SR 520 service change concepts released

Last evening, Metro and Sound Transit released service change concepts for revised bus service on SR 520. This kicks off the second of three rounds of public input, including an online survey and several open houses in mid- to late June. Because these are service concepts, they do not describe capital improvements in Montlake or elsewhere could be combined with either service option.

Ten routes, six Metro (252, 255, 257, 268, 277, 311) and four Sound Transit (540, 541, 542, 545), are included. Two all-day routes, Metro 255 serving Kirkland-Seattle and Sound Transit 545 serving Redmond-Seattle, carry two-thirds of current ridership. As expected, many buses that currently serve downtown Seattle would be rerouted to UW station freeing resources that would otherwise be consumed in downtown congestion. Changes would take effect ahead of the closure of Convention Place Station, currently scheduled for Fall 2018.

Either alternative improves cross-lake service for most riders, excepting those who prioritize one seat rides to downtown over all else. But the reinvested service hours target different priorities, and many riders will consider their individual circumstances in figuring which option they prefer. A notable highlight of the proposals is that both options include new service between South Lake Union and the Eastside.

Very helpfully, the Metro website separately describes the options, including pros and cons of each, for the major Eastside markets served: Kirkland, North Kirkland/Woodinville, and Redmond. Sound Transit’s website has maps for each market under each option: Kirkland, North Kirkland/Woodinville, and Redmond.

After the jump is my summary of the system-wide changes.

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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.

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Where Now For The Water Taxi Expansion?

This dock at the Kirkland Marina, currently used by Argosy Cruises, might be a future foot-ferry port
Might this dock at the Kirkland Marina have a Water Taxi in its future? (Photo by the Author)

On February 8, the King County Council accepted the final report on Water Taxi expansion. The Council vote followed an occasionally contentious review at the TrEE (Transportation, Economy and Environment) Committee the week before. No decision was taken on moving forward with the expansion. That’s a budgetary decision to be taken up, if a request is made, as part of the budget process later this year.

The final report refines analysis presented in the interim report, and accommodates some suggestions by the jurisdictions and stakeholders that might be served. But the key findings haven’t changed greatly. Three routes are being considered:

  • Kenmore (Log Boom Park) to University of Washington (Waterfront Activity Center)
  • Kirkland (Marina Park) to University of Washington (Waterfront Activity Center)
  • Ballard (Shilshole Marina) to Downtown Seattle (Pier 50).

A few modifications are suggested. In Kenmore, the ferry may eventually serve Lake Pointe where development could create an opportunity for shared parking (initial service would be via Log Boom Park with parking at a remote lot served by shuttle bus). In Kirkland, where downtown parking for transit riders would not be available, a circulator shuttle to bring riders to the Marina is examined. Expedia has asked that the ferry from Shilshole Bay stop at Interbay en route to downtown Seattle.

The revisions to the proposal do not improve expected performance. These are low-ridership high-cost services. At launch, off-season ridership would range between 135 and 165 daily riders per route, growing to 285-370 after 10 years. Summer ridership, boosted by recreational users, would grow from about 300 daily riders on each route to just over 500 after 10 years.

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