Last week, I presented some goals that I and several others have considered for ST3 on the Eastside. While there are a range of opinions on specific routes, certain messages came through in comments very clearly. ST3 needs to deliver improved connections across the Eastside. While commuter express service is important, improvements to the core network between urban centers are key.

So where does this all take us? To start this discussion, I’ve pulled together a package of investments that I hope Sound Transit will consider over the next few months as it develops a ST3 package. The package includes:

  • Extending East Link to Downtown Redmond. This is the most logical next-step on the Eastside.
  • Investing in I-405 BRT. I-405 BRT isn’t a win for walkable, mixed-use communities, but it’s the only real solution to address the mobility challenges of the suburban I-405 corridor. Option A3a from Sound Transit’s I-405 Corridor Study is a service-focused BRT concept with a four route “trunk-and-branch” service network and new direct access ramps. Option A3b is a single route that runs up and down the I-405 corridor. These options don’t include all of the bells and whistles, but they advance the corridor in a meaningful way while not over-investing in a corridor that will always be auto-dominated. I-405 is one true “Eastside” corridor and a ST3 package that doesn’t provide improved mobility along it, albeit a commuter focused solution that is contingent on HOV/HOT lanes, will not resonate with Eastside voters.
  • Investing in a 5 line, full-featured BRT network along the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC), SR 520 and I-90 corridors including:
    • BRT from Issaquah to Totem Lake via the I-90 HOV lanes, Richards Rd, Downtown Bellevue, Downtown Kirkland and the ERC. I’ve assumed this would operate as two lines but it could operate as one line. Sound Transit has studied this (Alternative C2) but improved high-quality connections into urban centers are key. I’ll have more on that and what I mean by “full featured BRT” and “high-quality connections” in a later post.
    • BRT from Totem Lake to UW Station via Downtown Kirkland and the ERC. This too has been studied by Sound Transit (Alternative B1a) and would leverage the investment made for the project above. High-quality connections between SR 520 and UW Station are key. More on this later.
    • Upgrading key Metro and ST Express routes to full-featured BRT. The most important routes are 542/545 (Redmond-Seattle), 271 (the Issaquah-Bellevue portion), and 554/212 (between Issaquah and Mercer Island). This would be achieved by leveraging the investments of the projects above in addition to new in-line freeway stations, bus-rail transfer facilities (at UW Station and Mercer Island Station), arterial bus only lanes and other capital investments to allow buses to operate separately from general purpose traffic.

For ease of reference, I’ve nicknamed the list group of projects as BRISK (Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Seattle, Kirkland) BRT network. So why do I think this package of investments makes sense? Here’s why:

  • It builds upon existing investments and plans. This package of investments advances longstanding Eastside priorities, builds off existing resources like the HOV/HOT lane network, and leverages new opportunities like the ERC. Additionally, this package of investments is consistent with Sound Transit’s newly adopted Long Range Plan, the SR 520 HCT Plan and I-405 Corridor Plan, Bellevue’s Transit Master Plan, Redmond’s Transit System Plan, Sound Transit/Metro Transit Integration initiative, Cross Kirkland Corridor Master Plan and land use priorities of both Kirkland and Issaquah.
  • BRT provides the best geometric solution for the Eastside’s multinodal travel patterns: The Eastside’s travel patterns demand a fast and reliable HCT network to both Seattle and Bellevue from destinations across the Eastside. A rail based solution will force the Eastside to choose between better service to Seattle or Bellevue but not both.
  • It builds upon existing transit corridors: Improved service in places where ridership already exists fosters urban development and transit-oriented community building.
  • Investments can be phased, providing near-term relief and long-term solutions: A clear message from past Sound Transit measures is that voters want to see near-term relief from congestion. Bus service in this package could ramp up quickly, with capital investments coming on-line as they’re completed.
  • The Eastside can afford it. More than anything else, voters want transportation choices and ST3 needs to make meaningful progress on this. Asking Eastside voters to wait for ST4 before they can get a meaningful HCT system isn’t a winning message.

Tomorrow, I will describe the BRISK network in more detail.

65 Replies to “Piecing Together an Eastside ST3 Package”

  1. This seems like a good plan, but isn’t it a budget buster and somewhat redundant? Specifically, what costs are you assuming for BRT in the ERC? It can’t be cheap because some significant construction will be necessary to make it wide enough for two driving lanes plus wide enough shoulders that disabled vehicles can be passed safely. Do you think that the ST board will agree to build it “when there’s already a right of way less than a half mile to the east?” And then the neighbors.

    Also, I noticed that you’re proposing bringing the 271 between Bellevue and Issaquah up to BRT standards. But you’ve already proposed an almost identical routing for the south half of the Totem Lake to Issaquah BRT spine. I guess the 271 doesn’t serve Richards Road and then wanders all way round Robin Hood’s barn between Eastgate and Issaquah. Presumably your BRT backbone line would run on the freeway. So why upgrade the 271 at all? It’s obviously a local service bus east of Bellevue TC.

    Maybe an improvement in your plan is to have the south half of the BRT spine be two lines, one which continues to Totem Lake via the ERC and the other of which becomes the Bellevue-UW BRT express overlay. Just a thought.

    Overall your ideas are quite comprehensive and should be very popular with Eastside voters. As long as they have a dedicated and “branded” bus fleet. “EastRT”?

  2. Take out the stuff regarding the ERC and it sounds good to me. 405 BRT should definitely take the trunk-and-branch approach. A single line that stops everywhere is likely to be too slow, and won’t be able to serve downtown Kirkland without imposing a huge delay for everybody else.

    For Issaquah, buses are already pretty free-flowing and what’s needed is more service, not massive capital investments. Rather than trying to build a single BRT line to do everything, my vote would be for branching the 554 into two separate lines east of Eastgate. One branch would go to Issaquah TC and downtown Issaquah, like the 554 does today, but it would make regular local stops (every 1/4 mile) within Issaquah. (If it has to continue on to Issaquah Highlands to find a place to layover and turn around, so be it).

    The other branch would skip downtown Issaquah altogether and take the freeway all the way to Issaquah Highlands, followed by an extension to Sammamish. The second branch would run less frequently and for fewer hours of the day than the first branch, but provide all-day service to Sammamish, where no all-day service of any form currently exists.

  3. Dan, this is great work, and I thank you for including me in it to the extent that my crazy recent life allowed.

    I think people will really like the ERC BRT proposal when Dan publishes the details. I was opposed at first, and now I’m in favor. It would indeed be expensive, but it would serve a bunch of places I-405 BRT can’t, and it would do so fast and reliably.

    Dan’s work has also convinced me that ERC BRT is a much better idea than ERC rail, which I continue to think would be counterproductive and dumb.

  4. Including BRT like this for the Eastside would be a mistake for ST3. We need something to inspire people to vote for ST3, not “somewhat better buses”. There have been numerous articles, here on STB, about how light rail is superior to BRT for a whole myriad of reasons.

    Besides, busses on the routes that would be impacted here (545/2, 255, 271, 234/5) are already decently fast, frequent routes (with the exception of fact that the 271 takes the wrong exit to get on the 520, but that’s an easy fix).

    It would be nigh-impossible to explain to residents of the Eastside why billions are spent there, and all they get is BRT (assuming we still have subarea equity, it would literally be many billions of dollars spent on these buses).

    ST3 should not be about marginal incremental improvements. That’s the type of thing that we can do year-over-year in an incremental fashion. Instead, ST3 should be about how can we make the next leap forward in mobility for our region. We need a sea-change to justify the billions to be spent, not something that could be satisfied by some red paint on the roads and red paint on the buses.

    Likewise, investing in 405 BRT is sinking money into a terrible corridor (you say that yourself!)

    In my opinion there is exactly one project that would meet the muster for ST3:
    https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/07/23/better-eastside-rail/

    Anything else will not motivate people to vote for it. I am a big transit supporter, and honestly I would probably vote against ST3 if this is all it had to offer the Eastside.

    1. This comment is a textbook example of rail bias. The network Dan is proposing is not “marginal incremental improvements.” It’s a whole bunch of new infrastructure that would open up new destinations to high-speed transit and allow far more efficient use of funds — that is, far more frequency. But the comment does point out the difficulty of convincing people that anything with rubber tires is more than “marginal incremental improvements.”

      1. For less than $1 billion, you could buy round trip Amtrak tickets to Eugene for each of those detractors to go see EmX for themselves.

        Or, just get them one way tickets…..

      2. Take round trip Amtrak to Eugene and see EmX operating somewhat like streetcar routes which Seattle could/should apply to low-floor trolleybus coach and their subsequent route upgrades hillclimbing up to the 21st Century. Hillclimbing up to higher 21st century standards.

    2. Surface streets parallel to the ERC (108th Ave.) already have minimal traffic are and are more than capable of running buses reliably. We don’t need to destroy the neighborhood for the sake of people passing through to get reliable transit. And, even if buses did go down the ERC, they would never be able to do it at anything close to freeway speeds – safety and noise considerations would likely limit such buses to 30 mph.

      Even if a trail is able to run alongside the buses, just building the busaway, in and of itself, would completely ruin the aesthetics and safety constraints would likely limit crossing points, thereby compromising the ability for people to access the train or just walk east/west in their own neighborhood.

      The ERC through Kirkland is already a good transportation corridor, as it currently stands, once you allow for the fact that walking and biking are perfectly valid forms of transportation.

      With the new HOT lanes on I-405, buses down the freeway should be mostly reliable. Even the general-purpose lanes are mostly reliable outside of rush hour. If the problem is access, just create a new express bus route from downtown Kirkland to downtown Bellevue (so no last-mile problems or transfers needed) and call it good.

      1. You would need to add bus lanes through Kirkland though – it’s generally completely clogged during rush hour. But if the issue is really transit out of Kirkland, I agree. Let’s build bus lanes from Kirkland TC either along 85th or heading down to 70th (maybe along 6th St. to serve Google) before heading to 405 using one of those. A lot cheaper and probably equally useful. If you need access both ways. 70th may be better as it will serve more stops and the ramps at 70th will be easier to add from what I understand. Then provide a convenient connection at 70th and people heading north can catch the 405 BRT to Totem Lake or northward if they want (this assumes reliable 405 buses, which is a different problem).

      2. Building bus lanes along 6th and 68th/70th would require total reconstruction of the ROW. Neither is wide enough to accommodate them in the present configuration. ST has also said the ramps at 70th are not possible, let alone easy.

      3. Alright, fair point on 70th/85th. How about BRT down Lake Washington Blvd? There’s also parking in each direction. Ban that during rush hour and you can run buses from Kirkland to 520 via South Kirkland P&R and either to Bellevue or Seattle from there. Much cheaper than using the ERC and probably the same speed (and you’d serve all the higher density development along the waterfront).

      4. That would be technically feasible, but you’d be cutting off a lot of potential walkshed. The nice thing about the ERC in south Kirkland is that it runs right through the middle of the walkshed between the lake and I-405. If you serve it with a deviation to KTC (which you’ll hear more about tomorrow) you can have almost everyone in south Kirkland within 1/4 mile of a BRT stop.

        Of course, I’m also biased against Lake Washington Boulevard because I live east of Houghton Center, so for me it would be a very long walk. :)

      5. Good point on the walkshed, but I’m not sure I’d consider Lake Washington Blvd to ERC easily walkable south of 55th or so. It gets pretty steep quickly. But maybe there’s a slightly better routing. Convert the parking on State St between Kirkland TC and 68th St to bus lanes. That would probably serve even higher density areas and is close to the ERC, Houghton, Google, and Lake Washington Blvd. Then go along Lakeview until you hit Lake Washington Blvd and continue south. I’m not sure how to convert Lakeview to bus lanes, but it’s a small section and something could probably be figured out.

      6. 108th does not have “minimal traffic”. Congestion at NE 68th and Downtown Kirkland is routine and has been for over a decade.

        From Downtown Kirkland to Totem Lake the ERC would be faster than driving and would also get buses out of traffic on Market.

    3. I see the proposal from this article as a first step towards doing the Issaquah-Kirkland rail option. Just add bus lanes to the ERC while ensuring the layout of the lanes allows for future conversion to trains.

      That way you are setting up a solution that helps mitigate current issues while also preparing things for a potential future change to a rail corridor. All you’d have to do is lay down the rail and build some stations, because the ROW and travel patterns will already be established.

    4. +1. More buses on the Eastsidce while North King is getting more rail will be a tough sell. I know there are a lot of Metro alums and emps on this blog, but we want ST3 to pass, and I don’t think proposing more buses for the Eastside will get the votes that are required.

      And buses on the ERC is going to be a tough sell. Heck, proposing rail on the ERC would be a tough sell!

      1. The difference is that buses can actually serve much travel demand on the Eastside more effectively than rail, while the reverse is true in North King. An ERC rail line would be a white elephant but you can do a lot of things with buses on the ERC. Of course, knowing that technically and convincing the electorate are two different things.

    5. This did include some rail (to Redmond). But overall, the money spent is the same. So either you spend a bunch of (the remaining) money on a very little bit of rail, or a lot of improved bus service. The rail project you mentioned, for example, could probably not be built for the money you mentioned. Would people prefer, say the bottom half of that (light rail from Issaquah to downtown Bellevue) over bus improvements? I doubt it. If anything, there has been a “bus bias” in the suburbs — or at the very least a tendency to prefer additional express bus service over grandiose light rail plans (a preference for appropriate modes, if you will). The first Sound Transit vote had lots of rail, but failed in the suburbs. The second vote (ST1) had no rail on the East Side, but passed with plenty of support. The third vote (roads and transit) had lots of rail in the suburbs, but lost. The fourth vote (ST2) is the only one where voters on the east side actually approved a rail proposal. But that route (crossing Lake Washington and going through both Bellevue and Redmond) is fairly obvious (even though you might want to go the other way — via 520). A second crossing is not, nor are secondary lines anywhere else. So while something like this might lose your vote, I don’t think that is the case with the majority of voters.

      1. Rail may not be the solution at this time but convertability is very important if urban villages such as Totem Lake were to succeed in 20 or 30 years time, something for Dan to keep in mind for his 2nd blog I suppose.

        There are several proposed LRT routes in the initial ST plan that are at least intriguing. Some are obvious like the ERC others slightly less so such as coupling east link to SR-520 via short hop over to South Kirkland at the end of the corridor establishing two routes @ once, North Kirkland to UW and Redmond to UW. But others for example running LRT up Willows from Redmond are simply interesting. That one would have intersected 124th which is a major “decision” point for drivers going to 405 and 520. It would have been cheap to construct as the ROW is already there and it would have been interesting to see who would have used it. Of course it was killed in the initial screening, with good reasons.

  5. Nice work but I’d challenge you to this: As a Kirkland commuter who drives/bikes to a PR (fortunately not very far away) what all 405 North centric plans thus far have failed to address is one of the most fundamental questions: How do people access this system in a timely manner from a clogged surface street network without turning trips into a two or three seat ride that offsets any gain they get from using transit? With limited exceptions I don’t view expanding those surface streets as an option, paving our way to be like Orange County is not exactly what we want.

    The only viable solution to that problem I’ve thought of so far is to intersect people before they reach 405 and encourage bi-directional use of the surface streets, which would require a new corridor. So I’m a fan of laying the ground work for an alternative corridor dedicated to HTC the length of 405 (or at least up to 190th). The ERC starts this and it can be built upon in later phases. Buses on 405 can easily transition to this dedicated ROW on the ERC at Totem Lake @ 116th and again in the South Kirkland/SR520/405 area. 85th is a massive clover leaf and a terrible place for transit to serve, which leaves only NE 70th as a challenge.

    I am very leery of excessive reliance on 405 which has a ROW with little room for separation, just this morning we saw another very profound lesson on the folly of heavy reliance upon a single corridor (I5), particularly one that sees mostly regular vehicular traffic.

  6. This is great. A full Eastside BRT network is just what the doctor ordered, and is a compelling alternative to a single LRT line or BRT line. I’ve said before that ST is lacking a full-network plan (the pie-in-the-sky long-range plan is not it): this gives one for the Eastside. Even if only part of it can fit into ST3, it gives a concrete direction that all parts of the Eastside can get behind. The following step will be Bellevue-Bothell and Bellevue-Renton, but those can easily be plugged in.

    However, I wouldn’t commit to the ERC yet because I don’t think a compelling case for preferring it over 405 has been made yet. It will have no traffic but more curves and nearby residences and trail-walkers and opposition. It gets closer to downtown Kirkland but not all the way, and it’s further from downtown Bellevue.

    1. Watch for Dan’s next post. It will make the ERC case you’re looking for.

      The problem with I-405 is that it really can’t serve anything between Bellevue and Totem Lake.

  7. I don’t quite understand why people want to use the ERC so much. Between South Kirkland P&R and 68th St or so, I doubt you’ll get any TOD. Those are million-dollar homes up there, so it’s going to be enormously expensive to re-develop, and the area with any high density development (along Lake Washington Blvd.) is a steep hike from the ERC. Kirkland is a more dense area, but once you pass that, you go back to expensive homes until you hit the Totem Lake area. At that point, it would probably be cheaper to run buses on the 405 to 70th St and then route them along Lake Washington Blvd via bus lanes to Kirkland. From there either go back to the 405 along 85th or continue north on Lake Washington to serve Juanita and then Totem Lake.

    As for 405 BRT, going with A3a or A3b will not help with the constant delays because buses will not be able to use the express lanes for half the trip. If you’re going to invest anything there, let the buses run in the express lanes the whole way by building HOV ramps at all stops. That will actually help things.

    1. 405 to 70th is a non-starter because there are no HOV ramps and, unfortunately, no space to build them. I also wanted to build a center Houghton Freeway Station, but there’s no room.

    2. I’d just note that 405 is the major congested freeway corridor for the Eastside. The problem with 405 is also that traffic overflows to surface streets and around interchanges too. It’s particularly bad between Bellevue and Renton. That’s why I think dealing with 405 or ERC is the most important topic in ST3 in order to get broad appeal for the vote.

    3. I-405 adds out of direction travel for trips to-from Seattle (by far the strongest ridership O-D pair) and doesn’t provide the HCT network with walkable station locations that the Eastside needs.

    4. “As for 405 BRT, going with A3a or A3b will not help with the constant delays because buses will not be able to use the express lanes for half the trip.”

      WSDOT hasn’t yet funded some direct access ramps we’d ideally have at the north end of I-405. So you’re correct that there is a challenge in running the best possible BRT in that area. But it’s a somewhat less congested part of the corridor. It’s also essentially all Snohomish County. Buses will use the express lanes from SR 522 on down, including south of Bellevue once the dual HOT lanes to Renton are built out in a few years.

      The time penalty is up to about 5 minutes for a quarter of the projected I-405 ridership, virtually all of whom are in Snohomish County. So I’m not indifferent to the concern, but bolstering that portion of the corridor would not be a priority for East King planning.

      1. Your comment is correct for the 532, but not for the 535. The 535 services 195th, UW Bothell, and Brickyard and is routinely >10 min late during peak times. I don’t think it’s a simple fix, but it is a problem.

  8. I hate too open a can of worms, but I think it’s hard to know what works for the Eastside because the corridor studies done by ST were so woefully deficient!
    1. Many alternatives terminated Bellevue travel at the Hospital Station.
    2. Factoria and Bellevue College were not very well connected in the Issaquah and Renton corridors.
    3. The ERC was assumed as single-track for the middle 4 miles — and double-tracked the rest of the way, creating a worst-case capital cost estimate.
    4. The ERC option did not have any study of a deviation to Factoria or South Bellevue Link. It also did not present a connection into Renton landing and the thousands of workers for Boeing.
    5. The Kirkland-Issaquah line was set up to be a separate line and not take advantage of East Link connectivity into Downtown Bellevue.

    I’m not saying that this proposal doesn’t have merit. It does! I’m just saying that the lack of optimizing the rail segment options in this study ripple through the ridership and cost estimates. This means that the Eastside decision-makers have such little information that they are going to have to make choices by the seat of their pants.

  9. Renton is a significant percentage of the Eastside subarea. The plan and graphics should be more inclusive of Renton.

    1. Even though it’s in the East subarea, ST is considering Renton as part of the scope of its west-side project. For connections to the north, 405 BRT is about all ST is thinking of doing. And that’s a pretty accurate reflection of demand — from Renton, ridership is far heavier to Southcenter and Seattle than it is to Bellevue.

      1. Perhaps Renton should be moved to the South King subarea, then? It sounds like its travel patterns are much more linked there.

      2. I’m not familiar with the process, but would it make sense to move Renton into South King? It certainly looks like Renton doesn’t get much by being in East King. If I was Renton, I’d be making some noise about this.

      3. Renton probably chose to be in East King for the prestige and its aspirational future trip patterns. South King has little tax base and a long list of unmet transit needs. If the Burien-Renton line ever sees the light of day, it probably has a better chance with Renton being in East King so that South King doesn’t have to pay as much, and the same would be true of any Renton-Kent project, or Renton-Bellevue for that matter.

      4. Leaving Renton in East King is fine for sub-area equity … as long as advocates and decision-makers recognize that Renton is something that needs to be addressed in ST3! As far as South County needs go, it appears that lots more residents live east of 167 than west of I-5 if Renton is included in the tally — so extending Link to Tacoma isn’t going to excite most South King voters very much.

        When the 101 and 150 get taken out of the DSTT in 2023, it’s going to be particularly important to have an action plan for Renton and Kent in place to link to Seattle with all-day, frequent service. Saying that the existing RapidRide is the solution is going to fall pretty flat.

  10. Excellent article. The map itself is great, and I think would gather a fair amount of support. I have a couple of concerns:

    1) I worry about political opposition to adding buses (or rail) to the ERC. I can imagine the neighbors and recreational users (or even bike commuters) raising a stink, especially with buses (which do, in fact, stink). In a close vote, I really don’t want to lose voters who might support it as a good value, but oppose it because they don’t want to ruin their pretty trail.

    2) The BRT plans for I-405 have way too few branches. That isn’t your fault, as you chose the system that had the most, but when I look at the Sound Transit plans, I find it very disappointing. Between Woodinville and Kent there is nothing that serves an actual neighborhood. This gets into the “three seat ride” issue. If I live in Renton and want to get to Bellevue College, I am looking at a three seat ride. That is just one of the many combinations that require two transfers.

    So I wonder if we should just forget about the ERC and double down on the 405 routing. So, instead of the ERC, have additional branches going east and west from 405. This really addresses the crux of the issue in my opinion, and is the key to making a 405 based network work. As folks have mentioned, the problem with buses on the freeway is not that they move slowly on the freeway, but move slowly getting to the freeway. This is where I would like to see the money spent. Make getting on the freeway really fast — much faster than driving, and you will gain ridership. Maybe that is what Sound Transit has in mind, but if so, I haven’t seen it. For example, this map shows that buses will come from all over to the tunnel (http://stb-wp.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/WSTT-Initial-Service-Pattern.jpg). It is quite reasonable to include a simple sentence to support those buses (e. g. “Work will be done to improve the freeway as well as the interchanges and streets leading up to the interchanges so that buses can travel with a minimum amount of delay — like light rail.”).

    1. At a 35,000 foot geometric level, I think I-405 works better as a corridor for longer journeys than for shorter. The greater the share of your journey that is spent on the highway, the more you benefit from improvements on the highway.

      In the Central Eastside, the journey isn’t long enough to make the out-of-direction travel worthwhile. Today, I can get from my home in downtown Kirkland to Bellevue on the 234/235. It has well-known issues. But at least it’s consistently travelling in the correct general direction, and serving some useful places along the way.

      Going over to I-405 to get to Bellevue, particularly if it’s not a one-seat ride, isn’t tempting to me at all. A bus has to be really fast if it’s going in the wrong direction.

      1. I agree, but I don’t see how that changes what I said. If I’m trying to get from Renton to Bellevue College then I don’t want to spend most of my time getting onto the freeway, or have to take three buses. That is still a long way — long enough for a good 405 based system to make a lot of sense.

        That is also true of the Kirkland/Redmond area east of 405. In other words, I see a pretty big hole along Redmond Way. So if I’m trying to get to some area in Renton from say, NE 85th and 148th, again, I’m looking at a three seat ride and a pretty slow one at that (assuming it takes a while to get to and from the freeway). On the other hand, improve that corridor for buses and run a bus like along there to the freeway and then south and this becomes a two seat ride (at worse) and a pretty good one.

    2. Yes, it’s a hard problem. In a place as big as the Eastside, it’s very easy to think up trip pairs that aren’t quite popular enough to feature on a five- (or six-, or seven-) line network. But yet popular enough that somebody’s going to want to take them. And need to own a car so that they can do so.

      Serving all the combinations with a spine requires having a place (actually, many places) on the spine where riders can switch between the various overlapping services. So, inline stations on I-405.

      There are quite a few of those in the ‘outer Eastside’. But in the Central Eastside, there aren’t. And so, you’re down to having everybody transfer through Bellevue TC unless you put a lot of money into new highway stations. It’s more hub-and-spoke than spine.

      To take your example, somebody is standing at 148th Ave NE and Redmond Way, and looking to go to Renton. Today, that’s probably RapidRide B to Bellevue TC, then ST 560/566 to Renton. Would it help to have a bus that went by NE 85th St instead? Probably yes for this rider, but you’re giving up a lot of urban connectivity for local riders for the benefit of fewer longer distance riders.

      Maybe Metro can do both. Under our proposal, they’d have more service hours on the Eastside (once ST had taken over our suggested lines). Making the next tier of transit corridors better ought to be their priority.

      1. Yes, I completely agree. Without a lot of freeway stations, this is more hub and spoke, rather than spine. This probably means more backtracking, which is less than ideal. A ride from Renton to Bellevue College means going to Bellevue TC first (backtracking). This could be avoided by adding a station closer to I-90, but that would be expensive. Another alternative (and a more practical one) is to send buses both directions. So now one I-90 bus heads south, and another north, once it connects with 405. So, assuming that the I-90 bus stops by Bellevue College, the Renton rider would transfer at Newport Hills.

        I could see the same thing for 520, although using 85th as the connector makes a lot more sense. Buses going in all four directions from 85th and I-405 makes a lot of sense, even if there is no stop there. To get to Redmond/Kirkland from the north you transfer at Totem Lake. If you are coming from the south you transfer at Bellevue TC and ride Link (if you are headed to Redmond) or a bus (if headed to Kirkland). The lack of a stop at 85th only effects those who want to go from Redmond to Kirkland (they would have to transfer at Totem Lake or Bellevue TC).

        In general freeway based BRT (or freeway based Link) does much for them, anyway. As you said in your other comment, this is more for the longer haul. But one of my arguments is that we need to focus on the branches as much as the trunk. So if 85th is a branch (and I think you can make a good case that it should be) then you need to enable really fast buses on that road. Once that happens, Metro can also take advantage of that, and provide good service along that same road that simply keeps going (i. e. from Redmond to the heart of Kirkland).

      2. The problem with that is headways. How many branches will there be, and how frequently will buses come? Under your plan, if we have buses every ten minutes at Totem Lake, at best that translates into a bus every thirty minutes to Redmond via 85th, every thirty minutes to Kirkland via 85th, and every thirty minutes south to Bellevue. And if we make headways any tighter, we’d be spending huge amounts of money sending near-empty buses up to Bothell or Lynnwood.

        No, we need to make more freeway stations somehow or admit this plan won’t work.

      3. @William: Buses to Bothell and Lynnwood are not near-empty right now. If only some of the buses continue to there, you’re going to maintain their ridership. Yes, off-peak ridership is low. But most peak southbound 532 and 535 buses are standing room only during peak hours (until 10 AM or so in the morning and til 6 or 7 pm at night) if not completely packed (as in no more space).

      4. @David — I think William was critiquing my idea for having buses going all four directions from I-405 and 85th, as opposed to using a station there. A valid critique, I suppose. There may not be enough people to justify frequent service along the 85th corridor. I would be surprised if that is the case, though (it seems like a relatively populous area).

      5. OK (I sure wish I could amend a comment) — I think I understand the rest of William’s comment now. Basically, if you send buses along 85th/Redmond Way (or I-90 for that matter) then what? Well, the obvious answer is to find another corridor. I would do the following (off the top of my head):

        Redmond to I-405 south to I-90 east.
        Kirkland to I-405 south to I-90 east.
        Redmond to I-405 north to Totem Lake then Juanita
        Kirkland to I-405 north to Lynnwood

        I-90 east to i-405 south to SeaTac

        I think the first two runs would have plenty of riders. The third provides a nice cross town connection (albeit in an odd way). Juanita is one of the more dense areas of Kirkland. The fourth choice is a bit arbitrary, but it is obviously Sound Transit’s favorite stop to the north and I can see why. It is a major transit center, and you pass decent destinations along the way (like UW/Bothell). You might have “too many buses” going to Lynnwood, but I can live with that. The last choice is similar.

        Like I said, those are off the top of my head. I’m sure we could come up with some other corridors to pair these with and get decent service. This sort of thing builds on itself (of course). Besides, we are talking about buses here, not four car trains. If they are half empty, they still pay for themselves (unlike a half empty train to Everett).

  11. I do have some questions as well. Which stations for the 405 routing are easy to get to? Specifically, how much time does it take for a 405 bus to get from the freeway to the Bellevue Transit Center and back? How does that compare to the red line on your map? How about getting to Bellevue College from I-90?

    I think you can see where I’m going with this. Might it be faster if the red line just used the freeways? Is there much along Richards Road worth serving?

    1. 405 to Bellevue TC is pretty fast (maybe 2 minutes at most if the two traffic lights are both red). You basically need to go two city blocks and 6th St is basically used only by carpoolers and buses. That may change once the express lanes are implemented.

      The only other two 405 stops I’m familiar with are 128th and Brickyard. 128th is a direct access ramp. It would be nice if the traffic light could be triggered by buses going through, but that’s the only needed improvement. For Brickyard, right now it’s a slog for the northbound buses since you need to get off on the regular exit, cross the freeway, turn left onto the southbound ramp, and then do it all over again. When the new ramp opens this should be much better and the buses can go straight to Bothell/woodinville from there. Southbound its just going through the straight-through ramp off and back on. UW Bothell causes many of the problems for the 535 since its off the freeway on local roads, but I’ve never taken it there.

  12. I also have a suggestion. I would like to see the 405 BRT stops listed on that map. I think there are only three that would show up, Bellevue TC, 85th and Kingsgate (which I assume is the same as Totem Lake). Maybe three yellow circles at those spots, which would demonstrate the connectivity opportunities with the various lines.

    1. Fewer than that :)

      Between Kingsgate (NE 132nd in Totem Lake) and North Renton, the only stop that ST plans within a phased buildout is at Bellevue Transit Center.

      A “phased” I-405 buildout, in this context, is a buildout that relies on infrastructure that WSDOT would build within an ST3 time frame. There’s a “full” buildout which won’t be feasible for decades.

      There were two other potential stops in the study at Newport Hills (a P&R south of I-90), and at NE 85th St. ST didn’t want to serve either of those without supportive investments by WSDOT. Realistically, those are too expensive to be practical.

      Those two connection points, Bellevue TC and Totem Lake, are important. Bellevue’s obvious, I guess (hope?). But excellent connections at Totem Lake would be good for ridership on both the ERC and I-405 lines.

      1. Bellevue TC is quite nice and the connection from 405 is decent. Totem Lake, though, needs some real work. There are three stations within 4 blocks or so: the freeway station where ST (and 405 metro) buses stop, the Kingsgate P&R station where some metro buses stop, and the Totem Lake TC where the rest of metro buses stop. So if I say I’m going to Totem Lake, what does that mean? And if I have to walk 5 minutes from the freeway station to whichever station I want to get to, at that point I may as well just drive to the P&R. I don’t know if there’s a good solution here, since the P&R stop is too far away from Totem Lake itself to be useful, and the 405 buses would waste time diverting to one of the other two stations.

  13. This proposal does have a lot to like. But I agree with a couple of the previous comments that said:
    1. It will be difficult to sell Eastside voters on anything that runs on rubber wheels
    2. I-405 BRT gets buses north/south fast but gets them nowhere near any current density nor anywhere that TOD will be desirable because nobody wants to live along the freeway away from current shopping districts. The exception is perhaps Totem Lake but this is still all pie-in-the-sky which came about because every neighborhood in Kirkland told Council they don’t want more density so Council decided to say all the density will go on the site of the empty Totem Lake Malls where nobody currently lives (so nobody will fight against the plan).
    3. To connect from I-405 or even the ERC to the destinations people want to go, we will need to build/rebuild roads in ways that will likely require land acquisition. If we are doing that, the benefit over LRT investment becomes less saleable to voters.

    Maybe this is the best we can get with the likely $$’s that will be in ST3 and ST4 can give the Eastside some better LRT options. But this will be both a tough sell to Eastside voters and a tough sell to get people to use it if their trips are 2 or 3 seat trips.

  14. So, pardon my ignorance, but what exactly will Sound Transit spend its money on if it goes ahead and builds a “BRT” line? I can think of several things:

    1) Corridor improvements for the shared corridor (including ramps).
    2) New freeway stations.
    3) Surface street improvements for the “branches”.
    4) Buying new buses which would enable level boarding.
    5) Off board payment mechanisms.
    6) Lots of bus service (which is essentially the same as the express bus service).

    I am guessing that there isn’t too much of the first two (that they would rather WSDOT do that). Is there any of the third?

    I hope they aren’t planning on spending a lot on the fourth and fifth, because I don’t think it would be worth it. I would imagine all of the stations have plenty of room for buses, so a delay is not the same as a delay in a bus tunnel. Nor are there that many stops, so the difference in speed is minor. From Kent to Woodinville there would be ten stops — that is not that many for the distance involved. In comparison, Seattle’s RapidRide has a lot more over a much shorter area. Then again, if they need to buy new buses anyway, then I guess you might as well add them to your system (it probably doesn’t cost much to support level boarding and off board payment).

  15. The thing that bugs me about this proposal is that most of the highlighted network already exists as ST express routes.

    The purple route is a grade separated 540, the Green route is the truncated 554 that will be in service once East Link opens, the orange route is a truncated 542 which already seems to be in the cards. What’s new is the Blue route on the ERC and the Red route which has elements of the 240 from Downtown Bellevue to Bellevue College and the 555/556 from there to Issaquah highlands.

    The 540 is spectacularly unpopular in a way that I don’t think running on the ERC would change. Some of that is the 255 winning ridership which will change if the U Link restructure does well. However I don’t see 255/540 improvements winning many votes next year while providing an easy target for people who want to portray ST3 as a waste of money on the East Side.

    The Blue route misses the same SR-520 transfer I missed when I was helping with the better Eastside Rail post. That goes double for not for not showing a more transit friendly I-405/SR-520 interchange which might be a viable alternative.

    The Red route is a real mess. It appears to have more stops then the Better Eastside Rail proposal between Eastgate and Issaquah and is routed through a relatively undeveloped Richard Roads route in Bellevue. Freeway running is a good idea but I’m not sure where you are going from Freeway to grade separated Busway.

    I worry that grade separating the Red route would preclude interlineing with is East Link and harm travel within Bellevue and prevents trips from Kirkland to Bellevue College and Issaquah,

    The other countervailing force (and you can yell rail bias all you want) is that Light Rail is more popular among the general public. For example the comments on the long range being overwhelming in support of light rail in every subarea. Part of that was Seattle Subway’s organization, but they are mostly tapping into sentiment that was already there.

    I’d be fascinated to see a poll that breaks down specific packages and gives us a baseline for comparing voter preference for BRT vs light rail in individual subareas. My guess is that most voters struggle to understand the difference between BRT and other bus service.

    1. >> The other countervailing force (and you can yell rail bias all you want) is that Light Rail is more popular among the general public.

      I disagree and I may have to post a Page 2 post so I don’t have to keep repeating the same argument. Basically, there is a preference for grade separated (really expensive) light rail with frequent stops in Seattle, and a preference for express buses in the suburbs. It is as if people in the city prefer to spend more or transit and both want to get their money’s worth. Imagine that. Consider:

      1) The first transit vote, which had lots of rail, but failed miserably in the suburbs (enough to kill it).
      2) ST1 passed — it had scaled down rail and lots of express buses and some commuter rail.
      3) Roads and Transit failed — It had lots of rail.
      4) ST2 passed — it had less rail.

      So basically, rail is 1-3 in the suburbs, and only the smaller plan was supported. A plan that was so obvious (tying together downtown Bellevue and Seattle) that just about everyone could support it. I can’t imagine any route that would be as popular as that one. Make another lake crossing, and everyone will ask “do we really need another one?” (after all, the Bay Area — the Freaking Bay Area! — only has one). Kirkland is pretty small (Magnolia is more densely populated) and Redmond is about to have its own rail line. Will they want to pay a bundle just so they can ride a train to the U-District, instead of an express bus? I doubt it.

      1. Those are 4 different sets of voters. With the overriding pattern that transit gets passed in high turnout presidential election years. It appears to me not that the voters on the eastside have a preference for buses but that the marginal voters in all regions are strong supporters of transit.

        Looking at just King County results in 2007 vs 2008, appears that twice as many people voted in 2008. 403,053 vs 809,148. So rail isn’t “1-3” in the suburbs so much as Sound Transit has learned not to run measures in off years (nor anger Seattle Greens by pairing with freeways).

        Of course I’d rather see more detailed polling on the issue, as opposed to the speculation which both of us are engaging in.

  16. Hmm, I’m interested in hearing more. I think this is the right overall approach. I notice a couple of obvious holes in the network, including no connection between the yellow (405) and green (Issaquah) lines, and no station or connections at 85th. The first hole means people traveling via 405 buses have a hard time reaching destinations to the east south of Bellevue, creating a lot of 3-seat rides. The lack of a direct Redmond-Kirkland route means that two big downtown cores across from each other require off-direction two-seat trips. But you can’t serve everything, and fixing the network for major destinations might allow for restructuring Metro’s service to fill those holes.

    Alternatively, maybe you could add some 405 routes that branch at 85th and Factoria (say Renton to Redmond (and/or Kirkland) via 85th, and Everett to Bellevue College via Factoria). People on those branch routes could transfer at Bellevue to routes with different branches on the far tail, while also reducing many 3-seat rides to two seats.

    The political questions are the big ones. Will people accept a bus-centered plan? Will they balk at transit on the ERC? Is there any way to address those political concerns without running out of money? You need to be able to quickly tell a story that equals significant improvements in travel times for most of the Eastside. Or people will vote no.

    1. I agree. I worry about the politics of running a bus on the ERC (as I stated elsewhere). If it is anything like the Burke Gilman, it is a non-starter.

      However, I do think people will accept a bus-centric plan (as I said above) but I agree, people have to see a big improvement, otherwise they will wonder what the money is for. ST Express buses have been really popular in the past, but one of their selling points is that they are pretty cheap and fast. Spending a bunch more to add a bit routes that are less popular might not sell any more than an overpriced rail line. That being said, I see a lot of promise here and a lot of potential. This spreads the wealth pretty well, but I think it needs to be spread a bit further, as you said (to better connect the I-90 corridor as well as 85th).

      Meanwhile, the rest of Link probably won’t gain any east side votes. Unlike UW to downtown, the average Bellevue voter won’t gain much out of Ballard light rail and gain even less from improved bus service or light rail to West Seattle. ST3 is very tricky in every region, but this is at least reasonable and stands a chance (unlike West Seattle light rail or extending the spine, which will probably crash and burn if ever put to a vote).

  17. I wonder what the First Eastsider, professor of a dozen languages, third most brilliant scientist in the world, and emperor of the comments section, thinks of this.

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