The 520 workgroup released their final recommendations on Friday. Of special interest to those interested with bus operations on the Seattle side are the white papers discussing transit priority and the second bascule bridge.

The not-obvious-yet-crucial consideration is construction of the second bascule bridge, which expands Montlake Blvd. from four to six lanes. The second bridge has always been in the plan, but there was substantial neighborhood opposition to destroying two homes and increasing overall vehicle volumes.

Unless and until that bridge is built, transit/HOV lanes on Montlake Blvd will extend northbound from the 520 offramp to Hamlin St, and the existing southbound lane just below Pacific, but not on the bridge itself. The workgroup looked at going to only 1 general purpose lane on the bridge in each direction, but

After reviewing a VISSIM model showing the existing bridge with an HOV lane in each direction and exploring the challenges related to channelizing HOV lanes in the corridor with such a configuration, the subgroup determined that this option would have significant negative impacts on traffic and transit operations along Montlake Boulevard and SR 520.

There also will be a southbound HOV left turn lane onto the onramp.

WSDOT will install signal priority equipment at four intersections on Montlake Blvd. WSDOT’s analysis indicates that operations improvements will reduce congestion enough that this priority operating them should be unnecessary except during special events. However,  the use of these will ultimately be up to SDOT.

There will be performance measures that trigger construction of the second bridge that are related to the performance of all modes of transportation. If these triggers activate and WSDOT overcomes forthcoming political opposition, only then will the bridge be built. More after the jump.

If and when a second bridge is built, WSDOT will construct HOV/transit lanes, on the inside northbound and on the outside southbound. As described previously, these are meant to enhance performance of all buses turning left on Pacific or continuing south on 24th Ave, not to enable a stop anywhere near the light rail station. This is a subject for a whole different post, but the envisioned stop locations predict a walking time to the station anywhere from 3:25 to 5:13, largely because Metro sited the stop to minimize walking times for the larger group of people headed to the Medical Center or University.

WSDOT did consider an outside northbound lane with a dedicated left turn signal across traffic onto Pacific St. This light would have allowed only one bus to turn per cycle, so bunched buses would have waited 180 seconds for each bus ahead of it in the queue. It would also have increased general congestion on Montlake.

No queue jumps. Lastly, queue jumps for buses were not recommended in order “to respect the historical nature of the community.”

One of the big concerns is that the removal of the Montlake Flyer Stop be mitigated with a quality transfer to University Link. At the peak, buses are scheduled to take 16 minutes to get from the Flyer Stop to Westlake. U-Link should take 8, but assume about three minutes are spent descending to the platform and waiting for the train.  With a three-minute walk from the northbound stops, that leaves about 2 minutes on the road for it to be a wash for riders. It’ll be close.

Off-peak, the Link headways will be longer and the buses faster (scheduled 10 minutes), so it’s going to be difficult for it to pencil out. However, for the large volume of 25, 43, and 48 riders this is pure win, though perhaps not as much as it could be.

25 Replies to “SR 520 Workgroup Recommends Bus Enhancements”

  1. I have to disagree about WSDOT’s analysis about a left turn from right lane configuration going from NB Montlake to Pacific. From my understanding their analysis assumes no new lanes north of the Montlake/Pacific interchange on Pacific. If a new lane was added the 2 GP and 1 Transit/HOV lane left turn could occur concurrently, but since that added lane was not included (again from my understading) the HOV left turn must come before or after the GP left turn signal phase, causing delay and poor transit capacity. Whether that lane can be added, I don’t know but we are just talkinga about 12 feet.

    More to the point, there needs to be a vision of how buses will move through this corridor and how the triangle will act as one of the largest, if not the largest transfer hubs outside of downtown Seattle. That I don’t see happening since neither SDOT, Metro or ST is stepping up to the plate and advocating for that.

    1. “That I don’t see happening since neither SDOT, Metro or ST is stepping up to the plate and advocating for that.” – Adam
      This is the truly scary aspect about this project – in the year 2010 these 4 agencies plus the UW do not seem to be working together to come up with any kind of an intelligent common plan that emphasizes non-automobility through the triangle – and we’ll be expected to live with whatever ad hoc plan gets decided upon for 25-50 years.

      1. Some of us have been on this issue (optimizing the heck out of the UW transportation hub) for over 10 years now with only moderate success in getting the agencies to properly coordinate. We’ve got state legislation mandating agency coordination, but in hindsight, it may not have been sufficiently prescriptive.

        The problem is partially one of funding. Neither ST nor Metro nor the City has any spare money. The UW cannot be expected to pay for infrastructure to support transfers there and they lack sufficient funds for their primary mission. The SR 520 program is underfunded by over $2 billion.

        The proposed second drawbridge, whatever its benefits, would do exactly nothing, by itself, to improve transfers. Neither would it cure the congestion southbound on Montlake Blvd. from U Village down to the UW station, which is a minor transit route now and should eventually be a major transit route once the UW station is open and growth continues at U Village and Children’s and along Sand Point, 25th Ave. NE, etc.

        We already have a queue jump for southbound buses on Pacific that works well. With the addition of transit-only queue jumps in the remaining directions approaching the drawbridge (which would require no more and probably less real estate than the approaches for the proposed second drawbridge), the only delays that would remain for transit would be due to signals and bridge openings that are unavoidable in any of these plans. We could build a new southbound HOV/transit lane on Montlake Blvd. – that right there would be a huge incentive to carpool or ride transit, no matter what happens to SR 520, or when. We could make the third, right-side, northbound lane transit-only, approaching the drawbridge, and merge buses in at the E Shelby St. intersection, like we do at Montlake/Pacific.

        If we took the $80 million budgeted for the second drawbridge (which is part of the >$2 billion we lack) we could build all sorts of transit-supportive infrastructure in that area that speeds up buses and serves the needs of (1) the UW, (2) the transit passengers passing through, and (3) those who are transferring. It’s hard to imagine there exists no design solution that allows northbound buses to efficiently serve both the rail station and the hospital. The task force did not consider this sort of option; I believe they saw it as out of scope given the enabling legislation. Meanwhile, while we’re talking about second drawbridges in this location that we can’t currently afford, South Park has no bridge at all.

        None of this necessarily reflects on the individual participants on the task force; the issue is more systemic. The UW transit hub is an example of how truly integrated, long-term, creative problem solving that spans multiple jurisdictions and bureaucracies is very difficult, and may be beyond our capabilities, at least presently. I think we need to commit ourselves as a region and as a society to do much better at such things in the future. Leadership can come from above or below, but it has to come from somewhere, and right now, it seems to me the kind of leadership we really need is in short supply – as is the funding to build anything here beyond University Link. Maybe once that’s in place, the rest of this area can be optimized later, but that’s probably not the cheapest or most effective way to do it.

      2. What would the walking time be from the nearest bus stops on Stevens Way at Rainier Vista to the station? It’s possible Metro envisions Pend Oreille-Stevens capturing more ridership as an approximation of a straight Montlake route (albeit one that doesn’t allow buses to continue south to the Montlake and Capitol Hill neighborhoods). That consideration might be critical anyway (especially for me), since I envision the 67 entirely taking the place of the 66 (if it doesn’t get absorbed into a 66-74 superroute).

      3. It’s about 0.5 miles from the bus stop at the HUB to UW Station, and 0.3 miles from the bus stop in front of the chemistry building. If UW consolidated those into a single bus stop at the intersection of Stevens Way and Rainier Vista, it would be about 0.2 miles.

      4. It’s unfortunate that the light rail station was not located under Rainier Vista as ST previously proposed (and the UW nixed, for what may have been legitimate concerns.) That location would have been significantly preferable for bus transfers for both the routes on Pacific and those on Stevens Way. A station entrance was proposed at Stevens Way and another by Pacific Place.

  2. In an earlier discussion, I recall reading that WSDOT was considering removal of the Montlake freeway stop–is this really true? It can’t be!

    1. Not just “considering,” you can see in the diagrams that the Montlake freeway stops are gone. There are stops planned on the HOV on/off ramps in roughly the same place as the current stops, but they are not accessible to buses routed from 520 to downtown.

  3. Martin, I think the analysis minimizes the loss of service that Montlake/UW Med Center, U-District, and Central District/Capitol Hill riders will experience.

    First, due to the elimination of the Montlake Flyer stop, these riders will almost certainly experience a significant loss in frequency of service, and probably a greatly reduced span of service, particularly outside of the peak periods. It won’t be economically feasible to duplicate the service that today serves the Montlake Flyer station, and likely these riders will see hourly service at best on weekends, and limited evening/night service.

    Transfers to Link don’t replace the destinations served by the 25, 43, and 48. Transfers to these buses will be less attractive that today due to less service stopping at Montlake as well as the less convenient southbound stop.

    The trasnfer between Link and eastside buses at UW is not a good design, and likely would not serve many riders – off peak, it will be easier/faster for riders near the Cap Hill Link stop or downtown on Link to transfer to buses leaving downtown on Olive St.

    It’s possible that downtown riders will also have less frequency as a result of the elimination of the Montlake flyer station, as this has the result of requiring branching of the service – alternate buses to the U-Dist and to downtown, instead of a single higher frequency route.

    During periods of congestion on the Montlake bridge, which are likely to continue due to the funneling of Montlake Blvd & Pacific St across the bridge, the bus service at Montlake won’t be reliable, as there are no lanes dedicated to transit. Even with the second bridge built, the dedicated outside lane southbound ends at Shelby St, and buses either have to cross 2 general purpose lanes (eastside buses), or have to intersect with all general purpoose traffic heading onto 520 both eastbound and westbound, since both are right hand ramps.

    The single biggest transit enhancement that could be done would be to retain the Montlake flyer station – maybe even at the expense of eliminating HOV ramps at Montlake altogether – and have a great transfer station in all directions. If there were 5-10 min peak and 10-15 min off-peak service staying on 520, intersecting with 7-8 min service on 43&48, that would provide the most benefit to the most riders.

    1. An additional thought is that the elimination of the Montlake flyer station makes it more difficult to have routes like the 242 and 555 which serve neighborhoods like Greenlake and Northgate to employment centers like Overlake or Bellevue/BCC/Issaquah, because they can’t pick up additinal transferring riders at Montlake, reducing their efficiency and viability.

  4. “WSDOT did consider an outside northbound lane with a dedicated left turn signal across traffic onto Pacific St. This light would have allowed only one bus to turn per cycle, so bunched buses would have waited 180 seconds for each bus ahead of it in the queue. It would also have increased general congestion on Montlake.”

    So basically what would have happened is that the buses would have backed up onto SR-520, but at least Pacific St would have a nice even bus headway.

  5. When I first heard they were eliminating the Montlake flyer stop I thought it was okay: I thought it would be faster for people going downtown from the Eastside to transfer to take the Link. But the more I read about this the less I like this whole situation. Off-peak (when I ride), it takes 10 mins to bus from Montlake to downtown, the link takes 8 mins. And assuming you have to wait at least 5 mins for the next train, plus another 4 mins to walk from the bus stop, and another 3(?) for the bus to even get off the highway is 20 minutes total!

    That DOUBLES the amount of time to get downtown. Therefore, to avoid pissing everyone off, all of those busses will still have to be routed downtown (meaning, no truncation). BUT people on those busses won’t be able to transfer to anything in the U-district.

    So basically, for anyone coming from the Eastside, with the current plan, thing are just going to get significantly worse. WTF?

  6. The flyer stop was eliminated due to the Montlake community demanding a smaller footprint through their neighborhood (no value judgment here)

    The real issue is not time, but money. Metro estimates it will add $3-5 million dollars annually to their costs to serve the 520 corridor. Instead of running buses that serve both the UW and Downtown as they do now, Metro will have to run two kinds of buses from the transit center on the east end of the bridge. Buses to the UW and buses to Downtown.

    1. Actually the Montlake community has actively sought to retain the flyer stops. The issue is the width of the Portage Bay bridge; The state has insisted on HOV lane continuity to I-5. With HOV lanes plus acceleration and deceleration lanes to support the flyer stops, the Portage Bay bridge has to be 8 lanes or more, which significantly increases costs and impacts.

      One solution to that problem is to make any additional lanes across Portage Bay be transit-only. and then buses can stop in-lane, but that’s not consistent with the decisions the state has already made, for better or worse. Buses could stop on the mainline itself or, perhaps better yet, bring them up to street level where they could share the same stops that are already planned, if there’s a way to get them across Montlake Blvd. efficiently.

      It seems to me like a big step backwards to remove existing and popular transit stops regardless of how much additional service is funded. As long as there is bus service from the Eastside direct to downtown on SR 520 (as will be the case for the foreseeable future), those stops do serve a purpose.

      1. JD – I agree totally. I’m a former Montlake neighborhood resident and used the Montlake flyer stops frequently in both directions when I lived there.

        The argument used by WSDOT to justfiy eliminating the flyer stops is to reduce the footprint of the freeway through Montlake – but the footprint of the freeway is being widened from what it is today – and today transit has stops. The issue is not how wide the freeway is, but how the width is allocated. They are widening the footprint and giving more of it to general purpose traffic. As an engineering challenge, it has to be possible to come up with designs that retain these stops – whether they are on the lid or underneath. There is room for westbound offramps on the lid – what’s under them? could the GP lanes be shifted to create room? The current design precludes off-peak service (or any service) using the stops on the lid and continuing toward I-5 (and the reverse).

      2. It just seems foolish to me that, with all the space on the lid, they can’t get the HOV ramps to continue across Montlake. That would let buses exit 520, stop at a flyer stop on top of the lid, and then re-enter 520. Those that wanted to exit to (or enter from) UW could also do so.

        For westbound traffic it’s practically done already, but for eastbound they’d have to get rid of that U-turn ramp or find a creative way over it.

      3. Trying to understand why portage bay bridge needs to be eight lanes.
        I see perhaps seven lanes for a brief part of it, for acceleration lane joining westbound HOV lane, but I’m unable to picture a need for a fourth lane Eastbound, or for the portage bay section to be any more than six lanes past the disused track.

        If Montlake neighborhood groups aren’t opposed, there must be another stakeholder who is.
        UW and WSDOT seem like the only ones with the pull to nix the flyer, and I’m not sure why either cares.

      4. The best way to narrow the footprint of the interchange and build new flyer stops is to A) put the stops up on the lid. That’s more convenient for passengers and it gives the buses the advantage of a down hill run getting back on the HOV lane. Look at how it’s done at Totem Lake or any of the other center access transit centers. B) Eliminate the westbound on ramp and eastbound off ramp. A simple half diamond interchange without any cloverleafs would be ample if C) Peak hour access at Montlake is HOV/Transit only. WSDOT still doesn’t comprehend the idea of moving more people instead of more vehicles.

  7. This talks about a second bascule bridge, but is it the second bascule bridge that has been proposed, or is that the east bridge on the image in today’s 520 light rail post and this is just a way to widen Montlake?

    1. Actually, the core of what I was envisioning was a way for 520 buses not to interact at all with traffic on Montlake en route to UW station, by way of a dedicated bus ramp that crossed its own dedicated bridge to a transit center.

  8. In today’s budgetary climate, a second bridge while still fitting I-90 for light rail is ridiculous. Hasn’t your mother ever told you — finish the box of cookies you just opened, before opening a new one?

    1. As it happens, transportation planning presents a different set of challenges than does child rearing.

    2. It takes several years to plan and build a line, bridge, or freeway. If you wait till one is finished before starting another, the existing projects wouldn’t be done until 2060, and many of us will be dead by then. And 520 needs a replacement now, not in thirty years. The problem is that we’ve deferred all this maintenance and transit/circulation improvements and the infrastructure is falling apart now. So the best solution is not to wait, but to go back in time and fix it ten years ago. But we can’t do that.

      Although I do find it laughable that we can plan ahead past 2030. A drastic fuel shortage or climate change may not happen in ten years, it it’s hard to imagine it won’t happen in the thirty years after that.

  9. So, Metro and ST figured how long it would take to walk from UW Station to UW Medical Center. However, most people at UW Station who are already on a bus would just stay on the bus until they get to the stop closest to where they want to go on campus.

    If most of the buses serve UW Station (and most will have to to provide sufficient capacity for the commuters riding Link into UW Station), then the time between buses will be less than a couple minutes. Few will walk to their campus destinations unless they just wanted to take a long walk.

    I think Metro and ST made a huge mistake deciding to have all the buses skip UW Station, and used painfully obviously flawed assumptions to justify that tragic decision.

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