RFA Revival: Make Link Free in the Tunnel

Until 2012, Seattle had the Ride Free Area, a certain section of downtown Seattle (including the entire DSTT) where one could board any bus through any door, exit any bus through any door, and not have to pay a fare. Funded by the city of Seattle, this was meant to make it easier for people to get around who couldn’t afford a fare, to make it more feasible to make short trips through downtown without a car and without needing to pay full fare for a short trip, and to speed boarding in the busy downtown core and the DSTT (which, at the time, also had bus service in addition to Link). In practice, this resulted in a complex payment arrangement, where you sometimes pay when you board, and sometimes pay when you exit, depending on which side of the RFA your bus was on. And because King County Metro ran many bus routes into downtown Seattle from every part of the county. You could take a bus from Eastgate to Issaquah, or the Federal Way Transit Center to Twin Lakes Park and Ride, and need to pay when you exit if you are taking a bus that happens to be originating in Seattle. This created lots of confusion, and many people just paid as normal, and some undoubtedly exited the bus at the back door without the operator noticing and evaded their fare.

The RFA applied to everything but light rail trains (and I think the Seattle Streetcar as well), which is weird since that is the easiest mode to make free for a specific area. With buses out of the tunnel and trains remaining at 10 minute frequency midday, most of the intra-downtown trips in the DSTT will move to third avenue, overcrowding the already busy corridor and under-utilizing the tunnel. ST is not likely to add midday frequency to the tunnel until East Link opens in 2023, so that leaves four years of significant under-utilization of the tunnel.

One solution that both increases utilization of the tunnel and achieves the goals of the RFA? Make train trips within the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel fare free.

Making a “ride free area” is easy to do with trains; simply make all trip pairs within the tunnel fare free, and don’t do fare enforcement in the tunnel. Riders who are riding within the tunnel don’t need to tap their card at all, and this can make it easier to catch a train if they are in a hurry. This will also increase throughput a little bit during rush hour. It provides an incentive to wait for the train during off-peak hours, since it might take a little more waiting, but you can get a free ride for the wait. And it makes things quicker for fare enforcement, which doesn’t need to check every rider on a train within downtown, but can simply wait until a train exits Westlake Station or International District/Chinatown station, and check riders which are still on the train. There could also be an automated reminder that if you didn’t tap their card, then you need to deboard, tap, then wait for the next train if you wish to continue past the tunnel, which should minimize confusion and give people warning before they are subject to fare enforcement. This would also move some impromptu trips off of busy third avenue, and make better use of the tunnel.

Seattle to improve pedestrian crossings

Mayor Jenny Durkan, who is presiding over a growing city facing transportation challenges, ended the first quarter of 2018 with a cliffhanger for the streetcar. This, after getting pressure from Bellevue to improve matters for pedestrians after Seattle did not nothing but worse than nothing, leaves a bad impression on Seattle’s leadership.

Fortunately, in the time after becoming mayor, Durkan had planned up some “early wins” that can be rolled out in short order that would greatly improve matters, and today the city is launching a much needed improvement in pedestrian walk signals.

As you know from experience, most pedestrian walk signals do nothing (except to tell the signal not to stop you from crossing even though you have enough time to cross, but that doesn’t really count). Of course there are a few oddballs where it does make a difference, but these are usually in places where the green signal is normally so short anyway (1-5 seconds) that a push-button is needed to allow enough time for pedestrians.

Nothing is more frustrating than running to an intersection and missing the light turning green by half a second and you don’t get your walk signal. Also frustrating is a group of people waiting to cross, just to find that none of them pushed the beg button, and now everyone is waiting another cycle.

This is why on April 1st, 2018, Seattle will be rolling out automatic button pushers on all intersections, relieving the frustrations of thousands of pedestrians in a single day. Sure, it’s not anything on the scale of fixing Mount Baker station, but it’s certainly an improvement. Plus the numerous construction projects that close the sidewalk often require pedestrians to zig-zag across major arterials, and this is a helpful mitigation. Never again will you experience the frustration of missing a pedestrian walk signal in Seattle.

Magnolia/Fremont Restructure after Ballard Link

There’s already been a community post about what could appear in the Ballard Link restructure. I had some ideas for how changes might look south of the ship canal, and how forcing transfers could allow delivery of very frequent and fast service to Magnolia:



The changes from today’s network:

  • The 24 is deleted
  • The 26X is truncated to U-District station
  • The 31 and 32 routes are reconfigured, and frequency is improved dramatically:
    • Both go to Magnolia, and go along 15th to W Dravus street, connecting to the future Interbay light rail station
    • Both go along W Dravus street to 28th Ave W, where they split to serve different areas of Magnolia:
      • The 31 resembles its current route, though less circuitous and less redundant with the 33
      • The 32 leaves its routing to Seattle Center to follow a routing that covers parts of the wandering path of the current route 24, but skips the parts covered by new route 31
    • Both routes are split for a short distance in Fremont, where the removal of the 26X would leave a hole
    • Both routes run at a frequency of 15 minutes each, meaning:
      • Each branch in Magnolia and Fremont have frequent service, and a connection to fast and reliable Link light rail
      • Overlapping segments are double frequent, with a bus every 7.5 minutes, while connecting to two different Link stations
  • I imagine keeping the 19 during peak (as it exists today) as a similar rationale for its existence today will exist then (namely, convenience during high usage periods), since today it lets certain 24 riders avoid a circuitous route during rush-hour, and in this plan could let 31 riders avoid a forced transfer. I could easily see eliminating the 19 should that be necessary to pay for other service
  • The 33 is retained as is at 30 minute frequency. Could also be truncated at Seattle Center or re-routed to SLU should funding be required, or if doing so could allow it to be upgraded to 15-minute service

The centerpiece of this idea is a dramatically improved 31/32 pair running 7 days/week, providing a strong frequent connection to Link that together provides the following outcomes:

  • Most places in Magnolia now have 15 minute or better service that connects to a fast Link ride to downtown, Seattle Center, and SLU
  • Most places in Magnolia also lose a one-seat (albeit super long) ride to downtown, but get frequency upgraded
  • SPU has 8 buses per hour to both Interbay and U-District stations, providing good commuter access to a wide range of commuters from both north and south
  • Fremont gets frequency doubled on both legs of the new route despite losing the 26X, and the 31/32 are frequent enough to split in that area (partially restoring the pre-U-Link service pattern on Stone Way) and still double the frequency on both paths
  • Northern 26X riders need to transfer to Link, but will enjoy a faster ride because they no longer have to go through Fremont

Paying for this kind of service could be difficult, but if we considering truncations to the D-line and routes 40 and 62 that are very likely with a Ballard Link restructure, I could see it being done.

Your thoughts?

ST Express Truncation at Kent-Des Moines: A Concept South Sound Service Network

I have long opposed the plan that it seems that Sound Transit is planning to adopt (from https://seattletransitblog.com/2016/01/08/the-future-of-st-express-frequent-feeder-service/) where ST will end all express bus service to Seattle, and instead truncate buses at Kent-Des Moines station, on the basis that travel times will double overnight from all destinations south of and including Federal Way due to slower travel and added transfers, and that fares would be higher as well. What’s even more deplorable is that Sound Transit is not really considering major network changes or service additions to accommodate for this, but instead is mostly considering reducing the amount of service hours allocated to ST express, meaning that we’re essentially building out billions of dollars of light rail lines just so we can have less and worse express service without any new connections or anything.

But as poor of a deal this is for the Federal Way or Tacoma or Lakewood to Seattle travel scenario, which has gotten a lot of love from Sound Transit in recent years, this potentially opens up a whole new network of express bus scenarios. I made a map of one such scenario, with the assumption that Thurston County joins ST (a big assumption for sure, but can be adjusted if that doesn’t happen). Of course, truncating and reinvesting alone won’t be enough to cover all of this service, so there will need to be a service hour increase, but I think it makes sense in a time when new transit investments are being made. This would provide a nice immediate service element of ST3 (or maybe a second ST3 vote if the first one fails), since a common criticism of big ST measures is that the timeline is always 15-25 years before we see new service. Also, there are improvements for essentially everyone in the South King/Pierce taxation area of Sound Transit, so this may be a winning plan for the suburbs, although it will bother urbanists who think “Sound Transit” is really “Seattle Transit” and then is confused why the ST3 draft plan has light rail going to suburban areas.

Some themes in this plan:

  • Pierce County is a first-class citizen, with new off-peak service to South Hill, Bonney Lake, and (yes) Orting
  • All Seattle travel is done via a transfer to Link Red Line at Kent-Des Moines Station
  • Bellevue is treated as a job center and commute destination, and gets direct service to make up for long Seattle travel times (which cause even longer Bellevue travel times without direct service)
  • Olympia Express is integrated into Sound Transit Express, streamlined, and expanded to accommodate Seattle and Bellevue travel with one transfer
  • I-5 has distinct peak-only routes and off-peak-only routes, mirroring today’s system, while 167 has off-peak system that is sufficient for peak hours as well
  • Three routes to more remote Pierce County destinations run hourly, all converging to form a 20-minute spine that runs from Sumner to Auburn to Kent to Kent-Des Moines station
  • Peak-only two-directional 599 accommodates non-King County commutes, with service to Tacoma shadowing peak-only 592 (and catching Pierce/Thurston commuters that fall in the cracks of lost Tacoma connections during peak), and service to Tumwater (shadowing the 609).
  • Most (not all) service to Lakewood serves Lakewood Sounder Station, transit center, and 512 park and ride in a triangle, expanding on the one route (574) that serves Lakewood TC, and better enabling people to (love it or hate it) park at Lakewood TC and take transit to Seattle or Bellevue
  • Services that connect to light rail have headways of multiples of 6 in peak and multiples of 10 off-peak to match Link
  • Services that connect to Sounder AND are specifically designed to be Sounder connectors have headways of multiples of 20 (30 at the edges) to match Sounder
  • I-405 BRT is not a single arbitrary route, but is a redundant overlapping of several routes. These routes are BRT on I-405 between Bellevue and SR 518, and have all the speed advantages of BRT on that segment, but also have the flexibility to go off BRT and (less rapidly) go to areas beyond the BRT portion of the route. Combined BRT routes run every 10 mins from Renton to Bellevue and every 20 mins from Burien to Bellevue
Here is a link to a map of what the network would look like:
(just an aside, being able to embed images into page 2 posts would be a good improvement. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to stick maps into their posts)
(KDM = Kent-Des Moines, 512 = S.R. 512 Park and Ride, TIBS = Tukwila International Boulevard Station)
Peak Network:
577 (every 12 mins): South Federal Way to Federal Way to KDM to Kent to Renton to Bellevue
Same as current 577, except with transfer at KDM to Seattle, rerouted to Bellevue, and extended to south Federal Way park and ride. Service connects to every other peak link train.
590 (every 6 mins): Tacoma to KDM to Kent to Renton to Bellevue
Current 590 with transfer to Seattle at KDM and rerouted to Bellevue. Connects to every peak Link train.
595 (every 18 mins): Purdy to Gig Harbor to Tacoma to KDM
Current 595 truncated at KDM. Connects to every third peak Link train.
597 (every 24 mins): Lacey TC to DuPont station to Lakewood (Stn, TC, and 512) to KDM
598 (every 24 mins): Olympia TC to Hawks Prairie park and ride to Lakewood (Stn, TC, and 512) to KDM
Routes 597 and 598 are based on the current 592 with truncation at KDM, alternating stops in Thurston/South Pierce counties, and redundancy in Lakewood. The result is effective express service for far-south destinations, and double frequency in Lakewood. Lakewood connects to every other peak Link train, and DuPont and south connects to every fourth peak Link train.
599 (every 30 mins): Tumwater to Olympia TC to Lacey TC to Hawks Prairie P&R to DuPont to Lakewood (Stn and 512) to Tacoma
An entirely new route that makes sense with Thurston county annexation that takes care of north commutes to Tacoma, south commutes to Tumwater and Olympia, and any combination of trips you can think of for south destinations at peak. This route isn’t intended to get people to Seattle or Bellevue, and hence doesn’t go to KDM and runs less frequently.
580 and 596: Unchanged from how they operate today.
Off-Peak Network:
594 (every 20 mins): Tacoma to Federal Way to KDM to Kent to Renton to Bellevue
Takes over the 577, Federal Way portion of the 578, and the Tacoma portion of the 594 off-peak, and transfers to KDM for Seattle and also goes to Bellevue. Connects to every other off-peak Link train.
592 (every 30 mins): Olympia TC to Lacey TC to Hawks Prairie P&R to DuPont station to Lakewood (Stn, TC, and 512) to KDM
The peak-only 592 becomes off-peak-only, gets truncated at KDM, and stops at every ST stop between Olympia and Lakewood. Naturally, as an off-peak service, it is less “express” than the 597/598 and runs less frequently. Connects to every third off-peak Link train.
 Peak and Off-Peak Network:
560 (every 2o mins): Westwood Village to Burien to TIBS to Renton to Bellevue
Same as current 560, except with a transfer to Link at TIPS for the airport, and it runs every 20 minutes. Connects to every other off-peak Link train, and approximately every third peak Link train.
582, 583, 584 (every 60 mins each):
  • 582 tail is Lakewood (Stn and 512) to Tacoma to Puyallup
  • 583 tail is Orting to South Hill to Puyallup
  • 584 tail is Bonney Lake
  • All three routes converge from Sumner to Auburn to Kent to KDM
This is a major reconfiguration of service for SE King and East Pierce that gives Orting and Bonney Lake baseline hourly service, Auburn and Kent service every 20 minutes, and effectively a return of the old 582 with a new Lakewood connection that runs every hour. This route picks up where Pierce Transit fails, and could get funding from PT to replace the 400. For the first time in a long time, there is a connection between Puyallup and downtown Tacoma on weekends, and off-peak service to Bonney Lake. Sumner and north connects to every other Link train. South Hill, Orting, and Bonney Lake connects to every sixth Link train. You can also transfer to route 594 to go to Bellevue.
This potential network in many ways mirrors the Alternative 1 U-Link restructure, except on a more massive scale. In this network, Seattle is no longer the complete center of attention, and both Seattle and Bellevue are more equally treated as major destinations and job centers. There is also a rich system of suburban connections to Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, and even other suburbs, with frequency and speed that naturally tapers off with distance. Also, even though many current one-seat rides now require a transfer, every common commute scenario now has either one or zero transfers:
To Seattle: one transfer from everywhere
To Bellevue: zero transfers from Federal Way, Tacoma, or Kent, one transfer from everywhere else.
To Tacoma: zero transfers from Kent, Federal Way, Lakewood, Gig Harbor, Puyallup, and Sumner, one transfer from everywhere else.
Lots of more obscure commutes are also covered:
to Tumwater: zero transfers from Olympia through Tacoma (one transfer from Lakewood TC), one transfer Gig Harbor through Purdy or Federal Way through Kent.
To require two transfers, it would take a really, really obscure commute before that can happen, like Orting to DuPont (for which you would take the 583, then 584, then 592 or 597/599.
Of course this is done with no service hours analysis or anything like that. It’s just a concept that sees what kind of connections can be made when the focus is not on one-seat rides to Seattle. It also shows the kind of reinvestment that I expect from Sound Transit if they want to replace ST Express to Seattle with a transfer at KDM, especially since the system extends farther out to the south than to the north and Link on the south takes longer because of things like the Rainier Valley deviation and constantly switching alignments. Of course I don’t have any faith at all in Sound Transit’s leadership to design a network even remotely close to this when KDM station opens, as they will probably just truncate and reduce service hours. If only we could elect Sound Transit board members who would make better decisions ;-)

The correct way to restructure routes 177, 179, 181, and 197

I live in Federal Way, and I have been watching the King County Metro cuts page like a hawk. If you’re familiar with the coming transit cuts in the city, you’ll know that there are two restructures coming for routes in Federal Way: Combining routes 187 and 901, and restructuring peak service to Seattle. I will focus on the latter in this post. I am providing a sample restructure for the morning peak. The afternoon peak could be restructured similarly, but I won’t provide a specific example.

This is just an example of how the service could be restructured in the morning in a way such that it almost strictly follows the February 2015 service reduction recommendations:

– Give route 177 21 trips, and add a stop at Federal Way Transit Center (also two I-5 freeway stations)

– Discontinue route 179

– Add extra trips to route 181 (number of trips not specified in the recommendation) between Twin Lakes Park and Ride and Federal Way Transit Center only*, to give it (specifically) service every 15-30 minutes in Federal Way

*In this example, the extra 181 trips go to the Federal Way 320th St P&R before the transit center. This is the only deviation from the recommendation.

– Reroute route 197, and keep the same number of morning trips

Additionally, this example has the benefit of:

keeping most one-seat rides from Twin Lakes Park and Ride to Downtown Seattle (for route 179 riders)

– Guarantees a successful transfer from route 181 for every 197 trip (for old route 197 riders)

The way this works is that all extra inserted 181 trips turn into route 177 trips after they get to the 320th St P&R. That way, people on these buses can get off at Federal Way Transit Center or Seattle, just like the current route 179.

Here is an example schedule:

181 Mornings
Twin Lks P&R 320th St P&R (to route) Fed Way TC Supermall Auburn Stn. 4th & M GRCC
5:08 5:23 177 5:28
5:23 181 5:40 5:52 5:58 6:05 6:13
5:38 5:53 177 5:58
5:53 181 6:10 6:22 6:28 6:35 6:43
6:08 6:23 177 6:28
6:23 181 6:41 6:54 7:00 7:07 7:16
6:38 6:53 177 6:58
6:53 181 7:11 7:24 7:30 7:38 7:47
7:08 7:23 177 7:28
7:23 181 7:42 7:55 8:01 8:09 8:18
7:38 7:55 177 8:00
7:53 181 8:12 8:25 8:31 8:39 8:48
8:23 181 8:42 8:55 9:01 9:09 9:18
8:53 181 9:12 9:25 9:31 9:39 9:48
177 Mornings
(from route) 320th St P&R Fed Way TC To Seattle
181 5:23 5:28
deadhead 5:38 5:43 *
181 5:53 5:58
deadhead 6:08 6:13 *
181 6:23 6:28
deadhead 6:38 6:43 *
181 6:53 6:58
deadhead 7:08 7:13 *
181 7:23 7:28
deadhead 7:38 7:43 *
181 7:53 7:58
deadhead 10 more
197 Mornings
320th St P&R Fed Way TC To U-District
5:40 _ 5:45 *
6:25 * 6:30
6:40 _ 6:45 *
6:55 * 7:00
7:10 _ 7:15 *
7:25 * 7:30
7:40 _ 7:45 *

* Asterisk means that this trip will wait for route 181 to arrive at this location before leaving. This is how successful transfers from route 181 are guaranteed. This exactly how Pierce Transit route 62 works in the afternoon, and how Sounder connectors work (except with waiting for a bus instead of a train)


This is in contrast to a restructure that one would imagine by reading the recommendation, and follows the letter of the recommendations exactly: (I’ll refer to this as the “immediately obvious” restructure)

– Route 177 is a freestanding route

– Route 179 and all one-seat rides to Seattle from Twin Lakes are eliminated

– Route 197 doesn’t wait for any route 181 trips to arrive before leaving, and one-seat rides from Twin Lakes are eliminated

– The extra 181 trips are from 2 buses that keep shuttling between Twin Lakes P&R and FWTC

So what’s better about my plan?

– 6 one-seat rides from Twin Lakes to Seattle are saved

– at least 12 transfers from route 181 are guaranteed to Seattle and the U-District

– current route 179 and 197 riders from west of the transit center only need to adjust their schedule slightly

it costs less to operate than the alternative restructure

Yep, you read that last one right. Here’s why: in the immediately obvious restructure, there needs to be 2 extra drivers hired to run the extra 181 trips. The service hour cost is the extra trips themselves, plus two deadheads per bus to/from south base (this adds up to 8 extra runs to/from Tukwila each weekday). In my example restructure, the drivers that do the extra 181 trips are the same drivers that do some 177 trips, so no extra drivers need to be hired. The deadhead for the extra 181 trips are the same deadhead for some 177 trips, plus a drive from I-5 to Twin Lakes P&R (these could be reverse peak 181 trips if so desired).

If you want me to clarify anything, sound off in the comments. What do you think?