During typical traffic, the I90 HOV lanes from Mercer Island into Seattle keep flowing and provide incentive to carpool. However, they become heavily congested on days with large events and are particularly bad due to today’s massive Seahawks parade. (The lanes are single occupant from Mercer Island, but HOV 2+ from the Mount Baker tunnel into Seattle).
I90 HOV lanes backup
The screen shot above shows traffic backed up on the HOV exit ramp to 5th Ave S & Dearborn while the image to the right shows the backup in the HOV lanes with the Mount Baker tunnel in the background. The empty lane in the middle of this image is the Rainier flyer stop for buses which gives taking the bus a advantage. However, that lane has to merge just outside of the view of this image so the advantage to taking the bus is small.
In the future, Sound Transit’s East Link Light Rail will improve capacity by allowing for up to 4 car trains accessing Downtown Seattle via dedicated right of way. Until 2023, however, we’re stuck in traffic on heavy event days unless the political will to convert the HOV ramp to 3+ passengers between the flyer stop and Dearborn can be found.
Sound Transit is hosting an open house tomorrow night to gather feedback on the Overlake segment of East Link. It is commendable that Sound Transit is working to gather feedback on the proposed route, but this particular meeting has built in quite a sampling bias. For those who rely on transit, the venue choice is inconvenient to say the least. Ardmore Elementary School is almost a mile from the closest bus stop (249). Google Maps actually suggested walking all the way to NE 40th & SR 520, about 1.4 miles away, to catch the 545 back to Seattle. Interestingly enough, Sound Transit’s own trip planner refuses to suggest a route back to Seattle – either because the walking distance is too far or because of some “error”.
While I don’t have ridership numbers handy, it seems obvious the dozens of buses stopping at Overlake Transit Center serve far more people today than the current 222 parking spots at OTC do. Holding an open house in a location inconvenient for a majority of potential Link users is an oversight that Sound Transit should not repeat.
I ran across a copy of the final ARUP B7 Study on Bellevue’s Light Rail Documents Web Site. After a bit of digging, I found information on a glaring issue I suspected to be a problem but haven’t heard discussed much. From the report (emphasis mine):
Bus travel times for B7-Revised would be longer than those for B7/C9T. The longer travel times would increase operating costs and would require two additional buses to provide service. Northbound buses would experience a 3.5- minute increase in travel time, while southbound buses would experience a 2.5-minute increase in travel time.
and the kicker…
[ Sound Transit’s estimates for additional travel time costs are: ]
- Operating costs increases by $750,000 to $1,000,000 annually.
- Two additional buses are required to maintain headway on the service. The cost to procure the two vehicles is $1.7m (2007$). The lifespan of these vehicles is 12 years, so this capital expense is incurred every 12 years.
King County metro buses will also experience additional operational cost associated with this additional travel time. However, an estimate of these costs has not been provided.
Are you lost? Here’s a quick explanation: Every time I saw a mockup of the A-2 Park & Ride design, that is part of the revised B7 route, I noticed all of those ramps and turns that I would have to navigate with a bus. It just felt wrong. For those that recall riding the Sound Transit 554 from Seattle to Issaquah, before Sound Transit removed the loop into the Eastgate Park & Ride, you know what I’m talking about.
To be sure, Sound Transit’s design for the South Bellevue station will also add travel time over the existing South Bellevue Park & Ride bus routing. However that routing appears much shorter and straightforward than the routing required to service the A-2 bus platforms.
In short: Not only does B7R cost more than Sound Transit’s preferred East Link option, it also heaps additional operating and capital costs onto Metro and Sound Transit’s bus operations going forward as well as additional travel time for bus passengers traversing the area. (The routes that will likely continue to service this station after completion include the Sound Transit 555, 556, and 560 as well as the Metro 222 and, starting next October, the Metro 249.)
According to Sherwin Lee’s Twitter feed, a B7 proponent at tonight’s light rail open house compared Sound Transit’s efforts to bring light rail to the Eastside with fascism. Having visited Auschwitz, Bergen Belson, the National Holocaust museum, and the WWII Jewish Ghettos of Warsaw, Krakow, and Prague, I can safely say that this person needs to gain a little bit of perspective.
Whatever route is chosen for East Link, homes and businesses will be condemned. Obviously, this process is painful for those involved. Both routes on the table right now, B7 and B2M, will require “displacements” – to use the euphemism of the night I overheard a consultant using at tonight’s meeting. But unless Sound Transit has an army of “Brown Shirts” threatening, beating, and killing opponents you may want to choose your words more carefully. I’m sure the millions who suffered at the hands of the fascist Nazis would gladly trade their experiences in the gas chambers, gallows, standing cells, and firing squads for the open process by which Sound Transit is bringing light rail to Mercer Island, Bellevue, and Redmond.
Seriously, can we put a lid on the heated rhetoric?
I’ve crafted individual letters to several Bellevue City Council members but for the rest, I just sent this to firstname.lastname@example.org:
As a frequent user of the 550 as well as a driver of the 550, I am surprised that some members of the council say that Light Rail is a regional system but at the same time say that South Bellevue Park and Ride should be bypassed. South Bellevue is not just a park and ride. There is a significant and growing number of passengers who transfer to the 550 from other routes, such as the 222, 240, and 560. These individuals are coming from Factoria and areas to the south of I-90 where there is either poor or non-existent direct bus service to Seattle. Eliminating the South Bellevue Station would make it more difficult and expensive to serve these current transit users. South Bellevue is also a walkable distance to far more homes than Wilburton and is located at the crossroads of several bicycle paths which makes it far more accessible to non-car driving passengers.
For those of us who use the 550, the B7 line represents a backwards step that will significantly cut existing service levels, if not eliminate service entirely. It also will increase traffic on 112th Ave SE, SE 8th St, and 118th Ave SE as people drive further into Bellevue to access Link. I urge the council to reaffirm support for the B3 alignment with a stop at South Bellevue. Moving forward with the B3 alignment will allow Sound Transit to stop wasting money studying routes that are less cost effective and serve fewer passengers. B3 is the true regional choice and I’ll use it.
The following is a letter I sent to Jennifer Robertson of the Bellevue City Council regarding her support of the “B7” alignment for East Link:
I have been told by neighbors in Enatai that you stated “People favor B7” while you were campaigning. That may be true in limited areas of Bellevue where the fear of impacts from light rail trains is greatest. However, it is *not* true in my neighborhood. I am a resident of Beaux Arts Village so sadly, I am ineligible to vote in your elections. However, we will be effected by a decision to move the line away from the existing South Bellevue Park and Ride. Many of my 300+ neighbors are shocked and saddened to learn that we may not be served by light rail despite last year’s decision to support the B3 alignment.
But we are by no means the only ones effected. While I, and virtually all of our neighbors in Enatai, can walk to the park & ride in 15 minutes or bike there in less than 5, many Bellevue, Newcastle, and North Renton residents access the 550 by transferring at South Bellevue from bus routes such as the 222, 240, or 560. The 560 currently serves Wilburton P&R; the 222 and 240 do not and could not be easily rerouted to do so. A shuttle bus connecting users at South Bellevue to East link is possible but would result in 2 transfers for those with a transfer on their existing commute. It would also be expensive to operate and not nearly as popular as the 550, resulting in decreased frequency of operation.
I urge you to reconsider your support of the B7 alignment. For those of us who use the 550, the B7 line represents a backwards step that will significantly cut existing service levels, if not eliminate service entirely. It also will increase traffic on 112th Ave SE, SE 8th St, and 118th Ave SE as people drive further into Bellevue to access Link. B3 serves more passengers at a lower cost per rider and better serves transit riders from other areas of the Eastside. It is the true regional choice.