#TBT - When Black people in the CD had to fight for a crosstown bus. The story behind the #48 Bus.
While these days you can take busses across town. It was not always like that for a redlined Central District.
The #TBT series is a collaboration between the Black Heritage Society of Washington State and Africatown Seattle to give historical insights and perspectives into Black history and Black contributions in the Seattle area and Washington State as a whole.
By Stephanie Johnson-Toliver
Seattle 1960s Civil Rights Movement pushed to crush barriers and bring about awareness and just treatment across all vital and basic human needs and rights. Community-based organizations, some with national affiliations and all with volunteers who were dedicated to the causes they strongly supported, were advocates for equity in housing, education, jobs, and actively protested police brutality and demanded police accountability.
The causes were extra-large, big, small, and in-between. In the middle of all that was happening, a request to Seattle Transit* to actively consider the needs of commuters quickly became a demand to prioritize the need that would efficiently and effectively serve mobile accessibility for Central District residents to neighborhoods south on Rainier Avenue and north through the University District. Up to this time, Central District residents would have to ride downtown and transfer to points north or south…there was no bus route that ran directly north-south through the Central District.
*Seattle Transit System was founded in 1939. On January 1, 1973, King County Metro formally began operations.
In June 1966, the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) and the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP) led the transportation demand with support from community stakeholders at the NAACP and Progressive Women’s Organization, the Leschi Improvement Council organized by Powell Barnett, and other community organizations to insist on a north-south route which they called the Crosstown Bus Campaign. Seattle Transit claimed that there simply was not enough interest or potential ridership to make the route profitable and that they were directing dollars to serve routes that were heavily used and profitable. When Seattle Transit was asked for data to back up their response, there was none to share. What CORE and CAMP possessed was the tactical expertise to organize and record their own data. They enlisted volunteers to ride citywide routes at all hours to record ridership and other data that they would later present to Seattle Transit to counter their claims. CORE also threatened a bus boycott unless a reasonable negotiation and outcome could be agreed upon. Shortly following the potential boycott action, review of data, and a vocal community, Seattle Transit agreed to the new route. The #48 “Crosstown Bus” was a reality just six months into the demand.
This is what we know: Public transportation is more than moving people from one point to another. It is a system that can either limit or expand the opportunities available to people based on where they live. The lack of investment and thoughtful public amenities leaves those in the most need without easy access to jobs, goods, and services.
King County Metro’s, Route #48 running from Mount Baker to Loyal Heights via the U-District is the highest-ridership route in the county; it’s also one of the longest routes in Metro’s network that exists entirely within the densely urbanized and heavily-trafficked urban core of Seattle.
United and collective community action can shape opinions, motivate action, and direct progress.
1. Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Inc., www.bhswa.org
2. White, Gillian B., Stranded: How America’s Failing Public Transportation Increases Inequity, The
Atlantic, May 16, 2015_4/28/20