ST draft service plan revised for better Link frequency

“Just a pinky promise” / photo by SounderBruce

On Thursday, Sound Transit staff presented a revised draft 2021 service plan, which the ST Board will vote on in November.

Three routes have changes in the revised draft, vs. the original draft:

  • Link Light Rail would be upgraded to 10-minutes off-peak headway, as compared to the long-term continuation of 15-minute headway in the first draft. Late evening headway would be 15 minutes instead of the originally-proposed (and current) 30 minutes. These upgrades would take place as part of King County Metro’s March service change.
  • Route 555 (Northgate to Bellevue), currently suspended, would continue to be suspended after Northgate Link opens. Metro route 271 would be expected to handle the reverse-peak ridership on the corridor.
  • Route 586 (Tacoma – UW), originally slated for elimination with the opening of Northgate Link, would continue on, with a stop added at Federal Way Transit Center. The presentation did not specify whether the new stop would be added in March or September of 2021.
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15-Minute Link/bus network

Metro route 255, cursed by 7 months of bad luck since being diverted to UW
photo by Spencer Thomas

While there is a lot of lost service in the King County Metro network due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts, Metro has nevertheless managed to make lemonade out of lemons by assembling an increasingly robust network of buses connecting to Link Light Rail stations at frequencies that match Link’s temporary off-peak frequency of every 15 minutes. Link’s frequency is planned to be every 15 minutes during off-peak hours, until late evening, likely through 2021. Sound Transit is preparing for a long pandemic. The recent spike in new cases and deaths backs up their pessimism.

The following routes that serve Link stations outside of, or just on the periphery of, downtown have 15-minute off-peak weekday headway. (Link now runs every 8 minutes during the peak period on weekdays.) Unless otherwise noted, they also have 15-minute headway during the day on weekends.

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Less-accessible voting sites and other easier ways to vote

Dempsey Indoor Center, one of two accessible voting sites in Seattle, starting Halloween

For most of us, voting could not be easier. Every registered voter with their address of record up-to-date gets a ballot in the mail. Return postage is pre-paid. There are also plenty of ballot drop boxes open. Ones close to light rail stations include the Beacon Hill Library, Uwajimaya, the King County Administration Building, and the northeast corner of the Edison Building at Seattle Central College,

The King County Elections Department recommends that you mail your ballot by Friday, October 30, in order to make sure it gets postmarked by election day, the following Tuesday. After that, it is recommended that you use one of the many drop boxes that are available 24/7 now through 8 pm on November 3.

You can also vote online.

You can register to vote online, or by snail mail, up until October 26.

UPDATE: In-person voting registration is available through Election Day at the accessible voting sites, but the County urges everyone to use the voting centers only if they have to. Wearing a face covering over the nose and mouth will be required.

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Shuttles replace Link north of SODO Station this weekend

construction banner in International District / Chinatown Station – photo by Busologist

Link Light Rail service will be partially disrupted this weekend, per an annoucement from Sound Transit:

Link light rail service will temporarily stop running between the UW and SODO stations Saturday, October 17, and Sunday, October 18 to allow for system upgrades.

During the service interruption, free bus service will be available between UW station and SODO station. Light rail riders will need to switch between trains and buses at SODO station stations [sic] to complete their journeys. Sound Transit will provide shuttle buses every ten minutes between the affected stations, and Sound Transit personnel will be available to help passengers with transfers. Trains will run every 15 minutes on the weekend. Light rail trains will return to their regular schedule Monday morning.

Other alternatives to get to or between the northern station areas include:

  • Route 7 between Mt Baker Station and downtown.
  • Route 36 between Beacon Hill Station and downtown.
  • Route 48 between Mt Baker Station and UW.
  • Route 10, 11, or 49 between Westlake and Capitol Hill.
  • Route 49 between Capitol Hill and the U-District.
  • Route 60 between Beacon Hill Station and Capitol Hill.
  • Route 70 between downtown and the U-District.
  • Route 101, 150, or ST Express 594 between SODO Station, Stadium Station, and downtown.

Any work Sound Transit has to do on Link is certainly best to do on weekends during the pandemic, while there are the fewest riders to be impacted.

Last-mile alternatives to legacy First Hill express service

First Hill Streetcar at Capitol Hill Station / photo by SounderBruce

Correction: In Metro’s Phase 3 proposal, route 64 goes to South Lake Union. (New route 361 from Bothell will also go to South Lake Union via Northgate Station.) Also, route 309 is renumbered as 322 to reflect the detour to Roosevelt Station.

One of the most notable features of King County Metro’s North King County bus route restructure proposed for September 2021, when Northgate Link is scheduled to open for service, is the continued use of north-end and Shoreline express bus service for First Hill. The rest of the express bus service from the north end and Shoreline to the Central Business District will go away.

Metro plans to have four First Hill express routes in operation after Northgate Link opens, three of them competing with Link Light Rail:

  • Route 193 serves Federal Way Park & Ride (S 320th St), Federal Way Transit Center, Star Lake Freeway Station, Kent – Des Moines Freeway Station, and Tukwila Park & Ride before expressing to First Hill.
  • New route 302 would replace some 301 and 304 service, but going to First Hill, with a stop at Northgate Station.
  • Route 303 serves Shoreline Park & Ride, Aurora Village, Northgate Transit Center, and then expresses to First Hill. Routes 302 and 303 are planned to provide alternating service between Northgate Station and First Hill.
  • New Route 322 would essentially be a renumbering of route 309 (Bothell to First Hill), but with a detour to Roosevelt Station before jumping on I-5 to get to First Hill.

The First Hill expresses only operate during peak hours, and only in the peak direction. Given the 24/7 nature of all the medical buildings, this specialty service is mostly irrelevant to a large chunk of First Hill employees, unless they are the lucky ones working the latte shift.

Continue reading “Last-mile alternatives to legacy First Hill express service”

Metro’s darkest day

Three of the many King County Metro bus routes suspended as of this morning / Photo by Zack Heistand

Those of you who commute to work via a King County Metro express bus may find your route gone this morning. Today is the first weekday of Metro’s biannual service change. It is probably the most painful service change Metro has ever undergone.

David Lawson covered the details of how many routes have been savaged due to Metro’s budget hole. The number if routes shut down entirely is unprecedented. A few were due to a restructure of routes in South King County, but most are simply peak commuter routes that were both expensive per trip, and not well-used. Indeed, about half of Metro’s commuter express routes have been mothballed.

The suspended or eliminated peak expresses include routes 5E, 9E, 15E, 17E, 18E, 19, 37, 63, 76, 77, 113, 114, 116, 121, 122, 123, 143, 154, 157, 158, 159, 167, 177, 178, 179, 190, 192, 197, 214, 216, 217, 219, 252, 268, 308, 312, 316, 355, and 630.

New route 162 will provide some limited replacement service for routes 158, 159, and 192.

Other routes being suspended for reasons unrelated to the South King County restructure include 22, 29, 47, 71, 78, 200, 204, 208, 232, 237, 246, 249, 342, 628, and 931.

There are bright spots amidst this carnage, most notably that Link Light Rail (operated by King County Metro operators) is bringing usable frequency back today, and will be following the schedule posted at the stations for the first time since January 3. If you are used to driving to a park&ride in South King County for your commute, Link, with it’s 8-minute peak headway, could be your new ride, and Angle Lake Station or Tukwila International Boulevard Station your new P&R.

Metro’s budget, and therefore its service, is unlikely to improve much until the economy recovers. The economy will not recover until the virus is defeated. If you want a return normality, wear your mask when around other people, and urge everyone else emphatically to do so as well.

Zombie route diversions

excerpted from route 107 map from Metro website

King County Metro has been and continues to be shutting down an unprecedentedly long list of routes while the virus sets its own long-term calendar, with new cases worldwide topping 300K daily.

And yet, like a bad zombie TV series, my silly bus stop in Georgetown that I rarely see anyone else use, persists. Yes, I’m talking about the loop-de-loop in the middle of route 107 that adds several minutes to other riders’ trips, almost certainly costing more ridership than it adds. Some of the business establishments that stop benefits are shuttered.

This expensive pimple of a bus stop is one of several throughout the Metro and ST system map that turn a relatively straight route into a milk run providing time-consuming off-arterial curbside service, some at facilities that are closed for the time being.

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When public health tactics collide on the bus

While riding a Metro bus last week, I finally witnessed an operator using his authority to get a rider who refused to wear a mask off the bus. The rider boarded the bus, talking to himself loudly, and sat in the back. The operator played the canned message about needing to wear a mask. He waited a few seconds, then got on the loudspeaker to let everyone know they need to wear a mask while on the bus. The guy in the back didn’t budge, but kept talking loudly to himself. (I realize there may be a medical condition involved here.)

The operator proceeded a couple stops. He then walked toward the back, and told the rider he needed to put on a mask, or get off the bus, and also to please be quiet and stop disturbing the rest of the riders.

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Getting more savings from Link feeder buses

KC Metro route 49 bus / photo by Paul Kimo McGregor

Sound Transit recently released its proposed 2021 Service Plan, in which it prepared for the pandemic to continue through the duration of 2021, by continuing the suspension of ST Express routes 541, 544, and 567 indefinitely, continuing to have pared-down service on most other routes, and making 15-minute off-peak headway on Link Light Rail the plan for the foreseeable future.

There are a couple of categories of service savings, related to Link connections that have not been fully utilized by the collective transit agencies.

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Sound Transit proposed 2021 Service Implementation Plan, upcoming cuts

Northgate Station / photo by Bruce Engelhardt

Sound Transit has put out its proposed 2021 Service Implementation Plan, with a user-friendly online synopsis, and is taking public input through Thursday, September 24. You can offer your input through an online survey (with eight language choices), through remote participation in a public hearing scheduled for 11 am on September 24, or by submitting written comments through September 24.

Sound Transit continues to suffer revenue losses due to COVID-19, with more cuts taking effect from September 19-21. But there is good news in the proposed Service Plan: the opening of Northgate Link in September 2021, adding new stations in the U-District (NE 43rd St & Brooklyn Ave NE), the Roosevelt District (NE 65th St & Roosevelt Ave NE), and the Station at what is currently Northgate Mall, along with a pedestrian bridge over I-5 to North Seattle College.

The Plan document buries the lede regarding Link Light Rail’s September 19 service change:

  • September 2020: On weekdays, trains operate every 8 minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hours, every 15 minutes during the early morning, midday and early evening, and every 30 minutes late at night. On weekends, service operates every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes late night.
  • March 2021 Proposal: Maintain September 2020 service levels.
  • September 2021 Proposal: Service to Northgate begins, using the same frequencies implemented in September 2020, but with four-car trains instead of three-car trains.

Sounder service will continue at pandemic levels through 2021, to wit:

  • Sounder North will continue to have just two trips in each direction, weekdays only.
  • Sounder South will add two more peak-direction trips back in September, in each direction. The Plan would maintain that level of service through 2021. Weekdays only.

Several Sound Transit Express routes will be directly impacted by the proposed 2021 Service Plan. While the Plan does not impact the upcoming service changes, those changes for routes impacted by the Plan are detailed in the Plan’s online presentation.

Continue reading “Sound Transit proposed 2021 Service Implementation Plan, upcoming cuts”

Mercer Island sues Sound Transit, this time over buses

ST Express 554 and King County Metro 204 buses at Mercer Island stop / photo by SounderBruce

As reported by the Mercer Island Reporter Thursday, the Mercer Island City Council is again preparing to sue Sound Transit.

In an open letter, the City Council contends:

It is essential for all Islanders to understand that the Bus/Rail Interchange, as currently proposed by Sound Transit, is in breach of the 2017 Settlement Agreement between Sound Transit and the City with the potential to adversely impact traffic patterns and public safety for all of our residents. We have notified Sound Transit numerous times that its current plan, which includes new curb cuts to accommodate bus layovers along North Mercer Way, fails to meet the terms of the Settlement Agreement which explicitly forbade these features. We have also voiced concerns over future operations that this plan enables, including the high volume of bicycles and pedestrians that will be expected to mix with cars and buses adjacent to the busy Park & Ride location once East Link light Rail is operational. Despite the City’s reasonable objections and requests for essential information, Sound Transit has repeatedly ignored our concerns and insisted on unilaterally implementing its design plans.

However, the purported ban on curb cuts [They seem to be referring to bus pull-outs, not ADA wheelchair cuts in sidewalks at intersections.] along North Mercer Way is not in the settlement.

Sound Transit is expected to seek final construction permits for work around the station in September. The Mercer Island City Council is likely to oppose the permits unless the new lawsuit is settled. Delaying the permits could hold up the opening of East Link. But in order to delay the permits, the City would have to prove that Sound Transit has broken the terms of the settlement.

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Face mask dispensers

Face mask dispenser on TriMet MAX train

As observant reader Brian Bradford brought to our attention, TriMet is installing metal face mask dispensers on their buses, streetcars, and trains. Thanks, Brian!

Mask dispensers have also been installed in transit vehicles by:

Various agencies have also installed hand sanitizer dispensers.

South King County route restructure to break up high-performing 180

King County Metro is preparing to roll out its South King County route restructure on September 19, as party of its semi-annual regular service change (not to be confused with the ad hoc changes that have been rolled out on short notice all spring and summer). Martin reported on the semi-final proposal back in March.

Meanwhile, Metro recently listed the 10 most ridership-resilient (the ratio of 2020 ridership to 2019 ridership) routes. Route 180 is king at an amazing 74% of ridership retained.

The next three are routes that may be picking up the slack from the Link Light Rail infrequency that also goes away on September 19. Route 7 has retained 66% of its ridership, followed by the A line with 62% and route 106 with 58%. Route 36 comes in seventh at 47%.

On September 18, route 180 will ride into the sunset as the reigning resilience champion, to be replaced by new routes 161, 160, and 184.

As route restructures go, this one is pretty radical. Thirteen routes (158, 159, 164, 166, 169, 180, 186, 192, 908, 910, 913, 916, and 952) will be removed. Five new routes will be rolled out.

Continue reading “South King County route restructure to break up high-performing 180”