Eastside bus riders, feeling the slow-down from traffic congestion, have already begun taking advantage of the quick ride the Link Light Rail offers, transferring to the train at the University Washington Station to head downtown.

“It’s just six minutes from UW to Westlake on the train,” said Ted Day, a transit planner for King County Metro, during an open house presentation on June 19 near the UW Station. “That’s incredible. There’s no other way you can do that, except in the air, and I don’t know many people who own helicopters.”

“People are already adapting, getting on the Link at the UW Station to come downtown,” he added.

King County Metro and Sound Transit, preparing for increased congestion on Seattle’s streets on top of the closure of the Downtown Transit Tunnel to buses, are planning a major restructuring of Eastside bus routes for 2018.

This is the first restructuring of Eastside buses to facilitate better connections to light rail, the transit agencies plan to funnel downtown-bound Eastside bus riders to the UW Station. The restructuring would then free up buses that would have been entangled in downtown traffic, allowing the agencies to expand services to new areas and increase the frequency of buses throughout the day.

Three options were presented:

  • No change to service
  • “Frequency focus”: Redirect all routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland
  • “Connections focus”: Redirect some routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland

The June 19 meeting was sparsely attended with most participants wandering in after seeing signs posted for the event. For many attendees of the open house, either alternative option would improve their commute due to the expanded services to SLU and north of the University. The main difference between the two plans is with option b buses would be more frequent while option c allows for better connections for new service areas.

Participants were asked to rank the options, the most popular was option b, focusing on increasing frequency of buses. Riders acknowledged that transferring to link when heading downtown will eventually be faster than traveling by bus.

Jonathan Dubman, a transit rider who has advocated for better bus-rail connections at the UW Station, wants to see the transfer experience improved.

“The road configuration forces you to cross two busy streets to go from Link to an Eastside-bound bus,” Dubman said. “When you do that in the rain in November, it’s going to be a drag. It’s a longer walk than it needs to be.”

Dubman said it was a fixable problem but requires an investment of funds.

The third phase of outreach will begin in the fall with a preferred option being presented for additional public comment. The earliest implementation for the bus restructuring plan is expected for September 2018. A survey is available until June 30 to provide input on the three options.

“We feel there’s an appetite to connect up to light rail,” Day said. “We just haven’t given riders really great options to connect to the train.”

The key to making the bus-train transfer a viable option for riders is matching train and bus arrivals, so riders forced to transfer don’t have to wait long, Day added.

Not rerouting buses — taking no action — is expected to impact the reliability of buses.

The “frequency focus” plan, option b, redirects all Eastside buses to the link station near UW allowing the transit agencies to focus the most resources on other routes; expanding services to new areas and increasing the frequency of buses. The last option, the ”connections focus” plan, redirects some Eastside buses to the UW Station, allowing for a smaller expansion of new routes and a slight increase in the overall frequency of buses. With “frequency focus”, riders would have more choices along with more frequent service compared to “connections focus” option, according to Day.

In an effort to encourage passengers to transfer to light rail, the “frequency focus,” also known as option b reroutes Metro buses 252, 255, 257, 268, and 311 and ST 545 through the University of Washington after exiting State Road 520, instead of heading south on I-5 to downtown. Metro 252, 257, 311 and ST 542 would provide new services to South Lake Union. ST 540 would serve Seattle Children’s Hospital and ST 541 would connect the University with the Green Lake Park and Ride. This option suspends Metro 277 and adds roughly 150 new trips each weekday, increasing bus frequency throughout the day and later into the night.

Option three, the “connections focus” option, would reroute Metro 255 (weekday daytime only) and 268 and ST 545 through the University instead of downtown. Metro 258 and ST 542 would provide new services to South Lake Union. ST 540 would take riders to  Seattle Children’s Hospital and ST 541 would connect Green Lake Park and Ride with the University. With this option, Metro 252, 257, and 311 would continue service to the north end of downtown Seattle. A new route, Metro 256, would provide direct service between Totem Lake, Kirkland, and downtown Seattle on nights and weekends. This option also suspends Metro 277 and adds roughly 130 new trips each weekday.

Both options, b and c, create new connections between Seattle and South Kirkland, and replace Metro 255 north of Totem Lake Transit Center with a revised Metro 235.

42 Replies to “SR520 Route Restructure Open House”

  1. This is a false choice. Montlake is pretty much always a mess. I take the 271 almost everyday and spend most of the time stuck on off ramp. Buses will make this worse. Those transfers to link will be a nightmare. Maybe if you are going all the way to pioneer square or the ID this makes sense but I doubt it helps everyone else. Also what does this do to the overall flow at the Montlake/UW?

    1. Maybe instead of of saying “it won’t work”, you could provide ways flow and integration could be improved?

      For those who were able to attend, did any of SDOT, WSDOT, Metro, ST address either of the elephants in the room?
      bad transfer:
      >Jonathan Dubman, a transit rider who has advocated for better bus-rail connections at the UW Station, >wants to see the transfer experience improved.
      the terrible bus experience between 520 and UW?

      The online survey explicitly stated they were ignoring both realities.

    2. It’s unfortunate that Metro is pursuing this when at this time it will not result in a commute time improvement, though it will allow increased service. Choose your poison I guess?

      Of the many times I have gotten on/off at Montlake flyer stop and walked to/from UW station since the station opened I often beat the majority of the street traffic, but especially buses stuck on the Montlake offramp in the mornings. Without signal or lane prioritization I don’t think they will be able to make this quicker than existing routing until the new bascule bridge is built and there is space for dedicated transit lines.

      FWIW, after timing it out multiple times over the last year on good and bad days as permitted by my commute I found that except on the absolute worst days (especially earlier this year during the heaviest construction on Stewart) staying on the 252/257/311 is relatively consistently quicker to go to downtown, usually by 3 to 5 minutes quicker than getting off at Montlake and walking Once to Westlake Link is going to generally be faster in the tunnel obviously. Given my afore mentioned experience of walking faster than the traffic on Montlake you can see why I now rarely do this option, and my skepticism of this change overall.

      The notable exception is mornings when I-5 is severely backed up and has in turn backed up onto WB520 which can be determined with a quick Waze/WSDOT app check 520 mid-span which I have kinda put into my routine every day, that can save 10 or more minutes.

      That 2nd bridge can’t come fast enough!

      1. Unfortunately the 2nd bridge isn’t planned to even start construction until “as early as 2024,” although I don’t think that’s as big of a chokepoint as the current 520 off ramp situation is right now. Once they get the left-side HOV/transit ramps built that will improve the situation dramatically, but given the current timeline they probably won’t have that in place for another 5-6 years.


        There’s a lot about the current situation that’s sub-optimal due to how long it took to get funding for the west side portion of the 520 expansion project.

      2. Hence my (quite possibly naive, having not yet actually ridden a 520 bus) “option 4” of having at least some of the busses go “to” downtown but not “through” downtown. If Westlake is the breaking point, have the busses turn around there and get back on the highway, no need to go all the way down. At least until there is a serious effort at prioritizing transit busses on approach to UW station.

      3. There have been a few other creative solutions, good operators from EB520 buses getting on NB405 already go south bound on 405 to Bellevue, get off at 4th loop back on the city streets and and get on at 6 north bound in the HOT lanes to avoid the merge and backup on the giant loop ramp there. There could well be some creative options like that out there.

      4. I’ve been on some 545’s that got off at Roanoke and took Lakeview south to avoid backups on 5. I wouldn’t recommend that regularly, though.

        In theory, you could get off at Roanoke, loop back on Delmar, and get back on 520 at Montlake. Unfortunately, it’d take a while, and you still wouldn’t get really close to a Link station.

  2. “The road configuration forces you to cross two busy streets to go from Link to an Eastside-bound bus,” Dubman said. “When you do that in the rain in November, it’s going to be a drag. It’s a longer walk than it needs to be.”

    In other words, insert the entire comments section of STB from three years ago here.

  3. The other consideration here is that the configuration of Montlake Interchange is changing starting this fall. The final design will not be in place for several years, but it will not be the same as it is today. I do agree, UW’s stance about easy transfer options at the UW station is a disservice to the region.

    1. Is there a link to the proposed reconfiguration and the phases it will go through to get there?

  4. The walk to and from the bus stops really isn’t that bad, if your bus is on NE Pacific St. The trip from the station entrance to the platform is longer. Unless the stops are moved onto Montlake, they are about as close as they can get. Mr. Dubman has been advocating for that for over a decade, and lost that debate when Metro and ST decided to put the stops where they would be more convenient for riders going to UW Medical Center and the rest of campus. Other than that, the only improvement available is shortening the car cycle for the lights crossing Montlake to and from the bus stops.

    The larger problem is being stuck in traffic getting to the stops or to SR 520. A second non-SOV bascule bridge across the ship canal could have helped. Mr. Dubman’s neighborhood association opposed that, and continues to oppose it.

    The time it takes to get from entrance to platform, plus congestion on the elevators, makes timing transfers a pretty pointless exercise. The only real improvement available is increasing frequency. That will take until at least September 2019 before ST has enough new LRVs up and running to make doubling frequency between UW Station and SODO feasible.

    The service-hour-neutral approach to restructuring SR 520 service ignores a basic problem: Ridership is going up, and will continue to go up as new major employers open up more offices in South Lake Union. Metro is already adding additional service on route 70 in response to overcrowding for new Amazon employees / interns. South Lake Union isn’t a new destination. It is just a destination that has been ignored for purposes of bus service allocation, because employee bases don’t scream as loud for new service as neighborhood associations scream to freeze things exactly the way they are.

    If Metro / ST want the SR 520 restructure to get shouted down, host all the open houses along existing routes. If Metro / ST want to send more service to South Lake Union, host some open houses in South Lake Union. And than see that SLU has merited direct service to a lot more destinations years ago.

    Both the bus frequency and the direct connections need to improve, especially to South Lake Union. That will take a service-hour investment.

    But the idea of keeping split service to both the Central Business District and UW, mentioned by some county councilmembers, is just more evidence that county councilmembers need to leave the route and bus stop planning to the professional planners. The split service has always left UW riders having to backtrack downtown off hours, or make the long walk / short extra bus trip with long wait down to the dreary Montlake freeway station, or backtrack downtown. With those stations going away, a split service pattern dominated by downtown will leave lots of UW riders backtracking downtown during off hours and weekends. The direct downtown service has to go away when the buses leave the DSTT because there is no room for the extra buses in the gridlocked Central Business District.

  5. I could not attend. Did anyone notice elected officials or candidates there?

    Seattle meetings are often missing elected official presence. Relying mostly on filtered staff briefings is a lazy and poor way for elected officials to behave.

    1. Um, the purpose of the open houses is for the agencies to get public input. Or if you want to be cynical, they’re just doing it to fulfill a statutory requirement. Elected leaders’ attendance is optional.

    2. It’s not just “input”! The purpose of an open house is to foster public discussion and interaction. The public asks questions at open houses — unlike a public hearing or letter writing where people provide formal input. Issues are usually solved and new challenges are identified in discussions with feedback, not a time-limited speech at a podium.

      If I were an elected official, I would show up! It is free advertising for a campaign! It shows that I care about my public, even if I only stay 20 mInutes! I provides a chance for other problems to get reported to me off the record! It’s like having a group coffee meet-up without the hassle or stress or cost to me!

      Finally, I think that it’s a basic aspect of the job description of a local elected official to have a passion to interact with the public. It’s not being smarter or better connected; it’s about having a desire to listen and represent and inform constituents. Elected officials are not royalty!

    3. You still have two additional chances. Monday, June 26 in Kingsgate Library (6-8pm) and Tuesday, June 27 at Union Station (11a-1p). Open house format. Drop in anytime.

    4. We are having public discussion at this very moment — more than occurs at the open houses.

      If *you* could not attend, then expecting elected officials to attend in your stead is highly unrealistic. These sorts of events happen quite frequently, and tend to get low attendance, with little interaction besides with the planners, who are the ones who really need to hear the input.

      The last people I want intervening at this point in this process are elected officials, especially county councilmembers with pork barrel concerns.

      1. The mere neglect of bus transfers at the UW Station is clearly a lack of agencies participating in an adequate feedback process. This specific issue has been discussed over and over and over and over again on this blog through the years. Where is that bus transfer center with great access for 520 buses? It’s nowhere to be found! The existing feedback system is a FAILURE! IT ISN’T WORKING!

        How did we get here? The bus stops are badly positioned. The inadequacy of elevators and escalators are apparent to almost every user. The connectivity of 520 buses is horrible.

        I submit to you all that the standard Seattle “process” has spectularly failed in this situation — and this failure has been occurring repeatedly over several years on a number of station design issues. Planners have been either unwilling or unable to affect the situation to create substantial improvements. Senior administration seem to be more interested in building than operating a rail system. Elected officials rely on mere briefings in rushed board meetings with long agendas and don’t want to be bothered.

        Complaining to staff didn’t help. Going to public hearings and sending emails and filling out online surveys didn’t help. Writing about it on the STB didn’t help. The only way I see to change things is to get behind a visible elected official advocate who will make it part of their crusade!

        So who will it be? If there are any candidates for Mayor reading this, I’m willing to cast my vote for you if you’re willing to force UW, the City, Metro and ST to come to an agreement on how to resolve this.

      2. Good luck convincing the mayoral candidates to take this up. Most of the affected riders live on the eastside.

        The bus stops are not badly placed. The lack of a station exit on the east side of Montlake is the planning error.

      3. Good luck in talking with Metro planners if your interaction with them is anything like I experienced with the NE Seattle bus changes.

        Talking with those planners at those open houses was like talking to the wall except that the wall would have been more responsive. They were not interested in hearing what people had to say and the only reason they were at these events is that it was required for them to be there as part of their job.

        Some of you don’t like that the King County Council members have the final say on any bus changes but at least those officials have to answer to the public while Metro planners do not and they are going to implement their changes and the public be damned.

    5. It’s not like transit is the only issue elected officials are involved in. If they went to every open house and event on every issue they wouldn’t have time to do anything else, or see their family.

      Occasionally a few councilmembers do attend these open houses but I haven’t kept track how much. Just that at some of the larger events the announcer says, “We’re glad to have Councilmember X and Mayor Y here with us.”

      “The only way I see to change things is to get behind a visible elected official advocate who will make it part of their crusade!”

      Yes. ST listens to the counties first, the cities second, large employers third, and the public fourth. So talking to a councilmember or executive and getting them to advocate for some feature is the surest way to achieve it. With 130th station — never mind that large numbers of people pushed for it repeatedly in feedback rounds, that it was the #2 topic in the Lynnwood Link EIS comments behind only a petition to keep Lynnwood Station off Scriber Lake Park, and that the McGinn administration and city council unanimously endorsed the station — what probably made the biggest difference was that Rogoff or somebody in a board meeting said “[Councilmember] Lorena Gonzales has been calling us every day” to advocate for the station and ask if it was in the plan yet. So finally when they drew up ST3 they just put it in.

      1. Sorry, I thought there was only one councilmember with a Spanish name so I must have confused them.

      2. I wrote a letter to Councilmember Juarez at the time regarding 130th (and the Arena); she kindly responded about 130th but didn’t mention the Arena. A few days later after the street vacation vote I understood why. :(

  6. >>The key to making the bus-train transfer a viable option for riders is matching train and bus arrivals, so riders forced to transfer don’t have to wait long, Day added.<<

    Trying to time transfers does not work. The key is frequent service on both routes so the wait should never be long.

    1. When there are no resources to make the route frequent or when the connecting route’s ridership doesn’t justify frequent service, a timed transfer is the second best thing but Metro operationally has not shown that it’s capable of doing that.

    2. Timed transfers work in some circumstances. They don’t work when a bus has to cross a bridge and cars lined up for a freeway entrance, because that inevitably breaks down at least once a week due to accidents, extraordinary traffic, or rain making traffic worse.

  7. Close Montlake ramps to everything except buses at rush hour, rather than let traffic more effectively do that for us. Adding a lot more parking, including temporary, at transit stops east of the Lake.

    Probably a lot more buses as well, but if we can get stopped ones moving, could need fewer.

    However many cars aren’t moving, at least several thousand passengers – what is daily ridership we’re talking about?- will be, between east side and both UW and LINK.

    If what I think is going to happen really does, we’ll go through enough other changes that don’t work that my approach will demand itself. In a lot of places, through the life of ST-3.

    Mark Dublin

  8. This truncation is going to be a disaster for the Eastside riding public.

    It almost never saves any time. As compared to free flowing I-5 traffic, it is going to add 15-20 minutes total travel time for SR-520 riders. In optimum conditions, it takes like 7 minutes from Montlake to/from Pine St. I know it’s not optimal in peak periods – but generally on weekends, evenings, and mid-day it’s 7-10 minutes between Montlake and Pine St. Compare that to the forced transfer. The bus has four traffic lights to pass through at Montlake and congestion. After alighting, the passenger has another 1-2 traffic lights depending on direction. Plus three sets of escalators. Then a wait for a train that runs 6-15 minute headways.

    It is rare that during peak periods the bus will be slower than the time taken for all the additional steps. Probably less than 10% of the time.

    Now let’s add Montlake bridge openings, and then UW events to the equation. The statements that this increases reliability is a fallacy.

    Here’s the equation: off-peak this is a complete killer. It will convert a 20 minute trip into a 40-minute trip with increased unpredictability due to the Montlake bridge and UW events. The next recession will make the frequency improvements go away because the ridership will not support it. Peak maybe it is closer to a wash – but even then, why do people boarding standing room 255 and 545 buses while the 540, 541, and 542 are almost always half-empty? Because the transfer sucks.

    1. Not everybody is going downtown. Some people are going to the U-District or north Seattle, or other places on Link.

      1. The 540-541-542-556-556-271 sufficiently address that market. There is no need to kill the 252-255-257-311-545. Not until the SR-520 construction is finished around Montlake and downtown really is a disaster, and even then it’s not a good idea to kill them off-peak.

      2. It’s sort of ok today – when these routes are running. But, evenings and weekends, they all shut down, except for the 271, which is reduced to hourly or half-hourly.

        And, think about what happens when Montlake Freeway Station goes away. You can’t just force everyone to do a long backtrack into and out of downtown.

    2. “Now let’s add Montlake bridge openings, and then UW events to the equation. The statements that this increases reliability is a fallacy.”

      The bridge doesn’t open at peak. UW has a handful of mostly weekend events.

      I can’t see how this is remotely comparable to the frequent disruptions downtown in PM peak. How many demonstrations are going to block the buses on downtown streets before critics realize they’d rather their bus be somewhere else at those times? Not to mention the routine traffic fails.

  9. This planning process is another opportunity for the whole region to recognize that SR 520 will continue to be a major bus-rail hub for decades to come, and deserves real investment to make it as efficient and safe as can be.

    Today, we already send a lot of SR 520 bus routes to UW station, and in 2018, under any of these plans, a lot more buses will go to UW.

    When Link serves Northgate in 2021, many thousands more people – including many folks who drive from North Seattle to I-5 to SR 520 to Eastside employers today – will now be minutes away from the UW hub via Link.

    The opening of East Link in 2023 will not appreciably diminish the need for bus-rail transfers at UW. East Link doesn’t serve Kirkland, and will take 40 minutes from UW to Microsoft over I-90. Every long-term plan assumes SR 520 remains a major transit corridor.

    The biggest opportunity to make this hub work better is to improve the efficiency of getting off a bus and onto a train, or off a train and on to a bus. Today, the buses from the Eastside wait at a signal to turn away from UW station before stopping at a nicely re-landscaped triangle that is nobody’s actual destination. Meanwhile, the buses from the Eastside require crossing two busy streets at grade.

    We can leave the buses where they are and construct a ped tunnel from the UW station mezzanine to the bus stops at the SE corner of Montlake and Pacific. We have one across Broadway to connect Capitol Hill station to Seattle Central and that’s only across one street.

    Or, we can reroute the buses closer to the station, maybe like this. Or perhaps someone has another brilliant idea. But we need to do something.

    I’m sorry if this dashes anyone’s hopes of a magic fix here, but a second drawbridge for vehicles is not a solution; it would not actually solve the problem. Neighborhood opposition is not the fundamental issue. Previous studies have concluded a second drawbridge would not meaningfully improve transit travel times nor eliminate the surrounding congestion, but would cost about $100M, which is why that can keeps getting kicked down the road year after year. Bicycle safety could certainly be improved through there, but the transit reliability issues we have today are due to congestion getting off the SR 520 ramps, and off-peak bridge openings. The frequency of bridge openings is not reduced by adding more drawbridges, and the (terrible) ramp queues will supposedly be addressed by WSDOT.

    The (only somewhat) expensive road fix we do need in this area is an additional southbound lane on Montlake allowing buses, vanpools and emergency vehicles to travel the 0.75 mile stretch from U Village to UW station in 3 minutes instead of 30. This route will always be the most direct to connect U Village (thousands of employees), and Children’s Hospital (even more thousands of employees) to the UW transit hub and thus the Eastside. That stretch merits frequent transit service, but that’s impossible to provide with the street configuration we have today. Hopefully UW will warm up to this idea before moving forward with massive development of the parking lots in the East Campus north of Husky Stadium.

    What is the scope of what is being considered between now and September of 2018 to make matters better at the UW transit hub? I suspect, in the end, not much.

    My bottom line question is, now that we’ve invested the many billions on Link and the new floating bridge, when we are we going to spend the few tens-of-millions more it will take to make this critical transit hub really work?

    1. “This planning process is another opportunity for the whole region to recognize that SR 520 will continue to be a major bus-rail hub for decades to come, and deserves real investment to make it as efficient and safe as can be.”

      That would be nice. Since you’re in Olympia, can you get WSDOT and the legislature to recognize this? They haven’t listened to us so far. Montlake Blvd is a state highway, and UW is a state institution.

  10. There should have been a LINK station built beneath 520, with lanes for the buses so they could pull over and stop, with escalators and elevators from street level going straight down to platform level. That would have made for an easy transfer. If it was a choice between such a station and the UW station, a 520 station would have been much preferable.

      1. How so? Are you referring to the UW students? UW station is such a long walk from most of the campus that it’s almost useless anyways. For most of the campus you’re better off taking a bus to get close to your destination.

    1. RossB has been advocating for that. But it wasn’t even a minor goal when the line was drawn up. The goal was to get people from elsewhere on Link to UW, and potential bus transfers at UW. (By “potential” I mean the 520 buses. The Pacific Street and north Seattle buses were always going to transfer at UW. Although when U-District Station opens, that will probably become the most convenient place to transfer for the 65, 75, and 372.)

  11. If anyone happened to watch the RTC last Wednesday, the issue of horrible transfers came up, but Metro demurred. Transfers will remain nightmarish until UW ponies up some land. Some sort of better-placed ped over- or under-pass for the triangle would also be nice.

    As others have pointed out (many times), this is a prime example of a failure to integrate planning efforts. While attempting to come up with a solution for the UW station situation is worthwhile, advocates should press the transfer issue at every opportunity as north link and east link planning progresses. Transfer environments are not something ST has historically been interested in. ST needs to be made to care.

Comments are closed.