“Just a pinky promise” / photo by SounderBruce

On Thursday, Sound Transit staff presented a revised draft 2021 service plan, which the ST Board will vote on in November.

Three routes have changes in the revised draft, vs. the original draft:

  • Link Light Rail would be upgraded to 10-minutes off-peak headway, as compared to the long-term continuation of 15-minute headway in the first draft. Late evening headway would be 15 minutes instead of the originally-proposed (and current) 30 minutes. These upgrades would take place as part of King County Metro’s March service change.
  • Route 555 (Northgate to Bellevue), currently suspended, would continue to be suspended after Northgate Link opens. Metro route 271 would be expected to handle the reverse-peak ridership on the corridor.
  • Route 586 (Tacoma – UW), originally slated for elimination with the opening of Northgate Link, would continue on, with a stop added at Federal Way Transit Center. The presentation did not specify whether the new stop would be added in March or September of 2021.

One of the themes from feedback was summarized as “Reduced off-peak service frequency reduces usefulness of Link, particularly when making transfers.” As I wrote Friday, the frequency upgrades could make a lot of transfer waits longer, since Metro has established 15-minute off-peak headway for eighteen Link connector routes.

However, the off-peak headways on Metro’s four most popular (i.e. highest ridership) Link connector routes — 7, 36, 44, and the A Line — still match the pre-2020 10-minute off-peak headway on Link. Route 44 has some periods of 12-minute off-peak headway, but that could easily be upgraded to all 10-minute. Bringing routes 8, 45, 48, and 49 back up to 10-minute mid-day headway could be a possibility, especially if Seattle voters pass Proposition 1.

The decision to continue route 586 was partially due to the strongly negative response to 586 elimination from the 26 respondents to the Pierce County portion of the draft service plan. Per the presentation, “Equity analysis identified disparate impact and disproportionate burden.”

That burden includes time involved in transferring in downtown Seattle. Keeping those riders and the buses they are in out of the Central Business District could help marginally during the period of maximum constraint. If all the suspended service comes back with the September 2021 service change, less the routes proposed for cancellation, downtown traffic congestion would get noticeably worse. Allowing riders who use to ride the now-suspended Metro route 197 to hop on the 586 Express would enable a few more buses to not be downtown during the peak period.

35 Replies to “ST draft service plan revised for better Link frequency”

  1. The 586 changes are interesting. From Tacoma, the transfer to Link would actually be at SODO Station, which would be easier than transferring at downtown, and probably faster than sitting on the bus through downtown. On the other hand, Federal Way riders of the suspended 197 have to switch to Link downtown, and have a three-seat ride if they are coming from Twin Lakes, and this new stop would be quite useful if timed with local service at FWTC. So it seems like it would make more sense to truncate it at Federal Way and not go to Tacoma, and time the schedule with route 181.

    Bummer to see the 555 stay gone. Though at this point it’s just a bit of a faster version of the 271 between Bellevue and UW, but… it has the route that the 271 should have, especially when ridership picks back up.

    1. Why isn’t 586 sent to Angle Lake or Tukwila Intl Blvd? Link has capacity. We are terminating all kinds of bus routes at Link stations. So others get their bus terminated but Tacoma gets a direct bus to UW Link station? Seems hypocritical

  2. With remote working so prevalent there is no “period of maximum constraint.” It would be prohibitively expensive for the owners of office space in the CBD to reconfigure it so worker-density levels are acceptable. Amazon is one of those owners of office space.

    The conversation now should pivot from “the period of maximum constraint” in the CBD and SLU to “the period of underutilization” in those locales. That might never end as the new normal resets demand for dense urban center office workplaces in the US. The bloom definitely has left the rose for that kind of building!

    1. Anon, obviously, I know that the accuracy of KIRO radio’s traffic reports are compromised by the fact that Dave Ross is actually George SO-Ros. So he’s not my only source.

      Suspension of Olympia Intercity Transit’s Route 612 has really blown out the literally door-to-door service to IDS and beyond that I used to enjoy since I moved here. I’m lucky that, combined with classified I-5-free back routes, Angle Lake boarding still works.

      But through windshield and Link-window, my own eyes tell me that however many people are “working-from-home” (any way to know how many of these people’s homes are also their cars?) many more are in fact “stuck fuming in traffic” instead.

      So my question is this: For every four-car trainload out of Angle Lake, let alone the bus loads the posting mentions, how many motorists who really have no other choice would be moving at speeds closer to sixty than their present six?

      Can anybody give me a figure on the average rush-hour Link load? To pass the time you probably don’t have the luxury of billing, imagine how many of those cars your own car would rather have be parked at Angle Lake or in my carport.

      In addition to my dashboard telling me when maintenance is due, by law my bank statement makes gas, oil, and brake-pads speak my language accent-free.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Does anybody else get the feeling that Q is HEAVILY invested in suburban office parks.

    3. “the period of underutilization” started with the pandemic and will end with it. So yeah, there should be efforts to help out the small businesses that are hurt by the pandemic, just so they can survive. Then there will be the recovery, which will only occur with wide spread immunization. Like all recoveries, it will need money, and hopefully it will come from the federal government.

  3. Good job to ST for listening to riders on Link headways, but it’s a shame that such a dumb idea was ever proposed.

    1. Yes, I agree.

      I’ll simply add that light rail vehicles are the easiest ST vehicles with which a rider can maintain social distancing.

    2. Bruce: amen. But the service levels are still anemic. How can ST know that demand will still be down in fall 2021? Should they not plan for pre-Covid service levels and reduce them if at the time if the emergency continues. Anemic service levels will make the CT and Metro restructures much more difficult. Should not Route 522 run every 10 minutes? Should not Link run ever six minutes in the peak periods and at least every 10 minutes the rest of the time; did we not spend billions for this right of way and equipment?

  4. I’m deeply skeptical of the 586, especially after the U district station opens. The overhead of going in and out of Federal Way doesn’t seem any faster for Tacoma people than just taking the 594 and transferring to Link at SODO station.

    This is a route that should have been killed off in 2016.

    1. Digging into the math, and using the handy dandy online germ-free ST September 2020 – March 2021 schedule book…

      Route 586 takes 63-68 minutes to get from Tacoma Dome Station to NE 45th ST & University Way NE, at least on paper.

      Route 590 takes 37 minutes during AM peak to get from Tacoma Dome Station to the SODO Busway and S Spokane St. Add a couple minutes to get to SODO Station, and 1-9 minutes to walk from the bus top to the platform and catch a train that comes every 8 minutes.

      Link takes 17 minutes to get from SODO to UW Station. Add a couple minutes to get to U-District Station. Total trip time comes to 59-67 minutes, not counting waiting at Tacoma Dome Station.

      In route 586’s favor is that riders are already on the bus getting to stops along NE Pacific St. Going against route 586 is that it comes less frequently at Tacoma Dome Station, is subject to the same traffic that route 590 is getting to Spokane St, and then is subject to additional traffic jams downtown, followed by having to use the often-jammed non-express lanes to get to NE 45th St.

      If I am at Tacoma Dome Station wanting to get to UW, I would take whichever option comes along first.

      1. I think the other looming issue about Route 586 is how UW responds to the pandemic. Much of the market for the route are UW students or employees. If even a hybrid plan is in effect (some learning or working from home), the viability of Route 586 seems questionable.

      2. I would argue that a hybrid class model improves the case for keeping route 586 for the time being. Fewer transfers is safer. Students will be going to class some days, and be sitting on the coach next to a seat marked as not for sitting in.

        If students end up with some classes online and some in person each day, they will still have to travel every day, unless UW can figure out a clever way to make sure a student’s classes are either all in-person or all-online for the full day.

        UW expects to have only a few classes be in person for the Winter Quarter. And we are still moving in the wrong direction casewise.

      3. One weird thing is that ST’s sole SLU route remains suspended for the foreseeable future, while they are trying to bring back UW service. And while software workers in SLU are working from home in large part, it seems like there would still be more demand for SLU than UW (though I haven’t seen data to this point), since SLU is essentially an extension of downtown, while UW is much more driven by the university.

        It seems like a better way to move things around that adds significant value to the network would be to move the 577 to the SODO path, and then the 586 with the Federal Way stop could instead head to SLU via the Seneca exit. That way, both FW and Tacoma get a fast transfer to Link at SODO for UW, while FW retains a fast bus to the center of downtown. Additionally, both FW and Tacoma get a bus to as far north as SLU, and the faster path through downtown (than the 590) is probably fast enough to make up for the Federal Way stop. Not only does this make more sense to me, it would probably be popular enough that ST would boost service by consolidating some 577 and 590 trips into the new 586. Dropping the 577 and 590 to 12 minute headways would free up enough service to run the 586 every 15 minutes.

      4. How are fewer transfers safer? Fewer transfers can be faster and easier — but safer?

        There seem to be two big elements to safety — safety from assault and safety from the virus. To say that transferring significantly increases assault risks is pretty much a prejudiced comment about transit riders. Are people fearing assault on a Link platform or train? Is there a rash of Link assaults? I’ve not heard of this.

        The latest things I read say that the longer a person is in an exposure environment, the greater the chance of contracting the COVID virus. Note the 15-minute exposure concern here : https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/public-health-recommendations.html

        Since many close Link riders would be making trips around or under 15 minutes and the air volume in a light rail car is larger and a person has more seats to change to if they sense a transmission risk, it seems statistically more likely for a person to contract the virus from Route 586 than from a Link train.

      5. Al S. If it is a commuter line like 586, your exposure is more likely to be the few regular commuters that take the same trip. On the link light rail, you expose yourself to a larger number of random people, some from the airport from a different state, some from the poorer neighborhood of Rainier Valley which has a larger rate of COVID infection. With the frequent 590, you cannot even make sure you end up on the same bus and the same crowd.

    2. With the opening of the U-District station, Link becomes more walkable to large sections of the UW campus. This improved access further diminishes the need for Route 586.

    3. Even if people prefer the 586, it should be cancelled. It isn’t worth the money. It is a very expensive bus. Before the pandemic, it was never close to full. Even now, if it was cancelled, you would probably only add half as many 590 buses to deal with crowding. So not only is it cheaper to run the 590, but you don’t need to run as many of them.

      Furthermore, ridership is split within the campus. The most popular stop is by UW Link, probably because riders are headed to the hospital. This is probably the one stop that continues to be popular. My guess is the office workers at the UW (who normally work in the big UW Tower, previously known as Safeco Tower) work from home. But even if you have the same ridership pattern today, about half the riders are closer to the UW station. It doesn’t make sense to have such an expensive bus that caters to such a small number of people. Those riders, at worst, can ride one of the frequent buses from UW Link (as a 3 seat ride) or take the 70 from downtown. That might be slower, but we shouldn’t spend a fortune providing service that is only a bit better than the alternative.

      The 586 is luxury transit, and should be eliminated.

      1. Theoretically, “we” aren’t paying for route 586. The Pierce subarea is. They’ll be overjoyed to split the cost with the South King subarea.

        As for the riders … adding 5 minutes (to be conservative) for the new stop will be enough to make some riders decide to automatically take route 590 if it comes first, and some to let route 586 pass by. But there will be new riders taking route 586 from Tacoma to Federal Way, if it comes before route 574. I think this will be a non-trivial source of new ridership. There will also be new riders who were taking route 197, for whom the math is much better. Connecting from route 577 to Link is a bit of a mess, mostly due to getting in and out of two underground stations, and the extreme time impact of AM peak congestion on I-5 downtown. Right now, they don’t have routes 177, 178, or 179 to get to SODO Station. Route 193 is a long hike from any Link station.

        Per the schedule book, route 577 takes 28-47 minutes to get from Federal Way TC to 4th & Pine, next to Westlake Station, during the AM peak period. Count on 4 minutes to get to the platform and 0-8 minutes waiting for the train. The train ride will take 8 minutes to U-District Station. Add 3 minutes exiting the station. The trip from Federal Way to the U-District will take anywhere from 43 to 70 (!) minutes by going through Westlake Station.

        Compare that to taking a bus from Federal Way to SODO Station via the Spokane St exit. Basically, take the math from my earlier comment and subtract 20 minutes (using the time from the book) for starting the journey at Federal Way. A trip from Federal Way to the U-District via a transfer at SODO Station (adding 3 minutes for getting out of U-District station) takes 42-50 minutes, at least on paper.

        That raises the question of how much Federal-Way-to-downtown-via-SODO service we need to run to make Federal-Way-to-UW non-painful.

        The savings from eliminating route 586 becomes less than some may think it will be.

        If UWMC is the most popular stop, might it make sense to reverse the direction of travel through campus, back to what it was before U-Link? Of course route 586 would then lose its biggest non-time-sensitive advantage: getting to see the view from the I-5 canal bridge twice a day. Priceless.

      2. Calling one of the few ST services Pierce county riders actually use regularly today “luxury service” is a great way to encourage Pierce county to not pull out of the ST district. Perhaps we should call them “Deplorables” while we’re at it, to really twist the knife?

        Optics really do matter. Let’s not make things worse.

      3. Where are you saving money on though? Just from the segment between U-District and Eastlake?

        If you really want to save money, you can shorten all I-5 south routes to SODO or Angle Lake Station and force people to transfer to light rail too. You could save more money from that. Why hasn’t that been done? It is just a huge inconvenience.

  5. If it’s On-Topic, I could use some regional travel advice. 8AM Appointment walking distance from Bellevue Transit Center.

    If I leave my car at Angle Lake, figuring in schedule, traffic and social-load-capacity on the 271, will there be any sweat about seeing my doctor on time?

    And coming back, I definitely owe it to Mercer Island to buy at least one espresso and leave a really nice tip.

    If I see the 550 situation first-hand, maybe I can take a load off the court system and suggest the settlement that The Island and The Region both deserve.

    Any help, much appreciated.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The 271 has had some crowding issues, especially on weekends when the frequency is lower (saw an eastbound 271 on a Sunday morning about a month ago that said “BUS FULL” before it reached UWMC). Those problems might have declined a bit now that Metro is charging fares again, plus I noticed that Metro has started running some 60′ coaches at least during the week (quick glance at Pantograph right now, though, shows all 40′ coaches). You don’t say whether your appointment is on a weekday or weekend, but remember that the 271 has hourly service until the afternoon on weekends, so you might just be better off taking the 550 both ways which at least has 30 minute service and runs all 60′ coaches.

      1. Thanks, Skylar. And some Cards-On-The-Table time. I’m scheming for my Gothenburg Streetcar-Sister-City plan to also include both Mercer Island AND Ballard too.

        Having shared bus-stop space at Tacoma Dome station where, reminiscent of my old grade-school hallway, there are separate numbered stripes for passengers on 586 and 574, like me.

        Bad memories of I-90 and Spokane Street turning each other into a parking lot at a moment’s notice have always inclined me to board Link at Sea-Tac, whether the elevator works or not. With clear traffic, 590-series is shorter and faster.

        Between KCM Route 70 and the S. outh L. ake U.nion TROLLEY, the Wooden Boat museum always seemed accessible enough. But what makes the most sense is leaving the fate of the 586 to its passengers.

        Let some future onset of empty seats finally speak against its continuance.

        Mark Dublin

    2. I don’t know weekday crowding on either route but I’d probably take the 550. It’s definitely articulated, there would be less backtracking, and I have a feeling it can handle capacity surges better. There have been a few reports here both before and after covid’s beginning of the 271 being crowded or “Bus Full”, and I haven’t heard any about the 550.

      I get the 550 at 6th & Union westbound. You could get it at 2nd Ext S & Jackson but the stop may be harder to find (I always have trouble with southbound stops in southern downtown) and if there’s any crowding you’d be last instead of first. There are six buses between 6:14 and 7:14am eastbound that would get you to Bellevue TC by 7:52am. The terminus is one stop beyond at the library (110th & NE 10th St) if that’s any closer to your appointment. Weekends there are three buses between 6:26 and 7:26am.

      The 271 eastbound has six buses between 6:28 and 7:28am that get to Bellevue TC by 7:55am. Weekend service doesn’t start until after 8am so that wouldn’t work.

      One strategy would be to take the 550 eastbound because you’re more likely to make your appointment, and the 271 back when you have more time to wait. Although the 271 is no slouch weekdays,. Westbound it It has five buses in the 9 o’clock hour and four in the 10 o’clock hour. Weekends it’s half-hourly. The 550 is 15 minutes weekdays and Saturdays and 30 minutes Sundays.

      Or if you really want to go to Mercer Island afterward, you could take the 550 eastbound, the 550 back to just Mercer Island, and the 550 to Seattle, and save the 271 for another day.

      Or if you have a lot of time and don’t want to take the same route three times, you could take the 550 to the appointment, the 550 back to Mercer Island, the 554 eastbound to the Eastgate freeway station, and catch the 271 in the Eastgate P&R. From there to the U-District is 43 minutes.

      1. Really great info, Mike, and I really appreciate you helping me stay included over all these months and all these miles. If tomorrow’s STB is Open Thread as per normal (ok, extinct but still sounds quaint)…

        I’ll give some thoughts as to how this blog can start to assure that ST, KCM, and the rest of Transit between New Westminster and Tierra del Fuego are likewise grateful for these efforts to keep them alive.

        Mark Dublin

  6. In spite of my nitpicky comment about the 586 (above), I am overall very pleased to see Sound Transit restoring Link frequency next year, rather than leaving COVID service cuts in effect indefinitely, as was previously proposed.

    This will make a huge difference, especially for those who need to transfer between Link and a bus. Thank you Sound Transit for listening to rider feedback and acting on it. I much appreciate it!

  7. Yep, increased Link frequencies. It was going to come at some point, but better sooner than later.

    Score one for ST. Now everyone is going to have to find a new reason to bash ST.

    1. How ’bout not firing Rogoff immediately and hiring Kevin Desmond, since he’s resigning from Translink and moving back to the states?

    2. We can bash ST because it’s not happening until March apparently. That’s five months away. If “Link needs to be frequent all day” and “Reduced off-peak service frequency reduces usefulness of Link, particularly when making transfers”, then that applies now and not just in March. ST doesn’t like to change frequency between semi-annual service changes, but it reduced the frequency in the middle of one, and it would just be acknowledging a major mistake in the September change that should be retrofitted now.

      1. Because apparently ST doesn’t think the additional frequency is needed right now. And I think we are all going to survive just fine at the current service levels for 5 more months, what with the low demand levels and increased WFH and all.

        And besides, the big-handed-orange-one says we will have a vaccine in a couple of weeks, it will be available to everyone, and the economy will be taking off like a rocket ship. If so, then ST’s timing of March would be just about perfect.

      2. I am willing to cut ST some slack on this one because rehiring laid off drivers takes time. When service was cut, it was an emergency because drivers were calling in sick and they simply could not maintain their regular schedule.

        Ridership is also way down right now, and a March service restoration is still in plenty of time to build ridership back up again for the recovery. It was the previous hinting that Link frequency would be down indefinitely, even after COVID ended, that I felt was completely unacceptable. Also, the fall 2021 service restructure greatly increases the number of people riding Link and transferring to it, so 10 minute frequency is more critical then than now.

  8. Calm down people. Buy a car. It’s going to be alright, dude & dudet. Keep transit funded, buy a car or whatever. Chill on the 586, its a good one. Relax on the 595, it’s a crowd pleaser. Honestly, a late night MEGA route is what is the real issue: many WANT IT. Many riders would love this while the Express runners run Expressees Home. 590 is a good one, yeah, but so is 578. South Sounders are deserving service, to many negative comments here. God Bless!

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