Metro unveils new station area maps ahead of Northgate Link expansion opening



Part of the new map of the Northgate Station area by King County Metro. (Credit: King County)

Ahead of the opening of the Northgate Link extension, King County Metro quietly unveiled new area maps that will be located at light rail stations and bus stations. The cards share some similarities with Existing frequency area maps found in downtown Seattle, but provide improved and simplified details for cyclists. The new maps also show the fruits of the Metro bus restructuring in North Seattle, which adds new bus lines, such as Route 20, and aims to improve connections to new light rail stations – although the tightening pandemic budget has prompted the agency to abandon certain ambitious earlier proposals, such as the transversal route 61.

Initially, the Zone Map Quartet will be located at the four North Seattle light rail stations only (click to North gate, Roosevelt, Quarter U, and Washington University plans of the station area). This could change in the future based on awareness and feedback as well as funding secured for wider implementation.

The map design approach emphasizes the location of light rail stations and the frequency of the bus lines that serve them. It also includes a complete directory of routes and an inset map that details bus bays and station exits.

Special icons call out light rail stations, including a red “You are here” notice for the station where the map is located. Initially, the map only has a green Link 1 Line icon, but future iterations will likely include additional line numbers and colors as the Link light rail network grows in the years to come – the next expansion. will open in 2023 with the 2 Line operating from Redmond Technology Station to Northgate Station. For now, however, the Link 1 line is the only light rail line in the region, so most riders may not yet be familiar with the numbering system.

The primacy of the light rail is subtly reinforced by the maps of the zone drawing the underground and aerial parts of line 1 passing through Montlake, the university district, Roosevelt and Northgate with two ocean green lines. Again, the icons of light rail stations also draw attention to the locations of the stations.

The bus routes are then highlighted on the map with individual colors and numbers. Routes that are frequent throughout the day – typically every 15 minutes or better during weekday daylight hours – are displayed with thicker lines and bolder text. Conversely, all-day routes that are infrequent have thinner lines and non-bold text. In cases where two routes combine for frequent service on a portion of a corridor, they are also indicated by thicker lines and bold text; the numbers are stacked to clearly mark the relationship. Routes 31 and 32 as well as routes 347 and 348 are examples. Finally, peak-only routes are indicated by dotted lines and text on a white background, such as routes 167, 301, 556, and 810; if rush hour routes only run in one direction, arrows and the time of day are displayed to help understand which direction they are traveling.

A metro bus with the Evo store mural in the background.
A Route 32 bus waits to cross Stone Way. Passengers may have different opinions as to whether Route 31 + Route 32 = a frequent (and reliable) bus route. (Credit: Doug Trumm)

In limited circumstances, roads that operate in series use the same color, such as: roads 511 and 513; Routes 301, 302 and 303; and routes 810, 821, 860, 871 and 880. Direct-route bus pairs like routes 45 and 75 are carefully noted on the maps with special legends to indicate where they continue as an alternate route number; the colors of these routes are the same. And routes that run on couplets are given captions to show operational directions.

Below the maps of the area, directories indicate which bays the individual bus lines depart from. Again, these match the map with the same colors and word processing on the area maps. In addition to these, inset maps show individual bus bays, station profiles and exits, elevators, and local street networks. Bay numbers correspond between directories and inset cards. Other useful information in inset maps are the locations of crosswalks, station exit letters, and building profiles for additional visual context.

This kind of thoughtful direction represents a significant investment and improvement in the driver experience, especially in the context of a fairly significant restructuring of buses in North Seattle and North King County. It’s also in keeping with the many ways Metro, Sound Transit, and the City of Seattle strive to focus on seamless orientation tools for walking, rolling, and biking.

Stephen is an urban planner passionate about sustainable, livable and diverse cities. He is particularly interested in how policies, regulations and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.


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