As expected, phase 3 of the East Link Connections restructure proposal is out. It was developed using feedback from phase 2, when the first proposed network was released. In the first network, a clear trend was a dramatic increase in coverage throughout the eastside, with bus service on many corridors that never had any service before. However, a common sentiment in the comments is that Metro is focusing on expanding coverage instead of increasing frequency on core routes. Commenters also wanted to see better weekend and evening frequency.
Coverage service is reduced
Evidently, it wasn’t just STB readers who thought this, as the latest proposal represents a fairly dramatic pullback on expanded coverage. The two local routes straddling I-90 to Issaquah are cut back to one, Woodridge and Somerset lose all bus service, and the 249 no longer provides local coverage on the south side of SR 520 (directing riders to walk to Link or the 226). In many cases, people who have an infrequent coverage route today would lose all bus service when East Link opens, ironically leaving them less connected to East Link than they would be today. Reduced coverage in Overlake is partly compensated for by adding new Overlake flexible service.
Frequency is boosted on some routes
On the flip side, we see more solid service in the corridors that remain. New coverage route 203, which is mostly the same as the Issaquah tail of today’s route 271, would have had significant frequency reductions from today’s service (on route 271) in phase 2 (with midday service every 45 minutes down from 30, and weekend service every 60 minutes, down from 30). With coverage cut elsewhere, route 203 is able to be brought back to today’s service levels. Another example is route 240, which is getting all-day frequent service on weekdays, compared to half-hourly service both today and in the phase 2 network (new route 220, which replaces both the 240 and 271 from Bellevue TC to Eastgate, is also getting the same service). However, that is pretty much it in terms of dramatic frequency improvements. There are some 30 minute headways going to 20 minutes, and the rest are minor adjustments. The 270 still runs every half hour on weekends, and hourly service is still fairly common throughout the eastside, especially on weekends.
Span service is stretched
Some of the service hours saved from cutting coverage routes went into making some of the new all-day routes start earlier and end later. Routes 111 (which is converted to all-day service) and 215 will have a larger span of service on weekends, with the 111 running until 8pm all weekend, and the 215 running until 8 on Saturday and 7 on Sunday. Like with the frequency changes, there aren’t dramatic changes here, but this is mostly because the phase 2 proposal already had generally pretty good span of service already on most routes.
Route pathways are improved
Many routes are improved in terms of speed and directness, especially east of Bellevue where it’s difficult to cover the land with connections to transit hubs without lots of turns and circuitous routing.
Riders of route 240 are the big winners in this revision. Not only is their midday frequency doubling, but they are getting a much more direct connection to both Bellevue and East Link via S. Bellevue Station by combining with route 241. Though it involves a lot of opposite direction travel to get to Eastgate P&R, the situation is far preferable to phase 2, where riders to Seattle (some coming off deleted route 114) would face either a 3-seat ride through Eastgate, or getting on Link after riding the 240 all the way to Bellevue.
Route 269 is getting more direct service from Issaquah Highlands P&R to Mercer Island. Though minor in isolation, the less direct service in combination with routes 215 and 218 would create lopsided headways due to differing trip times. With the routing of the 269 now matching the 215 and 218, combined service will now provide true 15 minute (and 5 minute during peak) headways from Issaquah Highlands to Link.
In Seattle, the proposal for route 8 is adjusted slightly to keep route 8 on MLK down to Jackson St, move to 23rd Ave E to serve East Link, then switch back to MLK at S. Massachusetts St. In phase 2, route 8 switched to 23rd at Yesler Way as it does today, but stay on 23rd and Rainier all the way to Mt. Baker (like the 48 does). This new change results in preservation of some service on MLK, with service to Mt. Baker TC equally as indirect as today. Route 4 is also brought into scope for phase 3, with the only change to stay on 23rd and Rainier to its terminus, rather than its current route through the Judkins Park neighborhood. Though route 4 changes wouldn’t take place until electrification work for route 48, which won’t be finished until 2025 at the earliest (trolley wire somehow often opens after light rail lines).
Peak-only service is about the same
The proposed network of peak-only routes is nearly unchanged from phase 2. I found two of those changes to be odd and counterproductive:
- Deleting route 237, despite connecting directly to East Link, and despite the fact that almost this exact route will be back when Stride opens in 2027 (…or 2028…) as an ST Express route. It doesn’t make sense to sever this connection to Bellevue (and East Link), when it is intended to be a major peak service corridor when Stride opens later. Route 237 (if preserved) would get more useful in 2026, when the NE 85th St station opens to freeway buses before the rest of Stride. At the very least, it would be a consolation to Woodinville and Kirkland riders who were expecting Stride to be an “early win,” now watching their bus lines slip even beyond the realignment schedule.
- Deleting route 167 in exchange for reverse-peak service on route 342. This will take fast and useful trips from Renton to the U-District and SR 520 freeway stations, and replace them with longer trips to Bellevue, Bothell, and Shoreline. While the ride to Bellevue will probably be useful if it is timed in between route 560 trips, there is very little ridership demand for trips to Bothell and Shoreline from Renton and Bellevue in the reverse-peak direction. Since these trips are also much longer than the current route 167, these additional service hour (if not diverted to cheaper off-peak service) could at least be used instead to extend route 167 south to Kent, where additional ridership potential should be fairly robust.
Details on phasing
Since East Link is opening in two phases (to Bellevue and Overlake in 2023, and downtown and SE Redmond in 2024), bus changes will necessarily be done in two increments as well. Phase 3 elaborates on which changes would happen when, though they’re mostly what you’d expect. One notable example includes route 269, which will get its northern terminus moved to Bear Creek P&R in 2023, then to SE Redmond Station in 2024, with similar phased changes happening on the B Line and route 250. Another one is route 256, which won’t start until 2024 when the direct ramp from SR 520 to the I-5 express lanes opens. This delay is unrelated to East Link, and is required for the bus to be able to exit at Mercer Street so soon after getting on I-5 due to the left-side 520 on-ramp to I-5.
The survey for this phase is open until March 7. Additionally, there are virtual information sessions happening on February 17th at 6pm, and February 26th at 10am.