Viaduct closure will slow buses and make them harder to track, warns King County

Local bus riders say it's already difficult to track when their buses will arrive during rush hour and that popular bus lines like the Rapid Ride D and E lines are frequently packed.

Now, King County Metro says it's going to get worse when the viaduct shuts down next week, but it is taking steps to help.

“Sometimes when you get on, there's 6 inches of room you have to squeeze yourself in,” said Sara Atalla, a bus rider.

“It’ll be so packed you can't even get in it,” said Preston Frazier, another rider.

And that's before the quickly approaching period known variously as the "Period of Maximum Constraint,” “The Seattle Squeeze" or “Car-Mageddon.”

Whatever you want to call it, “I think it's going to be an absolute mess, and it’s very concerning,” said Barbara Mackoff, another bus rider.

King County is warning the three-week period with no viaduct and no tunnel won't just affect drivers.

“You can expect during the viaduct closure period, buses are going to be more crowded, and they're going to be slower,” said Bill Bryant, of King County Metro.

“I can't even imagine more people on the buses,” another rider said.

There will be more trouble than just being packed in like sardines.

Figuring out when your bus is coming is about to get tougher.

Many riders now use the app One Bus Away.

"I usually look at that before I even leave my condo," Atalla said.
One Bus Away, Google Maps or the county's Puget Sound Trip Planner app all pull the same data from King County.

You might think the apps use GPS, but instead, the data primarily comes from radio or Wi-Fi signals that the buses ping out every 30 to 90 seconds.

That data is compared against scheduled arrival times to come up with how many minutes away your bus is and if it’s delayed.

However, the algorithm gets worse with traffic. The county said in an email, “When traffic gridlocks, estimated arrival times for all bus routes could become wildly unpredictable, just like general traffic.”

“It’s also, frankly, a difficult time for us to ask people to try transit, because we won't be able to perform up to our normal standards in terms of speed and reliability,” Bryant said. Metro still recommends you try transit, but it adds to try it with patience.

On top of that, 600 buses per day that currently take the viaduct will be pushed to surface streets.

The county is taking measures to mitigate the madness.

“We will have about 20 buses on standby, ready to dispatch to any route that seems to be having problems,” Bryant said.

It's also working on tracking improvements to have buses ping more frequently and give more accurate arrival times, but the target for that rollout isn't until later this year.

Metro also adds that riders will not be able to track 12 bus lines during the viaduct closure before the tunnel opens (C Line, 21x, 37, 55, 56, 57, 113, 120, 121, 122, 123 and 125) because of a reroute. It also says those particular routes will “take much longer” and urges riders to plan ahead and take an earlier bus.

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