Possible changes to SR 520 bus service could affect Eastside riders

Changes to bus routes crossing the state Route 520 bridge could be coming soon for Eastside and Seattle riders.

These changes could affect up to 12 bus routes managed by Sound Transit and King County Metro that currently make stops at Eastside locations, and in Seattle from the University of Washington down to South Lake Union and the city’s downtown core.

While evaluation of the changes is in its preliminary stages, Chester Knapp, a planner with the city of Redmond, presented early ideas from Sound Transit and Metro to the Redmond City Council on May 2. Representatives from Sound Transit and Metro gave a similar presentation at a recent Kirkland City Council meeting as well.

Knapp told the Reporter later there could be benefits to riders on the Eastside.

“The possibility is there, I would like to see an actual proposal,” he said.

The main changes to the dozen routes would be they would drop riders off at the University of Washington bus station and passengers would then make a roughly five-minute walk to the Light Link station near Husky stadium. The light rail would then take commuters to downtown Seattle.

Many of these routes begin or end in Redmond and Kirkland.

Rachelle Cunningham, a public information officer for Sound Transit, said her agency is compiling input they received from affected communities and will release them as part of a draft proposal this fall. A second round of public input will be sought then.

Causes leading to the discussion of a transit restructure include an expansion at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle.

Buses will also stop running in the underground transit tunnel beneath Seattle in the fall of 2018. This tunnel currently facilitates both light rail and bus service. Removing buses from the tunnels and light rail stations could also increase the reliability and frequency of rail service, Cunningham said.

Other projects which will affect transit to downtown Seattle and South Lake Union include the opening of the state Route 99 tunnel beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The viaduct is expect to close in 2019 due to concerns about its ability to withstand an earthquake following damage sustained during the Nisqually earthquake.

A rebuilding of the Seattle waterfront is also scheduled to begin in 2023.

Cunningham said as the greater Seattle area becomes more congested, Sound Transit is looking at how to increase service. Of the 12 routes that could be affected, six are maintained by Sound Transit.

“Bus routes are constantly evaluated and changed,” she said.

Knapp said restructuring bus routes and linking them with light rail could provide benefits to commuters when Interstate 5 is congested, as light rail provides a more reliable method of transportation throughout the city.

However, he said some aspects of a potential proposal could be problematic for some commuters.

“We’re advocating for direct service to South Lake Union,” he said.

The light rail stops at the University of Washington, Capital Hill and Westlake station in Belltown before continuing further south.

South Lake Union, which is a hotbed for the tech industry, is not served by a light rail station, meaning commuters who work there would need to get off at Westlake or Capitol Hill and either catch a bus or walk from the stations.

Knapp said he would like to see data and metrics on light rail capacity and ridership when a proposal from Sound Transit and Metro is presented in June.

During the May 2 Redmond City Council meeting, various members expressed concerns about the impact the restructuring could have on commuters.

In particular, they questioned whether increasing the number of transfers for riders from buses to light rail would drive some commuters to just start driving to work instead.

While the plan is still in its early stages, Cunningham said they will continue to work with riders on the Eastside and Seattle to tailor a plan.

“If people want to give their input into things, there will be other opportunities for them to do that,” she said.

Routes that could be affected are listed below:

All day routes

255 (Kirkland/Totem Lake – Downtown Seattle)

542 (Redmond – UW Station)

545 (Redmond – Downtown Seattle)

Two-way, peak only routes

540 (Kirkland – University District)

541 (Overlake – University District)

542 (Peak extension: Redmond – Greenlake)

Peak direction only routes

252 (Kingsgate – Downtown Seattle)

257 (Brickyard Park and Ride – Downtown Seattle)

268 (Redmond – Downtown Seattle)

277 (Juanita – University District)

311 (Woodinville – Downtown Seattle)