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With organizations like Seattle Transit Hikers out there, it may only have been a matter of time. The massive National Forest to the east is seeking ways to provide non-car access to its recreation areas, and they’re hearing from focus groups on Wednesday and Thursday. Here’s the flyer if you’re interested.

Much, much more after the jump.

The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in partnership with West Virginia University and the U.S. Department of Transportation is developing an Alternative Transportation System from the Seattle Metro Area to various recreation areas on the Forest. This project is in efforts to make the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest accessible to an increasingly diverse population within the region. During the summer of 2012 and winter of 2013, data were collected along three main transportation arteries into the Forest- Interstate 90, Highway 2 and Highway 542. A total of 1,259 surveys were collected during morning, afternoon and early evening time frames on both week and weekend days. The data is providing management with information about visitor demographics, trip length, activity participation, willingness to pay for transportation fees and preferred mode of transportation.

Managers and researchers would like to conduct a series of Focus Group Interviews with Seattle community members to gather opinions and information on what would be the most effective and efficient way to get people to the Forest. We are looking to the Seattle Transit Blog assistance in finding participants. We would like to have eight to ten committed community members per meeting to come sit down with the project committee and share their ideas. Three neighborhoods in the Seattle Metro-Area are of particular interest to the project committee- SoDo in downtown Seattle, Lake Hills in West Bellevue and Latona/Burien in SeaTac. The following is the meeting schedule with the dates, times and locations:

Wednesday, May 8
16:30-18:45

Lake Hills Library
15590 Lake Hills Blvd
Bellevue, WA 98007
(425) 747-3350
Thursday, May 9
18:00-20:00

Valley View Library
17850 Military Road South
SeaTac, WA 98188
(206) 242-6044

Please feel free to contact us at any time with any further questions by emailing Dr. Robert Burns Robert.Burns@mail.wvu.edu .

53 Replies to “Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Studying Alternative Transportation”

  1. This is some of the best news on the transit front I’ve heard in a long time. There are some big potential problems with any plan to provide public transit to the mountains. Number one is of course “What do you do about stragglers?”, but that the Forest Service is even thinking about the clear benefits of making the mountains “accessible” is beyond great.

    1. That’s an interesting question. One solution might be one of those emergency phones you see on college campuses or on California highways: really just a cell phone and a solar panel on a post. This would be useful beyond transit service.

    2. Agreed! When I told my extended family I was planning to move to the Seattle area and not own a car, the second thing they asked (after “what about shopping?”) was “What about when you want to go up into the mountains?” If a workable transit solution can be developed, it would be excellent.

    3. Maybe every bus ticket would be a two-way ticket, similar to ferries out to the islands.

      1. It’s not just fares – there’s also the issue of whether you are prepared to spend the night out in the wilderness if you get delayed and miss the last bus home. On long, strenuous hikes, where it can be difficult to predict how long it will take, this can be a big issue.

      2. What asdf said was what I meant by “stagglers”.

        That does bring up another question, though: what risk would the transit agency have if its driver refused passage to someone wanting to ride back from the mountains who did not have the fare and then perished?

        So, your idea is a good one: if someone appears at a bus stop up in the National Forest, just assume that she or he got there on the bus and give the person a ride back, at least to North Bend or Duvall. That’s the way the ferries and Tacoma Narrows Bridge work: if you’re on the “free” side they figure they’ll get you (or already got you) on the other trip.

        Of course, since the ferries have an opposite orientation from the TNB for passengers, that gives rise to nice arbitrage opportunities……

  2. The amount of money spent to keep roads passable to remote areas is staggering. If anybody hasn’t spent much time hiking in our area and would like to, I’d recommend checking out Washington Trails Association. They have excellent resources for people just getting into hiking in our area. They have also been fighting the roads vs. pedestrian facilities (trails) for decades (most successfully with the NOVA program) Their volunteer trips are a great way to learn more about what goes into building and maintaining trails.

  3. There a hiking clubs like the Sierra Club that organize carpools etc. If a shuttle or vanpool system were devised, the Forest Service could utilize these groups to market the service.

    1. One option that would be relatively cheap to implement would be to allow vanpool vehicles, that would otherwise be sitting idle on weekends, to transport hikers to and from trailheads. Ideally, any hiking group should be able to reserve a vanpool van for a weekend (pick up and return at a suburban P&R), regardless of whether anybody in the group happens to use a vanpool to commute to work or not.

      1. For the same reason, it would also not take any new buses to establish weekend/holiday bus service along I-90 geared towards hikers: there’s plenty of buses that sit unused on weekends.

  4. Rocky Mountain National Park has a network of shuttle buses connecting to various parking lots, as well as the town of Estes Park, CO. This service is provided, in large part, to avoid having to expand the parking lots. The Estes Park Visitors Shuttle gets riders from all around town to the Esteas Park Visitors Center (where the park shuttle starts).

    A private shuttle company provides direct service between Estes Park (to/from the booked destination of your choice) and Denver International Airport. I took this shuttle a few years ago. I recommend it if you ever want to hike in the Rockies.

    1. Glacier National Park, Zion National Park, and Denali National Park all have shuttle service for the purposes of congestion management and park preservation. It appears a lot more parks all over the country have similar service, if you do a basic search.

      Just present shuttle service as a way to reduce road and parking maintenance costs, and I think the park service will jump at the opportunity.

    2. Muir Woods has a connecting shuttle from the ferry in Sausalito, Yosemite has a shuttle… this model is quite common. I’m surprised we don’t have it here already, given the Seattle obsession with hiking.

      1. I believe Greyhound tried running a bus to Snoqualmie and/or Stevens Pass but it didn’t generate enough fares to make it a sustainable option.

        Shuttles are great, but most people drive to a parking lot to then take a shuttle into a NPS — like Mt. Rainier’s shuttles.

        National Parks are very different from a National Forest…way more organized tourists and such in a NPS setting, willing to sit on a shuttle and enjoy the views. People who come to a national forest are heading to a destination (likely a trailhead). So even if you had a shuttle, you’d still be walking or biking miles to get to your TH (unless you’re taking a hike on the PCT, which take in/out of the passes).

  5. Serving a national forest could be extremely challenging. As an example, one problem to overcome would be no central parking areas such as you would have in a park. Are there any other national forests that have such a service like this?

    I also wonder how many people use the existing service to access the Wenatchee National Forest whether as a day hike or an overnight trip? When I spoke with the bus drivers about this, they indicated there weren’t very many. And while Rainier National Park might have a summer-time weekend shuttle system within the park already, I would think we might want to come up with ways to expand non-automobile access to the park.

    1. Glacier National Park has a very good shuttle system that goes all over the park and connects with Amtrak, making it possible to do some very good hikes in there car-free. Mt. Ranier also has a shuttle, but it is no connection whatsoever to any public transit system. Once you’ve already driven you car to Ashford, the closest stop served by the shuttle system, you may as well keep driving it all the way.

      It’s especially frustrating given that the existing sound transit routes 594 and 578 already take you half way there.

      One option for Ranier might be to take two of the busiest weekends in the year – Fourth of July Weekend and Labor Day Weekend – and on just those days, provide one trip on the park shuttle that connects with the 594 at the I-5/SR-512 P&R. It would be perfectly reasonable for this trip to charge $10-$20 for a round trip to help defray the cost.

      1. Serving Mount Baker or Wenatchee national forests would be very different than serving a national park.

  6. Three neighborhoods in the Seattle Metro-Area are of particular interest to the project committee- SoDo in downtown Seattle, Lake Hills in West Bellevue and Latona/Burien in SeaTac.

    I’m dying to know how they came up with this list of neighborhoods as viable areas for connecting to a forest. Almost nobody lives in SODO, everyone in Lake Hills has a car, as does anybody in Burien with the free time and income to spend their weekends in parks. Why not, say, Rainier Valley and the U-District?

    1. I would like to attend and, ironically, the Lake Hills location actually works best for me because it’s a quick bike away from Microsoft, where I would be coming from. Do I need to RSVP, or can I just show up?

      1. What route would you take from MSFT to Lake Hills on a bike? 148th is death unless you ride the sidewalks and it’s still hell through Overlake. 140th, if you can survive the stretch from NE 24th to Bel-Red maybe but then you add a lot of elevation. There’s routes through Eastgate but it’s anything but quick. On an early weekend morning it’s one thing but after work… pretty hard corp.

      2. Why not straight down 156th? It would be busy from Overlake to Crossroads, but it’s pretty calm south of NE 8th. For an even calmer route, why not 164th NE?

      3. I would take the straight shot down 156th St. There’s enough stoplights to keep the cars from going too fast. I have also confirmed through experience that riding a bike down 156th St. is actually faster than the “rapid” ride bus between Microsoft and crossroads.

      4. While bus service to more trailheads would be nice, there is a part of me that realizes that in lean budget times there is really no source of money to pay for it. And fares will not be able to cover more than a small fraction of the operating costs, while still being cost-competitive with meeting at a P&R and doing old-fashioned carpooling.

        So, while some part of my mind fantasizes about my ideal bus route up Snoqualmie Pass, I think a more practical option might be to push for better bicycle connections. Once a bike trail is built, it’s there forever, with minimal continued operational cost, compared to running buses.

        The John Wayne/Iron Horse Trail is a great start, but we need to do more. We need better options to bike from Issaquah to North Bend that don’t involve massive hills or getting run over by cars on SR-202. Today, we have the Preston-Snoqualmie Trail, paralleling Fall City Road, and we also have a relatively flat trail coming west out of Snoqualmie that dead-ends just east of the river separating it from Preston. If we built a bridge over the road and the river, connecting these two trails together, it would dramatically reduce the distance, time, and effort required to bike to Snoqualmie and, by extension, to North Bend and the Cascades.

        Seems expensive, but remember, once it’s there, it’s there forever, with no need to find continual money in the budget to operate it, year after year after year.

      5. Between MSFT and Crossroads riding a bike on 156th is asking to get killed. Pretty silly when you can jog just a half mile east and wind your way though wide and virtually traffic free single family land all the way to Lake Hills Blvd. Anyway, safe bike routes that actually go anywhere in Bellevue are few and far between. Of course if you’re just interested in riding a bike with no particular destination in mind and don’t mind a few pack dirt trails there are lots of opportunities.

  7. The U.S. has a 17 trillion dollar debt and 900 billion dollar deficit and has just begun a belt-tightening sequester. I say we don’t have the money to spend on getting people to the forest on public transit. It’s a frivolous and wasteful idea in lean times.

    1. Then we don’t have the money to spend on getting people there on roads, either. I’d be willing to defund public transit if we simultaneously defund all road spending, even down to providing electricity to traffic lights. That way, people really will have to pay their way on both.

  8. I would really love to see the bus to Snoqualmie Pass brought back. There really needs to be a way to backpack from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass without having to talk a friend into making a round trip to Stevens to drop you off and another round trip to Snoqualmie to pick you up.

    And, while we’re at it, it would be really nice if this bus could stop at I-90/exit 47 on the way and include bike racks.

    Finally, it should be noted that according to internet documents I found (correct me if I’m wrong), the old bus-up-I-90 stopped at Rattlesnake Lake, which meant it had no connection whatsoever to any public transit. I don’t think it’s necessary for a bus into the mountains to go all the way into Seattle (we do have the 554), but it does need to at least go to Issaquah.

    1. Bus Up 90 takes people from the Hyak trailhead just east of the Snoqualmie Tunnel back to the Cedar Falls trailhead near Rattlesnake Lake. It’s basically a shuttle between Point A and Point B on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail within Iron Horse State Park.

      People can get to the Cedar Falls trailhead by taking the King County Snoqualmie Valley Trail from North Bend.

      1. “People can get to the Cedar Falls trailhead by taking the King County Snoqualmie Valley Trail from North Bend.”

        True, but it’s a good 7’ish miles from North Bend to Rattlesnake Lake, so there’s not exactly making it easy.

        Rattlesnake Lake is also completely out of the way to Snoqualmie Pass if you’re driving, so the demand for people to P&R is going to be negligible – especially when the bus fares are considerably higher than the cost of the gas for the round trip.

        So, at the end of the day, the Bus up I-90 has essentially limited its market to people who want to ride the bus up to the pass, while riding their bikes back down. This is one of the reasons the Bus up 90 became a failure.

        If I were designing a bus up 90, my ideal routing would have many more stops along the way, for example like this:

        1) Issaquah TC
        2) I-90/exit 20 (Tiger Mountain)
        3) Downtown North Bend
        4) Little Si Trailhead (access to big Si via the old trail)
        5) Olalie State Park (access to Iron Horse Trail)
        6) I-90/exit 38 (access to Dirty Harry’s peak)
        7) I-90/exit 47 (access to Pratt Lake, Granite Mountain, Annette Lake, and numerous other destinations)
        8) Snoqualmie Pass

        According to Google’s route map (https://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Newport+Way+NW&daddr=I-90+E+to:N+Bend+Boulevard+North%2FBendigo+Blvd+S+to:SE+Mt+Si+Rd+to:SE+Homestead+Valley+Rd+to:Unknown+road+to:Unknown+road+to:State+Route+906%2FWA-906%2FNF-9041%2FSR+906&hl=en&ll=47.416879,-121.429567&spn=0.056568,0.132093&sll=47.42077,-121.418624&sspn=0.028282,0.066047&geocode=FcZr1QIdHXq5-A%3BFeRE1QIdGb26-A%3BFWq31AIdLay9-A%3BFVSa1AIdayG–A%3BFRXW0wId_Ju_-A%3BFWS50wId3Pu_-A%3BFQQx0wIdZlvC-A%3BFTae0wIdVWHD-A&t=h&mra=mi&mrsp=7&sz=15&z=14), travel time would be about an hour each way, which would translate into a headway of 3 hours, assuming a 30 minute layover on each end, with only one bus in service.

  9. I hear road congestion can be pretty serious during ski season and I know during the summer the passes get pretty congested. Building and maintaining more roads through these areas would be really expensive. So a transit service with high enough ridership to get a lot of people out of their cars would be great.

    So… where to start? Skiers seem like a plausible target market, though I don’t know if they’re being studied here. They don’t need cars once they’re at the mountain, are unlikely to end up an impossible-to-cover distance from the pickup at the end of the day (long distance travel is covered by gondolas and base areas are easy to navigate), and many skiers like to hit the bar at the end of the day. A popular (or subsidized) service might beat driving on cost, and could provide “front-door” service, eliminating long parking walks… and costs? Some skiers I know say parking is getting tight at some areas (that’s all I can say really — I’m not a skier myself so I never remember the names of ski areas), and tight parking often leads to paid parking.

    So in the best case a bus service could offer modest cost savings and certain kinds of convenience compared to driving, especially for singles or couples, in exchange for a loss of flexibility and privacy and all the usual stuff. They’d really want to push the advantages — offer amenities like free Wi-Fi, try to get subsidized by the ski areas (or work out ticket discount deals or something), especially those facing parking crunches.

    As for pick-up locations, given a goal of mitigating traffic delays and parking shortages (as opposed to a goal of promoting urbanism and car-free living), I’d think park-and-rides first as a pragmatic move (in 2013 most people don’t live within walking distance of good weekend transit, and don’t want to haul much luggage onto and off of a Metro bus). To help people without cars… use park-and-rides with excellent weekend service, and/or start trips in transit-friendly locations and stop at the park-and-ride on the way out of town (maybe start at King Street Station for its nice new/old waiting area and good transit connections, and stop at South Bellevue P&R on the way out). I dunno, I’m just riffing here.

    I don’t know if the national forests have parking issues or internal road congestion… it seems like it would be hard for a bus to a national forest to be attractive to anyone with access to a car, though I admit I don’t have my finger on the pulse of this.

    1. There is already bus service to Snoqualmie on weekends during ski season that stops in West Seattle, downtown and Bellevue.

      1. True, but that’s only during ski season. There is nothing at all during the summer for people that want to hike without lots and lots of snow.

  10. I decided to go to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website to see if I could find more information about their desire to study alternative transportation. Maybe I’m just bad at searching for things on a website, but I couldn’t find one mention of this topic. Call me a cynic, but if this alternative transportation thing isn’t on the forest’s main website, could this all just be some sort of PR stunt?

    http://www.fs.usda.gov/mbs

      1. aw, you missed my point. I know I can find information about this on other websites, but it’s odd that it’s not mentioned on the website that’s the subject of this study. It’s suspicious that it’s not on the website that matters most.

        BTW, this blog keeps hammering away at the notion that limited public transit resources have to go where they will do the greatest good for the most people. Isn’t public transit service to distant parks and forests the opposite of that credo?

      2. Given limited resources, I’d agree. But, I think this would be coming out of the National Park Service’s budget, so it’d be added to the pot.

      3. It would come out of the US Forest Service budget, not the National Park Service.

  11. I wonder if anyone’s done a study to see how much overlap there really is between urbanites who want to live a pointedly car-free existence, and people who want to get out and commune with nature? It seems like these are pretty contradictory lifestyles.

    1. Definitely not. I live car-free in the city, and I am an avid hiker, climber, kayaker, etc… and so are lots of other people. The only reason I ever need a car is to get to remote trailheads. Often I wind up renting a car for this purpose, which seems kind of silly when thousands of other people are driving to the same places (from the same starting points) every weekend. At the rental car counter on a friday afternoon, typically most of the people in line seem to be car-less city dwellers headed for the mountains. Most of the city-dwellers I know who own cars, own them mainly for this purpose; they bike or take the bus around town, but use the car to go to the mountains.

    2. I lived car-free for years because I love nature and want to minimize my ecological impact. Poor to non-existent transit options for getting out of the city (and poor to non-existent options for renting a camper other than an outrageously large RV) are what drove me to purchase a small pickup trick, which I typically only use on the weekends.

  12. I think this is a great idea, long overdue. A few specific possibilities:

    1) a bus from North Bend up the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rd. I believe that road is already slated for paving (in the past it has been a notorious axle-buster. I have a mountain climbing guidebook that says you should wear a climbing helmet while driving up the road). Several major trailheads along the road, leading to all kinds of routes into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

    2) a bus up the Mt. Loop Highway from Granite Falls (or maybe starting at Everett) to Barlow Pass. Lots of popular trailheads en route, ending at the Monte Cristo trailhead.

    3) maybe a bus up the N Fork Skykomish from Index, once the road is fixed.

    The biggest question is where would these routes begin? Snohomish County currently has no bus service on Sundays, meaning that any transit connections in Granite Falls/Darrington/Gold Bar are useless for weekend recreation. And I don’t even think the bus to North Bend runs on sunday. So, that would either have to change, or else the routes would need to begin in places like Everett and Seattle (or at least Issaquah). If this idea is developed, I hope it’s fully developed for transit users, and not just for people who can drive their cars to a transit-inaccessible ranger station parking lot.

    I have used Community Transit to Darrington to hike/climb in the Whitehorse Mt/Three Fingers vicinity, and to float down the Sauk and Stillaguamish rivers in an inflatable raft. Unfortunately, relentless cuts to transit make that pretty difficult at this point.

    1. All three are bad choices for a first route. The logical place to start such service is with the corridor to the most-used trailheads: I-90 from Seattle to Snoqualmie Pass. As a bonus, that route is 100% within King County, so there’s no negotiation between differing transit agencies involved in starting it up.

      North Fork Road can be rough, but calling it an “axle-breaker” is an exaggeration. I drove it many times in the mid-90s in a Toyota Corolla.

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