ST Express 550 in the DSTT (Image: Oran Viriyincy)

ST Express 550, connecting Bellevue to Seattle, is the highest ridership bus in the Sound Transit Express system. In the last two years, it has shed more than one third of its ridership. Issaquah-Seattle route ST 554, also operating on I-90, has seen ridership decline 14% over the same period.

Recently, a Sound Transit Committee received an analysis that explores the reasons why. It’s unlikely very much of the lost ridership could have been avoided. It’s nevertheless concerning because the I-90 express routes ought to be building a market for transit ahead of Blue Line trains running to Bellevue in 2023 and Redmond in 2024.

ST 550 has become progressively more difficult for riders to access as several major stops have closed. The South Bellevue P&R closed in June 2017 for East Link construction with a loss of 519 parking stalls. That was followed by the closure of Convention Place Station in July 2018 and Rainier Freeway Station in September 2018. However, the greatest loss of ridership came with the closing of the downtown transit tunnel to buses in March 2019. On average, Metro and Sound Transit routes formerly in the tunnel have seen 20% ridership losses since March.

Timeline of ST 550 ridership reveals the greatest decline after the DSTT closes (Image: Sound Transit)

The loss of 2,300 ST 550 daily riders after the DSTT closed to buses seems closely tied to the slower travel times. Delays are multiplied for riders taking the 550 to the north end of downtown. Stop data shows moderate losses in ridership at the southernmost stops in Seattle, with huge losses at stops after the buses have slogged unreliably across downtown.

Ridership declines greatest where travel time images are larger (Image: Sound Transit)

The experience of ST 554 hasn’t been quite as bad. There, the challenge has been a loss of convenient stops at the south end of downtown. Construction at the Rainier Freeway Station also closed a stop at 5th Ave and Jackson St, and another at S Washington St and 4th Ave. The new stop at 2nd Ave and Yesler saw 26% fewer riders than the stops it replaced.

Last month, Sound Transit added a new Route 554 stop at South Jackson St and Maynard Avenue South, restoring eastbound service from Chinatown/International District on Jackson St. It’s too early to conclude whether it will be effective.

Sound Transit estimates 20% of former 550 riders have abandoned transit, and another 8% have switched to other routes. 12% of former riders on ST 554 have stopped using transit, and some more, maybe 100, are on other routes.

Losing bus ridership today makes it harder to meet rail ridership targets in future (image: Sound Transit)

All this matters because the Blue Line will replace the express buses across I-90. The challenge of getting to a targeted 43,000 – 52,000 riders by 2026 is harder if current transit riders are abandoning transit in the face of bus delays.

118 Replies to “Why ridership on ST 550 melted down”

  1. My guess is all of the riders who abandoned the bus will come back, when transit is faster. The big takeaway is that speed matters. My guess is there are lots of lost riders on West Seattle bus runs as well. This is fairly obvious, but it is worth pointing out, especially when a city or an agency wonders if a particular investment is worth it or not. Frequency matters as well (as does stop placement, the overall network, etc.) but this is a clear example of what happens when a bus becomes dramatically slower.

    1. Both speed and reliability are important to commuters. I want to be sure that the bus I take will get to my destination fast and in time. And this is why we need more dedicated bus lanes.
      And for bike commuters – more bike lanes.

  2. The 550 is pretty much slow from beginning to end. It has too many stops in Bellevue, and no transit priority along Bellevue Way, which is often clogged with Waze-equipped drivers trying to bypass congestion along I-405. On I-90, there is an HOV lane, but it’s only 2+, which doesn’t do much, and the stop on Mercer Island means more delays as more people squeeze into what’s already a very crowded bus. On the approach to downtown, the 550 has to share the same exit ramp as the cars, and wait for that interminable stoplight to turn left onto 4th Ave. Then, all the lights and bus stops within downtown itself (although, there are at least bus lanes, there).

    Perhaps it’s time to revisit the idea of getting more people between Bellevue and DT Seattle via SR-520 instead of I-90. Imagine if we had buses every 10 minutes, traveling between Bellevue Transit Center and UW Station, following the path of the 556, rather than the slower 271. Even with all the construction delays on 520, I think it would still get you downtown (especially the north end of downtown) faster during the peak hours than the 550, especially with trains running every 6 minutes.

    I don’t think the existing 550 route should be abandoned – its intermediate stops still need service, and may still be the best option to get to the south end of downtown. But, the time may have come to consider switching a few of the peak hour trips over to 520, taking the fast route (like the 556 does) and seeing how riders react. (Note: I am not proposing running the entire 556 route, all the way from Issaquah to Northgate; just the section between Bellevue Transit Center and UW Station).

    1. Adding a different express (one that went from Bellevue Transit Center to downtown via 520) was discussed when the Sound Transit report came out. It would have value, but where would the money come from? The 550 isn’t that frequent. Mercer Island and the other stops in Bellevue make up a majority of the ridership. If you take a bunch of trips from the regular 550 to serve BTC riders, you will likely hurt ridership at those other stops.

      In reverse peak direction (Seattle to Bellevue in the morning) it peaks out at around 10 minute frequency. The other direction it peaks out at around 5 minutes. So without damaging frequency for a lot of riders, the best you could get is maybe a handful of express buses, running about every ten minutes from BTC to downtown. The other riders would have ten minute frequency (or maybe 8, depending on how much faster the other bus is). A fair number of riders would lose out, because frequency is worse (although not terrible), while a handful get a better trip downtown. I’m not sure if it is worth it, really.

      1. Perhaps these runs could come from making the peak direction 550 run every 7 minutes instead of every 5. An extra two minutes of wait time at the bus stop is negligible in the scheme of things.

        The key to be careful about is capacity. If my proposal were to be implemented and enough riders don’t switch, the result is an overcrowded 550 leaving people behind at the bus stop.

      2. @Tom — OK, yeah, sorry about that. I should have read the entire thing.

        I will say that while the 271 is definitely flawed, I don’t think you save that much time by following the path of the 556, especially during rush hour. The big weakness with the current 271 is the lack of a stop on 520 — it makes it harder to transfer from an express bus headed to downtown and a bus headed to the U-District.

        The point is, if someone sees a 271, they will take it, as opposed to waiting for this ST bus. (For sake of argument, I’ll call the new bus the 551). The 271 runs every 8 minutes during rush hour (peak direction). You could throw in a few extra runs (paid for by ST) and it would likely help, but not that much. You are getting diminishing returns big time at that point. Running a bus every 8 minutes would be ideal, but that is expensive — you probably couldn’t do that unless the regular 550 took a big hit. You could coordinate with Metro and add a few extra 551s, so that the 271/551 runs every 6 minutes instead of 8 minutes. That could probably be done with the 550 running every 7 minutes (as you suggest). But that really isn’t a huge improvement over just taking the 271 right now.

      3. The point of supplementing the 271 is two things.

        First is capacity. The peak-hour 271, as it stands today, is basically full, and doesn’t have room to accommodate more than a tiny fraction of 550 riders. Essentially, the 271’s schedule was drawn up, before U-link existed, to handle the Bellevue->U-district demand, not the Bellevue->downtown demand, with the assumption that everybody going Bellevue->downtown would be taking the 550. This is only, very slowly, starting to change. Further exacerbating the issue is the 271’s long tail to Eastgate/Issaquah (making each additional run that much more expensive), plus the fact that the 271 is still being operated with 40-foot coaches (I guess, to accommodate tight turns on the Issaquah tail).

        Second, the 271’s routing is quick enough off-peak, but has a serious flaw during peak hours, in that it puts the bus right in the path of Waze-equipped drivers trying to head west on 520 while avoiding backups on the freeway leading to the bridge. The quickest, most reliable path to the freeway is to use the ramp that Waze-toting SOV drivers can’t, and that’s the ramp at 108th Ave., used by the 555/556.

        It is these two reasons why I think a second route is warranted. Schedule-wise, the 556 is already running every 30 minutes, or 2 buses per hour. If the peak-direction 550 went from every 5 minutes to every 7.5 minutes, that’s a change from 12 buses per hour to 8 buses per hour. Add those 4 buses to the existing route 556 service (but running only between Bellevue Transit Center and UW Station, not going to Issaquah or Northgate) and you no have yourself 10 buses per hour. That’s frequent enough to be worth waiting for, even if a 271 goes by first. The tradeoff is an extra 2.5 minutes wait time for other bus stops served by the 550, but assuming enough people switch over that the remaining 550 trips don’t overfill and leave people behind, I think it’s worth it.

        The catch, of course, is the “assuming enough people switch over” part. If not enough people do, the result will be a half-empty 551 and an overcrowded 550 leaving people behind at bus stops. Even if switching over would make one’s commute faster, people would need time to learn about the new service, and ingrained habits can be hard to break. So, simply shifting some 550 trips to what you call, the 551, might be risky.

        Safer would be to just fund the 551 out of a slush fund somewhere, leaving the 550 service completely unchanged, then gradually reduce the number of 550 trips as people vote with their feet, which route they prefer to take. Doing it this would way would be more expensive (and might be impossible, altogether, if there aren’t enough available buses, drivers to run them, or base space to park them). But, it’s a temporary expense that goes away in a few years, when Link construction finally finishes, and the 550 can be put out of its misery. In the grand scheme of things, the money to run just 4 extra peak-hour bus trips for just 4 years until the construction finishes, isn’t *that* much.

    2. I have wondered if they should have delayed the construction of the new EB 520 Bridge until AFTER Blue link started, but its too late now.

      1. In an ideal world, yeah. But the whole 520 replacement project is just too high priority; no way WSDOT was going to sit on the project for 4 more years.

        The 271’s reliability will probably take a hit, so the current arguable superiority of Link/271 over the 550 might very well disappear.

  3. The smart Bellevue to Seattle CBD commuter takes the 271 (side streets, no 405 congestion) to Link.

    1. Derp. By “405 congestion” I actually meant dealing with traffic in downtown Bellevue–405 congestion backed up onto the surface streets. The 550 also deals with traffic on Bellevue Way, which is an extended on-ramp for I-90 and 405.

    2. I started doing exactly this when needing to go downtown afterwork in Bellevue. I know several people who made the same change. During rush hour 271 to link is much much faster then the 550

      1. Yes! It’s awful at evening peak going from downtown Bellevue to UW. The extreme overcrowding plus the bus-bunching problem that is quite severe for the 271 is why I still take the 550 in the evening even though it is slower. At least I get my own seat and the bus leaves at a predictable time so I’m not waiting outside for up to 20 minutes when the 271 busses get bunched up.

      2. Interesting. That suggests that asdf2’s idea (up above) has a lot of merit. We should run a few extra 271 buses during rush hour, even if it means fewer 550 buses. I don’t think a radical change would be in order, but right now the 271 runs at most every 8 minutes, while the 550 runs at most every 5. They could essentially meet at the middle, with both buses running every 6 or 7 minutes. That would ease crowding on the 271, while still retaining very good frequency for the 550.

        Where does the bus bunching occur?

      3. The bus-bunching happens all over the 271 route. I think part of the issue is that it’s such a long route (Issaquah=> Eastgate => Downtown Bellevue => U District), so delays at various chokepoints compound over the course of the route. If the route started at BTC (or even Eastgate), the busses wouldn’t have as much time to become severely bunched.

      4. Thanks. Yeah, once again a solid argument for what asdf2 suggested. Just run a bus from BTC to the UW. You could even just truncate it close to the station (just do a loop around the triangle and then head back). You would try and time it to be opposite the 271, but if not, then you live with the results. At least it would leave when you want, which means that folks who are just trying to get to the UW Link station have a reliable bus.

      5. If we only had a county Transportation Benefit District to pay for accelerating the new base, making it all-electric, and adding more service where it is desperately needed. 271 (between BTC and UWS) would be at the top of the list or close. Perhaps some of Councilmember Balducci’s constituents could ask her to get on with it. Four more years … of overcrowded, stuck-in-traffic transit.

        Oh, and that slow order along I-90 due to Red Line construction probably won’t be announced until after the election, just like she got the ST Express fare change delayed two years until next July, when zone-resets for every requesting passenger on ORCA readers at the front of the bus will finally go away.

        Nobody is holding her accountable on these issues.

        If the Republicans had any interest in saving the climate, better transportation for the masses, etc, or were at least competent enough to know voters care about this stuff, they would be campaigning on this. Nope, they ran Bill Hirt.

      6. I should also mention that I have anecdotally confirmed 271 to Link to take virtually the same total time as the 550 from Bellevue Transit Center to 4th and Pine, on a Sunday morning.

        If going through UW station is a tie with the direct bus on a Sunday morning, it is almost certainly faster on a weekday with traffic.

      7. ST paying for more (Metro) 271 service seems like it would trigger a turf fight. The better way would be to either increase 556 service or create a new 546 or whatever (using a 54x number since it would be a 520 route; the 55x numbers are I-90 routes).

      8. Yeah, this would not be a 271. Nor would it be a 556. This would be a bus that starts at Bellevue Transit Center, and ends at the U-District, if not UW Station. Regardless of the exact route, it would complement the 271, and be timed accordingly, since most riders from BTC would simply take the first one that arrives.

  4. Reading this morning’s posting, I feel bad that I didn’t argue harder to keep at least the Route 550 and the 41 in the DSTT these critical years. With only those two bus routes, should have been possible to keep buses and trains out of each others way.

    But at the very least, I think that the extremely rich interests connected with the Convention Center owe our passengers the cost of an express bus every ten minutes across SR520 between Bellevue Transit Center and UW Station.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I got tired of pushing for the 41 and 550 to stay in the tunnel until Northgate and then East Link opened, respectively, because every time I brought it up, four “transit advocates” would come along and yell at me about how my bus was in the way of their train to Capitol Hill and since the train is the future then I need to get on board now because their train is delayed.

      The 41, in particular, went from a mostly-reliable bus with easy transfers to and from places like the airport to a hot mess making several turns and getting stuck behind Ubers sitting in the bus lanes with no enforcement. I just hope I can still afford to live near Northgate Station when it opens.

      1. Getting past counting how many train riders were calling for getting all the buses out of the tunnel and how many were saying fewer buses should be in the tunnel but the tunnel should be used for major bus routes as long as possible..

        Do you have any suggestions for how to improve route 41 for the remaining 1 1/2 to 2 years?

      2. Wes, your problem wasn’t mode conflict but bad security. All you should’ve had to do was call a bomb-squad canine officer over, and four full-parentheses “transit advocates” would’ve been sent flying into the IDS origami with one whack of the world’s happiest tail.

        Reason I gave up was that having been around the DSTT from the beginning, including five years driving it, I came to the conclusion that about two weeks into operations in September 1990, the Project as a whole decided that if everything that went in one end eventually came out the other, no further effort was necessary.

        Desertion guilty as charged to the operating people who against a lot of resistance maintained operations above minimal level for 29 years. Which should also tell you how many years of top-to-bottom-echelon dedication would’ve been necessary to make the Tunnel function as designed. Lot to ask, but good pointer for future action.

        What turned me away was an operator’s judgment that with the passenger loads of 1990 + 29 years, and the questionable mindset with which the system handled them, along with everything else in the Tunnel, your 41 would have spent dangerous amounts of time stuck underground.

        Since it’s early for New Years on the Resolutions Calendar, here are some of mine for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. What you care about, get active in politically, with or without the “ist” at the end. Northgate opens, what, year after next?

        Whoever your City, County, and Sound Transit reps are after Election Day, make sure they know your name. Doubt the passenger-count of people furious about losing the 41 will leave you in will be a lonely one.

        Political suggestion whose achievement will earn somebody whatever local merit award is for “The Congressional.” Start showing up at Sound Transit Board meetings in numbers and intention to get Public Comment back under the control of Seattle’s mental health authorities.

        I’m also going to keep on encouraging Seattle Transit Blog readers who drive, supervise, control, and instruct public transit to comment a lot more frequently than I’m seeing. For its readership and fine editing and supervision, STB should start to become a “go-to” for participation and communication for the people in whose hands the transit system literally is.

        Including, eventually if we’re lucky, its governance.

        Mark Dublin

      3. There was work that needed to be done to run the trains to Northgate. That was unavoidable. But kicking the buses out early so we could build an unnecessarily bigger convention center was all Dow’s doing — and it was a huge mistake. Thousands of people have wasted thousands of hours stuck in traffic while Metro has wasted thousands of dollars as a result.

      4. while Metro has wasted thousands millions of dollars as a result.

        FIFY. And not meaning to snark. What a fustercluck.

  5. What Seattle needs is not bus lanes but bus corridors to turn this tide around.

    1. What do you mean “bus corridors”? That’s more a “concept” than a physical reality.

  6. RossB is correct (again). speed is important. Intending riders have choices. the scheduled times of Route 550 are 10 minutes slower in both directions than they were three years ago. Since then, it lost the I-90 center roadway, the D-2 roadway, and the DSTT. Also, it lost the South Bellevue P&R that accounted for several hundred daily boardings. it is also less reliable due to the I-90 changes. almost all downtown Seattle service is slower and less reliable due to the sale of CPS to the convention center and the premature end to bus operations in the DSTT. all the DSTT routes probably lost circulation trips within downtown Seattle. intending riders within downtown face much more waiting with only Link in the DSTT. at off-peak times, the headway is 10 minutes, much longer than it was with routes 41, 101, 150, and 550 added. those making circulation trips may be taking the bus or walking instead or taking fewer trips. another factor is U Link. the combination of Link and routes 271 or 556 is attractive between the BTC and the north half of downtown Seattle. I am not sure it is objective to state the ridership loss was unavoidable.

  7. I don’t have much to add to this that I didn’t already say previously, or that others have said (especially RossB). I’ll reiterate that ST has limited options to make significant improvements to the 550 due to East Link construction, so it will be difficult to recover the lost ridership until East Link opens. Bellevue and Seattle could improve speed and reliability somewhat with more bus priority at pinch points, mostly on the freeway approaches, but even that likely wouldn’t make up for the speed and reliability losses from the 550 leaving the DSTT.

  8. Reliability also plays a big factor. The 550 was remarkably on-time when it was in the DSTT. Riders would leave work knowing how reliable it was.

    1. The overall decrease in reliability is partially offset by south downtown riders not being passed up anymore in the PM peak; Pioneer Square and IDS riders often couldn’t get on. So their experience is better in that regard.

      1. The Line Now Known as Red has had the same problems during peak. There are more riders getting on than off southbound at UW, Capitol Hill, Westlake, Seneca St, and Pioneer Square. I never saw ST run extra trains all the way to UWS to have them run empty to Pioneer Square to clear the growing crowd. But I did see this tactic (albeit turning around at Convention Place) on route 550. Deploying extra 550s to pick up overflow crowds on the south end of downtown might be even easier now, if the bus can avoid getting stuck in gridlock deadheading to the starting place. They certainly do this after large sportsball events.

        When you see frequent bus bunching, this short-run strategy is sometimes the reason. I wouldn’t be surprised if express buses are being deployed from Bellevue Base to get the leftovers when the 271 can’t pick everyone up at BTC. A better approach is to have it pick up halfway between the previous overcrowded bus and the next bus. The even-better solution is to keep adding buses until the county’s standard for how long riders are forced to stand is met. Adding more buses is almost a zero-sum game while we wait for a new base to open, more fleet, and for enough trained operators to drive all the shifts.

    2. Did the boardings account for what I would imagine a significant number of people (including me) that would grab whatever showed up in the bus tunnel while traveling just in the downtown area? I’d wait for a link train, but if the 550 showed up (running all day), I’d grab than instead of waiting. I don’t see in the presentation if that was accounted for…

  9. The City also made Dearborn slower for ST 554 by installing protected bicycle lanes. It’s yet another case of bicyclists before transit riders.

    1. To be fair, the carbon emissions of the bikes are lower than the carbon emissions of route 554, and that switch to Dearborn was because it is faster than taking Jackson. Do we know whether the bikers outnumber the 554 riders on Dearborn?

    2. Dearborn Street is wide and underused now that it’s no longer the I-90 terminus. How can two narrow bicycle lanes make much of a difference?

    3. Prioritizing bicyclist’s lives driving downtown is always a fair tradeoff. And a bike lane in the south end is a good thing, too, for equity purposes.

  10. I keep forgetting that East Link won’t be done until 2023. Everyone has felt the Seattle squeeze. It has gone on longer than it should (thanks Dow). West Seattle has been hurt the most, because of a tunnel that most people didn’t want (thanks Greg). But Bellevue will be hurt the longest. It will be a long time before East Link gets here, and offers any form of relief.

    Which is why I wonder if it makes sense to accelerate the plans for Third Avenue. I realize it takes a while for the city to make up its mind, but the transit couplet idea (on page 32 of this document would greatly speed up buses downtown. To be clear, those ideas are meant to be implemented *after* Link expands to Northgate, Bellevue and even Lynnwood. The idea being that we will have a lot fewer buses downtown at that point (at least during rush hour). Fair enough, but it seems to me that two contraflow lanes each direction — used only by buses 100% of the time — can handle a lot of buses. At worse some buses might be forced off onto Fifth and Sixth — as they are now. But a lot of buses would be able to move much faster.

    It wouldn’t solve all of the problems, but it is telling that the biggest drop in ridership occurred when buses were forced to the (slow) surface streets. Contraflow on Third and Fourth Avenue could be implemented fairly quickly. A little paint, some signs, a few new bus stops, and that is it. At worst it could be done after Link gets to Northgate. That would give East Side riders two years of much faster travel through downtown. They would still have to endure other issues, but at least that would address the biggest one. Further more, it would help thousands of other riders as well. Even after Link gets to Lynnwood, there will still be a huge number of buses running through downtown, and if those buses can move quickly, it helps everyone.

    I’m not saying we should implement this tomorrow, but I think we should start studying it today, so that it can be implemented as soon as possible.

    1. That contraflow design will leave every bus stuck when one gets stuck, unless there is passing room.

      For the Chamber, the project is primarily aesthetics, so keep that lens in mind.

      1. That contraflow design will leave every bus stuck when one gets stuck, unless there is passing room.

        As I wrote (many times, including this post) and as is clear with the pictures and text in the referenced document, there would be two lanes each direction. Two exclusive bus lanes heading north. Two heading south. Buses will have no problem passing buses.

        For the Chamber, the project is primarily aesthetics, so keep that lens in mind.

        Yes, I understand that. But in the long run, this would cut the number of buses on Third in half. It would only handle buses one direction, not both (like today). They could implement the other change (reducing the general purpose lane to one) later. From an aesthetic standpoint, that would be a improvement over what exists today, which is four lanes, lots of cars, and lots of buses.

      2. What happens to the ETB’s? There would have to be wire on Fourth. That might not be popular.

      3. What happens to the ETB’s? There would have to be wire on Fourth.

        Good point. That would likely be the most expensive part. But still, we are talking about a mile and half of wire, connecting right to the point where the trolleys connect anyway. Look at the 1, a trolley: It loops from Third to Fourth. Putting up wire would be expensive, but in the long run, would be a bargain. The savings in terms of service would be huge, and likely pay for the cost of wire in no time.

      4. I don’t disagree, but it needs to be discussed with the businesses that front Fourth. If they’re going to be “contra-flow” that implies that Third would become “one-way”, at least for cars. Fourth is currently one-way northbound, so that would mean Third one-way south? But it’s right next to Second which is already one-way south. Or would it be Third north, Fourth south?

        If so, how does northbound traffic from south of Yesler access Third? Via Prefontaine? That makes the two blocks of Fourth between Washington and Jackson craaaaaaazy.

        Maybe once the bus lanes are off Second, a northbound curbside traffic lane between Jackson and Third South could be squeezed onto Second Extension, but getting to it from Fourth South would be tough.

        I like the “Portland Transit Mall” idea, which is essentially what you’re proposing. It works very well in Portland, even with the trains mixed in. But the way the south end of downtown Seattle “cones” between Second and Fourth is going to make alternating one-ways which makes the most sense in theory, pretty hard to pull off.

      5. Fourth is currently one-way northbound, so that would mean Third one-way south? But it’s right next to Second which is already one-way south.

        Yes. The idea is that you alter the system as little as possible. You don’t move the bike lanes, so you leave Second Avenue alone. Fourth is currently one way north, so you leave it alone. That makes Third one way south. Having Third be southbound only for general purpose traffic may seem weird (because Second is also one way) but it doesn’t really matter. It is still much easier to understand than the current situation, which is a mess. Check out the sign: “Closed To Through Traffic”. What exactly does that mean? What if you are looking for some place to park — do you go down that street? Of course you do. Without hesitation. No matter how far you drive on that road, you will be messing with buses.

        With contraflow on Third, there is no need for special signage. You only need “Do Not Enter” and “No Right (or Left”) Turn”. That’s it. Third can be used for “local access” or as a through route. The document suggests only one lane of general purpose traffic (which means Third Avenue would be three lanes all together) making it quieter. Sounds fine to me. But again, that can come later. For now the idea would be to just add a bunch of paint, some signage, and move some wire. Eventually the sidewalks could be expanded as they shrink the number of (general purpose) lanes on Third.

        The main point I’m making is that we should get ahead of this. We shouldn’t wait for a couple years, and then complain about the mayor, or “the Seattle process” or something else. We should push for this now. Of course it needs to be studied. But the sooner we start working on it the better. The bike master plan calls for another bike lane on Fourth. If that goes in, then the project becomes a lot harder. We should be pushing for contraflow lanes now, so that they can be implemented as soon as possible. If it makes sense to do that after Northgate Link, or even Lynnwood Link, so be it. But we shouldn’t wait, or assume that somehow we can’t have this, when the evidence suggests the opposite. This isn’t expensive, the downtown association came up with the idea, and it appears to satisfy both the need for (24 hour) local access and the need for good bus throughput.

        Failing to pursue the idea because of unfounded cynicism reminds me of the ORCA card on the monorail situation. It is worth reading the comment thread, even though it is long: If you look down that thread, you will notice that lots of people — people I respect — were very pessimistic about changing things. No one was really suggesting a solution until we kept asking questions. Eventually the solution become obvious — write to the council, and do so right away. Next thing you know, it was part of the monorail contract. Or at least, a study was part of the contract. It still took five years, but at least it happened. If we had cynically assumed that we can’t change things — and many did — then the monorail wouldn’t accept ORCA for at least another five years, and probably five years after that.

        The point is, I hate this cynical attitude. Just to be clear — I’m not saying you, personally. I just mean the whole idea that we can’t make simple, easy, cheap fixes, while folks debate ridiculously expensive projects that no city our size has ever built (e. g. a chunnel to Kirkland). Contraflow lanes really are possible. They would improve things dramatically. The sooner we make a concerted push for them, the sooner they could be built.

      6. Ross, OK. Third south is much easier to accommodate bus-wise. That means buses south on Fourth (westside stops) and north on Third (eastside stops). The buses would get Prefontaine while auto traffic would continue a block down Third South to Second Avenue Extension south of Yesler.

        There would be turning conflicts at Fourth/Prefontaine/Washington between the buses, but since they would only be buses, it shouldn’t be too bad.

        If Third eventually becomes three lanes only then the single southbound lane simply won’t carry much traffic, making two adjacent streets one-way the same way less crazy.

        So, yeah, it sounds like it could work, if the City is willing to lose capacity on Fourth Avenue.

      7. Yeah, and it wouldn’t even be that much lost capacity on Fourth. Right now, there already is a bus lane on Fourth ( So you basically lose one lane of general purpose traffic.

        That seems like a very small price to pay. General purpose lanes have been converted to BAT/Bus lanes on Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and now Sixth. A lane on Second was converted to a bike path. We are trying to take a lane each direction on First (for the streetcar). Taking a lane on Fourth, and then opening up some other streets seems like a net win for everyone.

    2. I’ve wondered if ST should create an “early Blue Line” in 2021-22. That would be in two parts: Additional trains between SODO or ID to Northgate (easing overcrowding north of Downtown), and connecting ST Express buses from the rail terminus to the Eastside. It wouldn’t be practical until the South Bellevue parking garage opens.

      1. Yes! I think this will be needed. I don’t understand why sound transit is not thinking of something like this. When Northgate opens trains are going to be packed solid, especially north of downtown. Why not open an early blue line(even if it’s only in peak hours) like you said. It would definitely help alleviate some of the pressure in the system.

        We have a fully grade separated portion of the line that will not be fully utilized. Opening that portion of the blue line early seems like a no brained.

      2. You could turn the trains using the Maintenance Facility loop. The NB exit underruns the main line in a flying junction. That way oprators wouldn’t have to walk the train in the pocket track.

      3. However as I understand it, there won’t be enough train parking space for much more service until the East Maintenance Facility is connected.

      4. I don’t know if storage ultimately is a constraint. The Red Line peak frequency will drop to eight minutes when the Blue Line operation according to the Final EIS. A train that runs the full length round trip of the Red Line could easily make two round trips on a short Blue Line. I’m not a service scheduler, but it would appear that at least half of a short Blue Line trains would come from the existing Red Line trains. Plus, extra train storage could possibly exist by treating the first mile of East Link tracks from the split for storage by 2021-22.

      5. I will refer to the short-run trips as Pink Line (since they would continue to at least Stadium Station), rather than Baby Blue Line.

        Adding Pink Line trips during peak would mean inserting them one-for-one between Red Line trips. But ST has repeatedly said it can’t run trains through the tunnel at 3-minute headway. So, Red Line trips would end up getting spaced out, and end up increasing headway to every 8 minutes south of SODO Station instead of the current 6-minute headway. Yes, this will happen eventually anyway, when the Blue Line opens.

        I’m totally open to doing it now if Red Line train lengths can all be at least three cars. Pink Line trains could still be shorter if that helps. There might not be enough (if any) Siemens LRVs ready to go into service to do this right now.

      6. @Brent

        Why can’t they operate 3 minute headways? They were running service much closer together when their were buses in the tunnel (buses/trains)…

        Maybe I am naive in all of the operational stuff but that’s a total waste of everything. It’s a damn tunnel… you should be able to offer 2 minute headway’s.

      7. Fire Department says no 3 minute headways until Northgate opens, due to ventilation and egress issues with the tunnel north of Westlake.

      8. The problem is not enough trains. All trains are in use now. The maintenance rotation must not be skimped on, so that the trains will last. The Northgate Link trains will have to begin testing in 2020 to make the 2021 opening date. That might mean 4-car trains coming them, with passengers being kicked off at UW Station. (Alternatively, they might run no-passenger trains from Stadium to Northgate in between the regular runs, but that would be annoying and a lost opportunity for capacity.)

        Martin interviewed ST on the ventilation shaft issue and the spokesman said the ventilation shaft frequency constraint is a myth. “When ST deleted the shaft they placed a signal at the midpoint between Capitol Hill and UW. This allows two trains in the three-minute segment between the stations, which means it has the same fundamental 90-second limit as the rest of the signaling system.”

      9. If Link capacity becomes a limitation between the U-District and Downtown, and ST has O&M space for additional trains, then running an extra 5 trains an hour between Stadium and Northgate seems like a no-brainer, especially during weekday peaks and during Mariners/Seahawks/Sounders games. This would give us a 33% increase in capacity for a fairly small capital expenditure.

        This could especially be a big help between 2030 and 2035, when West Seattle Link riders will have to transfer to Central Link at Stadium Station.

        Other cities manage to run trains at 2 minute, or even 90 second headways on their subways. I would hope that Sound Transit can manage the operations for 3 minute headways.

      10. 3 minutes is doable now; it’s just a question of trains and operating costs and layover space. Less than 3 minutes would require capital improvements to the DSTT, which was built in the 1980s. That was on the list of potential ST3 projects, but it wasn’t selected ST chose to go with a second tunnel instead.

    3. The structural problem with exclusive transit lanes Downtown — and especially contraflow lanes — is the small block spacing combined with mandatory signals so pedestrians can cross the street. Unless the City takes the drastic step of closing many of the cross streets, it’s not going to become a more efficient way to move people in buses. Using the DSTT is much faster — and that probably is at the core of the unspoken logic for the bus tunnel in the first place.

      1. It is not a problem. First of all, no transit system, anywhere, moves people quickly through downtown. Most of the time is spent loading and unloading passengers. Even if you have really good dwell times (15 seconds, for example) that will take up the bulk of your time, because the stop spacing is close. But this is as it should be. Too many people want to be 1/4 mile down the road. If downtown Seattle was huge — if it was Manhattan, for example — then express type service (skipping a few stops) would make sense. But we aren’t. Even from the most generous definition of south downtown to north downtown, it isn’t that far. Two miles at the most. Make 1/4 miles stops — go ahead — that is only 8 stops for the entirety of downtown.

        Which means that it really comes down to avoiding times when you go really slow. That is the nature of mass transit. They don’t go fast — even the best of them — they simply avoid going really slow. Eliminate the cars, skip stops so that buses stop only every quarter mile, and you can average a whopping 6, maybe 8 miles and hour.

        I’m not saying the buses can match that. I’m saying that avoiding major slowdowns — avoiding being stuck, because some bozo wants to find that great spot next to the concert hall, and didn’t turn on his signal until the last second — is the difference between moving fast, and moving slow. Keep in mind, our traffic lights favor north-south traffic. Of course they do. They do the same in Manhattan. Same reason, really — it is the nature of the city. You can drive miles in the north south direction, but if you go west, you run into the water. The lights will be green more often than not if you are going north-south. They won’t be “subway fast”, but they will still be a lot faster than they are now, because — more than anything — they avoid being stuck.

      2. I’m afraid you don’t understand Ross. With a two-way operation and small blocks, there cannot be any realistic transit priority. The push for all-door boarding and paid fare areas also reduces dwell time at stops. Signal delay thus becomes a big factor in creating slow buses on Third Avenue.

        Maybe if you rode buses in Downtown LA you would see the difference.

      3. Maybe the “fix” for what you mention, Al — the lights will be synchonized the “wrong” way for the buses — is to not make the lanes contraflow and to put cobble barriers between the GP lanes and the bus lanes. That’s a pretty strong deterrent to most drivers, much more than even red paint.

        Just disallow right turns across the bus lanes. If you need to go “right” after you have been driving on Third or Fourth, you make three lefts or use First, Second, Fifth or Sixth.

        I really do like Ross’s idea of a two-street transit mall, like Portland’s. It makes transit wayfinding very easy and separates riders from general traffic: it’s two lanes away from the stops.

      4. @Al — The point I’m making is that lights generally favor north-south travel. I’m not suggesting extra signal priority — I’m saying it isn’t needed. Take a cab at 3:00 in the morning from Yesler to Denny. Take your pick in terms of a street. Just for fun, ask the cab driver to stop every quarter mile, next to a bus stop, and wait there for a few seconds. My guess is you get there in around 6, maybe 8 minutes at most.

        Of course it would be faster if you were underground. But that just isn’t going to happen. But that would be a dramatic improvement in speed. As I’m writing this, Google says it takes 12 minutes just to get from Yesler to Bell on Third Avenue. At 5:00 AM they say it will take 6 minutes. That isn’t signal priority — that is traffic (and dwell time). That is drivers — in the rightmost lane — clogging things up, preventing a bus from getting to the bus stop. That it just enough cars and trucks to prevent all of the buses from getting past the traffic light. We don’t need signal priority, we just need cars and trucks to avoid the buses.

      5. I think you’re on to something about having buses move in the same direction as traffic, Tom. Contra-flow is an operational disaster for any vehicle driving against the signal progression with the signals so closely spaced and having to go green for cross streets do that pedestrians can cross the street.

        Contra-flow looks cool — but with tiny blocks in a heavy pedestrian area requiring time to walk across streets, it’s pretty operationally useless even if contra-flow lanes are bus-only.

      6. Contra-flow is an operational disaster for any vehicle driving against the signal progression with the signals so closely spaced and having to go green for cross streets do that pedestrians can cross the street.

        Once again, you are missing the point. This would not be as fast as a tunnel. Of course not. No one is disputing that point. We are saying that it would be much, much faster than it is right now.

        You are basically arguing that it doesn’t matter what happens with the cars and trucks. If they were completely banned from downtown, buses would travel at exactly the same speed, because it is the traffic lights slowing them down. Is that really what you believe?

    4. RossB, there are easier ways to speed downtown service: in 2021, with Northgate and four-car Link trains, routes 252, 257, 268, 424, and 545 could be truncated at the UW Link station; routes 74, 76, 77, 316, 301, 304, 308, and 522 could be restructured to feed Link; in 2020, routes 102, 143, 157, 158, and 159 could feed South Sounder; and, next year, the new Council could kill the CCC Streetcar and 1st Avenue could be used for bus routes. So, there will be plenty of capacity without the chamber concepts.

      1. Northgate routes could be truncated…

        Of course. That’s all assumed. Unlike some people, I wouldn’t run a single bus on I-5 between downtown and Northgate after Link gets there. Not to South Lake Union, not to First Hill — nothing. Same with I-90. Not one, single, solitary bus across the lake on that bridge. That’s what the train is for.

        But that still leaves the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19 … should I really go on? Those are just the buses under 20. You also have buses with letters in them: C, D, E, and new members of the alphabet family, H, and J. I can’t list them all. OK, yeah, given enough time I probably could, but come on, man. The great majority of our buses will still go through downtown. Really.

        Think of it regionally. Everyone west of I-5 will still ride a bus to get downtown (and pretty much everywhere else). In the north end that means Magnolia, Queen Anne, Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Greenwood, Bitter Lake and all the sub-neighborhoods (Loyal Heights, Sunset Hill, etc.). You also have the entire West Seattle peninsula, as well as Georgetown, and most of Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley. That is a huge swath of the city.

        That is a boat load of buses. Those that think that Link somehow means that “not that many” buses will run through downtown are delusional. The majority of riders will be on buses that go downtown. Not everyone will ride the whole way. There will be riders who board a 40 in Fremont, headed to Ballard. But they will be pissed off if their bus arrives ten minutes late (followed by another 40) because it got stuck in the mess that is downtown. They will think twice about taking the bus. They will be like *most* of the people in this town, and own a car, being prepared to use it, just for trips like that. They will whine, and wonder why, despite spending billions of dollars — more than just about any city has spent per capita on such things — transit still sucks.

        There is no reason for that. We should do the right thing. Spending hundreds of millions (or billions) on another bus tunnel is a pipe dream. It won’t happen. But building contraflow lanes is actually a proposal put forward by the Downtown Seattle Commission. This isn’t some cockamamie idea from me, or some Seattle Subway yahoos. This is real. This is something that transit advocates should get behind and fight for, tooth and nail. It is likely the biggest improvement we can make for the money spent — by far. I’m talking about tens of thousands of riders who would have a faster ride, and hundreds of thousands who would have a more reliable and frequent trip.

        All for the cost of a bit of wire and some signage (more or less).

      2. “But that still leaves the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19 … should I really go on? Those are just the buses under 20. You also have buses with letters in them: C, D, E, and new members of the alphabet family, H, and J. I can’t list them all. OK, yeah, given enough time I probably could, but come on, man. The great majority of our buses will still go through downtown. Really.”

        The letter routes consolidate corridors, so that you can move the same number of people with fewer buses. Of course the frequency is increased so there are more buses in that sense, but that means they can absorb more of the downtown circulation. When you have a spaghetti of unconsolidated routes, people don’t take the first one going their direction, they wait for their exact route, so that leads to more buses with empty seats. Consolidating corridors and adding crosstown service outside downtown cuts down on that. The future letter routes will replace existing routes and trigger consolidation restructures, so that will both make the downtown routes more efficient and allow people to avoid downtown more easily. Right now the 11/49, 2, and 12 run on three parallel streets a couple blocks apart. That means people can’t take the first bus that comes; they have to decide beforehand which stop to go to, and each street is less frequent than it should be. The G will make Madison full-time frequent, and the 2 will move to Pine-12th-Union to consolidate service there (and replace the 11 and 49). Queen Anne is more difficult to consolidate, but the 3N/4N are now identical and the 3/4/13 all go to the same place. The 1 exists basically for 10th Ave W coverage, but it’s only half-hourly so not that many buses, and it’s through-routed with the 14 so that halves the number of buses downtown.

      3. I agree with what you are saying, Mike, but the point I’m making is that even when Link gets to Lynnwood — hell, even when it gets to Ballard — there will still be lots and lots of buses that go through downtown. They may have different numbers, they may have letters instead, but there will still be huge number carrying people from much of Seattle.

        Focusing on the actually route numbers was just a shorthand (and somewhat smart-ass) way of making my point. What matters is the number per hour, especially during peak. Page 13 of that same document actually goes into that. Interestingly enough, by 2025, unless buses get shifted around a lot, the big drop will occur on Second and Fourth. They actually project an *increase* in buses on Third after 2025. This makes sense, given the general increase in ridership inside the city in areas like Ballard, Greenwood, Aurora, etc. It isn’t until 2035 that they expect the number of buses on Third to drop below current levels. Even then, they expect over 200 buses an hour during rush hour. The projections sound quite reasonable — they aren’t based on a huge increase in ridership — and yet 200 an hour is a lot. That is more than every other transit mall mentioned in the document. But every other one mentioned has only one lane each direction. That is my point. To handle the kind of loads we have now and into the foreseeable future (past 2035) we need two lane each direction, if not more. We kind of have that with Third Avenue right now, but it could be better.

    5. Just for the record, Ross, I’m with you a hundred percent on the just plain wrongness of sacrificing DSTT bus service for anything to do with the Convention Center.

      My point was that from what I could gather, the system was making no effort whatsoever to get itself up to the speed required by changed conditions. Bus or train-side.

      Nor am I noticing any effort to compel the interests behind the Convention Center work to reimburse transit for the amount of damage it’s taking.

      Bad enough no politician in Sound Transit’s territory will even answer my phone calls because of where I live. Are we really completely leaderless and out of ammunition?

      Can anybody name me a single elected official who not only advocates but understands the transit system we need?


      1. What you’re describing is inherent with the stupid way the ST board is populated. The Mayor of some tiny berg gets the same vote (based on political favor) as the head of WSDOT or the County Executive. ST has, not surprisingly, made stupid decisions. Yet, transit “advocates” continue to drink the Kool-Aid and believe ST can do no wrong and changing the way the board is selected is heresy.

        If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Complement of that is…. If it’s IS broke, fix it!

      2. Bernie,

        I doubt anyone here would object to having representation based more on ridership and less on arbitrary political boundaries. That said, what most people are opposed is “direct election” because you then get completely unqualified people on the board. You don’t think there’d be an “ST Board Member from Cement” and one from “Steel”. There’d be one from “Construction” as well. Or more.

        Yes, “Labor” could probably elect a couple of seat, but Holy Mary Mother of God, the opportunities for graft would be stupendous!!!!!

        At least the people of whom the Board is comprised have shown the ability to reach a wide spectrum of voters. Almost nobody is able to “buy” a County Council or major city council seat. Elected school boards, port authorities, and transit “boards” are flooded with people who economically gain from activities in the respective sectors.

        That’s what people who object to the Republicans’ desire to “reform” Sound Transit are afraid of. It’s a $25 billion piggy bank plump and stuffed sitting on a bench.

      3. I’m not categorically against an elected board; I just want more convincing evidence it won’t have a significant risk of making things worse. The ones who are most strongly pushing for an elected board are the anti-tax, anti-transit hawks who want to neutralize it into ineffectiveness. Then there are those voters who want their pet projects regardless of whether it benefits regional transit as a whole. West Seattle voting for somebody who promises them a tunnel; Kirkland voting for somebody who keeps trains and BRT out of south Kirkland. To an extent we already have that with councilmembers/mayors voting for their own interests: is Issaquah Link really what East King most needs? But at least councilembers/mayors are responsible for their entire city and understand the negative impacts of cars and the need for non-car mobility, because getting people efficiently to jobs improves the city’s economy. Narrow-issue voters can ignore these. The Port commissioners are elected; does that make the Port better?

  11. “All this matters because …” All of this doesn’t matter. Link will replace the 550, and none of the reasons for lower 550 ridership will exist in 2023.

    1. To be seen, I think. Give people four more years to organize their lives around a bus that doesn’t work for them and maybe their circumstances won’t be so transit-amenable in 2023.

      The rationale for having ST Express is to build ridership for future rail by helping potential future riders to organize their lives around good enough express buses until the trains come online?

      1. Yeah, that’s the problem. Folks who get fed up with their commute find another job. People start working from home. A lot of those riders won’t go back to using transit.

        Eventually I don’t think it will matter. But in the short term — in the period right after Link gets built — it could hurt ridership.

    2. When East Link comes online there will be a singificant junp in ridership due to pent-up demand, like we saw in Capitol Hill and UW and will see in Northgate. People who put up with the previous buses or didn’t use them, and both wanted something better which has finally come/will finally come. The kind of transit they should have had decades ago. Countervailing that if people who get turned off from transit due to the worsening 550 conditions. But remember, the conditions were even worse than that before the 550 became frequent and when its predecessors stopped at even more haystacks. The 550 did build up its impressive ridership over twenty years, and Link can do the same, even if there’s a reversal in between. The most important thing is to eliminate this sixty-year gap where multiple generations grew up without streetcars or adequate bus service and learned from birth not to expect it and to trust in private cars instead.

      1. I expect a jump in ridership too. However, college students are much more adaptable and transient than older working adults. It will take a few more months or years to fully get ridership growth to and from the Eastside than we saw with UW and Capitol Hill beyond those already using transit.

  12. Comment Section: We hate Park and Rides! Park and Rides are evil!
    Report: Park and Ride closure hurts ST’s most popular route.
    Comment Section: We love Park and Rides!

    1. Nobody said we love park and rides. Park and rides do the same thing they’ve always done: they mitigate a specific problem of unwalkable land use and cul-de-sacs in suburban areas. They’re used as a first step in improving mobility in the area and lowering the vehicle-miles traveled.

      In Mercer Island’s case, even though it’s called a park n ride it’s the only stop on the island, and the only stop to walk to Mercer island’s downtown businesses. It’s also a transfer point (e.g., westbound 554 to eastbound 550). Not everybody there is parking.

  13. A question about the 2026 ridership diagram: is that only for the Eastlink segment, or for the entire Blue Line from Downtown Redmond to Lynnwood?

    1. Thanks for the source!

      My comment is directed at the terrible information provided in the slide. It says the I-90 Corridor but ignores Metro routes operating today — including riders that will use Judkins Park for trips inside Seattle. It apparently includes future Link trips between Redmond and Bellevue even though they aren’t near I-90. The Blue Line is not the same thing as East Link. Simply put, it’s a flawed comparison with the wrong terminology on the slide.

  14. I used to be a daily rider of the 550 from Convention Place to Mercer Island… no more.

    Not only has the reliability and on time performance plummeted but also standing on 5th and Union waiting for a bus in terrible. The transit tunnel provided shelter and an ‘controlled’ environment which is woefully absent while standing on the street in all weather conditions. I’d rather, and do, ride a Jump bike than stand on the street and wait for the bus

    1. This comment points to a subtle issue for a segment of suburban peak riders: how “nice” the experience is. This incorporates the physical stop environment, perceived and real safety, and service quality. Stop location/ease of access matters too. With the exception of real safety, all of that is worse now for the 550.

      1. I’m worried you’re assuming OP is a “suburban peak rider”, and even if they are, I disagree that their concerns are specific to their demographic.

        Experience affects everyone. I would take a Beacon Hill station elevator over a Westlake elevator any day. Why? If you’ve taken the latter, guess.

        I’d rather catch my bus in a monitored, patrolled tunnel with beautiful platforms, than on a rainy surface street around 3rd and Pike, which is infamous.

        The issue isn’t subtle nor specific to a segment of riders.

    2. You hate standing out on the street for a few minutes waiting for a bus in “all weather conditions,” but you don’t mind riding a bike from Downtown to Mercer Island in the same weather conditions?

      Sam. Comment Section Detetive.

      1. It is usually more than just a few minutes, as is noted by deterioration of on time performance. With formerly boarding the bus that Convention Place where the line originated on time performance was very reliable, and rain shelters available with available seating. Standing at the corner of 5th and Union which has much less sidewalk space is much more unpleasant and bus arrival unpredictable than prior. Also, at least at Convention Place and the DSTT there were fewer incidences of meth addicts and other unstable people harassing waiting passengers.

        So yes… I’d rather ride a jump bike in the rain than stand on the corner in the rain.

      2. Standing and waiting is more boring than moving and makes people impatient. Still, I could hardly believe Wu really meant riding a Jump bike from downtown to Mercer Island in the rain. I would only bike that far in the rain if the bike had rain guards on the wheels and I had waterproof pants. Do Jump bikes have rain guards? I’ve never looked closely because I’ve never ridden one.

    3. Jump bikes are very expensive – I ran some back-of-the-envelope numbers and calculated that a round trip Jump bike commute between Mercer Island and downtown Seattle would cost about the same as driving downtown and parking in a garage. It is far, far cheaper to do the trip on your own bike.

      1. Supposedly there would be station entrances off Rainier. I’d hope you’d be able to run a westbound bus around the cloverleaf going south to get to that station entrance.

        Eastbound is more difficult, but perhaps the concrete divider from southbound Rainier to eastbound I-90 could be trimmed to allow the occasional bus to turn left from northbound Rainier?

        Seems to me that would be an important place for crossovers, as if they have to close the bridge segment for maintenance or weather issues or whatever they’ll have to turn the trains someplace.

      2. Ah, but I have an uber pass ($25) on two phones, thus 60 minutes of riding for $50 per month. Half as much for an ORCA pass. FOR THE WIN….

        And please believe, I am a transit geek from LA… and I have been amazed and blown away but Seattle, Sound Transit, and King County’s inability to manage any sort of reputable transit system over the last 20 years. LAMTA lead the way! ;)

      3. I hadn’t thought of using the west-to-south cloverleaf, so maybe it would work. Breaching the divider for buses wouldn’t work, though, because they’d be on the west side of four lane Rainier; the turn would be too close ti move across traffic to it.

        That said, they might be able to get over by Massachusetts which has a light, turn left there then right on 21st and right on Rainier. The diagonal layout of Rainier means one less turn than normal for a reversing loop.

        Maybe a temporary signal that can be activated by the bus could be added at 21st South and Rainier.

        The biggest downside is the relatively long walk between the train platforms which are closer to 23rd and the bus platform below the bridge. But it would be LOTS faster than the slog through downtown for anyone headed to University or Westlake.

  15. Does the 550 suck bad enough for it to be worthwhile to send it to Mt Baker? It’s the wrong direction but it’s also only 12 minutes on Link to Jackson.

    What would be really nice is to have the Judkins Park segment of East Link open a few years early, if possible, and get the rest going as possible.

    1. I think there’s no reversing cross-overs planned at Judkins Park. I agree it would make a lot of sense, but not as a bus intercept. I thought about suggesting it but realized, “Where the heck are the buses going to stop for the transfer–both ways? The Link station took their stop!”

    2. Going to and from Mt Baker Link Station and I-90 is fairly punitive for riders to and from Downtown Seattle, adding time on buses on an often-congested Rainier, getting across Rainier Ave from the transit center to the station entrance, and riding 10-12 minutes on Link just to get back to ID Station.

      Opening Judkins Park early is an idea I’ve floated before. However, I wonder if the necessary rail systems can be fully tested in something like late 2021 or early 2022. Even if it’s possible, there isn’t a good way to turn around I-90 buses there. It may be too late to redesign the area to turn a bus around and there isn’t momentum to design and implement changes. I guess a westbound I-90 bus could exit on the loop ramp, drop off passengers under I-90 on southbound Rainier, and have some special signal preemption to turn left and get to a bus-only entrance that connects to the eastbound I-90 on-ramp from northbound Rainier. It’s a lot of moving parts including designing new pavement and new signals that would have to align to make it happen.

    3. Trailhead Direct went to Mt Baker the first year. I rode it westbound once and the detour felt excessively long and time-consuming and gas-consuming. I thought, “If only Judkins Park station were open”. But with East Link the shuttle won’t even cross the lake; it will probably terminate at South Bellevue.

      1. I do ride a JUMP Bike every day, rain or not…. I don’t have all the rain gear but i just bring change of pants and socks to work.

        Let it be a testament to the deterioration of the 550.

        Its better than being on the 550 with soggy, sad, Seattlites. ;)

      2. It’s not just the water the wheels kick up soaking my legs; it’s the spots of mud it left all over my clothes. I got caught in the rain a couple times commuting from the U-District to Harborview. Then I started installing a rain guard whenever I got another bike and wearing that vinyl rainwear, or I didn’t ride in the rain and came back for the bike the next day.

    4. While downtown Seattle and the freeway approaches are certainly slow areas for the 550, Mt. Baker is far enough out of the way that you’d be increasing rider travel time significantly. When the early Seattle Squeeze ideas were being kicked around a few years ago, one of the ideas was to truncate all suburban buses at UW Station and IDS. Sound Transit removed the 550 from that discussion early on due to excessive cumulative impacts on the route from East Link construction, and of course the whole idea was later dropped (except for the North Eastside restructure). But the same reasoning holds today; you’d kill the 550’s ridership by diverting it.

      As to trying to utilize the Judkins Park segment early, there are a couple things that make it not worth pursuing:
      1) The critical path for East Link (as a whole) is systems installation and testing. This isn’t scheduled to be complete until early 2022.
      2) The I-90 ramp configuration at Rainier precludes a good eastbound connection.

  16. Transit options for the next 4-5 years have a big impact on where people choose to live and business locate. The long drawn out ST process created a terrible outcome for East Link. #1 rail is on the wrong bridge… it just gets worse from there but let’s not forget it was “proved” Link could not get to Issaquah so the ditch in the swamp was way smarter than the alignment real engineers figured out a century ago.

    1. I don’t really understand what you’re saying.

      Why is it the wrong bridge? If you chose to route Link on 520 you’d totally miss downtown Bellevue! Also the travel time will be pretty damn good. Overlake to pioneer square in 30 minutes? Downtown Bellevue to Westlake in 20 minutes? These times will surely beat driving across either bridge where I have personally spent countless times 40 minutes+ during peak times

    2. It’s way too late to debate this! Billions have already been spent!

      I’ll also note that using the I-90 bridges between the two downtowns is a shorter distance than 520 would be.

    3. I-90 was the alignment in Forward Thrust, and the 1980s completion of the freeway designed it for eventual rail in the center lanes. Why not leverage the preparations previous generations have made? As a bonus it serves Mercer Island. The Eastside’s population concentration is between the two bridges, so it’s one half dozen to the other which bridge is used. A 520 line would have to zigzag down to downtown Bellevue, which is doable but what’s the point?

      “it was “proved” Link could not get to Issaquah so the ditch in the swamp was way smarter than the alignment real engineers figured out a century ago.”

      I don’t know what you’re talking about. Seattle-Issaquah didn’t happen because Issaquah is so small and it would duplicate the Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond line too much. Instead they did a cross line which serves more areas and connects Issaquah to Bellevue (its own subarea, and closer to Redmond jobs), while allowing a train-to-train transfer to Seattle. By “ditch in the swamp” I assume you mean crossing the Slough to 405. The biggest problem with that is environmental activists threatening to sue saying it’s an unacceptable environmental impact. They did say it could go underground, but that would be very expensive. As for “the alignment real engineers figured out a century ago”, what was that? The alignment a century ago followed an Indian trail through Snoqualmie Pass; it was built as a road as US Highway 10, which became I-90. And it crosses the Slough, which is exactly what the environmental activists say is impermissible for a new line now.

    4. The biggest problems in East Link are the location of the downtown Bellevue station (should be further west closer to the pedestrian center and further from 405), and the surface segments in Bel-Red and Redmond that slow down the trains. I don’t see anything wrong with the south Bellevue alignment, other than that it would have been more productive on Bellevue Way with stations at Old Bellevue and Bellevue Square. But Kemper crusaded against that alignment and got it removed from consideration.

  17. Most RapidRide lines trigger a restructure around them. What kind of restructure could the H (Delridge) facilitate? It’s hard to think of any because its corridor is so isolated. Or are there any opportunities there?

  18. How much of the loss in ridership on the ST550 is due to the loss of riders who used it as a shuttle between downtown tunnel stops? Before the buses left the tunnel if you were riding between the International District and Westlake station you would just hop on the available vehicle, bus or train. And since the ST550 ran all day it is logical that it was used a lot for this purpose.

    1. I don’t know if we can tell that. ST might have an estimate. But those riders were spread out across all the routes, and they probably mainly used the other bus stop where more routes converged (101, 106, inbound terminating routes).

    2. I’ve wondered that too.

      ST should have some indirect data to estimate this on both ST Express buses (lost riders) and on Link (gained riders). Without staff pursuing the data, we just don’t know and are left to speculate.

    3. Link wouldn’t gain all the riders. The reason people went down to the tunnel for intra-downtown trips was that either a train or bus would probably come in a few minutes. Now it’s only one train every ten minutes. The 7/14/36 leave every few minutes and shadow all the stations. And now that cars are banned from Third, they’re not as slow as they used to be.

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