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Wednesday, May 27, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Not Quite Your Average Bus Stop -- Design And Usefulness Meet At Metro's New Northgate Transfer Center

From Interstate 5, it looks like the Ringling Brothers have pitched their tents just south of the Northgate shopping mall.

It's more elaborate than a circus, though, with brightly painted steel towers supporting the big spread of stark white fabric. A young forest crowds close and sculptured forms peek through the shrubbery.

Despite the hint of a big top, there will be no lions, elephants or acrobats here - only bus passengers waiting for a ride.

This is Metro's new $15.8 million Northgate Transit Center, an elaborate array of shelters beneath the big top - a covering of teflon-coated fiberglass expected to stay clean and white despite the load of pollutants generated by thousands of cars on the freeway.

Conceived nearly a decade ago, the Transit Center will open June 6 on a 4.5-acre site at First Avenue Northeast and Northeast 103rd Street.

Community leaders, who first opposed the center because of fears about bus and auto traffic and then joined Metro officials, architects and artists in designing it, generally are pleased with the results.

"We wanted a facility that would be a work of art that changes daily - and if you will look at it, you will see that is the case," said Jack Remick, a former officer of the Maple Leaf Community Council, who sat on the Metro-sponsored design review team.

Animals sculpted by Chris Bruch in rusting steel can be seen through the foliage of a small forest. Other animals are depicted in mosaics in the center walkway of the transit center.

Elaborate grills over shelter windows, the shape of the steel supports holding up the fabric cover, the use of port- and turquoise-colored paints and the brass rings against which passengers may comfortably lean suggest that this is not your ordinary government building project.

A SUBJECT FOR JOKES?

"We feel it is going to be controversial as a design," Remick said. "It may invoke jokes, but it will be something people will remark on, and in the end it will be a responsible addition to the community."

The Northgate Transit Center, with space for 16 large buses, will be a regional hub in the Metro system. The agency now has one other similar center, in Bellevue.

Transit centers provide a focal point for transportation. Bus passengers may transfer buses to continue their commute; the transfers are timed so the wait will be short.

At Northgate, motorists may park in the adjoining 296-stall park-and-ride lot and board a bus for their trip to work, school or shopping.

To make the transit center work, Metro will significantly increase bus operations in the the Northgate area by adding 14,000 additional annual hours of bus service beginning June 6, said Patty Waller, a transit planner.

Metro Transit officials said 713 buses serving 12 routes will stop at the center on weekdays.

Today, only 571 buses serve the area on weekdays, Waller said.

To handle the traffic, Metro and the state Department of Transportation improved adjoining intersections and 1,700 feet of streets flowing toward the transit center. A major project was the widening of First Avenue Northeast from two to five lanes, said Sally Turner, project manager for Metro.

The citizen members of the design review team pressed hard to make the center an inviting and useful part of the Northgate community.

"We wanted to have it be beautiful, to have it fit in with the neighborhood and to be well managed," said Velva Maye, who represented the Haller Lake Improvement Club on the design review team.

Maye believes Metro has an even harder job ahead - to persuade people to ride its buses.

"It's an uphill climb to get people onto buses," she said. "Metro needs to be educating people about the pollution from cars. Metro needs extensive new routes running east-west and north-south to improve ridership," Maye added.

The Northgate Transit Center has bathrooms, one with a baby changing area. They are unlocked by the attendant who will be on duty during the day.

A new feature is a "bus time telephone." Patrons can select a code number for their bus route from a nearby list and punch it in. A computer voice will respond with the next few arrival times.

ADDITIONAL AMENITIES

For the deaf, the center also has a teletypewriter-telephone service. When the proper numbers are dialed, the teletypewriter keyboard slides out of an enclosure so the person can type a message.

Crosswalks and danger areas are surfaced with a bright yellow tile for people with poor vision. For the blind, the tile has a nubby or tactile surface that can be felt underfoot.

Remick of the Maple Leaf community said neighborhood representatives had 32 points on their wish list for the center They got 26.

"We wanted a work of art that is living, yet functional," he said.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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