At a press conference yesterday, Metro, Sound Transit, and SDOT released their initial plans for the post-bus tunnel era. On March 23, Sound Transit will be the sole operator of transit service in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), and will run only Link light rail trains through it.
Metro and Sound Transit buses that ran through the tunnel will now run on surface streets. According to Metro, 830 daily trips will move from the tunnel to the streets. Those trips will still enjoy their own right of way through most of downtown, though the impact to reliability remains to be seen.
Some Metro routes, including workhorses like the 40 and 120, will add additional trips thanks to funds from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD). We’ll cover the changes to those routes, and a systemwide service restructure, in a later post.
Link riders will experience several major changes. Link will become more reliable and frequent, with consistent, six-minute headways. Seven routes, including Sound Transit’s high-ridership Route 550, will move from the tunnel to the surface.
The move will eliminate persistent delays in the tunnel caused by bus boarding. It will also open up capacity for Link extensions opening in 2021 and 2023, and the renovations that opening the extensions will require.
Offboard fare collection and all-door boarding on all 3rd Avenue routes should enable shorter idle times in the bus mall. All bus stops on Westlake Avenue between 3rd and Mercer will also feature offboard fare collection and all-door boarding. Metro’s service planning head, Bill Bryant, says that all-door boarding will allow Metro to move 30 more buses per hour through the 3rd Avenue corridor during peak hours.
New transit-only lanes on 5th and 6th Avenues, between Cherry Street and Olive Way, will make up for some of the lost bus capacity. SDOT’s downtown mobility chief, Heather Marx, says that restriping work and signals changes on 5th and 6th will start next week. Other signals will be upgraded as well.
Meanwhile, Metro will install offboard ORCA readers at all 3rd Avenue and Westlake stops. Bryant, says that 21 of an eventual 31 3rd Avenue and Westlake stops will have offboard fare equipment ready on March 23. The remainder of the stops will be equipped by the end of 2019. In the interim, Metro employees equipped with ORCA readers will staff stops without offboard readers during peak hours.
The Metro Customer Service Office located in Westlake station will close as part of the changes. Its final day of operation will be on March 6. As part of the rollout of the service changes, Metro will release an updated Downtown Seattle Accessibility Map for riders with disabilities. The agency will also inform riders, via the usual Rider Alert channels, about the service restructure.