light-rail ride along

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In South Seattle, almost everyone knows a bus trip from Rainier Beach north to the Central District or through Greenwood means taking the 48.

But soon after light rail opens July 18, Metro bus routes will be changed to reduce service overlaps — and some trips out of the neighborhood may get a little more complicated.

Sound Transit light-rail service in Rainier Beach, at the southern edge of Seattle, will mean faster trips to the Chinatown International District and downtown. It will also mean that many bus routes, notably the 42 and 48, stop serving the area in mid-September.

The 42 and 48 are among several bus routes that stop at the public-transit mixing bowl of Rainier Avenue South and South Henderson Street. More than 1,500 passengers board buses here daily, about eight blocks east of the light-rail station on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South.

Sound Transit is hoping many of those bus riders will change their routine and ride rail.

The agency expects 2,000 passengers a day to board trains at Rainier Beach in the next decade. A few years after suburban lines are finished in the 2020s, Sound Transit estimates 3,000 passengers a day boarding at Rainier Beach.

Jack Latteman, a service planner at Metro Transit, said residents have voiced concerns over possibly having to walk nearly a half-mile from buses on Rainier Avenue to the train station — a reality commuters near the Columbia City Station two stops north will also face.

To bridge the gap between the busy intersection and the station, several Metro routes will be revised to stretch west along Henderson Street.

Commuters in the neighborhood seem to look forward to having a faster and cleaner public-transit option. But some have lingering concerns about reaching areas between Link stations when bus service — and the weather — changes this fall.

Additionally, some commuters wonder if catching a train would be practical. For some riders, buses can offer something close to door-to-door service. Riding light rail, however, might mean walking to destinations between stations at night — when bus service is sometimes less frequent.

"I think it's for people going to work every day," said Elimika James, who recently moved from the Central District to South Seattle, and catches the 48 from Henderson Street in front of Rainier Beach High School. "But for people riding the buses, I don't think it's going to be that much easier."

Raquel Corpus, a student at Seattle Central Community College, typically catches the 9 bus from Rainier Beach to the Broadway campus. Corpus said she'd consider taking the train downtown and transferring to a bus if it meant a quicker trip, but she said major interruptions to commuters' daily routines are likely because of the light-rail and bus changes.

"You know, people are creatures of habit," she said, adding that it took her multiple trips to settle on her current route north. "Now they're changing them."

Current ridership on bus routes 36, 42, 42 express and 48 — all set for major route revisions this fall because of light rail — suggests that about 800 passengers from the area could transfer daily from buses to Link trains. Portions of discontinued routes through Rainier Valley will be replaced by revised existing routes when Metro does updates on Sept. 19.

Aside from its obvious purpose, the station seems to serve as a dividing line between the residential area to the north and the industrial corridor leading toward Tukwila, Interstate 5 and the Boeing Access Road.

David Essig, director of community development at the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund, said redevelopment is expected near Rainier Beach Station but may occur more slowly than at the Othello and Columbia City stations.

"The Rainier Beach light-rail area is more transitional," he said, adding some developers simply don't have the track record or financial stability to begin a project in the area right now.

Othello Partners, a real-estate development company planning mixed-use complexes near Othello, plans to build 67 low-rise two- and three-bedroom town homes about a block north of Rainier Beach Station.

Along South Henderson Street leading toward Rainier Avenue, renovated apartments, condominiums and single-family homes are already up for sale.

Steve Rauf, president and CEO of Othello Partners said the town homes on Trenton Street and other developments in the neighborhood are planned to be community- and pedestrian-oriented.

The economy has stalled the town homes' development, but Rauf said the project could begin moving as early as next spring, but "we might push it back another year," Rauf said. "It would really just depend on market conditions."

Essig said other developers will likely wait to gauge the success of Othello Partners' development in the area before moving forward on projects of their own.

"It's more of a wait-and-see kind of game there."

Phillip Lucas: 206-515-5632 or plucas@seattletimes.com

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