ST 545, with 9,500 weekday boardings, is among ten routes that may be restructured (Image: Atomic Taco)

This is the last week to take the survey on proposed revision to SR 520 bus service. The survey closes Friday midnight.

With the planned closure of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, the transit agencies have offered two alternatives that would extricate SR 520 buses from anticipated congestion on Seattle surface streets. Both would require most bus riders from Kirkland and Redmond to transfer to Link Light Rail at UW Station. Option B is frequency-focused, with more service truncated to UW at all hours, but more frequent service on major routes from Kirkland and Redmond. Option C is connections-focused, with somewhat less frequent buses, but more connections between more markets.

We described the alternatives here, and a recent open house here. Our complete One Center City coverage is here.

17 Replies to “Link Connections on SR-520: survey closes tomorrow”

  1. There was an opinion piece in the Times where one of its employees asked why bus riders from Redmond were being asked to sacrifice added travel time and transfers to get to downtown. The article went on to ask why cars weren’t being kicked out of downtown instead of buses.

    My head hit my desk so hard that I couldn’t finish my reply email that pointed out that the author’s employer would devote entire issues to opinion pieces berating every transit and government agency for 10 miles if anyone in Metro or city staff even talked quietly in the shower about such a plan.

    I mean, the author isn’t wrong–I actually agree–but I don’t see hope for such an idea.

  2. Metro is well on itsto mussing up the tunnel closure. All it seems to really care about is pushing as many bodies on to light rail as possible…

  3. My survey response included this:

    I have commuted and taken many other trips to most of the destinations served by these routes to varying extents for many years.

    The overall success of most of these routes depends highly on the quality of the transfer experience at UW Station. Ramp queues exiting SR 520 at Montlake are bad today but should improve for transit in the next few years as the SR 520 project is completed in Montlake. The biggest remaining transit issue for all these routes is the overall time and rider experience for transfers between the UW Station entrance and connecting bus stops. The walk distance is too long and exposed to the weather, and all connections require crossing either 1 or 2 major arterials at grade, with long light cycles and crowding at intersections. The current bus routing forces inbound passengers desiring a connection to Link to wait at a signal to turn left onto Pacific, only to force the same passengers to cross on foot at grade. Especially for the less-abled, but really for everyone, this is subpar.

    We need to either bring the buses closer to the station (maybe like this: https://www.seattletransitblog.com/2015/01/30/improving-bus-rail-integration-at-uw-station) and/or provide an underpass from the UW station mezzanine and/or surface entrance to the area of the UW Surgery Center at the SW corner of Montlake/Pacific, ideally with an additional entrance/exit on the north side of Pacific by the current westbound bus stops at the Triangle. We have a similar underpass to the west side of Broadway at Link’s Capitol Hill Station. This would cost some money to construct but this connection will remain important for decades to come according to all long term transit plans currently in place, even with Sound Transit 3 full implementation, and it deserves major investment ASAP. Even if the funding does not currently exist for such improvement, I am hoping this process can help to catalyze it.

    We have successfully built twin transit tunnels from the International District to Northgate and a giant road tunnel under downtown. I’m quite sure a short pedestrian tunnel through known and solid ground is constructible here.

    Thank you.

    1. I agree with you completely, and that’s why I haven’t answered the survey yet. Should I support the changes, or oppose them? My answer is “I’d support them if something were done to improve the transfer experience, but as it is, I’m not sure”… and unfortunately, that’s not an option.

      (I’m also much more equivocal at night than during the day, but again, the survey doesn’t allow me to differentiate.)

    2. Agree…
      Summary:
      WSDOT owns the bad experience to/from 520. No incentive to fix, but it’ll improve a bit when new ramps exist.

      Metro/ST own the terrible bus/rail transfer experience. No apparent will to fix.
      And this transfer is the only one between the north end and the east side, permanently.

      The survey states upfront they aren’t looking at all the things that could be done, and proposes throwing opex at the problem.

      1. More accurate to say the UW owns the terrible transfer experience. They’re the ones who hold all the cards when it comes to every bit of land around the station, and as a state agency can’t be forced to do anything to make life easier for transit. ST is doing the best it can here without the legislature getting involved to force UW to be more accommodating.

      2. In other words, both the 520 ramps and the Montlake bridge and the bus transfer situation are under the control of two state agencies, so it’s twice as difficult to get a “transit first” solution that we’d like. And here’s puny ST and even punier Metro.

        That underpass is a good idea, but that’s what UW rejected when the station was under construction. Now it would require getting UW to change its mind, and imposing another period of construction on the triangle users. That won’t to over well because it feels like so many construction projects one after another: lowering Pacific Place, redoing the Burke-Gilman trail, building the station and the bridge, and now whatever it’s doing that has the south Stevens Way sidewalk blocked kitty-corner from the HUB. But the biggest challenge is why the UW rejected extending the tunnel int the first place. Half of the tunnel already exists, from the plaza in front of the medical center to the east side of Pacific Street and then the underground parking garage under the triangle. I assume that the stairway down from the east side of Montlake Blvd also goes into it. UW rejected extending it to the station because of security: it didn’t want the burden of managing masses of non-UW people in the tunnel. Nothing has changed since then to make UW less paranoid or stingy about that, and without that we can’t have a tunnel.

      3. east west side of Montlake Blvd. Near the elevator that goes up to the bridge.

    3. Jonathan,

      Several of us argued for such an underpass when the station design was first being proposed. Everybody drank UW’s Kool-Aid that the Triangle Garage simply couldn’t accommodate such an intrusion to its foundation (the tunnel would have to run very close to it at the northwest corner of Montlake and Pacific).

      So it was dropped; the ST Board simply seems to be terrified of the University. If the U slightly growls the Board turns tail and runs instead of going over the U’s head to the public.

      Your idea is elegant and obvious; unfortunately the only places that the U seems to value those qualities are in advanced math classes.

      1. Yeah. Thanks. Seattle Central doesn’t seem to have a problem policing the pedestrian tunnel under Broadway, which seems safer and cleaner than the street it runs under. And yesterday we opened the new Pike Place MarketFront center built directly above (like, 12 *inches* above) an active rail tunnel hand-dug in 1904 in a seismic zone. The Link tunnels pass tight under the ship canal. The idea that we can’t figure out how to build a ped tunnel here in post-Bertha Seattle (with thousands of UW engineering grads in the labor pool) is patently absurd. As is the current configuration where it takes almost as long to transfer from the train to a bus at 3mph as it does to travel from Westlake to UW at 55mph. It’s also absurd that the corner of an old parking garage, even if impacted, should drive the configuration and utility of the most important transit hub for miles around that is surrounded by $10 billion in new infrastructure.

        UW is not a sovereign nation. The Link tunnel under the rest of the UW campus is already dug, so it seems like UW’s leverage here has diminished. But we shouldn’t need leverage. UW’s own students and thousands of hospital workers could make use of the same connection every day, so you would think that self-interest would motivate UW, even if all the sustainability stuff is just PR.

        I saw someone jaywalking across Montlake Blvd. after dark last night in this very spot with drivers speeding by yakking on cell phones. This is not good. At least there’s a great surgery center across the two streets.

      2. The issue is not the location of the tunnel but whose tunnel it is. The Broadway tunnel is owned and patrolled by ST. In this case ST was asking for an extension of UW’s tunnel. UW is not a sovereign nation but its legal authority is above Sound Transit’s, it’s designated as an essential state mission, its education and research benefit the entire state, so if UW says “We won’t do this because it would impact the essential services we provide”, every lawmaker would side with it no matter what the local public says, and they and UW would be worried about graffiti and robbers and drug addicts in the tunnel making hospital users feel unsafe.

      3. OK. UW’s existing tunnel from the Triangle Parking Garage is not in the best location for a Link-bus connection anyway, and this connection is more than important enough to justify a new tunnel that could be owned and patrolled by ST like the bright, clean and safe Broadway tunnel, or by SDOT in partnership with ST, etc.

        Given the bus stops we have today, the desire line for the tunnel is basically underneath where the crosswalks are, such that the required ramps point to the station entrance and to the bus stops respectively to minimize walking distance. This would provide weather protection, eliminate wait time at the signals, and reduce pedestrian-vehicle conflicts to make this connection as good as it can be.

        The draft UW Campus Master Plan (p. 88-89, http://cpd.uw.edu/sites/default/files/master-plan/2016-cmp/2016-10-03-UW-CMP.pdf) proposes a continuous waterfront trail under Montlake Blvd. in the indefinite future. That sounds awesome, though functionally less essential than this transit connection. I wonder if there’s any way to address these two needs with one project.

    4. There are many agencies at fault and many problems:

      1) Link failed to build a station at SR 520. This is the ideal solution, but it will never happen.

      2) WSDOT could build a new transit and bike only bridge over the Montlake Cut. If this was built east of the existing bridge (at 24th) and was connected to bus only freeway ramps, it would mean very fast access for buses. The UW would have to carve out a small area to allow the buses to drop off passengers and turn around. This seems unlikely to happen, as there has been a lot of local opposition to a new bridge.

      3) WSDOT and the city could use the existing bridge and minimize congestion for buses. In the north bound direction, you could essentially build a bus only ramp and a bus only lane right to edge of the bridge (this would be a major “jump ahead” lane). From a south bound direction things get trickier, but with Montlake Boulevard being redone, it is possible that you could build a bus only lane right to the HOV entrance, while retaining much, if not all of the SOV access.

      4) The UW could allow buses to turn around at the back of the station. This is a major part of this proposal: https://www.seattletransitblog.com/2015/01/30/improving-bus-rail-integration-at-uw-station/. Alone, this doesn’t solve the problem. If you are stuck in traffic trying to cross the bridge (or trying to get from the bridge to 520) then this doesn’t do much. But this would make it much easier for a bus to run without encountering traffic (items 3 and 4 go together). It also saves Metro a lot of money (there is no worrying about where to send the buses) and just makes for a better transfer.

      5) WSDOT could build HOV ramps connecting to the HOV lanes. This is the only part of this that we are certain will be built. This alone will make a huge difference. Unfortunately, it will be years before they are built. Which leads me to the next point:

      6) The county could have simply cancelled the dubious convention center expansion project. The city can delay it, and should, until Link gets to Northgate, and the buses are kicked out of the tunnel. When Northgate Link is built, you have fewer buses heading downtown (the 41 is replaced by Link). But the 255 would not, so there is still value in running it downtown, until the WSDOT/city projects (2 through 5) are complete. Which leads to the last point:

      7) We will have a lot of buses running downtown for a very long time. We need a long term plan for moving them through there and we need to start building it. There are buses (like the E) that will run through downtown for the foreseeable future. There are other buses (like the D) that will run for the next 18 years. SDOT needs to get its act together, and start accommodating the bulk of our transit riders, instead of pretending that Link will fulfill all of our transit needs. Once Northgate Link gets built, and the 255 is kicked out, we can then chose the best option, depending on which set of projects (surface downtown transit improvements or the UW Station bus access) is further along. Ideally, from a service and network standpoint, the connection would be made at the UW, but if the work downtown is further along, and you still have congestion getting to the UW station, going downtown might be the better choice in the short run.

      In short, we should be having this conversation in a few years, and we should have more options on the table.

  4. Obviously, I don’t qualify to take their survey, but having suffered through a few Link to 43 and similar transfers at UW, I sent this to the general King County Feedback form since none of the other options for feedback work for an occasional use:

    / Begin Quote

    I see that Metro is taking a survey of the highest 520 bus routes. I am not a regular user of any of these, but one of the problems with any of the proposed changes is the transfer situation at the UW station.

    I know there isn’t much that can be done at this station, but there may be a few things.

    One of the things this station needs is more vertical access capacity. People take the elrvstor due to the long vertical distance, and the result is a line at the top of the elevator.

    A second elevator at the north end of the Montlake Triangle, and a third somewhere on the west side of Montlake Blvd and south of Pacific would increase the vertical capacity into and out of the station as well as allow people to access the station from the SR 520 bus routes with somewhat less time consuming pathways between the bus stops and the platform.

  5. I just tried to complete the survey, and got a message that the deadline had passed. 12:30 AM., not Friday night at midnight.

    1. I tweeted at them about that this morning and they fixed it. It’s available until 11:59 pm tonight!

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