Updated to reflect the fact that the 60 goes to the VA entrance, but does not go anywhere near downtown.
As part of its proposed changes to bus routes serving Southeast Seattle, King County Metro is proposing a new route 50 that would—finally, hallelujah!— connect Southeast Seattle to West Seattle and Georgetown. That's the good news. The bad news is, Metro is also proposing to eliminate the only bus route that directly
serves links the Seattle Veterans Affairs hospital on Beacon Hill—the 39—to downtown. (It's also a great way for South End residents to get to Fremont, because it turns into the 28). Metro community relations planner Sarah Luthens points out that at least two other routes, the 60 and the 36, skirt the VA hospital; she says former 39 users will be able to either "ride the route 50 to SoDo and transfer in the [E3] busway, or go to the MLK stop and transfer onto light rail." However, she added, "I have heard from a number of people at the VA who have concerns about losing that service."
The question isn't merely one of making a few people walk a couple of blocks. Currently, the 39 is the only route that directly serves VA users, many of them disabled. According to Metro spokeswoman Linda Theilke, on an average weekday, 324 riders boarded the bus at the VA stop, and 215 disembarked. If you're in a wheelchair, elderly, or on crutches, walking blocks up- or downhill to another bus (or transferring from one bus to another) may mean you just can't take the bus.
Ann Dee Levine, a 39 rider and disability advocate, says that while "it’s easy for me, as an able-bodied person, to get off and transfer at light rail or the busway, for a disabled person, it’s three minutes on and three minutes off." VA public affairs specialist Ken LaBlond confirms that the facility has "a fair number of veterans who are disabled; the shorter the distance they have to walk, the better." LaBlond adds: "This is a huge facility, and the 36 is far away from the main entrance... It sort of speaks for itself that these changes may affect people in negative ways."
Although Metro has encouraged feedback and amended its Southeast Seattle proposes in response to community feedback, comments by Luthens and Thielke indicate the agency is unlikely to bring back the 39. And that, in turn, is certain to have an impact on disabled vets who get around by bus. "In all the time I’ve ridden the 39, I don’t think there has ever been a time they haven’t picked up a wheelchair passenger," Levine says. "This is going to have a tremendous impact."