Sammamish is a city of 50,000 people in, what might be described by King County Metro, the “deep” Eastside of their service area. The city will soon gain an extra 15,000 or so inhabitants when Klahanie is annexed to the city on 1 January 2016.
There have been a few previous articles on this blog about transit in Sammamish. These have usually pointed out that this is hardly transit territory. Most homes have at least two car garages, the walkability index must be close to zero with most houses not even within 1 mile of a grocery, coffee shop, pharmacy or church. And, of course, a bus stop can be added to that list.
I visit Sammamish to stay with relatives frequently and have just completed my longest continuous stay to date, around 2 months. As a dedicated transit user these stays are always quite challenging unless accepting offers of car rides or to borrow a car. But in the area where I stay, I am not as isolated as many non-car users in other parts of Sammamish. The South Sammamish Park and Ride can be reached in 15-20 minutes walking and another 2-5 minutes (depending on the two controlled road crossings to be navigated) brings me to the Pine Lake Plaza and Starbucks, Rite Aid, QFC and restaurants.
During this recent stay, there was much anticipation of the upcoming Sammamish City Council elections with a forest of unsightly posters every few hundred feet on the major roadways. Reading the manifestos of these candidates all cite transport as a concern. However, none of these mention transit under the transport concern; the solution is always widening the few main roadways that are not already very wide.
This sort of city is a paradise to many, it ranks highly on the MSN “Best Suburbs of America”, on the CNN “Best Places to Live in the USA”, on the Forbes “Friendliest Towns in the United States” and possibly on some other similar lists; but certainly not on any walkability index, although there are ambitious plans to expand the trails and cycle lane systems in the city, not necessarily to get to the shops etc., but to encourage recreational activity.
In November 2014 a blogger on this site suggested that Sammamish’s poor transit situation should be addressed by providing a gondola service to Cross Roads. As gondolas do not have as many stopping places as buses, this may not be any use at all to those without a car to reach a gondola station, and I can hardly imagine many of Lake Sammamish’s residents welcoming a gondola passing over their homes every few minutes. Perhaps other residents under the route between Sammamish and Cross Roads will also raise a few objections.
Having said all of the above, Sammamish does have a great commuter transit service to downtown Seattle by routes 216 and 219. At the middle of both the morning peak to Seattle and the evening peak from Seattle buses run every few minutes. At either end of the peaks, services are not so frequent. There are also some very early and late journeys on Sound Transit 554 and using these it is possible to leave Sammamish before 5.00 am and not arrive back until after midnight. These ST journeys may be provided mainly because the buses have to travel to/from East Base at the beginning and end of their scheduled journeys, but they are very useful for the handful of Sammamish residents who use them.
But during midday and weekends Sammamish and its 50,000 residents have no transit at all. There used to be a Dart van route 927 providing an hourly service from Monday to Saturday from fairly early to around 5.00 pm. This route was deleted in the September 2014 service cuts. Previous posts on this blog have suggested that this was hardly an attractive service with a circuitous routing, a by passing of Issaquah Highlands Park and Ride and poorly thought out connections at Issaquah Transit Center. Another problem was that every other journey, on arrival at Pine Lake Plaza, did not turn right towards and travel the 2 miles or so to downtown Sammamish and Sammamish Highlands Plaza, but turned left and travelled for perhaps just over half a mile (with no bus stops) before turning into the Providence Point, a gated community for wealthy retirees. This community has its own van service and Metro Access vans are also seen regularly entering. Perhaps I rode on that (Providence Point) 927, thirty or forty times and when I alighted or boarded at Pine Lake I might have seen a passenger to/from Providence Point two or three times. As this was a Dart service I don’t know why all journeys could not have been routed to downtown Sammamish with Providence Point in the Dart pick up area. During all my journeys on the 927 (downtown Sammamish and Providence Point trips), I only twice experienced a Dart off route journey. Once was to go into the car park at Pine Lake Plaza (perhaps 50 feet off route), the other time was when the driver was running early and made two circuits of Pickering Place in Issaquah as he knew that a mentally handicapped person caught that journey every day and was not waiting during the first circuit.
Besides Seattle commuter services, Sammamish does “enjoy” one other transit service. The 269 is a weekday peak service, in both directions between Issaquah and Overlake. Until a couple of years ago, the schedule leaflet for this route used to state that this service was partially funded by grants from Microsoft and the cities of Issaquah, Redmond and Sammamish. This is no longer stated in the schedule, but sometime last year (2014) I saw that the Sammamish City Council voted to continue subsidizing this service. Towards Overlake (and the Microsoft Campus) in the mornings and from Overlake in the evenings, this service has a headway of about 20 minutes for the first 2 hours or so of service and then about every 30 minutes for another hour or so. In the other direction service is not so frequent, about every 60 minutes in the am, and 30 minutes in the pm, but with a gap of 60 minutes before the last journey. Unfortunately these relatively good headways are often spoilt by time keeping issues which seem to thwart this service. Late running of over 10 minutes is quite common and occasionally trips are as much as 60 minutes late, resulting in bunching of journeys which are supposed to be 20 – 30 minutes apart.
The main traffic bottlenecks along the 269 route are in the Bear Creek area at the end of SR520 and between the Issaquah Transit Center and the junction of East Lake Sammamish Parkway and SE 56th Street. However, delays at these points rarely exceed 15-20 minutes, so why some journeys manage to run 30-60 minutes late is a bit of a mystery.
The 269 service was threatened by the 2015 service cuts which were not executed due to the improvements in the economy. All “reverse peak” journeys were to be deleted together with several of journeys to Overlake in the morning and from Overlake in the evening. When one studies the roster for this route, it will become apparent that it must be very costly to operate. As many as eight vehicles are needed for the morning peak, four of which only make a single one way trip. Three of the others make return trips and one vehicle makes a return trip and a further single trip. A similar pattern can be observed in the evening. I know that King County Metro is famous for the expenses needed for its many peak hour only services, but in the case of the 269, I suspect that the service would not need much tweaking to save at least two of these eight vehicles.
As far as Sammamish transit users are concerned, the reverse peak deletions might not have been too disastrous as the Seattle commuter services, 216 and 219 can at least partially replace. It must be stated, however, that there is evidence that the 269 might attract some midday business in the Sammamish area. Arriving at Issaquah Highlands Park and Ride one afternoon over 25 minutes before the first afternoon peak 269 towards Overlake (scheduled at 3.42 pm, about 30 minutes before the first 216 commuter service from Seattle), I was surprised to see four people already waiting for the 269 and a further two joined us before the bus arrived. In fact, once or twice, I have noted standing passengers on this first 269 in the reverse peak direction, suggesting that the 30ft Gillig usually rostered maybe somewhat unsuitable. This may be the busiest trip of the day, yet the H in the schedule indicates that this is one of those trips that do not operate when “Reduced weekday service” is in operation. In fact these reduced weekday schedules are another amazing thing about this 269 service, as they seem to correspond with some of the more heavily used trips. Even stranger is that the H trips usually do not correspond with the single trip rosters. In fact none of the am peak H trips corresponds with a single trip roster on a normal weekday!
Similarly the last reverse peak journey in the mornings is often quite busy. This runs over 60 minutes later than the last 216 journey and I have noted passengers alighting at Issaquah Highlands and transferring to the 554 towards downtown Seattle. Perhaps all this suggests that the planners of transit do not pay a lot of attention to service usage in the deep Eastside.
I am aware of the Sound Transit long term plan to provide a better service along the Issaquah Highlands to Bear Creek corridor. It is better not to hold your breath waiting for this as it seems to have a fairly low priority behind several other future plans. Also Sammamish needs a local service stopping every couple of blocks and not an express bus not stopping more than once every mile.
Finally a few observations noted while waiting at Issaquah Highlands, perhaps also related to a casual attitude to these deep Eastside services. The information posted there indicates that Bay 1 is used for all KCM services, except the morning commuter runs of 216, 218 and 219 to Seattle. Bay 2 is for Microsoft Connector, Bay 3 is for the evening and late night 554 going on to Sammamish and Redmond, this bay is also used by Sound Transit buses that terminate here. Bay 4 is for Sound Transit 554, 555 and 556 and the KCM commuter services to Seattle.
However, the 554s bound for Sammamish and Redmond always seem to use Bay 4. This is quite baffling as the 99% of 554s from Seattle that terminate at Issaquah Highlands drop off at Bay 3. Perhaps this is not too much of a problem as most people waiting at Bay 3 for a Sammamish 554 will see the bus pull up at Bay 4 and be able to move across the 20 feet or so (perhaps not so easy for anybody with poor eyesight or otherwise challenged). What may be even more of a concern is that I have seen some 219s bound for Sammamish and Redmond also use Bay 4 and once saw an individual having to move quite quickly and smartly over from Bay 1 to catch the bus.
The 554 service from Issaquah to Seattle reduces its headway from 20 to 30 minutes after 3.00 pm. This causes some overcrowding after Eastgate as there is a lot of peak hour traffic from there to Seattle. Presumably the reason is that the service from Seattle is also reduced because of the KCM peak hour services beginning shortly after 3.00 pm. Holders of the Sound Transit schedule booklet and also those viewing the 554 schedule on line may notice that there is a 40 minute gap between 5.18 and 5.58 pm for departures from Issaquah Highlands. In fact this used to be the case, but amendments to the schedules from September 26 addressed this gap and the correct new timings can be found in the bus bay panes at Issaquah Highlands. Users of the ST Trip Planner also see the new times. Forget the KCM Trip Planner as this manages to find a schedule which was neither correct before or after September 26. Are the deep Eastside transit users really so marginal?