Metro’s frequent service map for the Eastside

Bellevue is in the midst of updating its Transit Master Plan (TMP), which will serve as a much-needed update to the 2003 plan, adopted once upon a time when transit took a backseat to other transportation priorities.  Since then, ridership in Bellevue has increased nearly twofold from 22,000 daily boardings in 2003 to over 40,000 last year.  The new and improved plan is much more comprehensive than its predecessor and is constructed on nine project principles (PDF), which range from considerations of future growth and development, to accommodations of light rail expansion and companion projects.

While the Bellevue TMP won’t mirror its counterpart in Seattle in terms of identifying high-capacity/rapid streetcar/rail corridors, it does largely hinge on accommodating Metro’s new service guidelines, which emphasize things like productivity, frequency, and geographic value, rather than the one-seat-ride-oriented approach that the agency has taken in years past.  For a brief primer on the TMP, you can watch a video short about the project.

More below the jump.

To initiate the development of the plan, Bellevue transportation planners underwent a comprehensive outreach process (PDF), part of which included an extensive 95-question survey.  A few outreach results are summarized below:

  • According to a February budget survey, a whopping 83% of Bellevue residents agreed that the City should “work with regional agencies to improve local and regional public transportation serving Bellevue.”
  • For survey respondents who did not take transit regularly, top priorities for improving transit included: speed, simpler routes/schedules, availability of real-time info, stop proximity to destination, and frequency.
  • When asked for the best way City resources could be best spent to improve transit, 30% said speed/reliability improvements, 11% said wayfinding/information at transit facilities, 19% said real-time information, and 14% said added parking at park-and-rides.

In addition to outreach, planners also compiled a lengthy and comprehensive network profile (PDF) of current transit in Bellevue (recommended reading for anyone interested in becoming well-versed in Bellevue transit).  While the intention of the TMP is not to redesign Metro’s network or hijack the agency’s operations planning efforts, the plan will play a large role in both the City’s capital contributions to infrastructure improvements as well as coordination with municipal land use planning.  Things like determining what kind of corridors could use transit priority treatments or how certain land use districts should be served in the future will be under consideration.

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to sit down with various members of the city’s citizen boards and commissions to talk about the principles of the TMP, and what kind of visioning Bellevue should do to improve its standing in the transit world.  The forum turned out to be more or less a crash course in Transit Planning 101, Jarrett Walker style.  Discussion topics largely centered on tradeoffs in planning, including peak vs. all-day service, direct service vs. connective network, frequency/ridership vs. coverage, and even if it was better to provide priority for transit if it came at the expense of other vehicular traffic.

The discussion also primarily generated a few common themes:

  • Transit in Bellevue was agreed to be most useful for commuters but much less so for those taking non-work trips, like doctor visits, grocery shopping, etc.  While some used this observation to argue for a more peak-oriented network, the importance of serving all travel needs dayround was raised, particularly for the growing number of transit-dependent riders in the city.
  • Questions of covering the last mile produced varying opinions.  Some argued for better vehicular access to local park and rides, which was highly indicative of notions of car dependency in Bellevue, even when approaching transit.
  • A number of the elderly participants seemed partial to the concept of a downtown Bellevue circulator, an idea which has been on the backburner for a while.  However, favor towards a circulator quickly waned after examples of transit rich cities were brought up, places where center city mobility is enhanced thanks to an interwoven frequent network rather than a redundant circulator.

While many of the forum attendees had not been previously exposed to the more technical layers of transit planning, basic lessons of geometry and transit’s mathematical attributes convinced many to vouch for a frequent connection-oriented network focused on productivity while maintaining equity.

The City is slated to adopt the TMP by the end of 2013 so it’s still relatively early on in the process.  Through the outreach and briefing process, planners have already got a fairly solid footing on the plan’s direction, which means we’ll see a lot more talk about transit in Bellevue in the coming months.

27 Replies to “Initiating Bellevue’s Transit Master Plan”

  1. I’m disturbed about the frequent statements that this or that all-day route is overserved and should be cut down to half-hourly or even hourly headways. They’re really acvocating cutting service on the 245, 255, and 271? How much ridership do they require? The Bellevue City Council saying this, combined with the recent news about Metro’s infrequent late-night service to Ballard, disturbs me greatly.

    1. They are using Metro’s metrics to determine whether a route is overserved. And from a Metro-wide perspective, a number of Eastside routes are indeed overserved. The dollars paying for that service would benefit more riders if used in Seattle or South King County. Now that 40-40-20 is history, such reallocation could at least theoretically happen, if it could get past the council.

      1. I can’t really object since I don’t have the Seattle numbers in front of me. However, if these recommendations are followed, the only all-day frequent service left on the Eastside would be Rapid Ride B (still listed as the 253 for some reason). I’m leaving out the ST routes since the report didn’t go into detail on those, but they hardly add any intra-Eastside connectivity. Perhaps all but a handful of Eastside transit-lovers have already moved to Seattle, or perhaps we’re serving the wrong areas like Joshua says below, but I’m still disturbed when a local Eastside group advocates totally tearing up the frequent network.

      2. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see more transit mobility and more frequent service on the Eastside, particularly within and between the walkable areas of West Bellevue, East Bellevue, and Kirkland. It’s just hard to justify in a poor funding environment when the existing frequent service (except the 550 and RR B) is running 2/3 empty much of the day, and there are routes in both Seattle and the south end that are standing room only nearly all day long.

      3. I think more people would use the eastside’s local network if the routes weren’t so tortuous. I bet a straightened out route between Bellevue and Kirkland could gain enough ridership to (just barely) justify frequent service (maybe). Look at the map for the 234/235 and tell me you’d actually ride that if you had to get to Kirkland.

        That route, like so many in sparsely-populated suburbs (does anyone remember the pre-February 2012 Community Transit 120?), sends the bus out chasing riders. It can never be very successful that way.

  2. Transit needs to serve more non work areas if people are going to use them for non work trips. The the hot spots in Bellevue during the weekends and evenings are main street, bellevue and Lincoln square for restaurants and movies, and the downtown park. Transit is undeserving those areas. For example if you wanted to go from Kirkland to Bellevue square one evening or weekend the 235 takes close to 25-30 minutes and doesn’t even drop you off close to the square. It should keep a simple route and go straight down Bellevue way. Another example is rapid ride, why not just keep extending it down to the entertainment area of Bellevue and cover all of downtown, not what is used just 9-5 on weekdays. The reason no one rides for non work trips is it doesn’t connect to the non work, entertainment areas.

    1. Yeah, the 235 is awful. It’s largely South Kirkland P&R’s fault. South Kirkland P&R should be moved some place where through-going local buses can serve it without going out of their way. That probably either means along 108th at 520, or along Bellevue Way at 520. Then move Yarrow Point Freeway Station to a flyer stop at that location.

      1. In a Kirkland open house about the TOD at S. Kirkland P&R I suggested that Metro do a land swap with WSDOT who owns a large parcel adjacent to the freeway on the corner of 108th. The reaction was, “Gosh, that’s a good idea but we’re planning development here not transit.” The 255 could terminate at BTC instead of DT Seattle if only the P&R had a flyer stop.

      2. Agreed 100 percent. Can you imagine how successful a large development at the current S Kirkland P&R site could be?

        Although I don’t think you could truncate the 255. Both peak-hour 255s and peak-hour 545s are already bursting at the seams — you couldn’t dump all the 255 passengers onto the 545.

      3. You have to ask the question of what connections are you actually enabling by having local buses serve South Kirkland P&R and whether doing so really makes sense.

        The biggest connection South Kirkland P&R offers is the 255 to Seattle. However, if you’re approaching South Kirkland P&R from the north, you could have made the same connection to the 255 in downtown Kirkland, or just walked a few blocks and avoided the transfer altogether. Similarly, if you’re coming from downtown Bellevue, you don’t connect with the 255 at South Kirkland P&R to go to Seattle – you take the 271 or 550. Overlake Hospital is about the only place where such a connection to the 255 might make sense. And even then, you can still go through downtown Bellevue and take the 271 or 550 as an alternative.

        The 255 itself deviating into the South Kirkland P&R is another example of idiocy. What kind of a transit system sets things up where a northbound bus is forced to wait for a southbound bus to finish its wheelchair loading? (BTW: Are there any known instances of someone accidentally getting on the wrong bus at South Kirkland P&R, finding themselves heading to Kirkland instead of Seattle – with both directions sharing the same bus stop, this seems like a mistake waiting to happen).

      4. Are there any known instances of someone accidentally getting on the wrong bus at South Kirkland P&R

        Yep, my son did it once. Trying to get to the Amtrak station in Seattle he boarded the 255 head to Brickyard. I’m quite sure it happens on a daily basis. Building TOD there is the same stupid mistake made decades ago with Overlake Village. It will assure for all time that Metro service will be tortured into serving this out of the way location. And, there’s not a damn thing that can be done to stop it.

      5. Yep, people getting on the wrong bus at S Kirkland P&R happens *all the time*. It’s particularly bad when you have people who don’t normally ride going to ballgames.

        Just take out the P&R, build a big development, and have the 255 stop on the street outside rather than going in.

      6. you couldn’t dump all the 255 passengers onto the 545

        Aren’t there a lot more buses that cross 520 that could easily serve a flyer stop? Anyway, to completely bust this thread, a few days ago I was thinking there was a policy of free “bus hops” across 520. I was going to ask if anyone could confirm or deny this but in searching for buses using 520 I hit on the answer myself.

        all King County Metro and Sound Transit buses make stops to accommodate bicyclists traveling across SR-520 at all times – see eastbound and westbound service.

        The SR-520 ride free pilot project also provides free service across the bridge for bicyclists and other transit customers on out-of-service Metro and Sound Transit buses.

      7. SR 520 & 92ND Ave NEmore info‎
        Buses from this station:

        Couldn’t some or all of them serve a S. Kirkland P&R if it was a flyer stop at 108th?

      8. @Bernie: The list of routes with all-day service is much shorter than that: 255, 271, 545, and maybe the 542. The rest are all peak-only. The 271 and 542 go to the U District, so they can’t really replace the 255’s South Kirkland-downtown portion. Which leaves the 545, which doesn’t have much excess peak capacity left.

        In the reverse peak the deadheading commuter buses add lots of capacity, though at pretty random intervals, and they don’t pick up downtown, where most 255 reverse commuters board today. In the forward peak I don’t think there’s much excess capacity floating around the system, though I don’t know the forward peak as much as the reverse peak.

        There’s nothing wrong with Kirkland having a bus route to downtown and a bus route to Bellevue… the only problem is how much the route to Bellevue sucks.

      9. Yes, but keep in mind that in a few years peak buses will be terminating at the UW Link station anyway. I’d certainly trade the known frequency of the 255 (the bus I use the most) for the hodgepodge of buses just crossing the lake. But then I’ve always considered the Montlake stop as being “close enough” to the UW since I was in school there (’80 grad). What I could really use is a connection from S. Kirkland P&R to the Totem Lake flyer station that doesn’t eat the better part of an hour! The current 255 milk run north of the P&R is horrid. I’d even settle for a Houghton P&R to Totem Lake connection; you’d think that would be a no brainer… well, yeah I guess we got the result of no brains :-(

      10. If they were really making 520 a “bus rapid transit corridor” as WS-DOT advertised the project when they removed rail from the bridge planning, there would be a good flyer stop at Montlake and another one at 108th Ave NE in Kirkland, there would be HOV ramps to/from I-405 HOV, and they would add center transit stops at NE 70th St (with ped bridge to Houghton P&R) and at NE 85th St and maybe at NE 124th St.

        Then you could have the route you want – the 255 could become an all-day express route that offers connections to local service at 108th Ave NE (S. Kirkland), at NE 70th, at NE 85th, and at Totem Lake – and the 545 would also serve connections at 108th Ave NE. But this requires investment in transit infrastructure, and in general when we say bus rapid transit is like light rail but cheaper, it’s really the rationale for not making the infrastructure investments. I really don’t see why the $4 billion bridge/highway project doesn’t include a high-performance Montlake Flyer stop (no traffic lights or crossing GP traffic – which is their current design) and a Flyer stop at 108th that would enable some very important improvements to the network if it allowed buses to continue onto NB I-405

      11. As asdf says, there is not a lot of spare capacity on any of those routes. The only peak routes that go downtown are the 250, 252, 257, 260, 265, 268, and 311. Of those routes, only the 250 and 260 have capacity to spare. The “new” 265 is a combination of the old 265 and 266, and the others have always been full. The 250 and 260 between them are just 9 trips at each peak.

        I think pigs will fly before all those routes terminate at UW Link station. The outcry will exceed anything we’ve heard over any restructuring to date.

      12. There is little chance of SR-520 Downtown routes being terminated at Link Husky station. There isn’t layover space, the transfer is terrible, there isn’t a reliable fast route. Nothing about the design of the Montlake interchange, dedicated lanes, or routing around the Link station is designed to make it a quick or convenient transfer.

      13. From what I’ve been told at 520 open house presentations is WSDOT is designing the Lid interchange to accommodate what Metro has requested which is peak hour service will exit and terminate at the Husky Link station and off peak buses will continue to DT with a flyer stop on the lid. When completed the transit situation will be much improved because there will be direct HOV access. As bad as the Montlake mess is during peak it’s still better than the 520->I-5->DT mess since they aren’t even addressing the completely asinine merge across all lanes on I-5. But I think the main driver for Metro is that once U-Link opens there will be no space in the tunnel for the 255 and with even more buses on the surface basically no more room for buses DT period. As for layover space there’s a huge parking lot at the stadium that could be leased if layover space is needed but why wouldn’t eastside buses just loop back and return to the eastside?

      14. Now that I think about it some more I realized I misspoke. What Metro has told WSDOT is that peak bus service will blow through Montlake with stopping on the lid. Off peak will use the flyer stop. I still think I’d just as soon take my chances with a Link connection to DT than 520/I-5 and no bus tunnel. With a six lane 520 funneling into the existing I-5 mega-mess I can’t see that being a winner. There just shouldn’t even be a 520 west to I-5 south interchange and if there has to be one it certainly shouldn’t be merging with the “fast” lane.

      15. I think that the project includes a 520 HOV-only connection to the I-5 express lanes. So the 255 and 545 will both blow by Montlake and use the express lanes at least in one direction

      16. @Carl: I sort of agree, but…

        (a) It would be stupid to remove downtown Kirkland’s frequent transit connection to downtown Seattle, and there’s simply no “express” way there if “express” means “on the freeway”. You can accuse me of one-seat-ride-ism all you want, but if it takes two seats just to get across Lake Washington it may well take three to get where you’re going, and that makes transit impractical for people that value their time. Not every place should have a one-seat ride to downtown Seattle, but downtown Kirkland should.

        (b) Eastside local routes are going to have to get a lot more direct before anyone is going to transfer to them to go anywhere. The routes that go to Seattle tend to be the least-bad routes on the eastside.

    2. I have also noticed that most people who get off the 550 at Bellevue Way and NE 4th head up to Lincoln Square and Bellevue Place, Why not make the 550 continue on Bellevue Way and have the stop at the Art Museum where there is the pedestrian street and plaza. there is a lot more amenities around and better accommodations for those. the bus would continue to NE 8th or 10th and loop back around to 108th and the Transit center.

      And why not extend rapid ride along NE 8th towards 100th or 102nd. This would make it attractive to off peak and weekend riders to go shopping, to restaurants, and to the theatre, not to mention the office buildings in that area as well.

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