Cars queued up at the Montlake offramp

When the new 520 bridge opened last year, it created a glorious, continuous HOV-3 lane from Bellevue all the way to Montlake. Unfortunately, it also created a new bottleneck for buses: the Eastbound offramp from SR-520 to Montlake Blvd has become a notorious parking lot for cars and buses exiting the freeway, as any passenger on the 255 or 54x buses an attest.

When WSDOT finishes the Montlake lid in 4-5 years, things will get better: buses will have a dedicated exit from the left-hand HOV lane onto the surface, potentially all the way to and from UW Station.

Future transit-only Montlake offramp (WSDOT rendering)

Alas 2023 is still a ways away, so STB reader Glen Buhlmann invited STB and some fellow transit advocates to meet with WSDOT staff at the Montlake offramp to see if there were any opportunities for near-term improvements. As bad as the situation is now, even more buses may need to be truncated at UW in the near term.

In the current configuration, the Montlake exit consists of two general purpose (GP) lanes. Today, buses spend 10-15 minutes idling in those lanes during the afternoon peak. There’s a wide shoulder for some of the offramp, but not the whole thing, so building a dedicated bus lane isn’t a realistic near-term option. It would take significant planning and construction during a time when whole area will already be a giant active construction site. Maintaining two exit lanes throughout lid construction will be a herculean task as it is.

If bus throughput is to be improved, therefore, it’ll have to be within the existing right-of-way. Could one lane be repurposed as a bus lane? WSDOT says that such a move would cause too many cars to back up into the main highway. While this isn’t a big deal at rush hour (no one’s moving very fast anyway), it would present a safety issue at mid-day, when traffic is flowing at 50 mph across the bridge and slams into GP exit ramp traffic spilling on to the main line. (this apparently happens often when the Montlake drawbridge goes up).

(Cars used to have a free right turn onto Montlake Boulevard, which may have allowed more throughput, but at the cost of pedestrian safety. So SDOT would prefer to avoid that arrangement as well.)

One promising idea that came out of the group brainstorm was to convert one of the two lanes HOV-2 or HOV-3 at peak only. That could be done relatively quickly, and would allow buses to move a bit faster through the offramp (perhaps saving 1 light cycle) while preventing the mid-day backups that present the biggest safety concerns. You’d have the usual enforcement issues, but it still might be better than today. WSDOT promised to investigate.

Checking out the offramp and the surrounding environment. From Left: David Goldberg, community liaison for SR-520, W.D. Baldwin, engineer, Laura Goodfellow, Brock Howell, and Glen Buhlmann

In the meantime, buses will continue to sit on the offramp for want of a dedicated lane, despite the fact that our regional leaders are nominally in agreement that we urgently need to improve the transit experience during the “period of maximum constraint”: Seattle is spending a good deal of money to improve the bus transfer at UW station, Eastside communities seem to want a more reliable commute for their constituents, King County Metro could really use the service hours it’s wasting on congested buses, and WSDOT would like very much to have fewer vehicles driving through an active construction site. Everyone seems to want transit priority, and yet the status quo prevails. If the situation is to be improved in the near-term, political pressure will have to be applied at all levels – the city, the state, and the county – to change that.

64 Replies to “Near-term Options for Montlake Transit Mobility”

  1. I think you have a little typo here:

    In the current configuration, the Montlake exist consists of two general purpose (GP) lanes.

    I assume you mean exits.

  2. HOV on the ramp would be difficult to enforce. You’d need cops sitting in the GP lane, counting the number of occupants in the cars that pass them. Drivers can easily see if there’s a cop car ahead of them, and cheat only when they know they won’t get caught. Still, though, it would be no worse than the status quo, and probably slightly better.

    Just make sure that if an HOV lane does get added, it’s on the right. It would be tragedy to create an HOV lane, only for buses to not be able to use it, in order to serve the Montlake/Shelby stop.

    1. Yeah, I think it has to be on the right. That actually makes everything a lot simpler. If you are in a car, then you exit onto the second to right lane. You stay in that lane the whole way, making your turn from that lane. I don’t think enforcement would be that difficult (or no more difficult than anywhere else). A cop can stand on Montlake Boulevard and monitor the HOV lane. A motorcycle cop could even just park right at that painted bulb there ( Or there could be one cop standing there, while another cop is ready to pull them over after they turn (the second cop would come out from Shelby).

      We really need automatic HOV ticket enforcement. That should be a high priority for the next legislative session. I can get a ticket for parking illegally, and have no chance to fight it in person prior to going to court. I can get charged for being in the HOT lane, and have no chance to fight that, either. But somehow being automatically charged for being in the very brightly colored bus only lane is somehow wrong. That doesn’t make sense, and hopefully that problem is rectified soon.

      Speaking of which, here is another idea: Make the inside lane HOT. That actually makes everything much simpler. Charge $10.00 if you aren’t HOV-3. Enforcement is easy — it is just a toll. It is also easy to figure out when you are in violation or not. The sign will say $0 most of the day, but during rush hour it will jump to $10.00. Pay it if you want (most won’t). It costs more to set that up (obviously) but that seems like it would work fairly well.

      1. Funny how we have money for fare enforcement officers (including getting the stern lecture and needing to show ID because I mistakenly tapped twice one day, even though I have a pass) but not to do traffic enforcement that might speed up travel for hundreds.

      2. FEO’s are not traffic police. Police probably cost much more per hour

  3. I like the idea. Make one of the two lanes lanes HOV-only during the time when the bridge can’t be opened. So that means 7:00 to 9:00 AM and 3:30 to 6:30 PM.

    I like it for a couple other reasons. First, it addresses the problem with too many buses downtown. That is a bigger concern during rush hour. Thus it makes sense to truncate rush hour buses as much as possible, even if express buses still run downtown during the middle of the day.

    Second, that is when truncation is fastest, relative to an express. During rush hour the buses are very slow. Making a transfer — as slow as it is — could be faster than slogging downtown. That simply isn’t the case in the middle of the day. Not only is a bus much faster as a way to get downtown, but a bus on Montlake might get stuck by a bridge opening. I think making the proposed change and then truncating the buses at Montlake during rush hour is the way to go.

    1. Agreed that the peak-only expresses should be truncated if the HOV treatment is made, but having the all-day routes operate that differently during the peak would be problematic

      1. >> having the all-day routes operate that differently during the peak would be problematic


      2. It can be confusing for riders, particularly those traveling reverse peak trying to figure out where to catch their bus. Might be clearer to break each route into 2 different numbered routes, one of which runs peak-only to UW station.

      3. Yeah, sure, but people deal with that all the time. If I want to get from Everett to Seattle I can take the 512, which runs all day. Except it doesn’t run during rush hour. Then I have to take the 510. There are dozens and dozens of express only buses that work only during rush hour — nothing new, really.

        You would have two different route numbers, of course. The bus that goes to the U-District either runs only during rush hour, or it runs a lot more often during rush hour. The bus that goes directly downtown only runs outside of rush hour.

        The thing that is unusual is that the express will not run during rush hour. But that is because this is an unusual situation, the combination of which has to be rare, if not unique:

        1) The transfer point is better during rush hour than in the middle of the day. If there was a station on SR 520, then this wouldn’t be a problem (and all the buses would be truncated there all day). But since the Montlake Bridge can cause big delays during the day (but not during rush hour) transferring is actually faster (or at the very least, more consistent) during rush hour.

        2) The HOV lanes end right before Montlake. That means that during rush hour, a bus is stuck in traffic right about the point where the truncation would occur.

        3) We don’t have extra space to fit the buses downtown.

        There are other advantages, in that this will save more money (rush hour driving is more expensive than off-peak driving). But there is a disadvantage, in that you won’t get the frequency improvements during the middle of the day that come from truncation. You are still running buses to downtown and possibly the U-District. That happens all over the country during rush hour, but it rare for off peak, because you spread yourself too thin. During rush hour, you have lots of demand, and running redundant service can pay for itself just fine. But during off peak, you have to either live with heavily subsidized routes (routes that don’t have that many people) or relatively low frequency, or simply ask folks headed to the U-District to transfer.

      4. I forgot to mention another reason the transfer is much better during rush: headways are better (on both vehicles). Imagine taking a bus to Link in the middle of the day. The bridge is up, and you wait a while before the bus can even move. Then you cross and make your way down, down, down to the platform. You see the train pulling away, knowing that you have a ten minute wait. It is worse the other direction. You get off the train, get to your bus stop and realize you just missed your bus. Fifteen minutes later, you finally catch the bus, and then the bridge goes up. You hate Metro, you hate Link and you go out and buy a car. Yeah, parking is expensive downtown, but screw it — your trip doesn’t involve driving during rush hour, and it is so much faster that it is worth the money.

  4. How long would it take us to build an emergency bus-only ramp that’ll last at least five years? With that and signal-preempts at the top and all the way to UW Hospital? Considering time stuck in traffic between Montlake and I-5, I’d call it a favor rather than a hardship. Because regardless of car-traffic and weather, trains move. What is it, eight minutes to Westlake Station? Don’t like it? Extra seat for me.


    1. Mark – That would have been the right thing to do when this off-ramp was initially designed. But even if you could build a bus-only ramp overnight, you’d have the challenge of trying to keep it open through an active construction site.

      1. Call it earth-quake (or even better, anti-dishonest asylum seeker prevention) ramp, name it after Vladimir Putin, move summit to Trump Tower Seattle, formerly the University Inn, and give to coal industry to build with defense money.

        Not kidding, though. With all the helpless official yowling about how to give miles of tent and camper residents actual houses to live in, would talk to the Guard about it fast living quarters techniques. Defintitely could be a much overdue earthquake drill.

        How fast? That’s what “Emergency” designation is for. Also, good chance to find out for when we do have one. Double-bottom fish truck colliding with another one. Also, maybe it’s distance or unfair (and dishonest) and (sad) prejudice, but do think city and state government need help finding the cure for chronic helplessness right now.


  5. BTW- really meant “Bus Only Lane” right-hand side, signal-pre-empted if it has to narrow near the top. Don’t think everybody in that jam will choose to stay there if we’re offering them much faster alternative.


  6. The photo shows an emergency lane west of 24th Ave on the long off-ramp. Did the group discuss making that a partial bus only lane by a little temporary lane restriping/narrowing to give buses at least a little bit of a jump past some exit traffic in a third bus-only lane? How close to the intersection could this be created?

  7. Any reason why they wouldn’t be able to create a temporary bus-only exit onto 24th from the exit ramp heading towards Lake Washington Blvd? ( I’m sure the locals would absolutely hate it, but it would get the buses off the highway quicker during rush hour as that ramp doesn’t seem to back up quite as much.

    1. 24th is more of an alley way between Hamlin and Shelby ( But a bus could probably curve around and go on East Park Drive. But that puts it close to the construction zone (which might be closed later — I don’t know). I think the folks on Shelby would complain, and it is pretty narrow, which means that a bad parking job might get the bus stuck.

    2. I wondered that too. They could control entry with a gate and a maybe a traffic control officer for 4 hours each weekday morning.

      While residents would howl, it still amazes me how 50 angry people about what may be 20 or 30 buses each morning in front of their house can disrupt the lives of the riders.

    3. Or just turn left on 24th, right on Lake Washington blvd, then right on Montlake blvd. That is much less backed up than the direct exit to Montlake, and buses could go to the Shelby Street for better connections to the 48/43.

      1. The lanes on Lake Washington Blvd are rather narrow, and back up pretty readily already. I’m not sure they’d be able to reliably make that right hand turn, or that it would be a time savings.

      2. It would definitely be easier to improve lanes there than on the on-ramp. Maybe even more green time for turning right and a green right arrow.

        I doubt there wouldn’t be significant time savings. It would take longer off-peak, so at those times it could stay on current routing.

        When the bus spends 15-20 minutes just waiting to get off the freeway, I would always hope that the driver would try taking 24th (which is usually solid green on the map) just once to see if it’s faster.

      3. I can’t imagine a 60′ bus being able to make that right turn from 24th onto LWB. It’s super tight.

      4. I agree that improving the movement of right-turning vehicles would speed up the buses within those queues. The green time “meter” for NB Montlake is the signal on the eastbound ramps/LWB anyway.

        It could even be useful to station a traffic control officer to hold NB Montlake traffic and direct the right-turning vehicles to move through when the backup gets really bad! I think drivers will be more likely to not abuse an HOV lane or ramp if a traffic control officer is monitoring traffic and moving vehicles just because the officer is there..

        Another option would be to meter 520 more heavily on the other side of the lake, so that it further motivates people to switch to the buses as well as reduces the amount of traffic that might use the ramp.

  8. I routinely board buses headed downtown in the afternoon peak from one of the SR-520 freeway stops. I often let a 540/541/542 go by. My route 255 or 545 always passes the same bus stuck on the off-ramp. Sometimes there are 2 or 3 of them stacked up there. It can happen mid-day, too, especially when there is a Montlake bridge opening. If I am headed to UW it’s often faster to take 255/545 and exit at the Montlake flyer stop.

    When headed downtown we will generally be on Stewart Street before I could possibly be on the Link platform at UW.

    It’s a myth that there are going to be all these extra service hours. There is no layover space. I believe the operating plan is to send these buses up to 50th St. Service hours are gone.

    Evenings and weekends the transfer penalty is also extreme since it takes less than 10 minutes (sometime barely 5) between Montlake Flyer and 5th/Pine or from 4th/Pine.

    The UW truncation plan brings no benefits or savings the way that Montlake Blvd, the UW station, and the U-District layover are structured. Instead it will penalize the majority of riders who are headed downtown with nothing in return. If they do anything, make the 255/545 go downtown all the time like they do now, and terminate/originate the 252/257/268/311 (i.e. the peak only buses) at UW. Simple for everyone to remember. It would be interesting to measure whether people choose to transfer over to the 255/545. Oh, and the 255/545 provide much better access to SLU since you can walk from Stewart/Denny.

    1. Both the DSTT is closing to buses and the Montlake Flyer closing entirely in 2019. The DSTT closure is truly what’s driving Metro’s desire to truncate the 255. The route change this morning added about 10 minutes for the 255 I was on to get to the highway, trying to have the 255 follow the 545’s routing downtown would add even more. As it stands riders are going to get penalized either way, there’s no status quo option here that’ll keep peoples commutes the same.

      1. >> If they do anything, make the 255/545 go downtown all the time like they do now, and terminate/originate the 252/257/268/311 (i.e. the peak only buses) at UW.

        Makes sense to me. That is more or less what I suggested above. Let’s do a little math here and count up the number of buses that would not be downtown between 7:00 and 8:00 AM (the peak of peak):

        252 — 3 buses
        257 — 3 buses
        268 – 2 buses
        311 — 3 buses

        OK, that is 11 buses removed from the streets of Seattle when things are most crowded. How about the 255 and 545, during the same time:

        255 — 5 buses
        545 — 6 buses

        How about during the day:

        255 — 4 buses
        545 — 4 buses

        Truncation should occur in that order. Begin by sending the peak only buses downtown. That means half as many buses from 520. My guess is that will be good enough. If there is still a problem during rush hour then split the 255 and 545 into different runs (one for the UW and one for downtown). That means the 256 and 546 run to the UW, while the 255 and 545 run to downtown. They would never run at the same time, making it especially easy for someone to understand (if you see the 256, you better take it, because the 255 won’t be coming for a while). The 73 and 373 work that way now (and it has made things a lot simpler).

        I would be very surprised if that doesn’t solve the problem. There are a lot more buses downtown during rush hour (22 instead of 8 in this example). That ratio seems about right. There are lots of routes that just run downtown during rush hour, and the routes that do go downtown all day go a lot more often during rush hour. The 41 has 4 buses an hour during the day, but 10 an hour during rush hour.

        But assume the worst. Assume that downtown is still too crowded during the day. Then we have to simply truncate all the buses. That makes things simple, but as you described, not ideal (especially outside of peak).

      2. Ross, No. It isn’t what you “proposed above” What you originally proposed was to have buses numbered the same take different routes at different times a day. When several of us objected, you back-pedaled a bit grumpily and agreed with Al that they should have different numbering similar to the 510/512 service to Everett.

        Which is an excellent compromise. Personally, I think the base service should run at the peaks as well, with the standard headway, for clarity.

        But that’s not Sound Transit’s way, so I’m OK with the compromise, if some sort of improvement can be made to the off-ramp problem.

        A new temporary busway along the edge of WSDOT’s construction lot would be perfect. Put a $1,000 fine for tresspassing ob it.

      3. >> What you originally proposed was to have buses numbered the same take different routes at different times a day.

        Bull. I never wrote that. In fact, I wrote the opposite. I spelled it right out:

        You would have two different route numbers, of course.

        Got that? Different route numbers. That is the first time (on this entire post) where I mentioned route numbers. Go ahead, check the facts. That is completely consistent with my original proposal. That comment is simply a clarification of that proposal. My guess is the vast majority of people who read my original proposal just assumed they would be different route numbers. Of course they would! Do you know of any route that varies that much that has the same number? In Lynnwood both the 421 and 821 connect Marysville to Seattle, but they use different numbers because one goes downtown, and the other to the UW. Of course they would have different numbers.

        You just made a false assumption without even bothering to ask for clarification. You could have written something like this:

        Sounds like a decent idea, except wouldn’t it make sense to have different route numbers?

        At which point, I would reply:

        Absolutely — of course, it was assumed.

        But instead you simply said the proposal was “problematic” leaving everyone wondering what the problems could be. I’m supposed to think through all the possible problems when implementing something we already implement. Could someone be confused when their bus doesn’t run at rush hour? Absolutely. No question. But it is something folks get used to. People on the 512 deal with it every day. That is just a trade-off for operating a system that is more efficient.

        The more I look at it, the more I wonder what the point of that first paragraph is. Seriously, what are you getting at? That looks pretty clearly like you are trying to find fault with *me*, not the arguments I made. Why else would you freak out over the possibility (which turned out not to be true) that I changed my original proposal? What difference does it make?
        Are you pissed off at me for some reason? Did I step on your toes?

    2. Why wouldn’t you just walk a couple of blocks to the UWS and take the train? I-5 is almost always backed up SB from the U-District, so whatever time penalty there is from the walk is almost always less than a bus stuck in traffic, unless you’re going to REI/SLU or something. I work at the NOAA office in Montlake, so I know that Link works much, much better for CBD destinations. The bus is a comparative nightmare.

    3. “When headed downtown we will generally be on Stewart Street before I could possibly be on the Link platform at UW.”

      In what universe is that? I work at the NOAA office in Montlake, and it’s a five minute walk to UWS…which is a penalty almost always surpassed by I-5 traffic. Maybe at 10pm the bus could beat the train? Anyway, I do this everyday, and have since U-Link has opened (and the 255/545 before that), so I know that unless you are completely adverse to walking a few blocks, Link is superior in every way to the CBD.

      If the reader board says “1min”, I can almost always make it to the platform on time, if I hustle and don’t dilly-dally (and if it’s a true minute and not 15 seconds).

      1. I think you are focusing on rush hour traffic. Here is what Google says for a trip from Montlake (on SR 520 westbound) to Stewart and Yale:

        10:15 AM Typically 4-9 minutes
        10:30 AM Typically 4-7 minutes
        10:45 AM Typically 3-6 minutes

        1:00 PM Typically 5-8 minutes
        1:30 PM Typically 5-10 minutes
        2:00 PM Typically 6-12 minutes

        So in the middle of the day it takes somewhere between 3 and 10 minutes. During that time the bridge may be up. Even if it isn’t, Link isn’t running that frequently, and it takes a while to actually get down to the platform. It all adds up, which is why outside of rush hour an express from the East Side is usually faster than making the transfer.

    1. Aaaach. Man, the timing for all of this stuff is terrible. Buses are being kicked out of the tunnel way before Northgate and East Link is built and 520 buses have to suffer from congested traffic long before they can use East Link or a new improved connection to the UW.

      Having said all that, I think truncating the buses at the UW during rush hour still makes sense. This shortening of the HOV lane doesn’t really change the dynamic. Rush hour is when the transfer to Link is competitive with the direct bus and it is when we have the biggest problem with bus crowding downtown.

  9. Don’t forget that Montlake Freeway station is closing permanently sometime late next year. When that happens, any bus going downtown will be forced to skip the area entirety, so if nothing is done, a trip between Kirkland and the UW will require detouring all the way downtown and transferring. Similar for Redmond-UW when the 542 isn’t running.

    Maybe the only way to avoid lots of angry people is for ST to just suck it up and eat the cost of running the 255, 540, 542, and 545 all in parallel, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week as an interim solution (each branch running at least every 30 minutes). Yes, it’s going to be high subsidy per boarding. But, it’s only a few years, which will keep the cost small in the long run. Once the new lid opens, the downtown route can go away, and the U-Link transfer becomes the full time option.

    1. Ouch. When I used to go from Bellevue to the 48 route every day, I usually planned on leaving work in time to catch a 555 over the more frequent 271 because the 555 stays on 520 to I-5, so I can get off at Montlake freeway station and skip the backed up off ramp that the 271 would have taken. Also the C+ grade transfer from Montlake freeway station to the 48 southbound is better than the D+ grade transfer from the 271.

      Things will get better after they get worse. Hopefully things will get significantly better with UW Station by then.

    2. Yeah, another major hit. I don’t think it calls for something as radical as what you outlined though. I would basically do this:

      Start with what I outlined above, which means that most (or all) of the buses headed downtown from 520 are truncated at the UW during rush hour. Outside of rush hour, the buses do what they do now.

      That means the problem is solved during rush hour (it is easier than ever to get to the UW). Outside of rush hour, have all buses serve at least one of the freeway stations (they may all do that now — I don’t know). That becomes your transfer point. Now overload just one of the buses, so that transfers are easy. The 271 seems to be the best bet. It is already pretty frequent (somewhere around every 10 to 15 minutes outside of rush hour). It wouldn’t cost a fortune to get that up to every ten minutes all day long, which would be pretty good. Not ideal, obviously, but still decent, given that the Montlake stop is hardly ideal either. The 271 goes through to the U-District, which means that for a lot of people, transferring to it (on a 520 freeway station) would be about the same as transferring in Montlake to the 48 (which I’m sure is common). It is only the folks that walked to their destination (e. g. the hospital) or wanted to head south on the 48 who would be out of luck for a while (and even then, a transfer to a bus that gets you to the surface and runs every ten minutes is hardly a terrible ordeal).

      1. The 271 is only frequent on weekdays during the daytime. It runs every 30 minutes weekday evenings and weekends are daytime, and once an hour weekend evenings, starting as early as 7-8 PM. So, your plan is to force a transfer at precisely the times when frequency is at it’s worst, and the wait, longest. On top of that, the outbound transfer would be very unreliable due to random delays in buses getting through downtown. Furthermore, the 271 can’t even serve Evergreen Point without eliminating the stops in Medina, causing yet more ripple effects.

        I don’t think it’s the end of the world to throw excess money at problem for a few years, then switch to something more permanent once the Montlake lid opens. The economy is booming, East King subarea is flush with cash, and the $ we’re talking about is chump change compared to the cost of East Link. It’s certainly the path to least resistance.

      2. >> So, your plan is to force a transfer at precisely the times when frequency is at it’s worst,

        No, my plan is to give one bus enough frequency that transfers don’t matter. If that isn’t the 271, then please, tell me what bus runs more often, day and night, than it. Holy smoke, the 540 and 542 — which you think should have 48 type frequency — don’t even run at night! Seriously, while the 271 is limping along, the two buses you think should have lots and lots of runs currently have nothing. Both have completely shut down for the night.

        Come on man, stop obsessing over the details. I really don’t care where the transfer takes place, as long as it is fast and serves everyone. Evergreen Point sounds right, but really, it doesn’t matter. The point is that it is silly to run multiple buses to the U-District all day long. That will only result in spending huge amounts of money (which East Side riders don’t have) or watering down each and every East Side run such that it sucks for everyone. Do you really want half hour headways on the 271, 540 and 542 all day long, or do you want 10 minute headways on one of those buses all day long? A transfer — in the exact same bus stop — sound like the better option. You are proposing a fantasy level of service (everyone everywhere gets a frequent ride to the UW) while I am proposing something way more realistic (everyone gets to transfer to a frequent bus serving the U-District, and some people get a straight shot).

      3. A half hourly 542 and 540 combined is 4 buses per hour. Upgrading the 271 from every 30 minutes to every 10 minutes is also 4 bus per hour (6 – 2). I’ll assume, to keep the cost reasonable, that these are turnback trips which do not go all the way to Issaquah. It’s still not any cheaper. And, in order to ensure you make the connection, you’d have to arrive at Evergreen Point at least 15 minutes before the 255/545 (because 5 minutes is cutting it too close – what if the Montlake Bridge opens?). And, the 255/545 are often 5-10 minutes late due to unpredictable delays at bus stops downtown. So, actual wait time would end up being on the order of 15-20 minutes every single day. This is not acceptable service, and is a much bigger ordeal than a Link transfer in the U district for people coming from downtown.

        I understand that parallel routes may not be the most efficient in terms of riders per dollar spent. But, with Montlake Freeway station closed, it’s what you have to do for construction mitigation if a truncated 255/545 is deemed unacceptable for downtown people. Since this is only for a few years, not permanent, it’s not going to break the bank. When the Montlake lid opens, and East Link opens around the same time, the 545 can then be retired, leaving the 542 as the only all-day Redmond-Seatyle route over 520.

      4. In addition, a transfer-to-271 approach would require the 271 to be rerouted so as to leave the Clyde Hill/Medina area with no service whatsoever. I realize that ridership isn’t huge there, but it’s enough that simply abandoning service on a corridor that has had service for decades is also not acceptable. Did you include the cost of a Medina shuttle service in your budget? (Which would get very low ridership, since it’s just Medina, and adds considerable time to get from Medina to Seattle vs. just hopping on the 271 today).

      5. OK, fair enough. I didn’t realize the 271 didn’t stop on the freeway (obviously then it won’t work). But that still doesn’t mean you have to increase frequency on all those buses.

        Back up a bit and see what is happening. I propose that the buses get truncated at the U-District during rush hour. That means that the loss of the Montlake Station only effects two buses — the 255 and 545 (since those are the only ones that serve Montlake outside of rush hour). The easiest thing to do is nothing. Yes, that sucks, but there are plenty of people who will have to suffer for a few years (or have suffered for years) with bad connections. It seems crazy to have to go all the way downtown and then back, but lots of people do that for a lot of trips (not that often to the U-District, but quite often to Capitol Hill, for example). For the 545, that stop involves about 350 trips. I have no idea how many people use that stop with the 255 (I can’t find Metro stop data) but since it has about 2/3 of the ridership of the 545, that works out to be about 200 or so.

        The second alternative would be to truncate the buses all day at Husky Stadium. That seems like overkill given that Montlake trips represent about 4% of the ridership.

        So that leaves us with the possibility of spending more money to try and patch things up. That can be accomplished via transfers, or via direct service (or some combination of both). You could run a bus that follows the exact same pattern as the 255 and 545, but that gets expensive. Both buses take a long time to get from the start to the end (about an hour). Half hour frequency on both would be four hours of service every hour (outside of rush hour). Meanwhile, riders would have half hour headways, which is never great, and a degradation from the current 15 minute service to Montlake. You could transfer, of course, but the transfer would probably be inconsistent.

        Another option is to simply run a short line (essentially a shuttle) from somewhere on the East Side to the U-District. I don’t think that SR 520 has anywhere you can access the HOV bus stop from the surface street (unlike Eastgate). I think the shortest possible route, therefore, is South Kirkland to the U-District. It takes about 20 minutes to get from South Kirkland to the U-District without traffic (or a bridge opening). But let’s just assume it takes 30 minutes. If you run that bus every ten minutes, that is three hours of service.

        That is significantly cheaper, and in my opinion, much better. Transfers to a bus that runs every ten minutes is a small price to pay. Meanwhile people who live close to South Kirkland would have a very good connection to the U-District. South Kirkland is also a good transfer spot — the 234/235 run fairly frequently and serve it. That seems like the best value.

        That being said, I don’t see where they will get the money. I feel bad for folks who use the Montlake stop, but I feel bad for lots of people. Fairly soon, folks who ride the 41 will spend an extra five minutes (or more) just getting to the sound end of downtown. It would be great if Metro kept the 41, but ran a few extra express buses that went from Northgate to the south end of downtown. But that won’t happen. Neither Metro nor ST has a budget for self inflicted (but temporary) degradation in service.

        That is why I think it is more likely that Metro does nothing, or decides to truncate all the 520 to downtown buses at the UW. Either way, I would start with truncating the buses during rush hour.

  10. I still don’t see how turning SR 520 buses at UW station would take more time than staying on any 520 coach at all. Ten minutes to Westlake Station, and Broadway,
    all weather, all traffic conditions.

    Transfers- same as now, just underneath Third Avenue instead of on Second. SLU- streetcar. DSTT, transfer or walk for all of downtown. In U-District, aren’t there any places these buses can stage? Maybe they could run north on 15th to Ravenna? Or 65th neighborhood. What am I missing?.


  11. It’s not a great option but 520 buses could go north on I-5 to the U-District station once it’s opened instead. That’s 2021. If things are bad after a trial fix for Montlake then, it may have to be considered.

    1. Good idea, but only for non-rush hour buses. So yeah, I could see it. Until Northgate Link opens, truncate the buses at Montlake during rush hour, but continue to run them downtown the rest of the day.

      After Northgate Link opens, truncate the buses at Montlake during rush hour and the U-District during the day. That actually is very simple, and easy to understand. I wouldn’t even change the bus number in that case — we have plenty of buses that vary much more than that, but fly under the same flag (e.g the 41). Either way you are in the University area, you just will be in a different area. That makes sense as a permanent approach. Montlake will always have the issue with the bridge, while 45th will always have issues with traffic. Even if the city adds bus lanes on 45th, you still have the ship canal traffic and the exit there. Even if getting to the stadium is a breeze, the bridge can go up.

      If they wanted to get really creative, they could have flexible routing — let the driver decide which way to go, based on traffic conditions. You would serve exactly the same stops — just in a different order. Otherwise it would be very weird (we’ll drop you off next to a Link station somewhere close to the university — we’ll let you know when we get there).

    1. I went through at AM peak and it wasn’t pretty. The HOV off ramp to pike was backed up to the diverge from the express lanes mainline. Probably added 10 minutes over a typical am commute in on route 76. There was an uniformed officer overriding the 9th and pike signal and a dozen convention center, spd, metro, and contractor staff at the intersection. I’m hoping that the signal timing just needs some tweaks cause otherwise the am commute in just got as bad as the pm.

  12. Can Metro commit to start serving the Montlake/UW Station transfer point during UW football games? I was very disappointed one Saturday evening last year upon returning from an event in Capitol Hill that all the bus stops near the Link station close down during football games (despite the streets generally being open), and bus riders need to walk a half mile to transfer to their usual routes.

    Seems like if you restructure the bus network in the entire northeast quadrant of the city around a particular transfer point, you shouldn’t close it down just because there’s an event going on. I guess this will become less of an issue once Northgate Link opens, but still…it’s frustrating as a rider to have your usual transfer point taken away due to an event that doesn’t even close the streets.

    1. I brought this issue up to Metro planners at several meetings prior to the major changes to bus service in NE Seattle and I was told it was not an issue. Yea right.

      Try to connect to Light Rail at Husky Stadium on a fall afternoon when there is a football game or in the spring when the UW has their graduation ceremonies at the stadium. Good luck and you better have your hiking boots on to make that connection.

      I have said it before and I will say it again. I would rather talk to a wall then a Metro planner as the wall would be more responsive.

      1. Do they not realize that people actually use their service outside of peak commute hours, and that inserting a half-mile walk into the middle of a normally-quick transfer can cause a 10-minute delay for an able-bodied person and a pretty major hardship for someone with a disability?

    2. Blame for this problem belongs first with Sound Transit. They planned a station location right in front of a special events facility in the middle of a traffic bottleneck. While great for the facility, it’s awful for transit connections. Further, Sound Transit did not work with any partners to design better access for buses until after the station was almost finished. Sound Transit didn’t propose adding a strategic station to serve 520 when First Hill Station was axed because they were short on funds. They didn’t have funds to consider how to connect to 520 buses at all (moving sidewalk tunnel? gondola?), implying that 520 buses can just go into Downtown and Convention Place instead. Their philosophy seems to be that their responsibility stops at the curb edge of their property.

      Then there is UW, who wanted the station inconvenient to campus and the medical center. Even now, UW is planning expansion by targeting land that is further from station entrances rather than up against them. Big campuses all over America are closed to most or all cars, and some have bus malls running through them — but not UW. I think that in a perfect world, the UW station would have been at 520, and the U-District station would have instead been at the top of Rainier Vista.

      Then there is SDOT, who seems to obsess about adding bicycle lanes as much as possible — but not ever recently adding new pavement bus lanes anywhere, instead taking traffic or parking. Does anyone remember that silly paper touted by McGinn’s office a few years back that tried to argue that the Montlake Bridge has enough traffic capacity for cars and buses? Yeah right.

      Then there is Seattle City Council, that is willing to rezone anywhere within a quarter-mile of a rail station in Rainier Valley, West Seattle, North Seattle, Lake City, Fremont, Ballard and the CD — but can’t dare touch the area of a few dozen homes west of Montlake Blvd between UW and 520 for high-density development and an accompanying layover facility. That has to be left alone because important people in important houses live there!

      Then finally there is Metro, run by King County. King County (not Metro staff) decided to help the WSCC by closing the Convention Place bus terminal even though it could have still been a terminal even if light rail kept buses out of the tunnel. This is the most obvious cause of the current problem in the item here! That expansion could have been partially or fully delayed to 2023.

      These various entities all set the stage for the Metro service problem that one sees. Yeah maybe Metro planners could be blamed for a bit — but frankly they got handed such an impossible situation by all the other governmental entities that they can’t do much. They are the kid who wasn’t paying attention to the destruction of the brats around them, who together created the problem and then ran away without taking the blame.

      At least let’s remember that at least this is intended to be a short-term problem that is to be somewhat fixed when the last part of the 520 project happens.

      1. I agree with you that the Link station location is less than ideal, but that’s still no excuse for breaking everyone’s transfers during a football game. The bus to rail transfer works pretty okay when they actually bother to run buses through the area.

        When you redesign the whole bus network around a given transfer, don’t just throw up your hands and give up for 6-7 days every fall. There are a bunch of people who rely on transit who don’t go to the football games (or even pay attention to when the games are happening) and just want to be able to move around the city as normal. I get that traffic might be worse than normal during a football game and delays might happen. Fair enough. That doesn’t mean you should close the whole thing down.

      2. I’m trying to think of another agency that breaks its second-largest transit point several times a year, including during the PM rush hour sometimes. Nope, I can’t think of any. I can’t even think of one that ever breaks a major transfer any time. Or one that replaces several frequent routes with one ten-minute shuttle. I just avoid the U-District on game days, but that also means I can’t go to northeast Seattle.

      3. I agree. Rerouting buses away from the event is effectively a decision to prioritize the street space in favor of cars driving to the event over buses. Temporary bus lanes to keep the buses moving is a much better solution. If it means people have to sit in traffic for half an hour to get out of the stadium parking lot, so be it. If they don’t like it, they can ride the bus.

      4. >> Then there is SDOT, who seems to obsess about adding bicycle lanes as much as possible


        First, what do bike lanes have to do with this? Completing a safe bicycle network is a clear win for mobility and makes transit better. Bicycles are one of the best solutions for the last mile problem, among many other benefits. The issue is the refusal to remove car lanes and dedicate bus lanes. The ST comment section has the ‘blame cyclists for everything’ line covered, let’s not bring it here.

        Second, you are wrong anyway. SDOT could give a hoot about bike lanes. Indeed, remember the basic downtown bicycle network that we voted on and funded? Well we are still waiting and the city council just resorted to passing a (completely toothless) resolution requesting SDOT to prioritize the remaining bicycle projects because they refuse to get the work done. (Don’t worry, the Lander street overpass is on schedule, of course.) It is clear that SDOT leadership sees itself as a Cars First and Only agency. Bus lanes and bike lanes are seen as a constraint to car throughput rather than efficient, cost effective solutions that increase overall city mobility.

        (FWIW I support delaying or eliminating the planned two-way cycle track on Fourth for the sake of downtown bus capacity but there is no excuse for not getting the rest of this network deployed asap. Take the lanes from the cars!)

      5. >> Blame for this problem belongs first with Sound Transit. They planned a station location right in front of a special events facility in the middle of a traffic bottleneck. While great for the facility, it’s awful for transit connections.

        MAX has a major transit point directly in front of the facility currently called Moda Center, with a number of bus routes transferring there. It even has a freeway off ramp dumping traffic into things. The buses have dedicated lanes that bypass some of the worst traffic areas though.

        The facility currently called Providence Park also has a MAX station and a few bus routes.

        One thing they have done is eliminate most of the routes that terminate at these locations. Eg, the 70 avoids the Moda Center by 10 or so blocks rather than ending there like it used to. The 63 is the only thing that sort of terminates at Providence Park, but it turns around there and heads back up the hill rather than laying over there. It lays over at the other end of the route. The 6 lays over at the Goose Hollow MAX station, 4 blocks south of the Providence Park area.

        This is not to say that the arrangement doesn’t have its issues, but serving these special events areas can be extremely useful.

    3. Temporary.
      As soon as northgate link opens, it’ll be a non-problem.

      Neither metro nor ST is at all interested in any issue that’ll last less than three years.
      WSDOT is somewhat less responsive than both.

      Lovely idea on the HOV 3+, but there will be no transit improvements.

      1. Aren’t the reroutes due to having to stage the buses for the 20,000 people returning on them to the park and rides, and then contraflow traffic to clear the area as quickly as possible? I agree that, for most of the game, the streets are free-flowing and there is no reason to change anything about the bus routing. I also think that – even if it’s a single lane – there should be a reverse-flow transit-only lane on Montlake and on Pacific to maintain normal service to the greatest extent possible immediately prior to the end of the game and throughout the contraflow period (of course I think Montlake is in desperate need of rebuilding and adding of transit only lanes just in general). I’d venture to say that far more Husky fans take transit than fans of any of the other major sports – the shuttles themselves take about 20k per both Metro and the UW and of course now with Link there’s another great option. Most of those who do park are 3+ carpooling and tailgating – and in no way does it take a half hour to leave the area unless you have rockstar parking or are on the very fringe of the area. We will wait an hour before even attempting to leave Padelford garage as there’s no point in it until then. If we aren’t tailgating, we take Link or the shuttles and that’s by far the best way to get there if you’re just going to the game.

        I have a copy of a 1956 game program that my Mom got as a young girl, and to my surprise it shows a diagram of where the post-game buses will be waiting for you when you leave, not much unlike today. Quite a surprise to see that! :-)

  13. Of course the highway department is going to say that no backup onto the mainline may ever be allowed to happen. That’s their whole justification for the in-progress interchange expansion! And when the increased capacity of the interchange manages to completely overwhelm the Montlake Bridge and Montlake Boulevard to the south we’ll be looking at ways to expand those roads, and then Montlake/Pacific.

    This is how freeway expansion gets done now: at interchanges, in the name of safety.

    1. The “improvements” have already overwhelmed Lake Washington Boulevard – on the occasions I need to go north of the Canal in the early evenings I’ve waited on average 35 minutes and as long as an hour to get from Foster Island Road to Montlake (there’s no viable transit from the Madison Valley/Park to U Village or points north/northeast). I assume northbound Montlake is not much better during those times as people will change their routes to fill available capacity. Perhaps the final design will fix some of this, but I have my serious doubts when WSDOT’s thought process about what all those additional cars on 520 will do to an already jammed I-5 seems to be “Meh.” I’m not sure anyone is going to want to stay on their buses once that happens…even if that means transferring at Husky Stadium.

      What an opportunity was missed by not even providing a level area in the Link tunnels for a potential intercept station at 520.

  14. >> Eastside communities seem to want a more reliable commute for their constituents

    As if the “suburb” to city commute was still a thing. Yes, some people come in from the Eastside to Seattle, but for years the commute and reverse commute have been roughly equal in volume. Glen, featured in your story, lives in Seattle and works in Redmond. This is a case of a Seattle community wanting a more reliable commute for its constituents.

    This bias is small, but ultimately affects policy decisions.

  15. We need to go back and fix Durkan’s policies and get the truncation she decided to get rid of.

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