UPDATE: 11/2/19: Sound Transit’s final (not draft) Service Implementation Plan recommends “temporarily” keeping up to 10 one-way trips of the 541. The analysis still stands.

Because it replaces the Overlake-UW 541, the proposed Sound Transit Route 544 at first glance seem designed for Redmond/Overlake users, albeit one that serves them awkwardly.  But I think a better way to conceive of it is as a bus for Eastsiders in general, and Kirkland-Seattle commuters in particular. 

When we first wrote about the 544 last month, a few readers gave it a huh? reaction. Commenter asdf2:

In the afternoon commute, I’m guess you’d start on the 544 from SLU. But, even then, getting off at Yarrow Point and transferring to a 542/545 will likely be faster than sitting through the South Kirkland P&R detour. 

And RossB:

This bus will only appeal to a small number of riders. If you are in Redmond, it makes sense to take the 545, which serves a bigger part of downtown, and has oodles of options for getting to South Lake Union. If you are at South Kirkland Park and Ride, and headed to South Lake Union, it is great. 

That last line is key. The route’s main benefit is the connection to SLU, and the beneficiaries are going to be mostly in Kirkland.

Metro and ST are keen to start sending some buses to the neighborhood in advance of the direct 520-Mercer connection being planned for 2023. Downtown is multipolar, and it’s good in general for agencies to recognize that not all buses must go to the CBD. Unfortunately in the short term the Stewart exit will make this specific route a bit of a bummer, but you can see some appeal of having a 1- or 2-seat ride to SLU from nearly all of Kirkland.

For Overlake riders, especially those not going directly to SLU, the 544 will be a regression from the 541, as the detour to South Kirkland will cost 5-10 minutes in the PM peak. Add to that the fact that the 545 will no longer do the costly afternoon loop into the OTC bus bays and instead only serve the 520 freeway stop, and the meandering 544 is now the only ST service on the east side of 520 in Overlake. So riders will either take it or face a long walk across the freeway to and from the flyer stops on the west side.

For Overlake-UW, it will be possible to transfer to the 542 or 255 at Evergreen Point, and the increased frequency of the 255 (6 minutes at peak) should make that transfer smoother, but still not as good as today’s 541.

So I think you have to think of the 544 as mostly being a peace offering for Kirkland riders who are losing the 540 and (likely) having the 255 truncated at UW. Overlake riders can console themselves with the fact that that the blue line opens in just a few short years, while South Kirkland will be buses only for a couple of decades.

29 Replies to “ST544: for Kirkland, Redmond, or both?”

  1. The 544 is an improvement that will make much more sense when the blue line opens, or when construction at the Montlake exit is complete. With no 520 freeway stop at Montlake, the 541 is used much more than it used to be (fresh usage data is needed), and I know many people who take it to transfer to the red line.

    1. True, and that means it shouldn’t be implemented until 2023-2024 when those things actually happen. We keep revising and deleting service way too early, before the facilities that are supposed to pick up the slack are built.

  2. I agree with your thought process for why the 544 was created. But, even if the 544 skipped South Kirkland, SLU would still be a two-seat ride away from most of Kirkland, anyway, since you would still be able to transfer to it at Yarrow Point.

    The only people that really benefit from the 544 detouring to South Kirkland P&R are those that either drive to the P&R or live within walking distance of it. The walkshed of South Kirkland P&R is limited to about one apartment building and two condominium complexes, although some from further away may choose to access the bus by jogging the CKC trail.

    As to people who drive to the P&R, it looks good for them on the surface. But, when you dig deeper, the P&R is already filled to capacity, so anyone that drives there to ride the 544 will simply be displacing another rider who arrives later, not actually increasing the system-wide passenger volume. Worse, by creating a one-seat ride to SLU just from the P&R, you incentivize people who live further up the 255 route (and work an early enough schedule) to drive to the P&R, rather than pick up a bus that goes right by their home. This not only results in more congestion for the 255, but also makes the P&R fill up even earlier than it does presently.

    1. What about the local Kirkland routes that stop at the P&R but don’t get on the freeway station?

      1. That includes only the 234,235 and 249.

        The 234/235 case is only useful if coming from a lightly populated stretch of Lake Washington Blvd. From Kirkland Transit Center, just take the 255. The 249 is very infrequent, and almost nobody rides it, and from either DT Bellevue or Overlake, you have better options.

      2. The mere presence of that P&R results in a lot of sub-par routing for all of South and Central Kirkland. For the 255 is mostly a slight annoyance as it does a loop that feels a little superfluous (a lot of riders in that area will wait at the stop immediately *after* the P&R anyways), but DT Kirkland to DT Bellevue especially suffers as the 234/235 diverts into that P&R and then continues down Northrup rather then just go straight down Lake Washington Blvd as it turns into Bellevue Way. I’d totally believe that the current usage statistics make it seem like they should divert more buses into it, but plenty of riders there would be just as happy transfering at a different point and from a network quality perspective they’d be much better off if it just disappeared.

        I can’t help but suspect that the S Kirkland P&R also resulted in them not having a highway stop at Bellevue Way/Lake Washington Blvd which would have had a ton more transfer potential then Yarrow Point or Evergreen Point and given justification for more sensible routing of the 234/235 and a Kirkland Bellevue RapidRide. Maybe some time in 2050 or later when we have light rail going through S Kirkland and onwards to DT Kirkland the P&R will make sense, but until then it feels like Metro/ST are bending over backwards to justify poor placement of a transit center.

      3. the 234/235 diverts into that P&R and then continues down Northrup rather then just go straight down Lake Washington Blvd as it turns into Bellevue Way.

        The 234/235 goes down Northup, which has a large UW Medicine Facility now, and then serves 116th (aka Bellevue’s Medical Mile). There are currently two large senior living centers under construction along 116th. Anchoring the south end is Overlake Medical Center, which is building another tower, and Kaiser (aka old Group Health). The P&R is a major transfer point for the 234/235.

      4. When the 544 is created come March, the 234/235 goes away, so the only routes that will go through S Kirkland will be 544 (SLU Overlake), 250 (Redmond Kirkland Bellevue), 255 (Totem Lake Kirkland UW), and the uselessly infrequent 249 (Overlake S Kirkland Bellevue).

      5. Same problem in OTC, if you want to transfer from Route B to 542, you have to cross the highway

    2. I’m with asdf2 on this. There will be riders, just not that many. Either that, or the ridership will be driven by people who wished the bus went somewhere else. For example, what if you live along Lakeview and want to get to downtown Seattle. Unless you walk up to 108th, your only option is to start by taking the new 250 towards South Kirkland. Then what? I think you take the first bus heading to Seattle. Either way you have to transfer. Neither is much better, really.

      The problem is that there aren’t that many people who prefer a special bus to South Lake Union. Not that many people are headed there, and it isn’t that far away from other parts of downtown. The 309, for example, is a lot less crowded than the 312 or 522. I know someone who catches the bus from 80th and 20th (the last stop outside downtown for the 312/309/522). He says that buses often skip his stop. Sometimes he takes the 309, just because it arrives first. It takes him longer to get to work, but at least it isn’t so crowded.

      I also met someone who lives in Lake City and works on First Hill. He says he tries to catch the 309, but often just ends up on a 522 or 312. He just hoofs it up the hill. Getting to South Lake Union would be easier.

      In that sense, I agree with you Frank. This is about Kirkland. But it serves Kirkland in such a half ass way that it is ridiculous. How about this instead: A bus starts at Kirkland Transit Center, then goes down Lakeview to South Kirkland Park and Ride (this doubles up service along Lakeview, providing those riders with another way to get to Bellevue). The bus continues on to downtown. Not South Lake Union, not First Hill — downtown.

      The big flaw from Kirkland’s perspective is that it only serves a tiny little corner of it. The big flaw from Redmond’s perspective is that it serves it at all.

  3. I think the fact that it being faster to switch to the 545/542 at the 520 freeway stations is a feature rather than a bug. That’s probably part of why they decided to combine hours from both the 540, 541, and stop removals from the 545, so they could make the 544 serve the most places while being frequent. Pushing headways down to 12 minutes is important if transferring is expected to be commonplace.

    The only segment of riders that are not likely to get a faster trip from transferring are Overlake P&R (or other non-freeway stops in Overlake) to SLU, very specifically. So with the 545 being made faster for people and good transfer opportunities available on 520 on both sides of Kirkland, the decision to include the S. Kirkland stop probably seemed like a way to add connections to local routes while delaying through-riders on average less than the actual detour, assuming they transfer. Is it worth it for the extra connections? It’s debatable. Certainly the new frequent 250 coming at the same time is significant, and a RapidRide line is also planned for S. Kirkland.

    One other thing worth noting is that there currently is no 520 bus that runs from S. Kirkland *east* to Overlake, which seems unusual since Overlake is a job center. And getting over there today is somewhat circuitous and inconvenient. The new 544 will make this trip easy and quick.

    1. What do you mean that it is “circuitous and inconvenient” to go from S Kirkland to Overlake? I feel that the 249, admittedly an infrequent local coverage route, has a reasonable straight shot from S Kirkland to east to Overlake.

      1. It really depends on where I’m Overlake you are going. And though it’s geographically pretty straight (until you get to the Lake Sammamish Blvd. section), it’s still significantly slower most of the time. And of course there’s that big loop over by Lake Sammamish that makes the northern part of Overlake much quicker to walk to from an earlier stop than to ride all the way.

        S. Kirkland to…
        Overlake P&R: 20 minutes
        Overlake TC: 38 minutes

  4. I still think we need a third bridge on the lake, between Sand Point and Kirkland. Build it only for buses, pedestrians and bikes.

    The proposed detour on 544 will take for sure more than 10 minutes (545 takes 5-7 minutes for the Capitol Hill detour). It’s a bad compromise, and I am not sure anyone in Redmond will be happy about it.

  5. Ridership on new route 544 from Redmond is going to crater relative to the 541.
    Maybe ST is hoping to get transfers from other routes at evergreen or yarrow point? although 271 still doesn’t stop at either . :(

    They would have kept current ridership from Overlake- Yarrow Point if they didn’t divert to S Kirkland.

    Note that a yarrow point transfer would have been both faster and a better experience for the current Kirkland area ridership that wants to get to SLU – which is people on the 255.

    1. When the 541 gets replaced with the 544, where will the 541 riders go? Will there even be room for them on the 542 and 545, which are already filled to capacity during peak hours? Last I checked, no trips are being added to the 542 to compensate for the loss of the 541.

      I can imagine a world where people grudgingly ride the 544 from Redmond to the 255 at South Kirkland P&R, even though it takes longer than just riding the 542, because it’s the only way to avoid being left behind at the bus stop.

      1. RossB is right that downtown-bound buses really do provide what is, effectively, a one-seat ride to downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. For instance, I live in Kirkland and regularly ride the 255 to both South Lake Union and Capitol Hill. For South Lake Union, I use the stops at 9th/Stewart (westbound) and 8th/Olive (eastbound) and walk. For Capitol Hill, I use the stops and Stewart/Denny (westbound) and Olive/Boren (eastbound) and, again, walk. I don’t transfer to the who-knows-when-the-hell-its-going-to-show-up 8, nor do I slog it all the way to 5th/Pine on the bus, only to transfer to a 10/49/40/streetcar.

        We’ve had past discussions on STB about an unfunded freeway station at the Olive Way ramp to connect the 255 and 545 to Capitol Hill. Thanks, ironically, to bus stops getting re-jiggered to work around the convention center construction, the bus stop at Olive Way/Boren is, effectively, an I-5/Olive Way freeway station, whose primary market is Capitol Hill.

        Given this, one has to ask how much value the 544 provides a SLU-bound rider over the existing 545, and whether it’s enough to make it worth enduring a South Kirkland P&R detour (or a transfer at Yarrow Point) to get it. For most of SLU, I believe the answer is probably a “no”. Choosing Westlake/Thomas as an arbitrary point to represent the center of SLU, it’s 0.45 miles from 9th/Stewart and 0.2 miles from the nearest route 544 stop, at Thomas/Fairview. Is it worth waiting for either an extra connection or a South Kirkland P&R detour, plus sitting in traffic longer on the bus, to save a mere 1/4 mile in walking? Considering that 1/4 mile walk takes just 5 minutes at 3 mph, and answer to that one is almost certainly “no”. Even with the 544, a commuter from the Microsoft area would still have a quicker and more reliable trip by just taking the 545 and walking, exactly like they do today.

        Westbound, the walk to the bus stop is a little bit further, and the 544 would save 0.4 miles of walking instead of 0.25. But, to do it, it has to sit in traffic, trying to turn left from Boren onto Olive, whereas, the 545, once you hit 8th/Olive, it’s a straight shot down a bus lane to I-5. All things considered, I think the 545 still wins.

        You can make similar arguments for other parts of SLU. For instance, if you work by the Amazon spheres at 6th/Lenora, that’s just two blocks walk from the 545 at Stewart/7th. Again, you don’t need a South Lake Union bus for a one-seat ride to South Lake Union.

        For Kirkland, the merits of the 544 are better than they are for Redmond, with the 255 not going downtown anymore and the South Kirkland P&R slog being a sunk cost that you have to pay, no matter what you do. Even then, whether the 544 actually beats riding the 255 to UW Station, switching to Link, and walking, simply comes down to a guessing game, as to how bad the relative traffic will be on I-5, the Stewart St. ramp, and Fairview vs. the ramp from 520 to Montlake. Some days, one will win, some days, the other will win. And, you won’t be able to tell which option will win on a given day until you’re committed.

  6. One of the valuable things about this run is that it gives ST (and Metro) some data. For example, one value is an express of sorts from South Kirkland to Redmond. We’ll have an idea of how many people actually use it.

    Unfortunately, the particulars about this route will still leave a bunch of questions when we are done. If ridership is low from Redmond, is that because people hate the detour, or because there just aren’t that many people who want to wait for a bus headed to South Lake Union. How many riders in Kirkland are taking this bus because it is the only bus from Kirkland that comes close to downtown?

    More than anything, this bus just seems weird, and indicative of an agency (or agencies) not sure what to do in the area. Do you keep sending buses to downtown via 520, or truncate them all in the UW? The answer appears muddled. Kirkland loses its all day express to downtown, replaced by service to the UW. Except Totem Lake keep their rush hour expresses to downtown. Kirkland also adds this bus — a rush hour express to north downtown (AKA South Lake Union) serving only the Park and Ride. Redmond keeps its express to downtown, and on top of it, they have this: A rush hour express to South Lake Union, that makes a detour to Kirkland at the worst possible time of day.

    There is still no quick way to get to the UW from Totem Lake most of the day. There are still no express buses (pretty much anywhere) from Juanita, despite it being one of the more densely populated areas. I think the restructure had some good features, but overall it just feels muddled, like the agencies involved couldn’t figure out what they want to do. This route seems like a great example of that.

  7. So if I read it correctly, instead if direct route from DT Kirkland to DT Seattle I have to use two buses? I will use a car then :(

    1. It’s not two buses. It’s one bus to Husky Stadium, followed by Link from Husky Stadium to downtown. In exchange for having to switch to Link to go downtown, you get the following:
      – Frequent service that lasts all day, everyday, not just daytime hours, Monday-Friday. As an added bonus, this frequency boost facilitates not just Kirkland->Seattle, but also getting around within Kirkland.
      – All-day service to the U-district that takes one bus, instead of two buses.
      – The ability to bypass traffic delays on I-5 and downtown streets
      – If the bus is crowded and you have to stand, you won’t be standing for nearly as long, since you won’t be riding the bus all the way downtown. Once on Link, you will, for sure, get a seat, because Husky Stadium is the beginning of the line.
      – Starting in 2021, the new 255+Link will get to Roosevelt and Northgate much more quickly than the old 255 would (which would force either an additional bus connection or a long detour downtown).

      Yes, there is some overhead to the transfer. However, keep in mind that the train runs every 10 minutes all day, and every 6 minutes in rush hour, so you won’t be waiting for it very long. They will also be adding some bus stops in the Montlake triangle, allowing the new 255 to drop off passengers right next to the station, avoiding the need to cross the street.

      Already, I’ve experimented with transferring to Link vs. riding the 255 on through. With no traffic, it’s basically a wash. Link can be either a few minutes faster, or a few minutes slower, depending on how long you have to wait on a particular day. With traffic – especially during rush hour – switching to Link almost always wins, sometimes by as much as 20 minutes.

      The only time when you would really miss the old 255 is when there’s a Husky game going on, and the new 255 has to fight the game traffic to get to the station. Fortunately, this happens only 6 times per year, and only on Saturdays. When it does happen, you can avoid the game traffic by transferring to the 545 at Yarrow Point or Evergreen Point station, which still goes downtown. Yes, it’s annoying, but, again, it is only 6 days out of the year.

      1. But will the 255->Link cost the same as a single 255 ride? If your commute costs are higher, your wash becomes some people’s financial hardships.

        And no, Orca Lift is not a substitute. Many people who will feel the pain of the extra cost do not qualify for Orca Lift.

      2. But will the 255->Link cost the same as a single 255 ride?

        Yes, unless you ride Link well outside of downtown (e. g. the airport).

      3. For Orca payers, it’s a free transfer to Link to go downtown. For cash payers, it will cost double. To avoid the double fare, just get an Orca card. With Orca card machines right there at the transfer point, there are no excuses.

        Ultimately, fare considerations for the small minority of people who refuse to get Orca cards should not dictate our transit network. We had the same concern with northeast Seattle buses in 2016. It is hard, today, to argue with a straight face that we should still be running the 71/72/73 downtown, just to keep the fares down for those who insist on cash.

      4. 255 Klrkland-UW: $2.75
        Link UW-Westlake: $2.50
        Link UW-Intl Dist: $2.50
        Link UW-Rainier Beach: $2.75
        Link UW-SeaTac: $3.25

        So you would only pay more if you’re going beyond the Seattle city limits. And if you’re going to Capitol Hill, SODO, Beacon Hill, or any of the stations south of it, your trip will be faster and more convenient transferring to Link at UW rather than downtown.

  8. We should have kept the 72 from Husky Stadium north at the very least. There’s an entire neighborhood without transit as a result of its removal. Yet we kept the 71 and 73, despite them having duplicate routes for the most part.

    1. What neighborhood is without service? Some people have had to walk an extra block or two for service, but nobody was simply left with nothing.

      1. The entire neighborhood between 15th and Ravenna, south of Lake City Way, had its transit options gutted. Their “grid service” was completely eliminated. I’ve made the walk from old 72 territory to 20th and Lake City Way. It is longer than you think, and the terrain/roads don’t make it an easy walk either. I’m pretty healthy, enough to be able to walk from 98th and Lake City to UW HUB. Easily the worst part is right where the 72 used to be.

  9. Route 72 served Lake City Way NE, Ravenna Avenue NE, NE 80th Street, and 15th Avenue NE. Route 68 served NE 75th Street. A Joy may be objecting to the loss of the east-west segments of routes 68 and 72. the north-south arterials have better frequency on the remaining routes 62, 75, 372, and 71-73-373. routes 312 and 522 serve a stop pair on SR522 at 20th Avenue NE.

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