ST 545 is among the routes that may be rerouted to UW station in Fall 2018 (Image: Atomic Taco)

King County Metro and Sound Transit have begun an outreach process to transit riders in the SR 520 corridor. Transit users and community members are invited to take a survey, running through April 2. Town halls will be held at University of Washington, in Redmond, and in Kirkland.  This will be the first of several opportunities for public input planned as service proposals evolve.

Six Metro routes (252, 255, 257, 268, 277, 311) and six Sound Transit Express routes (ST 540, ST 541, ST 542, ST 545, ST 555, ST 556) may be affected. Generally, the agencies are interested in truncating most service on SR 520 to the University of Washington light rail station. Several of those routes already serve UW, so possible service changes go beyond simply truncating the remaining routes to downtown.

Candidate routes for truncation at UW serve Kirkland, Redmond and Woodinville. A final proposal is also expected to include more frequent service on many routes, along with more service earlier or later or on weekends. New service between the Eastside and South Lake Union will be considered.

The immediate impetus for service changes on SR 520 relates to several construction projects in central Seattle including the anticipated closure of the bus tunnel and Convention Place Station by the end of 2018. Absent other changes, bus performance through downtown will be slowed significantly. The One Center City proposal truncates many bus routes at rail stations outside of the downtown core. Some of the changes are temporary remedies until Link extensions to Northgate and Bellevue are open.

On the other hand, changes to SR 520 bus service offer permanent benefits to riders if executed well. Rail to downtown is faster and more reliable than buses on I-5 and surface streets. The service hour savings can be redeployed to more frequent service on Eastside buses or service to more places. But understandable concerns about the efficiency of bus to rail transfers at UW remain.

Metro and Sound Transit previously considered options for restructuring SR 520 bus service in the first phase of the University Link Connections process. That was shelved in favor of a more focused process with Eastside communities once Link to UW was open. Since then, Sound Transit has added service to UW station via ST 541 from Overlake and ST 542 from Redmond. Earlier this year, the County Council approved Metro’s Long Range Plan with most SR 520 buses reoriented to serve UW. The success of the U-Link restructure has surely made agencies more optimistic about the prospects for improved service on SR 520 via UW.

Metro and Sound Transit are also soliciting applications for a Sounding Board that will meet regularly through the year and delve into the details of proposed changes. Applications are due April 2.

Several community meetings will take place this month:
Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center
16600 NE 80th Street, Redmond
Monday March 20, 6-8 PM

Kirkland City Hall
123 5th Avenue, Kirkland
Tuesday March 28, 6-8 PM

Evergreen Health Medical Center
Meeting Room 100, 12040 NE 128th Street, Kirkland
Wednesday March 29, 6-8 PM

University of Washington Husky Union Building
Room 145, 4001 E Stevens Way NE, Seattle
Thursday March 30, 2-3:30 PM

26 Replies to “Link Connections on SR-520: take the survey”

  1. Survey presupposes people are still transferring to 545 or 255 downtown, rather than boarding link at any stop, and transferring at UW.

    Why do we continue to assume all transfers must occur in downtown Seattle?

    Survey talks about acceptable wait times for transfer. Doesn’t have callouts for montlake HOV exit, continuous SR520 HOV lane, or improved transfers at Montlake triangle.

    Doesn’t mention bike facilities either.

    1. Yep; I’m putting off the survey because I wasn’t sure how to answer it. Sure, I’ll wait twelve minutes if I’ll then have a smooth ride in a bus-only lane. But if I’ll get stuck in traffic afterwards, I don’t want to wait that long.

    2. Presently it is not feasible to take LINK to UW Husky Station and transfer to 545 or 255 as their SR520 Montlake Freeway Station is quite a lengthy walk from LINK at UW Husky Station. This change involves an exit westbound from or entrance to eastbound SR520 connecting those transit riders within feet of LINK, truncating there instead of taking more time to return to SR520 to continue. This also removes the lengthy extended rush hour delays between SR520 @ Montlake to I-5 @ Stewart.

      1. I do that walk from the Montlake Flyer stop to UW Station most evenings. It’s ~8 min from stop to platform at my waking pace, and during peak traffic it beats the 541/542 by a significant margin.

        As for call outs for a HOV exit, that’s already in the 520 plans, but isn’t expected until sometime after 2022.

  2. Would the 541/542 be truncated at UW Station too even though they don’t go downtown? Even when Brooklyn station opens, it would be an annoying bus-Link transfer for 1 stop or a solid 1 mile walk to reach the west side of campus.

    I’m somewhat skeptical that all of these buses can turn around at UW Station without creating some extra delays.

    1. The One Center City draft does not have any buses turning around at UW. Every truncated route proceeds to either U-District or north on Montlake Blvd. But that’s one of the tradeoffs that will have to be studied: Sending buses back to the Eastside to maximize frequency/span of service, or sending them onwards so that there are more/easier connections to U-District and elsewhere.

      It’s not obvious that anything would change with the 541/542, but they’re in the general area, so need to be included in a comprehensive review.

      1. I transfer at Husky Stadium to get to upper campus – often times on a 54x or a 556. Unscientifically, more people get off at Campus Parkway + 42nd St than the Husky Stadium stop.

      2. When I was still commuting to the Seattle campus I did the same.

        But at the hours I was travelling, buses were mostly emptying out at UW Medical, with a significant minority riding up to stops on 15th. Always lots of room getting on.

        Doing the reverse maneuver I’d be getting off at a stop with a massive line of people queued to get on.

    2. I’m skeptical that ANY buses can turn around at UW station without significant delays without rearranging how things are done at the station.

      1. Naw, it can be done. The light is timed to favor the left-hand from montlake onto Pacific St, and the newly reworked right-turn path onto Pacific Pl has roughly the same or slightly larger curb radius as the roundabout at the HOV offramp to Federal Way Transit Center, while providing a wider lane.

    3. “an annoying bus-Link transfer for 1 stop”

      So essentially going from U-District to Capitol Hill today.

    4. >> Would the 541/542 be truncated at UW Station too even though they don’t go downtown?

      I doubt it. For the 542, Green Lake is the most popular stop. The stops north of 40th are more popular than those south of it. Plus, there really is no reason to. This is being driven mostly by the need to keep buses out of downtown, not to move service around.

      When Link gets to Northgate, they could truncate it, but chances are, they will do so towards 45th. They could turn around at Pacific Street/Pacific Place/Montlake if there are enough buses along Pacific (e. g. the 48) to make that transfer. But chances are, these buses will be the ones making that connection (between 45th and the stadium). But I don’t see these going all the way to Green Lake. Assuming Roosevelt HCT gets as far north as 65th, then turning around at about 45th and Roosevelt (where the 49 turns around) makes sense..

      1. Even if Metro wanted to truncated the 541/542 at the Montlake Triangle, the layover space does not exist to do it. 541 and 542 should continue to their current terminals pretty much indefinitely.

  3. I really wish that these generic surveys would not ask people to choose “what is most important” and actually ask people to score the magnitude of the importance of each different elements of transit travel There doesn’t appear to be much value without understanding the magnitude of importance of each part of the trip.

    I also wish that they would assess the opinions on the different areas under study, rather than have a comment about the corridor as a whole. Issues like speed and reliability vary greatly by time of day and by route segment, especially in this situation.

    As this is structured, it appears to be more of a mailing list accumulator but not an effective trade-off indicator.

  4. Looks like this is going to be an experiment in the effect of forced transfers. Due to the configuration of the station and the situation with the highway ramps, the transfer penalty is likely to be significant and even worse, inconsistent.

    1. There’s already an experiment in forced transfers. See the 71, 73, and 372. And the gap between UW Station and the 62.

  5. Some things to consider:
    – Without a restructure, the transfer quality between the U-district and the eastside is much worse than it would be between downtown and the eastside, with the restructure. If your travel to the U-district is on yet another bus, this probably means you have to walk from the Montlake Triangle to Montlake Freeway Station to make the connection. Then, when you reach Montlake Freeway Station, you have no idea how long you’re going to wait, since it’s unpredictable how long it’s going to take your connecting bus to get through downtown. (The 255 is somewhat reliable, for now, since it’s in the tunnel, but that will soon change; 545’s at Montlake Freeway Station already experience constant bunching).
    – Montlake Freeway Station is a terrible place to wait for a bus. First off, the eastbound stop isn’t even accessible, forcing wheelchair uses into time-consuming detours. Second, you get the full brunt of freeway noise and diesel exhaust. It’s bad enough that if I’m waiting for a 255 at Montlake and a 545 comes first, I will usually take the 545 to Evergreen Point or Yarrow Point and wait for the 255 bus there.
    – Montlake Freeway Station is soon going to be closed altogether for construction of the Montlake lid. Forcing U-district->eastside riders to detour all the way to downtown Seattle outside the hours of the present-day 540/542 would be completely unacceptable. Even a transfer at Evergreen Point is not possible because the 271 does not stop at Evergreen Point.
    – The delays at the Montlake exit ramp are mostly a rush-hour thing. Outside of rush hour (unless there’s a Husky game), the wait time for a bus to get off the freeway at Montlake is minimal. Even during rush hour, the Montlake ramp is still no worse than the slog down I-5 and Stewart Street.

    1. “Even during rush hour, the Montlake ramp is still no worse than the slog down I-5 and Stewart Street.”

      So it’s no worse than utterly useless, great.

      There needs to be bus-only access or this is a fail.

      1. Anywhere near peak hour – unless you’re riding from the Eastside to Montlake, or going out of downtown without touching Fourth Avenue – yes, they are.

      2. I must ride a different 255 than everyone else… at 5 PM now, the 255 zooms (well moves quickly) unimpeded through the mostly empty tunnel, gets delayed a bit but not too badly getting to I5 from the Convention Center, and does fairly well in the right lane of I5 headed to 520. Once on 520, with a little lane switching to avoid the Montlake backup, the ride across the lake is pretty quick. In the morning, things are a bit tougher as the slog on I5 to the Convention Center is very bad at times, but again once it is in the tunnel there is smooth sailing.

        Of course, the tunnel and Convention Center go away, making the 255 into a 545, and then it will be closer to useless. ;)

  6. I have tried to take the survey and find it impossible to cover my concerns. Only one answer is permitted and things are actually more complicated.

  7. Statements like “Rail to downtown is faster and reliable than buses on I-5 and surface streets” are at best unhelpful and at worst deceptive. As a literal statement it is true that from the Husky Stadium station to the Westlake or other downtown stations, rail is faster and more reliable. But in the context of this article and also as used in the 520 website, it implies that transit riders headed downtown will save time with a truncation and transfer. And there is no evidence that this is true or credible. Yesterday at 5pm I rode on a route 255 bus from the Eastside to downtown during the evening rush hour. I timed the travel time from the Montlake station to Westlake station at 13 minutes, including I-5 congestion, Stewart Street traffic with construction, Convention Place jog and stops. It’s faster off-peak, evenings, and weekends. There is simply no way that with the various traffic lights on Montlake plus walking time, descending three levels to the platform, and wait time that it is possible for the truncation and transfer to create a travel time savings in most cases. In most cases it will represent a 10-15 minute time penalty. And unless there is significant increase in evening and weekend headways it’s even worse in the outbound direction when the 520 routes have 30 minute and even 60 minute headways (e.g. weekend evenings)

    “The service hour savings can be redeployed” I would like to see some service planning that will document how many hours are really saved and what kind of frequency increase it can generate. Because there doesn’t seem to be layover space available near the UW station, and Montlake Blvd and NE Pacific St are often congested meaning that if the buses have to head north of NE 45th St to layover, the service hour savings may never be realized and largely wasted – and live looping may not be a viable alternative given Montlake congestion, bridge openings, etc.

    “changes to SR 520 bus service offer permanent benefits to riders if executed well.” Given the location of the UW Husky station and roadway constraints, it’s improbable that it can be executed well unless ST and Metro are able to build transit facilities in the stadium parking lot. That needs to be a condition to the route truncation.

    The survey is not designed to be able to document these kinds of concerns

    1. The 255, today, is relatively insulated from downtown traffic congestion, due to its use of the tunnel, especially in the eastbound direction. A year from now, that will all change, and the travel time through downtown is going to get longer and less predictable.

      A few months ago, my commute changed from catching the 545 at Montlake Freeway Station to catching the 255 at Montlake Freeway Station. The 255 is consistently more on-time than the 545 is, and when Convention Place Station closes, the bus bunching of the 545 will spread to the 255, too.

      Also, the 255 is not just about commutes to/from downtown Seattle, and any delays the bus encounters getting through downtown propagate to the entire rest of the line, so even people that are just trying to get from Kirkland TC to Totem Lake are affected.

      It is definitely true that we need to see what kind of frequency improvements a truncation would buy the 255 before we can properly judge whether or not it would be worth it. But, if we look towards Alternative 1 in the U-link restructure a couple years ago as precedent, what we could end up with is something like this:
      – A route 255 that stops directly in front of the UW Station and continues along Montlake Blvd to Children’s Hospital, replacing the 78.
      – Several trips added during rush hour, with peak-direction trips continuing on to and through downtown (only off-peak and reverse-direction trips truncated).
      – All route 255 trips go to Totem Lake TC, with the (very lightly-used) Brickyard P&R tail moved to another (less frequent) route.
      – Evening service improved to every 30 minutes during the period where the 255 currently runs once an hour
      – Route 271 improves to every 15 minutes Saturday daytime and every 30 minutes evenings, with the last trip of evening leaving at midnight instead of 10 PM.

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