Metro has revealed their preferred alignment for RapidRide K in Kirkland. The service will operate between Downtown and Totem Lake via NE 85th and 124th Ave NE on Rose Hill. In South Kirkland, it will follow 6th St and 108th Ave. The decision has implications for several other routes which will be moved or shortened.
The service, scheduled to open in 2025 will connect Totem Lake to Eastgate via downtown Kirkland and Bellevue.
Within Kirkland, there were two pairs of alternatives to consider. In North Kirkland, the 2016 Metro Connects long range plan would have routed the RapidRide along Market St (alternative A1). Metro instead has selected an alignment connecting downtown to the Stride BRT station on 85th, then to Totem Lake Transit Center via 124th Ave (alternative A2). The A2 alternative avoids overlap with Metro 255 service on Market St north of downtown Kirkland in the Metro Connects plan. That step would surely have been very unpopular with riders.
In South Kirkland, the preferred RapidRide alignment is on 6th St and 108th Ave (the B2 alternative). The B1 alternative would have had RapidRide follow the current 234/235 routing on Lake Washington Blvd. That means buses to Seattle and Bellevue are expected to swap corridors, with the 255 moving to Lake Washington Blvd, and the new Bellevue service moving off Lake Washington Blvd to 108th.
The preferred A2/B2 segments somewhat outperform the alternatives on other metrics. In each case, somewhat more destinations are served by RapidRide, and the A2 option in North Kirkland is markedly faster than the often congested Market St corridor. Ridership doesn’t appear very different. By connecting the 85th St BRT station, the A2 alignment resolves the debate how to get riders to that station from downtown. It remains to be seen whether Bellevue-bound riders won’t prefer simply to take a southbound RapidRide over a northbound RapidRide to a Bellevue-bound BRT.
In correspondence, Jeff Switzer of King County Metro emphasized “the only decision being made at this point is the RapidRide K Line alignment. We can anticipate changes to other routes , but final decisions would be made as part of upcoming service restructures.” Even before RapidRide opens, there will be at least one other restructure of Eastside bus service associated with the Link extensions to Bellevue and Redmond in 2023 and 2024.
Beyond the 255, at least two new routes in Kirkland are likely to be affected. The Bellevue to Kirkland leg of the new Metro 250 becomes redundant with the introduction of RapidRide whichever corridor it follows. Switzer offered reassurance the truncated 250 would remain frequent however. “The 250 would continue to provide a valuable, frequent, all-day connection between Kirkland-Redmond. During NEMP outreach we heard overwhelming support for this from members in both communities. We agree that connecting these two important, growing markets is a priority for Metro as well.”
There are presumably implications for new route 239 with the choice of the A2 alignment for Rapid Ride. That route, to be introduced in March 2020, will connect Bothell via Totem Lake and Rose Hill to Kirkland. The segment between Kirkland and Totem Lake becomes redundant with Rapidride.
There will be likely changes to the network in Bellevue too. RapidRide replaces a busy segment of route 271, but there will be extensive East Link and Redmond Link restructures to consider before then, perhaps revising much of the local Metro network.
One intriguing aspect of more frequent service to Bellevue is that Kirkland riders will have two pathways to light rail at UW and in Bellevue. Because the pathways have limited overlap, riders are likely to choose whichever is closest to their starting point as their route to Seattle. Jeff Switzer writes: “The proposed alignment for RapidRide K Line to travel on 108th Ave NE/6th St S and 85th St NE/124th Avenue NE would produce a win-win for riders. Both segments – B1 and B2 – become valuable corridors for transit to connect riders to high-speed, high-capacity light rail into Seattle – either at UW Station or to East Link at Bellevue Transit Center.”
A letter from the City of Kirkland details concerns about Metro 255 service post-RapidRide. It is after all the most popular service in Kirkland and there are mixed views among the travelling public about upcoming changes in March 2020 that will increase service on the route but also require a transfer at UW station for Seattle-bound riders.
If one considers the BRT as serving downtown, there will be three frequent buses on three distinct routes between downtown and Totem Lake in 2025. The long range plan did not envision running both 255 and RapidRide to Totem Lake. At a time when Metro has committed a lot of resources to Kirkland (the NEMP added more than 20,000 hours over 2018 levels), the city ought to be nervous whether there will be enough riders to maintain so much service. The city hopes more development in the southeast of Totem Lake will bolster RapidRide ridership.