KEY UPDATE: This post was written several days before Metro confirmed service reductions beginning Monday. It is likely that the frequencies described in this post will be reduced, but we won’t know how they are being reduced until Metro makes a detailed announcement, which we expect tomorrow. Watch this space for an explanation of the service reductions once we know what they are.
In light of current events, you probably aren’t thinking much about agency service changes. But there is one coming this Saturday, March 21, and the agencies are going ahead with it. For Metro, this one is a bit different than we’ve usually seen over the last few years. Instead of spreading “peanut butter” service additions throughout the system, the agency is focusing only on one major restructure, with almost no changes anywhere else.
That restructure is the long-awaited North Eastside Mobility Plan, which arrives mostly in the form that Metro originally envisioned. The attention-grabbing headline is the redirection of route 255, Kirkland’s busiest core service, from downtown Seattle to UW Station. But there are also lots of changes to other local service in and around Kirkland, some of which will also affect riders in parts of Redmond, Bellevue, Kenmore, Bothell, and Woodinville. Details of the restructure are below the jump.
It’s worth noting that COVID-19 will likely hamper Metro’s efforts to communicate details of this restructure to the public. Metro told STB’s Dan Ryan that the “street teams” the agency had out in force at the start of the last couple restructures will not be present, in order to minimize the risk of transmission. Metro says it is looking at other ways to communicate with riders in real time.
The Route 255 Leap of Faith
Starting Saturday morning, no trips on route 255 will go downtown anymore. Headed toward Seattle, all trips will drop riders off directly in front of Sound Transit’s UW Station, next to Husky Stadium. Headed to Kirkland, riders will catch the bus directly across Montlake Boulevard NE from the station; they may cross either at a crosswalk at NE Pacific Pl or on the pedestrian overpass directly above.
The agencies expect that most riders headed downtown will transfer between the 255 and Link light rail at UW Station. Most 255 riders will be familiar with the Link stops downtown, as the 255 ran for many years in what is now the Link tunnel. Another option will be for riders to transfer to other downtown-bound buses at Yarrow Point or Evergreen Point freeway stations, including Sound Transit’s all-day route 545 and Metro peak service on routes 252, 257, 268, or 311. There is not much excess capacity on these services, however, and Metro is counting on plenty of riders to use Link.
In exchange for the additional transfer for many riders, Metro has improved frequency on the 255 at off-peak hours, especially weekends. Saturday and Sunday service will run every 15 minutes, instead of half-hourly, from roughly 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Weekday frequency will remain 15 minutes during midday, but improve to every 15 minutes between 7 and 10 p.m. Inbound service will extend later, with new trips leaving Kirkland during the 11:00 p.m. hour every day.
The change is likely to result in faster total trip times between Kirkland and downtown during peak hour, when current bus service loses a lot of time on I-5 and congested downtown streets. Link takes less than 8 minutes to get downtown from UW Station, and buses can spend 8 minutes waiting at the Stewart exit alone. But trips may get a bit longer at other times, when the current bus route is free-flowing. While 255 ridership is extremely peak-heavy, off-peak ridership numbers will be an interesting test of whether better frequency can drive ridership despite added transfers. The tradeoff has succeeded decisively in other Link-oriented restructures, but most of them did not create as many three-seat rides as this one will.
Of course, there are major benefits for non-downtown riders. The change represents a dramatic improvement in service between Kirkland and UW. (Routes 277 and 540 will be canceled, and not missed.) Connections from Kirkland to Capitol Hill, the Central District, and northeast Seattle will get much quicker. And there will be even more connectivity benefits once the Link system is built out.
There will also be a change to the north end of route 255, although it will affect many fewer riders. The segment of the route between Brickyard and Totem Lake (served by only half of weekday trips) will be replaced by new local route 239, operating with similar frequency. Seattle-bound riders can transfer to route 255 at either Totem Lake or downtown Kirkland, or alternately to Sound Transit route 522 in Bothell.
Peak Service to South Lake Union
Sound Transit will replace route 540 with new route 544 service connecting Overlake, South Kirkland P&R, and South Lake Union. The route will run every 15 minutes, in both directions, during peak hours only. While this is not a Metro service, it will provide significant connection opportunities at both South Kirkland P&R and the SR-520 freeway stops for people accessing SLU from throughout the north Eastside. It will also be a useful option for some route 255 riders who will no longer have a stop in the Denny Triangle area.
Other Kirkland Local Connections
The rest of the restructure consists largely of a rearrangement of existing local service, which brings some major improvements, although it also breaks a couple of key connections. The big picture is that service is straightened and reoriented to some degree around Totem Lake, which becomes a significantly more prominent transfer point and hub.
The key elements of the restructure are these:
- Route 248 and the south half of routes 234/235 are combined into new route 250, linking the downtowns of Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond. This is a preview of a future RapidRide route.
- North/south service in north Kirkland, including both the north halves of route 234/235 and the zigzagging routes 236/238, is replaced with three straightforward new routes:
- Routes 230 and 231 together replace the north half of route 234 between downtown Kirkland and Juanita. From north Juanita, Route 230 continues straight north into Bothell, bringing new service to Waynita Way. Route 231 heads northeast into Woodinville along the route of today’s route 238.
- Route 239 is a straight north-south route between Rose Hill, Totem Lake, Brickyard, and Bothell, mostly along the 124th Ave NE corridor. It replaces the entire north half of route 235, and parts of routes 236 and 255 as well.
- A new route 225 provides an all-day connection between Overlake (i.e., the Microsoft campus area) and Totem Lake, today only covered by peak-hour routes 243 and 244. The route then continues northwest to Kenmore, replacing parts of routes 234, 236, and 238 covering Kingsgate and Finn Hill.
- Route 930, connecting Totem Lake and downtown Redmond, gets all-day service.
- The only major Kirkland local route left untouched is route 245.
The best news is increased frequency along a couple of key corridors. First, the current route 248 corridor serving Kirkland, Rose Hill, Redmond, and Avondale will see daytime weekday frequency doubled from 30 to 15 minutes. Second, the current route 234 corridor serving Norkirk and 98th/100th Ave NE in Juanita will see the same improvement. (A part of this corridor in Juanita is also overlapped by route 255. Lucky residents in that area will have 8 buses per hour to and from Kirkland. One might wonder about the equity of that result, when much more numerous riders in parts of South King County are still making do with half-hourly core service.) Finally, all-day service between Totem Lake and downtown Redmond will shorten a lot of trips.
Other unreservedly good news includes the first-ever service along Waynita Way, which has seen significant residential development in recent years but currently has no service. North-south travel in Kirkland, in general, will become much faster and significantly easier to understand. The helix-shaped geographic pattern of current service on routes 236 and 238 ensured perennial confusion and slowness, reflected in their abysmal ridership numbers.
Bad news from this restructure mostly consists of some well-used connections that will now require additional transfers. Perhaps the best-used of those is the connection on route 234 between Finn Hill and downtown Kirkland, which will now require a transfer at Juanita. Today’s connections to Bellevue from routes 234 and 235 will also add a step. Riders from Finn Hill headed to Bellevue will need to ride to Totem Lake, where they can transfer to route 532/535 express service at the Totem Lake freeway station. Riders from Juanita or Rose Hill to Bellevue will need to transfer at either Totem Lake or downtown Kirkland. New transfers will also be required for route 255 riders traveling between Seattle and points north of Totem Lake, and for a few riders making uncommon east-west trips on routes 236 and 238.
A few riders in low-ridership areas will lose local bus service entirely, and have to walk up to half a mile to reach a bus. Corridors losing all-day service include the portion of route 236 along NE 116th St; the portion of route 238 serving the front driveway of Lake Washington High School; and the portion of route 236 between Totem Lake and Brickyard. Metro is providing added “Community Ride” on-demand van service to select areas, including Bothell, Woodinville, and Juanita.
The list of other changes in this restructure is extremely short.
- Route 50 gets a richly needed stop consolidation program, which will remove 13-14 stops in each direction to improve speed and reliability. Most of the consolidated stops are in West Seattle and Lakewood/Seward Park, along corridors that have not seen any stop spacing revision in this writer’s memory, despite multiple service restructures. Stop consolidation will also affect some riders of other West Seattle service that uses SW Admiral Way or California Av SW.
- Route 62 will use new routing southbound in Belltown, finally leaving the Bell St corridor and joining route 40 on Lenora St.