Page Two articles are from our reader community. Sign up for an account.

Things are getting busy on the Eastside. Light rail tracks and guideways are popping up around Bellevue and Redmond, in a preview of the future of transit on the Eastside. But with the June closure of the Montlake freeway station, SR 520 is about to get busy as well. And with Metro considering various options for truncating 520 bus service at UW Station to take advantage of our existing light rail network, the old life of transit on 520 as an Eastside-downtown workhorse may be finally coming to a close.

Some of this has been a long time coming. Ever since the plan to connect Redmond and Bellevue to Seattle with East Link was approved, the days of the frequent 545 route to downtown Seattle were numbered. Once planning for U-Link restructures began, planners belatedly realized the potential utility in removing buses from downtown in favor of a UW Link transfer, a plan that has (to date) nothing to show for it except evening and weekend 542 service (and even that was likely only done because of the closure of the Montlake freeway station).

There have been various discussions on how to use SR 520 for transit in the long term. Sound transit 2 envisioned a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network, which has apparently devolved into more frequency on the most popular bus routes on the bridge already. There have also naturally been discussions on building light rail on SR-520, becoming more relevant since WSDOT has kept the option of light rail on 520 in consideration in recent designs (realistically meaning that the rail could be build without needing to demolish and reconstruct the main spans of the bridge). Seattle Subway has had shifting opinions on this, at one point favoring a new light rail bridge from Kirkland to Sand Point, then coming around to proposing light rail on 520 and connecting the line to a real First Hill subway.

Though the possibility of light rail on SR 520 is exciting and would dramatically transform how commuters in the Eastside get to Seattle, it’s easy to forget how large of a project that is and how far off it would be. Sound Transit is pushing the limits of its building ability with Sound Transit 3, meaning that work on a 520 line would likely extend well past the 2041 timeframe of the last ST3 projects. Further complicating matters is that construction beyond this point is facing fierce competition from other priorities, such as Ballard-UW, extensions of the planned Ballard and West Seattle lines, and filling holes in our network in First Hill and Belltown. With light rail coming to I-90, many will view an additional line on 520 as redundant and unnecessary. With many (and ofter better) projects competing for resources, it’s hard to think that SR 520 will get light rail on any reasonable timeframe.

The good news? I actually don’t believe that light rail on the 520 bridge is necessary at this point, for a few reasons:

  1. The bridge itself does not have a dedicated bus lane, but it does have the next best thing: HOV 3+ lanes. Convincing WSDOT to convert an HOV 2 lane to HOV 3 is like pulling teeth, but the 520 bridge has them today. Furthermore, all vehicles (including HOV 3+) are subject to a toll, which is an additional incentive to get people to take transit across the bridge, or to take I-90 instead if they must drive (both of which leave more room on the bridge for buses).
  2. There are already two left-side freeway stations on SR-520 between I-405 and the bridge, where light rail would be should we decide to build it. These stations, as they stand today, are almost as high quality from a bus priority and access standpoint as it is possible to build. To access them, buses exit from an existing HOV 3+ lane into a dedicated bus-only lane that extends through both freeway stations all the way to the bridge!
  3. There is direct HOV and bus access at 108th Ave NE, allowing buses from S. Kirkland and Bellevue (both future light rail connection points) to enter the freeway in the HOV 3+ lanes.
  4. Starting this year, SDOT is pouring money into a redesigned Montlake boulevard/SR 520 interchange that has direct HOV 3 access and inline bus stops, that UW-bound buses can use to avoid the long queue of cars at the general purpose ramp.
  5. SDOT is building a reversible direct access access ramp from the SR 520 HOV 3+ lanes to the I-5 express lanes, which will continue as a fifth express lane until Mercer Street, which will be a direct entrance/exit to South Lake Union. When ramp opens in 2023, it will be bus only to start (though it’s unclear why HOVs would be initially excluded), with HOV access coming later. This completely solves an issue that has been puzzling transit planners for years, who have been contemplating painfully circuitous routing to try to directly serve SLU while avoiding a slow downtown. The interim solution is a decent-but-not-ideal route 544, which gets off at the first downtown exit it can safely reach, and heads up a relatively non-congested Fairview avenue, avoiding Mercer Street like the plague.
  6. There are lower-quality right-side freeway stations in Redmond at NE 40th and NE 51st streets, in the vicinity of Microsoft and East Link stations. Though sub-optimal, these stations are past the biggest bottleneck (namely the bridge), and have the benefit of an unusual right-side HOV 2 lane running from I-405 to just north of NE 51st street (with breaks in it to allow SOVs to access freeway exits).

While this may not be the 520 universe you might build from scratch, the fact that this is all already happening and will be fully complete by 2024 with no tax increases, ballot measures, and fights over tunnels is something to be taken full advantage of, rather than torn up to squeeze light rail into. To that end, I propose a comprehensive network of SR-520 buses that serve places all over the east side, combining to form a “virtual light rail line” across 520 that could take advantage of every piece of HOV and bus priority to be nearly as fast as an actual light rail line.

Here are the route maps for peak, off-peak, and downtown Seattle peak detail.

Here are some broad themes:

  1. Though this can be nearly as fast as rail would be, it still would probably be somewhat unreliable (though this could be mitigated with some schedule padding at strategic locations). It also has much less capacity than light rail, which is stretched today by peak-level demand on the 541/542. This is primarily mitigated by high frequency service, where there are multiple branches (4 peak, 3 off-peak) that are all frequent on their own, overlapping on 520 creating very frequent service (2.5 minutes peak, 5 minutes off-peak).
  2. Bellevue is getting express service to UW. This is significant because Sound Transit currently plans on having riders from Bellevue to UW take the blue line south through downtown Seattle (a hefty 29 minutes). Though they need to draw the line somewhere, I feel this puts Bellevue at the point of highest inconvenience, and many riders (especially those heading to places north on Link) will be turned off by needing to do a large amount of backtracking.
  3. Sammamish would be well-connected to the regional transportation network, with nearly every destination being two seats or fewer away. North and south Sammamish service is now split at S. Sammamish P&R, where the north route takes the 520 bridge and the south route takes the I-90 bridge. There is no longer a dedicated Sammamish route, as now the Redmond and Issaquah routes simply continue to Sammamish at half frequency, eliminating the need to transfer. This makes Sammamish, which (not incorrectly, in my opinion) felt like a non-consideration in ST3, less of an afterthought by making some sensible tweaks to bus service that already terminates near Sammamish.
  4. South Lake Union is a major destination, which is served during peak by the Redmond lines during (the Kirkland/Bellevue lines go to UW during peak, and all lines go to UW during off-peak). Since the ramp to the I-5 express lanes/Mercer street is reversible, only going one direction at a time, the configuration proposed has a loop through downtown (ideally with a 5-10 minute layover somewhere downtown for buffer time) that starts at SLU and goes counter-clockwise in the morning, and starts at downtown going clockwise in the evening. This ensures that all 520 bus trips (both SLU and UW) have a connection to Link (Westlake and UW, respectively).

Overall, this would require a big increase in service hours, so realistically this kind of thing might be tied to a 2024 ST4 vote, in which ST could fund all these lines. But for the time being, I’ve proposed a Metro/ST split that flips the agency of some existing lines:

  • The 555/556 would be replaced by the 254, and Metro would operate this route.
  • The 269 and all the peak Sammamish and Bear Creek Seattle expresses would be replaced by the 543 (peak), 546 (off-peak), and the extended half of 554 trips, all of which ST would operate.

Here are some details by route:

  • 255: The same 255 from Kirkland to UW that is coming in March 2020. Peak headways: 10-12 minutes (slightly worse than 2020), midday/weekend: 15 minutes (same as 2020), evening: 30 minutes (same as 2020)
  • 254: A new route similar to the 555/556 that replaces both, and provides all-day service from UW to S. Kirkland, Bellevue TC, Eastgate and Bellevue College. S. Kirkland P&R is added because Sound Transit operates the 555/556 along 112th Ave NE instead of I-405, believing it to be faster, so adding a stop at S. Kirkland to this route is relatively non-disruptive (because it’s already on the road to S. Kirkland P&R anyway). This route also continues to Bellevue College and Eastgate, since this idea opens up the possibility of giving Bellevue College & Eastgate a fast ride to Bellevue TC all-day, and I don’t believe this route needs to continue to Issaquah (since the 554 will be more frequent by this point). My preferred routing has it take NE 6th to I-90 (utilizing the express toll lanes available in 2024), but this requires using the right-side exits to switch between 405 and 90, so routing along Bellevue Way or the 271 route (with no stops between BTC and BC) may be more sensible. Truncating the 271 in Medina (ideally at one of the freeway stations, and not cross the bridge to Seattle) could partially pay for this route. Peak headways are 10-12 minutes, midday/weekend: 15 minutes, evening: 30 minutes.
  • 544: A variant of the 544 coming in 2020, except more resembling the 545. This route would replace the 545, and would serve downtown Redmond and Redmond TC (rather than Overlake P&R). There would be no stop at S. Kirkland P&R (but an added route 254 would ease transfers to this route from S.Kirkland). It would serve SLU using the previously described loop (a more convenient route than route 544 in 2020). Unlike the 545, this route won’t go to Bear Creek, leaving that to the 543 (which offers a faster and more direct route to Seattle than the 545 does). Peak headways: 10-12 minutes (slightly better than 2020). No service off-peak, as that is offered by the 546.
  • 543: A different variant of the coming 544, except skipping downtown Redmond to serve Bear Creek and Sammamish. Meant to complement the 544,this route takes a direct route between Sammamish, Bear Creek, and SLU. Residents of Sammamish who want to take transit to Seattle or Overlake, but struggles with the weird peak-oriented service that takes them down to I-90, would find this route easier to use. Peak headways: 10-12 minutes, no off-peak service (route 546 is available off-peak)
  • 546: An off-peak-only route that combines the 543 and 544, and goes to UW instead of SLU. Service follows the path of the 542 in UW, the 545 in Redmond, and half of the trips continue to Sammamish. Midday/weekend headways: 15 minutes, weekend: 30 minutes.
  • 554: This route will be largely unchanged, presuming it exists in some form in the East Link restructure. It will likely terminate either at Mercer Island Station or South Bellevue Station (in this case, likely also continuing to Bellevue TC, but could sensibly terminate at S. Bellevue if route 254 is introduced). The important tweak to this route would be extending half of the trips from Issaquah Highlands P&R to South Sammamish P&R, providing the southern portion of Sammamish access to Seattle and Bellevue via I-90 (whereas the northern part accesses Seattle and Bellevue via 520 and the Redmond routes). It seems like such an opportunity that frequent 554 service is coming nearly to Sammamish, and then stops (except for a few late night trips on the 554 heading back to the base through Sammamish). Headways would likely be comparable to the 543/546, but depend on what the headways for the restructured 554 will be.

With that, I think this transit network on 520 will provide service comparable to light rail on the bridge, without:

  1. Absolutely needing to transfer to another bus route to get where you want to go on the eastside.
  2. Spending a lot of money, years, and political capital on building rail when there is already top-tier bus stations and freeway access either built already or under construction.
  3. Focusing Link construction away from places that really need Link light rail service to get much better (like UW-Ballard, Metro 8, or a number of others), and better bus service simply won’t do it.

Let me know what you all think in the comments!

16 Replies to “Light Rail on the 520 Bridge?”

  1. Re: Capacity. After east link, I don’t think there should be any capacity issues on the 520 ST buses anymore.

    Per: https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/2019-sip-final_compressed.pdf
    Only the 545 sees regular overcrowding, but most ridership will probably divert once east link opens. The 542 pretty much *always* has open seats, except for a single westbound afternoon run. And the 540 and 541 are generally empty.

    The only open question here is the peak SLU routes – we’ll have to see how well the 544 performs, once it starts running.

    1. Good point. I based that statement on my anecdotal experience when I occasionally take the 542 from a 520 freeway station to UW, and it’s not just standing room only, but totally packed. So full I figured it wasn’t isolated to a single trip, but maybe thats the first bus after the end of the main Microsoft shift or something.

      But certainly any 545 passengers headed ultimately to SLU won’t switch to East Link, and will probably switch to the 544 at Yarrow Pt or Evergreen Pt.

    2. I mentioned earlier my trip to Redmond a couple weeks ago on Saturday at 1pm. Previously when I’d gone to Redmond on weekends there were only five people on the bus, and the freeway stations were empty. This time every seat was full. Three people got on/off at Evergreen Point, and three more at Yarrow Point. Two of those were going from Yarrow Point to Redmond. On a Saturday. At the Overlake stations a handful got off, then it was light in south Redmond. Half the bus got off at Redmond Transit Center. I got off after that on Redmond Way, and there were still a dozen people going further (presumably to Bear Creek P&R).

      When I’d looked at the bus schedules beforehand, I was expecting a half-hourly 545 to be the only choice. Instead the 542 was also running half-hourly from the U-District to Redmond TC. I didn’t take it because my destination was in east Redmond.

      And on weekday mornings at the Capitol Hill stop, the 545 comes every five minutes and every one of them is packed until 10:30am.

      So a lot of people are traveling between Seattle and Redmond, and increasingly on weekends too. That bodes well for East Link, and suggests that more 520 service like AlexKven’s proposal would be well-used too. I agree that 520 Link or Sand Point-Kirkland Link are questionable, and that the toll and HOV lanes on the new bridge may make BRT sufficient. The problem with 520 was always the long backups at the entrances, and the tolls made those shrink dramatically.

      1. Considering that the light rail stations in Redmond (strangely, in my opinion) aren’t at the current transit hubs, keeping something bus service there to 520 is essential. But what’s nice is that one can fairly painlessly transfer between the five-forty-whatever and Link at NE 40th street.

        As for the 542, weekend and evening service was added in March specifically to mitigate the loss of the Montlake station. But this opens up a world of transfer opportunities during the weekend, and gives people a taste of the network of the future, which will almost certainly include replacing the 545 with something like a 542.

        And yes, on the 520 bridge, there are bus problems, but all of the biggest problems are well on the way to being fixed. It’s BRT-to-be, and it seems like it would be dumb to destroy all that for rail (which realistically would probably be built on the HOV3 lanes) unless it would improve things dramatically, which I doubt. I do actually really like the idea of a Sand Point crossing though. I think a great way to get people out of their cars is to entice them with another bridge they could take with Link. NE King County to UW trips would be a breeze, and perhaps the best part is that such a line would serve downtown Kirkland by necessity, AND also likely connect to Stride at 85th and potentially head down to Issaquah via S. Kirkland.

    3. Of the 520 buses, the only ones that involve standing passengers are the 545 and the 542. The 542 barely has anyone standing — one run in the evening has people standing. This is for a bus that runs every 20 minutes (at that point). Adding another bus or two would mean that not only are the buses not crowded, but everyone gets a seat. The 545 is a little more crowded, but still not horrible. It is nowhere to the point of packing people in, let alone forcing them to wait for the next bus (which is common for other routes).

      As mentioned, a lot of those riders would divert to East Link. More importantly, they wouldn’t benefit from a new light rail line across the bridge. Riders headed downtown wouldn’t save significant time with a 520 train versus an I-90 train.

    1. This is a good point, though I would lean against this option for the many reasons, pretty much the whole post. Realistically the *most* optimistic possible timeframe for light rail across 520 would be 2041 opening with S. Kirkland – Issaquah, but in reality it would be more likely to be much later. Compare this to the fact that a good bus network like this one could be in place as early as 2024, and that light rail on 520 would likely replace the HOV3 lanes already on the bridge (taking good bus options off the table forever), it seems like a better place to fight for rail would be a Sand Point crossing.

    2. It can’t be done until the late 2050s unless billions of dollars of additional funding are identified. A project would have to have a western and an eastern terminus. The western terminus would probably be U-District or UW, and there has been no preparation for such a station beyond a preliminary study. ST has persistently refused to design a transfer stub into U-District Station for possible future use. Underground stations are the most expensive kind, and would require a surface staging area like at UW Station now. After 2021 more underused lots will be replaced by new highrises with deep foundations. The U-District station box itself is something like five feet from the UW Tower foundation, and was probably helped by having no towers on the other three sides. The east end could feed into South Kirkland-Issaquah but a decision to favor that that alternative has not been made. The preliminary study looked at a Ballard-Redmond line.

      Then there’s the voter reaction to a funding proposal. North King would probably say, “Fund the Ballard and West Seattle tunnels first”. East King would probably say, “Everything after East Link has diminishing returns, and my car tabs are too high.”

  2. There is a huge difference between “Light Rail on the 520 Bridge” and “what’s there now” so it seems like other improvements – such as vastly improved bus transfers and access from 520 to UW would get much better results than light rail.

    The $500 million or more to add light rail to the bridge alone could built one hell of a transfer arrangement, no matter if it is a new Link station at Montlake or a new transit only corridor to the Husky Stadium station or an underground people mover of some sort between Montlake and UW stations.

    1. Yeah, I agree. The only part of the trip that is slow is the part between 520 and the UW. That is about to get a lot better. Making it even better (e. g. building a tunnel) would have to be done if it was rail. It would cost the same to build a similar busway. But with a busway, you wouldn’t have to do anything more (there).

      Meanwhile, you don’t even have a route. Does it go to South Kirkland, downtown Kirkland or Juanita? What about Totem Lake? Do you cut over, skipping Overlake, even though it has more riders than the ones further north. There is just no good way to connect the pockets of density in the north East Side with one route. None of the centers are very big (they are nothing like downtown Bellevue). Many of them lack all day, fast transit service to Seattle, unlike, say, Northgate (the 41 is an express to downtown Seattle that runs every ten minutes all day long). Nor do they make for great bus intercepts. If you followed the freeway, then a bus might as well go on the freeway, since it would be just as fast (and save a transfer).

      Building a train line would be extremely expensive, and result in very few new riders. It is best to focus on new bus routes, and adding new busways.

      1. I think that a 520 light rail line would just connect to the ST3 South Kirkland station, and that this would likely be used as a reason to not extend it to downtown Kirkland (because then it would have to be a spur). Whereas if light rail continued north from S. Kirkland rather than west, that would make a really nice transit grid. For the (full) cost of putting rail on 520, you could probably extend Link out to downtown Kirkland and maybe even Totem Lake. Save Our Trail would kill you, but the ERC seems like a really cheap path to take this.

      2. I think that a 520 light rail line would just connect to the ST3 South Kirkland station

        Yeah, which just shows how ridiculous the idea is. The South Kirkland Park and Ride gets a whopping 300 riders a day right now. Granted, that is for a run that runs only during rush hour, but the bus is largely empty, peaking out at about 35 riders per bus. The demand along that corridor is minimal.

        If you are on Lakeview, in downtown Kirkland, Juanita or Totem Lake (all areas with more people than South Kirkland) what then? You have to take a bus (often very slow) then take a train, then take a different train to get downtown. That is worse than what they have now, and they have gained what, exactly? An easier trip to the UW? Not really. Right now some people have to transfer, or endure a long bus ride to the get to the UW. If they built a train, everyone would transfer. Would the train run more frequently? I doubt it. It is very expensive to run big, empty trains.

        The whole thing is pretty silly, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

        Whereas if light rail continued north from S. Kirkland rather than west, that would make a really nice transit grid.

        Yeah, that seems possible, assuming it could be built cheaply. You still aren’t going to have a huge amount of demand, and you are still looking at a long slog to Seattle. That is the problem. Demand is split between Bellevue, downtown Seattle and the UW. From Kirkland, the only two that can be served fairly quickly together are the UW and downtown Seattle.

        For example, consider someone in Juanita, trying to get to downtown Seattle. They take a bus over to the northern terminus of the new train line, at Totem Lake. Then they transfer to the train, headed to downtown Bellevue. Then they transfer to a different train, which takes them to downtown Seattle. An express to the UW (followed by a train to downtown) would beat that by a good fifteen minutes, and they would make only one transfer. The direct connection from Juanita would be to one of the three biggest destinations in the region (the UW), as opposed to Totem Lake.

        It is silly to consider building light rail in an area that lacks good bus service. That Juanita bus simply doesn’t exist. OK, there is the 277, but that doesn’t go across, the way you would if you were driving (https://goo.gl/maps/gs97ZX6EaSB3qS9R8). It goes north, then over on 132nd. Express service to the UW, as well as express service to Bellevue can’t be justified, even from Juanita, one of the more densely populated parts of the area (https://arcg.is/19i80).

        The only reasonable solution is to keep chipping away at the problem. Improve the connection between 520 and the UW Station. Keep adding express service to the UW. Keep adding express service to Bellevue, or at least connecting service to I-405 BRT. Add a frequent, all day connection between I-405 and the UW (serving all the freeway stations, like Totem Lake). Try to create a network that at least mimics the way someone would drive, even if it sometimes requires a transfer. If you are going to spend big money, then spend it on HOV flyover lanes connecting 520 (west) with 405 (north) and the connection to the UW station.

      3. Actually, if ridership is split between Bellevue, downtown Seattle, and UW, then that straight north/south line would seem to make a lot of sense. It already has the Bellevue part. And getting to downtown or UW is one east-west branch off of that. It’s good by that metric, but I see your point about travel times. That will be an issue with East Link, especially for Bellevue to UW (in fact, I argue in this very post that ST should give Bellevue-UW riders a bus across 520, instead of making them ride 300 degrees around a circle on East Link).

        One resolution to that would be bus service across 520 that is so fast and frequent that a train-bus-train path across 520 and through UW station would be viable (trains are already going to be double frequent from UW to downtown, so that helps here). I am guessing that this is just the cost of a good grid system, that getting from one corner to another just takes a while sometimes. A hypothetical Juanita express to UW could get you there faster, but even the not-very-good express they have (the 277) is going away as of next year. So they really will be just left with taking the 255 all the way to UW.

        As for bus service to the train, and requiring a 3-seat ride, I think that is often required now by nature of light rail. It’s not very convenient. But when you have Link lines crossing each other, I think you will find many cases where a 3-seat ride will be necessary unless you have lots of buses nearly duplicating Link. But I think these 3-seat rides won’t be *that* bad, especially if one is train-to-train (or even train to good BRT). Most regular 3-seat rides I’ve endured were between 30, 15, and 60 minute routes, and this kind of 3 seater won’t be nearly that bad, as long as ST commits to good frequency on Link. Also worth noting that the Issaquah line to East Link transfer to Seattle is a perfect same-platform transfer that is nearly guaranteed to be always half headway.

        That said, if running Link up to Kirkland makes little sense and running Link across 520 makes even less sense, then the thing that might make it all worth it is… A Sand Point crossing. Running a line from Ballard to UW to Kirkland across Lake Washington, changes the landscape dramatically, and makes a geographically shorter path to both UW and downtown. Where this to happen, then this bus plan would probably be changed to have the new 255 be a local route, and make an all-day 311 replace that bus.

      4. Yeah, there are definitely going to be a lot of three seat rides. The thing is, just about all of those trips are OK, and come with pieces that add extra value. For example, it is a two seat ride from Lake City to Ballard (https://goo.gl/maps/aCgiffaXEWBSnJzA7). But it is a long two seat ride. In the future, that could involve three seats. But the three seat ride is extremely frequent. Link will run very frequently, and so will the 44. The first bus (the one connecting you to Link) will be no less frequent than whatever people take now for such a time consuming journey. You actually save a considerable amount of time, despite the extra trips. You can’t say that about a 520 line.

        Perhaps a better example is the 41. First of all, it does have extremely high ridership (unlike the 520 to UW corridor). But truncating the 41 won’t be great for everyone. A few years ago (before the tunnel was closed) a 41 rider had a very fast one seat ride to downtown. Now they will have a two seat ride. For some of them, the trip will be slower. But in exchange, you have a much faster ride to downtown in the evening (even if it is two seats). You also have much faster rides to Roosevelt, the UW and Capitol Hill (even if they involve two seats). It is the combination of rides that is the key value added. Well, that and dealing with the large volume of riders. That is why Northgate Link is such a big deal.

        The point being, some people come out behind with the truncation. But many more come out way ahead. It is a much more frequent, faster ride to the UW or Capitol Hill. That is *not counting* the savings from not sending a bus to downtown.

        A 520 train doesn’t have that. What does a rider gain from the train? Practically nothing if the stations are close to the freeway. That is the part of the trip that is fast. You haven’t added any additional connections. The only people who would benefit are those who can walk to the station — and they don’t gain that much (the train wouldn’t be that much faster than the bus). Furthermore, there just aren’t that many people who do that.

        The only way you could actually add value is if you cut through the heart of Kirkland, then cut east. That would improve trips from Redmond to Kirkland as well as trips within Kirkland (e. g. Juanita to Totem Lake). But you still wouldn’t have anywhere near the ridership to justify that kind of project.

        The same is true for running Link from Bellevue to Kirkland (or beyond). What are the new trips that are so much better? Let’s see, between South Kirkland you have Wilburton. So someone who right now rides a bus from Kirkland to downtown Bellevue will instead have their bus truncated (costing them time as well as a hassle) — but in return they get a faster ride to Wilburton? Many of them would be better off just heading east, then picking up the I-405 BRT (following the same basic path they would if they were driving). They are headed from Kirkland to Bellevue, yet taking two buses is faster than using the train that supposedly makes that connection.

        I think there really is a misconception as to how successful mass transit systems work. It isn’t about the commute to downtown. It is about the trips in between. Right now, about 2,000 people a day ride the train from Capitol Hill to the UW. That is only one stop. That is one of the few trip pairs that we actually have data for. Yet just that one trip pair is almost as much as the entire ridership from Tukwila station. Ridership from Capitol Hill will go up substantially once Northgate Link is added. That is because there will be lots of riders making trips from Northgate, Roosevelt and the U-District to Capitol Hill. Likewise every other new combination.

        None of the schemes for East Side rail (beyond East Link) have that. The folks who are supporting such ideas are taking a “freeway” view of transit, and confusing a congested corridor (520) with actual trip pairs (e. g. Juanita to the UW). The former is meaningless when it comes to transit, and the latter wouldn’t benefit from 520 rail.

  3. Given advancements in battery technology and guidance systems, I envision the emergence of a guided, rubber-tired, higher capacity technology that incorporates the advantages of light rail (higher capacity, exact platform alignment, smoother ride) with the advantages of an articulated bus (less weight load with tires rather than tracks, no need for overhead wires, more grade flexibility, cheaper and faster implementation).

    Does anyone else think this is a viable idea for 520 or elsewhere?

    1. I guess that depends on what the goals would be.

      The two problems with 520:

      1. the sprawl on the other side of the lake. It’s really not suitable for high frequency transit. It needs something that can spread out over a broad area, meaning you’re stuck with traditional buses in mixed traffic.

      2. The traffic mess on the west side. Northbound to the UW station? Westbound to I-5 or South Lake Union? Southbound to Capitol Hill? All of those options suck right now with the current arrangement.

      The self steering bus stuff that the Eugene EmX bus route has is interesting, but no bus technology is able to overcome bad right is way options.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *