With the East Link Connections project underway, Sound Transit and Metro have presented their first service proposals as part of the East Link Connections survey. The opening of East Link will be a huge event, and will transform what transit service looks like not just crossing Lake Washington, but how neighboring regions are connected. The south subarea of the East Link Connections study area includes Renton, Newcastle, Factoria, and Eastgate. Though not as significant as in other areas, the changes in this area nonetheless improves transit access overall, with brand new all-day coverage, more direct service to Bellevue College, and consolidation of peak-hour service.
This route will change paths in Eastgate, switching from its fairly direct route from Eastgate P&R to Bellevue Transit Center to a new path through Bellevue College and 145th Place SE. This will replace route 271 (which is being deleted) between Bellevue TC and Eastgate P&R, following the same route as the 271 except for the 106th Ave loop that route 240 uses to end pointing south at Bellevue TC. The bad news is that it is not going to become an all-day frequent route, and in fact peak frequencies will change from 15-20 minutes to 15-30 minutes, and Sunday service will begin at 7:30 rather than 7. This means that direct service from Bellevue TC to Bellevue College will become significantly worse than it is on today’s 271, and walking to Eastgate P&R to utilize route 554 (which is being redirected to downtown Bellevue via Bellevue Way SE and South Bellevue Station) may end up being a faster option. There is also a minor routing change in Renton. Route 240 runs primarily on Sunset Blvd in the Renton Highlands, but switches to NE 12th Street from its intersection with Sunset Blvd to Union Ave, where it moves back over to Sunset. This provides residential coverage in this area at the cost of a faster route on more car-oriented Sunset Blvd. This change would keep it on Sunset Blvd (presumably with a few new stops along the way), leaving the 12th St path with just unchanged route 105.
This is the most significant change in the area. Currently, route 111 is a peak-only express bus from Kennydale and Newcastle to Seattle, with a long local tail that runs out through the Renton Highlands and Lake Kathleen. This route extends further east in Renton than any other transit service, and this area has only peak-hour service. This all could change with East Link. Like other commuter service, this route would be truncated at a Link station (South Bellevue in this case), and the lower ridership part of the Lake Kathleen loop east of 169th Ave SE would be removed. But in return, the route would run all day, seven days per week, and would bring all-day transit service to East Renton Highlands for the first time ever. And rather than just downtown Seattle, this route would also make it convenient to access Bellevue, Redmond, UW, and Northgate with a transfer to Link Light Rail at South Bellevue Station. Headways would be 30 minutes off-peak and on weekends, and 15 minutes at peak (down from 30 minutes today). Service would end at 8pm Monday-Saturday, and 7pm on Sundays. While certainly respectable for a brand new all-day service and for the coverage it provides, the relatively low frequency and span of service means you’ll want to plan your trip in advance, and it won’t be useful at all for night trips.
The expansion of route 111 would be paid for in part by deleting route 114. Unlike route 111, almost all of the local portion of route 114 is shared with other bus service (with the exception being the tail down Union Ave to SE 4th St). Therefore, it’s primary function is to be a Seattle express version of route 240, saving a transfer at Eastgate P&R. The stated “replacement” of this service is improved service on route 111. This, however, doesn’t make any sense, as route 111 doesn’t go anywhere route 114 does except for the point where the two cross in east Renton. Realistically, the actual replacement will be to take route 240 to either Eastgate (requiring two transfers to reach Seattle) or Bellevue TC (requiring just one transfer, but going far out of the way). Since both of these options are much slower than even a version of route 114 truncated at South Bellevue, this means that riders of route 114 are likely to see their trips get worse when East Link opens, rather than better.
These routes are proposed to be combined. Route 342, which currently (as of its upcoming restoration on October 4th) runs from Shoreline P&R to Bothell, then south to Bellevue and Renton, only runs during peak hours, and only runs from Shoreline to Renton in the morning, and Renton to Shoreline in the evening (with some short runs starting and ending in Bellevue). This is presumably meant to provide commuter service to the Boeing factory in Renton from the north. But for Renton residents who commute to Bellevue, this route is of no use, as it runs in the wrong direction. This proposal would fix that by running route 342 in both directions, and extend the route to South Renton P&R. The Bellevue part of the route would also be improved, ditching its local routing on 112th Ave SE and SE 8th St for a faster path on I-405 all the way to the NE 6th St exit. It would still be peak-only, but morning service would run about an hour longer.
The new service on route 342 has a catch: it would be partially paid for by deleting route 167. Route 167 currently (also pending restoration in October) runs from South Renton P&R and Renton TC to the University District, stopping at the I-405 and SR 520 freeway stations along the way. This route, while only operating in peak and running every half-hour, is quite useful. It is not only the fastest way to the University District, but it also allows for fast connections at the 520 freeway stations, so route 167 is also the fastest way to get from Renton to Redmond and Kirkland. Its removal would change how you’d get to these places, with UW requiring a transfer to route 270, Kirkland a transfer to route 250, and Redmond a transfer to Link, all at Bellevue TC, and all of these destinations would take longer to reach (especially from the freeway stations on I-405). The potential upside is that new service on route 342 could be coordinated with route 560 to create 15 minute headways from the Renton freeway stations, but there is no commitment to do so. It would also send many costly peak service hours beyond Bellevue into Bothell and Shoreline, which probably have much lower commuter demand from Renton than the U-District (and its connections to Kirkland and Redmond). Supposing the very long trips from Renton to Shoreline at 30 minute headways could possibly be translated back to service on route 167 at 20 (or even 15) minute headways, or into route 111 for longer service into the night, the relative value of this change to route 342 seems highly questionable in my opinion.
These changes are an early concept and far from final. As is always the case with restructures, this process is about balancing interests and coming up with tradeoffs, and to make this happen, King County Metro and Sound Transit need to hear from you. So if you live in any part of the East Link Connections study area, be sure to take the time to provide feedback on the East Link Connections page. The survey is open through October 18th.