Declaring the first season of Trailhead Direct a success, King County is preparing for a second season while considering expanding the program to North Bend.
Trailhead Direct provided hikers an option to access trails in the Issaquah Alps using public transportation. The pilot program, which ran on weekends and holidays from early August to mid-October, aimed to reduce congestion at trailheads and broaden access to public lands.
Nineteen-seat vans ran every 30 minutes between 7 am and 6 pm, picking up riders at Issaquah’s two park-and-rides and stopping at three trailheads on Squak and Tiger mountains. Riders were charged an off-peak fare.
According to Lizzy Jessup, a project manager at King County Parks, about 900 hikers used the service, averaging roughly 40 riders a day. An on-board survey found over 90% of riders thought the service could reduce congestion at trailheads, and many riders wanted to see the service expand to more locations. The on-board survey also found hikers accessed the Trailhead Direct shuttles both by driving themselves to the park-and-ride lots and also by taking Metro route 271 and Sound Transit route 554 from Seattle.
Jessup said King County Parks and King County Metro Transit are still weighing possible changes to the route and timing of the shuttles for next year. She added that, due to low ridership, the stop at the Issaquah Highlands Park and Ride will probably be eliminated this year.
The two King County agencies also hope to expand the program and connect to trails in North Bend. Jessup said one consideration in North Bend is using satellite parking lots to add parking near trailheads.
On Tuesday, members of the outdoor community gathered to brainstorm ideas on alternative transportation to the outdoors and the future of the Trailhead Direct service, hosted by the Wilderness Society and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.
“Everyone should be able to access the outdoors,” said Ben Hughey, a policy lead at Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, starting the discussion.
Hughey added that transportation was the No. 2 obstacle for people of color accessing the outdoors, citing a poll done by New America Media. Time was the No. 1 obstacle.
Even if Trailhead Direct does expand to North Bend, there are still hundreds of other trails in the region requiring alternative transportation options to make them accessible without needing a car.
One possibility Hughey said was being considered by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust was charter bus service. The idea was modeled off the Canadian non-profit charter bus service, PARKBUS, which shuttles back and forth between National and Provincial Parks and major cities.
Another option brought to the table was the app TOTAGO. The app gives the location of trailheads accessible by bus from several major cities around the US. Along with providing transit directions to trailheads and hike descriptions, the app also gives timings of buses for the return trip.
Attendees also offered suggestions for next year, including adjusting the timing of the Trailhead Direct service to match the arrival times of buses from Seattle. Another idea was to run the shuttles in both directions around the looped route.
Though many decisions about next year’s service are yet to be finalized, Jessup said Trailhead Direct would run for the full 2018 hiking season.