Page Two articles are from our reader community.

Alternative Link Alignments Into Downtown Tacoma: A Mapped Review

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.

Continue reading “Alternative Link Alignments Into Downtown Tacoma: A Mapped Review”

I Shall Return

Naked bike riders on the Tilikum Bridge

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.

Continue reading “I Shall Return”

PDX to the MAX

SP Daylight and #197

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.

Continue reading “PDX to the MAX”

Saying goodbye to the Point Defiance scenic route

MV Olympic on Ketron Island (photo by the author)

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.

Continue reading “Saying goodbye to the Point Defiance scenic route”

If Link to Tacoma Must Be Built, Do It Right: Send Trains Into the City Center

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.

Continue reading “If Link to Tacoma Must Be Built, Do It Right: Send Trains Into the City Center”

Downtown Bellevue Parking Minimums Must Go

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 lots and garages still dot Bellevue’s urban landscape (SounderBruce, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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.

Plaza 200 renderings show the wide streets of Downtown Bellevue surrounding the building. Credit: Encore Architects

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.

A design review conundrum: maximize housing or minimize parking?

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 commentsquickly. 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.

Cross-Border TransLink-WTA service

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.

Phase 3 Northgate Link Bus Network Proposal

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.

Summary

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:

  1. Consolidate routes as a way to increase frequency on corridors.
  2. Worry less about transfers, and more about frequency and speed.
  3. Trips — including those involving transfers — should be in the same basic direction.
  4. Express buses are truncated at Link stations to increase frequency.

New or Modified Routes

Peak Only:

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.

Deleted Routes:

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.

Service Levels

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.

Truncate Metro Buses After Northgate Link

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.

King County Metro may reinstate fares on May 31

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.

When the pandemic subsides, convert e-purse to a monthly pass by calling Customer Service, or by using any of the Ticket Vending Machines (TVM) at train stations and select park and ride lots. See hours and locations: https://www.soundtransit.org/ride-with-us/how-to-pay/orca-card/how-to-buy-orca-card.

See Metro’s news release: https://kingcountymetro.blog/2020/05/04/metro-adds-trips-and-seat-signs-no-fares-through-may-31/

Phase 2 Northgate Link Bus Network Proposal

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).

Summary

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

Specific Routes

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.

Infrequent Routes

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.

Cost

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.

Other Considerations

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.


Don’t Wait for Stride to Fix Slow ST Express Service

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.

Here is my proposed network map. Note the peak and off-peak layers, as the network has entirely different sets of routes for off-peak than peak.

Here are the list of peak routes:

  • Route 546: Overlake to Bellevue (every 10 minutes)
  • Route 561: SeaTac Airport, Renton, Kennydale Freeway Station, Bellevue (40 minutes)
  • Route 562: Westwood Village, Burien, Renton, Kennydale Freeway Station, Bellevue (40 minutes)
  • Route 563: The Landing, Renton, Newport Hills Freeway Station, Bellevue (20 minutes)
  • 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)

Off-peak routes:

  • 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.

Alternate Renton-Kent-Auburn Restructure

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.

Route 157

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.

Route 141

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.

Route 183

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.

Route 184

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.

Light Rail on the 520 Bridge?

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Here are the route maps for peak, off-peak, and downtown Seattle peak detail.

Here are some broad themes:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. Absolutely needing to transfer to another bus route to get where you want to go on the eastside.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Let me know what you all think in the comments!

Bus Restructure for Northgate Link

Metro is getting serious about restructuring their system for Northgate Link, so I figured I would as well. Here is a map of my proposed changes (click on the map for a full screen view):

Design Goals

I’ve tried to design a system that enables fast, frequent service to the Link stations and the UW. A balance is made between coverage versus speed and frequency. I’ve focused my efforts on the clusters of apartments that exist in the area, while still retaining a reasonable walking distance for everyone. As part of this restructure, I’ve tried to remove turns, which slow down buses. Effort has been made to consolidate routes and provide more of a grid, but given the geography of the area, it remains a challenge. Overlapping bus routes tend to occur where there is larger demand for transit.

Unlike previous proposals, all of the routes use existing layover space. This map also includes peak-only service.

Continue reading “Bus Restructure for Northgate Link”

Is It Time for Systemwide All-Door Bus Boarding for Metro?

I believe that with the great surfacing of the buses, we have achieved the last of four required policy and network milestones necessary to implement all-door bus boarding systemwide for Metro and at all hours. This is meant to attempt to justify the capital expenditures required to install additional ORCA readers at rear doors, or more pragmatically, justify their inclusion in the next-generation ORCA implementation.

  1. We needed to streamline when fares are paid. This was affected when the Ride Free Area was eliminated, and now all fares are paid at boarding.
  2. We needed to eliminate fare zones based on destination. Two otherwise identical passengers no longer have two possible fares (one zone or two zone) to choose from upon boarding, and operators do not have to change the ORCA readers on an individual-passenger basis for this reason.
  3. We needed wide-scale ORCA adoption. The latest figure that I could find was in the 2016 Puget Sound Regional Council’s Transit Integration Report, which cites Metro’s agency-specific June 2016 ORCA adoption rate at 64% of fares. As Metro’s overall fortunes have risen since then, in conjunction with the simplification of fare policy and rollout of additional fare classes for youth and reduced-fare riders, I believe it is reasonable to hypothesize that the share of fares paid by ORCA card has also increased.
  4. Buses no longer operate in the tunnel, though this was less necessary than the others. The effect was a substantial loss of specialized right-of-way and an increase in the importance and visibility of reducing bus dwell times on city streets (with special emphasis on downtown peaks).

The cost-benefit analysis should be straight-forward:

  • Costs:
    • Capital expenditure for equipment and installation
    • Increased maintenance overhead
    • Predicted increase in potential for fare evasion leading to loss of farebox revenue
  • Benefits:
    • Reduced dwell time leading to service hour savings
    • Incentive to increase ORCA adoption rate
    • Reduce or eliminate need for peak-hour all-door card validator staff

To this point, it’s a math problem: If we can reduce systemwide dwell times by, say, 3%, what does that gain?

My institutional history is still somewhat limited, though, so feel free to note some other supporting or prohibiting factors I haven’t considered.

Seattle Bus Routes after Lynnwood Link

This is a proposal for improvements to the bus network following Lynnwood Link. I assume that the NE 130th station is included. Like previous posts, this is focused on improvements in Seattle. The only Shoreline routes I show are those that enter Seattle.


Many of the routes build on what I’ve proposed earlier. In general I’ve adopted my preferred routing, but at times I’ve favored the current routing. Buses that aren’t listed (such as those exclusively in Shoreline) would be more or less the same, or as listed in Metro’s Long Range Plan.

The design goals are similar to those mentioned in a previous post. The big difference is that one-seat rides to the UW are reduced; the farther you are from a destination, the more attractive a transfer to Link becomes. The station at 145th is largely treated like a transit center, as there are several buses that terminate there. 130th station, on the other hand, only serves buses that keep going. Hopefully the station entrances will straddle the street, allowing riders to transfer from the bus to the train without crossing the street.

Changes on State Route 522

The addition of BRT on SR 522 (Stride) also changes the dynamic in the area. It is wasteful to send lots of buses out to Bothell when Stride will provide fast, frequent service for most of the corridor. At the same time, 522 BRT will not serve Lake City. Service is needed there, which begs the question: Where should Lake City Way buses terminate? The most efficient location would be at 145th. In my proposal, I terminate two buses there. If all buses terminated there, however, it would require a transfer even if someone is trying to get a get a mile or two up the road. I try to strike a balance, by having some overlap. I considered having buses turn around in Lake Forest Park, but that would require adding layover space (or a live loop) in a mall parking lot. I just don’t see that happening. The logical turn-around spot is Kenmore, which has plenty of space for buses, and relatively high ridership. I chose the all-day 312 as the bus for Kenmore. Its segment in Seattle is much shorter than the 372 and I think the route has fairly consistent demand along the corridor.

Specific Routes

41 — This is a key bus route for the region. It would terminate where the D terminates, making the QFC on Holman Road a de facto transit center. I would expect this bus to be very frequent, not only because it would be popular, but because it would provide key connections. Buses that are used for transfers should err on the side of extra service. This one has a lot of connections. It not only connects to Link, but to the E, the 5, and just about every north-south bus in the region. Someone in Lake City, Bitter Lake, or anywhere along the route would have a fast two seat ride to just about everywhere. While it may be confusing to call this the “41”, I believe it deserves such a worthy moniker.

46 — This is a new bus that comes out of the long range plan. They propose something different (the 1010) that I don’t particularly like. I can see the appeal, though. A bus that goes up 15th NW, cuts over on 85th, then up to Northgate and on to Lake City would be popular. But I think it is fairly redundant. I also think the eastern tail to Lake City doesn’t get you much. Like so much of the long range plan, it largely dismisses the geographic advantages of a station at NE 130th. Someone in Ballard trying to get to Lake City would never drive through Northgate — they shouldn’t have to ride a bus through there either. But I do understand the importance of connecting Greenwood (and the rest of the 85th corridor) with Northgate. I considered just ending the bus at 32nd NW, where the 45 terminates. But I think there is value in having service along 32nd all day. I could see this running to 32nd every 15 minutes, while running to Market (down 32nd) every half hour (much like the 3 serves Madrona). Some of the buses could be extended to Lake City if the 75 proves insufficient, although I don’t consider that essential.

65 — This is the existing 65, extended up to 145th, and on to Shoreline Community College. The 65 runs a bit more often than I would expect (every ten minutes) but with this addition, I believe it is appropriate. This would be the main connection between the college and Link (or 522 BRT), so it should have no problem justifying that kind of frequency (if not a little bit better).

67 — As with the Northgate proposal, this replaces the 67 and (3)73. It is now extended to the 145th Station. With fairly fast travel along a relatively dense corridor and three connections to Link, I think this bus would be fairly frequent and popular.

75 — This follows the current route, which is different than my proposal for changes after Northgate Link. It will be the only bus connecting Lake City with Northgate, but I  believe current frequency (about every 15 minutes) is adequate. There should be a big increase in transit traffic to Northgate from Lake City after Northgate Link, then a big reduction once the 130th station is built.

312 — As mentioned, this bus replaces the old 522. It would have more stops than the old 522, providing service along Lake City Way to Kenmore. It would provide a nice one seat connection to Roosevelt, as well as apartments along Lake City Way that I believe have always been underserved. Fifteen minute all-day service seems appropriate (similar to the 372).

372 — Now truncated at 145th.

346 — The 345/346/347/348 buses were the most challenging part of this project. At first glance I was just going to keep the 347 and 348 the same. It wouldn’t surprise me if Metro does this, since the 347 goes by three stations, and the 348 goes by two. However, I found that with a little work, I could save some service, which in turn would mean that each individual line could run more often. It also adds flexibility in the system (e. g. you can run one bus every 15 minutes, and the other every 20). The 346 matches a bus route on the long range plan, and works out nicely with the other changes.

347 — Provides fast service from Link to the hospital, coming from either direction. This also means that the detour to the hospital is acceptable, in my opinion. There aren’t going to be that many riders that take a bus past this point (they mostly connect from either end).

348 — This is unchanged. This will provide a very fast connection from Richmond Beach to Link (reducing travel time to various locations dramatically) and will be the only service connecting 15th/Pinehurst to Northgate. Right now it runs every half hour, but I could see this running every fifteen minutes.

Variations

As before, there are a couple areas where I think either option would be good. The variations are meant to be exclusive (e. g. I don’t expect both an all-day 28 and the 82 to exist). I prefer the first option in both cases.

40/345 Variations

The first option is simple. The 40 follows its current route (providing a connection from Northgate to the backside of North Seattle College) and the 345 no longer exists. Extra service would be put into the 347.

The second variation alters the 40 so that riders have a faster connection from Ballard to Northgate. Unfortunately, this means two buses serving Meridian (as they do now) and this is problematic. The service levels don’t quite match an ideal split, and it is always tricky timing things. Based on the long range plan, Metro isn’t eager to modify the 40 anyway, so I went with the simpler option.

82 or All Day 28

Both the 82 or all-day 28 extension are meant to provide service on 145th. It is not a major corridor, but there are enough apartments and businesses along there to justify some direct service to the 145th Station. Without it, riders would have to take a two seat ride to Link, which in all likelihood means a three seat ride (or more) to their destination. In both cases you double up service along Greenwood. Someone at 125th and Greenwood (or more likely, someone who has finished riding the 5) would have two options for getting to a Link station (allowing them to take whatever bus comes first).

The 82 is a simple coverage route that wouldn’t cost much to operate. I could see the bus being extended a bit into eastern Shoreline (NE 155th, NE 150th) to provide more coverage and connections.

The extended all day 28 is also an option. This is not an especially expensive connection, although Broadview is a fairly weak service area. As with the 3, I could see a truncated version (e. g. have the main 28 run every fifteen minutes, while the extended 28 runs every half hour).

 

North Seattle Bus Routes After Northgate Link (Third Version)

This is the third (and probably last) version of a proposed restructure of bus routes following the completion of Northgate Link. This builds on the other two posts. As with the other two maps, this focuses on all-day service. I still expect some express buses to provide additional connections or coverage.

Design Goals

There are several, conflicting goals I’ve followed for designing this. Some are specific to this area, while others are important for any network:

  1. Make the buses faster by avoiding turns, or congested areas.
  2. Enable straightforward trips from anywhere to anywhere.
  3. Provide fast trips to a nearby Link station.
  4. Make it easy for people to get to the UW.
  5. Match service with demand. This applies not only to individual routes, but corridors that share sections with multiple routes.
  6. Favor more densely populated areas over less densely populated ones.

The first two goals are achieved best by building a grid with frequent service. Not only is this difficult for this part of town (because there aren’t many east-west arterials) but it conflicts with some of the other goals. Link stations don’t always fit nicely on a grid. To get to Northgate Station, for example, you need to make several turns (from any direction). UW Station is particularly difficult to get to. But the UW is a major destination in its own right, and should have direct service from nearby areas. This is why I’ve tried to give apartment dwellers in the area both a one seat ride to the UW as well as a fast, direct bus to a Link station.

Specific Routes and Options

65/66 — The Wedgwood/Ravenna area is one of the bigger sticking points. At first glance, simply running the existing 65 and 62 should be adequate. The problem I have with this is that riders on 35th NE — or at least those not close to NE 65th Street — would continue to endure a time-consuming trip to Link. I also don’t like the northern tail of the 71/76. It is obviously designed for coverage, but it serves low density areas before high density ones.

Variation 1 — I address both these issues with this proposal. The bulk of the apartments along 35th are north of 65th. Those riders would have a fast connection to Link, as well as good connections to additional bus service. For example, a trip from Wedgwood to Greenwood would involve a two seat ride through Roosevelt (instead of through the UW or Northgate). The 66 helps fill the gap left by the change. It provides for a good network in the area, as well as direct service to the UW. The tail of the 66 is messy and similar to the tail of the 71/76. But it is actually significantly shorter than the existing 71/76, while providing almost as much coverage. The layover area is part of the existing one way loop, saving some time. The best part about the new loop is that low density areas are closer to the tail. In that regard, it is similar to the all day 24 (which serves low density West Magnolia last). Thus coverage riders at the end of the line may be costing Metro some service time, but they aren’t delaying other riders. This particular combination also has the tail going to a different location than service along 65th, thus picking up more riders. If you are at View Ridge Park (equidistant to the 65 or 66) you would walk to the 66 if you are headed to Children’s or the the UW. From a service standpoint, I think the 65 would run more often than the 66 in this variation (as more people are headed to Link instead of the UW or Children’s).

Variation 2 — This is more closely aligned with current routing. The 65 is unchanged. The 66 has the new tail but is otherwise similar to the 71/76. This is a reasonable trade-off that keeps most of the existing network, while allowing a lot of the people on 35th to have a fast ride to Roosevelt. Frequency becomes a bit more challenging. With this combination, I think the 66 would be more popular and thus run more often (since it provides for a faster connection with Link). This would have the downside of running the tail of the 66 quite often, unless they ran a truncated version of it (like the 3 to Madrona). It also means that the current 65 is running way to often for what it provides (a connection to the UW and Children’s).

Variation 3 — This is a very lean and fast routing. The tail is gone, and people in that area simply have to walk a bit farther. The 65 would provide a connection to Children’s and the U-District. Thus the connection to Link may not be as fast as if the bus went to Roosevelt, but it is still a lot faster than today. You also double up service between Children’s and the U-District (and thus the fast connection between Children’s and Link). You lose some of the service between Children’s and the south end of campus, which is a natural connection between the two medical areas (and largely the justification for the existing 78).

As with all of the maps, I prefer the first option. Variation 3 saves service hours, but I don’t think it is worth it. I believe the first variation allows for a very good matching of demand to service. The new 65 doubles up service along the densely populated part of 65th, while giving the vast majority of people along the 35th corridor a fast ride to Link. A bus like that would be popular, and thus frequent. Service along the southern part of 65th is less important, but still strong enough — and short enough — to justify 15 or 20 minute frequency. You still have coverage for View Ridge, but it doesn’t cost you that much, because the bus doesn’t run that often. It also serves a different area, which means that it may attract those who are willing to walk a little further for a one seat ride.

346 — This change follows the move of the 26 to 5th Avenue Northeast in the previous map. While that provides good coverage and a faster connection to Northgate, it breaks the connection between the North Seattle College area and Green Lake (or the area and the 45). This puts it back. But there is a cost, as now service from Northgate to North Seattle College (and the surrounding area) is less frequent. I believe the combination of the new pedestrian bridge, the existing 345 and the new 40 (serving Northgate Way) is adequate to serve this connection. If not — if this is simply too much walking — then the 40 could follow its current route. I’ve kept the 345 going to Northgate because it provides front door service to Northwest Hospital. This means that folks who don’t (or can’t) walk that far still have existing service.

You do lose the frequent connection between other parts of Meridian and Northgate. But in return, you get a connection from Meridian to Roosevelt. This means that getting to Northwest hospital (or anywhere along Meridian) is a lot easier for a lot of riders (in Roosevelt, Sand Point, Greenwood, etc.). The variations all deal with the southern tail.

Variation 1 — This follows the 45 to Roosevelt. The only reason I prefer this is because of congestion along 80th, close to the freeway. It is not clear where this bus would layover (it is possible it could tie into some of the 65 buses coming from the east).

Variation 2 — This follows part of a route proposed in Metro’s Long Range Plan. This covers all the bus stops from the old 26. I don’t think the coverage is that important, but it is nice to have the bus loop around and layover under the freeway.

Variation 3 — This is a combination of the above two concepts. It avoids the traffic on 80th, but has a nice layover.

Other Considerations

The 522 should have more bus stops along Lake City Way. The stop on 20th/85th is the second most popular bus stop on this route, north of downtown (exceeded only by the stop at 125th and Lake City Way). Riders along the corridor aren’t just going downtown, either. About 10% of the riders on the 522 are going from Lake City Way (within the city) to places north. As the population increases, so will rides of that nature.

It would behoove Sound Transit to add more stops along Lake City Way. At a minimum, the route needs a stop at 80th and 15th. Likewise, I consider 95th essential, as the 372 does not serve that area, making some otherwise close walks to the bus stop cumbersome.  I would consider 98th optional but would definitely add a stop at 110th. 115th and 120th are optional, as those riders could take a frequent bus to Northgate (even if it is a bit slower). Metro (and Seattle) might have to negotiate with Sound Transit to add as many stops as possible. Adding three stops (80th, 95th and 110th) would still have wide stop spacing, while providing Seattle riders with a good connection to Link as well as the areas along State Route 522.

I used this map to figure out where the apartments are, and where they are likely to be built in the future. It isn’t perfect, but I’ve found it to be the easiest way to get an idea of where the density is.

RFA Revival: Make Link Free in the Tunnel

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

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

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

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