NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, May 10th, 2019

Sound Transit, partner agencies should retain express bus routes after Link extensions open

The Puget Sound region is on the verge of a high capac­i­ty tran­sit rev­o­lu­tion.

With­in a few years, dozens of new sta­tions will join Sound Tran­sit’s Link light rail sys­tem, as the agency opens new exten­sions to the north and east.

Three new sta­tions are slat­ed to open in 2021 (U Dis­trict, Roo­sevelt, North­gate) fol­lowed by ten sta­tions east of the cur­rent north/south trunk line (Jud­kins Park, Mer­cer Island, South Belle­vue, East Main Belle­vue, Belle­vue Down­town, Wilbur­ton, Spring District/120th, Bel-Red/130th, Over­lake Vil­lage, and Red­mond Tech­nol­o­gy Cen­ter) in 2023. Two more Red­mond sta­tions will open in 2024.

Also open­ing in 2024 are four Lyn­nwood Link sta­tions: Shore­line South/145th, Shore­line North/185th, Mount­lake Ter­race, and Lyn­nwood City Cen­ter.

In total, Sound Tran­sit has nine­teen new sta­tions set to open by the end of 2024, with thir­ty miles of new track con­nect­ing them. Addi­tion­al sta­tions are slat­ed to open in the ensu­ing years, extend­ing light rail’s reach into even more com­mu­ni­ties.

With the days of a longer, more capa­ble light rail spine draw­ing near­er, plan­ners at Sound Tran­sit, Com­mu­ni­ty Tran­sit, King Coun­ty Metro, Pierce Tran­sit, and Everett Tran­sit are talk­ing more and more about how the tran­sit land­scape is going to change when the new exten­sions come online.

“Sound Tran­sit and King Coun­ty Metro are con­sid­er­ing end­ing cross-lake Inter­state 90 bus routes fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of the East Link light rail cor­ri­dor in 2023,” Sound Pub­lish­ing’s Aaron Kun­kler report­ed ear­li­er this week.

“Most East­side bus­es that cur­rent­ly go down­town will involve a trans­fer to Link,” the arti­cle quotes Sound Tran­sit’s Rachelle Cun­ning­ham as say­ing.

Today, Sound Tran­sit Peter Rogoff remarked that Com­mu­ni­ty Tran­sit will stop run­ning bus­es into down­town Seat­tle when Lyn­nwood Link opens.

Sound Tran­sit staff should not be mak­ing these kinds of state­ments, espe­cial­ly since they’re oblig­at­ed to con­sid­er pub­lic input pri­or to redraw­ing ser­vice maps. These kinds of dec­la­ra­tions are putting the cart before the horse.

Scrap­ping express routes like Com­mu­ni­ty Tran­sit’s 402 would be a mis­take. Ter­mi­nat­ing express routes like ST’s 554 at Link sta­tions would also be a mis­take.

Rail and bus are dif­fer­ent modes that com­ple­ment each oth­er. For our tran­sit net­work to com­pete effec­tive­ly for trips, the net­work needs to offer rid­ers choic­es, and get them where they want to go as quick­ly as pos­si­ble.

Light rail will offer unpar­al­leled reli­a­bil­i­ty and fre­quen­cy of ser­vice when it opens, and it will be the mode of choice for a great many com­muters.

How­ev­er, it’s rea­son­able to assume that there will still be demand for fast rides between major hubs with­out stops in between. Sound Tran­sit and its part­ners should ascer­tain this lev­el of demand and meet it by con­tin­u­ing to offer express bus ser­vice in the cor­ri­dors soon to be served by East Link and Lyn­nwood Link.

We have spent enor­mous sums over the years invest­ing in high occu­pan­cy vehi­cle (HOV) sys­tem for our high­ways, and we should con­tin­ue to lever­age those decades of invest­ment even after light rail joins the tran­sit mix (at long last).

It’s real­ly impor­tant to offer rid­ers choic­es. Espe­cial­ly rid­ers who own cars.

Con­sid­er the Seat­tle to Taco­ma cor­ri­dor. Present­ly, there’s a choice of modes on week­days (and even some week­end days). You can take Sounder to bypass the mess on I‑5 if you want. Or, if I‑5 isn’t jammed, you can take the 590594 Express, which is one of Sound Tran­sit’s best routes. When the I‑5 HOV lane is not con­gest­ed, it pro­vides remark­ably fast ser­vice that’s com­pa­ra­ble to dri­ving.

Or con­sid­er the Seat­tle to Red­mond cor­ri­dor.

When I want to go into down­town Seat­tle from NPI’s home­town, I have options that I nev­er had a few years ago, thanks to Sound Tran­sit.

I can take the 545 Express from down­town Red­mond to reach any num­ber of places in the cen­ter city. Alter­na­tive­ly, if I‑5 looks bad, I can take the 542 Express to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton Sta­tion, tap my ORCA card to trans­fer modes, and then con­tin­ue my jour­ney on Link under­ground. Some­times the 542 + Link is clear­ly the supe­ri­or option. And oth­er times, the 545 is the supe­ri­or option.

Know­ing that I have options is a great feel­ing. I’m more like­ly to opt against dri­ving for a trip into Seat­tle know­ing that those options are there for me.

Redun­dan­cy is also an impor­tant rea­son not to scrap express bus routes.

No mode oper­ates flaw­less­ly one hun­dred per­cent of the time. If Link expe­ri­ences an inter­rup­tion of some kind (like this), it is eas­i­er to accom­mo­date impact­ed rid­ers if they can sim­ply shift to express bus routes that par­al­lel the light rail spine as opposed to mak­ing them wait for a fleet of spe­cial shut­tles to be deployed.

Instead of assum­ing that Link’s arrival will obvi­ate the need for express routes in cer­tain cor­ri­dors, Sound Tran­sit and its part­ners need to ascer­tain from rid­ers (and poten­tial new rid­ers) what routes to offer. What mix of ser­vice will max­i­mize the appeal and effec­tive­ness of mass tran­sit? That’s the ques­tion plan­ners need to ask. When plan­ning starts with bad assump­tions, it can lead to bad results.

Link’s expan­sion will afford us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to build a bet­ter tran­sit map. The thought­ful real­lo­ca­tion of bus ser­vice based on pub­lic input should be on the table; the pre­sup­posed elim­i­na­tion of express routes should not.

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One Comment

  1. I agree! I think it was a huge mis­take for Metro to delete the #194 from down­town Seat­tle to Sea-Tac once Link opened. I read where stud­ies showed its direct rout­ing to be faster in ordi­nary cir­cum­stances, and while it was sub­ject to traf­fic, it was­n’t as sub­ject to the issues of light rail run­ning at grade through the Rainier Val­ley, e.g. vehi­cles hit­ting the trains, trains hit­ting pedes­tri­ans, mechan­i­cal fail­ures, etc., any of which make Sea-Tac bound pas­sen­gers like­ly to miss their flights.
    Up north, it makes sense for Link to open three sta­tions north of Lyn­nwood as “part 1,” just like they’re doing for North­gate, but with­out tun­nels need­ed: Alder­wood-West, Ash Way, and Mariner. If they did so, rid­ers could con­nect at Mariner via Swift Green from Everett to the north and Mill Creek to the south.

    # by transit rider :: May 10th, 2019 at 6:02 PM