Sound Transit’s preferred option to serve Woodinville

We recently wrote about Sound Transit’s updated plans for SR 522 Stride. In this update, Sound Transit revealed that it wants to drop plans to run its Stride line to Woodinville at half frequency (and without any BRT infrastructure east of Bothell). Instead, Sound Transit intends to run an ST Express peak-only bus from Woodinville to Bellevue Transit Center every 20 minutes, with a shorter Woodinville to I-405 & SR 522 bus during off-peak hours (also every 20 minutes). While the desire to preserve reliability for the rest of the BRT line is sensible, the proposed solutions here are both expensive and narrowly focused. While excellent for people heading to Bellevue and Bothell, Seattle-bound passengers are faced with a long and circuitous ride on East Link, where they will detour to the farther I-90 bridge. It’s even worse for UW-bound passengers, who have to decide between a long J-shaped trip on I-405 and I-90, or a 3-seat ride on SR 522. Because of this, I propose that Sound Transit and King Country Metro should study a route to UW Station rather than Bellevue.

Today, the most similar bus service to what I am suggesting is King County Metro’s route 311, a peak-oriented express route from Woodinville to downtown Seattle. It only runs during peak hours, limiting its general usefulness. However, when it is running, it saves a lot of time compared to other options. It provides a fast connection to Seattle for Woodinville, the northern part of Kirkland, and the 520 freeway stations:

King County Metro’s map for route 311 (definitely not to scale!)

Off-peak, riders are currently left with slower options to get to downtown Seattle (and other destinations on the west side of the lake). And during peak, route 311 runs in one direction only, requiring expensive deadheading (and missing potential reverse-commutes to Kirklands Evergreen hospital). Worse yet, route 311 makes the slow trek both to downtown, then through downtown. This costs so much time and money that it caused Metro to truncate the 255 at UW Station in March. While only saving riders time during busy peak hours, this frees up a significant amount of service hours at all times. This change helped Metro to boost route 255 to 15 minute headways off-peak and on weekends, bringing frequent weekend bus service to Kirkland for the first time.

With route 311, truncating to UW (using the same path and layover location as route 255) could save service to allow it to run more frequently during peak. This is because ending it at UW would save between 12 and 25 minutes per trip. On its own, this truncation could pay for roughly 10 minute frequency during the period for which it currently operates. Since the route is shorter, it would also make it easier to run the route in the reverse direction as well, as the bus would be able to make more back-and-forth runs between Woodinville and Seattle (which few trips currently do). Creating reverse-peak service would be almost free at this point, because the actual route would already spend very little time on surface streets and more time on freeways, which would be the fastest way back to the start of the route anyway.

Connection options on a potential route to UW (Google Maps)

This change would improve the route today. But in 2024/5, things could really come together. This route would benefit from capital projects planned for Stride, as well as the new Montlake/SR 520 interchange under construction. Together, this would add three new freeway stations to the hypothetical route, all with direct HOV/HOT access: I-405 & SR 522 in Bothell, I-405 and NE 85 street in Kirkland, and SR 520 and Montlake Boulevard in Seattle. These extra stops add connections that make this route more effective as a general purpose route with very little time added.

If Sound Transit is willing to run its proposed Woodinville bus to UW instead of Bellevue, then on its own it could run around every 25 to 30 minutes. But if Metro contributed some of its own resources to this route (a bit like how Pierce Transit partially funds route 595 for service west of the Narrows) by consolidating the entirety of the current route 311 into this new route, then it could run every 12 minutes or so for a few hours longer than today’s 311 (though how much longer is unclear since details of the proposed Bellevue to Woodinville service remain TBD). If you further consolidate resources from routes 237, 252, and 257, that may be enough to extend 30 minute service throughout the day and into the evening. This would further optimize the route, since this service would be able to convert some of its part-time operation to full-time, which is (on average) cheaper per service hour. From here, frequent midday and weekend service would be a laudable stretch goal, and may be able to happen over the course of time.

If Sound Transit and King County Metro were to make this change, it would benefit not just riders from Woodinville, but also riders from Kirkland as well as connecting service. A route to UW instead of Bellevue would dramatically improve all trips to Seattle and most other places along Link. Meanwhile, Bellevue-bound passengers would be slowed only a bit, by being required to transfer to I-405 Stride or route 532.

25 Replies to “Send the Woodinville bus to UW, not Bellevue”

  1. I’m not so sure that this proposal is much faster. Metro 311 schedules show 58-60 minutes between Woodinville and 5th/Pike. Link between Shoreline South and Westlake appears to be a projected 18 minutes, with 522 BRT estimated at 22 minutes. Alternatively, Link between Downtown Bellevue and Westlake is listed as 26 minutes and 405 to the 522 stop appears to be about 20. Further, transfers will be faster at Shoreline South and Downtown Bellevue than they are at UW. The travel time differences really appear to be more of a matter of how often a bus to Woodinville will run no matter what path is used.

    I also think that there is a lingering overcrowding question. It may be that riders can’t board a bus or train using one of these route combinations. For example, a morning commuter may get a seat at Shoreline South or Downtown Bellevue but not UW. It may be that 405 demand may be high enough to prevent a morning rider from getting on a bus south of 522.

    With so much uncertainty — compounded by the suppression of travel because of the virus as well as the need for social distancing on transit vehicles, I’m happy suggesting to wait until East Link and Northgate Link opening and this virus abating before “going final” on a Woodinville service operation . After all, the resulting ridership is pretty tiny compared to many other existing bus routes.

    1. I do think it’s reasonable, given the circumstances, to wait and see how things recover before setting the Woodinville transit service in stone for the 30 years.

      However, you should be careful about using current schedules as projected travel time. From my experience, KC Metro is a lot more conservative than Sound Transit in timing schedules for express buses running up and down the same freeway, thus a blind comparison of schedules will tend to steer you towards corridors that happen to be operated, today, by a sound transit bus, in a way that’s purely artificial. To avoid an apples-to-oranges comparison, a better way to do it would be to use the drive times for each route in a car, then add one minute per bus stop served along the way.

      1. Question: is the decision really a long term commitment for 30 years? BRT specific infrastructure is not being installed east of Bothell, and the often touted flexibility advantage of busses would seem to be applicable here.

        I do agree in principle with maximizing efficient regional connections. Though personally I would lean towards a frequent all-day connection to Stride. After all, Stride is supposed to serve as a sort of BRT “trunk,” right?

        Stride “North” should really have a branch that goes to UW instead of Bellevue, but that’s another story.

      2. “Stride “North” should really have a branch that goes to UW instead of Bellevue, but that’s another story.” – once there is a direct HOV connection between 405 and 520, absolutely. Until that exist, though, you can’t run “BRT” on that alignment because the route would be neither reliable or rapid.

      3. This is about a regular bus, not BRT.

        Delays in the 520/405 interchange is only a problem if traffic is bad, which is basically on rush hour. The rest of the day, it’s fine.

      4. “KC Metro is a lot more conservative than Sound Transit in timing schedules for express buses running up and down the same freeway”

        When I lived in Federal Way and commuted to Seattle, I noticed this. The 179 schedule took 45 minutes from Federal Way TC to Seattle, while ST 577 took 30 minutes (despite exactly the same route to Seattle). Looks like now ST updated the scheduled travel time, but it’s always been a “you’ll get there when you get there” kind of thing.

      5. Right – was responding to Brandon’s comment … “upgrading” this routing to Stride would be premature. But as an STX alignment, I think this is an interesting proposal, and providing a UW option not only for Woodinville but also for effectively the entire* 405N Stride alignment may be compelling.

        *same direction transfers for those heading into Snohomish

        (Some argue the brand difference is meaningless, but I’m not in that camp)

      6. In this case, the main advantage of “BRT” is off-board payment. This has value, but is less important for a line like this, since there aren’t that many stops. It would also mean adding ORCA readers in Woodinville, which seems like overkill. Of course you could take the approach used for RapidRide, which is adding readers in some spots, but not others. You still have the cost of fare enforcement either way.

      7. Good point about the lack of a 405-to-520 HOV ramp. North 405 to UW is indeed more appropriate as a “regular” ST Express route. In that case, having the northern terminus be in Woodinville would be an option. For Bellevue, one could easily transfer to a Stride bus.

    2. I think there is some merit to the idea, but I have a few concerns:

      1) I think midday transit ridership to Woodinville is small. You can run all the one-seat express buses in the world and they just won’t carry that many people.

      2) Based on the report, About half the Woodinville commuters are headed to Redmond, Kirkland and Bellevue, yet almost all transit ridership is to Seattle. Seattle has only 22% of the commuters, yet 74% of the transit commutes. I suppose you can view it two ways: transit serving East Side destinations from Woodinville are a fool’s errand. No matter what you do, people will drive. The other approach is to assume that improved service there will lead to the biggest increase in ridership. That appears to be ST’s philosophy, and I think it is reasonable.

      At the same time, I think a truncation of the 311 (and similar) buses are in order, as soon as the work is done to speed up travel to the UW. There is value in express buses, but we simply can’t afford it. Service levels for the East Side are terrible. Buses are infrequent, and there are apartment complexes that have no service at all, any time of day. We just can’t afford to spend money having buses slog through rush hour traffic to get downtown and (slog through downtown) when many areas lack adequate service.

      But I’m not convinced that an all-day line to Woodinville is the best approach. I would do the following:

      1) Truncate the 311 at the UW. Do the same with similar buses (252, 257, 268).
      2) Run buses from Woodinville to Bellevue during rush hour (like ST wants).
      3) Run an all-day bus from UW Seattle to UW Bothell via 522 and 405.
      4) Extend the Woodinville shuttle beyond the freeway station. At the very least, extend the midday Woodinville shuttle to UW Bothell. Even better, continue it through campus, and then become the 230 (while the 239 takes over the northern tail).
      5) See if you can restructure some of the East Side crossing routes to get better combined frequency. For example, if layover space can be found, the 255 could be extended to the Lake Washington Institute of Technology. Something similar could be done in Woodinville. Having both the 230 and 231 serve Woodinville would do that, to a certain extent. Those headed to a 405 destination could take either bus.

      UW Bothell is the only place in the area that can generate substantial midday ridership. Woodinville won’t. There is no reason to force the bulk of your riders to walk an extra ten minutes.

      Woodinville rush-hour riders would have excellent rush hour service. Outside of rush hour, they would still have good two-seat rides to the UW, downtown Bellevue and various places along SR 522 (Bothell, Kenmore, etc.). In the middle of the day, some of the trips would require a three seat ride. But it would still be much faster than the current options. The 522 is not that fast, and very infrequent to Woodinville. It takes well over an hour (sometimes over an hour and a half) to get from there to downtown Seattle.

      A three seat ride sounds miserable, but it is common throughout the world, and will be more and more common as we build out the “spine”. By it’s very nature, a line like that will generate three seat rides. Nor is Woodinville alone in having a 2-seat ride along that corridor. Look at some of the other buses connecting to the SR 522 corridor, like the 225, 230 or 105. In all cases, riders will transfer to the 522 Stride, then transfer again in Shoreline to Link. For them, this happens all day — even during rush hour. These are places that are closer to Seattle than Woodinville, where going on SR 522 is the best option (unlike Woodinville).

      The farther out you are, the less transfers matter, and the more speed does. Thus the key is to have each piece be both fast and frequent. Link will be both. The 405 BRT will be both. A bus from UW Seattle to UW Bothell would be extremely fast, and likely frequent. The weakest link, by far, is the service from Woodinville to the BRT station.

      There has been little discussion of this. But a shuttle running every 20 minutes is still poor. It is not as bad as 30, but it is still poor. While I think a UW Seattle to UW Bothell line is warranted (in its own right) I think the biggest improvement Woodinville needs in the middle of the day is better headways on that shuttle. If it runs every ten minutes, then it becomes the main option for getting out of town. It makes the trip to Bellevue or Kenmore a piece of cake.

      By its very nature, a shuttle is fairly cheap. I don’t think a frequent shuttle would generate really high ridership (as I wrote earlier) but it would be affordable, and at least provide excellent service for that corner of our region. I could easily see a combination. For example, run the 230 as I wrote (through UW Bothell, then out to Woodinville) but complement it with a shuttle that is truncated at the campus (or even the station). If you are going to spend extra money on Woodinville in the middle of the day, it should not be for long distance trips that are expensive and a poor value. It should be for more frequent shuttles, or extensions of existing routes.

      1. One final advantage of a short but frequency shuttle is that if you never have high ridership on a single run, you can shift to a smaller vehicle. A route all the way to UW would likely run a 60′ for a few times a day it gets high ridership, but a route that’s solely serving midday connections can get away with a smaller vehicle.

        If an argument in favor of a route is, “no one will ride it so we can save money on the vehicle,” that’s not a good sign, but it can happen for what is effectively a coverage route.

      2. If your argument is the real ridership is UW Bothel to UW Seattle, but the political constraint is the need to serve Woodinville, isn’t the solution to have the route follow 195th, rather than 522, so the route can serve Bothel’s campus directly on the way to Woodinville? Or is the effectively what you are doing with #4, but merging the Woodinville shuttle with the 230 rather than a proposed STX route?

    3. Metro Schedules Al S that is so laughable, many years ago there was a route # 307 To Woodenville Via Kenmore I’m glad to see the route has improved that route from downtown Seattle to Woodinville 58-60 minutes the old 307 would take 1:30 minutes to 1.5 hours and knowone from Kenmore P&R to Woodinville 5-6 riders!

  2. Al S., I really doubt anything on any front will be finalized in the whole foreseeable future, hopefully including The United States of America.

    But I also think you and your fellow regular contributors will put “the meantime” to very good use in analyzing facts from personal observation for as wide a choice as possible for future action. Which, based on years of personal experience, STB staff will continue to render [I]rrelevance- free.

    Whatever our voting address, we’re all where we are for a reason.

    Mark Dublin

  3. Can anyone tell us first-hand how well car traffic is being kept out of the way of any of our express buses at present levels of both transit and car usage? Because I’m wondering if, even temporarily, a reduced number of cars could give transit the chance to finally deliver a perceptibly higher ride-quality than car-driving.

    When all real-world considerations including both right-of-way and operating competence are factored in, what’s reality telling us about both how we’re doing, including anything we can do better, and how. Considering what the pandemic is costing us, it’s certainly our right to make use of it for more than one experiment.

    Mark Dublin

  4. I think the same direction transfers to UW for the rest of 405N Stride is probably more useful than the service to Woodinville itself. Good lemonade out of 1-seat-express lemons.

    1. I think the same direction transfers to UW for the rest of 405N Stride is probably more useful than the service to Woodinville itself.

      Could be, but I don’t think there would be many riders. There are only two stations north of 522/405 transfer hub. Lynnwood is one — but it doesn’t make sense to go to the UW that way. The other is Canyon Park. Very few people walk to that station. There may be some who would park there or take a connecting bus to get to the UW, but I doubt very many. If you are headed downtown, I think most people would just stay on the Stride bus and take East Link, even if it might be faster to transfer. If you are headed to Northgate, then you have a three seat ride anyway, and the 522 Stride would probably be about as fast (although it is always nice to have an extra option in case you just miss a bus).

      On the other hand, I see great potential for other connections. For example, this would dramatically change the nature of Totem Lake transit. If you live close to the station, you have a very fast trip to the UW (and an excellent connection to Link). It complements the 405 Stride. If you are headed downtown, it may only be a bit faster to take the bus to the UW. But if you are going to UW, Capitol Hill, Roosevelt or Northgate, it is much faster.

      Likewise with connecting buses. This means a two seat ride to the UW, and a three seat ride to say, Northgate. As long as each leg is reasonably fast, it is still a vast improvement over today. To get from Lake Washington Institute of Technology to Northgate to the UW takes forever, as the riders has to go to Redmond first. That means getting from the college to Northgate takes well over an hour. In some cases this would cut the travel times in half — maybe more if they improved service from the college to the freeway station.

      I agree with your overall point though. There just won’t be that many riders from Woodinville headed to the UW in the middle of the day. Woodinville isn’t special. UW Bothell is. As I wrote up above, UW Bothell is the only major all-day destination in the greater Bothell/Woodinville area. This would be a natural pairing and would again cut the travel time in half for someone going between the two campuses while folks in Woodinville, Totem Lake, Canyon Park and other places get a huge improvement for those trips as well.

      1. UW Bothell to UW station Seattle definitely has more potential than Woodinville to UW station, esp. for all day service.

        Is it possible more people would use Totem Lake park and ride (or even take a local bus there) to get to UW and downtown Seattle if there were a bus directly to UW station? I honestly don’t know how much trip demand there would be for that.

      2. Is it possible more people would use Totem Lake park and ride (or even take a local bus there) to get to UW and downtown Seattle if there were a bus directly to UW station? I honestly don’t know how much trip demand there would be for that.

        I’m sure there would be decent ridership, especially if they improve the connections to the neighborhood and the college.

        The main thing is that all of these trips add up. You have people from Canyon Park, Woodinville, Brickyard and all the various stations along the way headed to UW. Some of these people walk, but others take a connecting bus. Likewise, you have lots of people who take another transit trip from the UW — a major transit center (I’m guessing second only to downtown Seattle). Not only do you have Link, but also the buses that serve surrounding neighborhoods. So there aren’t many people from say, Totem Lake to Capitol Hill, but it all adds up, even if most of the ridership is from UW Seattle to UW Bothell.

      3. I agree Kirkland, rather than Bothel or Woodinville, would actually benefit the most from this route by giving their Stride stations a direct UW route, plus a 2-seat ride for the various routes that will intersect with the Stride stations as you highlight.

        I had forgotten Canyon Park will be able to simply backtrack to Lynnwood… at peak, this may be the weakest part of Stride because of the lack of HOV/bus priority between 405 and 5. But midday, that’s a short hop on the bus. At that point, if I’m in Canyon Park it probably comes down to if the Link station or the bus stop in UW is closer to my final destination … if this STX bus loops through campus, rather than just the Montlake triangle, that might be compelling for some campus-bound riders.

  5. Why end at Woodinville? Extend some of them north to Snohomish and cut the useless detour for Monroe that Snohomish residents are forced to endure on the 424.

      1. Well, obviously.

        That said, it’s the exact kind of service that ST was invented to provide in the first place – regional, cross county lines service

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