I wish you good fortune in reenergizing Sound Transit as you take on the CEO position. Much of the Puget Sound’s regional mobility depends on ST’s success!
When voters approved Sound Transit’s ST3 plan in 2016, they expected ST to make good use of billions of their tax dollars, and deliver sustainable and equitable transit mobility across the region over the next few decades. Much of the ST3 plan was not fully developed, so voters had to trust Sound Transit to flesh out the details. During the pandemic, we learned that transit dependent populations have the greatest needs for reliable transit, smaller numbers of workers will be returning to downtown offices, and the original plans did not consider equity. As the designs for new lines have become more detailed, cost estimates have ballooned, schedules have been delayed, and serious new challenges identified. They include how to:
make sure construction doesn’t destroy the communities Sound Transit wants to serve?
build another major tunnel through downtown Seattle, when three tunnels already exist?
make it convenient for riders to reach and transfer from other rail and bus lines?
cross major water ways while meeting the needs of the Port, the Coast Guard, the tribe and environmental laws?
serve dense neighborhoods, such as those around historic Ballard and West Seattle Junction?
prepare for branches at key points in the network to allow for future growth?
avoid generating three million tons of carbon (the equivalent of 7.5 billion gas-vehicle miles) for WSBLE at a time the region has committed to reduce carbon emissions to counter climate change?
The ST3 measure gave the Sound Transit Board broad mandate to adjust the original plan when financial, feasibility and construction challenges arise. Will you and the Board adjust the plan and develop new options to meet those challenges and increase transit ridership?
Thus far, Sound Transit has primarily focused on constructing the Tacoma-Everett-Redmond spine. As ST matures, though, priorities may need to change. Now that ridership is increasing, operational excellence and serving riders is increasingly important to be able to continue ridership growth.
If driver recruitment becomes challenging, should ST invest in automated trains and cable transit? Sound Transit’s mode selection process had been focused on the Tacoma-Everett spine. A desirable regional transit mode won’t always meet the needs of shorter urban connections like West Seattle or Ballard, where it becomes challenging to find space for large light rail stations and guideways. The ensuing cost overruns and subpar alignments are unnecessary when other modes provide far smaller footprint, better turn radii and allow for steeper gradients. Could exploring other modes also help reduce the construction related carbon emissions, minimize impact to local businesses, and loss of existing housing?
The UW Station to Capitol Hill segment is currently the busiest in ST’s light rail network, not the downtown segment. The Rainier Valley segment is almost at capacity as it runs at grade and must share intersections with road traffic. So why is a second downtown tunnel (DSTT2) a priority? Many European cities with a single downtown tunnel have upgraded their signaling to accommodate higher train frequency. Could Sound Transit do the same and use the savings to connect Ballard sooner, and allow the C.I.D. residents and businesses to recover from streetcar construction and the pandemic?
Presently, ST plans to spend $3 – $4 billion dollars to serve affluent parts of West Seattle. Could ST instead build a Duwamish bypass to increase spine capacity and grow ridership towards Seatac/Kent/Tacoma? Then ST could use urban gondola lines and buses to serve both the affluent parts of West Seattle, and the more diverse neighborhoods further South.
Many people have contributed ideas and critiques to the Seattle Transit Blog for addressing the above questions. It may be useful to review them for background knowledge on challenges ST faces going forward.
Seattle resident, STB reader, and transit advocate
This is a followup to my proposed bus restructure after RapidRide G. In that proposal, I struggled with the 12. The existing 12 overlaps the future G more than any other route; the only unique coverage area is on 19th Ave East, north of Madison.
I came up with several options for the route, each of which has its own map. As with previous maps, you can see a full size map by clicking on the corner. Once in its own window, you can select the route number on the sidebar, or the line itself to highlight the route.
The goals for each proposal remain the same. The expected frequencies are based on pre-pandemic levels, although most of these proposals would require a small increase in funding. The exception is the last proposal, which would be able to retain or increase frequency on each route, while also adding the new 106 extension.
RapidRide G will have a major impact on transit in the area, as the city implements what is arguably the first real BRT system in the state. No matter what you call it, having a bus that is both fast and frequent through the heart of the city will be a major change. It should also change the existing transit network. This is my proposal for doing that.
About the Map
As with previous maps, you can see a full size map by clicking in the corner. Once in its own window, you can select the route number on the sidebar, or the line itself to highlight the route. Care was taken to build the most realistic proposal I can muster (e. g. using existing layover locations) while trying to create an effective and efficient network. I tried to strike a balance between the existing network, and an “everywhere to everywhere” approach.
4 — The eastern tail of the 4 is eliminated, largely because of East Link (which should occur at roughly the same time). The 4 provides direct service to downtown for riders who would otherwise have a two-seat ride. It serves other purposes (such as a one-seat ride for some trips to First or Cherry Hill) but runs infrequently. It can’t justify better service, even with one-seat riders from the Judkins Park neighborhood; it will have a tough time justifying service as those riders switch to Link. It is better to just end it, and put money into more productive routes.
11 — The 11 is replaced by the 8. Riders heading downtown from Madison Park can easily transfer to the G, Link, 10 or 12.
43 — Metro tried to get rid of the 43 back when the Capitol Hill station was added. Unfortunately, that lead to an outcry from people who were looking at an awkward transfer to go downtown (since the 11 was never very frequent). With this change, however, riders will be able to catch the 48 and then take a fast bus running every six minutes.
60 — Becomes part of the 49 (see below).
2 — The 2 now serves the Pike/Pine corridor. Inbound (westbound) the bus largely takes over for the 11 (using existing stops and wire). Outbound, the bus stays on Pike longer, to avoid doglegging up to Pine, then doglegging again to cross Madison.
8 — The 8 becomes an east-west route, taking over the eastern tail of the 11.
12 — I struggled the most with the 12, and will actually suggest several alternatives in a future post. This is the default simply because it is most like the existing route. I would pair frequency with the 2 (e. g. 15 minutes on each) and synchronize the buses, to provide very good combined frequency on Pike/Pine west of Madison.
14 — The 14 is modified slightly towards its eastern tail, in conjunction with the 27. As a result, a little bit of service is added and a little bit is lost, while the main benefit is no more “out and back” travel on the 14.
27 — See 14 above.
37 — The 37 is a new coverage route to backfill service currently provided by the 8. The decision to offer service here is a close one (since riders can walk to other routes) but I think it is a good idea. By running opposite the 27, you can double up frequency along much of Yesler (an area that has been historically underserved). This provides some natural connections in the Central Area. For example it links Garfield High School with many of its students, as well as community services along Yesler.
47 — The 47 routing is the same, but I put it in this category because I want to increase its frequency (to around every 15 minutes midday). Right now it suffers from competition with the 49 (which runs a lot more often). With the 49 no longer going downtown, I expect good ridership on this route (as long as it has a decent headway).
49 — The 49 is sent to Beacon Hill instead of downtown. It takes a straight path, unlike the 60 it replaces. It would be paired with the streetcar to provide good frequency along Broadway (e. g. both could run every 12 minutes, providing 6 minute headways there). This in turn would eliminate the need for expensive express buses to First Hill (further saving service money). Combining the 60 with the 49 may result in a route that is too long. If so, the route would be split at Beacon Hill Station (with the 60 ending there, along with the 107).
106 — Provides long overdue service on Boren, connecting various neighborhoods.
I take a somewhat optimistic view on frequency, starting with the assumption that we can return to pre-pandemic levels of service (essentially what is the “before” part of the table listed on this post). I’ve done the math, and believe that even with Metro running the G often and the new additions, we can have good frequency for this area. Most routes would run 10 to 15 minutes during the day, with only the 14, 27 and 37 running every half hour. As mentioned, the 27 and 37 would combine frequency along much of Yesler, leaving only the eastern (lower density) extremities of the region with 30 minute headways. If funding can increase, then ridership should scale along with it, without any major changes.
If funding decreases, we might have to look at cutting back some routes. I would likely eliminate the 12, as painful as that would be (and productive as that route is). The section closer to downtown overlaps existing routes, while the tail on 19th is not that far from other routes. I believe this would do the least damage to the overall network (while gaining significant savings) even though it would definitely hurt. Hopefully it won’t come to that.
In my previous post, “Notes from a Vancouverite”, I pointed out that the Sound Transit plan for Ballard and West Seattle was not very good yet had a high cost, and I advocated for a superior route to serve Ballard:
And West Seattle with a possible extension to Bellevue:
These were to be tunnelled lines using frequent, automated trains with short stations in order to save money. I note that my proposals were not taken up (although part of the West Seattle-Madison-Bellevue Line did make it into Seattle Subway’s vision), so I have decided to try again. My quest is aided by Sound Transit’s current plan, which is truly awful, and Sound Transit’s current budget, which is truly huge.
Problems with ST’s Draft EIS Plan:
The best I can tell the current cost estimates for the plan are over $12b:
I couldn’t find figures for the total increase in boardings that the plan will bring, but I have estimated it as follows. The DEIS estimates that the West Seattle and Ballard stations will generate 33,300 boardings per day. That includes residents of those areas starting a journey and non-residents returning from a journey started elsewhere on the transit system. So doubling that figure should give the increase in boardings due to those new stations: 66,600. In addition, the new downtown stations will generate trips among themselves and on the rest of the Link network. Because of the integration of the lines with the existing Link lines, it was difficult for me to determine which of these will be new boardings due to the additional stations or existing Link riders in DSTT 1 being moved to DSTT 2. So I’m going to be nice and say those new downtown stations will also generate 66,600 new boardings (over and above the return journeys to the West Seattle and Ballard stations already included) for a total of 133,200 boarding per day.
133,200 new boardings per day is a good expansion and justifies spending money. But over $12b? Assuming 133,200 boardings means 66,600 individual riders, you could purchase a $180,000 car for each of them with $12b. A transit line lasts longer than a car and that the real limitation for urban transportation is space and cars don’t solve that, but the metric is still not good. And it gets worse. Sound Transit’s financial plan implies that this new expansion will not cover its operating costs with fare revenue, so the actual long term financial cost is actually over $12b. And bus integration isn’t what it ought to be, so there won’t be large savings in reducing duplicating bus routes either.
Cost Benefit Analyses don’t walk on water and are based on assumptions, but it would be nice to see at least some attempt to match the total cost of the plan with the total benefit of the plan plus a comparison with other options.
2. Only One Station North of Ship Canal
Only one station north of the Ship Canal seems insane. That looks like fertile transit ground to me. Not to mention that the Ballard Station placement is only OK.
3. Terrible Stations
This is the real doozy. Some of these are so bad that there is earnest consideration on this blog about whether these plans are a pretext for cancelling the whole thing.
The part in grey is the current Westlake Station, already a large structure, which demonstrates just how huge the new underground works are intended to be. If this engineering marvel did something marvellous, who would complain? But all this engineering actually just causes trouble. Making people spend five minutes or more just to get to the platform.
Since I’m actually pathetic enough to go through a bunch of this crap, I will include quite a few images of just what Sound Transit has in store for you.
Westlake Preferred Option Plan:
Westlake Preferred Option Section Facing East:
Westlake Preferred Option Section Facing West:
Westlake Preferred Option Section Facing North:
In case anyone missed it, behold Escalatorpalooza:
The Second Avenue Subway in NYC introduced the world to the concept of the billion dollar subway station. Sound Transit has not broken out the station costs separately, but I wonder, do we have a runner-up here?
Midtown Preferred Option Plan:
Midtown Preferred Option Section Facing East:
Midtown Preferred Option Section North Stack Facing South:
Midtown Preferred Option Section South Stack Facing South:
My goal isn’t to come up with something entirely new but to adapt the current plan as much as possible to make it workable and cheaper. In the main this means a tunnelled, automatic metro with very short platform lengths:
The Stations are:
Westlake – Transfer Station
ID – Transfer Station
Stadium (Optional) (Or Located on 1st Ave)
Avalon – Connection to Operations Centre under West Seattle Stadium
I still think that Queen Anne is a worthy target for some rapid transit, but remembering the spittle flecked rage the last time I mentioned the unmentionable, I’m not pushing that one again:
The Ops Centre would be under the West Seattle Stadium which would mean ripping it up, excavating out the required area, building the ops centre and then decking it over and rebuilding the stadium and maybe the clubhouse for the West Seattle Golf Course. It is city owned so the only cost would be construction. Here is a comparison with the ops centre for Skytrain (which handles way more rolling stock):
For capacity I’m comparing this new line with the Canada Line in Vancouver. The Canada Line was built with an ultimate capacity of 15,000 passengers per direction per hour (ppdph), but is currently operated at 8,000 ppdph. Pre covid the line had a peak ridership of 150,000 boardings per day. I can tell you that 8,000 ppdph was not enough to handle that. The trains were crush loaded at peak times. So for a new 133,200 boardings-per-day line, 8,000 ppdph is probably the bare minimum.
The Canada Line uses Hyundai Rotem cars in two car trains that have a passenger capacity of 334 and a total length of 135 feet:
Operated on a 90 second interval or 40 trains per hour provides a total of 13,360 ppdph which seems like enough to me. Not enough to cover major growth in the corridor, but enough to cover some growth.
To make the central section more usable, the tunnel needs to be much closer to the surface and constructed with the cut-and-cover method. Ideally the tunnel should be as close to the surface as possible, so that the road surface is the tunnel roof. To aid in this, metro tunnels without overhead wires don’t have to be tall as light rail tunnels. 5th Avenue is not that wide downtown, but it does look wide enough to handle cut-and-cover tunnels, and it is also possible to stack the metro tunnels if need be. (Skytrain in downtown Vancouver is stacked.)
However, one disadvantage must be acknowledged. Shallow tunnels will make a total mess of the current Westlake Station. The tunnels will have to go through the current mezzanine and require a bunch of reconstruction:
On the other hand, short platforms really expose the gigantism that has overtaken Sound Transit’s plan. Here are several images of the Sound Transit plan with a shallow 150 foot station box superimposed.
ID – Shallow tunnels under 5th:
One concern with cut-and-cover construction is the amount of time that the road will be closed. However, in this case, this is almost a benefit. Some of the stations in the current plan are so big and complicated that the construction timeline anticipates that they will be under construction for 9 years! And there is no reason why cut-and-cover cannot be done quickly. The Pine Street cut-and-cover segment of the original DSTT was built in under six months albeit with a temporary surface put down for the Christmas shopping season that had to be taken up and re-done in the slower shopping months.
The tunnels will have to be bored south of ID and north of Denny Park, but even then, the very short station boxes make things so much easier. Here is a 150’ station box at 15th Ave:
This is less than a third of the block.
This is my estimate of costs in millions:
Tunnel at 150m per km
14 Stations at 150m each
More Seattle Nonsense
The 150m per km figure is from Alon Levy who estimates that this is the no-BS international cost of metro lines (I think he also means to include stations and rolling stock too but I daren’t go that far). Stations I have pencilled in at 150m each which is on the high side plus an additional 250m for a total of 400m at Westlake because it will be a mess. And the operation centre at 500m is also on the high side but it means that it can be done right.
For those that think that my estimates are unreasonably low, actually 5.325b for a short metro line is no bargain and 7.325b is properly expensive. (Sound Transit first estimated this extension at 7b for ST3.) There are those on this blog that decry tunnelling at the main driver of costs, but it isn’t tunnels, its stations. Colossal, overblown stations mean colossal, overblown costs. The tunnel from downtown to Roosevelt was expensive but not preposterous, so it can be done, even in Seattle. And the promise of lower costs above ground is clearly spent. Elevated lines can be built cheaply on publicly owned ROWs, but it isn’t that cheap on purchased land, and not if there are two bridges and a high level viaduct as in West Seattle.
As a postscript, this is how I would outline expansion if that were undertaken. Two interlined lines going east and west. Since the peak frequency is 90 seconds, interlining only drops this to 3 minutes which is still perfectly doable if expansion were desired in the future.
This paper argues that in much of America the price of housing is quite close to the marginal, physical costs of new construction.
The Introduction goes on at some length to emphasis that it is about the cost of housing and not meant to address the issue of poverty. This is key to recognize because it separates the homeless issue from the affordability of housing. As it states on page 4, “To us, a housing affordability crisis means that housing is expensive relative to its fundamental costs of production, not that people are poor.” This is a key concept when related to supply and demand. People who aren’t in the market for a home by definition are not part of demand as it relates to economics. They may want a house, they may need a place to live, but they are not influencing the market price of homes. Or, as they say in the paper, “Hence, we focus on the gap between housing costs and construction costs.”
The publishing of the Central Tacoma Link Extension (CTLE) proposal within this blog has stirred a large debate regarding how Link should properly serve the City of Tacoma over a decade from now. There was broad agreement that terminating services at Tacoma Dome Station was deeply unsatisfactory, with most commenters agreeing that a natural terminus for the regional metro system is, indeed, Downtown Tacoma.
However, among the many proponents of such an extension, there were legitimate concerns of how it would be accomplished. Where CTLE came under routine fire was on two fronts: its interaction with the existing streetcar system, and the location of the Central Tacoma Station. Although these points are addressed extensively on these pages and on other websites, they are real concerns that warrant further investigation. The CTLE surface option remains the cheapest and most cost effective manner of delivering trains into Central Tacoma. That station, even without extensive bus connections, has independent utility as a rail station in an urban core. Still, it is worthy to consider alternative alignments into Tacoma that: one, have no impacts on the existing streetcar system; two, more finely integrate Link with the existing Downtown transit corridor along Commerce Street, and; three, furthers the conversation of getting trains into the city center.
When we last left our intrepid duo, they had arrived at PDX with a comfortable half hour cushion to catch the return Cascades train to Seattle. Comfortable is a relative term, since by 7PM it was about 90 degrees inside Union Station. No air conditioning but wind tunnel ceiling fans really helped. And since this was the first day of the heat dome the stone and masonry structure had managed to keep things 10-15 degrees cooler than outside.
The station seemed strangely crowded for a Cascades 7:30 train to Seattle. And by crowded, I mean 75% of the seating in use plus people sitting on the floor (marble?) to try and cool off. Amtrak provided free pint size bottles of water which were quickly gone, but there was a plumbed in water cooler across from the gift shop/cafe that I used to refill my water bottle several times. Regular water fountains were shut down due to Covid, but the bathrooms were well maintained and they seemed to have some method of keeping the street campers out of the building.
This is part two of our trip Saturday June 26th (wrong date given in part 1) from Seattle to Portland via Amtrak and using Trimet to explore the city. As a reminder, this was the weekend of record breaking temperatures in the Pacific Northwest which had serious consequences for rail travel.
Our primary destination was the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Many transit options from Union Station to ORHC exist, but the most straightforward was to use the MAX Orange line. We could see the MAX trains from Union Station and walked over to NW 6th Avenue. Having been forewarned of the large number of street campers, we weren’t shocked but amazed at how they had taken over the city. The first stop we came to, the ticket vending machine wasn’t working. We walked over to 5th and bought HOP day passes with my credit card for $5; and not a tent in sight.
I have to give Portland transit an A rating. Not an A+ because some of the signage and info on their transit maps is not clear unless you know the system. Like, what does this green square mean on the MAX “Orange Line” train we’re boarding. The colors and direction arrows are also really hard to read on the TriMET map and they have streetcars and MAX lines that use the same colors. It wasn’t yet noon, but already hot and muggy, so the air conditioning on MAX was most welcome. The Green Line train we were on ended at Portland State University. After a short wait we boarded a train with a little orange square and were treated to a ride across the Willamette River on the transit-only Tilikum Crossing Bridge, where we noted we could catch a streetcar for our return trip.
Saturday, July 2nd, my son and I took Amtrak Cascades from Seattle to Portland. Train 503 was scheduled to depart King Street Station at 7:25AM. We opted to take ST Express from Mercer Island P&R into Seattle. Our goal was to arrive at 6:30 a.m. to catch the 6:36 a.m. bus. We ended up making a big circle to find the entrance to the P&R and got to Bay 1 just in time to watch our bus pull away at 6:35. Our backup bus was the 554 scheduled to leave Mercer Island at 6:48 arriving at 4th and Jackson at 7:02. The bus didn’t show up until 7:00 which was going to make it really tight to catch our train. Fortunately there’s no traffic at that time on a Saturday morning and we boarded the train with 5 minutes to spare.
We took seats at the very back of the train facing backward. Normally I’m not a fan of facing away from the direction of travel but this gave us leg room and an unobstructed view of an entire window facing west. The train departed on time and after a peekaboo view of Boeing Field we were at Tukwila Station 12 minutes later. The ride from Tukwila to Tacoma was uneventful. I did notice that the speed and quality of ride was far superior to the experience I’ve had riding Sounder on the upper level. I’m also left to wonder why Amtrak Cascades stops at Tukwila but not at Puyallup or Auburn.
NOTE: This post is copied in its entirety from an article I wrote. It is the latest entry of my blog, Transportation Matters.
Do consider the lunacy of the journey foisted upon the traveling public: after riding at least 80 minutes from Capitol Hill or Downtown Seattle in order to reach Tacoma, riders must disembark Link and await an untimed streetcar transfer—for an additional 15 to 25 minutes of travel time—all to reach the UW Tacoma campus, the city’s premier museums, key bus transfers, inner-city neighborhoods, and the workplaces of the downtown. To any reasonable person unfamiliar with the current rail arrangement in Tacoma, this would be deeply illogical rail planning. And yet this will be the Tacoma rail transit future, the consequence of early 1990s urban planning for a then-stricken community, financed in 2016 for a city on the rebound, and not opening until ±2032 to service a city that has since been utterly remade.
Sound Transit should strongly consider extending Link Light Rail into Central Tacoma.The agency should be advancing such an alignment not only because it makes the most sense from a community and transit-planning perspective, but also because rail investments of this sort clearly have a dramatic impact on their adjacent neighborhoods. Tacoma is primed to accept new urban development and continue to grow into a regional urban showcase—as long as the rail facilities are provided.
It’s no secret that Puget Sound region is experiencing a housing affordability crisis. It’s also not a shock anymore that our climate is changing—fast—and our continued reliance on cars is only accelerating that crisis. However, even in the densest spaces in our region we continue to advance policies that make housing more expensive and residents more car-dependent, worsening both of these crises simultaneously.
Parking minimums have long been a cornerstone of unnecessary zoning restrictions across the United States and our region, however Bellevue’s current parking regulations are still regressive even by our standards. In most of Downtown Bellevue, all new residential developments are still required to build parking spaces for every unit of housing they build. Even in areas near frequent transit, exemptions are minor in scope, only reducing this minimum to 0.75 parking spaces for every 1 unit of housing.
This is most visible in the ridiculous amount of parking being built in new housing developments right now. Plaza 200, an 8-story mixed-use residential development in the heart of downtown at NE 2nd & 115th Ave, is a prime example of this problem. Despite being within 15-minute walking distance of 2 future light rail stations and within 10-minute walking distance of multiple all-day frequent bus routes, the 180 unit building will be built with 150 spaces of parking. If you count the 3 underground stories of parking, this 11-story building will be more than a quarter parking spaces.
The immense amount of parking will continue to incentivize residents and visitors to retail in the building to drive, creating more emissions and congestion on downtown streets. Meanwhile, the cost of 3 below-grade stories of parking will make the building much more expensive to build, increasing rents for future residents and business tenants, continuing to price more out from an already expensive area.
It’s absurd for Bellevue to claim that they acknowledge crises in climate and housing when their policies continue to force these sorts of buildings to be built. If Bellevue wants to get serious about creating a sustainable downtown open to everyone, parking minimums must go.
Thanks to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection’s (SDCI) public service of sending out local project design review notifications via post, I was recently made aware of a new, substantial West Seattle residential project nearby my home that checks many of the STB readership must-have boxes: Less than one-quarter of a mile from a RapidRide stop, within an urban village boundary, and in a newly-upzoned area thanks to HALA (SF 5000 to LR3-M2). The project will sound familiar to readers of this publication: demolish three single-family houses on three lots to create 36 new residences across three buildings of varying size (but none less than three stories). The project proposes only 15 parking spots, all surface and accessed from an improved alleyway, and storage for 36 bicycles. It’s not perfect, and I’ll discuss why in a moment, but it is absolutely a net positive over the current uses and represents a pragmatic realization of exactly what HALA set out to do.
When I dug into the glossy design document provided by the developer, I found that community feedback largely supported the increased density, asked for a wide variety of unit types (including elusive 3-bedroom units), and called on the developer to create safe paths for pedestrians and cyclists near and through the site. Predictably, there was also the token shout-out to parking availability concerns, which the developer has attempted to address and which I do not personally believe are problematic living mere blocks from the project site.
Most interesting to me though is the fact that the design document included not only the go-forward plan, but also two other design concepts both larger than the preferred alternative: five stories with 59 units plus 18 parking spaces, and three-to-five stories with 57 units and 31 parking spaces (both feature parking shared between surface and below-ground). So, the developer’s preferred choice represents design concept minima in both residential capacity and parking — which also places a reduced upper-bound on revenue-generating potential of the site as well.
This is a difficult balance to strike, and to me, an interesting meditation on urbanism: if I could make a decision by fiat, which concept would I select? (Not the same thing as “if could build anything here, what would it be?”) None of the proposed solutions perfectly represent the dual facts that humanity faces a global climatological emergency and that Seattle suffers an immediate and dramatic gap in housing density and availability close to frequent transit. The developer chose the proposal with the least amount of parking in raw, but not parking-per-residential-unit terms. The proposal also doesn’t include any of the community-requested 3-bedroom residential units, which I consider to be essential additions to a densifying community. The design packet includes Floor-Area Ratio (FAR) percentages, and the chosen proposal is again, the lowest of the three at 77%. But, would the larger proposals (99.5% and 96.8% respectively) meet with enough community opposition that we’d end up with the smaller site plan in the end anyway, and everyone has just wasted their time? To me this is a classic illustration of the politics of compromise (and realpolitik) and choosing one’s battles wisely — and just how hard those things can be.
This situation shows that density battles have to be won in the wonky trenches of design reviews, something I believe this readership is well-positioned to influence. SDCI obviously reviews the comments it receives from the community during the comment phases of these reviews, and they seem to capture additional ideas not directly gathered by the developer during their own feedback-gathering process. So, I can’t stress this enough: when you see a Design Review sign nearby or get a notification in the mail (or see something nearby on SDCI’s handy GIS map), do the work to find the application design packet and send in comments — quickly. The comment period for most Administrative Design Review actions seems to be just two weeks.
Again, this project is a win in all respects over the status quo — but maybe it could be better, and that paying attention to the Design Review process and sending in comments is a path to winning density battles on the ground where good projects become great ones.
An idea I have rattling around in my seemingly-touched head, is to suggest a safe way to re-open travel between these two interconnected cities.
The idea has its nadir in the proposal by WTA prior to I-695’s (and 9/11’s) damage, to operate a joint service with TransLink between Bellingham and Vancouver. Transit Windsor’s TunnelBus service is further inspiration vis-a-vis preclearance.
In this idea, the concept would be to have a pre-clearance site at Fairhaven and at Pacific Central Station. Passengers would be screened and boarded onto a Coast Mountain Bus Company coach, and driven directly to the other terminus, with a 5 minute stop at the Port of Entry, using the priority screening lane. This would allow the route to have a predictable schedule, without having to pad for severe delays.
Metro is in Phase 3 of the North Link Connections Mobility Project. Their proposed network is disappointing, but understandable. Instead of increased frequency, there are cuts (due to funding issues). This is my proposal based on their ideas.
About the Map
You can see a full size map by clicking in the corner. The map is interactive — the check boxes will display or hide different routes. I’ve tried to be as detailed as possible on the map, although buses on one-way streets are shown only in one direction.
Most of the buses follow Metro’s proposed routing, and most of those are unchanged. The 301 is the only two-way peak bus route. Every other “Peak Only” bus is peak direction.
There are four basic themes with my proposal:
Consolidate routes as a way to increase frequency on corridors.
Worry less about transfers, and more about frequency and speed.
Trips — including those involving transfers — should be in the same basic direction.
64 — This will be truncated at the Roosevelt Park and Ride. This provides riders with a fast connection to Link. It is more cost effective than increasing frequency on the 65.
302 — This gives Richmond Beach riders a faster trip to Northgate, where it ends.
303 — Like Metro’s routing, except truncated at Northgate.
304 — This replaces the Shoreline Park and Ride section with the deleted part of the 302. As with all of the Shoreline changes, riders have faster alternatives to get to Northgate, and other ways of getting to Aurora Village.
312 — Truncated at Green Lake Park and Ride (like the 522). Side Note: I wish the 312 and 522 were reversed. The 312 (with more stops) should run all day, while the 522 (limited stop express) should only run during rush hour. But that is unlikely to happen without greater cooperation between the two agencies.
All Day Routes:
61 — This is a new bus, based on Metro’s previous proposal. I extend it all the way to 32nd Avenue NW. Crown Hill has plenty of density (and existing ridership) and this would connect to all of the north-south Ballard buses (the D, 28 and 40). Although the section between 15th and 32nd is pretty cheap, I would expect ridership to go down there. If layover space could be found at 15th, that would be ideal. If push comes to shove, then I could live with the layover in Greenwood. That would preserve the core of the 61 — a fast bus connecting Lake City, Northgate and Greenwood (with a connection to the E).
62 — This is a fairly simple change that allows for faster travel between Roosevelt and Wallingford/Fremont, the core of the route. If for some reason the bus can’t turn on 55th/56th, at the very least it should stay on 65th to Woodlawn. Even though there is only one bus through there, no one will have to walk far to catch it (and for many, it will be a lot more frequent).
65 — This would run through campus both directions. I don’t have a strong preference for running through campus or by the Montlake triangle. If it is faster to run by the triangle, then do that. I just want the 65 and 75 (and to a lesser extent the 372) to serve the same stops whenever possible. That way someone trying to get to the U-Village, Children’s Hospital or Lake City can use the same bus stop, and have double the frequency.
67 — This combines the 67 and 73 for a faster, straighter, more frequent bus. As with any change, there is a trade-off. A small number of riders on 15th will have to walk a bit farther. It is harder to catch a bus from Maple Leaf to Northgate. But with the existing 67, very few people did that. This is understandable, since it is often faster to just walk, even if you are standing by the bus stop, and the bus is right there. Those that don’t want to walk can always make a transfer (to Link or a frequent set of buses).
In exchange, this would give a lot of people (north of Northgate Way) a more frequent, fast, one seat-ride to Maple Leaf, Roosevelt and the UW. Combined with the 347/348, it gives a lot of those riders a more frequent, fast connection to Link. Most riders, of course, won’t notice the difference, but will appreciate better frequency on this, or other buses that come from combining these routes.
The other change to the 67 is to combine service with the 45, between 45th and 65th. As much as I hate to abandon that part of the Roosevelt/12th corridor, we need more frequency on The Ave. It is a short walk (three or four minutes) from Roosevelt/12th to University Way. If the bus ran on Roosevelt/12th, those that are trying to connect to Link would have to walk most of those blocks anyway.
26 — The existing 26 does not perform well through the preserved section. It carries fewer riders north of 45th than south of it. Nor is it essential for coverage. North of 65th, the 26 is never far from the 45 or 61. South of 65th, the new 62 covers most of the route. There is no reason to save what would be a low ridership, poor coverage route.
73 — The 67 replaces it.
322, 361 — Not needed. The 312 replaces service on SR 522 (to complement the 522) while the all-day 61 replaces the 361.
To get a rough idea of service levels, we can compare costs and savings versus Metro’s proposal. My proposal truncates 144 trips that would otherwise go to First Hill or South Lake Union. The 26 and 73 are gone. These service savings are put into the addition of the 61 . At worse the 61 would run only to Greenwood, but still have 15 minute all-day frequency. The 62 is a bit faster, while the 67 is a bit longer. Other changes are revenue neutral.
Ultimately it would lead to the type of network that Metro originally proposed, even if it doesn’t have the big increase in frequency we all want. If and when the funding situation improves, we will already have the buses in place to take full advantage of it.
Metro is in Phase 3 of the North Link Connections Mobility Project. They have proposed running several rush-hour buses past Link stations to First Hill and South Lake Union. This is a bad idea.
The Express Routes
Here is a listing of the express routes, and the number of trips each will take:
64 — Lake City, Wedgwood, Roosevelt, South Lake Union, Downtown (24 trips a day) 302 — Richmond Beach, Aurora Village, Northgate, First Hill (26 trips a day) 303 — Aurora Village, Northgate, First Hill (26 trips a day) 322 — Kenmore, Roosevelt, First Hill (37 trips a day) 361 — Kenmore, Roosevelt, South Lake Union, Downtown (31 trips a day)
All of the routes go by a Link station before heading over the ship canal. They only operate during rush-hour, when Link will be frequent. In many cases, these routes will spend more time getting to downtown than they do getting to Link. Since most of the riders will simply get off at Link, the ridership per hour will be far less than if the bus stopped at a station.
We can see today that the express buses generally don’t perform well. Even the buses that run to downtown Seattle lag other routes. The 372 performs better than the 312, and a lot better than the 309. The 65 and 75 dwarf the 64. It isn’t about total ridership, but ridership per hour. The 309 and 312 carry a lot of people, but those buses spend a lot of time getting to downtown, and traveling through it. It is much more efficient to just end the route at the station.
There are also issues with crowding. On some corridors (like Lake City Way) the buses are often full. It is common for riders to see a 522 or 312 go by before they can get on. Thus it is quite possible that many of the riders who want that one-seat ride to First Hill or South Lake Union will end up taking a 522 anyway. At that point, it isn’t clear if they get anything out of the express.
I don’t think there will be many riders that will transfer (or walk) to a bus headed to South Lake Union or First Hill. The main transfer point will be a Link station, where the train will be more frequent, and often faster. It would be crazy to take a train from the U-District up to Roosevelt or Northgate, just so you can catch a bus to First Hill, or South Lake Union. At best these buses perform similar to the existing 64 or 312 — subpar, and much worse than a truncated version of the same route.
I have no doubt that some riders will find these buses popular. I would like an express bus from my house to my work. But they simply aren’t cost effective, and make no sense when other service is being cut. It is hard to see why folks in Wallingford no longer have a fast one-seat ride to downtown Seattle (via the 26), but others avoid an easy transfer.
Link light rail will run frequently, and be able to carry plenty of riders. It doesn’t make sense to waste precious transit resources pretending it doesn’t exist. The money would be better spent increasing frequency in other parts of the network.
Metro has set a tentative date for the conclusion of fare-free rides and rear-door boarding: May 31. But the question on nobody’s mind: If I have a non-employer ORCA card, should I load a June pass on it?
The best way to approach this is to load—online, that is—the amount of prepaid value (“e-purse”) that is equivalent to a monthly pass ($54 for ORCA LIFT, $99 for Metro and Sound Transit Express) to your ORCA card. That way, you’re ready to convert the e-purse to a monthly pass once the reinstatement of fares become more certain, and you’re ready to ride again.
Metro is in Phase 2 of the North Link Connections Mobility Project. This is my proposal based on their proposed network.
About the Map
The map is interactive. The check boxes will display or hide different routes.
I’ve tried to be as detailed as possible on the map, although buses on Roosevelt are only shown going south (on Roosevelt itself, not on 12th).
Most of the buses either follow the current routing, or Metro’s proposed routing, although there are some significant differences. None of the buses go on I-5 over the ship canal (a subject worthy of its own post). There is more bidirectional peak service. Routes in the U-District involve fewer turns, which should speed things up. I’ve added a few routes, removed a few, and created new pairings, as follows:
45 ↔ 65 67 ↔ 75
Peak Direction Only
302 — This replaces the coverage part of the 301/302, while providing some riders on Aurora with a one seat ride to Shoreline Community College. Most of this route is low ridership, so the extra time spent around Bitter Lake should fill up the bus, while saving Bitter Lake riders some time.
304 — Much faster bus to Richmond Beach.
Peak Only Bidirectional Routes
25 — The 25 is essentially an express version of the 62. Unlike Metro’s proposal, it covers the most densely populated parts of Wallingford. It is bidirectional, as there should be riders who want a faster ride to the UW.
63 — This is a relatively fast coverage route that goes by a lot of apartments, making quick connections to Link. It makes a new crossing of I-5 (that would have to be approved by SDOT). The success (or failure) of that crossing could give Metro data for sending the 45 the same way.
64 — This is a borderline route, but it saves a considerable amount of time for riders on 35th trying to get to Link. There may not be a lot of riders taking it in reverse peak direction, but it isn’t that expensive to run.
73 — This is a fast, cheap way to deal with overcrowding at both the U-District and Roosevelt stations, while providing some coverage on 15th NE at the one time of day that it carries a significant number of riders.
All Day Frequent Routes
D Line — Extended to Northgate, for the most part following the current 40. It makes one small deviation, using 1st NE (just east of the freeway) to get to the transit center. This is different than the current routing, as well as Metro’s proposed routing for the 40. This should be a little faster than the current routing, and much faster than Metro’s proposed routing.
31/32 — This covers the southern end of the U-District, making it easier to connect to buses heading south (like the 48). It avoids turns, getting to the station faster, while saving service money. These buses are notoriously unreliable, so it doesn’t through route.
40 — Goes to Northgate via 85th, using part of the 61 route proposed by Metro.
45 — Through routes with the 65 (avoiding turns), otherwise it is unchanged. It follows the current routing, not 80th as Metro proposed. There are lots of problems with 80th. The time savings are exaggerated, and there are fewer apartments along the way.
The combination of the D, 40, and 45 means that service is doubled up along 85th, but not on Holman Road. Ridership is much higher along 85th than Holman Road. For example, on the 45, the stop at 85th and 15th is the highest ridership stop outside the U-District. As a result of this change, more riders along 85th would have two buses to Link, as well as more frequent trips across 85th. Crown Hill — which has high ridership on several buses — would have three buses to Link. It would also have two buses to Northgate, in much the way that Lake City has two buses to the U-District.
65 — Through routes with the 45, otherwise unchanged.
67 — Replaces the 73 by going straight instead of looping around. I’ve written about this idea in the past, and now have data to support it. Those on 15th would lose all day service, but less than 35 people a day ride the 73 on this section. Riders on the 67 would have a two seat ride to Northgate, but only about 150 people actually make that trip (and they would have a very frequent transfer). In contrast, there are about 500 existing riders (on the 73 and 373) who would benefit from a more frequent connection between Pinehurst and the UW. There would be significant cost savings from ending all day service on the 73, which would go into improving other parts of the network.
75 — Through routes with the 67, otherwise the same as Metro’s proposed routing.
372 — Follows the Montlake Loop. The main thing is that service is consolidated, not that the outside loop is better than the inside one. More research would have to be done to determine which is faster, and/or saves riders time.
74/79 — The two best pieces of Metro’s infrequent plan, with a solid layover (Green Lake Park and Ride).
81 — This is a new cross town route, similar to the 330. Hopefully both could run every half hour. They might also connect, using 30th instead of Lake City Way. The 330 is one of our most cost effective routes. It has better ridership per hour of service in the middle of the day than the 309 does during rush hour. For a bus that runs every hour, this is astonishing. Most of its ridership is not on the unique coverage area. Riders choose the route in part because the alternatives (e. g. taking the 41 to Northgate, then the 345) are so slow, and indirect. It is a bus worth waiting for, even if the wait can be huge. It is also fast, making service relatively cheap. I believe the 81 will have the same characteristics. Ridership won’t be enormous, but good enough to make this a very competitive route (much better than express buses to First Hill). It would layover where the proposed 16 lays over.
Most of the changes cost about the same as what Metro proposed. Buses should run through the U-District a little bit faster, saving some money. The changes to the 40, 45, D and 61 cost about the same as what Metro proposed (based on my calculations).
There are significant savings made by not sending the rush hour buses to downtown. The 25 is also significantly cheaper. Those savings go into making several of the routes bidirectional, with money left over.
Big savings come from not running the 73 outside of rush hour. In contrast, sending the 67 up to 145th (instead of Northgate) costs only a bit more. A lot of money is also saved by eliminating Metro’s proposed 23. That should more than pay for the new 81, since the 81 is a much faster run.
Overall, ridership should be higher, with no additional spending over what Metro has proposed.
I have the 31/32 laying over at the new loop, next to the U-District station. That would mean that the 31, 32, 48, 49, 70 and 372 all layover there. If that is too many buses in the same spot, I would have the 48 follow the current routing (since it passes by the other Link station).
I also have the 31/32 and 372 turn onto 43rd from University Way (“The Ave”). This would likely require a new stop sign. If this isn’t possible, then both routes would go up 15th instead (and turn with the rest of the buses).
The new pairings I propose would avoid turns and be more reliable, but there is a service mismatch between the routes. Hopefully there will be enough savings to justify increasing frequency to ten minutes across the board. If not, then 12 minutes would be fine. This would mean a small degradation on some routes, and a small improvement in others.
I’ve abandoned Metro’s proposed 23. There simply isn’t enough ridership along there to justify a new line.
A few of the rush-hour only routes are borderline, and perhaps not worth having. I think a few fairly short rush hour routes are worth having, just to see how popular they are. For example, the 64 might have high ridership, as folks prefer going to the Roosevelt Station for trips that don’t involve the UW. Likewise, for political reasons, folks who are used to having all-day service may object to having none at all.
All three Stride BRT lines are set to launch in 2024. While there are some refinements on the north side of I-405 with expansion of the express toll lanes and new inline stops, BRT benefits will be more significant on the south side of I-405, which is getting express toll lanes for the first time (compared to the frustratingly ineffective HOV2 lanes on the corridor today).
While freeway improvements would go a long way to improving express bus service in this corridor, there is still a problem of how service is organized and routed currently. Today’s bus service is a mix of remnants of the old service pattern from the early 2000s (when Bellevue buses went to Federal Way and South Hill) and new route 567 service which takes advantage of timed Sounder transfers and the new HOV ramp between I-405 and SR 167. (In the spirit of full disclosure, 3 out of 8 of these points affect me very directly, and were key motivators in my writing this post)
Here are some issues with the system as it stands now:
Auburn to Bellevue service is part of the 566 rather than the 567, so riders are faced with the uncomfortable decision to take the 566 or Sounder and transfer to the 567, or take the 566 all the way, unsure of what will get them there faster.
Current 567 trips (which connects 1 to 1 with Sounder trains) very often fill up in Kent after the train arrives, requiring passengers to choose between waiting for the next 567 (20 minutes later) or dealing with the slower 566.
Service in Renton is oriented around picking up many people along local stops and serving the Boeing plant, without requiring passengers to transfer, no matter where or from they are going. This is a problem because it slows service substantially, despite relatively few people utilizing these stops compared to major stops like Renton TC.
Specifically, Renton-Bellevue service is interlined with “pseudo 10-minute” headways, where the 560 and 566 are coordinated to run every 10 minutes from Renton to Bellevue. The problem with this is that the 560 serves both freeway stations on I-405 (whereas the 566 serves none, usually), so 560 takes longer. This requires schedule tricks when going northbound (560 leaves a few minutes earlier than 10 minutes after the 566 to get to Bellevue at the same time). And southbound in the evening, this trick doesn’t even work at all (560 takes more than 10 minutes longer than the 566, so the next 566 trips are scheduled to leave Renton TC before the previous 560 does).
2/3 of northbound morning Renton-Bellevue service comes directly from Kent on SR-167 (route 566), and as this gets congested with rush-hour traffic, it often severely delays trips from Renton before they even start (a scenario that most major rush-hour service avoids, such as Federal Way to Seattle on the 577, Renton to Seattle on the 101, and Kent to Bellevue and Seattle on the 567 and Sounder). This is further worsened when getting back on the freeway, as all northbound buses use the Southport Drive to I-405 N ramp, which has a meter queue that often extends much past the point where the bus can bypass the queue, requiring the bus to wait 10+ minutes sometimes just to get back on the freeway.
566 doesn’t run all the way to Auburn sometimes, serves the I-405 freeway station sometimes, but also only runs from Auburn to Renton, sometimes. This leads to confusion for both passengers and operators, major inconvenience for people who jump in and get on the wrong bus, and undoubtedly scares people who currently drive from taking the bus because they don’t think they can figure it out.
560 service from west of the airport is particularly long and circuitous, and does not have either speed or frequency improvements at peak, where the experience is the worst.
Service to Overlake on the 566 and 567 is very inefficient, with a ton of recovery time at Bellevue TC southbound, which takes up valuable space in the transit center. Traffic between Overlake and Bellevue TC is very volatile, so this recovery time really is necessary to ensure timely service from Bellevue TC (where the bulk of passengers board).
While the opening of Stride BRT in four years will solve many (but not all) of these problems, four years is too long to wait for solving problems that keep people in their cars and punish people who choose to take the bus when it matters the most. I have a proposed restructure that addresses all of these issues, though it is almost certainly not revenue neutral.
Route 567: Kent, Bellevue (every 20 minutes when 568 is over capacity, timed with Sounder)
Route 568: Auburn, Kent, Bellevue (every 20 minutes. Timed with Sounder at Kent when demand is low, halfway in-between Sounder trains when demand is high and 567 is running)
560: Westwood Village, Burien, SeaTac Airport, Renton, both freeway stations, Bellevue (every 30 minutes)
566 Auburn, Kent, Renton, The Landing (every 60 minutes. North and south bound timed to meet with 560 for service to/from Bellevue, similar to today)
One note about Overlake service on the 546. It is meant to be dynamic, meaning that the operator (which would ideally be Metro) would start with the 4 or so buses required to maintain 10 minute headways under ideal conditions (which is very fast). As conditions worsen, buses may be added to the 546 if necessary from peak directional trips on routes 545 and 550 which would normally go to Bellevue Base. So traffic is bad on 520 and 405 and the buses in service on the 546 will not be able to maintain headways, 545 and 550 operators who finished their last peak runs and who are already near a terminus of the 546 will add their buses to the 546. 546 southbound will also dynamically switch from I-405 to 112th Ave NE when I-405 gets slower (Exactly like the 232 does all the time).
All restructures are tradeoffs, with winners and losers. Here are the big winners in this scenario:
Kent and Auburn to Bellevue riders (and also, via Sounder, Sumner, Puyallup, Tacoma, and Lakewood to Bellevue riders), who see an improvement in both speed, frequency, and capacity on the 567/new 568 pair.
Riders on the I-405 freeway stations going to Bellevue or Renton, who see both a frequency boost (from 30 to 20 minute headways), and a speed boost compared to the 560 today.
Potential riders at Myers-Briggs P&R and the 128th street/SR 509 freeway station, who are getting service to Renton and Bellevue for the first time. This is due to the 560 and 562 using the 509 freeway, which is very fast in the reverse peak direction (which is really the peak direction for riders heading to Renton and Bellevue).
Here are overall winners, with some tradeoffs and sacrifices:
Renton to Bellevue, who are no longer subject to traffic on SR 167, and are only subject to either traffic delays from Burien or from the airport (not both). Service is faster in Renton, the bus gets on the freeway faster, and the 10 minute service is real 10 minute service. Rather than piecing together 10 minute headways with both fast and slow buses, buses are all medium, serving one freeway station each. This slows down all buses from Renton a little bit, but they are slowed equally, while still giving the freeway stations more and faster service.
Burien and Westwood Village to Renton and Bellevue riders, who get a much faster ride during peak, at the cost of headways going from 30 to 40 minutes. Though farther from frequent service, the quality of service is much better, and probably usually saves more than 10 minutes per trip.
Here are people whose experience is roughly a wash, or a little bit worse:
Riders from Overlake in the evening, who now have to transfer and will very often get different buses from Bellevue depending on how bad traffic is.
SeaTac Airport to Bellevue, who get reduced frequency (40 minute headways), but get a faster trip through Renton and on I-405 (due to serving one less freeway station).
Riders from the Landing (north Renton) to Bellevue, who currently enjoy being the last stop (or near the last stop) before Bellevue currently. They keep a one-seat ride, but their frequency drops to 10 minutes and they have to backtrack to Bellevue TC first. Once on the freeway, the have the benefit of faster routing and only serving one freeway station on the way to Bellevue. They also have the benefit of getting first dibs on seats on the bus, and have the most reliable trip (as the fewer buses that serve the Landing begin at the Landing).
Finally, the losers in this scenario:
Auburn to Renton and Kent to Renton (particularly to the Boeing plant) are the big losers, needing to take alternative service during peak. The best alternative for these passengers is usually to take Sounder and transfer to the F-Line.
Passengers going between the two I-405 freeway stations. These riders can take Metro service like the 101, 167, and 342, but overall have much lower frequency. These riders are not affected off-peak.
Riders along Ambaum Blvd near a 560 express stop, who enjoy current 560 service. They will require a transfer all the time, to the 120 (and later the RapidRide H-Line).
Peak riders from the airport to Burien or Westwood Village, who will need to take infrequent route 180 to Burien, and then possibly another bus to get to their destination.
It is certain that this restructure would help many more people than it hurts, but it is likely more expensive to operate than the current network. It would probably require significant increase in spending in the East King County subarea, since there would be more bus service overall on I-405, and one new route that is entirely within the East King subarea. Other routes may be able to draw on funds from the South King subarea, and the 562 in particular has some speed improvements that may make it efficient enough to run with one fewer coach off-peak than the 560 does. Combined frequency from Renton could be adjusted to be 15 minutes instead of 10, and that might make it revenue neutral (and to be honest, I kind of prefer real 15 minute frequency to fake 10 minute frequency). But one thing is for sure: waiting until 2024 to improve ST Express bus service here that has numerous issues will hurt ridership once the BRT line is open, and will keep people in their cars for longer when traffic is at its worst. And that is unacceptable.
Metro has recently posted updated recommendations for their upcoming Renton-Kent-Auburn mobility bus restructure. I find these changes exciting as a former rider of some of these routes, especially considering my former weekly 3-seat evening trip from Kent to Federal Way. Though understandably this has gotten less attention than other, more significant restructures like the North Eastside restructure.
Overall, the restructure proposal is quite solid, and is a major upgrade for existing service in the area. However, I have my own take on the proposed changes and some different recommendations for some changes. First, here’s a link to my own map that shows only routes that are changed from the proposal or status quo, as well as entirely new routes that replace other routes in the proposal. Though note that I have not done any service hour math on these to see if it is revenue neutral (though I suspect that it might be), and I have not done any formal route planning work or training.
Routes 102, 148, and 906
Metro notes that Fairwood riders of route 102 to Seattle have a long and slow trip, and that a Sounder connection on route 906 would be faster. While that may be true, it seems to me that the slowness of route 102 is more of a problem of bus routing than an insurmountable obstacle. The fact that route 102 runs as an express for such a short portion of its route between Renton and downtown Seattle seems to be the real issue. If that weren’t the case, then it seems to me that riding a revised route 906 in two loops around Tukwila before transferring to Sounder would not be faster at all.
So my proposal is to move route 102 to run on I-5 south to I-405, and then exit at Rainier Ave S. in Renton, which brings it right to the doorstep of S. Renton P&R. I also propose not making routing changes to routes 148 and 906. Why I-405? It seems attractive because it has good direct access ramps to/from HOV (SB 405 HOV lane becomes a ramp to the left lane of I-5 north, and I-5 south has a left-hand ramp to I-405 north, which is easily accessible from the HOV lane). It also avoids local stops on MLK (which would still be served by the 101) and Rainier Ave S. in Renton (though that’s not so bad since it has BAT lanes). More importantly, route 102 could stay on I-5 until Seneca street in downtown Seattle, skipping SODO, and using the saved service hours to run to South Lake Union to increase the user base. It seems to me that before complaining that the 102 is just too slow for Fairwood, they could at least consider making it an actual express before they throw in the towel.
F-Line, New Route 110
I’ve proposed making the F-line faster for every trip, by making the connection to Southcenter more brief, and spending more time on Southcenter Blvd. It would require HOV or BAT lanes on Southcenter Blvd, which could be from 61st Ave to Interurban Ave eastbound, as well as SW Grady Way east of Interurban Ave westbound (which would probably require some widening or lane reconfiguration on the bridge), and a bus queue jump at the normally right-turn only lane at Interurban Ave. If it sounds like much, it’s not really much compared to real BRT, but these are the kinds of target changes that could make RapidRide F Line at least a little worthy of its name.
This means that RapidRide F line would skip Tukwila Sounder Station. This is because Sounder has only a handful of morning trips and a handful of evening trips (and a few reverse peak trips), and that doesn’t warrant all-day, frequent 7-day service unless it can be served reasonably on the way (which I don’t think it can). For replacement service, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with timed, targeted Sounder service (like there was before the F-line restructure in 2014). So my proposal is also to bring back the 110, restoring a timed Sounder connection to Boeing Renton and Kenworth. The bus would skip Renton TC since its ridership would come from Sounder.
It’s curious that Metro recommends transferring route 102 riders to Sounder while not route 157 riders. Route 157 could be more directly routed and truncated at Tukwila Station without being circuitous. If that were to happen, then the very small number of trips (4 morning, 3 evening) could be expanded, perhaps enough to connect to every peak direction train. For efficiency, this route could through route with route 110, something that works because route 157 would drop passengers off who would get on the train, and route 110 would be meant to pick passengers up from the train. So operating both with one bus could be quite efficient, even more so than running trippers all the way to downtown Seattle.
Routes 165, 191
Another weird quirk of Metro’s proposal is the continuation of redundant bus service to downtown Seattle from Kent Station and places east (new route 162), while eliminating routes 158/159. And in fact, they are making this one-seat ride to Seattle slower by merging it with route 192.
My proposal is to not do route 162 at all, and replace routes 158, 159, 190, and 192 with two routes: a north-south route primarily on Military Road to connect to Angle Lake station (route 191), and an east-west route primarily on S. 260th, Reith road, and Meeker street, which is timed to connect to Sounder trains (route 165).
Route 191 would run like route 190 from Redondo Heights P&R, run on Military Road like route 190, and continue on Military Road (or could also take a short hop in I-5) until S. 200th Street, where it could end and connect to Angle Lake Station. This would be a hard sell because everyone’s trip would likely be slower, but in turn, route 191 could run very frequently or possibly even all day. And while Link would probably be slower than an I-5 express, it would be a consistent trip, and passengers would get first access to coveted rush-hour seats on the train. It would also greatly simplify access to other places like UW and the Airport.
Route 165 would bring new service to certain areas of Kent and Des Moines. It would start at Highline College where other buses have a layover space, and run on 16th Ave S (a major neighborhood corridor paralleling the even more major Pacific Highway corridor) until S. 260th Street, turning left and following the road as it becomes Reith Road and then W. Meeker Street. Then it follows the current 183 route, except following Lincoln Ave to James Street P&R, and dropping off at Kent Station timed to meet Sounder to Seattle. Routes 191 and 141 together (along with routes 166 and 183 both running east-west to the north and the south, respectively) would create a robust peak coverage grid, giving a large portion of local residents access to some form of rail service to Seattle with a connector bus.
This is another Sounder connector route created to fill in some of the gap made by speeding up the F-Line. The route would run from Angle Lake Station, following a coverage route through SeaTac and Southcenter, connecting to Sounder trains at Tukwila Station. Service would partially duplicate route 156, so route 156 could be consolidated to run in both directions on Military Road and S. 164th Street, while rotue 141 could take the other branch on S. 170th Street. The route would through route with the current route 154 to Federal Center South in exactly the same was as my proposed route 157 would through route with proposed route 110. Additionally, the reason route 141 would start at Angle Lake Station even though very few if any riders would ride from that far to get to Sounder is that certain trips from route 191 could become route 141 (after a longer than usual layover, to ensure that it gets to Tukwila in time to make the train reliably), so it’s operationally efficient in this scenario to start all the way at Angle Lake Station.
This means that on the whole, instead of spending a ton of money on trippers from park and rides to Seattle, we instead have three routes (191, 141, and 154), all with different use cases and audiences, all being able to be run with a single bus.
Metro’s proposal has route 183 run every half hour rather than every hour on Saturday, but still not run at all on Sunday. I propose instead running the bus every hour on both Saturday and Sunday, and expanding frequency later when more resources become available. Especially with route 166 being moved off of Meeker Street, and considering that the rest of route 183 serves a unique area with no other options, expanding baseline service to 7 days/week seems more important than expanding frequency at this point.
I suggest extending service from the proposed route 184 (the south part of current route 180) into Lakeland Hills, currently only served at peak by Sounder connector Pierce Transit route 497. It is a opportunity created by separating off route 184 from route 180. Funding for service could be done by consolidating with route 497 and maybe working out an agreement with Pierce Transit. Marginally not a ton of additional ridership would be added, but in aggregate this route could be quite popular and bring much more neighborhood transit access to more of SE Auburn.
Things are getting busy on the Eastside. Light rail tracks and guideways are popping up around Bellevue and Redmond, in a preview of the future of transit on the Eastside. But with the June closure of the Montlake freeway station, SR 520 is about to get busy as well. And with Metro considering various options for truncating 520 bus service at UW Station to take advantage of our existing light rail network, the old life of transit on 520 as an Eastside-downtown workhorse may be finally coming to a close.
Some of this has been a long time coming. Ever since the plan to connect Redmond and Bellevue to Seattle with East Link was approved, the days of the frequent 545 route to downtown Seattle were numbered. Once planning for U-Link restructures began, planners belatedly realized the potential utility in removing buses from downtown in favor of a UW Link transfer, a plan that has (to date) nothing to show for it except evening and weekend 542 service (and even that was likely only done because of the closure of the Montlake freeway station).
There have been various discussions on how to use SR 520 for transit in the long term. Sound transit 2 envisioned a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network, which has apparently devolved into more frequency on the most popular bus routes on the bridge already. There have also naturally been discussions on building light rail on SR-520, becoming more relevant since WSDOT has kept the option of light rail on 520 in consideration in recent designs (realistically meaning that the rail could be build without needing to demolish and reconstruct the main spans of the bridge). Seattle Subway has had shifting opinions on this, at one point favoring a new light rail bridge from Kirkland to Sand Point, then coming around to proposing light rail on 520 and connecting the line to a real First Hill subway.
Though the possibility of light rail on SR 520 is exciting and would dramatically transform how commuters in the Eastside get to Seattle, it’s easy to forget how large of a project that is and how far off it would be. Sound Transit is pushing the limits of its building ability with Sound Transit 3, meaning that work on a 520 line would likely extend well past the 2041 timeframe of the last ST3 projects. Further complicating matters is that construction beyond this point is facing fierce competition from other priorities, such as Ballard-UW, extensions of the planned Ballard and West Seattle lines, and filling holes in our network in First Hill and Belltown. With light rail coming to I-90, many will view an additional line on 520 as redundant and unnecessary. With many (and ofter better) projects competing for resources, it’s hard to think that SR 520 will get light rail on any reasonable timeframe.
The good news? I actually don’t believe that light rail on the 520 bridge is necessary at this point, for a few reasons:
The bridge itself does not have a dedicated bus lane, but it does have the next best thing: HOV 3+ lanes. Convincing WSDOT to convert an HOV 2 lane to HOV 3 is like pulling teeth, but the 520 bridge has them today. Furthermore, all vehicles (including HOV 3+) are subject to a toll, which is an additional incentive to get people to take transit across the bridge, or to take I-90 instead if they must drive (both of which leave more room on the bridge for buses).
There are already two left-side freeway stations on SR-520 between I-405 and the bridge, where light rail would be should we decide to build it. These stations, as they stand today, are almost as high quality from a bus priority and access standpoint as it is possible to build. To access them, buses exit from an existing HOV 3+ lane into a dedicated bus-only lane that extends through both freeway stations all the way to the bridge!
There is direct HOV and bus access at 108th Ave NE, allowing buses from S. Kirkland and Bellevue (both future light rail connection points) to enter the freeway in the HOV 3+ lanes.
Starting this year, SDOT is pouring money into a redesigned Montlake boulevard/SR 520 interchange that has direct HOV 3 access and inline bus stops, that UW-bound buses can use to avoid the long queue of cars at the general purpose ramp.
SDOT is building a reversible direct access access ramp from the SR 520 HOV 3+ lanes to the I-5 express lanes, which will continue as a fifth express lane until Mercer Street, which will be a direct entrance/exit to South Lake Union. When ramp opens in 2023, it will be bus only to start (though it’s unclear why HOVs would be initially excluded), with HOV access coming later. This completely solves an issue that has been puzzling transit planners for years, who have been contemplating painfully circuitous routing to try to directly serve SLU while avoiding a slow downtown. The interim solution is a decent-but-not-ideal route 544, which gets off at the first downtown exit it can safely reach, and heads up a relatively non-congested Fairview avenue, avoiding Mercer Street like the plague.
There are lower-quality right-side freeway stations in Redmond at NE 40th and NE 51st streets, in the vicinity of Microsoft and East Link stations. Though sub-optimal, these stations are past the biggest bottleneck (namely the bridge), and have the benefit of an unusual right-side HOV 2 lane running from I-405 to just north of NE 51st street (with breaks in it to allow SOVs to access freeway exits).
While this may not be the 520 universe you might build from scratch, the fact that this is all already happening and will be fully complete by 2024 with no tax increases, ballot measures, and fights over tunnels is something to be taken full advantage of, rather than torn up to squeeze light rail into. To that end, I propose a comprehensive network of SR-520 buses that serve places all over the east side, combining to form a “virtual light rail line” across 520 that could take advantage of every piece of HOV and bus priority to be nearly as fast as an actual light rail line.
Though this can be nearly as fast as rail would be, it still would probably be somewhat unreliable (though this could be mitigated with some schedule padding at strategic locations). It also has much less capacity than light rail, which is stretched today by peak-level demand on the 541/542. This is primarily mitigated by high frequency service, where there are multiple branches (4 peak, 3 off-peak) that are all frequent on their own, overlapping on 520 creating very frequent service (2.5 minutes peak, 5 minutes off-peak).
Bellevue is getting express service to UW. This is significant because Sound Transit currently plans on having riders from Bellevue to UW take the blue line south through downtown Seattle (a hefty 29 minutes). Though they need to draw the line somewhere, I feel this puts Bellevue at the point of highest inconvenience, and many riders (especially those heading to places north on Link) will be turned off by needing to do a large amount of backtracking.
Sammamish would be well-connected to the regional transportation network, with nearly every destination being two seats or fewer away. North and south Sammamish service is now split at S. Sammamish P&R, where the north route takes the 520 bridge and the south route takes the I-90 bridge. There is no longer a dedicated Sammamish route, as now the Redmond and Issaquah routes simply continue to Sammamish at half frequency, eliminating the need to transfer. This makes Sammamish, which (not incorrectly, in my opinion) felt like a non-consideration in ST3, less of an afterthought by making some sensible tweaks to bus service that already terminates near Sammamish.
South Lake Union is a major destination, which is served during peak by the Redmond lines during (the Kirkland/Bellevue lines go to UW during peak, and all lines go to UW during off-peak). Since the ramp to the I-5 express lanes/Mercer street is reversible, only going one direction at a time, the configuration proposed has a loop through downtown (ideally with a 5-10 minute layover somewhere downtown for buffer time) that starts at SLU and goes counter-clockwise in the morning, and starts at downtown going clockwise in the evening. This ensures that all 520 bus trips (both SLU and UW) have a connection to Link (Westlake and UW, respectively).
Overall, this would require a big increase in service hours, so realistically this kind of thing might be tied to a 2024 ST4 vote, in which ST could fund all these lines. But for the time being, I’ve proposed a Metro/ST split that flips the agency of some existing lines:
The 555/556 would be replaced by the 254, and Metro would operate this route.
The 269 and all the peak Sammamish and Bear Creek Seattle expresses would be replaced by the 543 (peak), 546 (off-peak), and the extended half of 554 trips, all of which ST would operate.
Here are some details by route:
255: The same 255 from Kirkland to UW that is coming in March 2020. Peak headways: 10-12 minutes (slightly worse than 2020), midday/weekend: 15 minutes (same as 2020), evening: 30 minutes (same as 2020)
254: A new route similar to the 555/556 that replaces both, and provides all-day service from UW to S. Kirkland, Bellevue TC, Eastgate and Bellevue College. S. Kirkland P&R is added because Sound Transit operates the 555/556 along 112th Ave NE instead of I-405, believing it to be faster, so adding a stop at S. Kirkland to this route is relatively non-disruptive (because it’s already on the road to S. Kirkland P&R anyway). This route also continues to Bellevue College and Eastgate, since this idea opens up the possibility of giving Bellevue College & Eastgate a fast ride to Bellevue TC all-day, and I don’t believe this route needs to continue to Issaquah (since the 554 will be more frequent by this point). My preferred routing has it take NE 6th to I-90 (utilizing the express toll lanes available in 2024), but this requires using the right-side exits to switch between 405 and 90, so routing along Bellevue Way or the 271 route (with no stops between BTC and BC) may be more sensible. Truncating the 271 in Medina (ideally at one of the freeway stations, and not cross the bridge to Seattle) could partially pay for this route. Peak headways are 10-12 minutes, midday/weekend: 15 minutes, evening: 30 minutes.
544: A variant of the 544 coming in 2020, except more resembling the 545. This route would replace the 545, and would serve downtown Redmond and Redmond TC (rather than Overlake P&R). There would be no stop at S. Kirkland P&R (but an added route 254 would ease transfers to this route from S.Kirkland). It would serve SLU using the previously described loop (a more convenient route than route 544 in 2020). Unlike the 545, this route won’t go to Bear Creek, leaving that to the 543 (which offers a faster and more direct route to Seattle than the 545 does). Peak headways: 10-12 minutes (slightly better than 2020). No service off-peak, as that is offered by the 546.
543: A different variant of the coming 544, except skipping downtown Redmond to serve Bear Creek and Sammamish. Meant to complement the 544,this route takes a direct route between Sammamish, Bear Creek, and SLU. Residents of Sammamish who want to take transit to Seattle or Overlake, but struggles with the weird peak-oriented service that takes them down to I-90, would find this route easier to use. Peak headways: 10-12 minutes, no off-peak service (route 546 is available off-peak)
546: An off-peak-only route that combines the 543 and 544, and goes to UW instead of SLU. Service follows the path of the 542 in UW, the 545 in Redmond, and half of the trips continue to Sammamish. Midday/weekend headways: 15 minutes, weekend: 30 minutes.
554: This route will be largely unchanged, presuming it exists in some form in the East Link restructure. It will likely terminate either at Mercer Island Station or South Bellevue Station (in this case, likely also continuing to Bellevue TC, but could sensibly terminate at S. Bellevue if route 254 is introduced). The important tweak to this route would be extending half of the trips from Issaquah Highlands P&R to South Sammamish P&R, providing the southern portion of Sammamish access to Seattle and Bellevue via I-90 (whereas the northern part accesses Seattle and Bellevue via 520 and the Redmond routes). It seems like such an opportunity that frequent 554 service is coming nearly to Sammamish, and then stops (except for a few late night trips on the 554 heading back to the base through Sammamish). Headways would likely be comparable to the 543/546, but depend on what the headways for the restructured 554 will be.
With that, I think this transit network on 520 will provide service comparable to light rail on the bridge, without:
Absolutely needing to transfer to another bus route to get where you want to go on the eastside.
Spending a lot of money, years, and political capital on building rail when there is already top-tier bus stations and freeway access either built already or under construction.
Focusing Link construction away from places that really need Link light rail service to get much better (like UW-Ballard, Metro 8, or a number of others), and better bus service simply won’t do it.