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.
Link light rail
Just one of the paused projects relates to Link rail (other Link projects are either under construction or too far in the future to require urgent decisions). Staff are recommending a consultant contract proceed on the north OMF because of long lead times, and because the work would support multiple phasing options for Everett Link. Everett Link is by far the longest ST3 rail extension (somewhat longer than the total miles of track from Westlake to Lynnwood), and the Snohomish subarea may see revenues decline more than others with challenges in the aircraft industry. An on-time opening to Ash Way or Mariner could still be feasible if separated from the segment to Everett.
Two preliminary engineering contracts are recommended to move forward. But a consultant contract for the Bus Base North in Bothell will be deferred. With some of the Stride projects likely to be deferred, it’s not yet clear how urgently the planned bus base capacity will be needed. Partner agencies are also likely to have more capacity than was anticipated before the pandemic.
Also deferred is the $275 million contract with WSDOT to rebuild the NE 85th St interchange in Kirkland. That’s not time-critical yet. It could be executed next year and still support opening Stride on I-405 North by 2025. At nearly one-third the total cost of the I-405 BRT program, however, it’s likely to loom large in any effort to find savings in the East King subarea.
WSDOT construction of I-405 South express lanes is underway, making it likely the Stride S1 line will open on time. A deferral of the S2 line in the north seems probable. Some of the complication is a chicken-and-egg funding problem for WSDOT and Sound Transit. WSDOT has planned expanded HOT lanes to speed Stride service through the Bothell area. Both agencies are facing revenue shortfalls (declining toll revenue in WSDOT’s case), and are now eyeing the other in making their own prioritization decisions in the area.
Staff recommend proceeding with a consultant contract for parking projects at Kent and Auburn that may develop lower cost options. (At $216,000 per added stall in Auburn, and $275,000 per added stall in Kent, how hard could it be to find cost savings?). South King board members are paying close attention to parking projects and oppose any reduction in scope, arguing that they have been promised since ST2.
Projects being deferred include project development for Sounder South platform extensions and consultant contracts for a $210 million Sounder Maintenance base. In both, staff prefer to wait and see whether commuters return to Sounder. A long-term increase in telework would bring into question the planned fleet expansion and need for longer trains. Parking projects in Everett, Mukilteo, South Tacoma and Lakewood remain on hold for the same reason. A reduction in travel demand on Sounder would reduce the need for any of these.
Other projects & 3rd party agreements
Finally, there’s a grab bag of other projects and third-party agreements. Sound Transit’s contribution to Madison BRT is proceeding to enable city access to federal grants. An agreement on Sound Transit’s contribution to RapidRide improvements on the C and D lines is proposed to remain on hold. Sound Transit staff view the project definition as too preliminary to proceed yet. Mayor Jenny Durkan and Executive Dow Constantine both dispute this characterization, and warned of a risk that federal funding would be lost without timely Sound Transit support. That debate is likely to be taken up by the full Board later this month.
71 Replies to “Near-term decisions offer clues to ST3 realignment”
Looks good. I can’t find much fault with their recommendations, except for maybe putting the RapidRide C and D funding on hold. Unlike other projects that are being delayed (like the park and ride lots or the 85th interchange) money to improve RapidRide service is a very good value.
Seems like the issue is “SDOT doesn’t know how they are going to spend the money” ?
I think the takeaway from the discussion is that Seattle and Metro think they have a plan to spend the money, and Sound Transit thinks they don’t have a plan. Hopefully, they’ll get on the same page soon. The Board doesn’t seem well-positioned to adjudicate this.
Then Seattle and Metro should tell the public what the plan is. I haven’t heard anything beyond just “improvements”. That raises the question of whether it will make any difference in the things I care about. The main thing I want is more frequency. I would say ditch the Uptown detour but I know they won’t.
“An on-time opening to Ash Way or Mariner could still be feasible if separated from the segment to Everett.”
I hope that this does indeed come to fruition. Among the many planning mistakes ST has made over the years, eliminating the two northern stations from the Lynnwood Link extension project in its second version of ST2 (after failing to secure passage in the first version in the R&T package in 2007) was incredibly shortsighted. Had this not been the case, Lynnwood Link would be proceeding now with Ash Way as its northern terminus. Of course, the case for subsequently pushing northward to Everett, for the cause of the stupid spine, becomes much weaker in such a scenario.
Speaking of Lynnwood Link, I was just reviewing the latest light rail progress report ST has published (for July) over the weekend. Despite the somewhat glowing sentiments expressed in some of the commentary in yesterday’s STB post, there remain many serious challenges and risks associated with both the budget and timeline for this project’s (already delayed) July 2024 scheduled completion. Pre-construction activities and now construction progress, even pre-pandemic, have lagged and this has been reflected in the underspend (versus plan) on this project for the last two years. Additionally, ST has had master and sub scheduling issues due to noncompliance from one of the main CE contractors. ROW activities have also been lagging and there is now an astounding total of 400 board-approved parcel acquisitions. Even with the lags, total project contingency drawdown is more than $200M ahead of the planned drawdown as of July 2020. So, yeah, I don’t see things through the same rose-colored glasses as some others apparently do.
This brings me to the question I really want to pose here. The Lynnwood Link project is an 8.5 mile extension that will include just four stations along an alignment that largely follows the I-5 ROW. By comparison, the East Link project is a 14-mile extension that will encompass ten new stations along an alignment that utilizes the I-90 corridor in part and then meanders through sections of Bellevue up to Overlake. Despite the significantly greater span, a short tunnel segment through downtown and more than double the number of stations, the East Link project is still budgeted at a modest $900M more than the core cost of the Lynnwood Link project (i.e., exclusive of OMF-East contribution, fleet expansion contribution and financing cost). The variance seems dramatic to me when viewed from that perspective, so is this mostly due to the timing difference between when the two projects awarded their major contracts or some aggregate of that and other factors?
This didn’t nest correctly. It was meant to be a new entry, not a response to RossB’s comment. (Sorry RossB.)
My armchair observation is that building tracks on the surface is simply much cheaper than building on structures — even if the structures are just 10 feet off the ground. The cost of right of way is also a factor. East Link has much of its route on the surface between Downtown Bellevue and Downtown Seattle, and much of this distance was from publicly-owned land being used as I-90 reversible express lanes.
Thanks for the repky, Al S. I hadn’t really thought too much about the amount of elevated versus surface segments factor with regard to comparing these two extension projects. Do you happen to know how that breaks down for each?
In regard to the ROW, actually the East Link project was baselined with a slightly higher cost in this bucket, $298M versus $236M for Lynnwood Link, though the number of needed parcels is fewer in the case of the former.
I keep seeing changes and additions for stations either complete or under construction but they keep telling us funds are running out. By the time they get to what they call Everett they will be cutting services and features to make up for what they are spending now.
As for that matter, we were told it would serve Everett prior to the vote. A station near South Everett does not begin to serve Everett. They need to give us back the money they’ve been collecting from us for decades or deliver something to mid-Everett and don’t spend one more time on stations other what was in the original plan until Everett is complete. I don’t mind not being on served or not getting the same level of service but I do mind paying for it the same as those who are benefitting.
RE: Jo, funds are not running “out,” there’s a period in which ST is limited by debt to deliver projects at the current timeline. Over a longer period of time, there is still plenty of funding to complete the spine.
RE: Lynnwood vs East Link costs, a few thoughts.
I would imagine cost inflation is driving a large part of that difference. There should be reports in constant dollars that strip that out for a cleaner comparison.
You may also want to strip out the station cost, as that may include parking; I believe Lynnwood is adding far more structured parking, which can easily add a few hundred million.
For surface vs elevated, while the I90 crossing is technically surface, the cost to post-tension the I90 bridge was expensive (particularly in the design phase), which would push the Judkins to MI segment closer to elevated cost/mile even though it’s 100% surface running.
If you want to get really deep in apples to apples cost/mile analysis for rail construction, I encourage you to check out https://pedestrianobservations.com/
A station near South Everett does not begin to serve Everett.
A station in Lynnwood serves Everett. This is an important concept, and I can’t emphasize it enough.
My guess is only 10% of Everett will live close to a Link Station (if that). That means that the vast majority of Everett users will have to take a bus to the station. Taking a bus to the Lynnwood Station isn’t much different than taking a bus to an Everett Station. But taking a bus to the Lynnwood Station is a lot better than taking a bus to Seattle. A bus from Everett to Seattle at most gives you a ride to Seattle and the UW. Even then, chances are, it won’t really get you to the UW, but to a freeway stop quite a ways from the businesses, campus or hospital (requiring you to take a third bus). Furthermore, during rush hour (and reverse rush hour in the evening), the trip to downtown or the UW is extremely slow and inconsistent. In contrast, the trip using Lynnwood Link is much faster, and serves several stations that are of interest for folks in Everett (Northgate, U-District, UW, Capitol Hill and downtown).
Stations in Everett add very little *even for folks in Everett*. Some of them might take the train within Everett, but very few. Those who want to take the train might save some time, but a lot of people would actually lose time! If you are in the main part of Everett, you are better off taking an express bus that runs by the Everett Station and keeps going, to Lynnwood. Getting off that bus and catching the train would be slower.
Lynnwood Link adds more for Everett riders than Everett Link.
Do you live in Everett?
Many who commute to Seattle do not live anywhere near a bus stop. There are neighborhoods that have no stop within a mile, or one stop at 6 am and another at 6 pm. These people will be taking their car to whatever transit station they use. Parking is essential.
But assume they live within 1/2 mile of a frequent bus route. Getting from point A to point B in Everett usually includes at least one transfer. For me to go to Lynnwood that would be 3 transfers. It used to take me 3 transfers for a 5 mile trip just within Everett. Everett is not served when it takes over an hour just to get to the station to start with.
A minor comment on the “A bus from Everett to Seattle at most gives you a ride to Seattle and the UW. Even then, chances are, it won’t really get you to the UW, but to a freeway stop quite a ways from the businesses, campus or hospital (requiring you to take a third bus).”
This is true for the 512 ST bus. The 810, while not actually entering Everett city limits, does come close enough to be useful to at least the S Everett crowd (through Mariner and McCollum Park&Rides and even Ash Way, I suppose). On the Seattle side, the 810 travels through the heart of U District along 45th, then loops through campus on Stevens Way. Closest stop to the hospital is at the herb garden (Garfield Lane), a 2 minute walk to UWMC (or longer, depending on where along the very long corridor inside UWMC you are actually headed). I am not super familiar with the 810 schedule these days but when I was (a few years ago now), anecdotally it seemed to be on time most of the time. Most of the 800-series CT buses seem to be pretty punctual, within 5 minutes delay, perhaps due to longer delays built into the schedule.
None of this detracts from the larger point about how Link will be useful to Everett dwellers, but it is worth being accurate on the supporting details, too.
I’d be surprised if S1 was on time and S2 was deferred. They will share the same O&M facility in Bothell, so would be odd to stand up that entire facility and only use half of it for ‘savings.’ Aside from perhaps the new transit center at the 522-405 interchange, S2 is very capital light once the 85th Kirkland station is deferred, so savings are likely immaterial in the context of ST3 affordability. Seems like it would make more sense to launch S1 and S2 together with the 85th station deferred. Unlike rail, WSDOT should be able to rebuild the interchange at a later date without disrupting S2 operations.
Seems like it would make more sense to launch S1 and S2 together with the 85th station deferred.
I agree. Even with very optimistic ridership assumptions (much higher than Sound Transit’s), it is hard to see the 85th station being worth it, let alone delay other projects.
Transit aside, the 405/85th St. interchange is pretty terrible for all modes. As a pedestrian or cyclist, crossing the freeway is a death trap, although at least there’s ped bridges at 80th and 100th as alternatives.
Even as a driver, I don’t like that interchange. Making a left turn from 85th St. east to 405 north, you have very little time to merge, and every time I do it, it’s a stressful experience. Going the other way, trying to get from the 405 southbound exit ramp to Kirkland Way requires cutting across three lanes of traffic, which I see others do, but personally refuse to do, turning left at 6th St. instead.
A more calmed, controlled intersection just makes travel safer for everybody, regardless of travel mode.
Transit-wise, not building the 85th St. Station means I-405 transit service essentially leaves downtown Kirkland behind, forcing you to ride a slow and not-super-frequent bus to Totem Lake, then wait again to go north. Or, take a slow local bus all the way to Bellevue, in the other direction. With STRIDE, you just walk to the express in 15 minutes and you’re there. No slog down local streets, no transfer. Thanks to the diagonal nature of the CKC, even the Google Campus and Houghton isn’t that far away.
The assumptions that it’s too far, that you have to wait for another bus, come from models that set some arbitrary threshold for how far you can walk and say you can’t walk because the distance is just slightly over that threshold.
Sound Move, 1996, also included center access at NE 85th Street; it was canceled and the funds used for a new Kirkland Transit Center, the NE 128th Street overcrossing and center access, the Totem Lake Transit Center, and pedestrian infrastructure on NE 85th Street.
As ST3 was being compiled, a more sensible project would have been a center station at NE 72nd Street next to Houghton already served by Route 245 that connects with Google, Overlake, and downtown Kirkland.
I expect more ridership is expected from the north line than the south line.
With STRIDE, you just walk to the express in 15 minutes and you’re there.
Right, but the point is, not that many people will do that. There simply aren’t that many riders to justify that cost. Seriously, how many riders do you think will use that bus stop? A hundred? A thousand? Even with the most optimistic rider estimate, it isn’t worth $275 million.
Here is another way to think of it. Imagine they complete the I-405 BRT system. Also imagine that Metro gets a grant to run a bus like so: https://goo.gl/maps/Vs6ZtBRCGbq7BLBt9? Which one is cheaper? Which one gets more riders? The obvious answer is the Metro bus route.
The 85th interchange is just a bad value. It is a freeway project masquerading as a transit project (you yourself imply as much). If WSDOT wants to build it, great. But otherwise, there are lots better ways to spend money (or in this case, there are lots worse ways to save money than delaying this project).
So Stride can’t stop at 85th without the new interchange? I guess it would have to cross all the traffic lanes to the exit. Then the question is, if Stride skips 85th, could we give Kirkland something else robust? I’m thinking of a route from Bellevue TC on 405 to 70th Street, then serving Houghton and running limited-stop to Kirkland TC. It could continue limited-stop to Totem Lake if there’s enough money. Stride wouldn’t meet expectations, but this second route would be better than the slow 250. The main issue is if it’s a Metro route, Metro doesn’t have money. So it would be better as an ST route. ST would probably balk because the operating cost would detract from the 85th interchange project. But it’s what I would like as a rider who sometimes goes to Kirkland, and if I lived in Kirkland. I always disliked the 250 and predecessors because of their dawdling, and the 340 stopped at 70th but there was a big gap from there to downtown Kirkland, and the 255 which is mediocre but it doesn’t help with Bellevue-Kirkland circulation at all. So it seems like you could combine the best of the 340 and the 250.
Short of delaying all the thru riders by detouring all the way to Kirkland Transit Center and turning around, I don’t see how a bus down 405 could stop there under the current roadway configuration.
I suppose the stop could have conceivably been put in at 70th, but that’s further from downtown than 85th, and outside of rush hour, the 245’s frequency sucks. An 85th St. stop also comes very close to the CKC, greatly improving walk/bike access for free. At 70th, the pedestrian facilities outside the freeway footprint leave a lot to be desired. Plus, the connection on the 245 to Microsoft doesn’t add much value when you can just stay on the bus another 5 minutes and switch to Link, instead.
Short of delaying all the thru riders by detouring all the way to Kirkland Transit Center and turning around, I don’t see how a bus down 405 could stop there under the current roadway configuration.
You don’t get the idea. I’m talking about a brand new bus — an all-day express bus from Totem Lake to Kirkland Transit Center. But to just make my point, how about this: https://goo.gl/maps/YycEE9k9CPECfXQh9. Again, this is a brand new bus. It would stop at every 405 BRT stop north of Bellevue. But instead of finishing at Bellevue, it would finish at the Kirkland Transit Center. It would run opposite the regular 405 BRT. This means if the regular 405 BRT ran 80 times a day, so would this. Clearly this is better for riders than the 85th interchange. And yet it would cost a lot less, because the interchange costs $275 million. To put things in perspective, the main Swift line costs about $5 million a year to operate, and this would likely cost less. That means you could run this bus for over 50 years.
Now of course I wouldn’t run that bus. No one would. It just isn’t worth it. But if running that bus isn’t worth it, then why on earth is it worth spending a lot more for a freeway interchange that gives transit riders a lot less?
It is not a transit project, but a freeway project, and should be paid for with freeway money.
This is a highway project, and should be paid for with highway dollars.
I thought WSDOT was paying to redo the car ramps, that Sound Transit was only paying for the transit stop component.
I’m talking about a brand new bus — an all-day express bus from Totem Lake to Kirkland Transit Center.
Terrific idea. I’d note that many of the peak 255 buses dead head this exact route. When I worked in Totem Lake I would often ask the driver if I could ride this portion of the route with them; usually they were cool with that. I would have the bus exit on the HOV ramp but then loop back and get back on 405 SB at NE 116th. The office park, Fred Meyer, Kirkland courthouse, and new senior living community are all an easy walk if you do that and I think would be provide a good ridership base of people wanting to connect quickly to Kirkland TC.
asdf2: I believe the intent there is for people to use the left fork of the exit ramp, stop, and wait for a gap in traffic to turn right onto 85th, cutting across one lane instead of three to get to the left turn lane for Kirkland Way. How many people read the sign and actually have the patience to do this–that’s another story!
Giving 85th an “infill station” approach seems more than reasonable. It’s not like there will be ambitious TOD there by 2025.
S2 has an important system benefit for both East Link and Lynnwood Link. Its operation can add riders to Link.
I still rue over the time-consuming difficulty because ST can’t easily turn around buses at the BTC. At least it’s non-revenue time being eaten. However, its going to add 5-10 minutes to every S1 and S2 bus trip.
I still rue over the time-consuming difficulty because ST can’t easily turn around buses at the BTC.
First of all, why not?
Second of all, isn’t a typical bus going to just keep going, after a short layover at BTC? It makes sense to have the flexibility to turn-around there (for peak demand) but I would imagine most buses just keep going.
I’ve heard Bellevue is already planning to expand the transit center because it will reach capacity with near-future plans. The 550 eastbound already stops on 108th, and I think a couple small routes and paratransit do. So I could see it becoming T-shaped. There’s also been talk of 106th, which was the original transit center, but that would be a longer walk to transfer between buses or to/from Link.
What’s the problem with turning around? The 550 loops up to 12th. The other terminating routes probably make smaller loops. What’s wrong with that?
The “problem” is that STride S1 and S2 have to drive several blocks beyond the BTC to turn around. That means waiting through signals with long waits, needed so that pedestrians can walk across their wide streets. Those same pedestrian issues will also mean that buses can’t easily make right turns because there will be pedestrians in the crosswalks. As more people walk in Downtown Bellevue, the slower turning buses will get.
Solutions? There aren’t easy ones. Buses on long routes like STride have to layover somewhere and BTC is too small, as Mike mentions. It could even be an opportunity to extend S1 or S2 at least one or two more stops and maybe even connect to 520 or Downtown Kirkland.
For example, it may be time for a paradigm shift in Bellevue from having a single transit center to having a transit corridor — like Third Ave in Seattle. Consider what a mess bus transit would be if all buses went to just one location in Downtown Seattle, key buses had to make four turns at intersections with lots of pedestrians and there were no bus-only lanes where buses could turn around.
If there was an easy solution, there would already be a great consensus plan. Bellevue has long loved to envision good transit! Still, I think this operational challenge has been deferred or trivialized up until now. I realize that some may still be skeptical of the problem. Still, 2025 is close and it’s a bigger waste of money to worry about picking up a few hundreds of riders at 85th more than to address this impending high-cost operational hit on Metro and ST operations.
“it may be time for a paradigm shift in Bellevue from having a single transit center to having a transit corridor — like Third Ave in Seattle”
That might be a good idea. When I left Bellevue there were three overpasses across 405: SE 8th, NE 8th, and NE 12th. Now there’s twice as many. I used to think, “Why? It’s not Seattle.” Buf if it’s grown enough to need overpasses every few blocks, maybe it should have a transit corridor too.
The Link station won’t move so the closest options are 108th or 110th. I assume 112th is too much of a car sewer and it’s a hill down from the destinations. The city council would probably object to 110th for the same reason it didn’t want Link trains in front of city hall. So that leaves 108th. But with the long walk between 108th and the station and the fact that the existing transit center is already there, maybe we should leave Stride and RapidRide there and put all the other routes on 108th. There will be two Stride lines and two RapidRide lines by my count.
What would the advantages of transit mall be? With 3rd Avenue the advantages are the significant destinations and transfers all along it: Pioneer Square, the government buildings, the library, the retail district, and Belltown. In Bellevue at 108th it can only go six blocks north to 12th and six blocks south to Main. South of there the density is on Bellevue Way. It can’t go straight on Bellevue Way because it’s too far from the Link stations and too far west of most of the highrises. So could it go 108th-Main-B’Way or 108th-4th-B’Wy. But that adds two turns, which you were trying to avoid. So would it only go from 12th to Main? Would that be much of an advantage over a single-point transit center? It would be nice to have the library on the trunk but I assume it will have some service anyway. Would it have four stops: 12th, 6th, 4th, and Main? Could buses from the northeast get to the 12th entrance easily? The Spring District routes could, but the B needs to remain on 8th. Would it cause the Kirkland-Bellevue route to move from 116th to 108th, contradicting the medical corridor Metro has been building? Does 116th have enough hospitals we can call it Pill Hill 2 now?
To get maximum turn-around and layover functionality, I’d suggest pairing two streets for transit. The general traffic flow doesn’t need to be on one-way streets but it could be an option. For example, running a southbound exclusive bus lane on 110th Ave NE and a northbound exclusive bus lane on 108th Ave NE. That way, buses would only need to turn right at the northern and southern ends (and turn on and off NE 6th..
I’d be tempted to suggest that ST1 and ST2 should run northward from the BTC as the East Main Station provides some access. However, the terrain to the south is steeper and more jobs are south of NE 4th St than north of NE 8th St. These are details I’d leave to a multi-agency joint planning effort to develop. However, every agency should be at the table rather than just the City or just ST.
OK, I haven’t followed the plans for the new Bellevue Transit Center. But when I think of a transit center I think of a big lot which allows buses to easily turn around and lay over. That is the primary purpose of a transit center, from what I can tell.
So you are saying that the new Bellevue Transit Center won’t have that functionality?
Not only is turning around in BTC time consuming, but I have a hunch (90% sure of this, due to the signals on both ends) that they’re not supposed to. BTC is not like Federal Way. FWTC is designed to be wide enough for this (and many routes do). But in Bellevue, you’ll notice that every bus route goes straight through the TC. The 250 (and old 234/235) go south on 110, and north on 108. The 560, 535, and 532 have layover spaces several blocks into downtown. And every freeway bus that hits Bellevue on the way to other places has a way of routing straight through without turning around (and no single trip uses the NE 6th I-405 access more than once).
I have been on 2 or 3 buses that broke this rule and turned around (one of these was a 555 on the old, absolutely horrible routing with a literal 20 minute long loop around Bellevue TC. This driver was like screw it, and went directly to BTC and did a U. It was glorious). But the maneuver is very slow and tight, and even feels disruptive.
My concern with BTC is the capacity and volatility during peak. Pre-covid at least, lots of frequent buses are trying to get to the limited number of spaces. The 566 in particular had 10-minute spaced runs that (due to 520 traffic volatility) could arrive in Bellevue between 10 mins late and 15 mins early (and wait). So it was pretty common to have bunched 566s waiting at BTC. This in combination with the 10-minute frequent 532, 271, and B-line, which could also bunch, and oddball peak routes meant that a 566 that doesn’t quite fit could jam up all those buses behind it for more than 10 minutes!
This is part of why I think that the Stride stations on Bellevue should be on 110th, right in between BTC and the Link Station. It’s only slightly worse for bus transfers, but better for Link transfers, and it frees Stride from both contributing and getting susceptible to BTC congestion. A compromise solution where inbound Stride stops inside BTC and outbound loops around 4th and stops on 110th at the Link station also seems entirely reasonable.
“I haven’t followed the plans for the new Bellevue Transit Center.”
There are no specific plans I’ve heard of. Just the idea of expanding the transit center, and saying it would be over capacity without it.
“But when I think of a transit center I think of a big lot which allows buses to easily turn around and lay over. That is the primary purpose of a transit center, from what I can tell.”
To me the primary purpose of a transit center is to transFER between routes, and to be within walking distance of a downtown. That’s what the Bellevue Transit Center always was. Other transit centers have unfortunately emphasized parking garages and layover space, but those don’t help walk-on passengers.
You can see the high level plans here: https://bellevuewa.gov/sites/default/files/media/pdf_document/DTPFINAL2015.pdf – linked from here: https://bellevuewa.gov/city-government/departments/transportation/planning/infrastructure-and-subareas/downtown-transportation-plan
A relevant paragraph quoted verbatim from the report: “BTC intersections at 108th Avenue NE and 110th Avenue NE will have significantly more
buses and pedestrians in 2030, a situation that will make leaving the BTC on a bus more challenging than at present. Traffic signal operations at these intersections and the design of the intersections will require special attention to ensure the BTC can effectively accommodate anticipated buses and passengers.”
The report later discusses transit priority corridors, etc.
Hope this helps ground the discussion a little.
To me the primary purpose of a transit center is to transfer between routes, and to be within walking distance of a downtown.
But that can be achieved quite simply by sending buses to the same end of town. They don’t call Third Avenue a transit center, and yet my guess is more transfers happen there than anywhere else in the state.
In contrast, the Kirkland Transit Center doesn’t really add anything with regards to transfers. If the 230/231 was paired with the 245/255, every transfer would be just as easy. But having the transit center makes it easy for buses to lay over, and turn around.
Likewise, if Bellevue ditched the transit center, and had buses loop around the neighborhood streets, transfers would be just as easy. Many riders would prefer it, since in some cases it would get them closer to their destination. But it would cost a lot more money, for the same reason Al mentioned — it wouldn’t be easy to turn around (or layover). The transit center (one would hope) will be built like every transit center I know of — making it easy to turn around or layover. While not necessarily convenient for the user, it can save a lot of money for Metro and ST (which can be put into more service).
From my experience, turning around at BTC is usually easy, the problem is that it isn’t always “fast”. The obstacle is getting stuck at long lights, usually in conjunction with either NE 4th St. (the 241 runs into this problem right before turning into the 226 going NB) or NE 8th St. (this is an issue with the B line turning left on 108th, the 271 turning left from 108th, the 234/235/whatever replaced them going straight on 108th). The last two, at least, would not be saved by having the transit center change into something else (or disappear) – the “issue” is that a lot of the Bellevue downtown core destinations are sandwiched between two streets with a lot of car traffic, and thus lights are long. In addition, as someone else pointed out, the streets are wide and thus pedestrian cycles are also long. So it just takes a long time to cross that 2-4 block section, no matter what street you are on. The only way to avoid it is to make only right turns, which may not work well but I suppose would be possible if you turned 108th into a “transit mall” that buses only terminate at, but not cross. Not sure how it would be feasible, as many routes do cross it – 271, 241/226 being some examples. I suppose for routes like the 550, B line, 234/235, some judicious rerouting might allow for both layover space and avoidance of crossing 4th and 8th, maybe.
Before the Bellevue transit center the routes crossed each other at random and you had to keep track of which street each route was on and what was the best stop pair. The 235 was on Bellevue Way, the 240 on 108th, the 340 on 112th. So you’d have to remember Kirkland on one street, Factoria/Newport Hills local on another, Renton/Bothell express on another. And each of them had different transfer pairs. With the transit center, you know when you reach the transit center it’s time to get off, your route will be on the same platform, and there will hopefully be a timed connection. (Although as some routes became more frequent, the timing was lost.)
“They don’t call Third Avenue a transit center, and yet my guess is more transfers happen there than anywhere else in the state.” Yes, they are both transit malls, but the difference is buses can linger at a bus bay at a TC, to fix midday slack or rush hour bunching, while at 3rd Ave bus needs to move forward more or less immediately. So you get the same transfer advantages of collapsing all the routes together, but by calling it a TC and spreading out the stops into a dozen bus bays rather than a few shared stops, individual routes can linger as they start and finish runs or catch up to a timetable. Kirkland TC is the same, with no off-street layover I believe?
The turnaround is really an express bus and Stride issue. Hopefully they can figure out how to have a useful loop like the 550. Given both S1 and S2 terminate in Bellevue, seems like they could just have the route terminate somewhere on the west side of downtown, serving the TC first for transfers and then having a few stops elsewhere. But I bet they loop up to 12th, because the layover space is the curb-space adjacent to the library. Unlike every other business owner, the library won’t complain about idling buses.
Doesn’t Bellevue already have a transit priority corridor? It’s called 405 and runs north/south through downtown with semi-dedicated lanes via HOT and the 6th Ave ramps, flowing directly into the TC. The question is does Bellevue need an east-west transit priority corridor? Since B is the rapid ride corridor, wouldn’t that be the place to start as that’s presumably the most important non-Link, non-405 route.
405 to Bellevue TC is pretty good with the HOV access at 6th. The HOT lane project Bellevue to Renton will help. East-West yes RR-B connecting Crossroads with DT Bellevue and Overlake is priority #2 for buses. East Link will be a game changer; especially when it’s extended to DT Redmond.
Access to DT Kirkland sucks and that’s part of what makes DT Kirkland so desirable. You have a downtown nucleus that isn’t “overrun” from the outside. Like it? Then live here. DT Bellevue has big wide boulevards that makes driving possible (not pleasant). DT Kirkland has a street system that rivals a medieval European village.
The turnaround is really an express bus and Stride issue.
I think there are a lot more buses that end at the transit center. The 250, 550 and RapidRide B all turnaround at the Bellevue Transit Center. The 241 is paired with the 226, but it turns around. It sure looks to me like *most* buses that serve Bellevue turn around there.
This makes sense to me. For most buses this is by far their biggest stop. You can occasionally pair some bus routes, but having a good turnaround allows you operational flexibility. Stride is no different. Looking at the map, it all looks like one big long route (from Lynnwood to Burien). I originally figured that was the plan. But relatively few people will through-route beyond Bellevue. Sound Transit prefers the operational flexibility and reliability that come form truncating in downtown Bellevue. If Sound Transit won’t pair both halves of the 405 BRT, I doubt Metro is going to pair a lot of routes to keep them moving the same direction.
On the other hand, I could definitely see a few routes be extended, if layover/turnaround space could be found. The B Line, for example, could go a bit farther east, after serving the transit center. It could follow the 550 route until about Bellevue High School (if possible). That would provide for double frequency on the west part of downtown Bellevue, while a fair number of riders avoid a long walk (or a transfer). This sort of overlap is common in the UW, for example, an area with multiple layover spaces.
Stepping back a few years, I see that Bellevue adopted a Downtown plan and a citywide Transit Master Plan before ST3 was developed and the STRide concept was born, that ST3 literature implied that 405 was one long route, and that STRide service was only conceptual in the ballot measure. Even when split into two STRide routes in later diagrams, the line just stops and that implies a simple turn around — which is not possible without BTC modifications.
It points to a structural problem with interpreting ST3 generally: taking what was in the measure too literally when it was never intended to be. In a logical service plan, STRide routes would never begin and end in places where buses couldn’t easily turn around.
@Ross – good point on extending rather than through-routing to fix the turnaround problem. I think that is what I was trying to say by express vs local routes, as a local route can extend through downtown to provide good coverage while an express route might find ridership near zero after emptying of commuters at the TC. Hopefully even the express routes can have useful tails … a protip when catching the 550 at peak-of-peak was the board at the library to get a seat, since everyone else was waiting at the TC itself despite not being the first stop.
The library already functions well as layover space for the 550; that should still be used post-550, likely by the Stride routes. That covers routes turning north out of the TC, so then there needs to be a comparable spot south side of downtown for routes that would turn south, like the B. Following the 550 to Bellevue Way makes sense … triangle with 10th & 104th may work well?
“STRide routes would never begin and end in places where buses couldn’t easily turn around.” Not sure that holds water. Route should go follow the best corridors and then we invest in the operational infrastructure. Otherwise it’s like the D just ending because there’s a parking lot (the E can at least blame a jurisdictional boundary)
One of the advantages of S3 is that by truncating at 145th Link station, it is able to take advantage of a lovely bus facility being built at the station. However, I think most people on this blog would have preferred an S3 that most went through Lake City and transferred to Link at Roosevelt or U District. That would a higher ridership route overall, despite having a more difficult terminus environment in a urban street grid vs off-street bus facility.
For S1/S2, by breaking the line in two, ST staff was likely recognizing the details on the grounds as two separate lines allow for a tail rather than an immediate turnaround. I never read the ST3 plans as an immediate turnaround back onto 405 because I knew that was geometrically impossible under the existing TC setup. The representative alignment incorporates that analysis – hence 2 operational lines in the ST3 text – even though it doesn’t show on the high level diagram.
“Seems like it would make more sense to launch S1 and S2 together with the 85th station deferred.”
On this, I’m in total agreement with you. :)
Yes, the important thing is some frequent express service as soon as possible. It’s not worth holding it up for one stop, especially since the stop is not right at Kirkland TC. Opening rest of the Lynnwood-Bellevue line will give us an initial ridership baseline to compare to predictions. There is certainly some latent ridership the 535 isn’t capturing because it’s infrequent and doesn’t run Sundays.
One Sunday at Bellevue TC I saw a woman at the 535 stop asking how to get to Bothell. I said I didn’t think the 535 ran on Sundays and the best way I could think of was to take the 550+522. I didn’t know the local routes since I don’t go north much but I estimated they would take at least an hour and Kirkland-Bothell might be hourly if it even ran on Sunday.
It would be 250->230, with this spring’s service restructure making the northern half a lot straighter. Unfortunately, the 230 is still only once per hour on Sundays, but if you happen to luck out with the timing, it would still be faster than detouring all the way to downtown Seattle.
The 239 is another option for the north half, which is slower than the 230, but at least runs every half hour, instead of every hour, and probably still less time overall than 550->522, which, themselves, are only every half hour on Sundays. You also get much emptier buses riding the Eastside routes vs. going through Seattle, so less COVID risk.
All of these options are much slower than the 535, which I agree, could start running better service today, without having to wait for STRIDE construction.
Since the I-405 corridor is long, wide, and flat, with no lakes to cross, really no hurry about it. Plans for 85th look plain inhuman, but luckily, they’ll be on paper long enough that a new generation will be the ones who get to decide whether they can stand them.
The homes owned by the trail-side home-owners so vehemently anti-transit, could very well be inherited by grand-kids who got their first Link-ride before they could talk, but have since had increasingly only good things to say about it and will also vote accordingly.
I’ll also keep on believing that one thing the Kirkland future does hold is a decent transit connection with Lake Washington Technical College. Which will include both massively improved bus service, and also some shop courses where the cars’ wheels are steel.
And there’s no reason why somebody in the school’s Funeral Services program can’t discover the link to San Francisco’s cemetery streetcar history that I’m going to link them to as soon as I hit “Post Comment.”
What do you want in RapidRide C and D improvements?
For starters, giving buses deliberately billed as “Rapid” their own lanes to run in, instead of lanes they’re forced to share with motorists who can afford it.
Remind me: are HOT lanes available to well-funded SOV’s? Either way, for the speed we need out of those buses, nobody who can’t handle a sixty foot bus at seventy belongs in the way of them. Link’s not FHS or (S)outh (L)ake (U)nion (T)rolley, is it? Sorry, Dolly P., I know your mama said “Tramp.”
But also, while I know the graphic is pretty much schematic, for that much hostile space, I’d like to see Rapid Ride passengers be able to board and de-bark at a station, and in a neighborhood however artificial, where their first impulse isn’t to Rapidly flee for their lives.
I think at least one commenter above confirmed my own memories of where I-405 crosses 85th.. Not going “Steel-Wheel-Chauvinist”, but from a human perspective, passengers deserve transit station there, not a windswept curb. If we need to build a neighborhood on an elevated structure- sort of like a lid on a frame- Rapid Ride’s worth it.
“are HOT lanes available to well-funded SOV’s?”
Yes. High-occupancy TOLL lanes allow HOVs free and SOVs tolled. High-occupancy VEHICLE lanes allow only HOVs. In most places HO* means 2+ people; in a few 3+.
I can’t see tolls on city arterials. That sounds like a mess to administer and enforce, and you’d have to allow SOVs to go one block to turn into driveways or turn right. Also, the city would argue 15th Ave W and Fauntleroy Way aren’t wide enough for two dedicated transit lanes, to say nothing of Queen Anne Ave, Mercer Way, and other connecting streets.
I’ve argued for this as a workaround to rules preventing automatic ticketing for bus-lane violators. Charge the maximum to drive in the bus-lane. I believe this is $10 per segment. Every block can be a segment. My guess is there will be very few people driving in bus lanes after that.
BAT lanes are trickier. Drivers can use them when they turn right at the next intersection. Often though, the street can transition from bus-only to BAT, which means you could apply the same meters for the bus-only section.
BAT lanes shouldn’t be tricky at all. Put cameras at both ends if the intersection. If a car turns right, only the first camera will see it. If it continues straight, both the first and second cameras will see it, and you can charge the toll.
Looks like some reasonable changes from ST for the time being. I am interested the long term affects, specifically with the segment that includes new tunnel downtown and Ballard Link. It looks like those two items could be separated, although I fear that would lead to delays on the Ballard segment. Although that might not be a bad thing if ST is as dead set as they seem on a 14th alignment.
Yep, agree. As long as the LQA &SLU sections of the “Ballard” segment open alongside the 2nd tunnel, Seattle should be fine. The Ballard part of Ballard Link will come a few years later, hopefully giving ST and SDOT time to optimize all the bridge segments.
The ST discussion of South Sounder parking prompts a fare concept that I will float here. Today, ST has a premium fare for Sounder; it is more than bus and distanced based; Link is also distance based. ST is still providing free parking but discussing a reservation parking system with a small fee. Today, there is a narrow and deep subsidy to auto-access Sounder riders; the subsidy to bus or walk access riders is much less.
Suppose the Sounder fare was reduced to about the same as Link. A larger fee was charged for parking and the receipt served as an all-day transit pass. What is the ORCA compatibility? ST sells day passes for Link, correct?
So, charge more for parking and less for Sounder.
I think ST will roll out paid parking at the Sounder garage once it is more common at the Link stations and the Sounder garages are full again. It’s primarily a demand management tool. The cost to provide & maintain parking is not included in Farebox recovery metrics, so no need to fiddle with the Sounder fares.
Also, keep in mind some South Sounder trains were at capacity pre-COVID, so once ridership returns I’d hesitate to lower fares unless we know there will be excess capacity, either because commuting is down in a new normal or (hopefully) not until Sounder has expanded capacity with longer trains and/or more trips.
In general I’m opposed to targeted funding. I think tax money should go to the general fund. But in this case, I see an exception that could be quite popular politically. I would charge money for parking, with the money going into shuttle bus service and the creation of satellite parking lots (in the areas that raise the money). That way, folks who pay won’t feel like they are being ripped off. If you park, the money goes into bus service that you might end up using. Or it goes into building a separate park and ride lot closer to your house (along with a shuttle bus that serves both that neighborhood and the lot).
In this case, there is no reason to build bigger lots by the stations. They are already big, and making them bigger costs a lot more than adding satellite park and ride lots (which often consists of simply leasing a lot from a church). For Sounder, shuttle bus service is relatively cheap, since the bus only has to run a handful of times during the day.
Since when does Sound Transit contribute the to RapidRide?
It was a specific project in the ST3 levy: https://st32.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/InteractiveMap/Templates/July1/EarlyDeliverables-1.pdf
Here’s my comment on $216,000 per added park-and-ride stall in Auburn, and $275,000 per added stall in Kent.
There’s lots of evidence from across America that park and ride with suburban catchments and reliable rail service puts butts in seats on the train. One slot equals one point two butts or something like that. Per eddiew, ST could put a daily or monthly fee on the slots to support the investment by a bit, like at the levels at which fares support the billions spent on Sounder. Incentivizing HOV cars with the pricing is now the norm as well.
But here’s a question: Could government instead use those (or leverage those) quarter million bucks per daily rider levels of money to build affordable housing units in Auburn and Kent and fill them with folks guaranteed to ride Sounder every day? In the Big Picture, is that a better way to spend public money? If so, what’s the payoff in boardings per rider from each new affordable unit? And what’s the subsidy per affordable unit?
There’s evidence from academic work that park and ride is a better bet for efficient generation of ridership that originates from suburban sprawl, if ridership is the goal. And GHG per mile of the customer driving to reach PnR is going to go down as the years advance.
All depends on the station area. Parking (+ good bike access) at Tukwilla makes sense because there’s nothing there, and parking at Tacoma Dome make sense until Tacoma figures out how to repeat Seattle’s Denny Triangle boom. But Auburn, Kent, Sumner, and Puyallup all have good bones, which points towards TOD being better than parking.
I and others have argued that Sounder needs another station, likely between Auburn and Kent, where ST can cheaply add lots of surface parking to meet the real need for suburban riders while focusing on TOD at the remaining stations.
Thanks for your response.
One reason some transit agencies like TOD better than P&R near stations is because of who pays. Transit agencies pay for designing/building/marketing/managing the P&R, and more if station-adjacent land needs to be acquired. Transit agencies don’t pay for housing near stations, and in fact in many cases are gaining revenue from the lease of agency property if that is where the housing is being built. More revenue is a good thing for transit agencies!
Another factor, I would surmise: P&R performance is on the shoulders of the agency. TOD performance is the responsibility of whoever designed/built/markets/manages the built space in the TOD, and it’s not the transit agency.
Still another thing: among transit supporters, I’ve detected disdain for the typically high proportion of customers of P&R who drive to their subsidized parking space (all-day car storage at public expense) from a short distance away from the station … less than two miles or even one mile. These commuters could have walked, hopped on a local bus, cycled, scootered, taken an electric Uber ride, or some lower-impact means other than lighting off their ICE-powered vehicle for such a short trip.
I used to live about two miles from a park&ride with much more frequent and faster transit options than the street I was on. I chose to slog through downtown traffic and then the slow tail-end ride on the coverage route because walking 2 miles uphill in the rain and 40 degree weather on a 4 lane road at night sounded terrible. And then I had to try it a few times when I was too late to ride my coverage route in the evenings and it really was terrible. So the disdain for people who choose to drive 2 miles rather than ride a bus for half an hour longer or walk for half an hour in the rain after a long day at work is not entirely warranted. Now asking people to pay for the park&ride slot is not a bad thing either, and yes, some of those people would then choose to drive the entire way, perhaps, depending on the cost. But I can understand why people do what they do with the current setup.
There’s lots of evidence from across America that park and ride with suburban catchments and reliable rail service puts butts in seats on the train.
Yeah, sure, but that doesn’t mean it is worth it.
There’s evidence from academic work that park and ride is a better bet for efficient generation of ridership that originates from suburban sprawl, if ridership is the goal.
A better bet compared to what? These spaces are ridiculously expensive. There are very few satellite park and ride lots. There are very few connecting shuttle buses. My guess is that if you added a bunch of (much cheaper) satellite park and ride lots, along with connecting bus service, you would get a lot more riders *per dollar spent* mostly because you would spend a lot fewer dollars.
Saying “we should build park and ride lots because some study somewhere said they are a good value” is like saying we should build a subway line to Tacoma, because New York has one. It is an inappropriate use of money. Tacoma needs buses, and spending a fortune on light rail is a huge waste. Likewise, spending a fortune expanding these these park and ride lots is also a huge waste.
RossB, I want to understand what you are writing in your comment.
Are you suggesting that park and ride lots be built on greenfield ground along highways outside of Auburn and Kent, and that shuttle buses move commuters in morning peak from these “satellite lots” to the Sounder train stations, in the reverse direction in evening peak? And that would probably pencil out as a cheaper way of gaining more ridership for Sounder than adding structured park and ride within walking range of the trains stations?
Please confirm, or clarify if I am not grasping your point.
I think Ross’s point is that even though P&Rs are the best way to serve suburban riders, that doesn’t mean it’s still worth serving them at all when compared with serving an entirely different rider that’s much easier to serve.
As for satellite lots, they certainly don’t need to be greenfield. A common option are lots underutilized on weekdays, such as churches; Puyallups Red lot is an excellent example of a massive satellite lot that existed pre-Sounder. The advantage of satellite lots are multiple:
1. Land value. Land adjacent to stations are usually expensive. Getting away from that station, even just a few blocks, can yield savings
2. Surface vs structured. Multiple surface lots are much cheaper than one structured garage serving the same number of cars
3. Lease vs build. A surface lots can often be used as-is, or with minimal grading. That (3a) allows the public operator to spend minimal cash up front, and (3b) allows the lots to be easily repurposed for a future us as the surrounding land use changes. (The Bel-Red P&R is intentionally surface for this reason)
4. Ancillary benefit for non-drivers. A bus route serving satellite lots can also pick up non-parkers and bring them to the station. Seattle 41 is a classic example of a route that started as a P&R shuttle and has evolved into much more than that. For Sounder, routes connecting Bonney Lake, Ortig, and South Hill to Sumner/Puyallup stations can be both good local routes and satellite lot shuttles, timing transfers when Sounder is running and sticking a clockface headway the rest of the day (for example)
Ross, have I learned at your knee correctly?
AJ is correct. I’m not necessarily talking about greenfield lots. I’m mainly talking about leasing lots (AJ’s third bullet point). Specifically, I’m talking about leasing space from churches.
Take a gander at the King County Park and Ride lots: https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/metro/travel-options/parking.aspx. Right off the bat you see churches listed. About half of the park and ride lots in Auburn are church lots. One of the lots that the aforementioned 41 serves is a church lot (https://goo.gl/maps/A116mpgm1M3MZ6Nm6). This makes sense — churches sit empty on the weekdays. I have no idea how much Metro pays to lease those lots, but I doubt it is much.
These cities have lots of surrounding churches. Not all of them would work as lots (sometimes they have school or other activities) but most of them would. When this came up last time, I took a quick assessment, and found *more* spaces than the (very expensive) expansion would add — https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2020/04/21/how-much-is-too-much-for-a-transit-parking-garage/#comment-846739.
This doesn’t count the number of riders that would just walk to the connecting bus. Nor does it count those that would park on the street, creating their own de-facto park and ride space. Again, this has been part of the 41 experience for quite some time.
There are other opportunities. For example, the Muckleshoot tribe has a lot of land that sits idle (https://goo.gl/maps/6uKPdDc3M9fbuqy17). I would imagine they would be thrilled about the possibility of making a little bit of money, while also improving bus service to the area (and the casino).
Leasing and then running shuttles costs a lot less than the park and ride lots expansion. Initially I would just put money into those projects (since Sound Transit made a commitment to improve parking). Eventually, I would pay for the operations and leasing by charging money to park at the main lot. That money would be targeted towards those projects, in those communities.
Since we are on the topic of Sounder, here are the latest monthly boarding counts for both North and South combined, as reported by ST to FTA for the National Transit Database:
Help me out — Have the scheduled daily runs been reduced?
A little bit*, but this is mostly the result of the pandemic. Sounder is a commuter train. It mainly serves office workers. Office work is largely being done at home now (or being deferred).
In contrast, a bus like the E hasn’t seen the same level of drop-off. Ridership has decreased, but not by as much. While the E served plenty of office workers, it also serves plenty of other riders.
*It looks like one train each direction has been cancelled: https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/schedule-sounder.pdf
They were reduced heavily between April and June. The service started trickling back as ST restored runs one by one, but it’s still not up to pre-covid service. I don’t ride Sounder because I don’t travel in its corridors during its times, but I assume capacity followed ridership rather than vice-versa. There’s a mobility-access reason to have Link and core bus routes running at least every 10-15 minutes regardless of ridership so that people can get around, but that doesn’t apply to an intrinsically infrequent service like Sounder. Sounder’s span has been set at peak&shoulder and maximum frequency at half-hourly, so I see no reason to change that unless we’re going to turn Sounder into something else: a half-hourly S-Bahn all day every day like Caltrain’s plans. So the only reason to add Sounder runs beyond its 30-60 minute-ish frequency is to avoid overcrowding. I assume ST is doing that with its reductions and additions.
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