It’s probably a sign of regional progress that access to transit always receives prominent mention in any discussion of a potential arena site. I suspect that wouldn’t have happened in 1965 or 1980 or even 1995, although in each of those cases we didn’t have much in the way of traffic-separated transit that freed attendees from horrendous pre- and post-game congestion.
According to the wonderful NHL to Seattle blog, there are three arena sites still under consideration: the well-known Chris Hansen Sodo site, Downtown Bellevue east of I-405, and a new location near the Tukwila Sounder station. Superficial glances at route maps are nice step, but how do the transit features of each site stack up to an expert eye?
Sodo (1st Ave S & S Holgate St)
Assets: Central regional location. Within reasonable walking distance of the great Sodo/Pioneer Square transit hub, providing access to ferries, Link, Sounder, and the busway. Regular service runs frequently deep into the night and on weekends.
Liabilities: Most of those assets are a long walk away, with frustratingly indirect pathways, and are unpleasant for pedestrians.
Scope for Improvement: Major work to improve pedestrian access. Most effective (and expensive) would be to break up some of the superblocks and provide new exits to Sodo and Stadium stations, providing more direct access to the arena that lies between them.
Overall Grade: B+. People would take transit to events here no matter where they live, although fewer than would if the arena were an easier walk.
Bellevue (NE 4th St & 116th Ave NE)
Assets: Within reasonable walking distance of the Bellevue Transit Center, with decent bus service in all directions late into the night and on weekends. Beginning in 2023, a nearby Link Light Rail station.
Liabilities: Until 2023, transit is mostly not traffic-separated, trapping it in post-game congestion. Access to BTC is an unpleasant walk that requires crossing a freeway. Also bus frequency drops precipitously evenings and weekends, even on core routes.
Scope for Improvement: Other than waiting for 2023, investing more in high-frequency buses evenings and weekends, and special event service. Anything Bellevue can do to grant transit priority nearby would also help, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Overall Grade: D today, B- in 2023. Only diehards will take transit there this decade assuming no improvements; but East Link will be the default way to get there for people in Seattle, Mercer Island, the Spring District, and Redmond that aren’t surgically attached to their cars. The Link spine, though a long trip, may even attract people to the North and South of Seattle that are too cheap to pay for parking.
Tukwila (Longacres Way & W Valley Hwy)
Assets: RapidRide F and Tukwila Sounder Station provide easy access to arena; Route 150 is nearby and provides a fairly direct shot into Downtown Seattle.
Liabilities: The Sounder doesn’t run when you need it to, except early weekday evenings. F line, and possibly the 150, will be severely delayed by game traffic. F line is a meandering, indirect way to get places. Again, bus frequency drops off unacceptably evenings and weekends.
Scope for Improvement: Special Sounder service to both Seattle and Tacoma, special event bus service using more direct routing. Building the Burien/Renton BRT corridor from Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan would turn the F into a great option.
Overall Grade: D. Night special Sounder service is unprecedented, even for much larger venues. Aggressive bus priority would do wonders but the likely outcome is that almost anyone with the option will drive. It’s possible to get here via transit at night, which keeps it from being an F.
Discussion of the merits of public subsidy of arenas are off-topic for this post.