North Link Alternatives, from 2005 (Sound Transit)

Community Transit is in trouble. Like almost all transit agencies, they have implemented deep cuts with more to come, and no relief on the horizon: unlike most other agencies, they are out of taxing authority without action by the legislature.

However, there’s a lot of reason to be hopeful about CT’s future, for one reason: North Link.

Link serves a variety of purposes, and as a result it’s often not optimized to beat the express bus every time, particularly if passengers have to transfer. There are many opinions about that, but it certainly does make it less desirable to eliminate service that is somewhat redundant with Link, even if it’s not as reliable and less frequent.

In this case, a large number of CT Commuter buses are traveling a congested freeway between Lynnwood and Seattle with few or no stops. Link will likely have no segments at-grade with arterial traffic and therefore run at 55mph, and serve both the U-District and downtown Seattle on a single line. The 2005 issue paper indicates a 29 minute travel time from Lynnwood to downtown via I-5 and 30 minutes via Aurora, in either case faster than today’s buses with higher reliability. In the 2020s, CT could eliminate or truncate a whole class of routes and cut a huge operating expense without negatively impacting the passenger experience.

Of course, Sound Transit and North Link  have budget woes of their own. However, within the Snohomish subarea it makes sense to rob every other program to fund high-capacity transit, as its existence will transform the ability of CT to serve local travel needs.

44 Replies to “Be Bullish on Community Transit”

  1. I agree 100% not only would it cut pollutants, & congestion, but it would also improve bus utilization since the buses wouldn’t have to travel empty or sit idle all day.

    I never understood why Sound Transit or KC Metro doesn’t already operate those routes as the buses could be used in Seattle between rush hour trips (only parking at night in Snohomish County)

    1. Well KC Metro has the same problem. They’ve got a bunch of peak hour routes. I’m sure there are some buses in use all day, and others that are just used during the peak time.

    2. If you are able to have people come to Link stations via transit, that will be a way to reduce vehicular congestion. Skytrain in Vancovuer has 80% of passengers coming from buses. I think once North Link is up, I-5 should be tolled as there is a viable alternative to driving since expansion will be extremely cost prohibitive.

      1. Uh, Skytrain runs obliquely to the bus grid so it is able to generate a lot (a lot!) of transfers to it. Link runs in parallel (mostly for rather obvious geographic reasons) to the existing N-S routes so its ability to do that is limited.

      2. “Uh, Skytrain runs obliquely to the bus grid so it is able to generate a lot (a lot!) of transfers to it.”

        That’s because Translink reconfigured its bus routes to be that way. It wasn’t always like that.

      3. Of course. But they also had the existing human and natural geography to support that tweaking.

        Let me put it THIS way, then… Skytrain runs obliquely to the street grid. Link runs about as obliquely as I-5 when there is a street grid at all.

      4. I don’t understand what your point is. The whole intent of Link is to replace the N-S bus service in to downtown, so that bus service can be freed up to provide better neighborhood connections. This is the exact same model that Vancouver followed with recent SkyTrain lines. They’re are plenty of opportunities to reinforce and create new E-W bus corridors connecting to Link along its length.

        And only the first SkyTrain line runs obliquely to the street grid, and that happened only because they chose to re-use the old interurban ROW that dates from the end of the 19th century, not because of any clever planning on their part.

      5. I am not sure why this is so difficult to communicate.

        First, that’s not the whole point of Link. The point of Link is to provide more reliable and generally faster transit along a fixed corridor. It is not a commuter train.

        Second, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to create E-W bus corridors in the North End. The roads simply don’t go through with the exception of like three corridors! Unless you want bus lines that are like three miles long, tops.

        Third, I’m not suggesting that it’s clever planning, it’s just that the re-routing options aren’t really available to CT short of straight up cutting their freeway routes and moving a few buses to the existing routes.

  2. Don’t forget than much of CT’s service to Seattle is peak period, peak direction only.

      1. Yeah, I was surprised to see it present in the document. I guess it’s not about end-to-end travel, but longer local trips. The 510/513 would likely be faster except during times of exceptional traffic.

        I wonder how it would compare to the 201/202 (there’s no express service between Lynnwood and Everett).

      2. Nothing is slower than a 510 bus stuck in traffic on I-5 around UW. A 510 that runs every 30 minutes.

        Much better headways? Consistent(!) travel times? Smooth ride? Link to Everett? Yes, please!

      3. Kyle: Not at all. Any vote on that is years off. However, light rail to Everett could get from Seattle to Everett just as fast as a 510 in mild traffic, but also allow people from destinations other than the current express bus stops, which are just in a couple major urban centers, to get around. For instance, right now there is no direct bus from Downtown Everett to UW, but that could be a high-ridership reporter.

  3. Truncate all routes that cross into king county at the closest link station to the county line as soon as Link reaches that point (well at least along the I-5 corridor anyway) and announce that plan as soon as link routing has been determined, so that people can get used to the idea that thye will have to take link (or transfer to a Metro bus route at the county line. As link penetrates further north, transfer from main corridors going North South to main corridors going East West tying into link stations.

    Either redeploy the buses freedup by not having to go into Seattle, to other routes within Snohomish county, or Sell them to the highest bidder (ok mothball some of them for later expansion)

    1. Well that won’t make a whole lot of sense when the University of Washington station opens, by the time they get to where they’d have to split off to the UoW station they’d already have been through most of the traffic. Plus it’d be adding a bunch of traffic to the University area that doesn’t need to be there.

      1. I was refering to Nothlink after Northgate, not Ulink ;)
        Idealy we are looking at a station that sits on the county line, as teh terminus for the majority of the CT busses going into King county

        Lor Scara

  4. How much would it cost to extend swift to the mountlake terrace freeway station/light rail station?

    I’m pretty sure that would boost ridership as well.

    1. It would require building a roadway connection from SR-104 to the station. Currently there isn’t a route that wouldn’t require going way out of the way on slow secondary arterials. One does already exist in the reverse direction.

    2. Back of the envelope: Roughly 9500 annual in-service hours and $250,000 in annual driver wages. But it would require 1-2 Swift buses that aren’t available.

  5. I totally agree — a great opportunity by focusing resources on a single high capacity mode, allowing the rest of the county to get better service.

    From that perspective, it’s too bad that link south of Seatac doesn’t approximate the sounder route. Sounder falls short of providing transit service levels, and who knows when link will actually get to Federal Way, let alone Tacoma. It would have happened a lot sooner if we had prioritized one rail connection instead of two.

  6. 29 minutes from Seattle to Lynnwood is not “faster than today’s buses”. I catch Sound Transit’s 511 @ 7:10 each morning, and we pull into Lynnwood Transit Center 25 minutes later.

    1. Perhaps because that’s a reverse commute. Link would have consistent times of about a half-hour. Said express buses could vary from a half-hour to over an hour depending on traffic. Plus, Link would run more often all day.

      That consistency is why Snohomish County is leaning toward light rail instead of more buses (BRT).

    2. The schedule says 30 min from 4th and Union to Lynnwood. That’s a lot closer to Westlake than Olive and Terry, which is where the 25-minute mark is.

    3. The non-reverse commute, from Lynnwood Transit Center to 9th & Stewart at 7:10 AM on the 401/402, takes 47 minutes according to the schedule on CT’s website. To 2nd & University, it’s 54 minutes. I used to commute from the Edmonds/Lynnwood border to downtown on the 406 (and before the 406 was put into service, on the 401/402 with a transfer to a local route). Traffic made that a seriously unpleasant commute.

    4. We don’t need another “194” debate about four minutes, although it’s probably inevitable. Link makes many varieties of cross-county and inter-county trips possible (that previously had no bus service or required transfering between local buses), has 10-minute or better frequency until 10pm, is faster than existing local and express buses for some trips, and is at worst a few minutes slower than point-to-point expresses during ideal traffic conditions.

      1. Especially since you’d probably spend more than those “extra” four minutes waiting for the bus to actually show up because of their infrequent headways.

  7. side-note, has there been a post on the Austin, TX metrorail? I happened to be down there for work and saw one of those units (DMU?) ride by… Nice looking. Appears they took an existing ROW to run it as a commuter line

  8. Maybe it’s time Community Transit, Everett Transit, Pierce Transit, King County Metro and Sound Transit MERGE into one agency? Yes I know, I keep beating this drum, but TriMet and TransLink work so well, why not one, unified agency in the Puget Sound? While we’re at it, throw in the ferry system and monorail too.

    1. You wouldent save any money thats for sure, metro used to have some of the highest operating costs per hour in the nation, and i’m sure if you tried to merge them that’d only spread to your new mega agency. Plus the big issue is that the local pol’s dont want to give up control of their independant agencies to some big one. Now i could see some umbrella agency like chicago’s RTA happening, controlling the pursestrings if someone found some new pot of money for transit in the region.

    2. When was TriMet created, and what did it replace? I’m just guessing but I think it was similar to Metro, created in the 70s or 80s, and subsuming a city bus system and skeletal (or nonexistent) suburban systems, in a financial/social climate where there was money for government investment. Today we have five extensive transit agencies, high public expectations, and (since Tuesday) no revenue sources to compensate for budget cuts. It would take a significant amount of money to merge the agencies, so it’s not going to happen. What if suburban interests dominated the super-agency and imposed 45/45/10 instead of 40/40/20?

  9. Once North Link opens to Lynnwood, CT could get out of the inter-county bus business altogether if they wish. North Link provides access to UW and downtown Seattle, and ST Express Bus provides access to the eastside.

    I could see CT providing around 5 trunk Swift lines connecting major centers to Link stations, and a lot of local service everywhere else.

  10. Anyone know about how many people travel into downtown seattle via CT bus each day? Seems like Link will be carrying a heavy load if large portions of people who formerly road the CT buses, the 41 and the 71/2/3 are all on Link

    1. I don’t know the number of people on the buses but between ST and CT there are 245 buses a day that go down I-5 from Lynnwood to Seattle. The same number of course go the other way. Half of those buses are ST 510/511 routes. The rest of the millions (joking) of CT routes that only run a couple of buses each during commutes. Most of these buses hold 50 sitting down so we could probably estimate but I think the point is that link would have decent ridership from the getgo just from commuters.

  11. 1. With clients in Lynnwood, I’ve been using CT a lot these past few years, and like them very much. One thing I really like: CT drivers automatically “kneel” the bus at every stop without being asked. The Route 101 (SR99 between Aurora Village and Mariner Park & Ride) is as “pushed” as anything KC Metro has. Anybody know why Metro doesn’t also kneel buses at every stop?

    2. Best thing that could happen for ST and CT express service to Seattle is to get a southbound bus lane on I-5 in the afternoon. Lynnwood and Everett buses routinely leave Seattle late northbound because they were stuck in traffic southbound getting into town. Yeah, it’s some serious structural engineering- but at this point in its design life, isn’t I-5 due for work?

    Mark Dublin

    1. RE Kneeling – This simple act adds a couple of seconds at each stop. While this helps a small subset of riders, it slows routes down. This adds both customer travel time as well as adding cost to the agency. I believe kneeling should be done on demand, not at every stop. While I’m sure that other agencies kneel at every stop, there’s not many.

      RE I-5 – North Link will remove the need for a bus lane. Moreover, there is no room or $$$ to do this. I can see the appeal, though. I suffered for 4 years on the reverse commute 510 – when afternoon traffic could extend a trip by 30 minutes or more, you just never knew.

      1. Re: kneeling: Next time I ride the 101 I’ll time it. My sense is that it takes more time to kneel the bus on special request than to just do it automatically. The way it works in Lynnwood- and other places where kneel every stop is policy- every single passenger boarding gets on the kneeled bus faster. A kneeled bus doesn’t seem to slow a line of boarding passengers down, at least when CT does it.

        Can’t prove it, but sense I get is it’s an attitude problem KC Metro needs to get ready to lose on a lot of fronts. My wife and I are planning on making an ADA case of it, though it really frosts me we have to. CT can do it, we can do it.

        Re: the freeway lanes: What’s projected year for LINK to get to Lynnwood? How long did it take us just to get LINK to the airport. Multiply out the service delays between then and now, and it could very well exceed more than the cost of the alterations. Attitude again: if it’s going to happen someday, it’s okay to let service suck ’til it does.

        Like the rest of the country’s freeway system, that structure’s overdue to be replaced or upgraded. Might as well at least work the new lane into the plans. Look at it this way: even if the Republicans take over, I-5 is still a defense highway.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Mark,

        There’s been a study done with some data that shows the impacts of kneeling vs. non-kneeling. It’s not in the US, but the results are interesting.

        My read of the conclusions is that there is a very slight increase in dwell time when you kneel at every stop.

        I am not an expert on ADA, but I’m pretty sure that you don’t have a case making all buses kneel all the time. As long as you are offered the same things that an ambulatory person has (the option for a kneeling bus), you have no basis for an ADA claim. Of course, if operators refuse to kneel or lower the lift for you, then you do have a case.

        2023 is the tentative date for North Link completion to Lynnwood. I would expect that date to slip given ST’s finances.

        I don’t know how much time WSDOT bought themselves by grinding I-5 the past couple of years, but you’re right that at some time in the next decades, it will need reconstruction. Given the right-of-way limitations (there is no room for additional lanes, so a bus lane would take a general purpose lane) combined with traffic levels make adding a bus lane extremely unlikely.

  12. we (ct drivers) are not required to kneel the bus but we do most of the time, and almost always at LTC where large crowds usually board. On routes like 101 it can delay us lowering at 20+ stops, but most of us do it out of habit and to be nice to passengers.

  13. Martin et. al, Community Transit doesn’t have to wait until the light rail makes it to Lynnwood – which may or may not be 2023 with the economy the way it is – because they have something the other agencies don’t: the Double Talls. Twenty three of them are due any time now, and for now they’re replacing the same number of articulated buses, yet they carry ~25% more passengers, about 460 more seats altogether per run, or perhaps 3x per peak period, for downtown-bound riders. Re: Swift, it’s impractical to extend it to Mountlake Terrace for cost reasons #1, but also because the 216th Swift station is around the corner from buses that head for downtown as well as the UW from Edmonds Park & Ride already, while Metro’s #301 is an express to downtown from Aurora Village, #373 goes to the UW from there. The only agency combination that makes sense at present is Everett Transit with the agency whose service surrounds it and whose bases are in the city of Everett as it is, Community Transit.

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