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Every year the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge closes for the Blue Angels performance. As one of only four ways around Lake Washington, the closure hugely impacts the region’s transportation system. It is a safety zone mandated by the FAA to “keep the public and pilots safe and to minimize distractions.” The bridge closures take place midday on weekdays and weekends, and causes 1.5 mile backups, while affecting the two all-day routes over I-90.

These two routes–both Metro-operated Sound Transit routes 550 and 554–miss two stops: The Rainier flyer stops and Mercer Island Park & Ride. It is impossible to serve the Rainier flyer stops during the closure, as the stops can only be accessed from the bus-only express lanes in the center of I-90, and the next accessible exit is on the other side of the bridge that is closed. Luckily, routes 7 and 106 provide a frequent (though not as quick) connection from Downtown to the Rainier flyer stop.

According to data from Sound Transit’s 2017 Service Implementation Plan, Mercer Island passengers account for 10-11% of route 550’s average ridership and 4-7% of route 554’s average ridership. The SIP numbers suggest that about 60-85% of riders originating at Mercer Island are headed towards Seattle.

Neither Metro nor ST were able to provide me with stop-level data, but unofficial ridership numbers show that route 550’s weekday demand drops sharply after about 9:15 and doesn’t pick back up until mid-afternoon. Much of route 550’s demand on Mercer Island centers around parking availability at the 447 stall Park & Ride, so once the lot is full, ridership originating at that stop drops. Weekend ridership is across the board making it difficult to draw conclusions.

Almost two thirds of route 550’s Bellevue ridership uses the three stops in Bellevue’s downtown core; if ridership from the recently-closed South Bellevue Park & Ride is excluded that number jumps to almost 80%.

Despite the majority of the ridership not going to Mercer Island, Metro has designed their reroutes to prioritize Mercer Island ridership. After leaving the tunnel, the route heads over SR-520 (the only logical choice) and sails past Bellevue in order to reach a connection in southern Bellevue to connect to a temporary Metro shuttle. From there it continues on its normal route, albeit on a much delayed schedule. In 2016 and 2017 I inadvertently timed it just right so that I was able to catch a rerouted trip. The reroutes were slightly different each year.

Route 550 Reroutes

Blue: Normal route; Red: Common reroute; Black: 2016 reroute; Green: 2017 route

2016’s reroute was slightly more sensible, but due to the closure of the South Bellevue Park & Ride for East Link construction this was no longer possible in 2017. In 2016, the route used the Bellevue Way ramp from SR-520 and ran without stops between SR-520 and South Bellevue Park & Ride. At the Park & Ride, the bus was able to make a U-turn through the park & ride and continue to/from its normal route. Despite vocal objections from riders, the operator didn’t make any stops in Bellevue while continuing to/from 520.

In 2017, the same route wasn’t possible and the route was extended even further to Eastgate Park & Ride to connect to the Mercer Island shuttle. From Eastgate, the route continued to/from Bellevue Way via I-90 to its regular route.

I asked Metro why stops couldn’t have been made in reverse order, and King County’s Scott Gutierrez explains:

The ST 550 reroute also was seen as the most efficient and least confusing for customers and operators. For customers, this reroute essentially maintained the usual sequence in terms of stops (other than the I-90 stops). Making the Bellevue stops in reverse order would have been very challenging to communicate to customers. For operators, this option allowed them to use an established layover location with access to comfort facilities.

The operator I spoke to mentioned that he didn’t have any access to the comfort station and was running his trip late as a result.

Having a chance to reflect on this, I’ll agree that running in reverse order isn’t the best solution. However, there is a solution that would allow operators adequate layover time, provide access to all regular stops outside Seattle, and prioritize the highest ridership routes.

Similar to Zach’s idea to permanently move route 550 to SR-520, the reroute could be changed to serve Bellevue immediately, with the Mercer Island shuttle connecting in Downtown Bellevue and serving Bellevue Way riders. The rerouted trip could end at the existing layover space next to the Bellevue Library or at the Bellevue Transit Center before looping back to the library. This means the operator of the 550 would likely have a much longer layover, as any delays from 520 would be more than offset by the truncation of the route. However, this means that the Mercer Island/Bellevue Way shuttle would have much higher platform hours. The connection in Bellevue could be made in a “bump and run& fashion–as both routes serve the same stop, and once passengers deboard from one route and board the second, each leaves, ensuring a seamless transfer for all.

There is no doubt that closing off any part of a route is going to cause delays, inconvenience riders, and cause confusion–even if no stops are missed. Despite costing more to implement, it prioritizes the locations where the most riders are headed.

8 Replies to “What’s in a reroute?”

  1. How about this: Get rid of the shuttles, and replace the tail to Eastgate P&R with the bus just actually going to Mercer Island. The Eastgate tail is almost as far as a deviation east as Mercer Island is a deviation west, and not operating extra shuttles should save money, not to mention save a transfer for Mercer Islanders, as well as reduced frequency and no Sunday service (if that’s still the case. I remember that from 2016).

    It should stay on Bellevue Way SE. Make the Bellevue TC the first stop out of Seattle, and continue on its regular route in the opposite direction on Bellevue Way, so if you’re on Bellevue Way, you will want to go north for Seattle and Bellevue, and south for Mercer Island. It could even live-loop on MI so even people who miss the signs and wait on the wrong side to Seattle will still get there.

    I don’t know about operator facilities on Mercer Island though, that may be an issue. Maybe that could be solved with driver swaps in downtown Bellevue.

    1. The 2017 reroute is especially awful because it forces everybody going between Seattle and Bellevue to deal with the I-90/I-405 interchange while the I-90 bridge is closed. Depending on traffic, it could be over 45 minutes between when the buses passes over downtown Bellevue on I-405, and when it actually stops in the transit center and opens its doors. This is completely unacceptable, and is the kind of service that will push people into their cars at precisely the time that it is most important to get them out of their cars.

      If I were making the trip, I would personally try to avoid the 550 altogether, in favor of taking Link to the 271, but the 271 only runs every half-hour on weekends, and is only a 40-foot bus to begin with. If more than a fraction of the 550 riders do this, the 271 would quickly become overcrowded…

      Which brings to mind, yet another reroute option. Suspend the 550 during the SeaFair bridge closure, and run extra 271 trips between the U-district and Bellevue TC, to get the total frequency up to 10 minutes or better (a bus for every train). Then, run the Mercer Island shuttle from Bellevue TC, taking over each of the route 550 stops along the way.

  2. “the reroute could be changed to serve Bellevue immediately, with the Mercer Island shuttle connecting in Downtown Bellevue and serving Bellevue Way riders.”

    That’s what I was thinking halfway through the article too. Just run the 550 to Bellevue TC, and let the shuttle take over the rest of the stops.

    “permanently move route 550 to SR-520,”

    That would have been nonsensical a few years ago but now that 520 has tolls it’s safe to cross it in the daytime without getting stuck in huge backups.

    1. I agree. Just send the 550 from Seattle to Bellevue TC, and run the shuttle route from Bellevue TC to Mercer Island.

      The only thing this configuration is missing is a fast way to get between Mercer Island and Eastgate, service normally provided on the 554. But, considering that it’s only a couple of hours, and that very few people actually make this trip anyway, I don’t think this trip is worth operating yet another special shuttle over. The few people actually making such a trip can either modify their schedules to leave before or after the closure, get to Eastgate on the slow Bellevue shuttle->240 connection, ride a bike down the I-90 trail, or just drive (or Uber).

      1. I mostly agree. Thursday is problematic: the closures are sporadic, but can make 90 useless most of the day. Since it’s the first week of August, the main daytime use case for MI to points East [access to Bellevue College] is largely moot.

  3. Once EastLink is operational, the only sane reroute would be shuttle buses over 520 to Bellevue TC, with Link trains running regular route from Judkins Park to Lynnwood and from Mercer Island to Redmond. Effectively, the 550 becomes the shuttle bus, and the “Mercer Island shuttle” becomes the regular train.

    One can only hope that the ST engineering plan allows for turnbacks on east end of the bridge for this purpose. It would be ridiculous if Sound Transit had to send shuttle buses to Mercer Island and Judkins Park, fighting all the event traffic, while the train tracks lie empty, simply due to lack of turnaround track.

  4. For the next four weeks, Puyallup commuters will endure the annual Puyallup Fair, bringing crowds of people, heavy traffic, and massive delays. For four weeks, Metro, PT, & ST bus routes that travel on 167 (as far north as Kent), 512, and 410 will be delayed, sometimes extensively, especially on Friday afternoons. No accommodation is being made for this annual and very predictable event. People will miss their connections and will be extensively delayed going home. Seafair impacts Seattle & Bellevue four DAYS per year. You’ll survive.

    1. The better option would be to fix both those problems. And if for some reason you can’t fix one, there’s no reason to make the other people suffer through a preventable problem for the sake of equal misery.

      Do you have any reroute ideas for the Puyallup Fair?

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