In March 2020, Metro will implement a restructure of service in the North Eastside. Most attention will focus on the truncation of Metro 255 to connect with Link at UW station. Another key element of the improved Metro network is route 250. This new route connects downtown Bellevue to Kirkland and runs through to Redmond. It splices together the most productive parts of several current routes (234, 235, 248) for a more frequent connection serving three of the Eastside’s major downtown centers.
The route is likely to be successful. It is, however, a step away from the Long-Range Plan (LRP) Metro adopted in 2017. In developing the North Eastside restructure, Metro assessed that this routing has more value than the Rapid Ride routing assumed for 2025. Sometime this year, Metro will kick off planning this year for a 2025 RapidRide route in this market. As they do so, Metro should reflect the learning of the North Eastside process, adopting route 250 as the preferred option for service north of Bellevue, with Kirkland-Redmond service substituted for the less useful Kirkland-Totem Lake segment.
The map at top is the likely 2024 frequent network in Kirkland, i.e. before RapidRide, but with other near-term improvements. Both 255 and 245 will likely run at higher frequencies than today. The former is boosted by the service hour savings of Montlake truncation; the latter is a direct connection to rail at Overlake. I-405 BRT is operating up to every 10 minutes with stations at NE 128th and NE 85th. Metro 250 connects the entire NE 85th corridor to Kirkland and Redmond at higher frequencies, and directly connects both downtown areas to I-405 BRT.
Now overlay the LRP plan for RapidRide on this map. The 2016 plan, which predates the detailed analysis of the North Eastside Mobility Project, shows a RapidRide route from Totem Lake to Kirkland to Bellevue to Eastgate.
If Metro follows the LRP concept, the RapidRide would duplicate service along the entire length of the 255 route within Kirkland, far over-serving the Totem Lake to Downtown corridor. At the same time, it robs service hours from the 250, which would presumably be truncated to something like today’s 248. Absent the direct connection to Bellevue, service hours on NE 85th would also be cut back, hopefully not to the 35-minute headways that sustain that corridor off-peak today.
Totem Lake riders retain the frequent service of Metro 255 in any scenario. They will also have a direct connection to Bellevue of I-405 BRT. The transit mode share in Totem Lake is just 8%. Another overlapping route from Totem Lake to Bellevue does not rank a high priority.
The RapidRide is Kirkland’s best opportunity to get more riders to the NE 85th BRT station. The station is poorly placed to serve Downtown Kirkland, so ridership is critically dependent on frequent bus service along NE 85th. RapidRide on NE 85th is well-placed to connect riders from Kirkland and Redmond to the BRT.
Meanwhile, the NE 85th corridor is itself seeing significant developer activity. The long-established strip malls and auto dealerships are beginning to give way to redevelopment. Several projects are in the pipeline, including a major 1m square foot mixed use development near the freeway and smaller projects up the hill. With a station area planning process and likely rezoning soon, the market for new development will be supported by robust transit service along NE 85th.
Beyond Kirkland, at least two other tweaks to the route are worth examining. Between South Kirkland and Downtown Bellevue, the RapidRide is projected to mostly follow 116th Ave NE (like today’s 234/235). It may be more useful to instead serve the developing activity center, and light rail station, at 120th Ave NE instead.
At the south end, the LRP route misses Factoria. Factoria is heavily congested much of the day, but also a major employment center that today lacks great transit connections to Bellevue. A planned RapidRide from Renton through Factoria to Eastgate and Overlake has been deferred. It’s worth considering the trade-offs in having the RapidRide get closer to Factoria by serving Richards Rd and SE 36th on the way to Eastgate.