A direct West-Southeast connection

Reconnect West Seattle’s bus brainstorm proposed replacing some car trips traveling between West Seattle and Southeast Seattle with an alternative that would take up less road space. This market certainly isn’t well served by transit today. Witness Route 50:

The eastern half of this route used to head downtown as the 39, but this was redundant with Link. The 50 is now a milk run that provides East-West connectivity between the major corridors in both the Rainier Valley (Rainier, MLK, Beacon) and West Seattle (Delridge, 35th, California).

In theory, it also provides a coveted East-West Connection in one of the few southern corridors that can do this in a roughly straight line. Indeed, zipping along the West Seattle Bridge would have been time-competitive with driving. But instead, it takes a costly detour through Sodo for a couple of reasons:

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Council approves Arena bus and street improvements

KeyArena Seattle

On September 21st, the Council approved 9-0 an agreement for street improvements funded by ArenaCo.

There are three transit improvements:

  • “Converting a travel lane on 1stAve N to a bus-only lane between Denny Way and Republican St”
  • “Installing a transit queue jump at 1stAve N and Republican St”
  • “Converting a travel lane on Queen Anne Ave N to a bus-only lane from Mercer St to John St”

The total project cost is $990,000. $594,000 comes directly from ArenaCo. The remaining $396,000 will also come from ArenaCo, but will count towards the $3.5m in street use fees that ArenaCo previously owed.

The legislation also authorizes another $445,000 in credits for various bike and pedestrian improvements, including a raised protected bike lane.

News roundup: Stream

Amtrak Cascades Heading North Under A Skagit Sunset

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The Link recovery plan is a disappointment

Today is the last day you can take the survey on Sound Transit’s proposed 2021 service levels. You can read Brent’s summary of the very complicated ST Express changes. It’s worth highlighting that the expectation that Link will run at 15-minute intervals through all of 2021 undermines the entire rationale of light rail.

Given plummeting ridership, sharp cuts at the start of the pandemic and a gradual restoration make a lot of sense. But if “reduced rush hour demand” is the reason to still keep service levels low, it’s perplexing that the worst hit times are everywhere but rush hour, where riders might wait 2 minutes more than they did in 2019:

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Metro budget cuts RapidRide expansions

A RapidRide at Bellevue Transit Center (Image: Oran Viriyincy)

Yesterday, King County Executive Dow Constantine transmitted the proposed Metro budget for 2021-2022. The budget eliminates several planned RapidRide expansions. Metro will dig into reserves to fund service, and will defer a planned increase in fares. The budget also funds a significant expansion of the electric battery bus fleet. The depletion of reserves sets Metro up for future service cuts unless new revenues can be found by 2024.


Metro will fund just three RapidRide expansions. The Metro Connects plan had suggested 13 lines by 2025, and this had already been reduced to seven by 2027. The still-funded expansions are the H line on Delridge, opening 2021; the G line on Madison, opening 2024; and the I line connecting Renton, Kent and Auburn in 2023.

The K line in Bellevue/Kirkland is cancelled, apparently having come up short against Renton on an equity analysis. Another line in East or South King County that had been scheduled for 2027 is also dropped.

Metro is cutting funding for the J line (to Roosevelt via Eastlake). But SDOT suggested Tuesday that they would attempt a scaled-back version of the project where the line would terminate to U District station instead.

Also unfunded is the R line on Rainier Ave, previously scheduled for 2024. The Executive indicated there would be a future effort to secure federal funds for this line, but didn’t say when that might happen.

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How will Stride BRT serve Bellevue Transit Center?

Bellevue Transit Center, with routes to be replaced by more service on Stride in blue, and routes to be modified (and likely reduced) for Stride in green

As part of ST3, Sound Transit is planning to run three BRT lines (branded as Stride), two of which will run predominantly on I-405. These are going to be line S1, running from Burien to Bellevue, and line S2, running Lynnwood to Bellevue. Both lines are going to meet at Bellevue Transit Center, where transfers can be made from one Stride line to the other, or to Link or other bus service. Details are vague; Sound Transit has only said that the Stride S1 and S2 lines will serve the existing transit center, but has not said which bus bays Stride will serve. Sound Transit has also not said where buses will layover after arriving in Bellevue, and whether there will be additional BRT stops at the layover points.

Currently, ST Express routes 560 and 535 (which will be replaced by Stride when it opens) stop at Bellevue Transit Center immediately after exiting the freeway. But both routes continue beyond the transit center to their respective layover locations, and in both cases, there is a bus stop there (the 535 also serves multiple bus stops near Bellevue Square on the way to its layover stop). When Stride opens, both routes (which run every 30 minutes at best) will be replaced with much more service, with headways at 10 minutes during peak and 15 minutes off-peak. This fact is significant because it will further squeeze the peak capacity of Bellevue Transit center.

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Metro’s darkest day

Three of the many King County Metro bus routes suspended as of this morning / Photo by Zack Heistand

Those of you who commute to work via a King County Metro express bus may find your route gone this morning. Today is the first weekday of Metro’s biannual service change. It is probably the most painful service change Metro has ever undergone.

David Lawson covered the details of how many routes have been savaged due to Metro’s budget hole. The number if routes shut down entirely is unprecedented. A few were due to a restructure of routes in South King County, but most are simply peak commuter routes that were both expensive per trip, and not well-used. Indeed, about half of Metro’s commuter express routes have been mothballed.

The suspended or eliminated peak expresses include routes 5E, 9E, 15E, 17E, 18E, 19, 37, 63, 76, 77, 113, 114, 116, 121, 122, 123, 143, 154, 157, 158, 159, 167, 177, 178, 179, 190, 192, 197, 214, 216, 217, 219, 252, 268, 308, 312, 316, 355, and 630.

New route 162 will provide some limited replacement service for routes 158, 159, and 192.

Other routes being suspended for reasons unrelated to the South King County restructure include 22, 29, 47, 71, 78, 200, 204, 208, 232, 237, 246, 249, 342, 628, and 931.

There are bright spots amidst this carnage, most notably that Link Light Rail (operated by King County Metro operators) is bringing usable frequency back today, and will be following the schedule posted at the stations for the first time since January 3. If you are used to driving to a park&ride in South King County for your commute, Link, with it’s 8-minute peak headway, could be your new ride, and Angle Lake Station or Tukwila International Boulevard Station your new P&R.

Metro’s budget, and therefore its service, is unlikely to improve much until the economy recovers. The economy will not recover until the virus is defeated. If you want a return normality, wear your mask when around other people, and urge everyone else emphatically to do so as well.

Zombie route diversions

excerpted from route 107 map from Metro website

King County Metro has been and continues to be shutting down an unprecedentedly long list of routes while the virus sets its own long-term calendar, with new cases worldwide topping 300K daily.

And yet, like a bad zombie TV series, my silly bus stop in Georgetown that I rarely see anyone else use, persists. Yes, I’m talking about the loop-de-loop in the middle of route 107 that adds several minutes to other riders’ trips, almost certainly costing more ridership than it adds. Some of the business establishments that stop benefits are shuttered.

This expensive pimple of a bus stop is one of several throughout the Metro and ST system map that turn a relatively straight route into a milk run providing time-consuming off-arterial curbside service, some at facilities that are closed for the time being.

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Metro scales back North Link plans

Metro map of the revised network covering areas near Northgate and Roosevelt
The areas arguably worst affected by Metro’s latest changes. Map by Metro.

In January, we reported with some excitement on Metro’s initial plans to restructure bus service around the three new Link stations opening in fall 2021. Since then, a combination of COVID-19-driven resource constraints and some mixed public feedback has dampened Metro’s ambitions. The agency’s latest restructure proposal largely maintains the first proposal’s approach of replacing downtown bus commutes with more frequent Link connections, but cancels many of the proposed changes to the all-day network that we praised in January. The resulting network is a missed opportunity for non-commuter trips.

The largest change is the elimination of the proposed route 61, which would have created a slew of new east-west connections to Northgate. Other headline changes include the retention of current, slower routing on routes 45 and 62 that will slow Link connections to Greenwood and Wallingford; the retention of a truncated version of today’s route 26; and retention of current routing on route 67 that will prevent easy transfers at U-District Station.

If voters approve the planned measure to partially renew Seattle Transportation Benefit District funding, it is conceivable that the City of Seattle will be able to fund a restoration of the proposed route 61, although neither Metro nor the city is yet in a position to address how STBD funding would be used in that level of detail.

Metro is still accepting public input through a survey. While some of the changes in this proposal are driven by resource constraints, others were driven by public feedback. If you have feedback of your own, please provide it.

Details about the changes around each of the three stations are after the jump. (UPDATE: Metro reached out to correct an error in the original post on Route 44 routing in the U-District and to clarify a couple of other items. See corrections/clarifications below.)

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Buses and Reconnect West Seattle

King County Metro RapidRide 2013 New Flyer DE60LFR 6082

SDOT’s plan for replacing 4,800 cars per hour that used the West Seattle Bridge at peak includes 1,280 more people per hour riding buses in the peak direction. Once Covid has receded to the point that most people are returning to work, how feasible is this?

That’s a little under 11 full articulated buses over what was running the bridge in 2019, or a 42% increase in people. The July 2020 draft SDOT framework comes up with a bunch of ideas:

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News roundup:the difference

Pierce County ferries @ Steilacoom ferry terminal
Pierce County Ferries (LB Bryce/Flickr)

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Editorial: Don’t let Mercer Island impede regional progress

The 77th Ave SE configuration as outlined in the 2017 SEPA Addendum

[Update: the original post incorrectly implied that the Mercer Island city council meeting will be on 9/16, when it in fact will be on Tuesday 9/15. This has been fixed.]

It’s hard to believe that more than ten years have passed since Bellevue and Sound Transit began their long slog over East Link routing. It took rounds of council meetings, open houses, endless studies, and competing community activism to get to a compromise that both agencies continue to champion today.

Although neither side got exactly what they wanted, both the City of Bellevue and Sound Transit managed to escape the saga free of litigation directly between the two parties. This accomplishment is precisely what makes Mercer Island’s recent actions particularly frustrating. Bellevue — arguably responsible for higher decision-making impact — managed to abstain from habitual litigiousness; yet this act is somehow beneath Mercer Island.

Readers may recall that the 2017 Settlement Agreement was only the result of first a suit from Mercer Island and then a subsequent counter-suit from Sound Transit. Sadly, the city council’s recent announcement shows that the agreement was merely a short reprieve from what looks to be a lengthy legal contest. Most disappointing is the impact that this will potentially have on the rest of East Link’s beneficiaries.

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Near-term decisions offer clues to ST3 realignment

A contract with WSDOT to build a BRT station in Kirkland will remain paused until at least 2021.

On Thursday, two Sound Transit committees heard staff recommendations for proceeding with paused actions this year. The seven project actions staff are recommending come to just $76 million, though they relate to some $7 billion of larger projects. Along the way, there were tantalizing clues to staff intentions about the larger realignment process to come next summer, perhaps including a phased approach to some rail and BRT projects.

When the pandemic and recession hit in March, it immediately imperiled Sound Transit’s already finely balanced financial plan. The most current projections show the agency running up against constitutional debt limits by 2028 unless spending plans are adjusted or new revenue sources found. The Board decided early on to proceed with projects that are already in active construction, and would consider later how to ‘realign’ timelines and priorities for those further in the future. A comprehensive realignment of future projects is now scheduled for July 2021.

Between the ongoing projects where construction is continuing, and the future projects whose fate will be decided next year, are a set of mostly smaller project actions that were briefly paused in March. Staff are now recommending to move some of these forward, and to delay others until the broader realignment is decided. More details by mode after the jump.

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Collapse is a Choice

Washington State Capitol March 2020

Feigned helplessness is one of the least attractive qualities in a state or local politician. Dunking on Olympia, or on President Trump, is the cheapest kind of talk when policy tools exist in Washington to address our most serious problems. Not all of our current crises are solvable with money, but it could blunt the worst effects, and nothing is stopping us except political will at the state level.

Of course, it’s much easier to blame Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell for failing to rescue state and local governments. This blame is richly deserved: the federal government can borrow at very low interest rates, in a currency it can print in theoretically infinite quantities.

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The ferries and Reconnect West Seattle


Souls Waiting to Board the West Seattle Water Taxi 27 Sept 2019

SDOT’s plan for replacing 4,800 cars per hour that used the West Seattle Bridge at peak includes 950 more people per hour using waterborne transit. Once Covid has receded to the point that most people are returning to work, how feasible is this?

The draft SDOT framework requires “options to increase capacity for waterborne transit.” The regular West Seattle Water Taxi boat (Doc Maynard) holds 270 passengers. It generally takes 35-40 minutes to do a round trip, meaning the best case capacity is about 400 people per hour in one direction.

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Pierce Transit cuts Sunday frequency to save bus network

While we lament the loss of Seattle’s frequent bus network (which has largely been in place since the opening of University Link in 2016), Pierce Transit is in a much more dire situation. Due to a smaller sales tax base, and the fact that Pierce Transit currently only levies a 0.6% sales tax (with measures to increase the levy in 2011 and 2012 both failing), transit was already sparse before the pandemic. 30-minute headways would be considered “frequent service” in Pierce County, with only routes 1 and 2 (in addition to better-funded Sound Transit service) ever exceeding that, and frequencies rarely better than hourly on weekends. A recent restructure of service had improved matters, and effectively brought 30-minute headways to as many places as possible given the limited resources, without having to reduce weekend service. Additionally, it extended the span of service on most routes to 10 PM. So while frequency of these routes weren’t all that good, it would still probably run late enough to get you home.

Then the pandemic happened, and this threw a wrench in the slowly-improving prospects for a usable transit network in Pierce County. In a series of changes in April and May, Pierce Transit reduced service to match ridership demand. As a result, service would generally run on weekdays would run as often as it would on Saturdays, but would run as late into the evening as it normally does on weekdays (with some exceptions). With Pierce Transit planning for the future, Pierce Transit is faced with pressure to restore service while facing financial troubles in the future. With Pierce Transit’s September 2020 service change schedules out, we see their solution: cut frequency on Sundays to bring back mostly normal service on weekdays and Saturdays.

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