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All three Stride BRT lines are set to launch in 2024. While there are some refinements on the north side of I-405 with expansion of the express toll lanes and new inline stops, BRT benefits will be more significant on the south side of I-405, which is getting express toll lanes for the first time (compared to the frustratingly ineffective HOV2 lanes on the corridor today).

While freeway improvements would go a long way to improving express bus service in this corridor, there is still a problem of how service is organized and routed currently. Today’s bus service is a mix of remnants of the old service pattern from the early 2000s (when Bellevue buses went to Federal Way and South Hill) and new route 567 service which takes advantage of timed Sounder transfers and the new HOV ramp between I-405 and SR 167. (In the spirit of full disclosure, 3 out of 8 of these points affect me very directly, and were key motivators in my writing this post)

Here are some issues with the system as it stands now:

  • Auburn to Bellevue service is part of the 566 rather than the 567, so riders are faced with the uncomfortable decision to take the 566 or Sounder and transfer to the 567, or take the 566 all the way, unsure of what will get them there faster.
  • Current 567 trips (which connects 1 to 1 with Sounder trains) very often fill up in Kent after the train arrives, requiring passengers to choose between waiting for the next 567 (20 minutes later) or dealing with the slower 566.
  • Service in Renton is oriented around picking up many people along local stops and serving the Boeing plant, without requiring passengers to transfer, no matter where or from they are going. This is a problem because it slows service substantially, despite relatively few people utilizing these stops compared to major stops like Renton TC.
  • Specifically, Renton-Bellevue service is interlined with “pseudo 10-minute” headways, where the 560 and 566 are coordinated to run every 10 minutes from Renton to Bellevue. The problem with this is that the 560 serves both freeway stations on I-405 (whereas the 566 serves none, usually), so 560 takes longer. This requires schedule tricks when going northbound (560 leaves a few minutes earlier than 10 minutes after the 566 to get to Bellevue at the same time). And southbound in the evening, this trick doesn’t even work at all (560 takes more than 10 minutes longer than the 566, so the next 566 trips are scheduled to leave Renton TC before the previous 560 does).
  • 2/3 of northbound morning Renton-Bellevue service comes directly from Kent on SR-167 (route 566), and as this gets congested with rush-hour traffic, it often severely delays trips from Renton before they even start (a scenario that most major rush-hour service avoids, such as Federal Way to Seattle on the 577, Renton to Seattle on the 101, and Kent to Bellevue and Seattle on the 567 and Sounder). This is further worsened when getting back on the freeway, as all northbound buses use the Southport Drive to I-405 N ramp, which has a meter queue that often extends much past the point where the bus can bypass the queue, requiring the bus to wait 10+ minutes sometimes just to get back on the freeway.
  • 566 doesn’t run all the way to Auburn sometimes, serves the I-405 freeway station sometimes, but also only runs from Auburn to Renton, sometimes. This leads to confusion for both passengers and operators, major inconvenience for people who jump in and get on the wrong bus, and undoubtedly scares people who currently drive from taking the bus because they don’t think they can figure it out.
  • 560 service from west of the airport is particularly long and circuitous, and does not have either speed or frequency improvements at peak, where the experience is the worst.
  • Service to Overlake on the 566 and 567 is very inefficient, with a ton of recovery time at Bellevue TC southbound, which takes up valuable space in the transit center. Traffic between Overlake and Bellevue TC is very volatile, so this recovery time really is necessary to ensure timely service from Bellevue TC (where the bulk of passengers board).

While the opening of Stride BRT in four years will solve many (but not all) of these problems, four years is too long to wait for solving problems that keep people in their cars and punish people who choose to take the bus when it matters the most. I have a proposed restructure that addresses all of these issues, though it is almost certainly not revenue neutral.

Here is my proposed network map. Note the peak and off-peak layers, as the network has entirely different sets of routes for off-peak than peak.

Here are the list of peak routes:

  • Route 546: Overlake to Bellevue (every 10 minutes)
  • Route 561: SeaTac Airport, Renton, Kennydale Freeway Station, Bellevue (40 minutes)
  • Route 562: Westwood Village, Burien, Renton, Kennydale Freeway Station, Bellevue (40 minutes)
  • Route 563: The Landing, Renton, Newport Hills Freeway Station, Bellevue (20 minutes)
  • Route 567: Kent, Bellevue (every 20 minutes when 568 is over capacity, timed with Sounder)
  • Route 568: Auburn, Kent, Bellevue (every 20 minutes. Timed with Sounder at Kent when demand is low, halfway in-between Sounder trains when demand is high and 567 is running)

Off-peak routes:

  • 560: Westwood Village, Burien, SeaTac Airport, Renton, both freeway stations, Bellevue (every 30 minutes)
  • 566 Auburn, Kent, Renton, The Landing (every 60 minutes. North and south bound timed to meet with 560 for service to/from Bellevue, similar to today)

One note about Overlake service on the 546. It is meant to be dynamic, meaning that the operator (which would ideally be Metro) would start with the 4 or so buses required to maintain 10 minute headways under ideal conditions (which is very fast). As conditions worsen, buses may be added to the 546 if necessary from peak directional trips on routes 545 and 550 which would normally go to Bellevue Base. So traffic is bad on 520 and 405 and the buses in service on the 546 will not be able to maintain headways, 545 and 550 operators who finished their last peak runs and who are already near a terminus of the 546 will add their buses to the 546. 546 southbound will also dynamically switch from I-405 to 112th Ave NE when I-405 gets slower (Exactly like the 232 does all the time).

All restructures are tradeoffs, with winners and losers. Here are the big winners in this scenario:

  • Kent and Auburn to Bellevue riders (and also, via Sounder, Sumner, Puyallup, Tacoma, and Lakewood to Bellevue riders), who see an improvement in both speed, frequency, and capacity on the 567/new 568 pair.
  • Riders on the I-405 freeway stations going to Bellevue or Renton, who see both a frequency boost (from 30 to 20 minute headways), and a speed boost compared to the 560 today.
  • Potential riders at Myers-Briggs P&R and the 128th street/SR 509 freeway station, who are getting service to Renton and Bellevue for the first time. This is due to the 560 and 562 using the 509 freeway, which is very fast in the reverse peak direction (which is really the peak direction for riders heading to Renton and Bellevue).

Here are overall winners, with some tradeoffs and sacrifices:

  • Renton to Bellevue, who are no longer subject to traffic on SR 167, and are only subject to either traffic delays from Burien or from the airport (not both). Service is faster in Renton, the bus gets on the freeway faster, and the 10 minute service is real 10 minute service. Rather than piecing together 10 minute headways with both fast and slow buses, buses are all medium, serving one freeway station each. This slows down all buses from Renton a little bit, but they are slowed equally, while still giving the freeway stations more and faster service.
  • Burien and Westwood Village to Renton and Bellevue riders, who get a much faster ride during peak, at the cost of headways going from 30 to 40 minutes. Though farther from frequent service, the quality of service is much better, and probably usually saves more than 10 minutes per trip.

Here are people whose experience is roughly a wash, or a little bit worse:

  • Riders from Overlake in the evening, who now have to transfer and will very often get different buses from Bellevue depending on how bad traffic is.
  • SeaTac Airport to Bellevue, who get reduced frequency (40 minute headways), but get a faster trip through Renton and on I-405 (due to serving one less freeway station).
  • Riders from the Landing (north Renton) to Bellevue, who currently enjoy being the last stop (or near the last stop) before Bellevue currently. They keep a one-seat ride, but their frequency drops to 10 minutes and they have to backtrack to Bellevue TC first. Once on the freeway, the have the benefit of faster routing and only serving one freeway station on the way to Bellevue. They also have the benefit of getting first dibs on seats on the bus, and have the most reliable trip (as the fewer buses that serve the Landing begin at the Landing).

Finally, the losers in this scenario:

  • Auburn to Renton and Kent to Renton (particularly to the Boeing plant) are the big losers, needing to take alternative service during peak. The best alternative for these passengers is usually to take Sounder and transfer to the F-Line.
  • Passengers going between the two I-405 freeway stations. These riders can take Metro service like the 101, 167, and 342, but overall have much lower frequency. These riders are not affected off-peak.
  • Riders along Ambaum Blvd near a 560 express stop, who enjoy current 560 service. They will require a transfer all the time, to the 120 (and later the RapidRide H-Line).
  • Peak riders from the airport to Burien or Westwood Village, who will need to take infrequent route 180 to Burien, and then possibly another bus to get to their destination.

It is certain that this restructure would help many more people than it hurts, but it is likely more expensive to operate than the current network. It would probably require significant increase in spending in the East King County subarea, since there would be more bus service overall on I-405, and one new route that is entirely within the East King subarea. Other routes may be able to draw on funds from the South King subarea, and the 562 in particular has some speed improvements that may make it efficient enough to run with one fewer coach off-peak than the 560 does. Combined frequency from Renton could be adjusted to be 15 minutes instead of 10, and that might make it revenue neutral (and to be honest, I kind of prefer real 15 minute frequency to fake 10 minute frequency). But one thing is for sure: waiting until 2024 to improve ST Express bus service here that has numerous issues will hurt ridership once the BRT line is open, and will keep people in their cars for longer when traffic is at its worst. And that is unacceptable.

18 Replies to “Don’t Wait for Stride to Fix Slow ST Express Service”

  1. Peak Airport to Burien/Westwood Village riders would be better off taking Link (or the A) to TIBS and then taking the F to Burien (and then onto the 120 if necessary) than waiting for the 180.

    1. Yeah, it probably all depends on whether the 180 is coming soon or not, and whether you’re closer to the Link platform or not (it’s a bit of a hike). Right now Connect 2020 reducing train frequencies is a big factor too.

      But if the 180 is not the best way to get to Burien from the airport, then the 560 is probably not either (maybe slightly better because of speed). So a restructure of this route should probably not bend over backwards to keep this one-seat ride (especially when there is already a one-seat ride that isn’t any less frequent).

      1. If the 180’s coming soon, that’s probably worth it, but you have to pass the Link escalators to take the skybridge across 99 to take the 180, so unless you’re absolutely sure it’s 7 minutes away and you’re a fast walker, you’re better off taking Link.

  2. Many if not most northbound 560/566s take Logan and 6th anyway, and I’m surprised it is not an official route and that it was not used during the Main/Mill construction a few years ago. Also, I wonder if coaches can’t continue on NE Sunset Blvd to Sunset Blvd NE (similarly named streets) to take a hard right to the next northbound 405 ramp to the south when the Park (Southport) ramp is full. It may be quicker, if 40 foot coaches can make the sharp turn.

    Mostly I want 560 improvements on the weekends. The 340 ran articulated coaches on 30 minute headways on weekends, and they were replaced with shorter buses on 60 minute headways, with a two-zone Sound Transit fare. They did drop the zone line, but nothing else has improved. STRIDE is coming. Induce some demand. You have spare coaches on a weekend, so how hard could it be to get some drivers? Would it be too hard to have Metro run just the weekend 560s with articulated coaches? (Double Tall won’t fit under the Sea-Tac ped ramps.) The first bus of Sunday morning is standing room only. It’s so frustrating, and one reason I got a car again for the first time in years.

    1. I don’t think ST is going to be that innovative with routing, which is probably why they use the same path through Renton since maybe 2000. Another alternative path would be to take Edmonds Ave to NE 30th and take that on-ramp.

      Most drivers *did* take Logan, but Pierce Transit (which operates all ST service south of Seattle) got new drivers for it so they could move existing drivers to the 541/542/maybe 540? And the new drivers take the slow route and make all kinds of mistakes. All because Metro’s poor long-term planning required them to hand off operation of the UW to Redmond routes.

      In terms of frequency on the 560, I really wish included in ST3 was adding frequency to buses in the Stride corridor before Stride opening, to build ridership and because seriously it’s cheap compared to building things. Especially since weekend service is abysmal here (when it will be every 15 minutes, *when Stride opens* in 2024).

      1. When I moved back to Renton in 2001, ST was routed over Logan officially, in both directions. One of the residents on Logan near Tobin put up a protest sign on his porch, saying something like “Sound Transit Raceway.” So Sound Transit moved to Park. A few years later Metro used Logan for the F, and I heard on the KIRO Radio morning news that a resident had collected video evidence of Metro buses speeding and running the red light on Airport Way. I looked up the video, and they are from the same house that put up the protest sign years earlier. You can’t please everyone.

      2. Whaaaat? Making a detailed Page 2 post on STB won’t change anything, but a NIMBY posting a single protest sign can make hundreds of people’s commutes slower? I should rent someone’s yard in Renton.

        While I’m at it, I should probably put a sign in the I-405 median demanding HOV3.

  3. Thanks for the suggestions. I haven’t commented because I don’t know the corridor well enough to evaluate the alternatives. But hopefully ST will consider them. Although ST seems loth to change ST Express routes without being forced by a new mode or a budget squeeze.

    1. Yes, I agree. Aside from the upcoming Stride BRT, which has fantastic routing (a controversial opinion of mine, but I can’t help but heap praise on ST for serving the new Renton transit center with the quickest of diversions from the freeway after dealing with the 566 today), they regard the status quo routing of the 560/566 almost as a command of God it seems. They don’t even switch the routing over to the faster in every case Logan Ave. Worse, the schedule for these routes is highly optimistic (like rolling six dice and hoping that they always add to 8 or less).

      1. While 405 BRT will solve some of the issues, it seems to me like others will remain. For example, what do you do with the buses coming from Auburn and Kent? You can send them to Renton, but I assume that takes a while during rush hour (the bus has to leave the HOV lanes). You can send them to Bellevue, but that makes it tougher to get to Renton. I suppose the new inline station at 44th will help, as will increased frequency from there to Renton. Riders would backtrack, but not too much, and at least they wouldn’t have to wait too long.

        Still, I think you have some of the same issues. I would run an express bus to Bellevue during rush hour. I would run buses to Renton all day. That wouldn’t necessarily result in a great system, though. These buses are quite infrequent (the 566 runs every hour outside of rush hour) so even the savings by truncating at Renton won’t result in a great system. Run that bus to Renton during rush hour as well, and all day service would suffer. No matter how you slice it, tough trade-offs are inevitable.

      2. Yeah, obviously the system will have to be re-evaluated again in 2024. This is meant to be a pre-Stride restructure.

        For post-Stride, the plan in the draft SIP was to keep the 567 the way it is. That makes sense since it’s a Sounder connector timed to specific trains, and it is usually very well used (busy trips often are completely full), so giving them a one-seat ride to Bellevue (but probably not Redmond) makes sense.

        The plan is also to keep the 566 the way it is, except to add stops at Kennydale and Newport Hills to take over the 560 deletion. I think it would make more sense to truncate it at S. Bellevue, rather than continue to Redmond, but the transfer in Renton will make a lot more sense once Stride begins.

  4. Riders from the Landing (north Renton) to Bellevue, who currently enjoy being the last stop (or near the last stop) before Bellevue currently. They keep a one-seat ride, but their frequency drops to 10 minutes and they have to backtrack to Bellevue TC first.

    I assume you mean Renton TC, not Bellevue TC.

  5. Do the off peak routes run during peak as well? Or are they like the 512 (replaced during peak with the express buses)? I think you could make a strong case for not running the 566 when the 567/568 are not running. That would save a considerable amount of money.

    Likewise with the 560 and 561/562. In all cases the reasoning is the same: The express buses save a considerable amount of time by skipping stops in between at the time of day when ridership can justify it. It does make it a bit harder to get “in between” stations, but there aren’t that many people doing that anyway. (If there were, they could justify a separate express bus).

    1. The off-peak routes only run off-peak, so very much like the 512/511/510. Many more people are going to Bellevue during peak, so those trips can justify more direct buses during peak, whereas off-peak it still makes the most sense to have a slower bus that picks up as many riders as possible.

      I think the 566 running off-peak as it is today makes the most sense. It provides service to Sounder stations when Sounder isn’t running, and is very cheap (only one bus per hour, and only Auburn to Renton). I think it should be better advertised that this bus does in fact connect with the 560 (and southbound, waits for the 560 if it runs late), so it’s still quite easy to take it to Bellevue.

  6. In general I like it. I’m not sure about whether it would cost a lot more (I haven’t gotten into the weeds that much) but I do like the rush hour routing from 167 to 405. There is a cost (as you mentioned) — those from Auburn and Kent have to find an alternative. But about five times as many are headed to Bellevue, and the current routing forces them to slog through Renton. You would probably save a considerable amount of time by having the bus use the new HOV ramps connecting the two highways. There are alternatives for getting to Kent — they are just slower. It doesn’t make sense to slow down most of the riders, so that a small minority get a faster trip.

    1. Yeah, the opening of that ramp is quite a game-changer, since now the bus doesn’t have to sit in SOV traffic on the ramp. It still has to contend with the HOV lane that stupidly ends about 3 miles before Grady Way (as if SOVs need 3 miles to merge left one lane), but it’s still a massive improvement over having buses merge to and from the right-hand lane.

      This does also break a convenient trip for people going to Boeing in Renton, but nowadays there is the F-line, which stops at Tukwila station on every trip, so it’s pretty easy to take Sounder to Tukwila and grab an F-line up to Boeing.

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