The transit-only lane on the Montlake off-ramp will close this June (image: WSDOT)

WSDOT is preparing for the Rest of the West, the remaining phases of construction on SR 520 between Lake Washington and I-5. First up is the Montlake Project, where construction may begin as early as May. For transit riders, this means the Montlake flyer stop and the transit-only lanes on the Montlake Boulevard exit will both close in June. Several planned mitigations will blunt the impacts to transit riders.

The closure of Montlake flyer stops means buses not exiting the freeway will no longer stop in the Montlake area. In mitigation, WSDOT is funding additional weekend and evening service on Sound Transit route 542 through March 2020. That added service commenced with the March 2019 service change. The closure of the freeway stations are targeted for June 15.

In October 2018, WSDOT opened a temporary transit-only lane on the westbound ramp to Montlake Blvd. The lane, about 1100 feet in length, allowed buses to go almost to the top of the ramp before merging to the front of the queue of cars waiting to turn to Montlake Blvd. Originally scheduled to operate for just six months, the lane was extended three more months as the construction schedule was worked out. It has been very popular with transit users who have seen significantly better bus performance in the area.

Beginning June, that lane will also close. The existing exit ramp will close and be replaced by a narrower temporary ramp along the north edge of the work area. In this more constrained space, WSDOT could make room only for two general purpose lanes and a pedestrian-bike connection to the SR 520 trail. At the request of Kirkland and other Eastside cities, WSDOT studied options to maintain the transit lane, but none appear feasible.

Four options were considered. All would be shorter than today. Concept A would create a 600 foot transit lane in place of the bike-ped lane. Concept B would also take the bike-ped temporary lane for an 800 foot transit lane, but with 24th Ave exit traffic in the general purpose lanes. Concept C would take a general purpose lane to create a 1,000 foot transit lane. Concept D creates a 200 foot transit lane on the south side of the ramp west of 24th Ave.

The added cost of a transit lane would be $3-4 million, and none of the options would allow the lane to remain in place longer than nine to ten months. There are also neighborhood concerns about the remaining trees between Hamlin St homes and the SR 520 work area. The benefits would be just one to two minutes of travel time for transit users, mostly in the evening peak.

The case for a new transit lane at Montlake is weakened further by the delay of the North Eastside Mobility project. The restructure of Kirkland area bus routes will route Metro 255 buses to Link at UW Station. Previously planned for the Fall 2019 service change, the restructure is delayed due to concerns about rail reliability and headways during Connect 2020. That project connects East Link rails to the main line near International District / Chinatown Station. It requires single-tracking of trains through downtown for ten weeks, and train-train connections at Pioneer Square. With headways between UW and Downtown dropping to 12 minutes and total Link capacity reduced, it would have been impossible to provide the promised rapid bus-train connections for the ten weeks when rail service is disrupted.

WSDOT will implement two other approaches to support more reliable bus travel in the Montlake area.

There will be an extended transit/HOV lane on the SR 520 bridge deck. As work begins on the West Approach Bridge South, all traffic will move to general purpose lanes on the West Approach Bridge North. The highway configuration will resemble that in 2016 when three lanes of westbound traffic merged to two approaching the west shore. On this occasion, the transit/HOV lane will end a half-mile further west and closer to Montlake. This modification is anticipated to yield about a minute of travel time during peak hours for buses to both UW and downtown Seattle.

WSDOT and SDOT will replace signals on Montlake Blvd before major construction begins in June. Signals will be upgraded at E Shelby St, at E Hamlin St, and at each of the ramps. Currently those signals are not interconnected which unnecessarily contributes to traffic congestion on Montlake Blvd and on the westbound off-ramp. Connecting these signals to each other, and to the SDOT traffic operations center will yield more efficient movements for all vehicles, and ease the bottleneck at the end of the ramp.

27 Replies to “Montlake Bus Lane, Flyer Stop, to Close in June”

  1. The proposed transfer between the 255 and 542 is already turning out to be a joke. On paper, the schedule indicates a 7 minute connection window. But it’s actually a phantom connection window created by Metro and Sound Transit having different ideas regarding how long it takes to cross the same 520 bridge. In reality, the two buses both cross the bridge at about the same time, and it’s a coin flip which one gets to Evergreen Point first.

    The real mitigation for Montlake Freeway Station closing appears to come not from Sound Transit, but from venture capital. As of late, Uber’s been offering Express Pool rides between Kirkland and UW for around $10+tip – barely more than the cost of gas and bridge toll. More often than not, the “pooled” rides end up just being me and the driver. Hopefully, this venture capital subsidy can limp along, at least until the route 255 service restructure finally goes into effect. If Uber is smart, they should be buying ads in the route 255 buses right now, promoting it.

    Fortunately, at least the 540 is running during rush hour, but it’s often very late, plus the last trip of the evening leaves Kirkland very early at 5:40 PM. Which, practically, means in order to ride it, I have to buy dinner in Seattle, since 5:00 is too early to eat dinner at home.

    I really hope the bike trail stays open during the construction, so there’s at least that alternative to all of the above.

  2. This jogs my general curiosity about 520 bridge tolls. How elastic are the toll rates at peak congested hours? Would higher rates decrease traffic congestion, reducing the demand on the ramp?

    1. They are set based on the hour of the day, as opposed to being dynamic (http://www.wstc.wa.gov/highwaytolling/sr520bridge.htm). It is hard to say if it would make much difference, really. When the tolls first went in, there was a significant change. Now it seems to have leveled off. It is still a lot less congested than it used to be, especially in the morning heading east. But westbound in the evening can be very full.

      In general the idea that you “need” two lanes is ridiculous. Yes, there will be backups, but backups will occur regardless of what they do. They are just something you deal with if you are using 520 (or particular ramps).

    2. Perhaps the peak higher tolls should be variable. Another option could be to add an off-ramp toll at Montlake.

      Still, I’m not sure if it would make a difference unless the pricing scheme was increased by a large amount. It does raise a curious question: should increased tolls be a viable temporary strategy to reduce traffic during difficult construction periods? We tend to view too increases only as permanent, although a temporary action may have a needed short-term beneficial effect.

  3. So let me see if I have this straight:

    The Montlake Flyer stop will soon be eliminated. Metro is hesitant to send more buses to the U-District because of a ten week period when Link will have 12 minute headways. Riders can switch between a bus headed downtown and one headed to the U-District at Evergreen Point freeway station. Unfortunately, the most frequent bus to connect the East Side with the U-District (the 271) does not serve Evergreen Point freeway station (or any freeway station). This is because it is more important to serve the riders from Medina (both of them) as opposed to riders on Bellevue Way. Oh, and WSDOT feels that it is necessary to have two lanes head towards Montlake, even though both lanes go to the same place. It would be “unfeasible” to use one of them for buses. But hey, at least the 542 will run later into the evening.

    Call me crazy, but how about we do this:

    1) Have Metro go ahead and implement the changes, but run extra downtown express buses when the trains are constrained. This is probably a good idea in general (maybe we’ll see the return of the 71/72/73 buses from the U-District to downtown).

    2) Move the 271 to Bellevue Way, so that it can serve Evergreen Point (as well as more riders). Backfill Medina with a coverage route (or not — there are plenty of more densely populated areas without all day service).

    3) Take a freakin’ lane, WSDOT.

    1. I think a better solution is to run trains every 6 minutes from UW Station to Westlake. The construction is at the International District. There’s a turnback track at Westlake. Why can’t trains run at their full weekday frequency between UW and Westlake.

      It’s not perfect because you’d still need 12 minute headways from Westlake to International District, but Westlake is the most heavily used downtown station, so the construction impact wouldn’t be nearly as bad.

      1. I agree. That would make a lot of sense. There are plenty of buses downtown, so while it would be less than ideal for folks to get off the train and then find a bus (if they are headed to the other end of downtown) it would still be much better than waiting in Capitol Hill or the UW.

      2. The logic challenge would be to switch southbound trains to the northbound track north of Westlake. That could be possible — but the timing would have to be done with precision to not delay the trains coming north from Pioneer Square.

        It’s a great peak service idea during crowded hours — but would seem to be hard to pull off more than an hour or two.

      3. If I understand the ops plan correctly, they could actually make 6 min headway’s between husky stadium and the temporary platform at pioneer square. Even number trains would meet for southbound connection running bi directional on one track (say NB) And odd number trains would turn back at pioneer square without a meet and would run on the opposite track (SB). Then both odd and even would switch back to right hand running in the pine street crossover. The problem would be communicating to the public,” which platform would host the next northbound train. Before they go from mezzanine to platform.

    2. The 271 should move to Bellevue Way and serve the two accessible, well-lit, underutilized, luxurious new bus stations at the Evergreen Point and Yarrow Point lids on SR 520. Bellevue Way has infinitely more transit-compatible activity (e.g. living, working, shopping) than the back side of the Overlake Golf and Country Club and Wells-Medina Nursery. A ton of new high-density development is going in north of Bellevue Square.

      This is really a no-brainer, but then, so are interconnected traffic signals leading to the Montlake Bridge and that is apparently taking us an entire generation.

    3. “or not — there are plenty of more densely populated areas without all day service”

      South King will take the service hours and fill the buses.

    4. “This is because it is more important to serve the riders from Medina (both of them) as opposed to riders on Bellevue Way.”

      Lol. +1 (or should I say +2?)

      1. The flyer stop is the one at freeway level. Flyer meaning the bus doesn’t have to “exit” the freeway.

    5. The 271 doesn’t seem underutilized…and is often standing room only/last seat after leaving Montlake (even midday). There are a lot of students, apparently, commuting between the UW and Bellevue/Issaquah. I don’t think it could handle a bunch more riders. Plus, I love that I can get from my office in Montlake to downtown Bellevue as quickly as I could drive it. The current route is very, very fast as a UW – Inner Eastside connection.

  4. How can it possibly be taking until the year 2019 to interconnect traffic signals on Montlake Blvd. between SR 520 and the Montlake bridge, at the gateway to one of the region’s largest medical centers, a major regional transit hub and UW?

    How can this not have been prioritized some time in the quarter century during which we have been spending hundreds of millions studying transportation problems and billions constructing new infrastructure in every direction around these intersections?

    Some of the signals being “upgraded” now were just put in a couple of years ago. Seriously, what gives?

    1. Is the signal work code for increasing the wait time to cross the street from 2 minutes to 5? I suppose it could be worse. I didn’t see anything in their proposal about banning pedestrian crossings at Shelby altogether.

    2. My casual observation is that the biggest bottleneck is the Pacific St/ Montlake Blvd Intersection. To change that would require a radical rethinking of the Montlake Triangle area circulation.

      Suggestions on how to do that?

      – Mezzanine crossing for Link to reduce pedestrian crossings?
      – Eliminating the surface parking south of Husky Stadium, or make it right-turn only in and out to eliminate a long signal phase?
      – Turning Montlake Triangle into a giant one-way traffic circle?

      It’s not easily solvable – especially when UW still has such a strong, de facto anti-transit bias for doctors, patients and faculty.

      1. Part of the anti-transit bias for patients is that there is no transit connecting patients from their homes to the system that gets them to UW and/or their situations don’t allow it.

        Let’s say you are going in for, or returning home from, a serious surgery. Are you really going to take a bus? Get off the bus, walk to your transfer stop. Stand (because we don’t believe in benches here – or they are soaked wet). Get on another bus. After recovering from surgery? Potentially confined to a wheelchair or using a walker? With wounds that are covered and dressed, but, admittedly, still open from a procedure? With medical limitation such as no standing more than a minute or two, or no unnecessary stairs and no stairs without assistance, no lifting of anything more than 5 lbs? You must think that patients just waltz in to the hospital with tap dance shoes and walk out spreading fairy dust.

        As for doctors, if they get called in for a surgery – maybe an emergency, maybe not, but it is urgent – are they expected to take triple the time to get to the hospital for somebody who is on a table, because they are required to take a bus? What if they are called in at night, on a weekend, or in the evening? Sure, Link runs frequently most of the time (except at night), but most people don’t live their lives attached to a Link station. The doctors are at home, at restaurants, at a child’s school events, at a friend’s house, at a park, any number of other places that are close-ish to the hospital while they are on call. Most of those aren’t at a Link station. Most employees don’t need priority car access to and from work. Doctors do.

        If the UW is prioritizing transit for their students, nurses (who probably outnumber doctors 2 to 1, or more), technical and non-medical staff, and faculty (as you noted), then they are doing what they can.

        I love the idea of transit to hospitals, for the non-physician staff, and for patients showing up for checkups (who don’t have conditions that restrict their mobility), but hospitals need parking. Period.

      2. Not all doctors need parking. Many specialities require mostly fixed office hours. Even in occasional emergencies, there is Uber and Lyft and taxis.

        Office visits can often be made on transit. Day surgery patients probably shouldn’t be driving period; driving after anesthesia is dangerous! Of course, Uber and Lyft and taxis are also options.

        Anyway, many major urban hospitals and medical schools have little parking — in New York, San Francisco and other places. Even UW has an internal shuttle system — even though it’s not designed to serve the Eastside.

        Once 2025 Link is in operation, I expect driving to UW’s campus complex to drop significantly. It will be faster than driving (and parking) for many.

      3. I’ve had doctors refuse to even consider operating on me after I’d said I primarily get around on transit. One said that he wouldn’t operate unless I had someone who could drive me around for 6 months. I don’t even know anyone who owns a car in this city. I’m still hobbling around with that unaddressed and likely will never get it addressed because of that.

      4. Al, you’re right, surgery patients should not be driving themselves. In most cases, they are driven to their surgery, and driven home from surgery by family members. In many cases, those family members stick around, from start to finish. I wouldn’t, for a second, think of taking a family member to the hospital – for a surgery or to give birth – on transit. That’s what the car is for. I can take transit to a restaurant, to work, for errands, for my annual physical (which happens at a neighborhood clinic, not the hospital), and numerous other occasions. I’ll drive to the hospital, thank you. You going to pick up the tab for a cab from Maple Valley, Covington, Auburn, Federal Way, Everett, Mill Creek, Kirkland, etc??? How about Wenatchee, Yakima, Ellensburg, Bellingham, Olympia, or the Tri-Cities? If I’m looking for a surgeon or cardiologist or oncologist, or other specialist upon whom my life, or the life of a family member, depends, I’m going to find the top doctors. They aren’t found in rural Washington, nor in most suburbs. You’re going to find them at Harborview and UW – maybe some at Virginia Mason or Swedish. Therefore, Seattle’s hospitals take patients from all over the state, and many from far-flung suburbs, for whom transit isn’t an option.

        Hospitals in New York and SF also likely have nearby privately operating parking garages where you can park your car, admittedly, probably at a high price. But when your hospital is going to bankrupt you and take your home and life savings in order to save your life, what’s another $50 or $100 for parking? Where’s the friendly neighborhood parking garage in Montlake? That’s right, there isn’t one.

  5. Why is it so important that we now need to have this bike/ped path alongside the ramp, when bikes and peds can use Hamlin and Shelby as they do now? That 12′ would be much better utilized by a bus lane than a redundant bike/ped path.

  6. Howling at the moon but my thought from the get go was Montlake should be emergency vehicles, transit and HOV 3+ only during peak hours (which is basically all day). The problem is there are already too many cars in Montlake. Likewise, a second bridge across the cut should not have even been considered. I am glad they are creating a transit connection from 520 to Westlake. When that opens I’d remove any connection from 520 WB to I-5 SB.

  7. It was an ugly station, but it was also, very definitely, a Rapid Transit Station before Seattle had anything like rapid transit. It was a suburban S-Bahn station without the rails.

  8. WSDOT has acknowledged a missed opportunity that by eliminating the Montlake Flyer, you cannot have a Montlake connection to the new direct connect from the Express Lanes to Mercer. You cannot have a transit connection to South Lake Union. The only people that can take advantage of the flyover are those who live on the Eastside.

    The tunnel under Montlake and 520 that services the bike lane is functionally obsolete before it is built. The space should be used for the Montlake Flyer.

    1. Comments in this thread make it sound like the 520 bus stop/connect is going away forever. I don’t believe this is the case. Originally the plans for the Montlake Lid did eliminate the bus connection but public pressure convinced them to build it back into the plan. IIRC the buses will actually travel up to surface/lid level and stop at Montlake. With the direct connection to Westlake and SLU I’m sure many riders will want to take the bus rather than transfer to Link at Husky Station.

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