Seattle's professed love for coordinated public transportation is facing a suitor that may test the city's affection. Greyhound Lines, whose local terminal has occupied a building on Stewart Street since 1928, got its eviction notice in late September. The property is slated for redevelopment, meaning that the granddaddy of intercity bus service has to find a new Seattle home by April 2013.
Greyhound's first choice, says district manager Mike Timlin, “would be to go in with King Street Station, with other providers, to turn King Street into a sort of intermodal hub."
But, in Timlin's view, "There doesn't appear to be enough political will to make that happen. The Alaska Viaduct is taking a lot of attention.”
If that proves to be the case, Greyhound may have missed its golden opportunity. Writing about the King Street passenger rail facility in 2006, Seattle Times columnist Kate Riley wrote in a column, ”Mayor Greg Nickels and council Transportation Committee Chairwoman Jan Drago are enthusiastic not only because of the depot's history, but also for its expanding role as the multimodal King Street Transportation Center.” Nickels and Drago have, of course, moved on, and dreams of multimodalism — intermodalism, as some call it — at King Street appear to have been filed away.
The station is undergoing a complete rehabilitation, but the Amtrak Thruway and few other intercity buses that call at the station wedge their way into a curbside location — it doesn't deserve the term "facility" — just outside the depot. Greyhound's dilemma thus rekindles a development discussion whose complexity matches that of the traffic flows and multiuse pressures on the Pioneer Square neighborhood adjoining the station.
Ronald Sheck, who managed the involvement of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in the station's rehabilitation until his retirement in 2008, noted in an e-mail interview that ideas for a multimodal terminal in the vicinity suffered from a lack of commitment among key players — Amtrak, Greyhound, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), which owns the tracks that pass the station.
The eviction notice has now forced Greyhound to change its tune.
Meanwhile, after six years of negotiation, King County sold the North Lot Development (NLD), 3.85 acres of CenturyLink Field's north parking lot between the stadium and the station, in September. The remaining undeveloped land between the office-retail-residential development and the station appears insufficient for the comfortable handling of a full-size coach, say nothing of a bus terminal.
Timlin rejected the possibility of curbside operation such as upstart intercity carriers in the Northeast have been using. The city had offered “the whole street” in one International District location, he reported, but “we couldn't find a ticket and waiting area." Greyhound can't operate without a building, he added.
“We're keeping all options open," Timlin said. "We may have to leave the City of Seattle if we can't find anything reasonably priced within the city limits.”
Following up on a WSDOT letter to the Seattle Department of Transportation, Greyhound CEO David Leach sent a letter to Mayor Mike McGinn Nov. 30, seeking a “face-to-face meeting” on the situation. “Our primary interest,” Leach wrote, “has been to co-locate into an existing or developing intermodal passenger transportation facility with other surface transportation modes, and the King Street Station has been our top priority."
“I cannot overstate the urgency of this situation,” Leach wrote.
A spokesman said McGinn would be willing to meet if it appears useful, and said the mayor supports people having a variety of options for transportation. But Greyhound had not received a reply at the end of last week.
One idea discussed during the past decade was a terminal that would sit over the railroad tracks, between Fourth Avenue and the north lot area. BNSF, however, expressed security and terrorism concerns, Sheck stated.
The discussion went far enough to generate artist's conceptions of how the facility might look (illustration), but seemed to end with more of a whimper than a bang. A city webpage on the project describes a “King Street Station Multimodal Hub” as having been designated in the 2003 Center City Access Study as a "key element" of the Center City transportation system, and provides a project agenda — but that was for 2006.
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