2014draftSIPcover2A couple of weeks ago, Sound Transit published a draft of its 2014 Service Improvement Plan (SIP).  The plan shows no major changes for 2014, as Sound Transit works both to digest the substantial changes it made to ST Express in 2013 and to prepare for the introduction of University Link in 2016.  Nevertheless, the draft SIP is worth a read both for its assessment of the state of the ST system and for some hints it provides about changes ST is thinking about making in the future.  While much of the information is not new (particularly the data about steadily increasing ridership during 2011 and 2012 throughout the ST system), ST does share some new information, and presents data in some new, and very accessible, ways.  Below the jump is a “grab bag” of interesting details from the report.

ST Express Route Performance

The draft SIP provides updated performance reports for all Sound Transit modes.  Matthew Johnson covered Link performance in a recent post, so I will focus on ST Express, where the draft SIP provides some interesting new data.  As with previous reports, it measures ST Express route performance on three criteria: boardings per trip, boardings per revenue hour, and “purchased transportation cost” per boarding (which includes amounts paid to partner agencies to operate the service, but not ST overhead).  These results are from 2012, so they do not include the effects of the 2013 changes.

I see the boardings per revenue hour measure as the most interesting of the three, as it is a very good measure of the efficiency of the service and does not take into account variances among partner agencies, which is a factor ST can address to some extent. Here are the 2012 results:

SIP 2012 Chart
2012 Boardings per Revenue Hour

This chart shows exactly how difficult it is to achieve good efficiency with long routes, and why a distance-based fare structure is often a good thing.  Routes such as the 522 and 594 that have pretty good ridership but travel a long distance are penalized, while the very short 596 — a middling performer in terms of loads — provides ST with great bang for the buck.  Looking at all three performance measures, the standouts in the ST system are clearly the 550, 545, 511 (restructured in 2013), and 577.  Other routes, though, are mostly doing reasonably well, with only the 540, 542, and 560 unambiguously in the doghouse.  (ST indicates in the text that 540 performance continues to suffer, while 542 performance is improving; it restructured the 560 in 2013.)  For those who remember the early days of ST Express, with many marginal routes, this consistently good performance is nice to see.

As an aside, ST deserves enormous credit for not succumbing to the temptation to measure performance by mile, despite the length of many ST routes.  Measuring performance in cost per mile inherently favors routes that serve far-out sprawl, while penalizing routes that connect nearby centers even if they serve large numbers of riders.  The measures ST is using treat all riders and locations fairly, and correctly favor service that serves more riders, rather than fewer but farther-out riders, using a given amount of funding.

2013 Changes

In 2013, Sound Transit restructured Seattle-Everett bus service to create Route 512, a 15-minute all-day route linking Seattle, Lynnwood, and Everett, in place of the two 30-minute all-day routes previously serving Seattle-Lynnwood and Seattle-Everett.  The restructure allowed for ten new peak trips in each direction on the corridor without any new service hours.  The draft SIP doesn’t include ridership data that allows us to compare 2012 and 2013 ridership directly, but implies that the restructure is likely to improve the performance ratings of all four of the routes, once 2013 data is fully available.

Sound Transit also changed service in the Bellevue-Renton-Auburn and Bellevue-Renton-West Seattle corridors during 2013, replacing some Route 566 trips with a new “super-express” Route 567, improving previously peak-only Route 560 service between Burien and Westwood Village to run all day, and eliminating all service to Alaska Junction.  The draft SIP is optimistic about the effect of the changes, saying that previously “unsatisfactory” Route 560 is “already showing improved ridership and productivity,” that Route 566 ridership has improved as well, and that new Route 567 is very popular.

Help for Overloads

A few ST Express routes are chronically overloaded at certain times of day.  The 550, 545, and 511 have consistently suffered overloads throughout peak hours, while select trips on the 510, 522, 554, 566, and 577 have also experienced regular overloads.  The draft SIP reveals that ST amended its operating agreement with Metro for the DSTT in order to add peak-of-peak outbound 550 trips at the September 2013 service change, and also indicates that ST is taking measures to reduce overloads on other routes, such as shifting more trips to peak hour on the 545, adding trips on the 511, and rescheduling trips for more consistent headways on the 522.  If any regular peak-hour 550, 545, or 511 riders or operators are reading, please comment on whether you think overloads have improved during 2013.

Planning for the Future

As usual with Sound Transit’s SIPs, this draft SIP is fairly general on concerning the changes Sound Transit expects to make in “out years” after 2014.  Still, the long-range plan does share some interesting tidbits.  Of course, UW Link and Angle Lake will open in 2016, extending the reach of Link.  South Sounder will add three new round trips, two peak and one off-peak, in 2016 and 2017.

The most interesting items in the long-range plan concern ST Express.  In 2016, ST is looking at “a potential restructure of SR 520 bus service that would make connections with light rail at UW Station and begin to develop ridership on the Northgate Link extension.”  There is no further detail about what this might entail, but the “Northgate Link” wording suggests a restructure of routes 555 and 556, which after a slow start have become quite successful in recent years.  Given the poor performance of route 540, it is also natural to assume that route 540 could be merged into other service connecting to University Link.  The implications for route 545, one of the strongest performers in the ST system, are unclear.

ST is also looking at increased Downtown Seattle surface bus operations when University Link opens, but does not specifically indicate whether it expects Route 550 to move to the surface.

Finally, there is a table beginning on page 107 which shows additions to service that may be needed to meet anticipated ridership needs in the long term, independently of potential restructures.  Particularly interesting items are improved night frequency on routes 512, 522, and 578; conversion to articulated buses on weekday route 542 and weekend route 545 service; and a limited amount of 20-minute service on Sunday for route 550.

95 Replies to “A Peek At the Future in Sound Transit’s 2014 Draft SIP”

  1. Here’s a thought on improving ST 540 performance: Have ST build its own on-street stops at the South Kirkland P&R, and refuse to circle around in the lot.

    1. Though South Kirkland P&R sucks a lot, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t make a dent in the 540’s overall performance. I’m not even sure that the 540’s numbers will look good when the 255 can’t stop at Montlake anymore. Even then the best way to get from Kirkland to the UD will be to take whatever comes first in Kirkland, then transfer to a UD-bound bus at Evergreen Point (given relative frequencies, most days you do this you won’t be on a 540 for either leg of the trip). Kirkland just isn’t big enough for the 540.

      1. Aleks (on twitter) proposed extending the 540 to Fremont, which I think is an excellent idea, if only for personal convenience. In addition, it would function as an inter-office Google tube (if people ever make mid-day inter-office trips), and probably be late less frequently[*] than the 31 / 32 + 271 / 542 for folks trying to get from the east side to Fremont after work.

        [*] dubious but wishful?

      2. Let me lay out my full argument for extending the 540 to Fremont via Pacific St.

        The existing routing isn’t working. The 540 is ST’s least productive route, bar none. It’s been shedding riders, and frequency/span, for years. Something needs to change, or else the whole route will be cancelled.

        Fremont is a major employment center. It’s not just Google — there’s a huge multi-block office complex full of software and biotech firms. Fremont is the kind of place that would benefit from extra peak-hour service.

        An E-W routing fits the grid better. Right now, if you want to get between NW Seattle and the Eastside, you’ve got two bad options: you can backtrack downtown, or you can slog across town on the 44 or the 48 or the 31/32. Pacific St is probably the fastest crosstown corridor, but it has a poor walkshed, and so it doesn’t have any bus service. If the 540 were extended to Fremont via Pacific St, then folks from Ballard, Fremont, Greenwood, Phinney Ridge, Crown Hill, SPU, Magnolia, etc. would all have an alternate fast route to the Eastside that involved much less backtracking.

        It’s a useful experiment. The argument for extending the 540 westward also applies to other similar routes, like the 271 and the 542. (In the case of the 271, it might be as simple as through-routing it with an existing route, like the 31/32.) But these routes are much more popular, and so it behooves Metro to be more conservative. If a rerouted 540 proves to be popular, then it establishes a better case for modifying the 271 and the 542. If it proves to be a failure, then it’s no big loss.

      3. @z7: That sounds like a variation on the “send the 44 across the lake” idea (destinations vary, with Kirkland and Redmond being common enough) to create one Big Old East-West Transit Line. Another route that comes to mind is the recently-cut 46, which effectively took the express route from UW to Ballard and then continued toward Golden Gardens. The 46 performed poorly despite no shortage of transit demand between UW and Ballard, I think for some of the same reasons the 540 does: its limited schedule (similar to that of the 540) means there are other, more frequent options for the trips it serves. The 46 also had the problem that it didn’t share any stops in the U District with the 44 going the same direction, so you couldn’t wait on, say, Pacific across from UWMC and take the 44 or 46, whichever came first. It didn’t share any stops with the 31/32 (or old 30) either… anyway, this is similar to the 540’s problem that, in the U District, you have to choose whether to wait for it or the 255, and the 255 is so much more frequent that it’s often a better bet to walk to Montlake (or take the 271 or 542 to Evergreen Point and transfer to the 255).

        Unfortunately I’m not sure that 540 + 46 is much more than the sum of its parts, even if the execution is such that you can use it effectively, and demand to Kirkland is just totally mismatched for any of the more frequent routes.

      4. Another comparison is routes like the 555, 556, and 242, the bi-directional peak routes from Northgate to Bellevue and Redmond that allow peak-hour travelers to bypass particularly nasty transfers. The Kirkland-Fremont route seems to compare unfavorably to those. Northgate TC can draw from a pretty big area, both by connecting transit and its P&R; Fremont can’t do that so well, because it’s hard to get there fast from anywhere. And Kirkland isn’t much of an employment center compared to Bellevue or Redmond (it’s another place that’s hard to get to fast from anywhere).

      5. If not Fremont (which I think really does need better connectivity, at least via bikeshare along the Burke-Gilman), perhaps then the 540 could be extended to Northgate along the 555 route?

      6. “That sounds like a variation on the “send the 44 across the lake””

        Except that it has a major advantage the other doesn’t. Extending the 44 could expose it to more severe delays in Montlake/520. The 560 is already subject to those delays, and the new Fremont destination would only be an advantage.

      7. I think trying to salvage the 540 is a bad idea — mostly because I think any investment to peak-only routes is a bad idea — even if it takes you to Fremont. We need to focus on providing a comprehensive all-day, frequent network that maximizes connections, not a bunch of boutique service that is only useful for those lucky enough to work an exact 9-5 job.

        Maybe the way to solve that is to connect the 31/32 to the 271. That would be a 1 transfer between frequent routes from Kirkland to Fremont (255 > 271 at evergreen point). I’m sure there are many ways we could do that that don’t rely on specialized routes.

      8. Anything from Evergreen Point to Fremont would do the same — the 540 and 271 are both candidates.

        However, the 271 is already quite long: drivers already get stuck at the horrible mysterious sporadic clog on 84th, and sometimes deal with congestion getting off 520 as well. I certainly wouldn’t want to add the awful left at the 2n+1-way Fremont intersection to that trip.

        Extending the 540 gives it a reason to exist, since right now, I don’t understand why people don’t just do 255 -> 271 already. Which is to say, extending it to Fremont adds a useful transfer to the network, whereas it is entirely superfluous as it is.

      9. Stephen and Al,

        My argument is that *any* route which is fundamentally an E-W route — like all 520 routes are — will have the greatest positive impact on the network if it also continues E-W.

        Yes, it’s true that not too many routes connect directly to Fremont. But, from Nickerson St. north, virtually every neighborhood in the city is one bus away from the *route* that a bus would take between 520 and Fremont. From Ballard, you can take the 40. From Greenwood, you can take the 5 or the 28. From SPU, you can take the 31/32. From Green Lake/Roosevelt, you can take the 16 or the 26.

        The reason not to send the 44 across the lake, even leaving aside the wire, is that you don’t want to take two incredibly congested corridors and stick them together.

        I do think that the idea of connecting the 271 to the 30/31 has a lot of merit, but that would mean that the 271 would have no stops in the U-District north of Campus Parkway, and I could understand if Metro would be reluctant to make such a dramatic change to a route that is already quite successful. The 540 seems like the perfect guinea pig, since its ridership is already so low that any change can only do so much damage.

        Another alternative is to connect the 271 to the 48N; that has a lot of merits, but I don’t think it will do much to help anyone south of 85th St cross the lake. The 31/32 connection has the advantage that it provides a convenient transfer for virtually everyone in North Seattle without requiring any backtracking.

      10. Also, I think the “peak-only” argument is a red herring. The 540 was not designed as a peak-only route. They got rid of the all-day service because not enough people were using it. If a redesigned 540 proved to be more productive, that would be an argument in favor of restoring all-day service.

        For what it’s worth, I think the argument for sending 520 routes westward gets even stronger when you think about North Link. Think about how many cross-lake trips would become seamless, without a downtown transfer:

        – Ballard: Take the 40 to Fremont.
        – Fremont: Already there.
        – Greenwood/Phinney Ridge: Take the 5 to Fremont (yes, I know I’m cheating).
        – Wallingford: Walk to the bus route, or take the 16/26 to the 520 corridor (either 40th or Pacific).
        – Northgate/Roosevelt/Green Lake/U-District/Capitol Hill/Downtown: Take Link to UW Station.
        – Magnolia/SPU/Interbay: Take the 31/32 to Fremont.

        Note that some of these trips are possible today, because of routes like the 48 that provide direct “non-grid” service to the U-District. The U-District is an important destination, of course, but its importance is magnified because of all the routes that terminate there. A lot of people go downtown for transfers, not because they want to go there, but because that’s where the buses are; the same is true for the U-District.

      11. The 48N is an “L” shaped route. These are allowed in grid systems. San Francisco has several of them, and Jarrett Walker proposed them for Halifax. It’s essentially two grid routes interlined, and is at least as productive as the two separate segments, and potentially more productive if the join is well-placed. There is a case for breaking up the 48; e.g., to make an 85th NW – 65th NE route, and a separate 15th NE route. But the dominant travel pattern in the area is Greenwood/Greenlake to U-District. The east part of 65th and the north part of 15th don’t have the urban-village anchors to generate strong ridership.

        Also, the 48N is “straight” if you consider it a northwest – southeast route. That’s worthwhile too, in the same way that a Lake City – Ballard route would be useful. (If it were faster than the former 75.)

      12. I generally agree that east-west routes that go east-west are useful when they go through — 46 + 540 is probably worth more than the sum of its parts, just not by enough (I say this as someone that actually would ride this route). I greatly doubt that the UW-Kirkland part of this route will carry enough people for it to be worth running off-peak any time soon (compared to augmenting service on overcrowded ST routes elsewhere, or compared to simply cutting it and using the diesel to build freeways in China or whatever). In the 255 we already run lots of marginal cross-lake service to Kirkland… Kirkland just isn’t that big, and seems to have little interest in growing outside of Totem Lake…

      13. My opinion is that the best solution is to just can the 540 completely and redistribute its remaining buses and service hours to the 545 and 550. However you slice-and-dice it, there is no way a U-district to Kirkland route will be as productive as an extra 545 or 550 trip. If Google wants a shuttle route between its Fremont and Kirkland campuses, they should pay for it themselves. Microsoft already operates its own shuttle routes over similar distances.

        There is still the problem that if you work on the Eastside, there are very few options in Seattle that allow you to get to work without a transfer, even if your work is right next to a major transit hub like Overlake TC or Bellevue TC. The 542 has helped somewhat – the Microsoft Connector has helped a lot more, at least for people working for one particular employer.

        One interesting solution I’ve thought of would be to extend the 271 to Fremont (perhaps as a replacement for the 31 to conserve service hours), but to keep the route from getting too long, break it into two pieces at Bellevue Transit Center. The idea being that there are very few places east of Bellevue Transit Center where slogging it on the 271 all the way to the U-district is the best option. Today, Eastgate P&R->U-district is about a wash between taking the 271 all the way and taking the 554 downtown, with a transfer to the 71, 72, or 73. In a few years, 554 to Link will be indisputably faster for this trip.

        On the contrary, Bellevue has become a much bigger shopping and employment center than it was when the 271 route first got created, and there are a lot of people who commute there from Seattle that being underserved by route structures which like to pretend that downtown Bellevue is still a bedroom community and the UW is the only real job center.

        At least one thing the 17% cut package is doing right is finally decoupling service levels between the U-district->Bellevue segment of the 271 and the extremely unproductive Eastgate->Issaquah segment.

      14. Somehow, it needs to be possible to get from Kirkland to Seattle. As I see it, there are roughly six alternatives, with varying levels of feasibility and desirability:

        1. A route that starts at South Bellevue P&R, with a timed transfer from East Link, and heads north along some combination of Bellevue Way, 112th, 108th, and Lake Washington Blvd. (In a perfect world, there would probably be two different bus corridors here, but realistically, I doubt that there’s enough demand to provide frequent service to both of them.)

        2. Similar to 1, but with an untimed transfer to frequent buses on 520, via a Mountlake Terrace-style freeway station around 108th.

        3. A route similar to today’s 255, taking 520 to downtown.

        4. A route similar to today’s 540, taking 520 to the U-District.

        5. A route similar to today’s 540, but that terminates at UW Station, with a timed transfer from U-Link.

        6. A route that takes 520 and continues as far west as is feasible, e.g. Fremont or Ballard or Magnolia.

        #1 is interesting, but that’s a *big* detour. It makes sense for folks coming from West Seattle and Rainier Valley, but traffic on 520 would have to be *really* bad to be slower than detouring to I-90.

        #2 is interesting as well. You could imagine running two hyper-frequent routes (think every 8 minutes, all day): one that just stays on 520 (taking the place of the E-W parts of the 255/271/540/542/545, and providing service to Overlake and Redmond and South Kirkland P&R), and one that goes N-S (providing service to both downtown Kirkland and Bellevue). But there are no plans to build a freeway station that would work for this purpose, and diverting all 545 runs to South Kirkland P&R is ridiculous.

        #3 means that we’ll be running a lot of redundant service on I-5. This is the same thing I’ve been railing about with the 101 and the 150. I don’t think the convenience for Kirkland riders trumps the fact that we’d be running fleets of buses parallel to a train with plenty of extra capacity.

        #4 exists today, and it’s already failing.

        #5 has a lot of merit once U-Link opens. But it’s unclear that UW Station will be designed for layovers. And anyway, why would you want to stop a bus in the middle of a corridor, when many of its riders will want to continue in some other direction?

        That leaves #6. It seems like it’s the best of all worlds. Riders coming from Kirkland will be heading east-to-west. If they want to keep going west, they stay on the bus. If they want to head north or south, they transfer to the train. That’s the way transfers are supposed to work.

        The poor ridership on the 540 does not imply that this route will have poor ridership. Since it will be the only route from Kirkland to Seattle, it will capture all of the riders of today’s 255 and 540. It will be an all-day route, and so it can serve as a local route along the E-W corridor — the moral equivalent of through-routing the 31/32 and the 540 (modulo the different bus colors). It’s possible that the vast majority of riders will turn over at UW Station (or Campus Parkway), and the extension westward will prove to be unproductive. But we won’t know until we try.

        I do think that this same reasoning applies to the other buses on 520. But those are popular buses, and there’s a greater risk of losing riders by taking those buses away from downtown. That’s why I think it’s useful to experiment with the 540 now; it’s a route that’s already on its last legs, and so there’s no real risk of losing lots of riders.

      15. One way or another, Kirkland’s solution for travel to Seattle has to be a bus across 520. Any detour to Bellevue or I-90 – even a nonstop shuttle from downtown Kirkland to South Bellevue P&R would be too slow. For the time being, I think option 3 – to just rely on the 255 is best. Post U-Link, I like option 5. While the 540 doesn’t do well ridership-wise today, if it were the only Kirkland-Seattle route, it would do much better. What limits the 540 ridership so much is not that no one is going to the U-district, it’s that the 255 is much more frequent and it’s not worth the bother of waiting for the 540 if the 255 arrives first. And, with the faster approach into downtown on Link, downtown-bound riders would still get downtown in about the same amount of time as today, even with the transfer.

        The only justification I think one can make for continuing to hobble along with the 255 and 540 side by side is that once the 540 goes away, it might be too politically difficult to bring back as part of a future restructure to connect to Link. On the other hand, politically difficult or not, Metro’s budget woes might force it to happen anyway.

      16. This seems like a step back in time, early ’90s to be exact, when Kirkland and Redmond UW-bound riders would do this transfer, in the days before U-Pass. U-Pass big selling point was direct commute-hour service to campus: Kirkland got the 275 and Redmond the 276, both eventually replaced by the all-day every-day 540, then going all the way to Redmond. Bellevue had the 273, later replaced by the 271. The more things change….

  2. The proposed 2016 restructure of the 586 (from page 107), to exit I-5 at Seneca and head to Westlake Station, sounds intriguing. I was surprised they aren’t considering reversing direction on the 586 around campus, giving preferential treatment to the U-District end of campus. I’m not sure what the proposed evening version of the 586 would be.

    The route-by-route stop data, starting on page 139, is compelling reading. Out of 1525 riders who come north from Tacoma each day on the 590, only 192 alight south of ID Station. Out of 825 riders who come north from Pierce County each day on the 594, only 124 alight south of ID Station. Out of 190 riders who come north on the 595 from Pierce County each day, only 24 alight south of ID Station.

    Perhaps the 590, 594, and 595 could all get off at Seneca, and head through downtown from north to south. But don’t make the loop-around longer than necessary, as the alightings north of Pine on routes that head to Eastlake are really weak.

    1. With how slow I-5 gets past the West Seattle Bridge, I doubt it would be efficient to keep heading north on the freeway only to head back south via the busway. It’s probably slower-going on I-5 for that stretch most days than on city streets, even with the stops.

      But maybe I’m biased as a daily 590 rider who gets off in SoDo.

      1. What if ST kept some peak 590 service on the current route, but converted roughly half the service to this proposed new 586 path (which would probably be renumbered), and used the new 586 path for off-peak service?

      2. Off-peak, it is almost always faster to stay on I-5 and get off at Seneca. If we’re going to have a bus that provides a one-seat ride from Tacoma to SODO, it should be a peak-only bus. The all-day should go straight to Seneca. There are enough buses and trains passing through downtown for last-mile travel that speed is more important than providing a one-seat ride from Tacoma to every single point within downtown.

    2. I thought the purpose of the busway was to get buses off I-5 near downtown, and only secondarily to serve SODO. So I don’t think they’ll reverse course so quickly.

      And when I got on a 577 or 578 recently, I found it didn’t use the busway, but instead got in a traffic jam somewhere around Seattle Blvd & 6th trying to get on the freeway. So maybe those routes should go on the busway too.

      1. Even if the route aren’t scheduled to use the busway, they can still do so on days when traffic is really bad. Wasting everyone’s time going through the busway on normal days when traffic is free-flowing just for the sake of consistency does not make sense, given the tiny number of people that actually use the stops there.

  3. Why are you focusing on boardings per revenue hour when there are other stats that could be examined, such as boardings per trip? The goal of transit advocacy ought to be to maximize ridership rather than maximizing efficiency. Matt Yglesias has an interesting post that looks at the tension between neoliberal emphasis on efficiency and social democratic emphasis on broad provision of services. It’s too bad that so many urbanists and transit advocates come at this from a neoliberal perspective, because good transit service requires a social democratic perspective that cares more about providing good service to as many people as possible.

    1. With all due respect Will, nearly everything you’ve said on this blog is the antithesis of providing good transit service to as many riders as possible. I don’t know what a social democratic perspective is, other than a political party label in Western Europe (and one I would not be a member of, since I would be a Green Party member there). But there are certainly several of us on this blog who use a social justice lens on transit debates.

      If we have limited resources (which, I realize, you don’t believe in), then providing service to get 200 riders to jobs five miles away is morally preferable to using the same money to provide 100 riders to get to jobs ten miles away. Do you disagree?

      1. We do not have limited resources, and I firmly believe that transit advocates are undermining their own cause by acting as if we do. Getting more resources is not easy, and it requires work that is at times difficult and disruptive. But the same is true of basing a transit system on efficiency.

        Yglesias is using “neoliberal” and “social democratic” as two categories that describe two different approaches to providing government services. Many folks on STB are neoliberals, but the Seattle electorate is much closer to social democracy. The deeper STB goes into neoliberalism, the more distant they become from their base and from the voters.

      2. Will, labels like “social democratic” don’t change the fact that you are saying, in essence, that we could have a perpetual motion machine. Society-wide, resources are limited. Even the most generous of social democracies have to prioritize their use of resources and make hard choices.

      3. While we are waiting for the unlimited resources to arrive on our planet of limited mass, volume, and circumference, should we prioritize ridership or passenger miles traveled under our temporarily limited budget?

      4. Of course we have limited resources, Will. Why else do you think we are looking at taking a sledgehammer to Metro next year? Revenue isn’t endless and farebox recovery just isn’t enough. We already provide plenty of social justice through transit. What we need is more revenue streams (and stable ones at that) that can help us grow transit and meet demand. Sure, there are plenty of metrics to look at and we have to place a value on what each of those are telling us. But, we need to be wise where and how we make the investments. Brent and David are spot on.

      5. There’s a difference between artificial limits and basic affordability. Metro’s problems are caused by artificial limits set by the legislature, which caps both the revenue streams and what services it can be spent on. That has nothing to do with the natural limit, what taxpayers can afford and what they consider a decent funding level for Metro. The anti-tax people say “We can’t afford anything, and we want no more money going to unionized Metro”, but they’re only speaking for a minority of the King County taxpayers, as proven my Metro’s and ST’s general success at the ballot box.

    2. I focus on efficiency because we will always have limited resources. We could have a sudden political revolution that doubled spending on transit (which is far outside of what can actually be achieved in the current poltical environment) and we would still have very limited resources. I want to serve as many travelers as possible with transit, and the way to do that is to make the most of the available resources.

      Passengers served per trip is a nice measure when you are trying to figure out whether service is overloaded or whether it could be consolidated into fewer trips. It tells you nothing about whether you could use the same hours to serve more residents and commuters.

    3. The emphasis that “neo-liberals” place on efficiency is the result of getting their ass kicked, from a political standpoint. From FDR to Carter, we had a series of Presidents who were all within a fairly narrow political range. When they stepped out, they went a little bit to the left (like FDR). Then Reagan got elected. He was so far to the right that many in his party rejected him. But he was extremely successful from a political standpoint. He focused on government’s failings, especially its inefficiencies (e. g. welfare queens). Rather than swing back to the left, we have had moderate Democrats, and increasingly right wing Republicans since then. For example, both Clinton and Obama tried to implement a health care plan that was originally Nixon’s idea (which was rejected at the time by the Democratic controlled House of Representatives because they wanted a single payer plan). In other words, Clinton and Obama have essentially governed like Ike — not bad, but not exactly FDR.

      Strengthening the hand of the Republicans is the rise of the partial media. Or rather, the fall of the impartial media. During this same period of moderate progressivism (FDR to Carter) the mainstream media was well respected and widely consumed. Now, not so much.

      The idea that government (or at least non-military government) is inefficient is still a political talking point today, of course, despite the fact that is much smaller. The Republicans cut money for food stamps (which means we will have lots more hungry kids in this country) because of a handful of deadbeats. The implication is that the free market would never allow such waste.

      Al Gore (amongst others) tried to address this image problem directly. The idea being that by showing that government can be efficient and successful, government can do more for society later. At the time, this was a political trade-off (focus on efficiency instead of focusing on having the government do more now). Right now, though, there is no trade-off. The Republicans are as powerful as ever. They have managed to cut government to levels that even Ronald Reagan would find objectionable. There is no cold political calculus going on right now — it is simply a matter of triage. We know people will go hungry in this country, we know that kids will continue to live in cars, we know that people won’t get the medical care they should get, or the counseling to be successful members of society, we just want to make sure that things don’t get too bad before folks wake up and figure out that the forty year right wing, reactionary experiment is a failure.

      Locally, the same things is true. We legally can’t raise income taxes. Right now, it is isn’t clear that we can even raise enough money (using more regressive taxes) to pay for existing transit services. As a result, there are plenty of people who will not get the transit service they should. But making the system more efficient means that we serve as many people as possible.

      1. “We know people will go hungry in this country, we know that kids will continue to live in cars, we know that people won’t get the medical care they should get, or the counseling to be successful members of society, we just want to make sure that things don’t get too bad before folks wake up and figure out that the forty year right wing, reactionary experiment is a failure.”

        Unfortunately, the “right-wing, reactionary experiment” brought with it a Randian philosophy that holds that none of the things you mention are actually problems, and that therefore the experiment is in fact working exactly as planned.

        There are two types of people in America right now: baby boomers who have adopted an “I got mine so screw you” attitude who could care less about any of the problems you mention, blame them on the people suffering from them, and think the Cold War is somehow still going on, and people who only know the post-Reagan era (I was born in ’88, Reagan’s last year) and so, even after the boomers die, won’t push the country anywhere near as far to the left as was normal in the pre-Reagan era. It doesn’t help that many of us are not-so-closet communists.

        What’s worse than the marginalization of the left has been the total oblivion of the middle. We now have a political landscape where left and right have become mutually unintelligible. Even more so, we have come to see politics as a strict spectrum between miserable poor people and monstrous government, with Republicans caring less about the former and seeing them as “takers”. But Democrats have been slow to identify non-governmental solutions to problems of poverty; they seem overly quick to embrace government as the solution to every problem. Perhaps if they weren’t, people would be less suspicious that Democrats just wanted more power for themselves and those who vote for them were dupes.

    4. Just because boardings per trip is worse at measuring efficiency than boardings per hour (revenue hour, even!) doesn’t mean it’s better at measuring ridership or social justice… it’s just more random, because of differing trip lengths, and doesn’t tell you much in particular about a route.

  4. This’s the first time I’ve heard that the SR 520 rebuild “will eventually provide direct access HOV ramps at Montlake to and from the east.” If this’s the case, it seems most of our fears will be alleviated, assuming the SR 520 buses will connect to light rail instead of continuing to downtown. Thoughts?

    1. The Montlake Blvd Bridge has an infinite number of lanes. Thus have we solved the problem of traffic congestion getting between SR 520 and UW Station.

      1. Whoops. :)

        Admittedly, it solves the problems with the current exit ramp, which are the ones I personally see as my bus quickly calls at the freeway station…

      2. I’ve thought about the problem of connecting the UW Husky station with 520. I’m not sure if anything will be done. I can think of some possible solutions, but I think they would be expensive:

        1) Add another station for 520. This means more drilling and probably more laying of track. If the bus stop is under Montlake Boulevard (and I assume it will be) than it would work out fairly well.

        2) Build ramps from 520 to the station. Unfortunately, they would have to be really high, so I don’t think this is practical.

        3) Build a tram form the station to a bus terminal. Unfortunately, a tram would have to go way up and way down again (to avoid boat traffic).

        4) Have the bus continue (via bus lanes) to the U-District station (at 45th). This only pushes the problem somewhere else, though. It is about the same distance from the freeway to the station (maybe a few feet closer). Traffic is just as bad, so driving this is bad. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about bridges, so walking is at least consistent, and building a tram would be a lot more straight forward.

        The first solution is the best one, although the least likely.

      3. Someone on this blog a while ago had the idea of rebuilding the Montlake Bridge with a new busway to the east. It sounded to me like a great idea; does anyone remember what became of it?

    2. There are three issues: buses going downtown peak hours, buses going downtown off-peak, and buses going to UW Station.

      Peak hours, there will be a lot of buses going to UW Station and maybe also to downtown.

      Off-peak, buses going downtown will no longer have a flyer station, though I’ve heard they’ll be able to get off to a stop on the lid and then back on the freeway. I guess this would cross one intersection at Montlake Blvd.

      But there will also be buses going to UW Station off-peak, and we’re trying to get all off-peak routes terminated there (or continuing to north Seattle), and ST has started making noises that it might truncate some of them at least. So they won’t need the to-be-lost flyer station. They will need a way through the north-south Montlake traffic, but that’s a different issue, of which there are several proposals but officials haven’t committed to funding any of them.

      1. Generally, most of the congestion around the Montlake bridge happens at the exit ramp. As long as buses can have their own lane down the exit ramp, the delays crossing the bridge shouldn’t be too bad. Of course, if the bridge is open for boat traffic, they will still have to wait, but at least they won’t have to wait for the 50 cars in front of them on the exit ramp to move forward.

        Ideally, 520 buses would pull right into the station, layover, and turn around, to achieve maximum frequency between Seattle and the Eastside. Those going to the U-district proper would normally hop on Link for one stop, but connecting local buses would be available too. In fact, you would probably want to extend the 31 and 32 down Pacific to provide a direct connection with buses to and from Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond.

        The problem here is that all of these buses terminating at the UW station are going to require a fair amount of layover space. Ideally, the difference between the current construction footprint and the finished station would provide sufficient space. Unfortunately, the actual plans call for the space to revert back to parking – which, based on actual utilization of nearby lots, the UW flat-out doesn’t need outside of 8 football games per year.

        My dream world would have a section of the stadium parking lot next to the station restriped for Car2Go vehicles which, due to their small size and ability to block each other in, would be way for space-efficient than conventional parking. Realistically, I don’t expect this to happen within my lifetime.

  5. I’m new to the blog but as a regular 59X rider from Tacoma I’m wondering if you folks have discussed the number of buses that leave Tacoma every day less than full.

    As someone who lived in Seattle and regularly used buses to commute downtown and to Bellevue it boggles my mind to watch folks stand aside and wait for the next bus when the current bus is 50% full.

    It seems to me that ST could increase efficiency by decreasing the number of buses thereby forcing people to actually sit next to someone else (shocking)…

    1. This amazes me every day. The line movement for the 59X at the Tacoma Dome Station is so baffling. I get in line only to get out minutes later and skip ahead of dozens who are standing and waiting for an emptier bus.

      At least when I get on (around 6:30-6:45), enough people do what I do that I never see a bus less that 95%+ full. I’ve never seen one leave anywhere close to 50% full.

    2. If you are talking about peak runs, I suspect ST monitors ridership very closely to know exactly when to start each bus to get roughly 1.0 load factor (or maybe somewhere above 1.0). That doesn’t mean operations go according to plan every day.

      If you are talking about off-peak, several of us have advocated for adding a stop at Federal Way TC, and increasing frequency, although realistically that might mean 20-minute headway rather than 15-minute headway. This might involve possible path restructures for the 566, 574, and 578, but the main idea is to do for Federal Way and Tacoma what the 512 has done (decreasing headway) for Lynnwood and Everett.

      We have a higher hurdle on this proposal than that for the the 512 in convincing ST planners of the problem we’re trying to solve. The 512 solved the additional problem of direct, semi-express service between downtown Lynnwood and downtown Everett (except that it stops short of downtown Everett). The 574 already provides express service between Federal Way and Tacoma. But with the A-Line making the 574’s stop at Federal Way TC unnecessary (presuming a stop at Federal Way TC is added to the 594), this proposal would decrease headway between Federal Way and Tacoma, just using a different route.

      The big drain on productivity measures comes from both the 574 and 594 going to Lakewood. Imagine if, instead, we could have an all day, half-hourly, ST Express route between Tacoma Dome Station and Olympia TC, with stops at Pacific Ave, SR 512 P&R, Hawks Prarie P&R, and the Capitol Campus. Would Lakewood riders support such a trade-off?

  6. This may give weight to the suggestion of adding a Federal Way stop to the 594, since it’s an underperforming route by this measure and adding a major stop to it would improve it. That would allow moving the 578 from Federal Way to Kent, which has no all-day express to Seattle at all.

  7. The 512 is a conundrum. The fact that it starts in an urban centre (Seattle), stops midway in an urban centre (Lynnwood), but stops far outside of an urban centre for it’s ending (Everett Station) is terrible service planning. It makes sure to hit the fringe of two reasonably served lesser urban centres (U District and Ash Way). The routing needs to be revised in Everett to connect three core urban centres. I would think getting layover space at California and Colby or California and Rucker would make sense and establish a tail turnaround in this area. The loop back to the rear of Everett Station for the 510 never made much sense due to lost service hours. But Downtown Everett absolutely should be served by the 512 express service. With the length of the route and terrible route structure of Everett Transit and disconnect with Swift, there’s no reason that Downtown Everett riders should be so horrendously time-penaltied.

    1. The 510 did serve downtown Everett and the 512 would have too but ST couldn’t afford it, so it had to choose between the moderate benefit of preserving the Everett segment vs the major benefit of all-day frequent service. I’m sure it will be restored when ST gets a bit more funding. And Everrett Transit has some responsibility too; it should pick up the segment with timed transfers.

      Ash Way is not an “urban center” but it has a role as a regional P&R. With luck, all further parking expansion will be done there rather than in downtown Lynnwood or Everett.

      1. Yes, Ash Way is an Urban Centre. I work for Snohomish County PDS, so I think that would hold credence to my claim. But just for good measure, you can see for yourself. Sorry that our Comp Plan map sucks (I’m working to change that…). Technically, a portion is Transit/Pedestrian Village, but the implementing zone is still mostly Urban Center.

        ftp://ftp.snoco.org/Planning_and_Development_Services/GMA%20FUTURE%20LAND%20USE%20PLAN/General%20Policy%20Plan%20Maps1-6%2036×57/Map1_FutureLandUse.pdf

      2. Also, I’m pretty sure it was just laziness on ST staff, not cost. The cost to extend and end Downtown is minimal at best. The subarea could easily afford it. Frankly, Express 510s should be killed altogether.

      3. The idea that the U District is a “lesser urban center” than Lynnwood and on par with Ash Way (particularly as regards transit!) is pretty far out there. But, hey, maybe if SnoHoCo planners think of Ash Way P&R as a Serious Urban Center they can fix the embarrassingly awful pedestrian conditions on 164th crossing I-5. I used to use Ash Way for a bike-bus commute, and the cycling conditions are horrific, but that’s almost to be expected. But the day when I said, “You know, I don’t feel like trying to move across two lanes of drivers gunning it for the freeway ramp, I’m going to walk my bike across the freeway,” and found it to be just as crazy as biking, only slower? That was a real shock.

      4. It’s hard to read that map, but if Snohomish County/Lynnwood have designated Ash Way as a future urban center like downtown Lynnwood and Bellevue, that’s great news. I’ve only been to Ash Way a few times, but all I saw was low density office parks.

        As for comparisons with the U-District, that’s not necessary. The important thing is to get walkable nodes in Snohomish County so that people who live there can have a choice between walkability/transit and auto dependency, rather than just auto dependency.

      5. “I’m pretty sure it was just laziness on ST staff, not cost.”

        That’s not how it was presented. I can’t see ST undertaking the greater work of consolidating routes, and then balking on the minimal work to continue a then-existing segment.

      6. I meant lesser Urban Centre in the context of Seattle. Obviously it houses (me included) and employs vastly more than Lynnwood, Ash Way/164th/99, or Downtown Everett ever will. But the 512 isn’t really suited to directly serving the U District for a number of reason I don’t think need describing.

        I think SnoCo is serious about Ash Way as an Urban Centre–certainly I am. The zoning permits a crazy amount of capacity, the area is a key crossroads in the county, has Swift along 99, ample local service, CT will unleash another Swift on 164th in the coming years, and LRT will arrive in the next 15-18 years. On top of that, Everett and Lynnwood are a hopscotch away. As things improve in SnoCo, I would seriously think this is a key, key centre. Sure, it’s not much to speak of aside from the new apartments, but I don’t think the BP zoning will remain forever as this thing moves forward. I can tell you on permitting side of things, the area is going bonkers.

      7. Ash Way (near the P&R) today isn’t really big office parks. The P&R is northwest of the I-5/164th interchange. Most of the surrounding area is open space or residential. There’s some retail, apartments, and maybe small offices across the street from the P&R.

        East of the freeway there’s some big-box retail and I think some small offices off of 164th, and a few pockets of what looks like pretty dense housing for the ‘burbs. But until the horrific pedestrian conditions crossing the freeway are fixed it’s hard to regard any of this as really accessible on foot from the 512. I have to repeat that because it’s hard to overstate how bad that interchange is. It’s worse than 405/NE 8th in Bellevue, worse than 405/124th at Totem Lake, worse than the worst side of I-90/Rainier. It is the worst interchange I’ve personally crossed in this region.

      8. I concur that the pedestrian/bike experience is bad. 164th is maxed out and the conditions aren’t going to change from what I’m told. Public Works also doesn’t have a plan for an alternative road crossing, but I have heard squeaks about a ped bridge north of 164th. Though, I can’t recall where. There will be improvements to Ash Way, mostly by developer dedications/frontage improvements. I don’t think it gets better for ped/bike on 164th or 99 for a long time. Or not in any earthshattering way. :-/

      9. How about adding a sidewalk to the bus’s path between Ash Way P&R and the I-5 HOV lane. Then, extend the sidewalk across the other half of I-5 into the neighborhood to the east. Bypass all the mess along 164th.

      10. Without an “earthshattering” improvement to 164th, the freeway is, for statistical purposes, an uncrossable barrier for pedestrians — meaning that a statistically insignificant number of people will ever cross it on foot (essentially only crazy people like me that argue with planners on transit blogs will ever do it, and even then mostly because we’re masochists looking for examples of terminally broken American infrastructure… **ahem**). There is also no other crossing of I-5 within what anyone would call the “walkshed”.

        That means:

        – Anything east of I-5 is in a different place than anything west of I-5, including the P&R.

        – Ash Way is, from a pedestrian standpoint, in a border vacuum. It’s hardly alone among our region’s major transit facilities or areas for focused growth in this regard (Northgate, Lynnwood), but that will be one of its constant challenges.

        – It’s in a very convenient location for driving to stuff because it’s “at a key crossroads”, so nothing will ever be allowed to impede car progress there. Again, like Northgate and Lynnwood, the “capacity” it has comes from the massive car-carrying capacity of the freeway, arterial, and interchange.

        Therefore, anyone that cares about environmental sustainability in development should oppose any growth occurring there. Ash Way is, overall, very sparse today. Any immediate growth that it experiences will merely push it closer to that “crowded but not dense” point (see Silicon Valley, Naperville/Schaumberg, parts of Lynnwood, Bellevue, Redmond, and Renton) where essentially all trips occur by car but traffic still sucks… and the freeway interchange will, at that point, be even more uncrossable than it is today because the stream of traffic across the meager crosswalks will be constant. Meanwhile the footprint and physical environment of the freeway, interchange, and parking, those things that provide access to drivers, will prevent access for pedestrians and prevent pedestrian-friendly density from ever coalescing.

        There are a bunch of places in Snohomish County that would be fine places to focus development for sustainability, and Ash Way ain’t one.

      11. More ranting about I-5/164th… my anger and frustration with this interchange and its surroundings don’t come from idly looking at maps and speculating based on theories. They come from my experience a few years ago when I needed to routinely make a trip that involved crossing the freeway and there was no place to do it, no reasonable way across for miles in any direction.

        A “crossroads” is historically an important location, where people going to and coming from different places come together. It’s no surprise that many towns have grown from crossroads, and indeed, people have long developed and extended cities around transportation infrastructure.

        If a crossroads all but prohibits people from walking from one side to the other, and a town grows centered on that crossroads, then essentially nobody will walk any place in that town, ever. Its growth will be limited to the number of cars that can be jammed through the crossroads. Knowing what we know today, in 2013, about transportation, about climate change, about energy, we cannot in clear conscience build this way. Snohomish County is expected to grow a lot, and in many ways it’s a blank slate for transit — there are few places transit absolutely must serve. If it ties its future to I-5 it ties its future to this crossroads and every other crossroads like it that’s more like a wall to people on foot, and this is a grave error.

      12. Until a few years ago, I had similar complaints about the interchange of NE 8th St. and I-405 in Bellevue. You had to cross 2-lane freeway entrance ramps with a rounded corner for high speed turns and the city of Bellevue didn’t even bother to paint a crosswalk. The only safe way to cross those ramps was to stand there and wait until there were no cars going straight, lest one of them decide at the last minute to turn and run you over. And, in addition to the ramps, there were multiple poorly timed traffic signals to wait for, with extremely long cycles.

        But in the end, the city of Bellevue and WSDOT did the right thing and built new bridges over I-405 at 10th and 12th St. which have much better accommodations for pedestrians and bikes. Now, any time I need to travel through the area, I basically pretend the sidewalk on 8th doesn’t exist and always take 10th, even if it’s an out-of-the-way detour. Besides being much safer, when time at stoplights is considered, a detour to 10th may even be faster.

        So, if we did the right thing in Bellevue, it can happen in Lynnwood too – it’s just a question of political will. And, considering how hopeless 164th St. is, a new pedestrian overpass connecting Ash Way P&R to the Interurban Trail on the other side of the freeway feels like the only reasonable option. To save costs, it could potentially be attached to the existing bus ramp half way, so that a completely new structure would only need to be built for the other half.

      13. So… now Ash Way is going to be the next downtown Bellevue? Whoa, there, I thought downtown Lynnwood was supposed to be the next downtown Bellevue. How much Bellevue do we really want here, anyway? (Bellevue has been pretty bold in some admirable ways, but there’s only so much Bellevue anyone can take.)

        Everything about NE 8th/405 sucks, but (despite the massive botch of the Link alignment and the unfortunately located hospitals) downtown Bellevue’s core is clearly west of the freeway, on the same side as the regional transit hub. At Ash Way the regional transit hub is west of the freeway, pinned between the freeway and something called “Swamp Creek”.

        Swamp.

        Creek.

        OK. Unless you think greenfield development on something called “Swamp f-ing Creek” is a good idea, or that people along Ash Way (the road, which is west of the freeway) are going to cheerlead major development “In Their Back Yards”, then the majority of the growth (including any regionally significant retail or offices) is going where? East of the freeway. Separated from the regional transit hub by the great “crossroads” of SW Snohomish County.

        Even from a purely motor-vehicle-centric point of view this is stupid. If CT really wants to run “another Swift” on 164th it needs 164th to flow reasonably well east-west, and even drivers need it for local access. If the interchange is “maxed out” already, then it won’t take too much more growth (whether local or elsewhere along 164th) for it to spill over to backups on 164th. Alas, Northgate. So maybe you build another bridge that’s kind of close, and send transit over it because while it’s indirect, at least it’s reliable (anyway, you can’t serve Ash Way P&R with a direct E-W bus route any more than you can Northgate TC, and that won’t get fixed with 2050-Link any more than it will be at Northgate with North Link… so since we already are turning and looping enough to prevent anyone from wanting to ride the bus through we might as well turn and loop some more… also see KCM RR F, various locations… god this is depressing).

        Alternately, we could plan infrastructure that supports the kind of growth we claim to want. Or we could plan the kind of growth we claim to want around existing infrastructure capable of supporting it. The former (assuming we want something resembling a functional town with a Link station to rise out of the parking lots southeast of I-5/164th, and to a somewhat lesser degree northeast and northwest of it) would involve demolishing the crap out of the existing 164th/I-5 interchange and building new entrances/exits/P&Rs some place we care about less, maybe on a new road crossing that isn’t directly on the main east-west arterial (people can get on the freeway any damn place — it’s not like it has enough capacity to handle many more auto-centric towns along it anyway), building the Link platforms directly adjacent to or straddling 164th and east of the freeway, and building a connected public street network (including, needless to say, pedestrian and bike facilities all the way across the freeway on 164th, which is easy because there’s no interchange).

        The latter might involve focusing on some stretch near a somewhat tamed Highway 99 — 99, for all its problems, is 1000 times less awful than I-5. 522 through parts of Lake City looks almost humane these days, so that might be a rubric. Elsewhere in Snohomish County it might mean finding modern regional transit solutions that allow longstanding towns like Edmonds and Everett to fill in parts of town that already have public street networks that basically support transit and walking and don’t have freeways running through the middle of them.

      14. Al, I don’t disagree with your point on the 164th overpass. It’s clear that it is abysmal. I wish there were something I could do as a land planner, but that’s literally out of my hands as I have zero input on what Public Works does or does not do. On top of that, there are serious funding constraints, which is unfortunate. Your points are incredibly valid. The walkshed isn’t that great right now and I-5 is likely to pose a continued barrier for the foreseeable future for anything across the other side. Certainly within the current planning horizon. A ped/bike bridge could help to some to degree depending upon where it’s placed. But as we know, almost universally, a freeway makes crossing unappealing even if fully separated from other road users.

        What happens on the west side of I-5 will be very significant however. I think you’re being excessively pessimistic. Once Link Lynnwood opens up, CT will be able to reinvest almost half its service hours back into local service. And, ST will be planning in the coming years for the alignment north to Everett. That alignment is likely somewhere between Ash Way and 525. Although, it could divert to 99 instead.

      15. Al, your sarcasm and snarkiness is absurd. ASDF was referring to Lynnwood proper, not Ash Way. And I don’t believe ASDF meant a literal Bellevue in Lynnwood. I can foresee a Downtown Redmond like scenario though. Skyscrapers is probably as pie in the sky as in Federal Way.

      16. We’re all talking about Ash Way. And this isn’t snark, it’s anger. Land use is intimately tied to infrastructure, and brushing aside the utter inadequacy of the infrastructure when planning land use in the immediate area pisses me off. We have an infrastructure debt that’s been building for decades in this country, especially in the west, that’s very systematic one: lack of accommodation for any transportation but private cars. Without addressing this we seriously limit the potential of any transit we build, and without addressing it up-front we get caught in the Bellevue trap where there’s all this incrementally-built car/parking capacity that has to be maintained, massive car capacity at intersections that has to be maintained, that crowds out pedestrian-friendly growth. I’m angry that the more stuff gets built near that interchange the more likely it is I’ll have to cross it again.

        If I sound sarcastic, that’s because sarcasm is the only way I can refer to Ash Way as a crossroads. That very description sounds cynical to me, as someone that cares deeply about mobility on foot and bike. Back when I traveled there I experienced it every day as the farthest thing from a crossroads, as a near barrier to my ability to get around, something I had to gather all my mental strength and experience to cross. When I look at a road map of fast-growing Snohomish County I see more barriers than paths, and that’s a matter of direct experience. I used to see potential places I could ride, only to get there and find the roads bursting at the seams with drivers that wanted to force me out of their way. This is the status quo of the infrastructure, and it’s irresponsible to plan growth without planning to address it.

        Snohomish County has this great advantage that so many places in this region don’t, which is that it has space and time. We don’t have to tie our future to the freeway in Snohomish County! There’s a thin strip of land between I-5 and wetlands, then another thin strip of land between there and 525 — is that really the best place to put a light rail station? Or should we build stations in places where it’s at least possible to build a coherent pedestrian network? In so much of this region we don’t have much of a choice, and in Snohomish County we do. I earnestly hope we pull ourselves away from the freeway.

  8. One correction to this post: it states under “2013 changes” that the 511 was a 30-minute route before the 512 restructure. The 511 had been running every 15 minutes (off-peak on weekdays) since the Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station opened back in 2011 and many peak expresses were truncated there. The 512 restructure increased frequency to Everett and allowed for more forward-peak 511 runs.

  9. As a peak 545 rider I have to say overloading was still a huge issue this summer. I board at Montlake headed east in the AM, usually around 8:30 – 9:00. It wasn’t uncommon for a 545 to leave riders behind at Montlake, or for a generous driver to let people cram into the space in front of the yellow line. If was particularly irksome to get passed up by an overloaded bus just after getting Metro’s daily “the AM commute is over” tweet.

    Bunching and reliability was also a big problem. A few times I was passed up by a full bus and had to wait 20 minutes for the next one, which would also be very full or overloaded. Headways were supposed to be 8-10 minutes.

    Between these problems and the removal of the HOV lane on 520 I’m pretty sure I’d have been better off just driving myself most days, if not for the 520 toll.

    Overloading didn’t seem as bad westbound in the PM peak in my experience. The buses would still be pretty full, but it was rare for anyone to be left behind. Perhaps that’s because it’s much easier to choose between the 542 and 545 headed west from Redmond compared to eastbound from Montlake.

    So far this fall it hasn’t seemed as bad as the summer, though the schedule didn’t change. I suspect the data will show the usual seasonal ridership dip.

    1. Perhaps that’s because it’s much easier to choose between the 542 and 545 headed west from Redmond compared to eastbound from Montlake.

      Is there any reason not to take the first bus you can across the bridge and then pick whichever of the 545 and 542 come first at Evergreen Point? You’d be in line behind everyone who got on at Montlake, but you’d have the 542. Never having been there during the AM commute, I’m not sure whether that’d be a good or bad tradeoff.

      1. My standard practice is to wait at Montlake and 520 in between the 542 and 545 stops so I can take whichever bus I see coming first. Occasionally, I will take out OneBusAway and use what it says to commit to one stop or the other. It is not necessary to take another bus to Evergreen Point just to get the whatever-comes-first pick. That being said, I will generally let a crush-loaded 545 go by if a 542 is close behind it.

        I read ST’s proposal to shift some trips in the late morning from 542 to 545. I can only hope that some of the new 545 trips go eastbound in the late morning – 545’s can be overcrowded as late as 10:30 AM. However, given that all the 545 trips added in recent tweaks have gone towards the to-Seattle-in-the-morning-from-Seattle-in-the-afternoon direction, I’m not terribly optimistic.

        One suggestion I have is that while the 542 and 545 carry a lot of riders to Overlake Freeway station each morning, ridership past Overlake and into Redmond is tiny – it is quite common for full buses to turn into empty buses at this one stop. Perhaps truncating some buses (e.g. the ones who are getting ready to deadhead back to base) at NE 40th St. could save enough service hours to add a few more trips for the segment that is actually crowded.

      2. @asdf: Aha, so you’re the guy I see on the 520 overpass staring west! I’ve never determined whether I could reliably get down the stairs fast enough (while being cautious in the rain) after identifying a bus on the horizon.

      3. It might be me, then again, it might be someone else. I can tell you from experience that I am not the only one who does this!

        In practice, there is usually plenty of time of go down the stairs to meet an approaching 545. If you start heading down the stairs as soon as the approaching bus is visible, you don’t even need to run – walking is sufficient.

        The trick is to get used to telling the different buses apart while the bus is still far enough back that you can’t fully read the headsign. This generally involves developing a feel for how much of the headsign the word takes up. For example, “East Base” takes up less space than “545 Redmond”, which, in turn, takes up less space than “255 Brickyear P&R”. When in doubt, it never hurts to just go downstairs anyway – worst case, you get on the bus, even if it’s the wrong bus, and get off at Evergreen Point to transfer to the correct bus.

        Another good trick is that incoming 545 buses will usually have bikes on the rack, but deadhead buses usually won’t. So, I sometimes look at the bike rack to decipher an incoming route if it’s too far away for me to read the headsign.

        While there is an occasional 242 or 555, those are infrequent enough to not really matter. (BTW – if you work at Microsoft main campus, the 242 is a complete joke – even if it happens to come by Montlake first, you will save yourself a lot of time by just letting it go and waiting for a 542 or 545).

      1. Short answer. Yes, especially the 542, which went straight to UW dorms that Microsoft uses for intern housing. During intern season, the 542 was routinely standing-room.

    2. Reliability and efficiency of the 545 would be improved if the route were streamlined a bit to eliminate the detour in outbound direction up into Capitol Hill, and the detour in inbound direction to the Overlake transit center. Both of these diversions do serve a large ridership. But the purpose of ST express service is not door to door local service, it’s supposed to be minimal stops express service. In same vein, parts of the downtown Seattle portion of the 545 route has stops with 2 blocks spacing. Changing that to 3 or 4 blocks spacing would also improve reliability and efficiency, with minimal impact on accessibility of the route.

      1. I started writing a response, but then I started looking up figures and it turned into a longer post about the Olive Way Freeway Station. See below. In conclusion, if we can have that and a bridge over 520 at the OTC, I’ll enthusiastically agree.

      2. Even today, it is possible to run to the westbound freeway station to catch a 545 you just missed at the OTC stop.

      3. As long as, heading out of the Microsoft campus, you cross 156th St. before the 545 makes its left turn out of the transit center, a simple jog is sufficient to catch the bus virtually every time – walking won’t quite do it, but there is no need for a panicked all-out run. Even if the bus makes it turn in front of you while you’re stopped at the light, the dwell time at the freeway station itself will probably be enough for you to make it anyway.

        That being said, the afternoon 545’s are often very crowded and getting on at the OTC stop vs. getting on at the freeway station is often the difference between getting a seat and having to stand all the way to downtown Seattle in heavy traffic. This alone is a good reason to just wait for the next bus at the OTC stop if you have the time.

    3. David – if you’re tired of overcrowding on the 545, the best option is to wait for the 542. Ever since they started converting many trips to articulated buses in the latest shakeup, there have always been plenty of seats.

      1. Yeah, during the summer I ended up just taking whatever came first downstairs to Evergreen Point, then catching the first 542 or 545 (or 242) that had room. Somehow the timing always worked out such that I was a regular on a particular 255 trip, enough so that the driver would mention it if he missed me one day.

        So far this fall the 545 is more tolerable. The timing of my transfer (from 43/48) usually works out so that I catch a fast 545 driver who’s only 5 – 8 minutes behind his leader (and bang on time) so there’s usually room.

        I’ve caught an artic on the 542 once so far and it was great. Only problem is that it usually leaves just before I get to Montlake.

  10. The boardings per revenue hour is interesting. It really shows how bad ridership is on the 578 south/east of Federal Way when compared to the 577, which is in the top tier.

    It’s also interesting seeing that metric used for the 596. For the 596, the amount of boardings per hour doesn’t matter, it’s how many boardings per trip. But because the trip is so short (I’ll say roughly 15 minutes), as well as the fact that it only runs in the highest demand times for that service, the stats are much more skewed toward that route. If 20 people board a 596, then that means they ride for about 15 minutes, or 0.25 hours. The boardings per hour for that trip, then, would be 20 / 0.25 = 80, even though 80 people didn’t even board. As a result, the short route in the middle of nowhere as far as transit is concerned, can outpace even the 550, which runs from one large major city to another large major city, carrying jam-packed loads.

    I think that a distance based metric would be better simply because of the nature of express service, that is, a way to help people go (relatively) long distances in a manageable time.

    1. It’s not distance that’s useful. I don’t get on the 550 to travel 10 miles, I get on it to travel 10 miles to Bellevue! I could go farther faster in a different direction, but then I’d have to walk back.

      What’s weird about the 596 isn’t that it’s short (it’s a little less than half the distance of the 550 I think). It’s that it’s a Sounder feeder. If the trips the people on the 596 were as useful as those the people on the 550 were making then the 596 would be clearly a great investment. But the 596’s utility is subservient to that of Sounder. Actually, fare collection reflects that — a majority of the fare revenue from a 596+Sounder trip goes to Sounder.

      I think it’s also important not to think about numbers like this meaning, “Good route, we need more” vs. “Bad route, we need less”. You could run the 596 all day and night — for the most part, its ridership would be capped at the number of people that want to take Sounder, and I think ST knows that. The 550 could see gains on almost any per-hour metric by reducing boarding delays and improving speed and reliability at key chokepoints… I think ST knows that, too.

  11. SteveW’s comment above started me thinking about an Olive Way Freeway Station, which would let us eliminate the Capitol Hill detour on the eastbound morning route 545.

    According to this blog’s past research, the Capitol Hill detour costs 2 or 3 service hours / weekday. This was before recent service additions, but it still can serve as a lower bound. Based on a cost of $125 / service hour (from the SIP), eliminating it would save $64,000-$97,000/year. Let’s take $81,000/year as average.

    Now, the Woodinville Flyer Stop cost $1.8 million to build. From riding past it once, it looked roughly similar to what an eventual Olive Way Freeway Station would look like, though I’ve no idea what the exit was like before that. Cut the cost in half, since we only need the stop in one direction. That means an Olive Way Freeway Station will pay for itself in about ten years, assuming as much construction as in Woodinville.

    Even better, this blog’s previous post on the issue said the intersection didn’t need any more reconfiguring but just a little repainting. There was some debate in the comments – but if it turns out to be true, this should be an even better deal.

    Build the freeway station now!

    1. Eliminating the Overlake TC diversion would save more. If I counted right, there are 44 OTC diversions each week day for the westbound 545 versus about 30 diversions to that Capitol Hill stop on Bellevue/Olive. Each of these imposes about a 5 minute delay, as well as a lot of variability (due to traffic signal timing, etc.). So about 4-4.5 service hours per week day for the Overlake TC diversion, which extrapolates to around $140k/year. That’s maybe not enough to build an east/west MS campus pedestrian bridge that you asked for, but I’m not convinced we need one (at least until East Link in ’23). It’d at least pay for a few more 545 runs during overloaded peak hours.

      1. A new pedestrian bridge at Overlake TC wouldn’t just be about the 545. It would also carry a fair number of Microsoft people from one building to another. In fact, this secondary purpose could be used as an argument to justify Microsoft kicking in some money to help pay for this bridge.

      2. IIRC, Microsoft has already agreed to help pay for the bridge when East Link is built. Now that you bring it up, I might try to ask them for more information later this week.

      3. If the bridge could be now in such a way that it wouldn’t have to be torn down and rebuilt as part of the EastLink construction, it should just be built now – between the 542, 545 and local trips between Microsoft buildings, it would get plenty of use today. Same for the planned bridge at Northgate Station.

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