Montlake exit’s temporary bus lane is closing

WSDOT:

[C]rews will restripe the westbound SR 520 off-ramp to Montlake and remove the ramp’s temporary bus-only lane that currently allows buses to bypass general-purpose vehicles to reach Montlake Boulevard. The bus lane was temporarily put in place last October, with a plan to close it in March for the Montlake Project construction. Recognizing the value that the temporary lane provided to transit, WSDOT worked with the contractor to keep the lane open as long as possible without affecting construction.

At the request of several Eastside cities, WSDOT looked at ways to preserve the bus lane, but none were deemed viable. It’s frustrating to see it go, but the project was a good reminder that agencies and concerned commuters can work together to make short-term improvements.

Most SR 520 bus service to remain unchanged: restructure focuses on Metro 255

Metro 255 at the Montlake Flyer stop (Image by author)

The once ambitious restructure of bus service between Seattle and the Eastside over SR 520 has been reduced in scope and is expected only to include a truncation of Metro 255 service at UW.

At last Thursday’s King County Regional Transit Committee meeting, Metro staff confirmed that Sound Transit no longer intends to propose any changes to their routes on the corridor. Peak-only Metro routes from the Eastside will also continue to serve downtown. The original restructure proposal had included ten routes, of which the greatest ridership is on Metro 255 from Kirkland and Sound Transit 545 from Redmond.

The reduced scope of the restructure comes against the background of increased optimism about downtown bus movements during the ‘period of maximum constraint’. The removal of more than 800 daily trips from the downtown transit tunnel and construction elsewhere in downtown would strain street capacity and slow transit service without mitigating measures.

The One Center City partners plan several changes to improve downtown capacity without removing so many buses from downtown. On 5th and 6th Avenues, a new northbound transit pathway can serve up to 40 buses an hour (though more likely 25-30 buses). Likely routes on this pathway are peak routes including 74, 76, 77, 301, 308, 316, 311, 252, 257.

On 4th and 2nd Avenues, signal and priority changes will speed bus movements and give pedestrians leading signals improving safety when crossing. On 3rd Ave, all door boarding and all-day bus operations will speed operations there. Through travel for cars will be prohibited during day time hours, but cars will still be permitted to turn right on to the street and must turn right off the street after one block. SDOT, Metro and Sound Transit are sharing in the $30 million cost of street improvements downtown and in Montlake.

Together, these steps allow buses to operate more effectively than they do today through downtown, with up to 25% better travel times on 4th Ave. The added pathway on 5th and 6th alleviates pressure on all avenues. Bus passenger capacity across downtown would increase by 3700 in the PM peak hour, and overall people-moving capacity by all modes would grow by 7500 per hour.

With greater downtown capacity, early proposals to truncate ST 550 at International District station, to route West Seattle buses to First Hill, and to loop route 41 on Pike/Pine, have all been shelved.

Continue reading “Most SR 520 bus service to remain unchanged: restructure focuses on Metro 255”

Eastside Mayors Criticize Bus Restructure Proposal

University Of Washington Link Light Rail Station Image: Lizz Giordano

Eastside mayors want Metro and Sound Transit to relocate bus stops to improve bus-rail transfers before implementing service changes. The proposed restructuring would funnel Eastside bus commuters heading downtown to light rail at the University of Washington Station. That transfer requires riders to cross the busy streets of Montlake Boulevard and/or Pacific Street or use an out of the way walkway to switch between modes of transportation.

“Increasing commute times by 20 minutes while creating more mobility downtown will only incentivize single occupancy vehicles to drive to downtown Seattle rather than stick with public transportation,” wrote the seven Eastside Mayors in a letter to Metro and Sound Transit.

The Mayors want bus stops relocated to be adjacent to the light rail station and mobility improvements through the Montlake Hub. STB’s own Adam Parast showed one way to accomplish this in 2015 (pictured below).

“Sound Transit is supportive of improvements to the transfer environment at UW. King County Metro owns the bus shelters, and they are in active conversations about this with the City of Seattle and UW,” wrote Rachelle Cunningham, a spokesperson for Sound Transit in an email.

Metro estimates transfers currently take anywhere from 6-11 minutes, depending on direction and time of travel.

“The service concepts we’ve introduced would increase frequency on many Eastside routes, which would help reduce the time that riders would have to wait at the stop,” wrote Scott Gutierrez, a spokesperson for Metro in an email.

He said Metro is considering a range of changes, including relocation of stops, extending bus shelters, providing off-board payment and improving signage.

Continue reading “Eastside Mayors Criticize Bus Restructure Proposal”

SR520 Route Restructure Open House

Eastside bus riders, feeling the slow-down from traffic congestion, have already begun taking advantage of the quick ride the Link Light Rail offers, transferring to the train at the University Washington Station to head downtown.

“It’s just six minutes from UW to Westlake on the train,” said Ted Day, a transit planner for King County Metro, during an open house presentation on June 19 near the UW Station. “That’s incredible. There’s no other way you can do that, except in the air, and I don’t know many people who own helicopters.”

“People are already adapting, getting on the Link at the UW Station to come downtown,” he added.

King County Metro and Sound Transit, preparing for increased congestion on Seattle’s streets on top of the closure of the Downtown Transit Tunnel to buses, are planning a major restructuring of Eastside bus routes for 2018.

This is the first restructuring of Eastside buses to facilitate better connections to light rail, the transit agencies plan to funnel downtown-bound Eastside bus riders to the UW Station. The restructuring would then free up buses that would have been entangled in downtown traffic, allowing the agencies to expand services to new areas and increase the frequency of buses throughout the day.

Three options were presented:

  • No change to service
  • “Frequency focus”: Redirect all routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland
  • “Connections focus”: Redirect some routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland

The June 19 meeting was sparsely attended with most participants wandering in after seeing signs posted for the event. For many attendees of the open house, either alternative option would improve their commute due to the expanded services to SLU and north of the University. The main difference between the two plans is with option b buses would be more frequent while option c allows for better connections for new service areas.

Participants were asked to rank the options, the most popular was option b, focusing on increasing frequency of buses. Riders acknowledged that transferring to link when heading downtown will eventually be faster than traveling by bus.

Jonathan Dubman, a transit rider who has advocated for better bus-rail connections at the UW Station, wants to see the transfer experience improved.

Continue reading “SR520 Route Restructure Open House”

Link Connections on SR-520: take the survey

ST 545 is among the routes that may be rerouted to UW station in Fall 2018 (Image: Atomic Taco)

King County Metro and Sound Transit have begun an outreach process to transit riders in the SR 520 corridor. Transit users and community members are invited to take a survey, running through April 2. Town halls will be held at University of Washington, in Redmond, and in Kirkland.  This will be the first of several opportunities for public input planned as service proposals evolve.

Six Metro routes (252, 255, 257, 268, 277, 311) and six Sound Transit Express routes (ST 540, ST 541, ST 542, ST 545, ST 555, ST 556) may be affected. Generally, the agencies are interested in truncating most service on SR 520 to the University of Washington light rail station. Several of those routes already serve UW, so possible service changes go beyond simply truncating the remaining routes to downtown.

Candidate routes for truncation at UW serve Kirkland, Redmond and Woodinville. A final proposal is also expected to include more frequent service on many routes, along with more service earlier or later or on weekends. New service between the Eastside and South Lake Union will be considered.

The immediate impetus for service changes on SR 520 relates to several construction projects in central Seattle including the anticipated closure of the bus tunnel and Convention Place Station by the end of 2018. Absent other changes, bus performance through downtown will be slowed significantly. The One Center City proposal truncates many bus routes at rail stations outside of the downtown core. Some of the changes are temporary remedies until Link extensions to Northgate and Bellevue are open.

On the other hand, changes to SR 520 bus service offer permanent benefits to riders if executed well. Rail to downtown is faster and more reliable than buses on I-5 and surface streets. The service hour savings can be redeployed to more frequent service on Eastside buses or service to more places. But understandable concerns about the efficiency of bus to rail transfers at UW remain.

Continue reading “Link Connections on SR-520: take the survey”