Previously, I wrote about how the quality of a transfer is affected by headways of the two transit lines, usually rail and bus. While this certainly is the most important determinant, the physical design of transfer stations is also important in creating higher quality transfer experiences. Walking time is important, and correspondingly factored into travel demand models.

Factors harder to quantify are also important.  How visible is the connection? Do you have to cross a street? Is there weather protection? Are there seats?  Transfer stations should communicate a unified and easy to use system which is approachable by those that don’t usually take transit or buses. Essentially, quality transfer stations are necessary to effectively motivate users to transfer, but insufficient on their own.

To illustrate this point I took two videos of transfers between Stockholm’s Metro (Tunnelbana Red Line T13), and two different bus terminals. The video above is exactly what you want to do. The video below is exactly what you don’t want to do. To simply say a transfer is “only 900 ft” or “only takes 3 minutes”, is missing the point. There is a good way to do it and a bad way to do it. Of course the transfer quality shouldn’t be the only factors looked at, but it certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.

More after the jump.

Wonkdom aside, this seems to often be overlooked locally. The SR-520/Husky Station/Rainier Vista fiasco is one example. I haven’t seen a single cohesive proposal of how to ensure good Link to bus, or vice-versa transfers despite the fact that transfers in the UW Triangle are expect to increase ten fold when Link opens. Rather than sitting down and really working out a way to improve the transfer experience for transit riders at SR-520, Husky Stadium Station, the UW Medical Center buildings or the UW main campus, it seems that planners have just thrown their hands up, resigned to forcing most riders to make a 900-1000 ft walk between Link and buses. The uncertainly of not knowing how everything will eventually be integrated is unsettling to many, myself included.

There are, however, several ways to improve transfers between Link and buses. One solution to this problem, which is used in Stockholm at Odenplan and also happens to be a triangle, is for buses to circle around the Triangle in a clockwise manner, with a stop located either next to or across Montlake Blvd from the Husky Stadium Station. Another possible change could be to add new stops close to the intersection of Montlake Blvd and Pacific St. Regardless of how better transfers are achieved, the point is that this should be an important goal and it needs to be thoroughly addressed and solved now, not when construction of the station is done.

Similarly, last week’s East Link report shows that C11A, the alignment we think is best, would have a single, highly integrated rail-bus transfer station easing and speeding transfers between buses and Link. No other downtown alternative would come close and it would be nice to see this advantage also communicated.

An existing example, and probably the worst along central Link, is the Mt. Baker Station. While it is good that a new transit center was build, creating a presence that most will easily identify once they find it, its linkage to Mt. Baker Station is tenuous, and at the very least hard to see for new riders. The Firestone building and a tree act like a shield blocking views of the other facility. Again this is “only” a 600 ft transfer but the lack of integration, and real-time information makes the transfer much more onerous than it needs to be.

Quality transfer stations don’t happen by chance and recognizing what helps or hurts is important. While high quality transfers aren’t always possible because of physical or monetary constraints they should always be a goal, especially when large number of riders are expected to transfer there. A good rule of thumb for quality transfers is it must be short, level, and with a clear line of sight between the two transit modes. Anything less should be avoided or at the very least mitigated.

48 Replies to “International Perspective: Transfer Stations”

  1. God Bless the Germans. As someone who grew up in rural Alabama, next to no experience with public transportation, and only a little German I had no problems whatsoever when I moved there. The Heidelberg Strassenbahn was as simple as can be and dropped you off either right in front of, or across the street from the Hauptbahnhof, which had ‘HAUPTBAHNHOF’ written in giant red letters across it’s front.

    1. Heres the map view:

      Which makes it look kinda far but as you can see here, isn’t.

      (it’s the tan building on the right)

      View from the Strassenbahn stop:

      While I realize the Strassenbahn isn’t comparable to buses nor a Haubtbahnhof to a Light Rail Station, that is how any large station (which University will be) should be laid out even if the scale would be smaller.

  2. Don’t forget adding retail, when possible. Grabbing a cup of coffee on the way to the train would be a great benefit.

    Interesting fact: The tunnel between the Istanbul streetcar and a funicular has several gun shops. I can’t quite imagine that working here.

    1. Yes very true.

      The first video is a station that I often use to transfer between subway lines. There is a grocery store just just above the platform level. It takes me about 30 second to get into the store and I often run in to quickly grab a few things for dinner and then go back down to the platform. All in all it usually takes me 5 minutes and when I come down I usually only have to wait less than 2 minutes for my train.

      1. I was in Stockholm summer before last, and was very impressed with its bus/subway system. Only thing I didn’tlike was the fact that you needed a ticket before boarding the bus, no tickets sold on board. But they had a great deal for visitors, one, two, or three-day passes that could be purchased at the transit center. Wish we had something like that here.

      2. Yeah that is a bit annoying but it speeds up payment on buses and increase safety for driver.

    2. Thanks for this one, Matt. In most of the world, transit is not just surrounded by, but woven into neighborhoods of intense neighborhood commercial life. Coffee, wonderful grilled “street-food”, pawn-shops, camera and stereo-stores-transit is considered part of life, and the other way around.

      Here, it’s like neither the transit system nor the business community really want to dirty their hands with each other. The Tunnel began to feature advertising only when finances became completely desperate. Portland and Vancouver BC have long achieved both safety, color, and revenue with lighted advertising panels in their bus shelters. Too gauche for Seattle.

      Lynnwood Transit Center is finally getting a coffee-stand back- doubt it’ll stay open after 6. Too bad I’m there at 8: or 9:15.

      From the commercial side, most insulting atrocity is Federal Way Transit Center. At least the old one had a trailer with an espresso stand in it. Plainest statement of all is a block-long cinderblock wall- between transit center passengers and a very large mall with some really wonderful restaurants in it.

      Curious about Turkish gun shops- could I get one of those great long-tailed flintlocks with the beautiful inlay- “jezails,” I think the Afghans call them- or is it just regular beat-up Colts with black tape on the grips?

      Either way, I’ll bet their ridership is ‘way over ours.

      Mark Dublin

  3. One of the greatest transfers I experience is one you might not consider.

    It’s the walk from the Sounder to the International District bus tunnel.

    Reason: Because instead of walking through lifeless corridors and streets, it cuts right through a busy shopping and commercial area, bordered by the ID itself!

    Conclusion: A transfer point should also be a destination.

    Case 2: Kent Station. It’s a great thing, the outdoor mall area, train and bus station, however, I think they separated the commercial area from the station part too much.

    So what you have there is a very nice vibrant set of shops, completely removed from where the people wait and hang out. I don’t know how many times, I wished I could just find a Starbucks stand and order a cup of coffee while waiting.

    Familiarity to most people are the shops they enjoy and like, and any transit connectors that integrate these rather than being some other worldly concrete fun house, is a success.

    1. I just wish there were an option that didn’t involve crossing 4th Ave. S. That crosswalk is always a headache.

      I agree with retail being present near a transfer point, though. I recall dozens of experiences of upwards of thirty minutes of time waiting during a transfer at Bellevue Transit Center. None of the visible food places (Quizno’s and Starbucks) were open on the weekend. If they were, I definitely would’ve bought something. That’s one good thing I like about the area around King Street Station, which you highlighted: the food and shopping.

      1. Speaking of streetfood, would it even be legal for a hotdog or Doner little box outside a station to sell beer?

      2. I don’t believe so as the law currently stands in Washington. On the other hand a mini-convenience store could sell beer and wine by the bottle or can (though they would have to comply with the alcohol impact area restrictions present downtown).

      3. 4th avenue agreed…it’s a really harsh way to begin the morning commute and the Don’t Walk light is way too long (I hate lights that favor a few cars over many pedestrians).

        Surprisingly, I really like the 3rd avenue Kiosk at the other end the Sounder…very Paris Metro! While it is not near anything, it makes a great entry point into the center of town and the beginning of 3rd and 2nd avenue venues.

        And, although it’s in the midst of the flatiron blocks, a passenger can make a subtle entrance or exit to or from the city.

      4. Re: thirty minute transfers at BTC. That’s enough time to hit the Starbucks on 106th NE inside the Barnes and Noble. If I’m waiting around that long, I’d rather walk around a bit.

      5. I had a 25 minute wait for the 550 after the meetup. I was hungry and almost all the quickie food places were closed (at 7pm! Clearly a 9-to-5 area.) But I remembered a small Gyros restaurant I’d seen before and had wanted to try. It was right across the street from the transit center and still open. A $6 gyros doesn’t compare to a $3 doener in Bad Godesberg or a $1 shaverma in St Petersburg (or a $1 pizza slice in Vancouver), but at least it was there and was open.

        Hot dog stands and taco trucks are legal; they just need to have access to a proper kitchen. Taco buses have the kitchen/dishwashing built in, so they actually have an advantage. The city has some weird zoning on food stands. They’ve only recently started allowing them into the downtownish places you’d want them. Something about how they’re bad for the urban aesthetic, which is just slowly being repealed. Most hot dog stands are near clubs at night when there aren’t many alternatives open within walking distance.

  4. Minor correction: there is one building called the “UW Medical Center” and an organization called “UW Medicine” but there is no “UW Medical” entity.

  5. One of the concerns I have with the Husky stadium Link stop is the hike from the north end routes that go through UW campus and/or the Campus Parkway transit transfer point, such as 30, 65, 67, 68, 71, 72, 73, or 75. For trips to the airport, if you have luggage, Campus Parkway is way too far from the Link stop, and getting off at one of the UW campus stops (for routes that go through campus) isn’t very close either. For going to Capitol Hill, downtown, and points south on trips that originate on 65 or 75, say, Link would be really convenient if the buses dropped off very near to the Husky Link stop.

    On the other hand, some of these routes serve stops on campus, and are heavily used when school is in session, so those riders would be inconvenienced if routes don’t serve campus directly.

    1. That’s a temporary problem until Brooklyn station opens in 2020. The 43/44/48 run frequently for those who really, really want to take the train. I may do that to get from Link to the 30.

      After Brooklyn opens, I don’t know what will happen to the 70 or 71/72/73. The latter may be truncated at Campus Parkway or maybe at Roosevelt station. I can’t see them going all the way down to UW station; the triangle is so squeezed with traffic it can’t fit any more buses. The 70 will probably have to run full time to compensate for the evening 71/72/73. A few people wonder if the 70 will be extended to 65th to complement the 48, especially if the 71/72/73 are truncated at Roosevelt.

      The 30 can’t go to UW station because it’s way too out of the way. I don’t know about the campus buses. Maybe those that end at Campus Parkway could. On the other hand, some people on those buses want to go to the Ave, not downtown.

      1. Still, though, on the issue of transfer stations between bus and rail, it sure would be nice if patrons of the buses that went to the U district could take a short, preferably weather protected, walk from one to the other. The Brooklyn station south entrance is going to be on 43rd, 2 1/2 long blocks from the Campus Parkway transit stops, and uphill.

      2. University Way between Campus parkway and Ravenna and 15th between Ravenna and 65th will still need some form of high-frequency transit service even after U-link opens. A streetcar with 10 minute headways between Roosevelt and UW station along 65th, 15th, University Way, and Pacific would be ideal.

        I suppose increased frequency on the 43, 48, 49, & 70 might serve some of the local N/S transit demand but expect the University District merchants to complain rather loudly if bus service is removed from University Way entirely. The merchants lost a lot of business when the Ave was being rebuilt a couple of years ago and the 71, 72, and 73 were running on 15th instead.

        I suspect the primary transfer centers for the UW area will be at UW Station and Brooklyn Station. While a number of routes might continue to serve Campus Parkway, it likely won’t be the transfer center it currently is as riders won’t be transferring to downtown express buses there anymore.

    2. I think the whole nature of north Seattle routes will change very dramatically with Link, much more than south Seattle routes changed and in this way I think that connection to stations should be paramount. Many routes that currently are used for local and longer trips will now be able to focus on only being a local route.

    3. On the same note, Adam missed the worst transfer point of all (it isn’t Mt. Baker): the airport. It is not incredibly far, but I die a little inside everytime I’m left on the opposite side of the parking garage to hoof it with my bags the rest of the 1,000′ while everybody else gets front door service.

      1. I wrote about mt. baker because I don’t think it is realistic to think that Link could have served SeaTac any better without significant cost increases. The scale of the airport is based around the airplane and that is just a fact of life.

  6. I’m not super concerned about losing the Montlake flyer stops, and this is exactly why. There’s nothing pleasant about the current Montlake transfer situation. In fact, I’ve run into a few people who’ve thought that the fastest way from Redmond to Fremont is through downtown (it’s not, I’ve timed it), most likely because Montlake is so unwelcoming.

    For the long run, I think the most effective strategy is to plan for most 520 express buses (especially off-peak) to terminate at (or go through) UW Station. I hope the 542 is a sign of more to come.

    1. Peak period commute trips to downtown Seattle from Kirkland and other origins on the northern Eastside will likely remain on SR 520. Those Montlake Flyer stops are very popular today despite the terrible environment; the stops would be completely redesigned if replaced, and could be dramatically better than they are now.

      Although the share of trips using those stops will decrease in the future, the total transit ridership on SR 520 is expected be dramatically higher (perhaps triple what it is today) 20 years from now, so new stops might be very well used.

      I agree it will make sense for a greater portion of transit service to target the UW station area once that station is in service. But that highlights the need for a safe and efficient transfer experience there.

  7. I totally agree that it is a very important goal to make easy transfers at UW station, I wonder what the best solution is, especially since it is such a tricky situation at the Montlake Triangle, since you have buses coming from all sides. If you look at the UW Station, there is a driveway behind the station house, on the east side of the building. Would it be possible to route busses through that driveway, or is that only for cars exiting the parking area. Also, is ST allowing vendors to set up stands on the small plaza next to the station? I could imagine a Coffee Stand…

  8. The first time I saw the European emergency exit sign, I thought it meant “Elevator going down”. A filled rectangle, an arrow down, and a person walking. It was only after seeing it a surprisingly large number of times that I realized the “elevator” was supposed to represent an exit door.

  9. The above is from Sweden, where the concerns of the transit user are taken into consideration.

    Here it is “Why don’t you have a car?”.

    Well, maybe not Seattle, but in most of the USA, yes.

    1. That is especially true “Why don’t you have a car?” in some of the greater Seattle area. I once went to a job interview in Downtown Bellevue and the receptionist asked if I had parked in the garage and I said no I took the bus and she gave kinda of gave this me look like are you from another planet world.

  10. I understand this is off topic, but it is really starting to piss me off. I’ll write up my comment, click post, the page reloads, my comment isn’t there. After trying again in a couple of minutes, it is still not there, so I post again. That is when I get the “Duplicate Comment Detected” error message. This has happened a couple times. I’ve tried in multiple browsers. Any suggestions?? Anyone else had this problem?

    1. Did you have more than 2 links? I’ll look in the spam filter right now. It is approved now. The URL link was a bit screwy but I fixed it.

  11. If you want to see another example of transfer stations, take a look at video of Singapre MRT stations Dhoby Gaut, Raffles City and City Hall. These stations have two MRT routes(4 trains since each train goes east/west or north/south). Each of these stations has multiple levels but have excellent signage to know where to go for whatever destination you’re seeking. Plus, at the station, or very close by, are many, many shops, restaurants or food stalls for the people that are walking by. Although you definitely can’t bring food or drink onto the train!(remember, this IS Singapore).

  12. Matt the Engineer:
    “Interesting fact: The tunnel between the Istanbul streetcar and a funicular has several gun shops. I can’t quite imagine that working here.”

    Oh, yes this would! In vast stretches of U.S. “flyover country,” but only if you offer an attractive enough the rural pickup/gun/NASCAR crowd would ride occasionally.

    1. By here I meant here. In one of the Montana subway stations, sure (hey look, I found somewhere that Seattle beat in the get-light-rail-first race).

  13. Wow! I can only wish that the connection between Mt. Baker Link station and the Transit Center was as good as the second video, with pedestrian overpasses and a continuous seperated walking path.

    Maybe in 20 years we can have a train/bus connection as good as a bad one in Sweden.

  14. Adam, Thank you for highlighting the poor bus transfer design at the UW-Husky Link station. If Metro & ST wanted to make this a good transfer point, they should take on UW and get the necessary real estate & traffic signaling to create bus stops or a transit center right above the Link station, likely in the parking lot. As presently designed, if you exit Link and want to continue on the 44/48, I believe you will be expected to cross Montlake Blvd (either cross the street or up and then down a skybridge) and then walk to the far side of the triangle across from the hospital. In the other direction it is arguably worse, as you have to cross Pacific as well as Montlake.

    Europe does most transfers better, and Toronto does a good job at a lot of transfer stations, too, bringing buses and streetcars right into the fare paid zone of the subway stations.

    I also believe that retaining the Montlake Flyer stations is of fundamental importance to the functioning of 520 bus transit – not to transfer to Link, but to transfer to 43/44, 48 etc. to Capitol Hill & CD, and toward the north – and to maintain the ability for efficient transit service and headways during weekends and evening hours. When the ridership does not warrant a direct U-district bound bus, the Montlake station works.

    While the current Montlake flyer station may not be pretty, it actually works pretty darn well as a transfer station, and every afternoon you can see waves of people walking up flyer station. While it is not pretty, it is fairly efficient and visible for 3 of the 4 possible permutations (between WB520NB Montlake, EB520NB Montlake, EB520SB Montlake.) What is currently lacking is the connection between WB520SB Monltake.

    A well-functioning Montlake flyer station can absolutely be built within the footprint of the 520 right of way in option A+ and this should be a priority.

    Improving the UW Husky design to allow for bus transfers should also be a priority, though as others have pointed out this is more likely an interim issue until Link goes further north. BUT if the Montlake Flyer station is lost, then I think a better bus transfer to Link at UW Husky becomes a requirement.

  15. Adam,

    Many thanks for the videos. Looking at anything about Swedish transit used to make me jealous- though I like to kid my Nordic buddies about our joint-operations- they got right-of-way, we got imagination

    Incidentally, it seems to me their low-floor buses are more comfortable and easier to see out of than ours. The wheelchair spaces on the SWIFT in Snohomish County is standard for Swedish regional.

    However, this is nothing compared to how jealous all the snow in that footage must make British Columbians. One Swedish station has more snow that their whole Olympics.

    Royal Canadian Airforce could do a Berlin Airlift kind of thing where transports fly nonstop over the pole like a railway, and airdrop tons of snow on strategic targets near Vancouver.

    Please get in touch with my friend Petrus Sarmento Good chance he’ll get you a ride in the cab between Sickla Udde, Alvik, and Nockeby- might even advise you how to get a job driving them if you can get a Stockholm drivers’ license.

    He’s a great guy, too.


  16. Sound Transit needs to refer to European rail system not just for transfer points, but for the actual construction of it. Look around you, and you’ll find that the world’s major cities have an infrastructural backbone. This backbone is an UNDERGROUND subway system… not streetcar-like light-rail lines that run down the median of a road. Bellevue! Build it underground!

    1. So where are we to get the money to “build underground” what parts of the network should be dropped so we can build subways everywhere?

      If you’ll notice many smaller European cities have surface trams or light rail and no subway systems. Even larger cities with subways often have extensive tram or light rail networks.

      One of the nice things with light rail is you can scale the technology for the application. A metro style alignment is appropriate between Beacon Hill and Lynnwood, but a surface alignment on lower traffic level portion of the network is appropriate and saves a ton of construction capital.

  17. I’d be surprised if any planner “takes credit” for coming up with the design of either the Mount Baker Transit Center or the Husky Stadium cluster****. Both are truly embarrassments.

    1. I think many of the early phase I ST projects are not quite up to par for many reasons. Included is some isolationism early on in the agency’s culture. I dont think they worked as closely with the partering agencies as they do now, Lack of a mature orginzation with in-house operations, planning, scheduling, and facilities departments to guide the developement of a projects with attention to details that only those on the front line would know so well. And finally, relying on consultants and giving them a little too much freedom in design of a project.

      I will say a lot of the later design projects such as Everett Station, Lakewood Station, FWTC, Bellevue TC, TIB are vast improvements over some of the earlier works such as many of the LINK stops, Auburn, Kent sounder stations, etc.

    2. With Husky Stadium Sound Transit and Metro are both somewhat at the mercy of the UW’s and WSDOT’s plans for the area. Not that there is really any excuse for everyone with a dog in the fight not to come up with the best plan possible, but all the players have to want to work together rather than just pushing their narrow agenda.

      At least in the case of the UW Triangle there is still some time to get things right. Even once U Link opens as long as nothing really stupid has been done there is still a chance to fix things later.

  18. “An existing example, and probably the worst along central Link, is the Mt. Baker Station. ”
    Thanks for that. I had a horrible experience trying to connect to the 48. I ran around mt baker station about twice looking for where I might catch the bus. I ran out to the street, but for the life of me couldnt figure out where the 48 might stop. Heck, I couldnt even tell if I was facing north, south or west.The map at the station was no help at all, and I nearly missed my bus despite running around and a 15 minute wait time between the light rail and the 48 departure.

  19. Mt Baker could have been done so well; alas it wasn’t.
    We have so far to go and so much to learn and UNlearn in the US!

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