Take time to experience the art of bus riding
'Art-itecture' of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel
Your guide to the tunnel's built-in public art
The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel is a wonder to behold for both bus riders and art lovers.
King County Metro's 1.3-mile-long tunnel helps speed up bus service and relieve traffic congestion by serving as an extra street for buses and bus riders. It's also a convenient, out-of-the-weather way to move bus riders swiftly between central downtown locations. In addition, Sound Transit's Link light rail trains stop at four of the five tunnel stations.
Since tunnel buses and Link trains help zip people through downtown, many details of the art and architecture in the tunnel can go unnoticed. The tunnel is as attractive as it is functional and safe. The five tunnel stations are well-lighted open spaces enhanced by built-in public art-or "art-itecture." Metro architects and artists designed each tunnel station to reflect the downtown neighborhood it serves.
This guide will help you discover a different side to the tunnel and its stations while riding Metro and Sound Transit. It takes you on a station-by-station tour, pointing out design highlights and artworks along the way-from Convention Place Station at Ninth Avenue and Pine Street to International District/Chinatown Station at Fifth Avenue South and South Jackson Street.
Use the navigation bar on the left to start your online tour of each station.
Printed guides to the art and architecture of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel are available in the tunnel's Westlake Station and in Metro's customer service offices.
The tunnel and its stations are open from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 6 a.m. to midnight on Sunday and holidays. All bus rides are free in the tunnel from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The tunnel may be closed in emergencies.
The transit tunnel
A Metro engineer once described tunnel construction as joining a series of horizontal holes. Well, building the tunnel beneath Pine Street and Third Avenue was a little more complicated than that. Hundreds of people worked for three years to build the underground street for buses, which opened for business in September 1990. And that construction was after about five years of planning, engineering and design work.
From September 2005 to September 2007, the tunnel was closed while Sound Transit retrofitted it for joint use by buses and light rail. Sound Transit also updated the tunnel accessibility, signage, signal, communications, and fire and life-safety systems.
The transit tunnel is actually four tunnels. The tunnel under Third Avenue consists of twin tubes, bored by two mechanical tunneling machines. Two tunnel sections under Pine Street were built using a cut-and-cover method. Originally, contractors dug a 60-foot-deep trench and covered it with a new roadway, creating the box-shaped busway beneath.
In preparation for Link light rail, Sound Transit built a short tunnel extension 40 to 90 feet below Pine between Seventh and Boren avenues. That "stub tunnel" will enable trains to stop and reverse direction-and it will make possible the future Link extension to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington.
The transit stations
The tunnel has five stations. One of the first mysteries of station design was which came first, the art or the architecture? It's difficult to separate the two. That's because a lead artist worked with a lead architect to develop the distinctive art and architecture for each station.
Metro eventually commissioned 25 artists to create more than 30 artworks for the tunnel, stations, surface streets, and sidewalks. The artists worked with Metro's tunnel project consultant-Parson Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas Inc. and architecture subconsultant TRA. Together they created the "art-itecture."
Each station is a representative slice of the neighborhood it serves. The architects and artists wanted people traveling through the tunnel to know where they were below the city by looking at the architecture and design features of the station they were in.
The designers achieved that goal by studying surrounding businesses, buildings and uses, then creating designs reflecting those elements. Some features are subtle, and others much more noticeable.