With the East Link Connections survey wrapping up Monday, it’s a good time to make suggestions if you haven’t already. The process of restructuring is about tradeoffs, and in any result, there will be both winners and losers. While no plan is perfect, I have two ideas for how I think the plan can be improved to further expand and speed up access to Link in the south and east study areas. One of them is in Newcastle and Renton, around routes 240 and 114, the latter of which is proposed to be deleted. The other is in Issaquah, around routes 215 and 269.
In the proposal, routes 111 and 114 are consolidated into an all-day 111. But while the proposal characterizes the 111 as a replacement for route 114, the routes are very different outside Seattle. Route 111 follows a unique path through Renton, and serves more of Renton Highlands than the all-day 105. The 114, however, follows the 240 through Newcastle, then follows the 105 a bit in Renton. Given that the 111 is the route without local shadow service, it makes perfect sense that this is the route chosen for all-day service. But while the 114 does have all-day service already along most of its local route, using it for trips to Seattle is rather cumbersome. Today, it’s a two-seat ride, requiring riders to ride east to Eastgate P&R before transferring to a Seattle-bound bus. But once East Link opens, it will become a three-seat ride with the loss of direct service to Seattle from Eastgate.
As far as three-seat-rides go, it’s not going to be that bad, at least going to Seattle at peak. Riders can catch a bus at Eastgate every 5 minutes, connecting to trains every 8. But it gets trickier going the other way when connecting back to the 240, which is not getting a frequency boost. And frequencies off-peak aren’t good enough for the three-seat ride to make sense to most people. Given this, and how most other areas of the south eastside are getting direct access to a Link station, route 114 riders would understandably feel like they go the short end of the stick.
A natural way to fix this would be to run the 240 up to South Bellevue Station like the 111 will be. This would leave some gaps to fill though. The route from Bellevue TC to Eastgate could be filled by extending the 270 to Eastgate (much like the short-run 271 trips of today), and the route from I-405 to Eastgate could be filled in by extending the 245 from Eastgate to a new layover space west of I-405. This would dramatically improve rider experience when going to either Seattle or Bellevue at all times of day, and trips to Bellevue College could be made with a transfer to the 245. However, since the 270 and 245 are both going to be generally more frequent than the 240, this change would not be revenue-neutral, and would require allocating service from elsewhere to cover the difference.
Service in Issaquah is looking to be very good, with all-day frequent connections to both S. Bellevue and Mercer Island stations. In particular, Issaquah Highlands is getting 15-minute all-day express service to Mercer Island without stopping at Issaquah TC by combining the 269 and 215 (each every 30 minutes), but there’s a catch: the 269 takes longer than the 215 because it runs locally in north Issaquah, coving a part of deleted route 200. This means that effective headways will have to be uneven, perhaps 20-10 instead of 15-15. It turns out that this can be fixed in a fairly elegant way.
Route 215 runs to North Bend, but only for one-third of trips. This means that two-thirds of trips will end at Issaquah Highlands. Instead of just ending there, however, these trips could branch off in different directions, serving other parts of Issaquah at lower frequency like the 215 does for North Bend. The obvious one would be to extend one branch along the 269’s local route through Issaquah, freeing the 269 to get on the fast path to I-90 and solving the problem. But what could the other branch do? Well, in light of the deletion of route 628, it could take over the on-demand part of that route in Issaquah Highlands. In our coverage at the time, we noted that the introduction of route 628 would bring on-demand transit options to a difficult-to-serve area of Issaquah Highlands, specifically east along NE Park Drive. Rather than an on-demand service, this would be a short fixed-route extension from Issaquah Highlands P&R, and would only run every 45 minutes at peak and 90 minutes off-peak. However, riders would get essentially the fastest possible connection to Link at Mercer Island Station, and Link’s frequency and reliability will ease the stress of a such an infrequent connection. But this change is also not revenue-neutral, and would also require service hours to be reallocated.
Got any other ideas of how to improve the East Link Connections plan? Leave a comment, both right here and on Sound Transit’s East Link Connections survey, and make sure you weigh in before the survey closes on October 25th.