After my piece about the impacts of Sound Transit running 6-minute headway when U-Link opens on bus riders, taxpayers, and Link riders, I have a plea for King County Metro to do its part to smoothe Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel operations.
It is important that Metro choose the routes it runs through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel carefully, to make the best use of money, and to not put so many buses in the tunnel during the peak that several minutes are added to travel time for most peak tunnel users.
The great advantage of running bus routes through the tunnel, instead of up at street level, is less travel time. That’s money saved or service hours left over to hold onto other service. This argument does not apply to routes that could simply head up to the Seneca St exit, and pass through downtown just once per loop. Nor does it apply to routes that don’t need to go downtown.
Four routes currently enter the tunnel via the SODO busway: 101, 102, 106, and 150. The February 2015 cuts package proposes that Route 106 instead enter downtown along Yesler Way. Some awesome suggestions have been made by Aleks and others regarding how to restructure routes 101 and 150 to allow many more riders to connect to Link without having to transfer buses or take an express bus all the way downtown. Route 102 could likewise just go to Rainier Beach Station, so that service hours are available to save local suburban King County service.
Another route that should not be going into the tunnel after U-Link opens is route 255. Riders coming from Kirkland and going to the University of Washington would benefit greatly from having routes 255 and ST Express 540 streamlined into one route with better frequency and an all-day span of service. Kirkland riders going to Capitol Hill or First Hill would also benefit greatly. For Kirkland riders going downtown, it would improve both frequency and reliability.
Indeed, no SR 520 routes should go into the tunnel after U-Link opens, given the poor connection when the express lanes are going the wrong way, and the option of transfering at UW Station. Sadly, instead of re-routing some of these peak expresses to UW Station, Metro is eliminating several of them entirely.
Sound Transit, for its part, could help make the transfer experience dramatically better by putting up wayfinding maps at each station, showing where the bus stops are for bus routes that serve that station, and post the scheduled stops for those buses. This enormous improvement would cost pennies in the grand scheme of Sound Transit operations.
Which routes should go into the tunnel? Zach and others have already spilled much ink on that topic. The bottom line, for me, is that the tunnel flow smoothly enough that there is less than a minute of “The train/bus is being held due to traffic ahead. The train/bus will be moving shortly” for nearly all trips throughout the day, and that Metro use the platform space wisely with buses that have no less-expensive option for their path. Routes 101, 102, 106, 150, and 255 clearly don’t meet that test after U-Link opens. The current number of buses going through the tunnel is causing too much slow-down as is.