Sound Transit recently held an open house on Mercer Island to discuss some updates to the Mercer Island Link station. I wasn’t able to attend, but the materials are available online.
The meeting focused on two updates to the station design for riders arriving by car or by bus. First, ST is considering a second parking lot near the community center to handle overflow traffic from the always-packed Mercer Island park-and-ride. Many Mercer Island residents have been adamant that they will only use the station if they are given ample, free parking, and ST is working to find ways to accommodate them.
Second, staff showed a new concept for handling buses. We’ve known for a while that Sound Transit plans to remove the bus ramps at I-90 and Rainier, meaning that all Seattle-bound riders in the I-90 corridor will be transferred to Link, either at Mercer Island or South Bellevue. Therefore it’s important that the bus connection at those stations is as painless as possible (see Adam’s posts here and here for more on good and bad bus-rail transfers).
Previous concepts for bus transfers at MIS involved a loop through the neighborhood before returning to I-90, not too different from today’s configuration. Neighborhood feedback sent those concepts back to the drawing board, and everyone is better off for it. Since buses will no longer continue on to Seattle, the whole configuration can be rethought around the new goal of providing a great transfer experience. The latest setup converts 80th Ave, which straddles the freeway and is adjacent to the Link station, into a transitway. Buses will exit the Westbound HOV lane, drop passengers off in front of the station, and get right back on the freeway going the other way, like a bucket brigade. Riders will be deposited directly atop the escalator for the Link station. This should make for very smooth bus-rail connections. By planning for the connection at this early stage, Sound Transit has created a much improved rider experience.
So will all existing I-90 buses take advantage of this new transitway? It’s not clear yet. The diagram above mentions two lines in particular, ST 554 and Metro 216. I asked Metro’s Jeff Switzer why those routes were singled out, since there are many more that will be affected when buses no longer go past Mercer Island, and he said that while “the legend does not accurately reflect the specific routes” and would be corrected, Metro consulted with ST to provide low- and high-end estimates for the number of buses that would serve the station into the future. In other words, the service concept was vetted against current and future demand, but the routes themselves are still TBD.
Switzer added that no decisions have been made with respect to specific service changes on I-90 once East Link opens, and that a robust public outreach process would be included as the opening day got closer. One can imagines a similar process to the recent ST/Metro U-Link workshops occurring sometime around 2020. This will be a great opportunity to re-think the Eastside network all-up. If one-seat rides into Seattle are no longer be possible via I-90, those buses might be re-configured as all-day connectors to Link stations and other regional destinations, providing enhanced regional mobility.