By Dan Ryan
The downtown Seattle tunnel will close to buses sometime in 2019. This brings revisions in bus service between Seattle and Kirkland. Metro and Sound Transit are preparing with a public outreach process. There is an online survey and a series of open houses (including one in Kingsgate Library on Monday June 26th, 6-8 PM).
Among the affected buses are most routes from Kirkland and Redmond that cross the SR 520 bridge, including Metro 255 from Kirkland and ST 545 from Redmond.
Why is the tunnel closing and why is it important?
Many infrastructure projects are beginning soon in Seattle. These include the demolition of the Viaduct, the rebuilding of the Waterfront and Alaskan Way, a streetcar on 1st Avenue and several large private projects. All will impact traffic and bus movements through the city at about the same time.
For bus riders, most important is the Convention Center expansion. The tunnel would have to close to buses about 2020 anyway for increased rail service. But ahead of that, the construction of an expanded Convention Center will force the closure of Convention Place Station, the stop at the entrance to the tunnel for buses from Kirkland.
That forces buses that currently run in the tunnel onto surface streets, just as there is less space than ever “upstairs”. Street improvements will help, but getting many buses out of downtown is essential. The buses that benefit the most include several SR 520 routes.
What are the solutions?
Metro and Sound Transit have presented three options. Ten routes are affected, but I’ll focus on Kirkland.
Option A is a “do-nothing” benchmark, where the 255 comes out of the tunnel and little else changes. With more crowded streets, that adds up to 10 minutes to many journeys at peak, up to 20 minutes for the 255 to reach the south end of downtown vs today. This is ugly, and only shown as a baseline for two better alternatives.
Option B sends Metro 255 to UW station at all times. Travelers to downtown transfer to Link, and the bus continues to the U-District. At busy times, that’s a much faster journey to central Seattle. Although it’ll take a few minutes to transfer, you then get downtown reliably in just a few minutes more on the train. Because the buses don’t have to go all the way to south of downtown, they can run between Kirkland and UW much more frequently. There will be a bus every six minutes at peak. Buses will run more often at almost all hours, and can be scheduled to meet the trains at the lowest-frequency times.
Option C sends Metro 255 to UW station on weekdays before 7pm, just like option B. But after 7pm and on weekends, it’ll run direct to downtown. Because there is less traffic congestion at those times, the speed advantages of the train are much less. Riders at those times will avoid having to transfer, but they won’t have the more frequent service of option B. The bus will run only as often as it does today.
Every scenario is a large increase in Metro bus service hours. The difference is how the hours are used: going all the way through downtown in slower traffic, or going back and forth more often between Kirkland and UW.
What if I want to go to South Lake Union?
Booming South Lake Union is an increasingly popular destination, and both alternatives add Kirkland-SLU service.
In option B, ST 542 is revised to connect South Kirkland to SLU, and also to Overlake and Downtown Redmond. Also in option B, several routes serving North Kirkland (252, 257, 311) would all go to SLU and run more frequently. In option C, they serve the north end of downtown (but not beyond Olive). In option C, a new Metro 258 would run between the Houghton P&R, South Kirkland P&R, SLU and the Denny Triangle.
What else is changing?
Under either alternative, ST 540 runs more frequently and continues to Children’s Hospital. That’s a new destination for service from Kirkland.
Metro 277 (Juanita to U-District via Houghton P&R) is deleted in both alternatives. Those riders will have better options on other routes.
ST 541 adds a stop in South Kirkland in Option C, connecting to the Microsoft area and Green Lake with more frequent service.
What should I do?
Take the survey (https://www.peakdemocracy.com/5020). It’s open through June 30.
Go to the open house. The last Kirkland area open house in this round of outreach is Monday June 26 in Kingsgate Library, 6-8PM.
Watch for the next round of public input later this year as a route proposal is finalized for transmission to the County Council and the Sound Transit Board.