Metro route 255, cursed by 7 months of bad luck since being diverted to UW
photo by Spencer Thomas

While there is a lot of lost service in the King County Metro network due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts, Metro has nevertheless managed to make lemonade out of lemons by assembling an increasingly robust network of buses connecting to Link Light Rail stations at frequencies that match Link’s temporary off-peak frequency of every 15 minutes. Link’s frequency is planned to be every 15 minutes during off-peak hours, until late evening, likely through 2021. Sound Transit is preparing for a long pandemic. The recent spike in new cases and deaths backs up their pessimism.

The following routes that serve Link stations outside of, or just on the periphery of, downtown have 15-minute off-peak weekday headway. (Link now runs every 8 minutes during the peak period on weekdays.) Unless otherwise noted, they also have 15-minute headway during the day on weekends.

  • Route 8 (Capitol Hill Station and Mt. Baker Station), but 20-minute headway on Sundays
  • Route 14 (all downtown stations and Mt. Baker), but 30-minute headway on weekends
  • Route 21 (all downtown stations and Stadium Station), but 20-minute headway on Saturdays and 30-minute headway on Sundays
  • Route 45 (University of Washington Station), but 20-minute headway on Sundays
  • Route 48 (UW and Mt. Baker)
  • Route 49 (Capitol Hill and Westlake Station)
  • Route 60 (Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill Station), but 30-minute headway on weekends
  • Routes 65 and 67, which are interlined (UW)
  • Route 75 (UW), but 30-minute headway on weekends
  • Route 101 (all downtown stations, Stadium, and SODO Station), but 30-minute headway on weekends
  • Route 106 (ID/CS, Mt. Baker, Columbia City Station, Othello Station, and Rainier Beach Station)
  • Route 124 (all downtown stations, Stadium, and Tukwila International Boulevard Station), but 30-minute headway on weekends
  • Route 150 (all downtown stations, Stadium, and SODO)
  • Route 372 (UW), but 30-minute headway on weekends
  • The RapidRide F Line (TIBS)
  • The First Hill Streetcar (Capitol Hill and IDCS), but 20-minute headway on Sundays
  • The South Lake Union Streetcar (Westlake)

Just four routes serving Link stations outside of downtown still have better-than-15-minute off-peak weekday headway.

  • The A Line (TIBS, SeaTac Airport Station, and Angle Lake Station), with 10-minute off-peak headway from morning all the way to late evening.
  • Route 7 (all downtown stations and Mt Baker), with 10-minute off-peak headway on weekdays and Saturdays, and 12-minute headway on Sundays
  • Route 36 (all downtown stations, Beacon Hill, and Othello) with 10-minute-or-better headway weekdays and Saturdays, and 15-minute headway Sundays.
  • Route 44 (UW) with 10-12-minute off-peak weekday headway and 12-15-minute headway on weekends

Routes 8, 45, 48, and 49 had better-than-15-minute mid-day weekday headway before the September service change.

Route 60 just got bumped up to all-day 15-minute-or-better headway on weekdays, making it an excellent connector between Capitol Hill Station and First Hill medical complexes.

Other routes serving Link stations with worse-than-15-minute headway are 50, 107, 128, 156, 161, 255, 271, 635, and ST Expresses 542, 560, and 574.

In a case of perfect timing / bad luck, route 255 was re-routed to the University of Washington back in March, just in time for the World Health Organization to declare the pandemic, and schools to shut down. Route 255’s ridership was further sabotaged by the drop in Link Light Rail headway to 20 minutes on weekdays and 30 minutes on weekends, up until the September service change. The route now drops to 20-minute headway mid-day, seven days a week. Hopefully it will be at the front of the line for a relatively cheap frequency upgrade now that I-976 has been struck down by the State Supreme Court.

Route 271 similarly comes tantalizing close to matching Link headway mid-day, but drops to 20-minute headway for part of it. A chunk of bringing it to 15-minute headway would be converting reverse-direction deadhead into two-way service. Weekends drop to 30-minute headway.

Route 161 may also be due some love since its predecessor, route 180, was the most ridership-resilient route in the system over the summer. The bump to 15-minute peak headway was a planned part of the South King County service restructure, not a reward for keeping 74% of its pre-pandemic ridership. However, bumping it up from 30- to 20-minute off-peak headway might not improve its utility as a Link connector, while doubling the off-peak frequency would be roughly twice as expensive as the move to 20-minute headway.

Largely-orphaned route 50 is unlikely to have justification for doubling its frequency without first doubling its frequency. However, it just returned to its regular path, but making use of the new Lander St bridge. So, now it has a much faster and more-reliably-timed path between West Seattle and SODO Station, along with support from camera-enforced bus lanes on the Harbor Island Bridge. We’ll see if the more direct and reliable path, along with the desire of West Seattleites to escape from the peninsula without going the long way around, will lead to a ridership uptick. The City Council could give route 50 some support from the Transportation Benefit District, and the chance to see what it could do with real frequency that Metro never gave it. But the upgrade would not be cheap.

The City Council could also use some of the TBD funding to make the 15-minute Link connector network more robust on weekends, and able to match Link frequency late into the evening. Just eleven routes connect to Link outside of downtown with 15-minute headway on Saturdays. Just nine do so on Sundays. Routes 8, 14, 21, 45, 50, 60, 75, and the First Hill Streetcar would be eligible for TBD bump-up funding to get them to 15-minute off-peak headway seven days a week.

Everyone in Seattle, please vote yes on Seattle Proposition 1 to keep funding the TBD, for these and many other reasons.

20 Replies to “15-Minute Link/bus network”

  1. The good news about route 255 is that much of the weekend, it actually does run every 15 minutes. The bad news is that the schedule timing (at least in the westbound direction) is off, so that the bus predictably arrives at the Link Station just after the previous train has left.

    That said, under the old 255, many of the trips downtown went downtown only artificially because the bus network forced you to go through downtown in order to get anywhere else in the city. Today, you can reach a lot of places from Kirkland by catching another bus in the U-district, avoiding the need to wait for a bus on 3rd Ave. altogether.

    1. I have completely the opposite experience with route 255 truncation.

      There is no place that I need to go that going to Husky stadium or Pacific Place is an efficient transfer. All my transfers need me to go downtown to get the transferring bus. And to reach Link, it’s truly faster to switch at Westlake or ID (nights/early) than it is at UW.

      It’s generally taking an extra 15 minutes with 255 truncation and if the timing is right, switch to ST 545 is a better bet.

      Plus at least 8 weekends this year it has been a royal clusterf*ck. 520 bridge closures. 520 ramp closures. Montlake bridge closures. And Link system updates. Would Metro run 255 to ID or Stadium (520 closure) or Westlake (ramp or Montlake bridge or Link closure)? That would at least be a reasonable reroute. But no, you still got to go to UW, even if that’s to a Link shuttle bus or if it involves using I-5 the wrong way.

      The 255 truncation has been a bad experience. The only reason more aren’t complaining about it is Covid. Metro has successfully killed the highest ridership north Eastside route and the reduced ridership is not going to support more frequency. Hey, Kirkland residents don’t deserve what Bothell, Redmond, Bellevue, Issaquah get – a bus to Seattle. And who needs to make worthwhile use of expensive P&R garages. But let’s add service to routes 257 and 311 so those P&R users get direct downtown service.

  2. Brent, this morning ‘s Distance Learning problem wasn’t my idea, so please bear with me. My knowledge about the 255 is a signature Past-Life-Experience.

    But if I’d known that my future studies in Elevator Repair (says online that they teach it!) at Lake Washington Tech could have finished my IT/Tacoma Dome/SeaTac/Link ride with a 255 trip to my 236 connection…..

    I’d definitely have demanded that I get to stay on my weather-and-traffic-proof train all the way to that station under University Hospital. Even if the PA did keep saying the next stop was Angle Lake. Even more if I’d been DRIVING the 255.

    So let’s get the Gloomoverflow under control here, and be grateful that ST-District’s own educational system is already in action to counter the system’s real shame-generator.

    Since Atlantic Base can fix trolleybuses and LCC can fix trains…..elevators and escalators should be a couple terms in night-school for the people who’ve already proven they’ve got the ability to fix the real culprits. Whose present maintenance has proven it can’t.

    Mark Dublin

    1. In general, the solution to escalator breakdowns isn’t faster repairs.

      It is more redundancy, including more options besides escalators. Like center platforms and barbell-shaped station entrance planning with walksheds on both ends, having enough exit-direction escalators (in underground stations) to quickly clear the platforms during peak periods of maximum peakload ridership with the shortest headway the system is capably of implementing, even if one breaks down, should be an obvious necessity.

      Opening one of the public stairwells at UW Station was a great permanent partial solution to broken escalators becoming a bottleneck. Opening up passageways that were gratuitously blocked also helped immensely.

      In short, the solution to broken escalators is better architecture and redundancy to allow some of them to break down and not disrupt entry and exit.

      1. Thanks for saying that, Brent. I am often amazed at how some here and at ST feel that escalators are an amenity — especially down escalators. A large segment of the population has as much difficulty going down stairs as they do going up stairs. Of course, able-bodied people may not need escalators and some of them believe that this isn’t a major issue because it doesn’t affect them personally.

        It also seems true that having a broken or missing escalator significantly increases elevator use — leading to more elevator breakdowns or closures too.

        I feel that a systemic evaluation that considers the number of steps, the forecasted number of both total station users and those who may need vertical assistance (including those with strollers, rolling bags, children and arthritis sufferers), and the number of both escalators and elevators. This evaluation needs to consider how the three methods (stairs, escalators, elevators) interplay with each other.

      2. Does ST still have that strange policy of not allowing broken escalators to be used as stairs?

        As long as they are locked out and can’t start unexpectedly, I really struggle to see the logic behind that choice.

  3. The 75 is 30 minutes weekends.

    I thought the 106 and 150 were 30 minutes Sunday but the schedule says 15, so hooray.

    The 161 will not competitive with the 150 no matter how frequent it is. The 150 ranges from 61-70 minutes (at 6am, 7am, noon, and 5pm southbound). (When it was in the DSTT it was around 45-60 minutes.) Link+161 is 38 minutes to SeaTac and 25-35 minutes the rest of the way, plus transfer time. With a 7-minute transfer that’s a total travel time of 70-80 minutes, or 10 minutes longer than the 150 at all times. And it would be worse if you just miss the 161 and have to wait 15 or 30 minutes for the next one. At SeaTac southbound you have to walk both ways acoss Intl Blvd to get from Link to the bus stop. The only cases where Link+161 would be faster is if you’re starting from Rainier Valley, or if there’s a big traffic jam. And at the most likely times traffic jams would occur, Sounder is available.

    1. Route 161+Link is actually nearly competitive with 150 for the case that it shows up first at Kent Station.

      28 minutes to Seatac Airport Station + 3 minutes to get to the platform + 0-15 minutes wait for the train + 31 minutes to ID/CS. 62-77 minutes for a typical mid-day trip.

      If route 150 shows up first, it clearly wins with ca. 56 minutes to ID/CS.

      However, if 161 shows up first, letting it pass and waiting for a 150 makes it 57-73 minutes. Typically 65 minutes.

      If the 161+Link combo gets a reputation for being a well-timed transfer, then 161 wins by a couple minutes, if it shows up first. Double the frequency, and it doubles the number of riders for whom a 161 shows up first.

      The trip to ID/CS makes the best case for taking route 150. The math bends more toward the Link combo for trips to stations further north.

      All that said, routes 150 and 161 compete with each other only at two points: Kent Station and where they cross over each other a couple miles north.

      I’ve made plenty of trips home from Kent Station. Unless it is a really long wait until the next 180 (before the last service change), I usually let any 150 pass by, and then take 180 + Link to Beacon Hill, and catch a 60 or 107+hike home from there. That was before the late trips evaporated.

  4. Agree a hundred percent about the architecture, Brent. Whose first benefit will be to limit the time-hallowed embarrassment to the junk already installed.

    Maybe the Historic Register has fine print requiring that two decades of failure guarantees that truly-historic malfunction be honorably maintained in perpetuity.

    Tothechasetothechasetothechase and CUT!!!!! Our passengers are missing flights and risking serious injury dragging luggage past those time-worn “Out of Order” signs. And their message that Federal funds are still being sought- dating long before the Seattle had to start being pried loose from the Antifanarchists.

    Use the fuel saved by sparing the 255 a whole Downtown’s-worth of jammed traffic, plus an entire ST-$ if necessary which it isn’t, to haul those truckloads of defective parts to the recycler. And give an LWIT shop-class a year to provide Atlantic Maintenance with some MACHINES to install.

    Desmond Brown, a writ of “Solum Fac Id” should make “Just Do It!” be The Law. We know you can, well….. do it.

    Mark Dublin

  5. The 60 running every 15 minutes…

    Am I still in Kansas? I’m beginning to think that Olympia has turned into the Land of Oz under the evil tutelage of the evil witch, while Seattle is the emerald city…

    -Puff

    1. [OT]

      What Olympia is, is the Net’s prize-winning Flix of a small town, whose transit system, in addition to never moving the bus ’til I get seated, delivered the only piece of fiscal conservatism in modern memory by letting The Balance Sheet itself decree that cash fares cost too much money.

      [OT]

      You just got off the 574. The elevator’s growing spider-webs. You’re reading about the funding-search- like they can’t say “Crowd- Source?” You’re risking your own back-injury helping that woman get her luggage upstairs. You’ve got your LWIT tool-kit. Something just snaps.

      [OT]

      Mark Dublin

  6. “Largely-orphaned route 50 is unlikely to have justification for doubling its frequency without first doubling its frequency.”

    I think a word happened here.

    1. The other thing about the 50 – while it functions as a feeder route, it never actually gets more than about 2 miles or so from the trunk it’s supposed to be feeding (Link for Rainier Valley, C-line for Alki). You can walk 2 miles in 30 minutes at 4 mph, so at 30-minute frequency it almost becomes not worth the bother if the weather is decent. Even on days when it’s cold, but not raining, the physical exertion of walking or jogging warms you up much more than standing at a cold bus stop.

      And, of course, if 2 miles from the connection point is the furthest it gets, that means half the route is within 1 mile, which is only a 15-minute walk at 4 mph, and waiting for the 50 becomes even less attractive.

      1. Yes but most Americans won’t do that. The Othello Street and Seward Park segments are explicitly to bring people to Link, because without it there was a clamor for P&Rs in Rainier Valley by people who said they had no reasonable way to get to the station otherwise.

      2. A half-mile walk is my normal “definitely not going to bother to wait”, and I do walk at 4mph, as a rule (most people I know walk more slowly than me, so I think that 4mph is not as common as some might think, in the US anyway).

        A mile is doable, but I will try to time the connection better. If I can’t, I might walk, or I might wait, depending on what I’m carrying. I’ve done that with groceries but in particular on rainy days, carrying paper bags in the rain gets rather dicey, and carrying totes in both hands gets awkward because their handles are often not intended for this.

        Two miles require a significant time commitment, so the issue becomes one of time, rather than distance. If I plan for it, it’s not a problem, but I don’t always want to add half an hour to my day. It becomes a lot harder once you have families and family schedules to juggle, for example. Doable? Yes. Do people in many other countries do it? Yes. Been there, done that? Yes. Doesn’t mean it’s ideal.

    1. Look at that feedback on pages 8 and 9! :) :) “Happy days are here again….” A draft plan to restore frequency is not the same as restoring frequency, but at least ST is acknowledging the issue.

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