Improving East Link connections in Issaquah and Newcastle

With the East Link Connections survey wrapping up Monday, it’s a good time to make suggestions if you haven’t already. The process of restructuring is about tradeoffs, and in any result, there will be both winners and losers. While no plan is perfect, I have two ideas for how I think the plan can be improved to further expand and speed up access to Link in the south and east study areas. One of them is in Newcastle and Renton, around routes 240 and 114, the latter of which is proposed to be deleted. The other is in Issaquah, around routes 215 and 269.

King County Metro 1998-1999 New Flyer D60HF 2399
Route 114, set to be deleted with the opening of East Link (image: Shane Ramkissoon on Flickr)
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East Link restructure in the I-90 corridor and east subarea

Proposed changes in the east and I-90 corridor area (image: Sound Transit). Click to see more detail.

In the East Link restructure online open house, the entire restructure proposal is broken up into five sections: North, Central, South, East, and Seattle. We’ve covered the south subarea previously. The east subarea covers Issaquah, Sammamish, Preston, Snoqualmie, and North Bend, but also throws in Mercer Island as part of the I-90 corridor (but omits Eastgate and Factoria, which are part of the central subarea). I’m also including the Seattle subarea since it includes only one minor change to route 8 in the vicinity of I-90. Like other areas, there are some route reconfigurations, but these changes don’t seem as significant as in other areas, with local service on the main routes 204, 208, and 269 looking largely the same as today. But the changes are nonetheless dramatic, with all service east of Lake Sammamish being extended along I-90 to either Merce Island or Bellevue, and reducing the two-hour headways seen on today’s route 208. So let’s jump in!

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East Link Connections: bus changes in the south subarea

Bus changes proposed for Renton, Newcastle, Factoria, and Eastgate

With the East Link Connections project underway, Sound Transit and Metro have presented their first service proposals as part of the East Link Connections survey. The opening of East Link will be a huge event, and will transform what transit service looks like not just crossing Lake Washington, but how neighboring regions are connected. The south subarea of the East Link Connections study area includes Renton, Newcastle, Factoria, and Eastgate. Though not as significant as in other areas, the changes in this area nonetheless improves transit access overall, with brand new all-day coverage, more direct service to Bellevue College, and consolidation of peak-hour service.

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Sound Transit could make Lakewood to Seattle bus service faster instead of slower

Sound Transit 2012 Gillig BRT 9123P
This bus is set to get slower in 2022 with added stops in Tacoma and SODO (photo: Zack Heistand)

As part of an overall improvement in ST Express service Sound Transit is planning to roll out in 2022, Sound Transit is expanding all-day service from Seattle to Tacoma, improving midday and weekend headways from 30 minutes to 15 minutes. But there are also plans to make changes to peak-only route 592, which runs from DuPont Station to Seattle, with intermediate stops in Lakewood. This route is the only peak-direction service other than Sounder to run from Lakewood to Seattle (route 594 only runs off-peak and in the reverse-peak direction). One important feature of route 592 is its non-stop service from Lakewood to Seattle. Off-peak, people riding to Seattle also need to ride through downtown Tacoma (as both Tacoma and Lakewood are served by route 594 off-peak), but express service to Seattle from SR 512 P&R is a big time saver when it is available. However, Sound Transit is proposing to add additional stops to this route in 2022, slowing it down and making it less of an express bus. And for route 594, Sound Transit is passing up an opportunity to speed up service, something which is made easier with the additional service hours that is likely coming to Tacoma in 2022.

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Sound Transit is considering sacrificing station access to reduce Stride costs

These two bridges connecting Stride stations to local neighborhoods may be cut from the project

Just a week after concluding realignment on a largely positive note, Sound Transit today is again tempted to water down station access for relatively little cost savings. At today’s System Expansion Committee meeting, they revealed that they are considering two changes to Stride stations (one at Tukwila Intl. Blvd. Station, and one at the Brickyard Station) that would permanently cut off local neighborhoods from their stations. If these changes were to be made, local residents would need to need to detour far out of the way toward the nearest street crossing of the freeway, and then come all the way back to the station on the other side. Especially after (rightly) deprioritizing parking in ST3, we need to put a strong emphasis on improving non-motorized station access, and it’s disturbing to see Sound Transit considering such a big step in the wrong direction.

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Via to Transit is expanding

Via to Transit service areas (source: King County Metro)

Via to Transit, which debuted in 2019 as an on-demand Link shuttle to better connect to Link areas where bus service is limited or not available, is getting a major expansion on Tuesday, August 10th, 2021. From 2020 to now, Via to Transit only had three service areas, one for Othello, Rainier Beach, and Tukwila Intl Blvd Link stations (while pervious iterations also had service areas for Mount Baker and Columbia City stations). Passengers from within each service area could request a pickup using the Via to Transit app, and they would be assigned a street corner to wait at. By having passengers wait at areas a few blocks from where they requested a pickup, the software used by drivers could optimally route vans to pick up every waiting passenger efficiently, bringing wait times to 10-15 minutes. Service times ran from the morning to at least midnight daily, except Tukwila, where service was available weekdays only during commute hours. But Tuesday’s expansion will expand service to Renton, introduce multiple destinations in most service areas, and bring all-day, 7 days per week service to Tukwila.

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Sound Transit wraps up realignment

Sound Transit finalized and voted to move forward with the realignment of the Sound Transit 3 program on Thursday. This day marks the end of an almost year-and-a-half long process of planning just how to delay projects so that the program remains affordable, and projects can be delivered.

The realignment hybrid plan, with changes added from today’s amendments. Further delays are in red, and accelerations are in green. Column changes mean changes in tier, except for tier 4 parking delays.
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Metro and Sound Transit propose service increases in 2022

Tacoma passengers heading to Seattle (image: Sound Transit)

With the October 2021 Northgate shakeup of transit service still ahead, agencies are already looking at what changes will be made to service in spring and fall of 2022. King County Metro and Sound Transit both have service increase proposals for 2022, and both take decidedly different approaches.

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Most fully-suspended routes to come back in October

King County Metro has some stickers to peel

The last time Metro has ran a “normal” level of service was March 22, 2020. Beginning March 23rd, King County Metro started operating reduced levels of service (not to be confused with reduced capacity, which Metro recently ended). These initial reductions, made with little process and planning, were adjusted over the next several months to match ridership and service needs. While the presence of financial trouble for Metro was foreseeable from the beginning, it was the service change of September 2020 (which we called Metro’s darkest day) when the focus of the reductions really shifted from lower ridership to lower revenues, and that is what drives the level of service to this day.

At the middle of 2020, Metro was pessimistic about the future, and was convinced that yet more service reductions would need to happen in 2021 and 2022, making an already bleak future for transit in the region even worse. Fortunately however, revenues have picked back up faster than expected, with additional resources provided by the American Rescue Plan. As a result, Metro has been slowly increasing service levels in 2021, and will provide a larger increase in service levels starting with the October 2nd, 2021 service change. These were covered in a recent King County Council Regional Transit Committee meeting, in which there was a presentation with an overview of the restored service (with a follow-up meeting planned for July 21st, to discuss further restorations in 2022). And in good news for those who have been patiently waiting for fully suspended service to return, this includes bringing back 22 of the 40 fully suspend routes (not including custom and school routes).

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Transit agencies restore full vehicle capacity

Closed seats on King County Metro (Wikimedia)

On King County Metro, starting today, transit capacity is restored to 100%. Pierce Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, and Washington State Ferries have restored capacity a few days earlier on July 1. For Sound Transit Link Light Rail and ST Express routes operated by Metro, capacity is restored today, and other ST service (including Tacoma Link and Sounder) restored full capacity on July 1st. This change came quickly after governor Jay Inslee formally reopened the state on June 30th as planned, lifting most state-wide restrictions (though not affecting public transportation). Though a welcome change, this does not affect the mask mandate. Masks are still required to be worn on all public transportation services.

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Tacoma Link to be closed for 9 days starting June 21

Tacoma Link construction in the Stadium district (image: Sound Transit)

Tacoma Link light rail is expanding to the Stadium district and Hilltop. While the new stations don’t open until next year, work is well underway expanding what is now a 1.5-mile line connecting the Tacoma Dome to downtown. To support this expanded future service, Tacoma Link will be closed from June 21 to 29 to connect the existing line to the new, larger operation and maintenance facility.

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Improving Metro bus schedules with Link connections

One feature of some of King County Metro’s paper schedules is the inclusion of connections to downtown Seattle as part of the timetable. It is also available on the PDF versions of the schedules, which is the same as the paper ones. This is done on certain routes where a transfer to downtown Seattle is common. Here is an example:

The timetable for route 187 includes connections to routes 577 and 578 (image: King County Metro)

While this example makes it painfully obvious that some connections just don’t work very well (such as the 29 minute wait coming from Seattle on the last trip), the fact that this is included does make it easier to use for someone who wants to get to Seattle. They don’t need to open up two different schedules to find how their trip will go; they just need this one. What if King County Metro did something similar for connections to Link?

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Community Transit considering microtransit in Lynnwood

Community Transit has put out a set of options for its upcoming Lynnwood Pilot, with the aim of improving mobility around popular destinations in Lynnwood. The options include two microtransit routes, and a community van program. Community Transit is seeking feedback on the options with a survey, open until June 18th.

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Prioritize Stride BRT in realignment

See the source image
Stride station rendering (image: Sound Transit)

With the Sound Transit 3 program realignment continuing to evolve and adjust to new revenue projections, Sound Transit is evolving its realignment scenarios. Now is the time to get serious about prioritizing projects. I believe that Sound Transit’s Stride BRT lines are strong candidates for prioritization, and should be completed as soon as possible.

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Metro service change moves to October 2nd, STBD changes unveiled

Northgate Link Extension Construction
The future Northgate Link Station under construction, adjacent to the existing Northgate Transit Center (Atomic Taco)

Since Sound Transit has announced that Northgate Link will open on October 2nd, which is a few weeks behind a widely anticipated September 2021 opening, King County Metro has also changed the Northgate bus service restructure to occur on October 2nd as well. When we reported on Metro’s scaled back plans for restructuring service for Northgate Link, there were a lot of disappointments in how the plan was scaled back to match COVID-19 adjusted revenue expectations. But Metro’s plan assumed no contribution from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), to establish a baseline for the STBD to build on. Now we have details on how the city will spend its STBD money on bus service.

The plan is broken down into three broad categories: West Seattle, Northgate, and service reductions. West Seattle is getting special attention due to the effects of the sudden closure of the West Seattle Bridge last year, increasing travel time for buses on the lower Spokane Street bridge. The closure of the low bridge to general traffic also increases demand for bus service in the corridor. The Northgate area is going to be transformed by the opening of Northgate Link, so much of the service funded by the STBD is going to be adjusted. Finally, there are reductions to the STBD program that are necessary because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Metro wants feedback on transit in Skyway

Metro is considering transit options for this area of Skyway between Rainier Beach and Renton (image: King County Metro)

If you live in or near the Skyway neighborhood, King County Metro is seeking feedback on the future of transit in the area. Some of the services Metro is considering in the area include “van services, on-demand programs, greater access to reduced fares, or infrastructure improvements that will make it safer and easier to travel to transit stops,” and is due by Friday, April 9th, 2021.

Aside from Skyway itself, the study area extends north to Rainier Beach Station, and south to Renton Transit Center and south Renton. Any future transit project in the area will very likely involve connections to Rainier Beach Station or Renton Transit Center.

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Patty Murray is seeking $1.9 billion for Sound Transit

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), along with six other senate Democrats, introduced a bill Thursday that would boost funding for Sound Transit as reported by The Seattle Times. The bill would partially offset the financial effect of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing an additional 30% of the cost of the Federal Way and Lynnwood Link extensions, adding up to about $1.9 billion for Sound Transit. Though both projects are on track to open in 2024, the financial boost would have a significant impact on the $11.5 billion affordability gap that is the primary cause of the realignment process that Sound Transit is undergoing. Getting nearly $2 billion from the federal government on its own would put Sound Transit about halfway to the $4 billion “additional capacity” options in its illustrative scenarios for alignment.

Being a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Murray has a lot of influence in this area. Though the standalone bill is unlikely to get 60 votes in the senate, the provisions of this bill could be included in the next budget reconciliation bill as it is budget-related.