Photo by Oran

[UPDATE: To be clear, I’m not saying a bus/rail transfer is necessarily a bad idea, especially if congestion on I-5 gets much worse. I’m saying if you’re going to do it you might as well do it at Rainier Beach.]

Late last year I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation for bus-rail transfers at Rainier Beach, which everyone agrees is not an optimal setup. The outcome of that analysis was that sending buses to Rainier Beach instead of downtown cost the baseline rider 8 minutes while saving about $4.4m a year, savings that could be reinvested in more frequent buses. This time gap could decrease significantly in bad traffic or if the final destination was far north of Sodo, but increases with the walking and wait time associated with a transfer.

Various people in the know have suggested S. 133rd St. as a possible station site, one that would provide more direct access for freeway buses and save even more operating costs. However, Google Maps (and the 150 schedule) suggests an unimpaired I-5 bus takes about 12 minutes to get from S. 133rd St. to Sodo Station; the Link schedule plus some interpolation suggests Link would take 20 minutes. Although someone with more analysis chops can prove me wrong, the time penalty appears to be the same 8 minutes. The 5 minutes it would take a bus to drive from Interurban to Rainier Beach is the same 5 minutes it takes the train to cover the same distance.

Of course, the bus savings would be larger; on the other hand, Sound Transit would have to spend at least tens of millions to actually build the station. And of course, you’d be increasing travel times on Link by a few minutes as well. If there’s any real engineering analysis of this station, I haven’t seen it, but the initial look is not promising at all.

46 Replies to “Rethinking S. 133rd St”

  1. I don’t think it makes sense to truncate bus routes at rail unless the rail route is as fast as or faster than the equivalent bus route (incl. transfer and wait times). I think there are opportunities on this for the u-link/north link because of the dedicated ROW (in this case a tunnel) and high spacing makes for faster trips. On south link though, the trains have to go the speed limit on MLK, and the stations are too close together. If there was ever a Sodo -> Georgetown -> Points south express along the BNSF ROW, that would be a fine alternative to bus routes because it could actually go faster than the bus.

    I don’t think it’s a bad idea to force people to switch modes when the trip will be faster, but it’s a bad idea to force people to switch modes AND make the trip slower.

    1. Why do you think a more direct rail route would be faster than the bus? Buses are running 55mph with no stops on a straight-ish freeway. There is no way to make a bus/rail transfer faster no matter what you do.

      1. I suspect if there were a time advantage it would be due to the train not having to fart about getting from I-5 to the SODO busway and back off again at Royal Brougham, and the ability of the train to preempt or avoid the signals at Lander and Holgate.

        Which is not to say that I think this station would be justified on the basis of bus transfers. It might make sense sometime in the distant future after Highline is built, if Tukwila were ever seized by the desire to do the Surrey-style towers-surrounded-by-cows development that some folks seem to love.

      2. The presumption is that there will be a lot more people coming into the Puget Sound region over the next 50 years. And when they get here, the idea of a 55 mph commute into downtown will be nostalgically remembered by a bunch of old farts that have lived in the area since before there was light rail.

        When (if) LINK is fully built up south of the Airport–likely all the way to Tacoma–it would make sense to look at building a line through Georgetown/SODO into downtown. But until there is more than just the airport (and TIBS) on the line south of Rainier Valley, there won’t be enough ridership to justify an express route from the airport to downtown.

        At the intersection where SR-509 connects to E Marginal Way or 1st Ave S the traffic signals allow 210 seconds of green light per cycle during rush hours for the Burien/Des Moines commuters. There are a lot of cars coming from that area into downtown Seattle every morning.

      3. Because Sounder from Tukwila to King Street Station is TWELVE minutes. That’s faster than driving between the two points.

        I still say a Boeing Access Road intermodal station with a frequent Sounder or DMU style trains would be a good solution.

      4. Honestly, is there demand for frequent all-day service from Tukwila to downtown Seattle?

        Should we be trying to anticipate such demand when we can’t adequately serve Seattle with high-capacity transit? What kind of message does that send out to developers if we’re willing to spend millions providing high-speed all day service to downtown Seattle from the suburbs? That kind of counteracts our intent to encourage people to live in the more-readily-upzoned urban center.

      5. “Honestly, is there demand for frequent all-day service from Tukwila to downtown Seattle?”

        The 150 is already 15-minute frequency weekdays/Saturdays. It’s the gateway to all of central-south King County, so greater frequency would be used.

      6. “the idea of a 55 mph commute into downtown will be nostalgically remembered by a bunch of old farts that have lived in the area since before there was light rail.”

        That reminds me of a quote in “Sprawl: A Compact History” (Bruegemann), a pro-sprawl book. It discussed how annoyed Los Angelinos get about congestion, in a way that New Yorkers don’t. He said that points out the success of more freeways in reducing congestion. The reason Angelinos are annoyed that they can’t drive 55 mph through Hollywood and Pasadena at rush hour is because they remember that their parents could do that in the 40s and 50s. In other words, the freeways worked initially to reduce congestion. But Manhattanites “never entertained the notion” that they could drive from Harlem to downtown in ten minutes — the idea sounds laughable and incompatible with their city’s character — so they don’t mourn the loss of it.

    2. I generally agree about travel time, but let me just point out that in your statement there is an implicit assumption that everyone wants to go downtown. Allowing/forcing a transfer to Link would significantly reduce travel times to other non-CBD destinations served by LINK. I would agree that most people probably do want to go downtown, especially since the valley doesn’t have a ton of employment, but that is an assumption to keep in mind.

      1. If you look at the on/off data, you can come to the conclusion that about half(?) of the rides start or end in the Rainier Valley. The Rainier Valley has about a third of Link’s (current) stops.

    3. What are the plans for Rainier Station once East Link is built? I rode the 550 a couple of weeks ago because of the 520 closure and was surprised at how many people got on the bus at the I-90 freeway station going to Bellevue on a Sunday afternoon (granted the bus was an hour late because of a westbound accident on the bridge).

      1. There has been at least some discussion of extending the First Hill Streetcar down Rainier to the Station and then continuing it down to Mt. Baker.

        That’d be pretty sweet IMO.

      2. Extending the First Hill street car down to the MT Baker station would make sense. I would think the more major stations that you can connect with transfers, the higher ridership you will get.

      3. There’s no point running a streetcar down to Mount Baker unless you run it down to Columbia City or south. High demand and high loads on the 7 extend way down south, and you aren’t going to intercept much of that demand with a streetcar at Mount Baker.

        The problem with the 7 is that it’s very long and extremely busy. The solution is to shuffle trips south of Columbia City onto Link, which can handle those extra people easily, and then run a shorter, more reliable route from Genessee to Downtown. That’s why I like Martin’s plan.

        Also keep in mind that the part of Ranier between Jackson and I-90 is often badly congested, and a streetcar sitting in traffic is just a very expensive bus sitting in traffic.

        If I were going to build a streetcar on Ranier (and I’m not sure that I would, absent a big upzone on Ranier south of Columbia City), it would be from Henderson to Genessee, turning left there to provide an optimized transfer to Link. Then I’d axe the 7, make the 9 full time frequent service, and run the 34 from Genessee to Downtown. I’d build it center-running as convertible to light rail with a view to a possible extension out to Renton, replacing the very busy 106.

      4. Bernie, the plan is to rebuild the station, replacing the shadow-obscured ramps and stairs with presumably elevator/escalator-containing entrances on both Rainier and 23rd. A vast improvement.

        How (or whether) the station will continue to serve highway buses once the trains arrive is presumably unknown.

      5. ST hasn’t figured out the details, but yes, busses are expected to share the roadway between IDS and Ranier Station, including the station itself.

      6. Wait, really?

        That doesn’t seem right, considering that the new HOV lanes are to end up on the outside of the general-purpose lanes, and considering that the inauguration of East Link was supposed to spell the end of shared bus-rail ROW.

      7. The First Hill Streetcar can’t serve both Broadway and Intl Dist and Rainier without a long slow backtrack. (I’m only slightly optimistic that the streetcar speed on Jackson will be faster than the current buses’ speed.) It would have to be two routes; slice them as you wish. (Intl Dist-Capitol Hill and Intl Dist-Mt Baker, or Intl Dist-Capitol Hill and Capitol Hill-Mt Baker)

      8. I’ve wondered how they’re going to pull it off, too. But it’s in the EIS and still in the plan last I heard.

      9. There’s also no hard deadline for ending joint operations in the tunnel (or anywhere). Current plan is for it to continue until Link headways get short enough as to make it impossible for busses and trains to share reliably. It may still work at four minute headways (or it may not).

      10. the new HOV lanes are to end up on the outside of the general-purpose lanes,

        Not in the presentations by Sound Transit. Washington tried putting HOV lanes on the outside when the idea first migrated up from California. The thinking was, hey, this’ll be just as good but cheaper (like sinking bridges and concrete mushroom stadiums). It’s a disaster, because like on 520 you have “the weave” with GP traffic.

      11. The East Link DEIS contains drawings showing that they have the option of joint bus-rail operations on the D2 roadway. The Link station would be completely separate and east of the existing flyer stop, positioned between Rainier and 23rd. Note that the DEIS also says that the Rainier flyer stop would be retained no matter if joint operations are used or not; the ramps to accommodate this exist today on I-90 (to access to/from the west).
        See page 8 of Chapter 2 of the DEIS, pages 17-18 of the Segment A drawing and the Rainier Station drawing from Appendix G1 of the DEIS.

      12. Bernie and Jason,

        You are correct. I’d forgotten that the current bus pull-off over Rainier were so well-separated from the express through-lanes and that it is centered over Rainier, putting it quite far from the rail station (whose plan I had correctly recalled) and leading to no inherent conflict. You could build an angled pedestrian ramp between the bus and rail platforms, but such transfers will be so rare at this location that it doesn’t seem necessary.

        As for the floating segment, I had strangely thought that they were widening the floating bridges and building the HOV lanes outside of (and with concrete segregation from) the existing structures. I was obviously wrong about that; it looks like they’re just re-striping, cutting the shoulders in half to make way from the HOVs.


        I suppose joint operations just from the flyover station to the 5th Ave S. ramp wouldn’t be the end of the world… as long as they don’t make it work like the current I.D. station merger that requires trains to slow to a crawl whether or not there are any conflicting vehicles to be found.

        Keeping buses in the tunnel for any extended period, however, would be the height of insanity! Train headways are not the problem — trains can comfortably operate at 90 intervals if the transit agency is so inclined. But the padded bus-train separation signals and inherently slower-boarding buses we have now would be disastrous even if all on-board payment disappeared.

        The reason that mass-transit cities don’t have the “downtown transfer penalty” we have is that through-routing does not mean slow-routing. In the very part of the city that is most bottlenecked for cars and buses, true mass transit just sails through at the same speed as on the rest of its corridor — there’s no cross-traffic, no lights, and boarding is no slower no matter the volume of wheelchairs, bikes, and general passengers. If downtown is your transfer point rather than your destination, you just sail in, switch, and sail out in a different direction. (Even if only one of your vehicles is a subway, the transfer penalty is still cut in half.)

        What could send a worse message than a joint-operations continence? “Take our gleaming new train from Northgate to Bellevue! It’ll still #%^$ you downtown!”

        Or, in other words: “Aren’t you glad you have your car and we built that Deep Bore Downtown Bypass?”

      13. I could be wrong about this but I think the initial R-8A plan is for WSDOT to use the outer lanes for HOV while the center roadway is still available for reversible lanes. If those go away (declared surplus because nobody is using them) then the ramps will be reconfigured and the inside (e.g. “fast” lane) will become HOV and transit.

      14. Shared ROW from IDS to Rainier ONLY makes practical sense, as well as shared platforms. Buses get to keep their exclusive freeway I-90 access at 5th Ave without expensive new ramps. We get to save space at the station, and simplify things for transferring riders. We don’t have to worry about capacity issues from shared use, because East Link will be sharing the DSTT with Central Link, and that will still be the capacity bottleneck.

        I worry if it would require the same type of guarded barricades that are now at the ends of the DSTT, though? That could be quite inconvenient and expensive.

        It’s worth noting that the station appears to be sited much closer to 23rd than Rainier. This somewhat repays the 48 for its loss of the transfer point at 520, and nicely improves the current labyrinthine half-mile transfer at I-90. It also favors the 48 over the 7, although the 7’s transfer will still be dramatically improved by the escalators.

      15. I worry about a longer shared ROW, because the more stops there are, the more chance for a disabled bus to shut down part of the line.

      16. @d.p. The signals in the DSTT are set up for two minute headways between trains, and I was under the impression it’s the same for busses.

        Regardless, my main point was that there isn’t one particular drop-dead date or event that will terminate joint operations. Current plan is to keep it going as long as feasible, but that may change. I mean, they have more than a decade to change their minds.

      17. Lack,

        The “same type of guarded barricades” is exactly my worry as well. With any shared ROW at all, you know we’ll get them, since they are a security measure to keep unauthorized vehicles (terrorists!) out of the tunnel. The gates would impede the buses in a more abrupt way than the trains, but I.D. station suggests they would make the trains inch through the junction too.

        (Of course, the other option would be to flank the descending track from the shared ROW to the tunnel entrance with a tire-popping surface, but modern planners always prefer to anticipate the unlikely scenario that an emergency vehicle might need to drive down it and not have the time to circle down Airport Way. Hyper-redundancy at the expense of daily operations.)

        I can’t see shared platforms as necessary; the only transfer that might occur with any regularity would be eastbound train -> eastbound bus and westbound bus -> westbound train, and couldn’t those be better accomplished on Mercer somehow? This sole benefit might be outweighed by the ease of building, maintaining, and securing a single center platform, which buses would need left-side doors to use.


        I find it problematic even to keep joint DSTT operations going after U-Link opens. Beacon Hill to Cap Hill should drop to a 12-minute ride, but oh-gosh-look-at-that it just took 25 because a Sounders game got out and the train was “being held due to traffic ahead.” How is that an improvement over what currently passes for transit in Seattle? How does that engender trust and loyalty?

        Realistically, though, I recognize the value of having direct highway-to-tunnel ramps for at least the 41 and 550 until their respective Link replacements exist. Once that happens, joint tunnel operations need to disappear!

      18. Bruce, There needs to be serious/frequent east/west connectors at major cross streets in Rainier valley between Seward Park, Rainier Ave, MLK and Beacon Ave. I’d suggest Henderson, Othello, Graham, Orcas and Alaska. They can be the little DART size buses and go in “lazy 8” patterns between these streets.

        If we’re serious about getting people out of their cars, and eliminating the need to drive, then this style of service that blankets a neighborhood -especially one that’s very hilly- with frequent shuttle service is the ticket. This service will feed the north south bus and train routes and solve a major impediment to people taking light rail instead of driving.

    4. Split the 101 and 150 into two routes, an all day route that terminates at Rainier Beach and a peak only route to downtown. This gives you most of the cost savings while preserving one seat rides for most riders. There aren’t going to be many empty seats on Link during rush hour anyway.

    1. My guess would be that those blocks are there in case of a derailment on the bridge–the blocks would keep the train cars more or less in place after they came off the rails. On most bridges there is another set of steel rails on the inside of the rails, to prevent disaster in case of derailments. I’m guessing that ST used some sort of reinforced concrete instead of steel on that bridge.

  2. My hesitation on the S 133rd station is I’m afraid that only the 150 would use it. It’s not really suited for Burien or Renton; a Duwamish-Interurban-133rd line would have low ridership; and there are no houses or shops nearby. It could be a P&R, but there’s already a P&R at TIB. (The Interurban P&R is small, and how important is it anyway? It mainly exists because Link and better local buses didn’t exist when it was built. It’s not near anybody’s house.)

    The station cost would be extraordanary just to meet one 15-minute bus.

    Buses from further south could just as easily transfer to Link at Highline CC, Redondo, or Federal Way TC. That would save even more bus-miles than transferring at 133rd. We often say that Link from downtown to Federal Way or Tacoma would take too long compared to ST Express, but that’s for the entire length including the 8-minute penalty. The additional penalty of transferring at Federal Way rather than 133rd is the distance between those stations, and that would only be three or four minutes. (65 mph vs 55; stops vs no stops)

    1. Costs of building a new station at S. 133rd would be mitigated by the fact that most of the rail infrastructure is already there — 400 feet of straight and level track, crossover switches, a TPSS, and even an emergency exit stairway.

      Problems would come with the property, however. City of Tukwila probably has this area zoned industrial (current owner/occupant is a paint manufacturer; environmental conditions underground are anyone’s guess). Finding a suitable relocation site for a paint manufacturer would be challenging. Relocation and cleanup costs would be on Sound Transit, in addition to costs to buy the land.

    2. Which routes would you add or change? The ones I can see are:

      – Keep the 150 going north on Interurban to the Gateway office park, and possibly further to Georgetown, SODO and downtown. That may help the spotty service in Georgetown, and improve frequency in the Boeing/Museum of Flight area (currently half-hourly on the 124).

      – A Riverton Heights route from Burien to S 136th to the 133rd station. My friend lives here, it’s a 1.5 mile hilly walk to TIB, a 1-mile circuitous walk to the A, the other area buses are infrequent and slow, and there’s no east-west bus except a peak-hour one to TIB. (The only way to get to Burien or the stores near it is to walk or drive.)

  3. A couple of points, the time penalty isn’t just the difference between the running times between RBS and the CBD. You have to add the time to exit the bus, walk to the platform and wait an average of 1/2 the headway time. So the 8 minute time now becomes something like 14. Unhappy riders choose with their feet. Lot’s would shift back to cars, or just ‘tar and feather’ Ms. Patterson.
    Second, when riders get within about 2/3 the trip distance to their destination, they absolutely hate being transferred. More pissed off riders, more mobs in the street shouting “off with her head”.
    This is not a pretty picture.

    1. Although this could be done off-peak only or evening/weekend only to avoid pissing off commuters with their “time is money” worries.

      I would compare it to the 101/102 distinction except that there is no equivalent on the 150. For instance, you could truncate the 101 at Rainier Beach but keep the 102 as a peak express (rerouting both to serve Renton TC before SRP&R). That would keep commuters happy and also avoid cutting all bus service from Fairwood. But there’s no equivalent on the 150 except by adding a peak express, and then everyone would take the express and the local would be empty.

      But in either case, an off-peak truncation with a longer travel time off-peak can be defended if it increases frequency. If you double the frequency, people would see that they’re getting something for the truncation, rather than just a deterioration of service.

  4. back to Martin’s topic: a South 133rd Street station would serve local riders as well as Route 150 riders; Route 150 would not necessarily be truncated at that station, but could be extended to another market with which riders would want connectivity. each Link station becomes a de facto transit center. also, it is not a question of travel time alone, but also of service frequency and reliability; Link will be more reliable. There are many markets where non-stop bus is faster, but bus routes are redeployed any way (e.g., Route 194 at SeaTac, Route 301 in Shoreline). note an infill station is yet another way to spend short South King County ST2 funds.

  5. Consider the time advantage of coupling routes with the 101. How much is the transfer penalty currently at South Renton P&R? Is it less than the penalty for transfering at RBS? I’m talking peak, mid-day, and weekends.

    Of course, restoring span of service on the 101 would take pulling service hours from somewhere, like all that duplicate-head on I-5.

    1. There has been a suggestion to join the 101 to the 169. That in itself could be a radical enough change for Metro to justify truncating it at Rainier Beach.

Comments are closed.