Montlake Triangle improvements under construction (Photo by the author)

Metro is continuing to adjust routes and frequencies with the closure of the bus tunnel and, more recently, the Montlake freeway ramps.

Route 41, one of few routes with over 10,000 daily riders, was moved to surface streets and has been stuck using the punctuality-melting Stewart Street I-5 offramp ever since. In an effort to amputate the leg and save the patient, Metro has opted to send the 41 into downtown via Union Street starting July 27. This will eliminate stops at 7th & Stewart and 3rd and Pine in the southbound direction only – northbound is unchanged. Folks will have a longer walk in the AM (or a transfer) but should see a more reliable ride. The agency thinks it’s worth the tradeoff:

Metro’s planning and service quality teams surveyed riders and bus drivers and showed them the benefits and tradeoffs of the Union Street routing. A large majority (79 percent of riders surveyed and 94 percent of Route 41 bus drivers) supported having the faster travel times and better reliability with having to potentially travel farther between the new bus stops and their destination.

Route 271, the cross-lake superstar with over 5,000 daily riders, has only gotten more critical recently. Riders appear to be opting for Link-271 as an alternative to the 550, which is on long-term reroute as part of East Link construction. As of July 18 the 271 added 7 additional trips, 4 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon, to relieve the associated crowding.

Meanwhile Montlake Triangle construction is underway – streets are being widened for new bus bays on Montlake Boulevard, among other improvements. Buses won’t start using the new lanes until March 2020.

Finally, SDOT has added new markings on 4th Avenue to give drivers more notice to clear out of the bus lane as the intersection approaches.

60 Replies to “Metro tweaks the 41 & 271 as “Seattle Squeeze” gets real”

  1. As a weekly Bellevue to U-District rider, this is welcome news. I usually find it more worthwhile to take the 555 and switch to a U-district bus on the 520 freeway stations (something that will be even easier after the North Eastside restructure) than to take the 271. This seems to be a case where the very high volume and high frequency, plus local stops in Medina, kills reliability. I definitely feel like with the 550 broadly understood to be slower than the 271, it’s time to separate the 271 to the U-district from local service in Medina.

    1. Yes, absolutely. The 271 should not serve Medina. Serving Medina is not only a big waste of time for such a frequent bus, but it means that the 271 doesn’t serve any of the freeway stations.

      I would serve Medina with a low frequency coverage bus, if at all. If we can’t afford to serve apartments in Kirkland, I don’t see why we need to serve houses on huge lots in Medina.

      1. I ride the 271 to Bellevue everyday and don’t think Medina is adding and substantial time. What is a faster alternative?

      2. Also, the local stops in Medina collectively (when buses are crowded) start to cause long dwell times, because it can take a while for the one person getting off at the stop to get through a standing crowd on the bus. It takes longer to pack more people in as well. It’s not a big deal for one stop, but when it happens with a bunch of stops on NE 8th and 84th Ave, it really compounds the delays and the 95% of people on the bus get a 10 minute longer trip.

      3. Ross, I don’t think you understand what a local bus route is. The 271 is not an express route. It’s not a point to point airplane route. It’s not a light rail line. It’s not even and express route. It’s a local route. That means it goes through evil single family home neighborhoods.

        Also, if the 271 didn’t serve Medina, how would it get to 520? By going north on Bellevue Way? Guess what? If it went that way to enter 520, it would get very close to the S. Kirkland P&R. So if all the people who are angry the westbound 271 doesn’t hit Yarrow Point and Evergreen Point Freeway Stations and want it to bypass Medina and instead go north on Bellevue Way, then why don’t they just take a 234 or 235 to the S. Kirkland P&R to catch a 255, or some other westbound 520 bus, since a Medina-bypassing 271 would come within spitting distance of that P&R anyway.

        Sam. 271 Expert. Kemper Freeman Fan Club President.

        凸 (`д´) 凸

      4. Ross, it sounds like you are saying that no local bus route should ever travel through any single family home neighborhood. Am I understanding you correctly?

      5. No, that’s not what he’s saying.

        Single-family home neighborhoods tend to produce low ridership, but that doesn’t mean no bus can pass through there. Serving low-ridership zones – even at high frequency, can be ok, as long as the bus happens to be traveling the most-direct path between two higher-ridership zones.

        In the case of the 271, the real ridership comes from downtown Bellevue and the U-district. Medina is just getting ridership because it happens to be “on the way”. The issue at hand, and what ultimately leads to a debate and a judgement call is whether Medina is really “on the way”.

        If we assume, for the sake of argument, no bus stops and no traffic, Google Maps shows a drive time from Bellevue Transit Center to Montlake/Shelby as 10 minutes via 405, 12 minutes via Bellevue Way, and 13 minutes via 84th Ave. (the 271 route). The difference is small, and, in the case, of a bus, small enough where the real comparison is going to come down to dwell times at bus stops. The 405 route is fastest – since it cannot have any bus stops, except for the two freeway stations – at the expense of providing no coverage and making people walk from Bellevue Square to the transit center in order to catch the bus. If we assume that serving Bellevue Square is important (unlike Medina, that stop is pretty well used), that leaves the Bellevue Way route and the Medina route, which differ by only one minute. If Bellevue Way really has more apartments and more bus ridership, a Bellevue Way bus would end up stopping more, to the point where the one-minute time savings over the Medina route evaporates.

        I can see pros and cons of each option. The Bellevue Way route is probably slightly better for ridership, but would require running some sort of Medina shuttle route to avoid loss of coverage. I’m guessing the sticking point is that Metro doesn’t want to pay for the shuttle, or deal with the wrath that would result when people complain that their 271 is being replaced with an hourly shuttle that runs Monday-Friday daytime only, and requires a forced transfer at Yarrow Point to reach Seattle.

      6. @Sam — The 271 is not a local route. It is the only all-day bus route connecting Bellevue to the UW. Service between the UW and Bellevue is it’s raison d’être*, if you will — it is the only reason it runs often.

        It runs every day of the week, pretty much all day. Until about 10:30 in the morning, it runs every ten minutes. After that, it runs every 15. Local routes — especially local routes in low density Bellevue — simply don’t do that.

        Consider the 246. North of downtown Bellevue, it covers an area that has more people than the 271. Yet it only runs once an hour, and only during weekdays. Even the 249 only runs once an hour, and it runs down Bellevue Way.

        I have no problem with service to Medina. But it should be served with another route (as Alex suggested). The frequency of its service should match its density. Having the 271 detour to serve it is a big mistake, as it not only delays the vast majority of riders (those going from UW to Bellevue) but it means that it can’t serve the freeway stop. Lack of a freeway stop means a less frequent connection to express buses that go from downtown to other places (like the 252 and 257 to Totem Lake). It also means that people on Bellevue Way have less frequent service than those in Medina. This is backwards, and only the result of political inertia.

        * As someone fluent in several languages, I figured you would appreciate that little bit of French (je vous en prie).

      7. Well, while recognizing that there’s sometimes a thin line between local and express, I think for a few different reasons that the 271 is a local route. It’s not necessarily express if it gets on the freeway, just like the 241 or Pierce Transit 100 are not expresses even though they both use a freeway. The 271 just happens to have geography on its side, making it a relatively quick way to get to UW.

        I’m sure that when the 271 in its current form began, local service with lower frequency was sufficient. There was no Link station at UW, and transit was more downtown Seattle focused. It certainly was not advantageous to go to take a bus to UW to eventually get downtown. And Eastside trips to UW was probably done primarily by students who go during the day and come home in the afternoon. Every one of these facts is no longer true today, but the 271 largely hasn’t changed.

        So in light of that lack of change, the question that should be asked isn’t “is the 271 an express?”, but rather “should the 271 be an express?”. Because that gets at the real issue, namely that an increasingly popular use case is insufficiently served because its bus route is stuck in the past.

      8. The 271 is mostly inertia. When its predecessor (252) was created, most Metro routes were very long milk runs that jammed in as much coverage as possible, so they got on the freeway at the last possible moment and got off as soon as they can. That’s what the 271 does. Nowadays Metro recognizes that large numbers of people just want to travel between urban centers efficiently and has started targeting corridor service for that (RapidRide being Metro’s closest equivalent). This reform hasn’t reached the 271 yet.

        But if you ask, “Would Metro create a new route like the 271 now?”, the answer is no. It would surely run on Bellevue Way, 112th, or 405. Then the question becomes, “How important is Medina-UDist service then?” Metro answered that when it published drafts of a 271 on 405 or Bellevue Way. In other words, not important. Medina didn’t make much fuss about that, so I guess the three Medina-UW riders will walk to Evergreen Point station (which the theoretical reformed 271 wold serve). And Medina would have some other coverage route to Bellevue.

      9. @Mike Orr. Do you happen to remember when the 252 became the 271? When I first moved to Seattle in the late 80s, I lived in the CD and I worked in DT Bellevue until the early 90s. I would take the 48 down to Montlake and catch the 271 (?) to the Bellevue TC. My office was right next door in the old Koll Center Building so it was a sweet 20 min commute once I made my transfer at Montlake. I’m thinking it was the 271 I used to take back then but perhaps I’m mistaken and it was its predecessor.

        Nevertheless, it looks like the same complaining about the Medina segment still exists to this day. I never considered it a big deal but I do know others on the route frequently kvetched about it.

        I tried to use the wayback machine to find the old Metro route 271 info from the early 90s (to see how it compares to the routing/frequency today), but I was only able to find archived info from 1999:

        http://web.archive.org/web/19990503165116/http://transit.metrokc.gov/bus/schedules/s271_0_.html

        Fwiw….I agree with AlexKven in that I consider 271 to be a local route that happens to span both sides of the lake.

      10. @Tlsgwm

        Look at the map and you can see some of the other routes in the network. There’s been times I’ve been on a slow 550 when I was envious of the 261 (a keep it simple Overlake, Bellevue to downtown Seattle via 520 route).

        The Wayback machine doesn’t have the old 243 though. I really wish there was better historical record keeping for this stuff. If it weren’t for the Wayback machine, these things would be extremely difficult to find, and even it doesn’t have everything.

  2. I don’t travel that way during rush hour, but on Sunday mornings, the westbound 271 and 550 are scheduled to leave Bellevue Transit Center at the same time, making for a controlled experiment. Riding one bus while following the other on OneBusAway seems to suggest taking the 271 to Link gets you to 4th and Pine in almost exactly the same time as riding the 550.

    This is, of course, on a Sunday morning. At that time, I-90 and Bellevue Way are wide open, on the one hand. But, on the other hand, 520 is also wide open, as is the Montlake exit ramp, and the 271 bus typically blows by nearly every stop in Medina, maybe stopping just once or twice between Bellevue Square and the U-district.

    I don’t know what happens during peak hours, but there is some construction coming up that could significantly slow down the 271. The bus lane down the Montlake exit ramp is going away, and the HOV lane is going to go back to ending halfway across the bridge. If the resultant backups extend all the way to 405, as they used to, then drivers are going to use the 271’s route as a “cut through”; it doesn’t take very many drivers doing this for 84th Ave. to get backed up, and in the age of Waze, lots and lots of drivers and going to be doing this.

    During the off-peak, sending the Bellevue->U-district bus through Medina adds barely any time at all, especially if you consider it essential that the bus serve the stop next to Bellevue Square, rather than just the transit center. During peak hours, I feel that an express bus which skips Medina and enters the freeway at the HOV ramp from 108th Ave. is in order. Once Northgate Link opens in 2021, the 555 and 556’s slog down I-5 will be come completely redundant. At that point, maybe the route can be shortened, with the service hours re-invested by adding more trips. Even before then, some of the 271 trips can probably be re-directed. If the stops in Medina are being used, you don’t want to just leave the area with no service, but, serving Medina with a bus every 8-10 minutes doesn’t seem necessary either.

    1. Right, Medina doesn’t add much time, it’s just an annoyance. At the same time traffic backs up at the Medina entrance, it backs up on 405. I’ve ridden the 555/556 in the PM peak and it’s fast until 405 and then slows to a crawl going into Bellevue.

      The 550 and 271 leaving at almost the same time is a pet peeve of mine. I take the 271 only if it’s 10+ minutes ahead of the 550, which rarely happens.

      1. Fortunately, starting last summer, the 555/556 were moved to run on 108th/112th from 520 to Bellevue TC. As a result, they don’t take I-405 at all anymore, and they get direct ramps to/from the HOV lanes on 520.

    2. Testing I did a few years ago after a move and massive commute change showed at the time that basically transferring to link @ UW vs riding most buse routes direct was a wash. Interesting to see it hasn’t appreciably changed. The major time killer then was all the time lost getting from the freeway exit to the area of the station. It’s not a gross exaggeration to say you could get off @ the flyer station and walk faster on most days.

      In general there is an underappreciation from most people pushing for Montlake diversion as to how bad the traffic is there, as well as how unpredictable it is.

      1. As bad as downtown traffic? No. not at all.

        The biggest problem with the 271 and 550 leaving at the same time is when they’re both half-hourly. If they’re running every 15 minutes then I’ll take the one I wanted in the first place.

    3. The problem isn’t *just* the time wasted serving Medina. It also means that it can’t serve the freeway stations.

      But the time wasted is still an issue. When traffic is light, then it is moving along slowly. When traffic is heavy, then it encounters backups. This is all so that it can serve a handful of riders. It makes way more sense to either run in express mode (like the 555/556) or run along Bellevue Way. The former would be much faster, while the latter would pick up a lot more riders.

    4. One purpose the 271 serves from Medina and Clyde Hill to/from the BTC is that it’s the Bellevue High School bus for that area. The BSD doesn’t provide school buses for high school kids despite almost 1/2 of them being under 16. So many kids take the 271 to the 550 to get to school. Maybe that’s BSD’s problem and not Metro’s?

      1. Metro’s responsibility is providing general transit service to the county, not being BSD’s school bus. It’s fine to have students take the bus, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor for a route like the 271.

        This is why it would be good to have some service there, such as moving the hourly 246 bus. Right-sized service for low density Medina where very few people take the bus. It’s probably even fine to coordinate the bus schedule with the school schedule. Low frequency doesn’t matter if the bus comes right when you need it (in fact, the 8xx and 9xx school routes make only one trip per direction each day).

      2. Why are schoolchildren less important transit users than other commuters?

        They are not. It is just that they don’t justify a line with that much service. Why should kids along Juanita Drive get no service at all, while kids in Medina (or at least one part of it) get 15 minute (or better) service?

      3. With schools, everybody is coming and going at the same time, so all you need is just one bus that matches the school schedule. You don’t need buses running every 15 minutes all day long, and you certainly don’t need buses running on weekends, evenings, and holidays, when the school is closed.

      4. But Mike Orr is saying back in the day, high school students in Bellevue used to walk 3 miles, but high school students in Seattle, even if they live just one block from school, are given a free year-round ORCA pass.

        So my question is, why were kids that had to walk 3 miles to and from school not given free bus fare, but kids that only have to walk one or two blocks, are given free bus fare? Sounds like Medina kids are more underprivileged than Seattle kids.

      5. the obvious equitable solution is for Medina to be annexed to seattle so that the school kids can get their orca passes. Sam’s problem is solved!

      6. It was 35 years ago. Transit was much less then. The fare was 40c so there was hardly any need for subsidized passes. I rode Metro from east Bellevue; some others rode it from Kirkland and Newport Hills. My last couple years I lived near Bellevue Way so I walked to school. The people I knew from Medina walked west on Main Street which turns up toward Medina.

        I didn’t know Kemper Freeman went to BHS. But there are four high schools in Bellevue so he would have had to go to one of them.

  3. How many of those 5000+ daily riders on the 271 are headed to southern Medina by Medina Park and the elementary school and the southern of the two gas stations? I would guess maybe five.

    It seems like inertia is the only reason the 271 hasn’t been rerouted to Bellevue Way already. And it’s nuts that the 271 can’t serve Evergreen Point bus station with the new layout, and you thus cannot transfer at all between the 271 and any of the buses on 520 (like the 255) that no longer stop in Montlake now that the highway-level stops there are closed. They pass each other on the bridge, but you cannot transfer between these two major routes on either side of the lake.

    If the 271 were routed via Bellevue Way, it would serve the Evergreen Point and Yarrow Point stations along SR 520, plus a much larger and much faster growing population, arriving in downtown Bellevue about the same time. What’s the holdup?

    1. Rerouting the 271 has appeared on a couple Metro drafts but it would require another coverage route in Medina. It’s not just intertia but not wanting to withdraw all bus service in Medina. Until Metro gets some additional Eastside revenue, it can’t split the route. The last successful countywide Metro tax measure was… 2006 (RapidRide), it looks like.

      1. It could probably be done decently in a revenue neutral way by shuffling around the 249 and 246. For example, send the 271 to Bellevue Way, move the 246 from 92nd to 84th and end at Evergreen Point Freeway Station, and move the 249 to the old 246 alignment, taking NE Points drive from Yarrow Pt to S. Kirkland.

        Moving the 271 would save a few minutes per trip, which would add up thanks to its frequency. That would probably be enough to pay for the extra length on the 249.

      2. @ Alex — Exactly. There are a number of ways you can do it. But the big issue is that right now you have a coverage route in the middle of a high frequency, critical bus route. It connects the second and third most important destinations in the region. Not only are there lots of people going from the UW to downtown Bellevue, but both are huge transit centers, with connecting service to various places.

  4. The holdup in Medina appears to be St Thomas school kids being dropped off by parents. There’s almost never any other traffic there.

    Recently the road work on 84th impacted traffic, but that was temporary.

    1. I have a hunch that it’s because of the narrow roads on its Medina routing. I’ve never seen it run a 60′ bus.

      1. It’s not the routing. They’ve run 60-foot buses the full length of the 271 before but very sporadically.

        Since we’re talking about peak, I think all of the artics have been assigned to other peak-only runs that have more overcrowding issues.

    2. Route 271 is operated out of Bellevue Base. They only have 40 footers (new flyers 2010 or later and Gilligs (2018/2019). They don’t have 60 footers at that facility.

  5. Regarding the Route 271, they just need to follow the old Route 243. I used to take that in the late 90’s between the Montlake Triangle and Downtown Bellevue via SR 520 and Bellevue Way. Would be great now with the HOV lane. Back then it was a shoulder lane full of breakdowns…

  6. Route 271 is from Bellevue Base that has no articulated buses.

    Routes 555 and 556 skip the arterial pathway and are a couple of minutes faster than Route 271. the main issue is the transfer opportunities at the two freeway stations. In March 2020, Route 255 will connect the freeway stations and the University District.

    Route 550 is about 10 minute slower in both directions than it was a few years ago. it lost the center roadway, the D-2 roadway, and the DSTT. It is also probably less reliable.

    1. In March 2020, Route 255 will connect the freeway stations and the University District.

      Yes, with 15 minute service most of the day. The 271 also has 15 minute service. The two combined are obviously better than one (it isn’t like the freeway stations are saturated).

    2. The 271 used to have articulated buses at peak times, and it’s confusing to me why Metro would decide to add extra buses (+ drivers) rather than just add a few peak-hour buses to the mix again.

    3. Based on my experience with other 2nd Ave buses, the 550 is definitely less reliable than when it was in the tunnel. 2nd is free-flowing compared to Stewart though…

      East Link can’t open soon enough.

      1. Looking at the ST TDP service hours for Link and roughly proportioning them on an annual calendar year basis suggests Fall 2021 for Northgate Link and sometime in 2023 for East Link. Of course, both projects have long test periods and some other recent light rail projects elsewhere have had unexpected delays to fix problems found during testing. https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/transit-development-plan-2019-2024-and-2018-annual-report.pdf

  7. What will happen to the portion of the 41 north of the Northgate Transit Center in 2021? The route that the 41 uses north of Northgate Way all the way to the Lake City Library is served by the 41 only. The 347/348 go north /south on Roosevelt heading or coming from 15th. Depending how you look at it. But not really close enough to 5th. No other busses go down the steep 125th to Lake City Hill. It is not a high ridership section, but I think it should be addressed or replaced.

    1. I’m sure it’s going to get service in some form. What the route will do when it gets to Northgate, I don’t know.

      It is also possible that the north/south section and the east/west section get assigned to separate routes, once the east/west section has the ability to connect to Link at 130th.

      1. Yeah, I am certain there will be service along there. More than likely, they will simply truncate the 41.

        As asdf2 said, once they add the NE 130th station, they will likely split it into two different lines. Service along 125th/130th would likely be very frequent, while service along 5th would be less frequent. If you look at the long range plan, it does exactly that. http://www.kcmetrovision.org/wp-content/themes/kcmlrtp/LongRangePlan/#. My hope for the area does that as well: https://seattletransitblog.com/2019/05/02/seattle-bus-routes-after-lynnwood-link/.

  8. Is the Montlake triangle improvement pictured above the reason that routes normally serving UW campus are being rerouted via the 45th Street viaduct instead of using the more practical Montlake snow route during the August campus construction closure?
    August may be a slow month for campus classes/events, but it seems that this viaduct rerouting will seriously inconvenience a lot of riders transferring to/from Link during a very busy travel month.

    1. For those transferring from Light Rail to the #372 they will have to walk from the station to 25th Ave NE and NE 47th with the planned detour which is due to the closure of Stevens Way on the campus. The bus will go north on 15th Ave NE and turn right on NE 45th before resuming its normal route NB on 25th Ave NE.

      What is strange is that the southbound reroute for the # 372 will have the bus going down Montlake Blvd to Pacific before going to 15th Ave NE and the terminal on Campus Parkway. So that will actually be a more convenient transfer then the walk from Stevens Way.

      The #65 and #78 are not rerouted northbound so the construction on Montlake Blvd has no as affect on them so there is no reason why the # 372 can’t use their snow reroute instead of the planned one that takes the bus a long way from the Light Rail station. The same with the # 75 which will also use the same reroute as the #372 to reach NE 45th.

      I have written Metro but I would be surprised if anything is changed to these planned reroutes.

      1. The interlined SB67/NB65 now stops on Montlake by Link, whereas the interlined SB65/NB67 travels theough campus, which is very confusing.
        The latter should Montlake as well, making for a better Link connection.

      2. The signs say Stevens Way itself is closing for construction. For the 372 the best bet is to take any of the Pacific Street buses to Campus Parkway; they leave every few minutes. Walking to 25th & 47th somehow takes half an hour even though it’s theoretically only ten blocks. I tried it once and two or three 65s passed me before I got to the 75 stop.

      3. This is a rare case where paying for a Lime bike might be justified. A ride from UW Station to 25th/55th down the Burke-Gilman is about 10 minutes, and would cost about $3.50. Doing this every day, in both directions, it would add up fast, but on a one-time basis to work around a temporary disruption in bus service, the cost isn’t too bad.

  9. “Ahead only bus” is a step in the right direction, should help avoid those “Oh crap, I’m suddenly stuck in a bus lane” moments. Though I would mark it more explicitly as “Merge Left Except Bus” with arrows in the direction of the merge.

    1. Due to our insistence on assuming drivers can only see the closest word marked on the pavement and therefore read pavement markings bottom to top, your suggestion would instead be written “Bus Except Left Merge.” This makes very little sense to those of us with decent vision who have grown used to reading things top to bottom. At least “Bus only ahead” makes sense backwards and forwards.

  10. So one suggestion is to take a bus from the Light Rail Station to Campus Parkway and catch the # 372 there. In other two buses instead one for me to get home. Not convenient at all.

    The other suggestion is to rent a Lime Bike. No thank you.

    The logical answer is for the # 372 to follow its snow route when it cannot go through the campus meaning going south on 15th Ave NE to Pacific and then north on Montlake Blvd and use the stop just north of the Light Rail Station that used by the #65 and # 78.

    But logical and Metro have never met so I guess I should not be surprised by this reroute that prevents passengers from making a simple transfer going northbound but the southbound reroute does have the #372 going south on Montlake Blvd right past the station. Go figure.

    As I said logical and Metro have never met and even putting those two words in the same sentence is a stretch.

    1. . .. and not to mention all those poor luggage/schlepping Link users heading to/from airport using buses to connect, unaware of this rerouting.

  11. Metro planners are still failing to handle cross lake traffic on the 271 route. Instead of using the longer flexible buses they run on the 49, 48 and 70 routes they are running single coaches which are full by the time the reach the Husky Stadium Light Rail station transfer point. Three buses pass commuters every morning heading to Bellevue, and commuters are beginning to return to their cars because it only takes 20 minutes to get to downtown Bellevue from Seattle instead of 90 minutes. Businesses are asking their employees if they’d rather pay for an ORCA pass of parking, and more of them are now going for subsidized parking because of mass transit times to cross Lake Washington.

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