New bus service links Hill to the Eastside

It seemed like common sense. A large number of people on Capitol Hill work on the Eastside and take the bus to work. The transfer at Montlake is awkward and time consuming. Surely the Hill deserved some direct bus service?

That notion first came to Anirudh Sahni's mind in 1997, when he was working at Microsoft and making the cross-lake bus commute. His lengthy efforts to establish such service finally bore fruit this week. On Monday, Sept. 26, Sound Transit Route 545 began making stops on Capitol Hill.

The service alters Sound Transit's existing Seattle-Remond route. The buses now stop at Bellevue Avenue near East Olive Way, from 5:48 through 10:37 a.m. Interval times are between 10 and 15 minutes.

It marks the first direct bus from Capitol Hill to the Eastside. For Sahni, who no longer works at Microsoft and thus will not directly benefit from the new service, the change brings to a close eight years of transit activism.

The route change, while gratifying to Sahni, represents something of a compromise. Earlier hopes were for a route that would make five stops on the Hill and join up with SR-520. Planners determined that such a proposal added too much travel time. Also, the 545 bus won't stop on the Hill during the evening commute. Sahni said that Sound Transit planners were unable to come up with a route that was practical.

But, Sahni said, for residents living west of Broadway, the Bellevue/Olive stop is actually of greater benefit than earlier proposals.

After years of little progress, Sahni's transit efforts gathered steam when he became involved with People for Modern Transit, a local transit advocacy group. The task involved convincing transit planners that the change made sense, a process that involved institutional resistance and a lack of support from the city of Redmond, which was opposed to the increased travel times if Capitol Hill was added.

Sahni's detailed analysis of the situation helped carry the day.

"It's clear that there's a need for this route here," he said. "I think there's also enough demand for a dedicated route that originates on the Hill and goes to other Eastside destinations."

Sahni rode the bus himself for a few stops on the first day. Most other riders didn't notice the change. A few thought perhaps they had boarded the wrong bus. But it was pleasing to him to see people waiting on Bellevue Avenue to take advantage of the new stop.

"It certainly is gratifying to see the change," he said. "I think the route will become more popular in coming weeks. So far it looks very promising."

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