After Sound Transit released the draft system plan in March, some Eastside cities were unhappy it included a smaller investment in I-405 BRT than they had sought. Bellevue and Renton pushed for something closer to the “intensive capital” BRT with more parking and more stations using express toll lanes.
Some Eastside cities penned a joint letter, describing the proposal as comparable to ST Express service with improved headways, and demanding a much larger investment with more inline stops to create a BRT that is “the equivalent of light rail on rubber tires”. The attempt to forge a coalition of the I-405 corridor cities fell flat. Several East and South King cities did not sign. Some who signed were small cities that do not border I-405. None of the Snohomish County cities participated.
The amended system plan made some concessions. Sound Transit had agreed in March to relocate Renton’s downtown transit center to a more freeway-accessible location with 700 parking stalls. Renton pushed to expand the new South Renton transit center to accommodate 2,000 cars, and to add a second BRT stop at NE 44th St with parking for another 700. While the Board agreed only to 200 parking stalls in a surface lot at NE 44th St, the added center-line direct access facility adds $170 million to the cost of the BRT. An even more remote station with expanded parking at SE 112th in Bellevue was not included. Kirkland, taking a different approach, negotiated for more TOD in Kingsgate, reducing by 200 the planned parking expansion there.
I-405 BRT had lots of institutional momentum. The master plan for I-405, approved in 2002, envisions a BRT line with inline stations along I-405. To this end, Sound Transit has built transit centers and center ramps to the HOV lanes. WSDoT has created the express toll lanes north of Bellevue where buses could move reliably. With WSDoT now funded to extend the express lanes to the south, many observers expected a large investment in BRT on the corridor in ST3.
The plan ran up against uncomfortably low ridership numbers. Modelling suggests only 12,000 riders in 2040, and that the ridership isn’t increased at higher investment levels. A pared-down BRT, much of which runs in general traffic lanes, attracts as many riders as the ‘Cadillac’ version.
Recognizing that the proposal for higher investment levels didn’t stand up to close scrutiny, the Sound Transit Board in March advanced a draft system plan with just $735 million in capital investments, less than any of the options considered in the 2014 corridor studies. The low capital plan leveraged existing highway infrastructure with better and more frequent buses. Where center stations already exist, the BRT would run in the ETL lanes. Elsewhere, buses would run in general purpose lanes (or on the shoulder in a few locations north of Bothell).
The thwarting of institutional momentum left some cities feeling that a promise was broken. In many cities along the I-405 corridor, the political imperative of a tangible local investment can only be met via BRT. Yet few votes are contingent on the difference between higher and lower grade BRT.
The ridership estimates highlight the limitations of suburban transit oriented around highway buses and park-and-rides. On a highway serving 800,000 trips per day, 12,000 bus riders will scarcely make a dent in traffic congestion. Yet more investments wouldn’t help. A larger investment would divert resources from the more urban places on the Eastside to the impossible task of ‘solving traffic’.
Auto congestion has created political momentum for WSDOT to build a second HOT lane on the northern part of I-405 or expand capacity around SR 522. Though the added lane is currently unfunded, it has raised the prospect of complementary Sound Transit investments. However, there is no evidence highway expansion would make transit more productive. A second HOT lane would tend to reduce toll rates for express lane users, which may diminish ridership. In any case, the highway north of Bothell is mostly in Snohomish County, where I-405 BRT is a lower priority.
Transit advocates are often skeptical of corner-cutting in BRT projects. But this is a project where some prudent whittling seems exactly the right course. Sound Transit can gain the maximum ridership with a moderately sized upgrade to I-405 express buses, fulfilling the ‘promises’ of the Master Plan and conserving resources for other worthwhile projects.
43 Replies to “How Much to Invest in I-405 BRT”
800,000 trips per day is about 16,000 vehicles per hour per direction, or headways of 1 second each.
Could we just have nice shelters at the head of each onramp and pullouts to accommodate hitch hikers?
Not good news, Mic, that KC Metro’s every speed camera comes from same contractor that does LINK elevators and escalators. Only wheeled thing with a one-second follow used to be a trailer. But unless it’s really dated, your icon pic is evidence you’ve never gone through even one windshield.
Meaning that your experience here is either theoretical or second-hand. For the sake of necessary perspective in these pages, let’s keep it that way. But also. Seem to remember hitch-hiking stations have been used before, forget where. Israel maybe.
Where following distance is whatever’s Hebrew, Arabic or Russian for “Six inches behind bumper, blow horn, flash lights ’til road clear except for broken glass and scrap metal.”
With national radio station playing “Born to be Wild!” on the PA. Never hear: “The Bus…is being held for traffic ahead. The Bus….will be moving shortly. Not sure any transit system east of Snoqualmie Pass or south of the California state line ever broadcasts an apology for The Delay. Or anything else.
But while tempted to suggest headway-warning sign- like pirate skull-and-crossbones surrounded by cracked glass- be posted at every hitch-hiking station- probably needless. Average texter could care less in return for fast ride. Especially when they’re the one driving.
It’s not fair to call this “ST Express with enhanced headways” because the current proposal is far worse than the existing ST Express service in the corridor.
Take Bothell – the service on 405 now will not serve downtown Bothell at all – the sole freeway stop on 405 is over a mile walk away from the core of Bothell.
Take Renton – only a giant parking lot far away from any destination will be served. The current 405 busses stop at the Landing, by Boeing , and in the downtown area too. Now all of those areas will lose their service.
Clyde Hill has a right to complain but never suggested a real solution – it has been impossible to transfer from Clyde Hills’ single HCT station at Yarrow point to ANY of the 405 proposals. Not allowing transferring between the 520 corridor and the 405 corridor is just another example of how bad the proposed solution is.
The problem with your solution is that there’s no way to alleviate it without drastically slowing down all service. The 535’s deviation to downtown Bothell adds a good 10-minutes, minimum, for all thru-riders, as does the 560 and 566’s slogs through Renton (which is why ST created the 567). Similarly, subjecting every single 520 and 405 bus to a giant detour into South Kirkland P&R (which would be the only reasonable-cost solution to achieve transfers between north/south and east/west lines) would add another 5-10 minutes to everybody’s commute. At some point, you have to say enough is enough – these are express routes and express routes are supposed to be fast.
That said, when hourly headways make transferring very difficult, I do understand the temptation to advocate for one-seat rides to everywhere, at the expense of speed. However, if service could be made more frequent, the headaches of transferring would be reduced considerably.
As to the landing losing service, while a freeway station at NE 8th St. would have been better, if the end result is a bus coming every 15-30 minutes, rather than a bus every 60 minutes, I would still consider it a net improvement. At least the landing is within reasonable biking distance of both South Renton P&R and the NE 44th St. Station, so that could be an option (at least for up to three people per trip).
There’s also the RapidRide F Line between S Renton P&R and The Landing… so there will be a bus *at least* every 15 minutes. Plus if the Renton TC is gone, I imagine the trip will be a minute or two faster than today.
I’m not advocating for “one-seat rides to everywhere” — I’m advocating for our HCT to serve the denser urban cores of our cities, rather than the parking lot wasteland of freeway stops.
What I would do is take the existing 560 / 535 routes and find ways to speed them through the cities. Built BAT lanes, queue jumps and TSP at traffic lights. Straighten out the routing (particularly through Downtown Renton where the deviation into the transit center alone adds ~5 minutes — just put the stops on the street and you’ll improve the service). Even direct access ramps (like at Bellevue and Totem Lake) are great — that gives value to both Busses and Carpools. This type of incremental approach would improve the existing ridership on these routes and speed everyone through these areas (other parallel routes would be able to take advantage of such improvements, such as RR F).
W.r.t SR 520, there doesn’t necessarily need to be a deviation into S. Kirkland P&R. If the existing 108th St exit was made into a freeway stop like Totem Lake then buses from 405 N could exit there and take 112th to downtown Bellevue (only adding a couple minutes net-net). The existing 520 routes would continue right through the exit as-is.
The only way to make a good 405520 transfer station is to build one into the interchange. Any deviation onto 520 itself will add 10 minutes at best given that there are no ETL lanes and the interchange is oftentimes completely full. And there’s no through east-bound lanes on 108th (and the only reason west-bound is somewhat through lanes is because there are no inside HOV lanes on 520 there, so buses often take the right lane and then switch to HOV through the interchange). East-bound buses would have to go back onto the GP lanes using two tight right turns.
If you’re going to add one (which I think would be a much better use of funds than e.g. Issaquah LRG), re-build the whole intersection to support ETL-HOV ramps and a bus (+Link since the ERC is right there) transfer station.
The problem with route 560 is that is a limited-stop overlay of local Metro service, running less frequently than that service, and not timed to augment that service.
Now that I’ve had time to think about it, ST is doing something much more useful with its bus investments in Seattle by actually subsidizing the existing local routes. (Still, I think getting 130th open with the rest of Lynnwood Link is a much higher priority, but the idea of investing in Metro service rather than deploying new ST-branded service makes more sense in certain corridors, like the F Line’s.) It also blunts the argument of certain anti-transit activists who want to argue that ST is not adding any new bus hours for Seattle routes.
Not one-seat rides to everywhere, just ST’s multi-line BRT alternative.
The problem with 405 BRT (at least north of Bellevue) is that it’s a route with basically zero-connectivity. Unless you live and work on the route, most people are not going to take it. And the only times to take it is while commuting, since everyone in the area basically needs a car. So no matter what you do on 405 itself, you’re not going to get much more ridership. Why? Because:
1) The only stops are at P&R’s. Unless you live right at the P&R (and there’s minimal development), you’re going to need to drive, which means limited capacity.
2) Once you get to the P&R, you need to wait since the buses are unreliable during peak times. Since buses run every 15-30 minutes right now (depending on the stop), you need to get there early, so wait times of 20 minutes are not uncommon. Using a bus to get to the P&R is often a pain – there are not many of them, they’re slow, and they add even more time to the commute.
3) Unless you work in downtown Bellevue, you’ll need to connect to another bus to go somewhere else. Which, given the unreliable schedule, and 30 minute frequency of most routes, most people don’t want to do.
Basically, for many people, you’re asking them to replace a 30 minute commute by car with a 1-1.5 hour commute by bus. That’s not going to happen.
What can be done to fix this?
1) As others have suggested, make 405 BRT into a series of overlapping routes that go into local areas. That will provide 1-2 seat rides and reduce the need for P&R’s.
2) Integrate 405 BRT into the regional network. Add good connectivity to 522 and 520 routes – that dramatically expands the number of destinations.
3) Add inline stops to improve reliability and performance. Give all branch routes direct access to the ETL’s so they don’t need to sit in traffic.
Do that, and you might get an increase in ridership. If you just try to increase headways, you won’t get much of anything.
I agree completely. There are only a handful of people that will walk to a bus stop, and the only place where people will walk from a bus stop is to downtown Bellevue. It is very hard to make that work. You would have to have extremely high frequency along the corridor — so much so that there is essentially no transfer penalty at all. You would also have to have inline stops that make each stop a minimal penalty (with the exception of downtown Bellevue). That way, someone could take a bus to Totem Lake, immediately get on the bus to Renton, get there fairly quickly, then take a second bus to their destination. But doing all that seems unlikely, and would need a huge investment before it would be practical.
Your solution, as outlined, would be much better, as it would able to grow more organically. Someone takes a one seat ride to downtown Bellevue, and ridership increases. Frequency increases along with ridership, and someone else realizes it works as a two seat ride to Factoria. Next thing you know you have a decent overlapping set of buses so that someone who lives in Totem Lake can get down to Renton very quickly.
Dan is right on the money with this post.
I-405 BRT to me has always been a solution in search of a problem. Except for downtown Bellevue, it misses all of the areas people actually want to go, so to make such a corridor useful you’d need a lot of deviations or else a branching network like the BRISK proposal. Such a proposal isn’t on the table though, and the only element that got any traction, BRT via the ERC in Kirkland, is the victim of the trail NIMBYs.
I-405 BRT also suffers from not having a good connection to SR 522, SR 520, I-90, and other east-west pathways, making its integration with the rest of the transit network problematic at best, and nonexistent at worst. Everything south of I-90 is just a ridiculous mess with minimal access along its length; it is basically a super express version of the 560. The sole redeeming feature is the use of the HOV lane (future HOT lane?), but as we’ve seen with the reliability problems with the 566/567 (and 560), that “feature” isn’t nearly as good as it seems.
The studies ST conducted pretty clearly show that sticking to the linear I-405, no matter the level of capital investment, doesn’t move the needle. I think this makes I-405 BRT a pretty poor candidate for any significant improvements, and I’d rather see a very modest level of investment there and a focus on corridors that actually connect the places people are going to and from.
The reason high-quality BRT fell flat is because Sound Transit thinks that quality equals capital investments. A capital focused approach is the right approach in corridors like I-5, I-90 and SR 520 with existing high ridership, but it’s only part of the solution in the I-405 corridor which currently has 30-minute headways during off-peak periods.
The I-405 Master Plan called for a trunk and branch system with 4 or 5 different routes, solving the last-mile access issues for cities all along I-405 while also providing a high-frequency trunk up and down I-405.
Any bets on comment count for a posting on definitions of “BRT” and “Light Rail?” And how much agreement on either definition? Let’s just drop them both. What kind of vehicles, where, and most important, with how many non-transit thing sallowed in their way.
And lighten up on “In 2040.” Between 1992 and now, we’ve had at least one downturn and a a serious near-collapse of our economy. And what-all is causing our daily 30-50 minute ST Express delays. And a 3,000-fatality attack on New York City. Beginning a world-wide state of war with all transportation a rich set of targets.
And ongoing political and economic conditions inflicting worse damage on our every major public mechanical system than from any foreign enemy.
Last 24 years’ regional history suggest that design priority should be max short-term progress whose every step yields max flexible results. DSTT approach excellent example region-wide. Grades, curves, stations, and communications for highway-speed rail. State-of-the-art paved for buses. But designed for conversion that won’t impair service.
Which, whatever it’s called, should be reasonable minimum for every our every regional corridor east of our farthest-west sea-wall.
The Tao of BRT:
Any Bus Rapid Transit that can be built in the US&A is not real Bus Rapid Transit.
Same reason, Brent, that the most vocal busway-only advocates always stop short of the “High End” choice:
Whatever the wheel covering, transit needs exact same structure and absolute reservation to be Rapid.
Meaning that by the time you’ve got your busway up to speed, every platoon carries irrefutable evidence of how many passengers could ride in a single 60mph safe spacing gap. Let alone at least five of them per platoon.
As usual, many misconceptions owe to present lack of folk songs. When considering this distance between busway vehicles at speed, we can’t conceive of a standing load a hundred coaches long.
However, a whistle you can hear a hundred miles should never be sung in mode-choice discussions. Until you develop recorded proof that bus horns are worse.
But question: Since this is a question of Tao….does something have to go “BONG” before next order of business?
Of course, Cascadia Rising, reset the clock to Stone Age +1 on all this stuff.
First question: Did Stone Age+ 1 mean 3501 BC or 3499? Also, have we found stone tablets for the Ancient Babylonia Times declaring that if the gods had intended people travel on wheels, they would have made trees grow like disks?
True, since Babylonians knew a lot of math, they were already designing cities on the principle that after awhile space for oxcarts results in less land to grow food, or market-stall space to sell it.
And also, there is not enough brass and copper in the world for the shovels needed to take care of vehicular pollution.
Whatever the editorial board of the Babylon Times said. Whom everybody is still laughing at because of their warning that the next time a giant winged bull swallowed the sun, he’d never spit it out. Trusting that Decency Laws would prevent anybody from telling the truth about what really happened to it.
Word to The Seattle Times. They owe you, Mic.
Not sure, but when visiting roman ruins in Conímbriga, Portugal, the ruts in the cobblestone road were the same gauge as LRT. We’re still waiting for them to affix rails and get on with it.
Also, one of the houses measured 35,000 SF – obviously a relative of Mr. Gates or Trump.
It feels like, as always, I-405 BRT is only one part of the transit triumvirate. The other two being changes in local zoning to get people living along denser corridors and Metro adding high frequency local bus service. Without all three it seems hard to get any positive movement on ridership numbers and the usefulness of transit on the Eastside.
Must all the growth be around freeway stations, with their smaller NIMBYsheds, and more concentrated fumesheds? I don’t want to live next to a freeway and suffer the externalities of a transportation mode I’m trying to avoid. I want to live in a city, and far away from car sewers.
I also don’t want to work on a freeway.
The longstanding stagnation of the Totem Lake area, despite tons of official support and “zoning potential”, is proof that you’re not alone in this — even people that want to live in the suburbs and drive everywhere avoid living there.
Even if they do want to live near a freeway, there is a limit to how densely populated the area can become, because (wait for it) there is a freeway there. Unless you are willing to cap the freeway, and put up housing on top, you will be very limited in terms of density. Freeways just use too much space, and limit the walking routes, making it very hard for that many people to be within walking distance of a station.
Brent, maybe more common sentiment in Eastern Washington, but well-known cowboy song “Home on the Range” has verses disparaging life in “Cities so bright”. Verses about suburbs couldn’t be sung around ladies.
But GlenB, you’re really onto some powerful for the pro-rail material. Go online to:
Railroad maintence, Driving spikes like a boss
And even better:
Big Spike Hammer
Let’s see anybody build a busway where either of these videos would fit. Anybody know a concrete pour ballad? Though I think DSTT won several contests.
“changes in local zoning to get people living along denser corridors”
This assumes people want to live in denser areas. Most people living here don’t and hence the low density. Plus, most areas around the major stops are already up-zoned. Totem Lake is all commercial. Brickyard is zoned for multi-family/commercial. I believe Canyon Park is as well. Most people would rather live in downtown Seattle/Bellevue/Kirkland if they’re in an apartment. If there was huge demand for it, I’m sure you’d see tons of housing built there (not because of transit, but because of the easy 405 access). But this brings me to you other point:
“Metro adding high frequency local bus service”
Most areas here already have OK bus service. Not great, but those buses are empty 90% of the time. Even the somewhat frequent routes (236/238 around the Brickyard area) are mostly empty. So there’s no point to do that.
You don’t necessarily know how dense people want to live because the two factors are finding a place that is affordable and finding a place that is close to employment.
The fact that there are fairly large apartment and condo buildings going up along 99 in southern Shoreline and northern Seattle tells me that density is far below what it should be.
If people are willing to live in that sense a place so far from anything, imagine what it would be like if such buildings were allowed in locations that are actually close to things.
I can’t help but wonder if the ST3 high quality proposal for 405 was intended to perform poorly. It did not connect to many transit cross corridors. It did not follow the 405 BRT Master Plan concept of multiple routes, which is one of BRT’s most significant advantages. It planned almost every stop at a park-and-ride lot. It and the ERC were long fixed corridors, while every other corridor study did not have that constraint.
Still we are where we are now – which is a different place than we were at last year. We now have a likely South Kirkland Station and a Factoria Station and a BAR Station on Link. We have more frequent Sounder service. We have latent desires in Burien and Renton for a rail connection to Central Link.
In short, the larger ST3 system proposal is different enough to make a revisiting to make 405 reconceptualizing needed. It needs to be looked at as part of the full ST3 system and not merely as a stand-alone corridor.
Given that the ballot adoption is so close, there isn’t enough time to fix things. The best we can do is to set aside generic funding for revisiting how best to serve the corridor and then build it – rather than push for a shopping cart of projects that look tasty but aren’t ingredients that could make a tasty meal when combined.
>> I can’t help but wonder if the ST3 high quality proposal for 405 was intended to perform poorly.
I sure felt like the West Seattle BRT proposal was designed to fail. They never considered grade separation for downtown, let alone the West Seattle bridge. They mentioned the very slow travel speeds (congestion was likely to be a problem) and the resulting very low ridership. Of course — because that isn’t BRT! You can’t build something that is clearly inferior, and then lament the fact that ridership is lower. That would be like considering a car that leaks oil and needs a new transmission so that you can justify buying a truck (“See honey, trucks are just a lot more reliable, we should get one”).
I have to wonder, then, why ST doesn’t seem to be considering what the were add one point, and that is to make I-405 BRT just an interlining of several routes. A lot of commuters on south 405 are coming from Kent and auburn. Do you really think they are interested in having to drive to Renton to catch a bus? No wonder this isn’t going to make a dent! What 405 BRT needs to be is enhanced ST express, where a bus will take you from Auburn to Bellevue and another bus will take you from Burien to Bellevue, and the 405 portion will be much faster.
Yep, I think a lot of folks are saying the same thing. I think David said it first (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2016/06/10/how-much-to-invest-in-i-405-brt/#comment-738536).
Here’s my view – and just correct me if I’m wrong:
BRT is what happens when light rail doesn’t work. But true BRT requires the political will to have road lanes exclusive or almost exclusive for transit. I don’t think most state legislators are up for that fight. I don’t think most transit advocates are up for that fight.
It would require an intensive amount of commitment and unity to win this battle – and I barely see enough to get ST3 passed, as is. There wasn’t even enough passion & commitment & unity to get Snohomish County leaders to consider alternatives to their light rail Everett Station to Paine Field plan. Imagine if the public testimony & letters to the editor work was done by more than some Joe… and I’m all the sudden supposed to believe you guys are going to fight for 405 BRT or BRT as ST3 Plan B.
I’m sure John “Johnny the BRT Artist” Niles has something to say about all of this. I’m also sure light rail with grade separation is a lot better.
I don’t think that is the problem in this case. It most certainly is in some cases, just not this one.
As David said, the problem is the route, not the mode — https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2016/06/10/how-much-to-invest-in-i-405-brt/#comment-738536
Imagine this was a light rail line, with trains running every ten minutes. Does that change anything? Not really. Even if this is fast, it isn’t that fast (it has to make stops) and it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem, which is that folks don’t want to make a three seat ride, if the middle seat isn’t ridiculously frequent. An overlapping set of routes is simply a better way to go, and it would take full advantage of BRT’s ability to cheaply go from heavily traveled (but lightly populated) corridors to less traveled (but more popular) areas.
Perhaps, maybe. My point is getting the political will to reserve lanes for buses!
Real transit advocates have consistently fought for BRT in places where BRT makes sense, and those are (tautologically) corridors where the “rapid transit” service concept makes sense.
It’s far from clear 405 is one of these corridors by itself. On its face, it wouldn’t seem to be one. The freeway is very wide, and the interchanges at and near stop are very large and disruptive to the local street network; this creates severe tradeoffs involving vehicle time required to serve stations, station costs, and station walksheds (cf. Link along I-5, Lynnwood alternatives, Paine Field alternatives). Trying to focus too much on such a flawed line, trying to make it the dominant north-south spine of the eastside, could actually make transit worse for everyone.
There are a couple reasons for me to check my skepticism of 405 BRT. First, it would be wrong at this point for me to argue for my own preferred vision, which hasn’t been studied much and isn’t up for inclusion in ST3. Second, ST has been surprisingly successful in operating popular freeway bus service, and following popular demand have arrived at something closer to rapid-transit in many corridors than I would have thought likely in the abstract.
On the other hand, in this particular corridor, ST’s continual refinement of services has resulted in something fairly different from the rapid-transit concept, more like an express commuter system centered on downtown Bellevue. And instead of promoting an irrelevant competing vision for core north-south corridors on the eastside, I’ll simply suggest that if planners don’t go forward with the assumption of all-day frequent service on 405 as the backbone of eastside transit they’re more likely to extend at least service span on routes that stop where people actually want to go, instead of on freeway ramps.
I got a concept. First, you have an express route, which sticks to 405, runs the entire distance, and only leaves the freeway where there is a dedicated HOV exit – the only exceptions being the two endpoints of Burien and Lynnwood. Then, you have two local routes, meeting in Bellevue, that have stretches in the general lanes, more stops, and maybe even a couple diversion, such as downtown Kirkland, UW-Bothell and Renton. Two different services for two different types of trips.
I’m actually a bit surprised at how low these ridership estimates are, given how insanely horrendous stop-and-go traffic on I-405 is. In particular, 405 south from Bellevue anytime during the afternoon is ridiculous. Google Maps estimates that it can take up to 65 minutes to drive from Bellevue TC to Renton TC at 4pm (and I would not be surprised if this is an underestimate). It’s so bad that slogging through congested surface streets south of Bellevue is generally faster. Something needs to be done to provide an alternative to this congestion. I’m not sure if ridership estimates adequately take this into account.
Granted, I know that the Eastside trip patterns are very dispersed. But, I believe that a BRT line that is frequent and completely separated from congestion should be able to attract a large number of people, if there is efficient feeder service to neighborhoods and major destinations. Even if one has to transfer to/from BRT on both ends (i.e. Valley Medical Center to Kirkland), that could still be faster than driving (!) if it allows one to avoid the horrible I-405 traffic.
I suggest you read David’s comment up above: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2016/06/10/how-much-to-invest-in-i-405-brt/#comment-738536. He nails it. Just because there is congestion on a shared corridor, doesn’t mean transit along that corridor will likely succeed (a good lesson for all you spine fans). In all likelihood, it will fail, as it has everywhere it has been attempted. The transfer penalty and time spent at each stop is too great. An overlapping set of bus routes could succeed, but not this mess.
Not that building those overlapping routes is easy. There are tough trade-offs to be made (both in the routes, and where to invest in inline stations).
What would it take for a three-seat transit trip with 405 BRT in the middle to be faster than driving? Let’s set out some assumptions:
– 15-minute service on both the connecting local routes, 10-minute service on 405. This is a generous assumption for the eastside!
– You have to walk five minutes on the “home” end to reach a local bus stop, two minutes on the “work end”, and one minute walking to make each transfer. I think these are fairly generous assumptions for the eastside! What percentage of eastsiders live within a 5-minute walk of 15-minute bus service today?
– Local service is significantly slower than driving. Let’s say average overall speed including stops is 10 MPH for the bus, 20 MPH for driving, and two miles of local travel is involved.
– Your trip via transit is exactly as direct as it would be driving. This isn’t true for everyone, but it makes things simpler.
You’ll thus spend, on average, 7.5 minutes waiting for a local service, 5 minutes waiting for the BRT, and eight minutes walking; for the two miles of local travel you spend 6 extra minutes on the bus. That’s 26.5 extra minutes on the transit side of the ledger each way. Losing 26.5 minutes to freeway congestion here is far from unheard of, but it’s not a daily occurrence for very many people! People take three-seat transit trips on subways in very congested cities because driving exposes them to extreme surface delays and expensive parking. I don’t see it penciling out for many people on the eastside.
The low-level investment is OK but ST should stop calling it BRT. Call it ST Express+ or something.
405 is inherently an intractable problem. There are more north-south trips than east-west trips, but most of the activity centers aren’t “on the way”; they’re off to the side. That’s good in one way because they avoided freeways through their city centers, but it’s bad for providing BRT directly to those activity centers.
The biggest use of the line will probably be Lynnwood-Bellevue, where it’s probably a faster alternative to East Link, more all-day frequent than the 535, and perhaps faster than the 535. Central Lynnwood and Bellevue will grow and generate more riders, and surrounding Snohomans will find it convenient enough to meet the bus at Lynnwood Station.
So, is there a south end counterpart to that? Renton is being positioned as such, but Renton-Bellevue has poor ridership that probably won’t increase fast. That station will be convenient enough for Kent and Auburn, but perhaps not for the area west of that. I’m not sure if there’s a Southcenter or SeaTac station that’s easy to transfer to; hopefully there will be. Then maybe we could expect significant ridership from those areas, pretty long term.
If Totem Lake blossoms, then perhaps it can be the second significant node in the north end. And perhaps Kirklandites will find it convenient enough to go to, but that’s questionable south of the station where it’s out-of-direction. Bothell may be more screwed. But maybe Totem Lake will grow bigger than any of them.
What about a Tukwila-Bellevue Sounder shuttle train with a stop or two in Renton? The station in Bellevue on the ERC would be right by the Downtown Bellevue Link station thanks to placing that station so far east. Bellevue has plans to cap I-405 by the station for the Grand Connection so it wouldn’t be a bad transfer. Having it run to Tukwila station, it could be timed to meet the Sounder south train and a 3/4 mile separate track could be built between Tukwila and the ERC branch off the mainline in order to keep it off the mainline tracks.
IMO, BRT was a bone thrown to the eastside cities that were late to the ST board table to clamor for their constituents, e.g. 100,000+ population Renton. For those of us who questioned why not light rail on I-405, we were told that the ST board decided on BRT for 405 decades ago and that couldn’t be changed. Then, out of the other side of their mouth came the expensive light rail project between Issaquah and Kirkland, an odd pair of cities to connect, while an Issaquah to South Bellevue to Renton line would have been about the same length, would not have duplicated any other light rail line, and would have covered what’s been reported as the most congested segment of I-405. Even Issaquah city leaders have reported a 94% increase in traffic between their city and Renton. But, they’ll just have to wait. And this, IMO, is part of what’s wrong with the plan, which I understand is heresy to state on this blog.
I once had a professor who pointed out how, at places such as the UW, you’ll see well-worn paths where people travel instead of where they paved the paths. What happened? The sidewalks were paved before seeing where people would actually walk. After they’re paved, they’re never changed. The same thing happens in transportation sometimes.
BRT is an inexpensive, flexible way to see if ridership demand exists and can be a precursor to light rail. For instance, Ballard to downtown Seattle is an excellent example of where BRT (RapidRide D) was tried first, demand is obvious, and now light rail is proposed. On the other hand, the Paine Field light rail loop was decided on without proof of demand. Express, virtually if not non-stop, $1/ride bus service from Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Bothell, etc. to Boeing-Everett was cut in 2003 and never restored. In 2010, similar service from Stanwood, Arlington, Monroe, and Granite Falls was scaled back to a couple trips/day, with only the last one adding any trips back then, and not fully restored. Yet, without the density, county and city leaders are so certain that demand will be there that they’ve successfully pushed a loop that will cost $1 billion more and 44% higher operating and maintenance costs, with higher fares and longer travel times for those on the northernmost end. No doubt, they’ll eliminate express bus service along I-5 to “corner the market,” the same that they did with the Metro #194 that had almost identical travel times between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac, then their successors will crow about its “success.”
The Paine Field loop could have been operating by 2020, and at a tenth of the cost of light rail. As it is, BRT will be completing half the Paine Field loop within 2 years. The other half of that loop could have been operational by 2020. How, you ask? Merely by buying the buses to serve the loop; bus purchases take from 18-24 months. That’s because the infrastructure already exists! Going north, the new buses would leave the forthcoming Seaway Transit Center (across the street, east of Boeing), jump onto SR 526 east, take the first exit at Evergreen Way (no need to merge, the onramp goes right into the exit lane), then follow the existing Swift routing and serve the same stations en route to Everett Station. This was the ultimate low-cost BRT opportunity that angered some of the Snohomish County leaders to even heard mention of! That’s another problem with our system.
BRT on I-405 was pre-destined long ago, but light rail makes more sense now. The closest that BRT could have been to that is “pure” BRT, or at least that with the fewest instances of buses having to slide across general purpose lanes. That’s why I’ve long advocated completing the north half of the 164th (Ash Way) direct access lanes, which would have completely eliminated “the slide” for buses between downtown Seattle and Everett. But again, policymakers would hear nothing of it. The eastside also deserves to have as little “slide” as possible. The benefit goes beyond “ridership,” which is a fickle number that’s unfortunately like a shiny object to most everybody, but reducing “the slide” also reduces congestion, which has hidden costs that are always overlooked.
I don’t place a lot of stock in ridership estimates. Just ask Sound Transit, who overestimated Central Link’s and have underestimated U-Link’s. These estimates, unlike capital costs, are very fickle. However, comparing between two estimates made by the same agency can be useful.
The WSDOT I-405 Corridor Program completed in 2001 had decided that BRT had the best cost/benefit ratio along with adding 4 GP lanes.
They used 2030 for the horizon year. LRT took too long to pay back for the cost involved.
(and to beat that drum again, Commuter Rail on the ERC performed the same as BRT on the freeway – for less money)
ST was only following what the municipalities on the corridor were asking for.
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