Keeping an eye on things
Many Metro and Sound Transit routes use I-90 between the Eastside and downtown. Sound Transit routes 550 and 554 and Metro routes 212 through 219 together total almost 20,000 riders daily. In less than 18 months, the ride to Seattle will change significantly during the East Link construction process. And of course, that’s just the beginning: I-90 buses will have even bigger changes when East Link opens in 2023.

Right now, I-90 buses from the Eastside have HOV 2+ or Express lanes for the entire length of I-90 in the peak direction, and HOV 2+ east of Mercer Island contra-peak. Then buses either proceed into the transit-only tunnel, or go on surface streets like 2nd/4th and 3rd (which is transit-only during peak). In June of 2017, the express lanes close to cars and buses move to new HOV lanes from Bellevue to Rainier Avenue*. In a relatively new development, all agencies involved have agreed to keep the D-2 roadway (which is west of Rainier) open to buses until 2018, allowing them to still flow unimpeded into downtown.

In 2018, the D-2 roadway closes also, and these changes occur:

  • The 554, contra-peak 212, and 217 get off at Rainier, serve a new stop at Rainier and Charles that replaces the Rainier freeway stop, and continue downtown via S Jackson St., using only three of the 6 stop pairs that the 7 has in this stretch.
  • The other I-90 buses get off and on at 4th Avenue and serve Seattle using 2nd and 4th.
  • The 550 uses 2nd and 4th Ave instead of the tunnel.

There is a plan to mitigate likely additional delays, as shown above:

  • Eastbound, a bus-only lane will be added on the I-90 shoulder between the I-5 NB on ramp and I-5 SB ramp (approximately 1200 feet long)
  • A red bus-only lane on 4th Ave Northbound from the I-90 Westbound ramp to Weller St.
  • The center lane of the I‐90 Westbound offramp at 4th Ave S becomes Transit Only.
  • Transit signal priority (but not a Transit lane) on SR 519 (Atlantic St)/ 4th Ave Ramps to I-90.
  • A new bus-only hard shoulder running lane on the I‐90 Eastbound on-ramp from Rainier Ave Southbound.
  • A transit queue jump on the 76th Ave to Westbound I-90 onramp on Mercer Island.

According to Sound Transit projections, the net effect is 5-8 extra minutes on every PM bus trip  westbound, but no measurable impact on peak AM westbound buses or any Eastbound trips.  I’m skeptical about how that’s possible; I drive the HOV lanes of I-90 every morning and the space between the tunnel and the 4th ave exit seems like a big opportunity for a bottleneck with no transit priority in the AM Peak. The 554 reroute to Rainier and then Jackson also will be slow. According to OneBusAway, the Route 7 trip from Rainier & I-90 to 3rd and Pike (1.5 miles) takes about 18 minutes in peak, vs. about 11 minutes for the 550 and 13 for surface buses.**

This comes at a critical 5 year period for Seattle to Bellevue transit: Metro and ST need to build ridership in anticipation of East Link, and slower buses won’t help. In fairness, though, cars aren’t going to be moving that fast either. Here are some more radical changes that would increase reliability and speed on this corridor:

  • Make HOV lanes on I-90 from Mercer Island HOV 3+: this would decrease the traffic in these lanes and increase the chances that buses arrive on time even in heavy traffic. Of course, this will upset 2 person carpools, as it has on I-405 North of Bellevue, but it might be worth it given the number of riders on the corridor.
  • Add a transit only lane westbound from just after the Mount Baker Tunnel to just before the 4th Avenue Exit: This will eliminate a potential congestion point when the HOV lane ends. Again, this removes a lane from general purpose with the caveats mentioned above.
  • Consider a Super Express 551 which bypasses Bellevue Way and Mercer Island during construction. Several readers think this makes the schedule more complicated, but as a temporary construction mitigation it might be a way to get more people to Seattle and back faster.
  • Give the 554 some 24/7 Transit Only or HOV lanes to work with from Rainier into downtown.  I’m not sure if Jackson is the best street to do this (though if it was, could we speed up the streetcar too?), but perhaps Dearborn is a candidate.
  • Magically speed up construction so that East Link opens early: We can dream, right? This is going to be a pretty miserable commute for everyone, cars and buses during the 5.5 years East Link is under construction.

I-90 Commuters: what changes would you make on this corridor during East Link Construction?

* Only the segment from Mercer Island to Seattle is new.

** Obviously, traffic diversion due to all the changes, and fewer stops and boardings than the 7, may impact these estimates. On the other hand, the 7’s scheduled times are not entirely realistic.

74 Replies to “Coming in 2018: Major Changes to I-90 Buses”

  1. Having the 554 divert to Ranier Ave. to access the freeway is very disappointing. The net effect is to slow down every trip for every rider, in the name of serving only a small number riders who currently use Ranier Freeway Station today.

    I would be ok with Ranier->Jackson as a temporary event routing to avoid event traffic associated with Mariners/Seahawks/Sounders games, but to have every single trip do this, all day long, is ridiculous. Expect to see a large number of current route 554 riders drive to the 550 instead.

    Yes, I realize that having to backtrack to 4th/Jackson to go to Eastgate sucks, but a 20-minute delay for 3 riders per trip is still much better than a 10-minute delay for 30 riders per trip, not to mention the additional service hours required to sit at all those extra lights.

    1. Why Jackson instead of Dearborn? Dearbiorn has gobs of extra capacity from when I-90 terminated there.

      1. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. It looks like they’re adding a stop on Jackson between 13th and 14th, which could be useful for eastside-First Hill commutes. Maybe it’s a trial run for a post-East Link service pattern (i.e. an all-day eastside-First Hill connection, connecting to the train at Mercer Island for the sort of transfers that occur at the Points stations along 520 today, though not in any great number).

      2. 12th and Jackson isn’t even really First Hill. Riders would still need to transfer to either the streetcar or the 60 to get to where the actual jobs are. Which is ultimately no quicker than simply transferring downtown, assuming the bus goes directly to downtown.

        Nor is it necessary to have yet another bus going between 12th/Jackson and downtown – having the 554 stop there would merely poach riders waiting for a much more frequent 7, 36, or streetcar.

        Ultimately, the reason for doing is probably more symbolism that actual service needs. Ranier is losing its freeway station due to EastLink construction, so Sound Transit feels obligated to have some bus stop there, to show the local residents that they aren’t abandoning the area. The only Sound Transit routes that serve the Ranier Freeway Station today are the 550 and 554 (the other buses are King County Metro routes and, hence, don’t count). The 550 carries more riders than the 554 (hence more people to complain at being subjected to a Ranier Ave. deviation), so the 554 draws the short end of the stick.

        Ultimately, this reasoning is silly – while the 554 may carry fewer riders than the 550, it still carries far more riders than the number of people that use Ranier Freeway Station. Ranier Freeway Station will still have the 7, and a good chunk of the riders who use it are probably taking the 7 anyway to get there.

      3. 12th and Jackson isn’t First Hill, but I’m thinking a post-East Link pattern would go all the way up by whatever route the existing peak-hour First Hill expresses do. That’s the only reason I can think that they’d go to Jackson and put a stop along it instead of just serving the Rainier/Charles stop (which replaces the freeway station) and taking Dearborn.

        The Rainier Freeway Station issue isn’t having some bus stop in the neighborhood, it’s having a bus to the eastside there. It’s for connections from the 7, not to bypass the 7.

      4. Post EastLink, there is really no good reason for having any bus fight traffic on I-90, whether the destination is downtown or First Hill. This should especially true during the peak hours, when traffic is at its worst and the frequency of Link is at its best. With Link running every 6 minutes, plus the inevitable bottleneck on the other side of the bridge when the HOV lane ends, it is virtually certain that (at least during rush hour), any bus going direct into Seattle would be passed by a Link train somewhere along the I-90 bridge – a train that the passengers on the bus could have gotten onto at Mercer Island.

        Once the train reaches downtown, the Madison BRT will be an excellent solution for last-mile travel to the First Hill Hospitals. (Simply getting out and walking up the hill is another excellent solution). Even if Eastgate->First Hill is a 3-seat ride this way, it would still be much faster than a one-seat ride that gets stuck in traffic all the way from Mercer Island to the hospital doorstep.

        “The Rainier Freeway Station issue isn’t having some bus stop in the neighborhood, it’s having a bus to the eastside there.”

        And this business about having “some bus to the eastside” there is a big part of why the change is more symbolic than actually helpful. If you are actually trying to get to the eastside, the 550 and 554 are not interchangable. One goes to Bellevue, one goes to Eastgate and Issaquah. Bellevue is the bigger market, but it’s also the market that the 554’s deviation will do almost nothing for. In practice, once you’re already on the 7 at I-90/Ranier, it will be faster to just stay on the 7 to 5th/Jackson and get on the 550 there than it would be to get off at Ranier/Charles, wait 5 minutes for the “walk” sign to cross Ranier, then wait 10 minutes for a 554, then wait another 10 minutes for a 550 at Mercer Island.

        It we really wanted to mitigate the loss of Ranier Freeway Station, a peak-hour express route from Mt. Baker Transit Center to Bellevue Transit Center would be a true mitigation. However, that would require spending real service hours, while the “symbolic” service is nearly free. I wouldn’t oppose it, if it didn’t slow down everybody else’s trip in the process.

      5. I’m not saying you’re wrong about most of that… there would be more reason to think ST’s plan (which relies on another Mercer Island transfer to get to Bellevue) is a good idea if, for example, transfers at the freeway stations along 520 were more popular. Those stations make a bunch of trip patterns substantially more convenient, but apparently not enough to make them popular.

        I’m just trying to figure out what ST is doing, and I can’t think of another reason they’d send the 554 all the way up the hill to Jackson. IIRC the 7X used to take Dearborn, which leads me to believe it’s meaningfully faster than Jackson. If they aren’t doing it to intentionally try a stop in a new area, all I can figure is that they don’t know the local topology or traffic patterns. But then the game-day 550 uses Dearborn… I don’t know.

  2. I wonder what effect the new 520 bridge will have. When this is complete, general purpose traffic will flow much better. From a west bound perspective, right now the car pool lane ends at the edge of the bridge, and that traffic merges into the main line. The result is that general purpose traffic moves very slowly, as buses and carpool drivers pass them. There are some additional cars flowing onto the highway, but I believe all those ramps are metered. So general purpose traffic will flow much better once there are three lanes the entire way. But that won’t happen for a while. I assume the car pool lanes will now end at the other side of the bridge. So the pinch point for west bound traffic will move to the west, towards the other side of the bridge. The good news is that a lot of people get off there (by Montlake). My guess is that this means that west bound traffic will flow a lot better.

    A different thing will happen with east bound traffic. There is no “HOV passing lane”, but there are buses and carpools that enter without a meter at Montlake (general purpose cars have to wait). This has a similar, less pronounced squeezing. But more importantly, as this will have three lanes, you should see a huge improvement in speeds for everyone. HOV and buses should go much faster, because they won’t have to merge — but for those who are in the fast lane, it also should mean faster travel (since there won’t be as much merging).

    All of this is a very long way of saying that maybe pushing for these changes won’t be so hard once the new 520 bridge opens. Travel along that road, for both general purpose cars as well as buses and carpools is about to get much faster. That would be a good time to turn around and ask for changes to I-90 that could slow down general purpose traffic a bit. If you really have to drive alone, then maybe you can drive 520. Or rather, some of the drivers will drive 520, just because it will be much faster, and that will result in your drive being a little faster.

    1. Eliminating the carpool merge will help general-purpose traffic somewhat, but not by all that much. Even with meters, the entrance ramps at 84th and Bellevue Way are still very big bottlenecks, in and of themselves. There is also sometimes residual backup from the ramps to Montlake and I-5 onto 520.

      Ultimately, whatever new general-purpose capacity is added to Westbound 520 by eliminating the HOV merge will quickly become filled with induced demand, until delays become just as bad, if not worse, than they are today.

      In any case, I highly doubt the new Montlake lid will be complete by 2018, given that it’s 2016 today and they haven’t even started building it yet, nor announced a date for when construction will begin.

      1. The “won’t happen for a while” is the Montlake Lid. The rest of it will happen within a few months. For west bound traffic, the merge point is shifted, but it is shifted to where a lot of people get off (Montlake). I doubt it will be a lot better, but it will be a bit better.

        Of course induced demand will occur, but not for a while. That is the time to make these types of changes. Remember when they added lanes to I-90? Suddenly it flowed much better for everyone. It took years for demand to catch up. Now imagine if there were no HOV lanes the day that the I-90 expansion occurred. Imagine asking to “take a lane”. There would be very little objection, because things were flowing much better. By the time demand shifted, the HOV lanes would be in place.

        I’m thinking the same thing could happen here. Obviously the timing isn’t as good, nor are the changes as dramatic. But I do think they are substantial.

      2. Actually, won’t the merge be at the western high-rise, still in the lake well before Montlake? The backup will be spread out, but it won’t be eliminated.

      3. @William — Hmmm, could be. I don’t know the layout (I assumed the merge was closer to Montlake).

      4. Until the Montlake lid is built, the HOV lane will still end before any exits after the 520 bridge – the merge isn’t going away. Although it will, at least be a bit more spread, as different drivers have different thresholds for how early they have to start getting over to the right in preparation for exiting the freeway. When traffic is at capacity, whatever backup results from the HOV merge (which will still happen), will ripple across the bridge. It will still save about 3-5 minutes for buses and carpools (on a typical weekday afternoon) over the current configuration, but it won’t make much different in general-purpose traffic.

        With regard to RossB’s comments about how induced demand takes several years, that mostly applies to situations where everybody is already driving their own car, and more sprawl has to actually be built (e.g. years of construction) before induced demand is really felt. However, in the case of 520, there are plenty of riders on the 542, 545, and MS Connector that own cars and could easily afford the gas and bridge tolls, yet choose to take transit anyway in order to avoid the chronic westbound backup going home in the afternoon. If the GP traffic really started flowing better, these people could switch back to their cars as soon as they start looking out the window and noticing the pattern. The result is induced demand happening on a scale of weeks, not years.

      5. I expect that the tolls on 520 will keep some people on the bus even if the GP lanes are more free-flowing. It’s funny how we value certain fairly low-priced things, like not having to maintain a Good-To-Go account and paying the toll.

      6. It did for awhile. But, once people got used to the tolls and stopped avoiding 520 out of philosophical opposition to paying them, traffic on 520 has gotten just as bad as it was before the tolling began.

      7. Are you sure about that last point, asdf2? My guess based on my own experience has been that it has moved much better. There was a big drop off in traffic, then an increase, but it still isn’t as bad as it was. But I haven’t looked at the data.

        As for the other point — I think it depends on how the merge is done. If it is just a straight 3 lanes to 2 before Montlake, then it won’t do much. But if the merge occurs right when people get off at Montlake, then I could see it having a positive effect. Not necessarily a huge one, but significant.

        As for people getting back in their cars once driving is easier — I doubt it. Once you get used to a bus commute, you tend to stick with it, unless it sucks. You get used to the money saved, less stress, and if you are like me, the extra time to read. But if your bus commute becomes worse, or in my case, was just annoyingly inconsistent (I never knew when the 73 was coming) then you start thinking about driving.

        I think the driving demand is often between different routes. People are moving between 520 and I-90. If (and that is a big if) 520 traffic moved much better in a few months, then I could see I-90 drivers using it a bit more (which would decrease I-90 traffic a bit).

        All of this is probably a moot discussion, because the timing is way off, and as people have said, the new bridge won’t do that much.

      8. My guess based on my own experience has been that it has moved much better. There was a big drop off in traffic, then an increase, but it still isn’t as bad as it was. But I haven’t looked at the data.

        That’s what I’ve seen looking at the morning flow maps but it would be nice to get the stats from WSDOT. I also believe there are more cars now than ever before or at least equal to the previous peak.

        As for an Express from Bellevue TC on 520 it could use NE 8th and the fancy new braid. Or it could get on at 6th and “pull a Mercer” to exit onto 520 but that cloverleaf is anything but lucky in the morning. Ultimate mitigation would be for ST to help fund direct HOV access ramps from 405 to 520!

        Another option would be 112th north and make a loop of S. Kirkland P&R. The reason for doing this is you could pull a few service hours from the 255; all the buses that currently “terminate” at Kirkland TC and then take 405 to Totem Lake TC for the return. And the very least those buses could stay on 520/405 all the way to Totem Lake instead of doing the time consuming leg from S. Kirkland to DT. With sufficient capacity and headway you might even be able to terminate some of the 255 buses at S. Kirkland. If the 255 forced a transfer to Link at UW and riders instead had the option to take a 543 directly to DT that would be an interesting experiment in rider choice.

      9. As someone who travels across the 520 bridge every day, peak-hour traffic is about as bad now as it was before tolls were collected. I think off-peak travel is, indeed, a bit lighter, which makes sense – detouring to I-90 is much less of a deal when I-5, I-90, and I-405 are free-flowing than when they are congested.

        112th could be an option, but once the bus reaches the intersection of 10th/112th, it may as well just get on 405 there. When the ramp connects to 520, the bus is already in the exit-only lane to 108th, so when traffic is bad, instead of merging over the left, the bus can simply take the exit, wait for one stoplight, re-enter the freeway at the direct access ramp, and be on its way. The off-and-on trick at 108th is actually quite efficient, and lots of 545 and 542 trips take advantage of it as well.

        As to a detour to South Kirkland P&R, I have my doubts. At a minimum, it would add several minutes to the trip, and it would very difficult to make it spaced evenly with the 255, with the two routes coming from different directions and passing through different sets of traffic obstacles along the way. It would also create an incentive for people who already live near the 255 further north to drive to the P&R just to get slightly better frequency to downtown.

      10. As to a detour to South Kirkland P&R, I have my doubts.

        You’re probably right. What makes more sense is to run the 255 to Childrens and let DT riders have a choice of transferring to Link at Montlake or to a 543 Express from Bellevue TC to one of the flyer stops.

        Now, why did they spend huge amounts of money on ADA compliant flyers stops at both Hunts Point and Evergreen Pt? Neither gets much use and both slow down the buses. One or the other would have been the right answer.

  3. Give the 554 some 24/7 Transit Only or HOV lanes to work with from Rainier into downtown. I’m not sure if Jackson is the best street to do this (though if it was, could we speed up the streetcar too?),

    As far as Jackson is concerned, here is what Frank wrote a while ago (

    The TMP [for Corridor 3: Mt. Baker via Rainier & Jackson] also includes this nugget: “evaluate tradeoffs of converting First Hill Streetcar running way on Jackson Street to center-running transit-only lanes to allow for shared RapidRide/streetcar operations and … center-platform stations.” The result would be an impressive 33% travel time savings through the corridor.

    There are issues of mixing regular buses with off board payment buses. Specifically, you don’t want a regular bus (with people messing with change or a wheel chair lift) bringing an expensive BRT or streetcar to a standstill. But if the bus is an express, this issue goes away. At worst the express bus waits twenty seconds for a streetcar or BRT. There wouldn’t be any bus stops along Jackson for the 554 But there aren’t any now, so I don’t see that as a problem. Basically the first bus stop would be as it turns off Jackson onto 5th. If you wanted to, you could add “alighting only” service for that area, so that people who were headed to other parts of Jackson (or even Rainier) wouldn’t have to backtrack.

    That might mean speeding up the RapidRide+ process, though. I’m not sure how long it will take for this corridor to receive the Prop one service. It does make sense, I think, to make the changes all at once. You wouldn’t want to reserve the center running lane just for the streetcar on Jackson, because the 7 and 36 carry way more people. But once you replace the 7 with a new BRT then the vast majority of transit riders on Jackson (if not all of them*) would be traveling in the center lane.

    * You could move the 36 and 14 off Jackson,

    1. Whoopee, end the route at 14th and show them where to board the FHSC to meet ridership projections.

      1. This plan is headed in the right direction, Mic. But, again considering the cost of motionless operating time, would be even better to extend the First Hill car-line all the way over the hill to Lake Washington.

        Where passengers can meet boats to Kirkland and Medina. Even better, as I’ve seen done in Denmark, roll the whole streetcar onto a specially-designed ferry-boat.

        With either choice, ferry could also stop at Mercer Island. If your stats on current passenger loads on FHS are correct, not only would ridership increase dramatically, but nobody will notice the amount of time the cars are missing.

        Remember also: With hybrid batteries, no wire needed! Car can just coast down to the Lake, and power itself back up.

        Also, with art program permission, or not, giant black wheel can be borrowed from Pioneer Square south mezzanine to restore the historic cable car line over the hill to the lake. Pressure from screaming, demanding little kids will guarantee transit’s top ridership for two hundred years.

        But: with real setback, like if bridge sinks, ST can unbolt the floating bridge, and lash up to the same tugboats that secured it the last time it sank, creating a ferry that the whole system will demand be made permanent. Which, exactly like the the boats in Denmark, can still have grooved rail.

        Another example of how fast, flexible thinking can shift the balance sheet so fast the attorneys, as is general airline practice, won’t be able to get a dime back on their canceled tickets.

        As homicide-justifying usual, Mark

      2. For some twisted logic reason, I like the Lk Washington idea. Must be a gravity wave disturbance. I hope ST has the foresight to build a rail-ramp ™ into the lake so the new generation FHSC-Ducks ™ can be purchased with no breaks in service.
        Help! I’m starting to write like Mark.

    2. hence why it is standard practice (except in seattle) to have transit lanes that allow standard right door boarding… all buses can use it. they may not need to now but have the option in the future. rapidride+, now this are all changes coming to Jackson and Jackson was just redesigned for the streetcar a few years ago which is now outdated

      1. Sigh. Really? This again? Really?

        No, it is not standard practice to to have transit lanes that allow standard right door boarding.

        Sorry, you may not have read the previous posts where this was discussed in great detail. You could also just think through what “off board payment” means, and what the ramifications are. You could also just read what I just wrote (“There are issues of mixing regular buses with off board payment buses”).

        Issues. Trade-offs. That sort of thing. Are you suggesting that Link use the curb lane, so that the 8 can share that lane? Would that be standard practice? Of course not — because that would slow down the more important light rail line.

        So when the 7 becomes a BRT bus (with off board payment) it makes sense to make it center running. By running in the center, you avoid traffic. This means that it runs the same way Link does — exclusively. The 7 carries about 1/3 the number of riders that Link does right now. It stands to reason that an increase in frequency and a huge increase in speed will send that number soaring. It just doesn’t make sense to worry about buses like the 14 or even the 554, which combined carry less than half those riders today. Besides, like I said, the 554 could easily share the lane, as long as it doesn’t make any stops along Jackson (which is the case right now).

      2. You can have both if you reverse the direction of the center lanes, so that they can use right-side doors at stations. It’s what Bellevue Transit Center has.The main problem with this is it can confuse pedestrians about which direction the car threats are coming from, but if you make the center between the lanes look like the end of the street, then it looks like two streets with the traditional two directions, and pedestrians’ intuition will be corrrect.

      3. Any truly dedicated transit lane arrangement on Jackson would require rebuilding the streetcar tracks so that the left turn pockets were outside the tracks, not between them.

        Without tearing up the tracks, we can expect drivers to be able to handle accessing a median turn pocket by merging into and out of same-direction transit lane traffic. This limits transit speed approaching the merge when the general-purpose lane is congested.

        Jackson is not suited to an SF-style left turn ban — the local street network is irregular, incomplete, and sometimes very steep. Westbound-to-southbound turns at 12th, 10th, and 8th would be hard to accommodate (12th being the only one that’s really critical)… all that traffic would have to be diverted to King at Rainier.

      4. Arggg. You are right. What a pain. The streetcar is really annoying me. Yet another reason why the streetcar was a terrible idea. This would be pretty easy to fix if it was BRT. Keep all the stations — they are fine. Get rid of the mid-street turn pockets — they are unnecessary. Move the streetcar lanes right next to each other. Add a turn lane for westbound Jackson to southbound 12th, but put that turn lane on the outside of the streetcar lanes. Then make it “left turn only on left turn light”. The driver would cut in front of the streetcars, but since the arrow is green, it is safe. Do that as necessary for the other streets.

      5. Let’s see, 8th already has a pocket. So does 4th. The rest of them don’t need them in my opinion. Just force a bunch of right turns. Close to downtown, it is fairly level through there. To the east, it is steep to get up to Main. But it is quite level on King. If you are westbound and want to take a left, you take it on 12th or 8th and then a left on King. If you are eastbound and want to take a left you take a series of rights.

        I would be more concerned about some of the mid block deliveries around 10th and 12th. Getting to the VIet-Wah supermarket from downtown would be a pain for a truck driver. It can be done, but it would involve a lot of looping around. I’m not sure how to fix that without adding a pocket and treat it like 12th. That would be weird, but not unprecedented (it is common in the suburbs to have substantial road design for a supermarket).

        Anyway, given what is about to happen on Madison, none of this seems that big of a deal. It is very disruptive, to be sure, and a lot of drivers — including a lot of people who drive for a living — will be inconvenienced. But people deal with it. I think just taking the lane would have a bigger impact. Forcing people to take a series of rights in general is a good thing. In this case it would force traffic onto King a bit, but not so much that it couldn’t handle it (or such that it would back up onto streets like 12th or Jackson).

      6. Right. So the tracks definitely need to be torn up and moved at 12th to accommodate outside turn pockets. At 8th, probably the same thing.

        At the Viet-Wah, either the tracks need to be torn up and moved to accommodate a westbound pocket… or we could avoid tearing up the street. Just put a full traffic signal at 10th with no left turns from Jackson, and reconfigure the parking lot to be accessible from 10th. Access from the west is via 8th-King-10th (or 12th-King-10th if you miss the turn at 8th). It’s close enough to the western edge of the pocket for 12th that maybe it’s best to just get it done along with 12th.

        Whatever we do there should incorporate a good pedestrian crossing of Jackson, since there isn’t a good anywhere between 8th and 12th today.

        I’m guessing that in-lane curbside bus stops for the 36 (still a very popular route) and 14 aren’t a big problem, because Jackson doesn’t actually carry that much car traffic. For the same reason, the impact of real dedicated transit lanes is not what it would be on some other streets. Signal priority might actually be worth more.

        None of this solves the problem of how to bike downtown from East Jackson, but we may have screwed that up permanently. About the best I got is… people like me that think it’s hilarious when idiot drivers honk at them to move when there’s nowhere to move to can keep taking Jackson. For people that don’t think that’s hilarious, we extend the westbound bike lane all the way to 14th, mark a south-then-west path through the crosswalks to the west side of Rainier, and follow that to King.

  4. Would adding express buses encourage anybody to leave the car home? Add up the cost of all the operating delays now being accepted as inevitable, it might be cheaper to give passengers on these buses a free ride for the duration.

    Also, temporarily lease some land for Park and Rides on the East Side. And/or feed these these with shuttle-buses.

    Also, the public might be willing to accept more measures to move buses faster, rather than sit in their cars every rush hour for five and a half years. It’s not like we’ll be taking away anybody’s Freedom. If plan works, absolutely the opposite.

    Mark Dublin

  5. A more frequent 271 (which uses 520) could relieve some of the burden.

    I am a frequent 550 rider, but sometimes opt to get to Bellevue via 271 using a transfer at Montlake. The arrival of ULink should make that option even more appealing, potentially becoming the fastest way to get from Seattle Downtown or Capitol Hill to Bellevue Transit Center.

    1. I’m not sure how appealing that is (Link to 271), given the transfer situation at UW Station.

      1. Modifying bus circulation between 520 and UW station under the legitimacy of construction mitigation would probably be a great strategy! Call it temporary and see what transpires!

      2. The point is that when I-90 and Bellevue Way are clogged, it will likely still be faster. Especially in the eastbound direction, where there’s no Montlake exit ramp to deal with. At the end of the day, total, door to door travel time is agnostic to what percentage of the time is spent riding vs. waiting vs. walking. There are also people who would prefer breaking up the trip with a little bit of exercise, rather than sitting in traffic for 45 minutes straight.

  6. Why should it take five and a half years to put the track across the bridge and through Seattle? That should be the very last thing scheduled in the system. Every mile of non I-90 track should be complete, tested and ready for operation before work on I-90 begins, so that when the work across the bridge is then complete it can begin service as quickly as possible.

    If that has not been done, the project schedulers should be fired. If it has been done, then they’re not using enough resources on the bridge section. It should not take five and a half years.

    1. This is the most complicated and unprecedented part of the construction. It needs a time buffer in case it takes longer than expected.

    2. OK, OK, not EVERY piece of non-I-90 track has to be complete. It’s fine to build simultaneously. But the schedule should ensure that it is all to have been completed by a minimum of six months before the bridge construction ends. And then they need to spend like a drunken sailor on the bridge section itself. Even if it means slowing down Lynnwood and sacrificing the extension to Midway in ST2.

    3. Why does it matter? The construction disruption will take the same amount of time no matter whether they start it sooner or later. And cutting back on Lynnwood or Midway won’t happen because of subarea equity.

      1. It matters because the bridge will be so badly impacted. It a Republican wins the governorship they may well cancel the project because of complaints as they’re doing with the tolling. The State does control WSDOT, after all.

        As to sub-area equity, East King loaded more than $100 million for North Link I believe. Slowing down Lynnwood will be less impactful than closing the center of the bridge. So what if all-day buses intercept at Northgate for five years instead of three (for instance)? That’s where the two way HOV starts so it’s really a rather sane place for a bus intercept.

        And yes, I know that bus intercept at Northgate for most routes will be a nightmare. But for I-5 to and from the north it’s really not horrid. A bus lane from 105th northbound on First NE and a signal jump at the on-ramp wouldn’t be abominable. And actually the southbound path to First NE is pretty darn smooth.

        I’m talking about the all-day buses only; the peak-hour downtown-bound expresses would continue to run to downtown Seattle for the extended period.

      2. And so far as Midway, well, the same logic applied. South 200th could be made a decent bus intercept for not a whole lot of money. It doesn’t make sense to do that if it’s only going to be the end point for two years. But it could become the end point for four or five pretty easily. The A-Line already will stop there, and the Military Road ramps to and from I-5 are — at least for now — less congested than most. And of course, all-day expresses could continue on the mile to Sea-Tac for airport passengers.

      3. “So what if all-day buses intercept at Northgate for five years instead of three (for instance)?”

        There won’t be buses intercepting at Northgate. They built Link to Lynnwood so they wouldn’t have to do that. You’d have to build new freeway ramps and street lanes for hundreds of buses over a street that’s already at capacity, and all that concrete would be obsolete in two years.

  7. RossB, a thousand years of public transit precedent followed its propulsion mode to the glue factory a historical eye-blink ago.

    And even measured by current level of DSTT- training, a diagonal crossing of a wide arrow-signaled intersection shouldn’t dent anybody’s accident record.

    At speed through overhead of less than ten miles an hour, no intersection-full-of-tons-of-600-volt-metal should occur either. Much less often than losing a mirror in a sidewalk zone, or hit by a rolling out-of-control dumpster.

    Make every boarding zone Proof of Payment, and won’t be anywhere near the trouble caused by fare-box collecting buses still ritually kept in the DSTT even with 5 second train headways because, like right door only bus boarding, it’s been there for three hundred years.

    And High Priests will never sanction the ages old weekly ceremony of inscribing the Revered Excuse for a Stupid Policy on parchment. Or chiseling it into the granite at Westlake. Glad to see that Somebody in your generation respects these things!


    1. Why are bus stops called zones? Can’t they just use the normal word stop? A zone is a space something is in, not a place something is at.

      1. Because not all buses stop at the flag (bus sign), but all buses pass through the zone or maybe it’s just neat to say zone instead of stop, like alighting rather than ‘get off’.
        Mark can further complicate the origins of such anomalies, such as the Star Trek influence on being in the zone.
        Hey Mark, here’s one right down the middle for your specialty.

      2. A bus stop isn’t a point in space. It occupies curb space and lane space. You can see from the red and yellow stripes painted on the curb. If you have two buses at a stop is the second bus not at the stop because it’s not at where the sign is? That’s my interpretation anyway.

        Also, why are the tunnel stops called bays? It’s not like they pull off the roadway. No one’s ever called a straight section of coast a bay. The platforms would need to be curved even slightly.

      3. Bus zone, wet day, she’s there, I say
        Please share my umbrella

        Just doesn’t have the same romance.

        bā/ an area allocated or marked off for a specified purpose.
        “a loading bay”
        It’s where buses drop anchor :=

      4. The thing is, a “zone” can be any other space. The Mercer Island Bridge is a zone. Residential parking areas are zones. So it’s odd to say buses are going into zones when anything can be a zone; it doesn’t imply “bus stop”.

  8. Given the length of time for operations here, I would think that EB access could be possible at Rainier using the EB off-ramp and one of the EB on ramps — with some restriping and signal changes. Did anyone look into this?

  9. I wish the actual East Link route followed this path, with a station serving Yesler Terrace & Little Saigon.

    1. It’s too bad that there isn’t a station under the 12th Avenue bridge. I would have been a great opportunity to build an elevator up to 12th Avenue, which could have been the terminus of the FHSC (Broadway to Jackson to 12th). Also, Dearborn could have been up-zoned to be as dense as First Hill. Oh well — just another example of Seattle incremental transit planning (agencies considering only things that they control and only things that they can fund).

      1. What, Yesler Terrace and Little Saigon?

        Rainier ain’t no picnic, but by that standard basically all of Seattle is a hopeless car sewer. To say nothing of Bellevue-east-of-the-transit-center. Broadway used to be a standard Seattle four-lane. It’s fair to dream of a day Jackson isn’t one, but it’ll never happen without some forward-thinking investments.

  10. I always thought the 551 was a good idea too. There are a lot more Bellevue riders on the 550 than Mercer Island ones. No extra funds would be needed. It’s just a matter of converting about a little less than half of the peak runs into the 551.

    1. The 551 remains a bad idea for the same reasons I outlined last year. Half the 550’s ridership is at South Bellevue and Mercer Island. While it is true a lot of the South Bellevue ridership will go away (to Bellevue Presbyterian – I believe that is the primary lot Sound Transit is leasing), Mercer Island constitutes a very significant portion of the 550’s ridership.

      All of the sources of slowness on the 550 that you can reasonably skip around are in Bellevue, so while re-routing the 550 over to I-405 might make some kind of sense, once you’re on I-90 there’s very little reason to not serve Mercer Island. The deviation to serve Mercer Island doesn’t cost you much time, especially counter-peak, and the ridership is significant enough to warrant the service.

    2. I have my concerns too but a super express 551 or some variant is at least intriguing to me. I ride the 252/257/311 from Totem Lake to the CBD downtown. The idea of taking a 532/535 to BTC and then getting on a very fast tunnel bus is appealing as so much of my time in my commute is spent sitting on Stewart and 5th. Even with the added time of the 550’s stops a few times a month due to accidents on I5 I do the 532/535>550 and generally save time over friends who do not.

  11. The timing of this whole thing is a friggin’ disaster. There’s really no reason to kick buses out of the tunnel so early because you’d be severely under-utilizing it as well as creating a massive nightmare upstairs. I have no idea how we can cram yet more buses onto 2nd, 4th, and 5th without major changes to downtown traffic operations; it is barely functional now, and adding 12 550s per hour along with the 41, 255, and all the other tunnel routes is just going to nuke things completely.

    As to the various ideas put forth:
    Make HOV lanes on I-90 from Mercer Island HOV 3+: Since Mercer Island gets to sign off on operational changes to I-90, the only way this happens is if Mercer Island SOVs get access. Or if they get their own bus (restore the old 202).

    Add a transit only lane westbound from just after the Mount Baker Tunnel to just before the 4th Avenue Exit: This has merit, although it would require heavy enforcement ala the West Seattle Bridge bus lane.

    Consider a Super Express 551 which bypasses Bellevue Way and Mercer Island during construction. I’m one of the several readers that think this is not a good idea, and I stand by that.

    Give the 554 some 24/7 Transit Only or HOV lanes to work with from Rainier into downtown: Dearborn is probably better since it has less traffic so it is both easier to take a lane and faster anyway, but if you’re going to do this you should probably make this the primary pathway into/out of downtown for all the buses.

    Magically speed up construction so that East Link opens early: I wish.

  12. If you think the blow back from tolls on 405, which actually made traffic better is big, just wait to see what happens when they close the Express Lanes on I-90. There will be serious pressure to pull the plug on the whole mismanaged and ill planned project.

    1. The problem is, Bernie, that if the rail system is canceled, it won’t be long as you think until even with everything same as rail except wheel covering, cars and buses still would not be able to handle future loads.

      As these pages have noted before, since buses cannot be coupled, safe following distance for a six bus platoon- same length but probably less passenger capacity as train- would take up about a quarter mile at 60 mph.

      Meaning either each group would have to wait to enter a section while it cleared, or platoon would have to slow done to maintain safety margins.

      And no carpool capacity rule would sufficiently reduce the number of cars. Meaning a much worse permanent blockage than plan shown here. This isn’t the Seattle of the days when movie star sailors and really cute (redundant) nurses, both sharp uniforms get a kiss that makes people forget a lot else about wars.

      But trucks. Highway passengers might put up with five and a half years with the only two corridors with a vital artery blocked, shippers can’t. Their lobbyists will also dynamite both the bridges, to clear their new ships.

      And potential passenger loads will finally not only justify a hydrofoil fleet, but capsize it without max capacity.

      But most obvious remedy: for 20 years, only sailing and nursing have needed either employees or bosses to be on same side of the lake, let alone same building. Creating work environment where people who can’t stand each others, like workers and bosses, won’t be in each others’ way.

      Also, despite being war propaganda, cute-kiss videos will send cats to their sandboxes to sulk and rip up the sofa.

      Mark Dublin

    2. I doubt there will be the same level of opposition. People see this as a temporary thing. The problem with the I-405 (in my opinion) is that they over promised. They said that general purpose traffic would be much better for everyone. It is obvious that it isn’t. That, and the opposition to tolling — especially voluntary tolling — got enough people pissed off about it to make some noise. If they has simply said that it gives freight users the opportunity to get their goods there on time at the same time transit will move much better, then I think people would be more accepting. Some people move faster, some slower, but way more people save time. Proposing that might have been a tough sell, but if it passed, then people would accept it more readily than the idea (complete with fancy graphics and lots of video) that “everyone wins” with HOT lanes.

      1. I doubt there will be the same level of opposition. People see this as a temporary thing.

        You can sell “temporary” for a 2 month closure. You might even stretch it for 18 months. Half a decade is forever.

    3. If we had built the Forward Thrust subway we wouldn’t have to retrofit the bridge now. People can blame the no vote in 1972, and not make the same mistake again. Incidentally, Seattlites working in the Eastside would have had traffic-free smooth sailing in the 2000s andf 2010s if rapid transit were already running.

      1. That was a further mitigation I hadn’t considered: Build Time Machine and go back to 1972 to get Forward Thrust subway approved. :)

  13. Seriously, what about the needs of trucking, and the use of boats? Any word at all about the needs of one, and the possibility of the other?


  14. How about an express from Bellevue that takes 520, but rather than the UW instead goes south and hits the Capitol Hill Station?

    It’s a roundabout way of going, but it avoids the traffic mess on I-90 and it goes the opposite direction from the tangle at UW. It all depends on if the traffic mess around UW and the Montlake Bridge + Link from UW to Capitol Hill is going to be slower than a bus from Montlake to Capitol Hill. Bellevue to UW already has the 271.

    1. Zach Shaner and I corresponded about this via email:
      Zach: The routing via 520 is 1/2 a mile shorter, and a truncation at UW Station would be 3 miles shorter. If the chief concern is Downtown Bellevue to Downtown Seattle, wouldn’t a “271X” to ULink or a new route “543” that runs Downtown Bellevue-405-520-Stewart-DSTT be preferable?

      Jason: I hadn’t thought about that. A few potential issues, but I think it might be viable despite them.
      – The routing out of Bellevue is a bit trickier because you have to get the bus from 6th and 110th (through 3 major traffic lights that turn every 10 minutes, it feels like) to 10th and 112th to access 520, rather than the direct access ramp to 90 from 6th/112th. You can’t use 405 unless you get on at 4th (which also involves several horrible traffic lights) because you can’t access 520 north of 4th.
      – Also, DSTT goes away soon all together, by my understanding, so I think there may be some trouble getting buses into downtown on the North side as well.
      – Truncation is an interesting idea, I wonder what the speed difference would end up being given the transfer penalty.

      That said, a 543 or a 551 might be the best option. Certainly worth exploring.

      1. Very interesting. It seems like all of this should have been considered well ahead of time. For example, access from Bellevue to 520 seems like a problem we should solve now, before this work is done. I’m not sure what it would take, but a project that solves that problem will always be useful. An express from the UW to Bellevue will always make a lot of sense. Yes, you will be able to go around in the future, but that will take 30 minutes, and this would likely take less than 20, even with stops on the freeway. Speaking of which, I could see some connectivity here as well. It might be faster to take a one seat bus to Kirkland, but if you miss that bus, then taking the “271X” to a 520 stop and then transferring might save you a lot of time.

      2. politcal: covers bellevue, but not mercer island.

        practical: anything that gets transit priority between montlake and uw station is a huge positive.
        would also help bellevue based uw students as much as east link will.

  15. “Magically speed up construction so that East Link opens early”

    Are there viable ways to speed up construction? Folks have said that Sound Transit is so slow by policy, so perhaps some of this can be expedited?

    It would be great to have the Judkins Park station open early at least providing Seattle’s first East-West subway connection… but I’m biased.

    Snark: I thought we had agreed to cancel the Mercer Island station, which would speed things up.

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