Potential transfer point at the 77th Ave SE drop-off lane (photo by author)

Now that it’s much more certain that the entirety of the 2-Line will not open in 2023, Sound Transit has an excellent opportunity to consider still starting Eastside-only service on time: a proposal first publicly voiced by King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci and endorsed by transit geeks across the region.

It’s easy enough to demand that Sound Transit only run trains between Mercer Island and Redmond, but putting it into practice is another thing entirely. I don’t know if ST staff have backup maintenance and operating plans for this exact scenario, but there are very crucial operational considerations that need to be made, particularly for transfers.

The most obvious gap that results from an Eastside-only 2-Line is the lack of direct service between the Eastside and Seattle. In a world where this proposal actually gets implemented, I expect bus service hours will likely remain along the I-90 corridor between Seattle, Eastgate, and Issaquah. But what about Seattle-bound 2-Line riders (and vice versa)?

The winning option in my mind is a truncated 550 that runs between downtown Seattle and Mercer Island, operating at minimum the same frequency as the 2-Line. Given the capacity differential between Link trains and articulated buses, I would even argue for more frequent 550 service, with two potential options:

  • Scheduled service at least half the Link headways (e.g., 5-min 550 service vs. 10-min Link service)
  • A load-and-go-style operation where a queue of 550s each take as many passengers as possible before departing westbound

Sound Transit and Metro typically do not operate load-and-go services, so there are intricacies on the scheduling and labor front that would need to be addressed. This option, however, would minimize transfer time for cross-lake passengers.

Accommodating either option would mean optimizing the transfer point on the west side of the station (for departing westbound buses and arriving eastbound buses). This transfer point has not been considered because the bus-rail interchange discussion has focused exclusively on connecting service to and from the east. But given the recent proposal for Eastside-only 2-Line service, Sound Transit would necessarily have to consider a west transfer point on 77th Ave SE.

550 routing in blue; transfer point and west station entrance in red

Although there are no infrastructural accommodations for a bus-rail interchange on 77th, a turnout for a northbound passenger drop-off lane has already been built right outside the station’s west entrance. Depending on the paving work, it would be prudent to investigate if this lane can temporarily be used as a bus pick-up / drop-off point until full 2-Line service opens. The big elephant in the room is that this would necessitate buy-in from the jurisdiction in which this all takes place: Mercer Island. Unfortunately, past tensions over this same issue might mean that this idea is a complete non-starter.

Another technical drawback is that the passenger drop-off lane is only about 170 feet long, which is insufficient to accommodate both a potential queue of load-and-go articulated buses and layover space. This might mean a single-end layover point in Seattle, which might end up ruffling feathers on the other side of the lake.

Either way, tradeoffs will need to be made. But if Sound Transit does seriously consider Balducci’s proposal, they should also seriously consider making the bus-rail transfers as awesome as possible.

104 Replies to “To make Eastside-only East Link work, excellent transfers are needed”

  1. The drawback of this approach is it means two separate locations for Seattle-bound busses, one on 77th and one at the existing stops on N Mercer Way. Ideally all busses to the same destination would use the same stop, that way load can be effectively distributed. Thus instead of trying to transfer all 2-line passengers to the 550, they could choose any of the 216, 550 or 554 (or even the 630). Arguably, if the more I-90 busses get off at N Mercer way (such as some of 111, 114, 212, 217, 218) there wouldn’t even be need for extra 550 trips, I doubt these busses are all at crush load since the pandemic. Yes, it’d slow down these trips a couple of minutes but people will have to get used to transfers on MI eventually anyways.

  2. I’m not sure I see the point. Why not just keep the buses to Seattle running as is? Don’t they already stop near the relevant train stations?

    It would be nice to have timed transfers, but… how about timed transfers between Metro and ST Express? Please?

    1. The existing stops are on the north side of the station. The new stops are on the west and east sides of the station. This one is on the west side. it looks clearly to me like the station entrance was designed for a bus transfer, so I don’t see a problem with buses using it. As for layover space, there’s none in the P&R for one or two buses? The 550 currently lays over on Convention Place under the convention center, and sometimes they wait at Union & 6th a block before their first stop. So that could hold at least one more bus. Other options are on Eastlake where the Snohomish/Pierce/Redmond buses layover. There may be space there, or will be when Lynnwood Link opens.

      Timed transfers are mostly futile because people walk at different speeds through the station, and buses can be late due to traffic congestion or collisions.

      1. There are two station entrances on MI: to the east on 80th, and to the west on 77th. What the diagram in the article does not show is the roundabout being constructed at 77th and N. Mercer Way.

        The cut out in front of the 77th St. station is actually a fire lane, although I imagine it will get used as a drop off, although formally the drop off is around the corner on Sunset Highway.

        The bus layover bays are along N. Mercer Way, but they are east of 77th and point west to accommodate buses coming from the east. A bus coming from the west cannot access these layover bays unless it continues east off MI and turns around. Although peak bus capacity no longer requires drop offs on the north side of NMW — after the Eastside transit restructure basically cut the number of buses to MI in half — drop offs on the north side of NMW are necessary to allow buses to discharge passengers before the bus lays over.

        The 2017 settlement agreement prohibits drop offs on the north side because it requires bus passengers racing to catch East Link to cross N. Mercer Way. The parties are still litigating this issue. Since the intensity of the bus intercept is solved by the transit restructure and WFH the litigation is basically about buses laying over, which may not be possible if the buses become electric and need recharging.

        There are things ST could offer MI to construct a temporary bus stop on 77th for a bus bridge from the west if fire regulations would allow using the fire lane for a busy bus stop (although my advice to the council is to wait and see if a bus bridge will be necessary permanently before agreeing to anything long term). SOV access from Island Crest Way benefits both parties by removing 1100 cars per peak hour (pre-pandemic) from N. Mercer Way, reserved park and ride space , cash, etc. There is tremendous bad blood between the parties, and although ST has things of value to offer the council could be forced by the citizens to tell ST MI will see them in hell first. This is a city that has no affinity or need for transit, and feels like it can never trust ST after ST reneged on the 2017 settlement agreement.

        The better place to turn around buses as part of a bus bridge is S. Bellevue, although that means Bellevue Way which can get congested. Plus I don’t know if a bus can turn around at S. Bellevue. One problem is ST does not like to negotiate with Bellevue, and Bellevue can take forever to make up its mind. The route of East Link shows Bellevue does not think East Link will be transformative, especially post pandemic.

        The other issue is the additional cost for the Eastside subarea which doesn’t seem justified based on route and ridership, especially a bus bridge.

        When I see Bellevue, Issaquah, Metro, ST staff, Redmond and Microsoft publicly support this idea I will pay attention. To date their silence is deafening. I always thought it would be a tough sell to convince folks from Issaquah to take a bus to MI to catch East Link, but taking a bus to MI to catch a bus to Judkins Park to catch East Link sounds nuts.

        Although folks on this blog — and apparently transit geeks — are interested in Balducci’s idea there so far has been zero comment or interest by the power brokers on the Eastside, especially Bellevue and Microsoft. My guess is they saw Balducci’s idea and thought holy crap, East Link isn’t going to run across I-90 after 20 years of planning, fighting, litigation, zoning, you name it.

      2. Well, I don’t really know anything about the Mercer Island Station situation. It hardly matters though: what I’m trying to point out is that there are already buses from South Bellevue, Downtown Bellevue and Redmond Tech to Seattle. These buses are not crowded right now. Keep these buses running until Link goes all the way to Seattle. Don’t make anyone take Link to Mercer Island just to transfer to a bus.

        I have seen timed transfers between trains and buses (and also between buses and buses) work very well in other places. These places also have traffic and people who walk at different speeds.

      3. @Daniel T

        “The parties are still litigating this issue.”

        Since I haven’t been following the case documents for a while now, could you update me on where things are currently at? I’d appreciate that greatly.

        “There is tremendous bad blood between the parties, and although ST has things of value to offer the council could be forced by the citizens to tell ST MI will see them in hell first. This is a city that has no affinity or need for transit, and feels like it can never trust ST after ST reneged on the 2017 settlement agreement.”

        Yeah, in my opinion that distrust is understandable after ST maneuvered to get out of the agreement after Metro, not a party to the agreement, made its objections known. Gee whiz, now how did that happen? (RQ)

      4. There are two separate actions.

        There was a LUPA appeal over the city’s refusal to permit a bus stop on the north side of NMW (the council had added to its TIP plan a proposal to remove the bus stop when East Link opens for a dedicated bike lane obviously to prevent drop offs). The hearing examiner held the city could not refuse to permit a bus stop since one already exists, or the bus layover cut outs. . The superior court upheld the hearing examiner. I think the city has appealed that decision.

        I thought the judge’s decision was poorly reasoned, but the city didn’t do a good job explaining why it opposed the bus stop and basically relied solely on the language in the 2017 agreement. The superior court essentially applied an essential public facility analysis to override the language in the contract. although she didn’t specifically state that.

        The main litigation is still at the superior court awaiting trial. As you note ST is arguing drop offs on the north side of NMW although dangerous and prohibited in the 2017 agreement are necessary for the optimal service configuration (20 buses per peak hour) and Metro bus layovers, and as you note since Metro was not formally a signatory to the 2017 agreement Metro is not bound by it.

        But effectively it is just an essential public facility argument, except now everyone knows ST’s ridership estimates Metro relied upon in demanding the optimal service configuration were highly inflated even pre-pandemic. ST has also alleged there was a sub Rosa oral agreement with the prior council and city manager to allow drop offs on the north side which I always suspected and seems consistent with secret actions the city attorney and manager made after the 2017 settlement agreement was signed and before their replacement. Tellingly both have refused to sign declarations stating there was no oral agreement.

        MI has lost to ST at every stage. The courts show ST enormous deference, but MI’s former mayor signed off on the SEPA permits in 2016 without a mitigation agreement because he thought light rail would solve global warming and didn’t tell anyone so they vested and so MI had no leverage.

        Then like a Hail Mary pass Covid came and WFH, downtown Seattle imploded. and then Bellevue wanted all those Issaquah workers going to Bellevue, and so Metro in the restructure reduced the number of buses to MI by half. Now ironically MI is concerned there is too little off peak bus frequency.

        Next came the plinth issue and a further delay to 2025. Personally I think Balducci is signaling East Link isn’t going to work across the bridge, certainly not 4 car trains every 8 minutes. What happens then who knows.

        The interest in East Link or transit on the Eastside post pandemic is virtually nil. ST is in real disarray. The Eastside does not want free trains coming to the Eastside. 2017 is like a lifetime ago. ST’s public image has been badly hurt over the last three years.

        So now Islanders watch as ST unravels with little risk. The only issue left after years of litigation is the bus layovers, and now Metro has indicated MI might not have the charging capability for a layover site. (Issaquah to S. Kirkland will eliminate any intercept? No way ST can meet its operations budgets, and no way will the Eastside vote for another ST levy. 2025 or 2026 are so far away. If light rail can’t run across the bridge then what? What a total waste East Link will have been. There is virtually no chance Issaquah/Sammamish/Snoqualmie residents will take a bus to MI to transfer to another bus to go to Judkins Park to catch Link. None.

        Although MI really has no skin in the game or litigation anymore we still hope ST dies a long and painful death, and enjoy watching ST basically falling apart as all it’s lies and cost and ridership estimates are proved false and dishonest. Because at its very core ST is a dishonest and arrogant agency that also happened to be incompetent.

    2. I agree with Christopher, in that I don’t see the point. There is the potential of saving service hours, but very little, especially if you need extra buses to handle the load. It makes things worse for riders, even if the transfer is perfectly timed. You aren’t increasing frequency, as it is tied to Link, which is not especially frequent.

      I do agree with Sherwin in that good transfers are important. I have a different solution, but I’ll put that in a different thread.

  3. I think this blog has gone over this. Mercer Island is not set up as a bus intercept from the west. There is no place to turn around. I am certain the city would object to serving as an intercept to the west in which every Seattle rider disembarks the 550 on Mercer Island. So that leaves S. Bellevue as the logical intercept location, or just having riders on cross lake buses get off on MI although frequency won’t be great. But forget about a bus intercept from the west on MI, for many reason, probably the most compelling being the infrastructure and SEPA permitting would not be completed until 2025.

    I doubt ST or Metro plan to piecemeal the Eastside transit restructure early for an Eastside only segment of East Link so the 550 will stop at S. Bellevue but then complete its route as it does today with very few riders despite accessing Bellevue Way. All other bus routes will remain the same. That leaves very poor frequency for transfers to a Link station.

    Link to downtown Redmond is scheduled to open in 2024, so what we are talking about is a line running from Mercer Island (with existing bus service) or S. Bellevue to Microsoft. The stations in between have very little of their “TOD” infrastructure built and are still very car oriented.

    Most riders from the west will simply stay on the 550 unless those going to Microsoft. No buses from the Issaquah area will stop at an East Link station unless they went to MI and backtracked. Easier I suppose to just drive to the park and ride at S. Bellevue.

    I just don’t see the ridership on this truncated line of East Link to justify the cost, certainly with such low transit ridership on the Eastside today and cross lake.

    Better to just wait until 2025 or 2026 and open East Link in its entirety right after Lynnwood and Federal Way Link. Unless of course the Board has serious reservations about East Link being able to cross the bridge with the four car train every 8 minute frequency. If that is actually the case we have bigger issues to deal with, such as ST is in the middle of a very expensive and massive construction project to ready MI as an intercept for buses from the east, not the west.

    If frequency or capacity is any way supported the costs of opening a truncated East Link early I guess it might make sense. But transit ridership today on the Eastside is very low, and adding a transfer and a very limited route for East Link won’t be better than current buses.

    I am also interested by the fact I haven’t heard Bellevue, Microsoft or Issaquah comment on Balducci’s proposal (or ST staff or Metro). If this were a serious proposal these major players should have been approached long ago, and I have to imagine Balducci’s proposal concerns them that the Board knows more than it is letting on, and has known about since 2019. There are some powerful anti-ST stakeholders in these cities. The proposal for a bus bridge to a truncated East Link sounds very Seattle oriented to me.

    If Lazarus is correct East Link will open in three or four years with full capacity across the bridge. Until then East Link stations that are mostly complete can sit and the landscaping around them mature since buses are doing a good job with their limited ridership. Opening part of East Link would probably const tens of millions of dollars and not increase total transit ridership on the Eastside.

    1. Weather it’s worth opening early or not really depends on a bunch of factors.

      1. How much faster will Link be than the 550?

      2. Once the line is ready, will ST just run occasional test trains for several years, or let the line sit idle? Or what? Turn the stations into temporary mass homeless shelters?

      If the line doesn’t open but they plan to keep “test” trains running anyway, there’s no point in having them empty. I’ve yet to see anyone say what the plan would be for letting the line sit idle.

      Keep in mind letting the line sit idle means no FTA operating grants for the time the thing sits there, but meanwhile it accumulates costs for security, keeping the lights on, and maintenance to keep everything from falling into disrepair. It’s not quite the same as stashing canned food in the basement to be opened when you need it.

      If Link is significantly faster than the 550, then a fair number of people may find it worthwhile to transfer.

      1. East Link east of S. Bellevue really doesn’t go to the same destinations as the 550. Asdf2 is correct IMO the one beneficiary of bLink would be Microsoft employees but how many commute to the office these days, or by transit.

        I also don’t know if you can turn around the 550 and 554 at S. Bellevue. The advantage of the 550 is it accesses Bellevue Way and riders would not want to lose that for a transfer to a train that goes to 110th.

        Deviating the 554 might be popular for a Microsoft employee living in Issaquah but again I am not sure how many there are, whether the other riders who are going to Seattle want to deviate, or whether Microsoft has a dedicated shuttle. Better to have the few Microsoft workers commuting to the office on transit drive to the park and ride (or to Microsoft).

        The key player is Bellevue. What is the benefit to Bellevue from a bLink, which is the exact question Bellevue begins every negotiation with. Even then Bellevue can take years to make up its mind.

        I think what Balducci’s editorial really did — along with the revelations the Board knew about the issues on the bridge since 2019 but concealed them — is make Bellevue and the other power brokers demand the Board come clean on long term capacity across the bridge. The Board can lie to The Urbanist but not Bellevue.

      2. “How much faster will Link be than the 550?”

        The 550 is 30-45 minutes. Link is around 22-25 minutes.

        “East Link east of S. Bellevue really doesn’t go to the same destinations as the 550.”

        Basically, you lose south Bellevue Way and gain East Main station. About half the 550 riders get on on Belleuve Way between NE 4th Street (across the street from Bellevue Square and next to the downtown park) and Main Street (Old Bellevue). Peak hours used to be more TC-heavy with 30-40 people getting on at once, but that’s gone. Conversely off-peak there’s sometimes 10-15 people getting on at NE 4th Street. And when there’s a ballgame on weekends the bus can be standing room only.

        The full East Link restructure reroutes the 554 (Issaquah-Seattle) to Issaquah – South Bellevue Station – Bellevue Way – Bellevue TC, thus taking over the segment thr 550 will abandon. It’s unclear whether ST would pursue this without the complete Line 2. So people on Bellevue Way would have to transfer both short-term and long-term if the 550 is truncated. However, we don’t know where all those Bellevue Way riders are coming from. They may be coming from the mall, Bellevue Way shops, west of Bellevue Way, or east of Bellevue Way. Those coming from east of Bellevue Way or the mall would have a still-doable walk to the TC, on a pedestrian path (at NE 6th Street) they city has enhanced and could enhance more. Those coming from south of 4th or west of Bellevue Way would have a harder time getting to the station. And Main Street may have a bus to East Main Station.

        Two other factors are their Seattle destination and new Link service to Redmond. Some of those riders on Bellevue Way are not going to downtown Seattle but to Capitol Hill, the U-District, north Seattle, or southeast Seattle. Link’s advantage there can more than make up for a few minutes’ walk or transfer to Bellevue TC or East Main Station.

        Going towards Redmond, there’s no comparable service. Link will serve Wilburton, Spring District, Bel-Red (130th), Overlake Village, Redmond Tech, and Redmond downtown, within 20 minutes from Bellevue TC.

        The closest buses currently are the 226 and 250, which combine for 15-minute service to 116th & NE 12th Street (at the hospitals and just north of Wilburton Station). Then they split in two different directions, and only the 226 goes closer to the Spring District.

        For Overlake Village, the choices are the B or 226. The B takes twenty minutes and runs every 15 minutes. The 226 takes 16 minutes and is half-hourly daytime, hourly Sundays and evenings.

        For Redmond Tech and Redmond downtown, there’s a peak-only ST Express route, but off-peak the only choice is the B. It takes 37 minutes to the latter, or almost as long as the 545 takes from downtown Seattle. Link will do it in twenty minutes.

        And if you’re going to somewhere between Wilburton and Redmond downtown but not starting from Bellevue TC or Bellevue Way, then Link’s advantage becomes greater.

        ST usually runs extensive tests for several months on a major new extension. It has never delayed opening beyond that for more than just the gap between July and September, to open simultaneously with the biggest annual service change. If the Eastside will be delayed waiting for the bridge, then ST might just postpone the pre-production testing rather than doing it and then leaving it idle. Another factor is that it’s likely the delay will push it closer to Redmond Downtown’s opening, so that gap won’t be as wide, and it may just wait until Redmond Downtown is ready.

        The stations certainly won’t be open as homeless hangouts. There will be fences around them and security monitoring for trespassers. Allowing people to hang out there would be a liability for ST if somebody gets injured, as well as the risk of vandalism and damage. If people can access it, somebody will paint graffiti as they do everywhere else. And who wants art installations damaged by graffiti before it even opens.

      3. Another alternative would be to do the 554 restructure and terminate the 550 at South Bellevue, even if it overlaps with Link between South Bellevue and Mercer Island. That would allow a 550+554 transfer to Bellevue Way, a 550+554 transfer the other way to Issaquah, and a 550+Link transfer to downtown Bellevue or toward Redmond (better than the existing buses east of Bellevue TC).

        On Mercer Island the 550 would keep its existing stops on the north side. If the 208 is also restructured as an express to Mercer Island, that would also provide a faster alternative to the Issaquah Highlands.

      4. Basically, you lose south Bellevue Way and gain East Main station.

        I get into this below, but as I see it, a truncated 550 has some big issues:

        1) The biggest set of riders — those from downtown Bellevue to Seattle — have to transfer to get to downtown Seattle. In many cases this means making two transfers.

        2) A significant number of riders have a much worse trip to downtown Seattle. They either walk a long distance to catch Link, or they have a three seat ride to downtown (take a bus to Link, take Link to Mercer Island, take the bus to Seattle). Without extra funding, the bus to Link will be significantly less frequent than the 550.

        To me, converting the 550 into an express solves the first issue. The stickler is this second issue.

        Another alternative would be to do the 554 restructure and terminate the 550 at South Bellevue

        That mitigate the second problem, but it doesn’t eliminate it. You are still forcing a transfer for some along Bellevue Way. Meanwhile, the first problem is back. To get from downtown Bellevue to downtown Seattle requires a transfer. Meanwhile, folks in Issaquah also have to transfer — this time in South Bellevue. The plan was to have a very frequent 554, but I don’t see that happening without savings that come from eliminating the 550. The savings from truncating the 550 at South Bellevue are minimal in comparison. Oh, and the plan was also for Metro to provide frequent service from Issaquah to Mercer Island (to connect to Link) and I don’t see that happening until Link goes across the water.

        I just don’t see any of these plans working out unless ST is willing to spend the money for additional service. If they are willing to do that, then there are much better values out there (such as a UW-Seattle to UW-Bothell express bus). The basic problem is that unless I’m mistaken, East-Side-Only Link doesn’t come with significant savings for those traveling *within* the East Side. It would definitely benefit many of the people who make trips on that side of the lake, but it doesn’t replace any service. For example, the RapidRide B goes between Redmond and Bellevue — serving several stations along the way — but it also provides service for many areas in between the stations. Without those service savings, we are left with ideas that just make for a bunch of winners and losers. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that — every major restructure has that — but making that sort of restructure right before a fully formed East Link comes along seems like a bad idea.

    2. My understanding is you have little trust in ST… Interesting to read your post regarding the board knowing more than it is letting on, as well as your previous post:

      “Next came the plinth issue and a further delay to 2025. Personally I think Balducci is signaling East Link isn’t going to work across the bridge, certainly not 4 car trains every 8 minutes. What happens then who knows. ”

      The stated issue sure sounded like a construction issue, defects in the concrete plinth so they require replacement along a 4-mile stretch. You predict there are additional issues or replacing the concrete plinth won’t solve the issue? Interesting. There must be a lot of scrutiny on these 4-miles of concrete plinths, would be interesting to hear more about them.

  4. It would be easier if there were a skybridge between the park-and-ride and the Link station. The 550 could wait there, and East Link riders could get between the train and bus stations without negotiating the four-way stop-sign interchanges.

  5. To be honest, I think Bellevue->Seattle travelers are better served just running the 550, as is, without any truncations. The only real beneficiaries of a partial Link opening are those riding east of downtown Bellevue. But the fact that the downtown Redmond extension won’t be open yet and a large number of Microsoft employees permanently working from home both cut into the ridership.

    I still think there is value in running one-car trains from Overlake to downtown Bellevue station with at least 15 minute frequency weekdays, 30 minutes, evenings and weekends (e.g. matching the 245). While an equivalent bus route (if the tracks were a bus way) would not be full, it would at least, I think, yield much better ridership than existing bus routes in the area, and that should be enough to justify running the trains. I would pay for it by taking service hours from the 226 and 249, leaving all other bus routes, including the cross lake buses, unchanged.

    1. The 226 and 229 are Metro’s responsibility, not ST’s. It’s not easy to transfer the money.

    2. “I still think there is value in running one-car trains from Overlake to downtown Bellevue station with at least 15 minute frequency weekdays, 30 minutes, evenings and weekends (e.g. matching the 245).”

      If it drops to 30 minutes there’s no point in running it at all. VTA light rail is 30 minutes weekends, and MAX has sometimes dipped to that during recessions. At that frequency it’s hard to see how it’s any better than a bus. Even if it’s 5-10 minutes faster you may lose 25 minutes waiting, plus a longer walk from the station. Even if you look up the schedule and don’t leave your house/activity until just before it leaves, that’s still dead time and having to work around a half-hour pulse, and worrying that if you miss the train you’ll have to wait another half hour. And it often makes transfers infeasible.

      Link was 30 minutes weekends during 2020 and 2021, and that was just too much overhead to use it. You have to go down to the station, the next-arrival displays were off or inaccurate, and if you missed the train you’d have to wait 30 more minutes. For many trip pairs there were 5-15 minute buses, so it was actually easier to take Metro than Link, even if the travel time was longer and different routes served different trip pairs.

      I transfer from the 550 to either the B or 226, or I can take the 250 but it only goes halfway. The old 226 was my route, but when the B started I never rode it again, except once to experience battery bus. But a few years ago I started riding it again if it was there for the transfer, because these quiet routes are low-stress and have their appeal, and NE 12th Street/Bel-Red Road reminds me of the Bellevue I grew up in. At first it was half-hourly Saturdays, so sometimes it would be there within 5 minutes of the 550. Then it went to hourly on both Saturdays and Sundays, and it never aligned with the 550 anymore. Especially on Sundays when the 550 is also half-hourly. Then last year it went back to half-hourly Saturdays, and I’ve been able to take it sometimes. I fortunately have other options if the 226 isn’t available, but people in other areas have no other choice; it’s the 226 or nothing.

      It’s also worth nothing that in the full East Link restructure, the 226 would stop serving east of 156th, where there’s no other route. Metro’s solution is to expand Crossroads Connects, an on-demand service that requires a smartphone to summon, and is unscheduled. I grew up in that area that will no longer have service, and I’m glad I had it then. I would hate to have to summon an on-demand shuttle twice a day for five or six days a week, and never knowing how soon it would come, how long it would take to get to an activity and back, or whether I’d just miss the bus/train I’m transferring to — every morning and evening.

      On the Eastside there are already established bus routes, and even though most are 30 minutes, that’s the status quo. It’s more reasonable to have a bus every 30 minutes than a train.

      “I would pay for it by taking service hours from the 226 and 249”

      That would leave hour-long gaps in the 226, or more than an hour on Sundays. North Bellevue Way would lose its hourly service, which is already inadequate. That’s assuming you can trade ST hours for Metro hours, and that a Link hour and a bus hour are the same cost. The 249 is not that many service hours to begin with. The 226 is somewhat more but not a lot, and if you took just half of the 226’s hours it would be even less.

      While an equivalent bus route (if the tracks were a bus way) would not be full, it would at least, I think, yield much better ridership than existing bus routes in the area, and that should be enough to justify running the trains. I would pay for it by taking service hours from the 226 and 249

      1. After thinking about this some more, I’m now starting to come to the conclusion that, unless there’s enough drivers to simply run Link without touching bus service until the big service restructure, it may be better to just wait, to avoid ruffling feathers.

        Nevertheless, the 249 is still an awful bus route, which deserves to die. The proposed 2023 service restructure adds detours to the 249 to move it closer to Link stations, rather than simply pulling the plug to make other routes more frequent, which I think is a mistake.

        The section down 24th in east Bellevue, serving Interlake High school would probably need to be replaced with something, since it’s the only bus in the area and suburban high schools can sometimes be a good ridership draw (twice a day) from not-quite-driving-age children of busy parents. But, the bulk of route is close enough to other routes, I’m not convinced it really needs service.

      2. I’m agreed with ASDF on this.

        However, if they start testing trains, then they should have enough drivers to operate both Link and the existing bus service. Otherwise, who is operating the trains? Or the busss that haven’t been adjusted yet?

      3. Oh, and if the service is from Overlake to Bellevue as Mike Orr suggests, I don’t see how you could possibly have half hourly service on that. It’s 5 miles or so. A single train running back and forth probably provides 15 minute service. If you put two trains on you get better frequency and operator layovers, but you probably get far too much capacity, even with fairly long operator breaks.

        I think you get better frequency and more appropriate operator break periods by extending to Mercer Island and operating 3 trains.

      4. “However, if they start testing trains, then they should have enough drivers to operate both Link and the existing bus service.”

        Not necessarily. The test trains aren’t running 24/7 and don’t need to follow a predictable schedule. For instance, test trains can avoid peak hours, when drivers are most needed for buses. And, any day a high number of drivers call in sick, test trains can be postponed outright so what drivers are available are all doing bus routes.

        But, if the trains are carrying passengers, you can’t do the above. You have to actually have enough drivers to run both the trains and the buses, and still have some slack left over to account for sick/unavailable drivers. Otherwise, you end up with a bunch of cancelled bus trips.

  6. A “Balducci Line” (“bLink”?) should run just to South Bellevue where there is abundant space for a “load and go” bus bridge to have a couple of buses ready for every train.

    “But there are no scissors”, you say? There are a few blocks south of South Main and running reverse direction on the inbound or outbound leg between there and South Bellevue is no big deal. There will be no need for sub-ten minute headways on bLink, so meeting the requirement that both tracks south of the scissors can both be occupied for only three minutes can easily be met. Trains would be scheduled to leave East Main southbound two minutes before the train waiting at South Bellevue northbound departs. The southbound train would be routed into the unoccupied track at the scissors, and by the time the northbound arrives the scissors would be aligned to route the northbound train to the northbound track at East Main Station.

    The 550 would run as it has, but the 554 should deviate into South Bellevue to connect with bLink to Redmond Tech and get folks used to the transfer there.

    1. In my own defense, I said “The 550 would run as today.” I did NOT advocate nor did I mean to advocate truncating the 550 at South Bellevue. Any truncation of it would have been with an MI interchange as Sherwin was proposing.

      Yes, continuing to South Bellevue would probably mean one more train operating, but it would give a single-transfer access to riders on the I-90 backbone headed for essentially anywhere in central Bellevue out to Redmond Tech. These days they can do a reverse at MI, but are limited to Bellevue Way destinations and the BTC.

      I expect that two-car trains would be completely adequate to cover the ridership.

      Other Tom, there is no way the 550 will run every eight minutes ever again. It doesn’t even divide into 60 for clockface headways.

  7. I think they should run the 550 , full route every 8 minutes from 5am to 1am, daily. And let east link open on 2026 when it’s ready.

  8. My take is that east-side-only Link would really be to benefit the east side, and the current Seattle to east side busses would be enough for the Seattle – east side riders. It’s not only Bellevue and Redmond/Microsoft, but let’s not forget about the Wilburton, Spring District, and Bel-Red stations. There’s not really a good bus line alternative there, unlike Seattle – Bellevue.

    This also means that you would probably need more east side stakeholders pushing for it in order for it to happen, as Seattle interests would be better off on the busses until the full line opens.

    As far as operational expenses, wasn’t the full line planned to have been running at the full frequency by then anyway? Shouldn’t that be considered as the cost “baseline?” You’d presumably be running at a reduced frequency, so that would partially make up for not truncating bus routes, and it would (hopefully!) just be for a year or so.

    1. I’d bet that in 2010, ST/KCM assumed they wouldn’t have much trouble filling good union jobs. Now, that’s obviously not the case. Since KCM staffs ST’s trains (and I think their buses, too?), I’d assume it’s easier to train an apparently committed bus driver to drive a train than to risk CDL training on a newbie. Staffing new trains is nowhere near a given, even if you’re cutting buses.

  9. Other thought:

    If they do delay fully opening East Link, could they then move construction workers to Lynnwood Link to get that open earlier?

    There could be far more benefit to doing that then opening part of East Link early.

    1. I agree Glenn. Post pandemic Lynnwood Link looks like the best extension. Obviously pre-pandemic the wealthy Eastside commuter was ST’s desire, but I just don’t see that, especially with Bellevue so influential and so intent that Eastside commuters commute to Bellevue’s massive upzone.

      Lazarus likes to try and tweak Mercer Island about intercepts, but MI is like a SEPA porcupine: you better be damn hungry, and have lots of time.

      But if there is one lesson it is MI is irrelevant. Bellevue, Issaquah (which speaks for that entire area), Redmond, Microsoft pull the levers. Especially Bellevue. If no eastsider wants to go to Seattle an intercept on MI makes little sense, let alone a “bus bridge”. No one on the Eastside is interested in Seattle getting closer to Bellevue. Nextdoor may have its faults except the 100,000 Eastside members and yes they all clutch at their pearls. Which is why housing is so unaffordable.

      The reality Lazarus doesn’t want to contemplate is East Link can’t run across a floating bridge. I have been involved in this issue for 8 years. The tensioning of the concrete on I-90 is not designed for four car trains. Even if it were very few eastsiders want to take it to Seattle.

      I have followed Balducci’s career for a decade. Nice and very suburban, very 41st Democrat, but not someone who would publish an editorial in the Times without checking with her fellow board members like Dow who are a zillion times more political than she is. She was CHOSEN to write that editorial.

      East Link won’t run across the bridge. Focus on Lynnwood and Federal Way Link, although the subareas can’t afford Tacoma or Everett Link. It probably seems a tragedy to leave a subarea like East King Co. with $600 million/year in ST tax revenue but light rail never made sense in such a huge and undense and suburban area, although the wealth was intoxicating for ST, if fickle.

      1. East Link won’t run across the bridge.

        Whew, that’s a pretty categorical statement, don’t you think? Just because some sleazy contractor used inferior cement and omitted some rebar (is DeSantis on the board of the company?) doesn’t mean that the problems can’t be fixed. The Plinths aren’t even on the bridge. The problem there is the insulating sleeves for the track fasteners (no, they don’t use spikes sny longer). That’s quite easy to fix.

        Now it is certainly true that we don’t really know how the structure will perform under such a heavy dynamic load. Models say it should retain its structural integrity, but it isn’t a done deal.

        So you might be right. But you’re pretty far over your skis with the highlighted statement.

      2. @DT,

        “ East Link won’t run across the bridge.”

        More with the disinformation campaign? Please just stop. You can stand there and repeat things like that until the hair dye runs down the side of your face, but just repeating something ad nauseam doesn’t make it true.

        And as you well know, the main problem delaying East Link has nothing to do with the floating bridge. It is mainly a contractor performance issue elsewhere. And as you also well know, it is being resolved.

        Additionally, it is absolutely ludicrous to assume that East Link could be terminated on MI without some sort of a bus bridge between MI and Seattle.

        And if East Link terminates on MI, then that is where the bulk of the hide-and-ride people will try to intercept the system. This is true whether it is off-island hide-and-ride users intercepting East Link from the Seattle side, or whether it is off-island users intercepting the bus bridge from the Eastside. It will be the Wild West for parking – MI had better plan for it.

        But I still don’t think a truncated East Link will happen.

      3. @DT,

        Yes, Balducci is a politician. And yes, Balducci choose to write the editorial. So what?

        She is just being a politician. She is playing her suburban base. By suggesting such a thing she is just insulating herself a bit from the issues of East Link while simultaneously playing to her pro-transit voters and her anti-ST voters.

        She has nothing to lose by suggesting such a thing, and a lot to potentially gain. But it doesn’t mean she is serious about it, nor does it mean that it is technically possible.

        And checking in with the board has no bearing on technical feasibility. If you want to determine technical feasibility you check with the engineers and program management/delivery experts. They are the ones who determine technical feasibility.

        The most the board can do is demand a feasibility study. Such a thing would take 4-6 months to complete. By then most of the problems will be corrected.

        Will the board launch such a study? Depends on politics and how big a black eye they think the East Link delay will cause them. After all, such a study would provide much more political cover than technical insight.

        But, at the end of the day, this truncated East Link will go nowhere. It is a political ploy, not a technical solution. Dow knows this. The board knows this. Apparently the voters don’t.

      4. “not someone who would publish an editorial in the Times without checking with her fellow board members like Dow who are a zillion times more political than she is. She was CHOSEN to write that editorial.”

        “There’s an invisible cat on that chair.”

        “What? I don’t see it.”

        “That’s because it’s invisible.”

        If there’s a larger board movement, if staff have been recommending it outside the public reports at board meetings, we may eventually hear about it. But right now there’s no indication that that’s so; it’s just speculation.

      5. And as you said, why haven’t Bellevue or Redmond made statements to support it, if there is a larger movement. Bellevue, the city Balducci was mayor of before she went to the county council. They haven’t said anything against it either. That suggests to me they don’t think it’s important and don’t think it’s likely to go anywhere beyond that op-ed.

        What ST should do is increase ST Express frequency in the meantime. That collides with the driver shortage, so it’s tricky. ST had intended to raise the 550 to 15-minute Sundays by this year, and add Sunday service on the 535, a future Stride corridor. But the driver shortage prevented it.

        There’s also room to improve Issaquah service, both to Seattle and to Bellevue. ST has a 554 improvement in mind for the full East Link restructure, but hasn’t said anything about doing something in the meantime, especially with East Link being delayed beyond its 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 date.

      6. Tom my comment meant East Link won’t run over the bridge during any kind of truncated East Link on the Eastside. I think there is a reasonable possibility however East Link won’t be able to run four car trains every 8 minutes across the bridge. Based on current cross lake ridership I think two car trains every 10 minutes could work, but I don’t know how that will affect East Link as it continues to Lynnwood.

        In any case we have 3 or 4 years until we find out.

        I remember clearly ST telling us East Link could not open in segments when the issues with the deck/span hinge and post tensioning first caused delays in opening East Link. Balducci’s idea is not new. But ST claimed the electrical system required all of East Link to be tested and opened at the same time.

        I hope Balducci clarified that with ST staff before publishing her editorial (and The Times certainly has not investigated her idea after publishing the editorial.

        What I do agree with Lazarus is the bLine makes very little transit sense and I think Ross has done a good job of pointing out the idea doesn’t benefit riders, so maybe Lazarus is correct Balducci’s editorial is political not transit based.

      7. Daniel, really? Doesn’t “truncating East Link at Mercer Island” [or anywhere east of there] clearly imply “Link will not travel over the floating bridge?” Especially in the cobtext of Sherwin’s article.

        Why would you write that as a stand-alone complete simple sentence? Sure, specifying it as part of an “explainer” comment including a conditional which specifies WHY the train won’t be running for some period of time makes sense.

        But a simple declarative sentence like the one you wrote has the implication of finality. As an attorney you are as much a wordsmith as a professional writer, and a very good one. Surely you can understand this subtlety of context.

        If you truly were meaning o time-limit your statement, you should have specified so.

        I think you were — perhaps unconsciously — hoping to dismay and disarm Link proponents on the Blog.

        Your demurral doesn’t pass the Occam’s Razor test.

      8. Tom, I apologize if my statement was unclear or incomplete. I don’t write these posts — many on a phone — with the same care as a legal brief considering I am not getting paid for posting on STB and I see this blog as conversational in tone.

        I don’t know if East Link will be able to run across the bridge. There is no historical precedent to look to. Probably more importantly I don’t know if East Link will be able to run four car trains across the bridge at 50 mph.

        That was the real issue with the deck/span hinge, and with post tensioning. The solution, if one is needed, was to run lighter trains at slower speeds across the bridge.

        As I noted before, Balducci’s idea is not new. But in the past ST admitted the issue (deck/span drop, vibrations requiring post tensioning, raising the rails off the concrete)) before discussing opening segments of East Link separately, with ST telling us (lay persons) the electrical system would not allow that. In the past it was the citizens asking to open East Link in segments because it looked like the whole line would not work to capacity.

        So now we are likely looking at a 2025 or 2026 opening date, with three formal extensions in the opening date.

        What concerned me about Balducci’s comments were:

        1. It was sudden, even though the Board has apparently known about the issues since 2019 but concealed them hoping they could be fixed without delay and without ever revealing the problems. None of the major Eastside players look like they were consulted first.

        2. In the past, whenever opening just a segment of East Link was raised, the problems with running four car trains across the bridge were considered possibly permanent. ST invented a new deck/span hinge and is post tensioning the concrete and raising the rails off the concrete, but at the time the discussions whether to open just a segment of East Link were based on a real concern full capacity travel across the bridge would be permanently reduced (and based on ST’s inflated ridership estimates).

        3. ST always claimed all of East Link must be tested and opened concurrently, even though at the time the issues affecting capacity across the bridge looked very serious (design) and no remedy had been invented (since there has never been done before and ST had not derailed a train on dry land.). Whereas in the past it was the citizens asking to open East Link in segments now it is the past chair of the Board.

        4. Balducci’s plan makes no economic sense, and does not improve transit for Eastside riders, except perhaps Seattleites commuting to Microsoft when in office work at Microsoft is very low, and Microsoft hasn’t endorsed the idea.

        5. The new delay, so far two years, seems like a lot of time to remedy some construction issues in the plinths the Board has been working on and concealing since 2019.

        My guess at this point — — having followed East Link across the bridge since around 2015 — is East Link will be able to run across the bridge but with fewer than 4 car trains and slower than 50 mph, probably due to a combination of all the issues that basically come down to a floating bridge made out of concrete that was never tensioned for light rail and can micro-fracture.

        But the good news today is actual cross lake ridership will be low enough 2 car trains at 20 mph can meet capacity, although the trip may be slower than the current buses, even without the feeder bus to catch East Link.

        In time we will know. If Balducci’s idea made any sense to me — from a transit rider point of view despite the additional cost — and the Board had been more honest about the problems beginning in 2019, and major Eastside players had been consulted and supported the idea. I probably would not be so suspicious.

      9. @Tom T,

        Don’t be convinced. Non of that “stuff” above is based on facts. But there isn’t enough time in the world to continuously respond to someone who is clearly on a disinformation campaign, and for whom facts don’t matter.

        But hey, just wait. In one to two years East Link will open, it will open in its entirety (no bus bridge), it will be capable of operating at full speed across the lake, and at full capacity.

        Trust in the engineers.

    2. @Glen,

      Nope. Won’t happen. Lynnwood Link is a different project with different contracts, different contractors, and different budgets. You can’t plug and play between the two, at least not on any scale that will substantially move the needle on schedule.

      And fundamentally, whatever the delay on East Link, it is because the East Link contractors are busy trying to finish. It’s not like everyone on East Link is just standing around looking at their hands.

    3. OK, folks, just a reminder: Please stick to the subject. This is not an open thread. This is about a potential bus restructure following the implementation of East Link from Mercer Island about Redmond.

  10. Hilarious. We’ve been told how impossible a bus bridge would be to implement between Seattle and MI, but yet here is a reasonable starting point for just such a bus bridge. And an acknowledgment that such a bridge would in fact be needed.

    But let’s not fool ourselves here. Link is not a bus system. Rail systems are much more complicated than bus systems, and they can’t be activated as easily.

    With a bus system you just buy a bunch of buses, get a bunch of operators, and you are pretty much ready to go.

    But with rail systems you have many, many supporting systems to consider. OCS power, signaling, communications, switch control, safety, etc. Plus the whole activation demonstration phase is pretty darn complicated.

    East Link was not designed to be activated and run in two distinct and disconnected segments, and re-engineering it to work that way would be expensive and time consuming.

    But if the Eastside decides they want to foot the bill for that (after all it is their subarea, and the Balducci Line would mainly benefit just their subarea), then so be it. Let them pay for it.

    But if this happens, then MI needs to work well as a terminus for a Seattle-MI bus bridge. This proposal shows that it could be done. And maybe with a little tweaking it could be made even better. Increased layover space for buses, and maybe some traffic restrictions to avoid traffic conflicts with buses would help.

    Additionally, having MI serve as a terminus for an Eastside only line would require additional P&R space for off-island commuters and maybe an increase in on street parking for those off-island commuters who can’t fit in the P&R. Otherwise there will be a lot of uncontrolled hide-and-ride activity occurring.

    It might even be advantageous to temporarily restrict all P&R space on MI to only off-island commuters and instead to provide MI residents with free shuttles that they can take to the station without using their car at all. It might actually work out better them.

    But don’t get me wrong. I don’t think an Eastside only line makes sense, and I don’t think it will happen. Link is not a bus, and it just isn’t that easy. Best open East Link all at once.

    1. They actually have multiple crossovers on the line specifically for situations where they would need to operate a separate section. It’s not that unusual to need to do this for various maintenance work.

      It’s also not especially unusual with systems testing, which they will be doing anyway without the bridge, if the bridge isn’t able to be opened to traffic yet.

      Whether it’s worthwhile to do it for multiple years is a different matter.

  11. Given the relative rapidity of a line between either South Bellevue or Mercer Island and Redmond Tech, I could see how the 40 minute round trip could be served with four trains at 10 minute intervals. It may take 5 to allow for driver breaks. Or if the trains were at 15 minute intervals, 3 may be fine. That’s frankly not a huge driver commitment to carry what would seem like 4-10k riders a day (and fewer drivers than a frequent bus line). The bigger cost is probably the extra work maintaining and patrolling the Eastside Link stations.


    That means that the local Eastside feeder bus structure could be started early.
    The rub is getting across Lake Washington. Turning around at Mercer Island or South Bellevue for transfers is simple enough, but the Seattle side is where I think it’s lots tougher.

    The first issue is the opening date for Judkins Park. Some of the delay could impact this station. If this station is opened, the westbound buses could use the loop ramp and stop on southbound Rainier but they would need to turn around and load eastbound riders. That’s a more difficult routing problem.

    If ST took the buses to Stadium that could work better. They could use the Fourth Ave S ramps and stop at Stadium Station on Royal Brougham Way. Some striping changes would be needed. I’m not sure if ST would need to add Line 1 trains to run north from there . Of course, that would allow the buses to fully skip Judkins Park.

    A Stadium-South Bellevue bus bridge round trip would seem to take about 30 to 40 minutes. With a bus every 3-4 minutes at peak hours, that’s 10 buses that would be needed. Depending on the loads, maybe a bus every 6 minutes could work (7 buses). At a high enough frequency, the transfers would not seem that onerous.

    It raises a big question about whether any Eastside bus needs to run through Downtown Seattle. I get that transfers close to Downtown are huge disincentives but given the slow slogs required to get around Downtown it may come to stopping the bus bridge at Stadium or ID-C.

    I don’t have a recommendation on what to do in the interim period before Link crosses Lake Washington. However, filling out an interim plan to get riders across the bridge would be beneficial even as just a contingency exercise because at some point, a bus bridge will almost certainly be needed across Lake Washington even after the 2 Line fully opens.

  12. I think it makes more sense to have the 550 just run as an express to downtown Bellevue. That means a bus from Seattle would stop at the Mercer Island stop, then get back on I-90, follow it until 405 and then the Bellevue Transit Center. If I’m not mistaken, there are HOV lanes both directions the whole way. Regardless, this would be significantly faster for riders going across the lake than service is now, and Seattle to Downtown Bellevue would be similar to future Link speeds.

    That does mean that service along Bellevue Way would be substantially reduced. It is easy to assume that East Link covers it, but it really doesn’t. There are a significant number of stops on Bellevue Way that Link can’t cover. The plan was to backfill that service with the 554, a very frequent bus (by East Side standards). It is expected to run every 10 minutes during peak, and every 15 minutes the rest of the time (including nights and weekends). The riders in between the Link Stations would be able to connect to Link using that bus. It is highly unlikely that we send the 554 to Bellevue with an East-Side-Only Link. Even if we did, it would mean that riders would have a three-seat ride to downtown Seattle, or backtrack to downtown Bellevue. There are other ways to backfill service on Bellevue Way, but it isn’t clear where you get the money.

    This brings up a bigger, more general issue, which is what to do after this East-Side-Only Link is built. We can make significant changes, but it is quite likely that those routes will be changed again after Link gets across the lake. Even if we do that, it isn’t clear what that would look like, or whether it could be pulled off. If you throw enough money at it, these problems go away, but it isn’t clear where that money could come from. I don’t see major cost savings for an East Side restructure with an East-Side-Only Link line. This means creating a system with big winners and losers (or coming up with more money somehow).

    I think the most likely outcome from an East-Side-Only Link line is just to make minimal changes to the bus network.

    1. I should point out that 550 ridership along Bellevue Way is significant. Here are the stops that have over 100 riders heading to Seattle:

      NE 4th — 349
      Main — 233
      3rd — 104
      16th — 105

      NE 4th and Main are the only stops that are within reasonable walking distance to a Link station. In neither case is it close. For Bellevue Way and Main, it is a ten minute walk. Keep in mind, this is to take a train, and then transfer to a bus. From NE 4th, you could potentially catch the express bus, but it is an even longer walk. The other stops are much worse than both of these.

      Unless there was an effort to backfill service somehow, a significant portion of the 550 ridership would find it much harder to get to Seattle with either Sherwin’s 550 or mine.

    2. “I think it makes more sense to have the 550 just run as an express to downtown Bellevue. That means a bus from Seattle would stop at the Mercer Island stop, then get back on I-90, follow it until 405 and then the Bellevue Transit Center.”

      That makes more sense than terminating the 550 at at Mercer Island or South Bellevue. The most fundamental purpose of regional express transit is to connect the two overwhelmingly biggest activity centers. That serves not just the downtowns but the entire surrounding areas. Those surrounding areas are the largest and densest cities on both sides of the lake. The 550 is the middle seat in what may already be a three-seat ride.

      When the 512 and 511 were truncated at Northgate, that’s five miles from downtown, in an urban center with its own highrises and institutions, and a transfer hub to the surrounding areas. Those five miles allow Link to really shine, avoiding congestion and collisions and serving intermediate neighborhoods. When the 522 was truncated at Roosevelt, that’s four miles from downtown, with a variety of destinations and housing, two notable parks, and bus transfers in all directions. Mercer Island is like a cul de sac, and South Bellevue is in the middle of nowhere. It’s a shame to stop just short of a major destination, and force two transfers in two miles. I’d put that threshold at three miles. That’s the distance of UDistrict-downtown, and the U-District is an urban center and transfer hub in itself.

      The 550’s hours will go into either Link operations or the 554 increase. the 554 restructure also replaces Issaquah-Bellevue part of the 556, but that’s not many hours. So it looks like the 550’s hours will go into the 554, with some left over. That makes it hard to make the 554 twice as frequent if the 550 still has to supplement a partial Link. And if the 554 is not increased, then Bellevue Way frequency would go down from 15-30 minutes to 30-60 minutes.

      We’re also assuming that it’s feasible to truncate Link at Mercer Island, and that it’s just as feasible as terminating it at South Bellevue. We don’t know that yet.

      1. When the 512 and 511 were truncated at Northgate, that’s five miles from downtown, in an urban center with its own highrises and institutions, and a transfer hub to the surrounding areas. Those five miles allow Link to really shine, avoiding congestion and collisions and serving intermediate neighborhoods. … Mercer Island is like a cul de sac, and South Bellevue is in the middle of nowhere.

        Yes, that is the difference. There are lots of people who are now forced to transfer at Northgate or Roosevelt (to get downtown). But many of those riders on those buses aren’t even heading there. They are going to the neighborhood, or going to the UW and Capitol Hill. Both are major destinations, and the UW is the biggest one north of the ship canal. Likewise, downtown Bellevue is the biggest destination on the East Side.

        South Bellevue is also the worst of both worlds. Mercer Island is easy to serve because it is on the way. An express bus can serve it, get back on the freeway, and not get off the freeway until it is in downtown Bellevue (fairly close to the transit center). Riders transferring to Link can either get off there, or wait until they get to downtown Bellevue. If a bus serves South Bellevue and continues to downtown Bellevue, it means a five minute detour, and a lot more if there is heavy traffic on the freeway. I’m not saying that is what you had in mind — I think you wanted to just terminate at South Bellevue. I’m saying that as we work through all of the combinations, nothing looks particularly good, simply because we can’t come up with enough service hours to make it work. There just aren’t enough savings to deal with the drawbacks.

        Then again, I think there is one bus we haven’t talked about — the 545. It runs quite often. The plan is to eliminate it when East Link is complete. We could eliminate it early. The 542 does not run as often, but bumping it up to the future levels would not be that expensive. At that point, some of these options could be possible. For example:

        550 — Runs as an express, skipping Bellevue Way. Some savings.
        554 — Eliminated. Significant savings.
        542 — Increased service, approaching or equal to that planned.
        249 — Moved to 108th.
        241 — Moved to Bellevue Way.
        552 (new bus) — Goes from Eastgate to downtown Bellevue via Bellevue Way. Takes the most direct route. It would be timed to run opposite the 241. Outbound (downtown Bellevue to Eastgate) would be easy, as you would time it to match service along Bellevue Way. Inbound is harder. Either you time it to leave Eastgate opposite the 241, or you time it to provide good combined headways along Bellevue Way.

        That could work. Some places are a little bit worse, but Redmond to the UW is more frequent and Downtown Bellevue to Seattle is faster. There are a lot of other combinations as well that *might* work, if we get rid of the 545. They all have trade-offs, and I’m not sure any of them make sense given the short time frame.

      2. Ross, you’re proposing to promote the 550 to a two stop express between BTC and International District? For two or three years? Why? What’s wrong with doing NOTHING to the 550 and turning the train at South Bellevue? The only change in bus operation would be diverting the 554 into South Bellevue to connect with the train. To make up for the delay at SoBe, don’t make the stop at Mercer Island. Yes, it would take a couple of minutes longer to loop at SoBe than it does to jump off and on on MI, but it would give a shorter ride for riders headed to Central Bellevue and not irritate the panjandrums on Mercer Island.

      3. Ross, you’re proposing to promote the 550 to a two stop express between BTC and International District? For two or three years? Why? What’s wrong with doing NOTHING to the 550 and turning the train at South Bellevue? The only change in bus operation would be diverting the 554 into South Bellevue to connect with the train. To make up for the delay at SoBe, don’t make the stop at Mercer Island. Yes, it would take a couple of minutes longer to loop at SoBe than it does to jump off and on on MI, but it would give a shorter ride for riders headed to Central Bellevue and not irritate the panjandrums on Mercer Island.

        Doing nothing is certainly an option. It is the most realistic option, really. Other than very minor changes (e. g. truncating the 566 at BTC) that is probably the best bet.

        I am saying though, that if you want to make a restructure, having the 550 skip Bellevue Way is probably about as good as you are going to get. That makes the most popular connection — downtown Bellevue to downtown Seattle — significantly faster. None of the other options offer that.

        As for your proposal, I don’t see it as better. The 550 would be the same, while the 554 would take longer to get downtown. During rush hour it would be significantly worse. Getting to downtown Bellevue would be a bit faster, but not that much faster. I just don’t see that many people from Issaquah trying to get onto Link at South Bellevue. Way more people from Issaquah take transit to Seattle, not downtown Bellevue.

        Such a change would cost money. I’m not sure where you are proposing on getting it. As for Mercer Island, my proposal doesn’t change the buses going through there at all.

      4. “having the 550 skip Bellevue Way … makes the most popular connection — downtown Bellevue to downtown Seattle — significantly faster. None of the other options offer that.”

        Having the 550 skip MI would also be a significant improvement to DT Bellevue to DT Seattle travel time.

      5. “554 — Eliminated…. 552 (new bus) — Goes from Eastgate to downtown Bellevue via Bellevue Way.”

        At first I thought you were talking about putting the 554’s hours into the 556. I hadn’t thought of going that way. But an Eastgate-Bellevue route would leave Issaquah with no all-day express at all. I can’t see that happening. Although if Metro starts the 208 express at the same time, I guess that would replace the 554 at the current frequency. If Metro has the hours to do that.

      6. “If Metro starts the 208 express at the same time, I guess that would replace the 554 at the current frequency.”

        One drawback is that if you’re going from Seattle to Issaquah it could be a 45-minute wait (15 minutes for the 550 and 30 minutes for the 208). On Sundays it could be a 60-minute wait (15 minutes for the 550 and 30 minutes for the 208). Currently you only wait up to 30 minutes for the 554.

        Mike, who used to have this problem transferring from the 49 to a 65th route to the 62 before Northgate Link.

      7. I don’t think you can consider elimination of the 545 until construction of the Montlake lid is finished. I don’t remember whether that’s slated for 2023 or 2024. Between intermittent construction closures, husky football games, and Montlake bridge openings, Montlake is not reliable enough to be only transit option between Redmond and all of Seattle.

        I certainly wouldn’t rush through elimination of the 545 just to find a service restructure around a partial Link opening, offering essentially no improvement over the status quo for anyone going to Seattle.

        If Sound Transit doesn’t have the drivers to do a partial Link opening without cutting bus service, then Link service will just have to wait until either the entire line is ready to open, or, if it looks delayed indefinitely, another round of service restructure outreach. Otherwise, it seems it’s just helping some riders, hurting others, and not clearly a net benefit.

      8. I think the idea is that those riders take Link to Mercer Island, and then transfer to a bus to get downtown. Increasing service to the UW is just a way of giving those riders something else in exchange for the two (or three) seat ride. It also increases overall ridership as transit goes from good to very good. (Transit improvements and ridership tend to increase exponentially, not linearly.)

    3. It seems to me the thing to do might be to open it early, and see where the ridership falls with no restructure. There’s no law saying the only day rail lines can open to the public is during September restructure day. It’s such a quick trip between these stations I really don’t see more than 5 drivers being needed at a time. In the overall scheme of things, that’s not huge.

      If it opens in March or April, you then get a couple months to work with data before deciding on a restructure.

      I think the beneficiaries will be 554 riders being able to transfer and get to Bellevue and Microsoft somewhat faster than today.

      So the important transfers will be from through buses on Mercer Island to Link, rather than the buses from the west as shown in this article.

      How well is the station laid out for those?

      1. Glenn, the Link station on Mercer Island is well laid out to transfer to Link eastbound on through buses. Today the eastbound buses exit at 77th, turn right on N. Mercer Way and drop off passengers on the south side of NMW next to the station entrance at 80th. The bus then turns right on 80th and then left into the HOV lane on I-90.

        If East Link can open in segments, and the cost is reasonable per rider mile, running East Link from MI to Microsoft and the current through buses provides better transit to Microsoft and places like Wilburton and The Spring District although the last two stops are not destinations today.

        The point Ross makes is Bellevue is a big place, and the current 550 and 554 don’t go where East Link will go.

        The 550 goes to where most want to go: Bellevue Way. East Link goes to 112th/110th. Big difference. The 554 goes to Seattle, not S. Bellevue today. People going to Seattle on I-90 on the 554 don’t want or need a detour to S. Bellevue just because bLine has opened. The folks on the 554 are not going that way.

        Basically only one group of riders benefits from the bLine: Seattle Microsoft workers. No one today is going to Wilburton or The Spring District. The bLine won’t go to downtown Redmond. It is the same problem East Link has always had based on Eastside zoning: there is just a lot of nothingness in between pockets of suburban density, and East Link doesn’t access Bellevue Way.

        The key is how many Seattle based Microsoft workers are commuting to work today because that is the one demographic the bLine serves better, and the cost to the Eastside subarea. Otherwise opening a truncated East Link does not provide eastsiders better transit.

      2. Simply opening Link early, with no changes to buses at all, is a possibility, but net operational costs would increase, since no bus service is being removed to pay for the train service. If it’s strictly a matter of money, you could say that, for one year, it’s pretty trivial in the Sound Transit scheme of things. But, the problem is that we have a driver shortage and Link drivers come from the same driver pool as bus drivers. So, unless King County Metro (which operates the East King sound transit routes) is able to hire more drivers, I don’t see how it’s possible to operate Link without taking service from some bus route, somewhere. That’s the problem.

        And if there’s no clear and obvious route to take the service from that would leave no one upset, the default solution because not opening Link at all until the I-90 bridge issues are fixed, and keeping all bus routes unchanged. In the event that Daniel Thompson’s doomsday scenario proves true and Link can’t run on a floating bridge after all, then obviously an eastside-only Link has to open at some point. But that would probably require restarting the whole service restructure process all over again, as the assumptions about the scope of Link will have radically changed.

      3. Wilburton has two hospitals and Whole Foods. Metro routed the 226 and 250 to 116th to serve the growing medical district there.

      4. It seems to me the thing to do might be to open it early, and see where the ridership falls with no restructure. There’s no law saying the only day rail lines can open to the public is during September restructure day.

        I’ve often wanted that, just to make it easier to see how many people prefer (or don’t prefer) Link. I don’t think that has ever happened.

        Simply opening Link early, with no changes to buses at all, is a possibility, but net operational costs would increase, since no bus service is being removed to pay for the train service. If it’s strictly a matter of money, you could say that, for one year, it’s pretty trivial in the Sound Transit scheme of things. But, the problem is that we have a driver shortage and Link drivers come from the same driver pool as bus drivers.

        Do they though? I would think they would be very different, in terms of skills and training. I’m pretty sure you don’t need any retail experience to drive the train, whereas Metro requires it (last time I checked). The vehicles and the way operate them is also very different.

      5. Yes, Link drivers come from the KCM labor pool as they draw from the same local and the same job bidding process. There is extra/different training to drive Link, so on a short term basis no the drivers are not interchangeable, but if ST posted, say 50 new Link driver positions and the union filled all 50 slots, KCM would then be short 50 bus drivers unless it onboarded 50 new drivers off the street.

        If drivers, in aggregate, preferred driving buses over trains, KCM adding bus hours could, in theory, constrain ST’s ability to run trains, but the are more than enough current drivers who prefer Link.

      6. Replying to Ross, I would think there would be enough operational savings from delaying the opening of the 2 line between Mercer Island and Seattle. Not completely sure about Sound Transit, but I have read that light rail operating cost per hour is quite a bit higher than bus operating cost per hour.

        Does anyone have information of the operating cost per hour, and see if it is true with more parts to maintain or just a misallocation of capital cost as operating expense?

      7. @Steve,

        Operating cost per hour is NOT the proper metric to measure the operating economics of the various modes.

        One bus with one operator is capable of carrying about 100 people max. A Link train with one operator is capable of moving 800 people comfortably.

        Additionally, the train is faster than a bus and can therefore move its larger number of passengers further in less time.

        And LRV’s generally require less maintenance anyhow.

        So the metric (or at least one of the metrics) should be cost per passenger mile, and Link is much cheaper to operate by that metric than buses.

        So……getting back to the topic. Operating a bus bridge for a truncated Link would actually drive UP costs. In no way would it be a cost savings.

        Additionally, just setting up a truncated Link would be ENORMOUSLY expensive. All the systems would need to be reworked, training redone, protocols changed, and the testing and demonstration phase completed at least twice.

        So it ain’t going to happen. East Link will open as a unit. All this talk of bus bridges and intercepts to support a truncated East Link is just wasted time and effort.

      8. The initial segment opened in mid summer before the September bus restructure. That was probably to make sure Link would function effectively before deleting routes that would make corridors untenable without Link.

        Since then that the agencies have focused on making all changes simultaneously in September, minimizing March and eliminating June (except for UW summer). The last few Link openings intentionally followed this, so opening midyear would require the board to reverse position.

      9. @MO,

        I don’t think ST has a blanket policy against opening a Link extension before the supporting bus restructure. In fact, I’d advise the board against it as such a policy has the potential to both increase costs and increase risk.

        Link can operate just fine without the bus restructure. Ya, it’s not as convenient for the riders, and ridership would be somewhat depressed, but it still functions.

        But a bus restructure without Link? Not functional at all. Even a one month delay in Link opening past the restructure date would be a complete disaster.

        And delaying the Link opening to wait for Metro’s restructure would increase costs because you are basically funding the system without carrying riders.

        The only downside to opening Link before the Metro bus restructure is that Metro ridership patterns would shift as riders change their transit patterns in an attempt to intercept Link instead of staying on the bus. Some routes might become overloaded. Metro would need to demonstrate flexibility, which they are not known for.

      10. I don’t think ST has a blanket policy against opening a Link extension before the supporting bus restructure.

        Nor do I. I think that would be silly. I think ST tries to open the Link lines as soon as possible. It is Metro (and the bus part of ST) that alters its schedule accordingly. If the train opening is delayed, so is the restructure.

        The only downside to opening Link before the Metro bus restructure is that Metro ridership patterns would shift as riders change their transit patterns in an attempt to intercept Link instead of staying on the bus. Some routes might become overloaded.

        I don’t see that at all. If they kept the 41, for example, you wouldn’t get *more* riders on the 41 because of Northgate Link, you would simply get less riders on Link. The same is true for the 71/72/73. People aren’t heading to Link, they are heading to places that Link serve. If the buses still served them, they would still ride them. I can think of of a few exceptions (e. g. trips to Capitol Hill from north of the UW) but that still wouldn’t have been enough to crowd the buses.

        The big drawback is that you delay improvements. I personally would like it, as it would give a real-world look at how Link competes with buses (in terms of popularity) but ultimately that doesn’t matter. It just isn’t cost effective for Metro to duplicate Link, even if those riders love it. Lots of 41 commuters are unhappy because their commute takes longer, but overall, we have a much better network with the restructure.

      11. Operating cost per hour is NOT the proper metric to measure the operating economics of the various modes.

        I think we are talking about three things here. Some basics:

        1) Generally speaking, it is cheaper to run a single bus than it is to run a single train.
        2) Generally speaking, trains carry a lot more people per vehicle. So much so that the cost per rider is actually less.

        This is what Lazarus is getting at. As it turns out though, for what we are discussing, it doesn’t matter. That is asdf2’s point. If you don’t change the buses, and add Link service, you increase overall costs. The only way to save operational costs is to eliminate some bus trips. As it turns out though, that may not be a big issue. ST may be willing to spend the money.

        The big problem is the driver shortage. This has nothing to do with costs. In the long run, there is a one-to-one correspondence (more drivers, higher costs) but in the short term, we have a shortage of people willing to drive. So far as I know, this applies only to buses, not trains. There is some overlap in the workforce, but very little as I see it. I’m sure people switch from one job to the other, but I would be surprised if a lot of people do.

      12. @RB,

        “1) Generally speaking, it is cheaper to run a single bus than it is to run a single train.”

        Ah, that is a false statement, both specifically and generally.

        First, that is a flawed comparison anyhow. One Link LRV holds 200 pax, one artic bus only holds 100 pax. So the proper comparison is really one Link LRV compared to two (2!) Metro artic buses. Clearly it is cheaper to operate one Link LRV than to operate two (2!) Metro buses. No contest here, not even the same ballpark.

        But even if someone was to erroneously compare the operating costs of one large Link LRV to the operating costs of one smaller Metro artic, the Link LRV is still cheaper to operate.

        Why? Because when comparing the DOC of each mode the two biggest cost items are the number of operators used and the cost of the energy consumed.

        One Link LRV uses one operator, as does one Metro bus. So the operator costs per vehicle are the same, but the energy costs are significantly different.

        Steel-on-steel transport is highly efficient due to its extremely low rolling resistance. And powering a vehicle electrically is also highly efficient. Also, ST gets it’s electrical power as a DSI, so costs to acquire that power are also somewhat lower. So the power costs are low and the power needs are also low(er).

        But rubber tire on concrete? High rolling resistance and relatively high energy consumption. A Typical bus is only going to get 2-3 miles per gallon of diesel, and diesel ain’t cheap (particularly since Putin did his little thing in Ukraine.). So fuel costs are higher for the bus even though it is smaller.

        And maintenance costs are also somewhat lower on the LRV due to the smoother ride.

        So the LRV with 200 pax really is cheaper to operate than the Metro bus with 100 pax. It’s just physics.

        Now I’m sure you are going to say, “But buses can run on electricity too!” And you would correct. But most don’t, and just switching the bus to electric power doesn’t reduce the rolling resistance. The comparison will be closer, but the sign won’t flip.

      13. Supposedly some of the operators in Europe are able to operate a train cheaper than a bus, but that depends on having cheap track access, cheap stations (no security etc at stations) and doing a fair contrast of road maintenance cost caused by the bus vs incremental cost of track maintenance.

        None of this happens under USA conditions.

    4. Why not instead have the 550 skip Mercer Island, and anyone that wants to transfers to/from Mercer Island and the 550 can connect at South Bellevue station via Link. MI itself would still get Seattle service through the 554 & 630.

      I think this would be better than pulling the 550 service off of Bellevue Way, as that corridor gets solid ridership for the east side and (and you say here) I don’t think it makes sense to re-route the 554 onto Bellevue Way until the 554 has a 1-seat connection to Seattle at South Bellevue station.

      This would still harvest bus hour savings from the 550 by leveraging Link, but by dropping MI coverage rather than Bellevue Way coverage.

      (and it may not be much slower than running the 550 along 405 … there is a indeed an HOV eastbound ramp to 405, but that simply dumps traffic into the GP onramp to 405 – so the bus avoids needing to weave across I90GP traffic, but is stuck in the same GP traffic on 405N. The situation Bellevue-Seattle is better; from the Wilburton Park and Ride a bus can queue jump onto an HOV ramp that directly access the I90 eastbound HOV lane. But the bus still needs to slog to SE 8th; weaving from the NE 6th ramp may be too difficult, and may be expressly prohibited once the 2-lane HOT is open).

      1. Having the 550 skip Mercer island won’t save service time or costs. It literally takes the 550 3 minutes to access the stop on MI. Which is why every cross lake bus stops on MI. Before the pandemic MI’s park and ride was popular with off-Islanders (53%) so my guess is the farebox recovery from that 3 minute stop equaled 100% farebox recovery.

        I think it is important to clarify some terms:

        Bellevue Way from I-90 to Main Street is a winding road through a very undense zone. Congestion use to be very bad during peak times, except the alternative is I-90 to the northbound entrance to 405, which was worse. NE 4th or 8th from 405 to Bellevue Way is tough to during peak hours.

        Bellevue Way can also mean “downtown Bellevue” that runs from Main to NE 8th. This is where folks are going because it is the retail hub and where the class A offices are, and where work parking isn’t always free. Pre-pandemic east and west side workers would park in the Bellevue park and ride which was free and catch the 550 to Bellevue Way.

        As Ross has pointed out there is a lot of nothingness on the Eastside (plus a lake). People on the 550 are mostly going to downtown Seattle or Bellevue, which is why it once had the highest ridership of any ST express bus. The 550 stops on MI and at S. Bellevue (both nothingness) because of the park and rides.

        The 554 is not much different. Riders are going to and from park and rides from the Issaquah area that combined has almost 150,000 residents between all cities to downtown Seattle. The 554 stops along I-90 to serve the park and rides because the trip is linear and the stops quick. Serving east King Co. with feeder buses is nearly impossible and riders hate transfers from transit to transit (and don’t like transit to begin with).

        Rerouting the 554 to S. Bellevue and then back to I-90 (assuming it can turn around on Bellevue Way) is a long detour in the wrong direction. Such a stop makes sense when the 554 will access “downtown Bellevue” and East Link can go to downtown Seattle, but not to S. Bellevue — which is nowhere — to catch East Link to nowhere.

        Ross was correct when he noted East Link from S. Bellevue to Overlake is the worst of all worlds. It is the fundamental flaw in East Link for intra-Eastside ridership. It doesn’t go where eastsiders take transit to if it doesn’t go (unless in a decade or so the stops along the way become destinations) to downtown Seattle. Making bus service on the Eastside (which does go where riders want to go) worse to support a terrible Link route from S. Bellevue to Overlake is a bad idea even if cost is not an issue.

        The fundamental problem with East Link is it does not go to downtown Bellevue, and few eastsiders want or need to go to downtown Seattle these days, and even if they did East Link won’t go to Seattle during this interim truncated line. There is a good reason the 1500 stall park and ride is empty today.

        Lazarus is probably right this bad idea was DOA. It is just mode fetish to me. I just don’t know why the past chair of the ST Board would suddenly announce it without any support from the major stakeholders — including Metro — who would have told her it makes no transit sense, and would object to changes to the 550 or 554 to serve it.

        It is one thing for Sherwin to propose it and another for Balducci on the editorial page of the Times, especially if cross lake ridership on East Link will open to full capacity in 2 or 3 years.

      2. Daniel, the 554 wouldn’t turn around “on Bellevue Way”. It would turn into the bus loop, stop to load and discharge and then turn left on Bellevue Way to return to the freeway. The reason is obviously to allow a connection to bLink if bLink doesn’t go onto Mercer Island. If the train does go to MI, of course there’s no need to divert. Right now folks can do a reverse connection at MI to the 550; that would continue plus they’d have bLink for a quicker ride to BTC than via the 550 and on to points east in Wilburton, Spring District and Redmond Tech.

        To run three trains at a time for three years is not going to affect Sound Transit’s operations budget in any significant way.

        I do have to say that your statement “East Link does not go to downtown Bellevue” is just ideology. No, Link doesn’t go to Bellevue Square, but it’s not much farther to Bellevue Square from the Link Station than it is from Westlake Center to the Pike Place Market. Does Link then not “go to downtown Seattle” then? Bellevue Square is not the only destination in Bellevue.

        But if folks do want to go to the Square, according to Google Earth it is 0.4 mile from the corner of 110th and NE 6th, where there will be an exit from the station, to the “Grand Entrance” facing NE 6th at Bellevue Square. It’s along quiet, pedestrian-dominant NE Sixth Street.

        From the entrance on Pine between Fourth and Fifth, which is about the middle of the platform of Westlake Center GMaps says it’s 0.3 mile to Pine and Pike Place. Yes, that’s shorter, but the walk is only one minute less because there is less delay on NE Sixth from cross-traffic. All of Second, Third and Fourth in Seattle have pretty long cycles for the north-south streets.

        People who take transit are willing to walk 4/10 of a mile to their destination, especially on a pleasant street with relatively little vehicular traffic alongside. So yes, Link serves downtown Bellevue.

      3. I can see both sides of a Bellevue Way station. The transit center is in the middle of the highrise/growth area. But it’s office-only there: the restaurants across from the bus bays close at 5pm and on weekends, and there’s nothing else except offices. So it’s not the best place for an 18-hour-a-day station. Bellevue Way has more full-time destinations and proven ridership, so it’s more of an ideal urban village center. Some Bellevue Way riders will walk or transfer to the transit center, while others will be deterred from transit. It’s hard to see how the 112th office riders will make up for that. 112th may get more all-day destinations in the future but we can’t count on that.

        Daniel said Bellevue is considering a loop shuttle. That could help fill in more frequency. It could be called the Bel-Hop. That was a downtown shuttle in the 80s.

      4. The 21X series doesn’t serve Mercer Island, so there is precedent for cross-lake bus not serving MI. Having ridden the 21X and 554 to/from Eastgate for years, I can certainly attest the stop at MI takes much longer than 3 minutes during rush hour; as Seattle catches up with the rest of America, peak congestion will continue to get worse.

        South Bellevue station does include a bus loop, so it should be very straightforward for a bus to turn around at that station (with a live loop or a layover).

        RE: Bellevue Way vs SE 6th as the transit center – keep in mind Bellevue downtown is steadily growing towards the east. While old main has had great midrise redevelopment recently, along 112th and eventually along 116th will be blocks of high-rise development. By 2030 the current TC will more clearly be in the ‘middle’ of downtown Bellevue.

        Also, much of the value of the transit center is the direct access to 405 HOV lanes; with Stride and two HOT lanes running from Bothell to Renton that direct access becomes more powerful as a transfer node.

      5. If I recall the Bel-Hop was 25 cents and ran every ten minutes daytime. I don’t remember about weekends. Regular Metro routes then cost 40 cents and were hourly. The Bellevue Transit Center started around the same time so it may have been a circulator for that. I never rode the Bel-Hop because all us kids walked further than that anyway. We’d walk from Bellevue High to Bellevue Square without thinking about it, and a few walked home to Medina. Older people might have appreciated it. Bel-Hop had little ridership and failed after a couple years.

        Transit experts now seem to agree that a shuttle shouldn’t be too short. It should do something more than just go in a U shape five or ten blocks apart. So the route Daniel said Bellevue is considering (Bellevue Way, Main Street, 112th, NE 8th Street) seems too short. My first thought is to extend it on south Bellevue Way to South Bellevue Station. Or northeast to 116th & 12th or the Spring District. Or east to 120th across 405.

      6. I think it depends on what the circulator route is supposed to accomplish and how well it meets that accomplishment.

        Eg, if you run the circulator every 20 minutes when most people only need to go a 5 minute walk, it’s not going to work well.

        The waterfront circulator routes in White Rock BC don’t seem especially popular, but I think that’s because

        1) there are good walking alternatives to get around all g the White Rock waterfront, so usually this is faster.

        2) the circulators don’t seem to be particularly well timed to the express buses to everywhere else.

        3) because the circulators are attempting to provide service around the waterfront, their route from the core waterfront area up the hill to the transit center where the express buses are is somewhat time consuming.

      7. Glen is right – a circulator is only useful if it competes with walking … which is why City of Bellevue is looking at ‘alternative transportation’ modes along the Grand Connection corridor. A bus running every 10 minutes simply isn’t useful.

  13. Sherwin is sharp, but this one may be a swing and miss. The earlier STB post on the Balducci op-ed covered it pretty well.

    The agencies are probably working on it. Among the unkowns: how long is the interim period between the opening of an east-only Link line and the opening across I-90? (Per Rumsfeld, it may be an unknown unknown). The longer this period, the more sense an interim network makes. Can ST operate an east-only Link line without access to the South Forest Street base?

    Note ST should also be asked to consider a Judkins-Northgate early opening. That line would have access to the South Forest Street base. ST could run the same headway on the south and Judkins lines with the combination providing a headway half as long; it could be six and six combining to three, or eight and eight combining to four.

    If the east only line opens soon, there will be less time for new civil work on MI. the MI-ST bilateral agreement seems to ban off-island buses south of I-90; that seems to be violated by the Sherwin arrow. Bus stops on SE 77th Street make sense any way, the agencies are not providing them for the ELC network.

    With East Link or interim East Link, all the bus routes could be subject to change. There has been rounds of process around East Link Connections. The interim network could change all of the routes. It is an emergent situation. If the East-only line was between MI and RTS, the Seattle market could be handled at MI by lines similar to routes 212, 218, and 554. Bus routes could serve the intra Bellevue market between South Bellevue and BTC. The office market demand is diminished in downtown Seattle; the extent of penetration of downtown Seattle by the interim bus network should be reconsidered. As many of the bus hours that fund the full restructure come from not providing the I-90 downtown Seattle market (e.g., routes 212, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 550, 554) and the interim line required that a significant service be provided, much less of the ELC network could be afforded. The agencies should figure out frequent to frequent short walk transfers.

    Link might be even more frequent and powerful at the UW station. There is even more rationale to restructure those routes oriented to downtown Seattle quickly (e.g., routes 252, 257, 268, 311, 545, 424).

    1. The length of the interim period between the opening of an east-only Link line and the opening across I-90 would be a known unknown? It’s a known risk but the magnitude of the risk is hard to forecast. An unknown unknown is an unforeseen risk, like a Black Swan event.

    2. If East Link does not run across the bridge I am not sure how a Link run from Judkins Park to Northgate could be part of East Link, or the Eastside subarea’s funding responsibility. I would imagine such a line would have very few riders originating from Judkins Park, and no eastsiders.

      If the goal is to increase frequency on Central Link why doesn’t N. King Co. simply buy more trains and run them from Northgate to Angle Lake? You don’t need East Link for that, and having the additional trains serve north AND south Seattle sounds more equitable to me.

      1. The completion of the alignment & station would continue to be a part of the East Link capital project, but a line running from Northgate to Judkins would be entirely funded from North King operating funds.

        Yes, there is an ability to simply boost line 1 from NG to AL, but the is more value is boosting ridership from NG to ID and therefore running a short line 2 may be better than boosting frequency along the entirety of line 1 as it would require less train sets to create the same headways along NG to ID.

      2. “If East Link does not run across the bridge I am not sure how a Link run from Judkins Park to Northgate could be part of East Link, or the Eastside subarea’s funding responsibility.”

        It would not be. East Link is just the planning name, and some of us are still used to saying it. Judkins Park to Northgate would be North King’s responsibility and I think that was always the case. Judkins Park Station is a North King project. It was originally East King, but East King asked North King to take it on in the mid 2010s to free up money for the Bellevue city hall tunnel. And in retrospect, Judkins Park will be more valuable to North King than many originally realized, due to the recent housing in the neighborhood and the fast transfer to downtown from the 7 and 48. East King’s responsibility starts east of Judkins Park station.

      3. I’m skeptical the Judkins Park trains will be added before the full Line 2. It’s typical of ST to leave people hanging until a full line can open. Everett is getting a phase option at 128th designed in, but BLink was never publicly floated until late in the game, and it’s not clear it has anybody’s support beyond Balducci’s. The other boardmembers and the cities have said nothing about it. Still, it seems more likely that BLink would open early than that the west side would get double frequency and Judkins Park Station before the full line. It just feels un-ST. If it could do that, it could raise the 550 to 15 minutes on Sundays. ST could always add more peak frequency to the existing line if overcrowding becomes a concern, without calling it “Line 2”.

        Link is getting back to standing room only or close to it peak hours, especially on game days. So it will need to think about more capacity within a year. But it has already done 6-minute peaks before, so that’s feasible.

      4. The Rainier Valley Street Running segment can be a constraint in capacity, and turning trains back at stadium at super frequent interval can disrupt train flow?

      5. No need to turn at Stadium and make the operators walk the train on the gravel. The outer loop at Forest Street is signaled, so turn them there. If a driver swap is needed, there’s a place for it already across from Seattle Ink and Oil.

        Lynnwood to SoDo would be somewhere a bit above 30 minutes, so an operator could normally hot loop in Forest and then get a break at Lynnwood.

      6. “The Rainier Valley Street Running segment can be a constraint in capacity”
        Link had 6-minute peak service for several years in the mid 2010s, so it’s doable. I think it was between the end of the ride free area and U-Link (2012 to 2016 or so). The MLK segment is limited to 6 minutes to avoid ruining signal timimgs for cross streets.

        “and turning trains back at stadium at super frequent interval can disrupt train flow?”

        ST has run trains at 90-second intervals after ballgames, with half or 2/3 of them coming from Stadium. (The main limitation on frequency above 3 minutes is random train bunching and unreliability. ST could fix this wwith capital improvements to the DSTT.)

        The 90-second service I experienced at Roosevelt a couple months ago wasn’t normal. While I was waiting for a southbound train, four northbound trains came. The last one parked on the track and took a siesta. A few minute later an audio announcement said it would be going southbound, so I got on. It down along the wrong track to UW, its destination display saying “Sound Transit”. After UW it switched to the right track and the sign changed to “Angle Lake”. Clearly, it can’t do this in normal service, or full duplex (equally bidirectionally). But with the capital improvements in the DSTT and maybe another layover space it could. In the meantime, it can do 6-minute service on MLK peak hours, and as far as we know full time.

      7. Mike,

        The rainier valley signal timing (and car crash) issue is due to SDOT allowing left turns on and off MLK.

        In SODO, no left turns are allowed as the tracks parallel the busway.
        No car crashes, no signal timing issues, more trains permitted/min.

        The city can speed up link frequency whenever it wants.

      8. The cross signals are also to let pedestrians access the northound or southbound platform or cross the street.

    3. @eddiew: It looks like Judkins Park won’t be opening for a while, as they’re ripping out track that they laid on that segment.

  14. I read that the contract between KCM and Sound Transit light rail may end or need to be negotiated in the next few years. How does that work in to all this Line 1 and 2 possible seperation an restructure?

  15. Here’s a possible route for a downtown Bellevue circulator that’s longer than just Bellevue Way – Main – 112th – 8th. The goal is to connect the must-serve nodes to a station.

    * Bellevue Way & Main Street is connected to East Main Station.
    * 120th is connected to East Main Station and Spring District Station.
    * The hospitals are connected to Spring District Station and Bellevue Downtown station, and are within walking distance of Wilburton Station.
    * The library is connected to Bellevue Downtown Station.
    * Bellevue Square is connected to Bellevue Downtown Station.

    So if you’re at Bellevue Way & Main, you might take it to East Main Station, 120th, or the hospitals. Or you can take it the other way to Bellevue Square, NE 8th Street, and Bellevue Downtown Station. That assumes a two-way loop. A shorter route like Bellevue’s default could be a one-way loop. But then you’re back to the problem of losing ridership because it’s so short.

    1. why a circulator? a conceptual circulator was discussed in 2007 or so; it was superfluous then. Do or will not a well-design bus network provide the necessary connections while doing other work? I note that the ELC network has not bus route serving the 130th Avenue NE station and too little service at the Spring Street station. Cannot routes 220, 270, 240, 249, 250, B, and 226 be configured to provide circulation? (sorta like: why the Seattle Streetcar?).

  16. Why not just build upon the ‘Grand Connection’ route?

    https://bellevuewa.gov/sites/default/files/media/pdf_document/Grand_Connection_Framework_Plan_Sequence_One.pdf (page 51 is helpful)

    I’d take that route and extend towards the Wilburton station; if Bellevue truly figures out GPT with tiny vehicles, could even run the GPT on Eastrail for a short bit to cross 8th street at Wilburton station?

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