News Roundup: Going Big

Sound Transit Express / King County Metro

This is an open thread

Trailhead Direct Expands For Its Second Season

No, not that Mount Baker (courtesy of King County Metro)

Trailhead Direct begins its second full year of service on Saturday, April 20, with expanded routes to two new trails with assistance from the county and state parks departments. Last year, King County Metro used additional funding from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District to run from April to October on three routes between Seattle and the Issaquah Alps. The service was declared a success, carrying hikers on over 10,000 round-trips and bringing easy recreation to those who live car-free or car-lite while also reducing parking strain at popular trailheads.

This year, Trailhead Direct will have four routes that serve various trailheads in the Issaquah Alps on weekends and federal holidays until October 27, generally running every 30 minutes from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm. The Mount Si shuttle will move its Downtown Seattle stop to Spring Street and 4th Avenue, where Route 2 picks up eastbound riders outside the Central Library, and will have additional stops on First Hill and at the Little Si trailhead near North Bend. The state Department of Natural Resources created a new drop-off area for the shuttles at the trailhead after receiving feedback from Metro and the county parks department.

The Issaquah Alps loop remains unchanged, connecting Mount Baker Station and Eastgate Freeway Station (shared with the Mount Si route) to four trailheads on the south and east sides of Squak Mountain. The Mailbox Peak shuttle was previously a very short hop between a North Bend parking lot and the trailhead, but will now extend all the way to Issaquah Transit Center to connect with the other shuttles and regular service on Sound Transit Express Route 554 and Metro Route 271.

The fourth and newest route in the Trailhead Direct system is the Cougar Mountain shuttle, which connects Tukwila International Boulevard Station to Renton Transit Center, the Renton Highlands (stopping at 4th & Union near Heritage Park), the Sky Country trailhead, and Issaquah Transit Center. With three of the shuttles converging at Issaquah Transit Center, Metro has allowed for simple transfers that make all nine trailheads in the newly-minted Mountains to Sound National Heritage Area easily accessible from both Seattle and Tukwila.

To ride the Trailhead Direct shuttles, you only need to pay a Metro fare going each direction, via an ORCA card, cash, or a Transit GO mobile ticket, with reduced fares for those with qualifying ORCA cards. The shuttles are actually small vans similar to those used for DART and the West Seattle water taxi shuttles, seating between 13 and 27 passengers and also able to carry wheelchairs and two to three bicycles. Dogs are allowed on board, but at the discretion of the driver. The routes show up in the OneBusAway and Transit apps, as well as Google Maps for easy trip planning. Metro is also partnering with TOTAGO (Turn Off The App – Go Outside), a free app that combines transit wayfinding with hiking-specific directions and trip planning that works offline.

A Safer 4th & Jackson and an “Iconic” Union Station

Aerial view of the Jackson Hub. Credit: Bruce Engelhardt

Crossing 4th and 2nd Avenues South at their intersections with Jackson Street is a harrowing experience. The intersection is wide—four busy lanes plus a little extra—and the signal is short. Crossing the both intersections on the same signal cycle is hard, unless you’re jogging.

That intersection is right in the middle of one of the busiest transit hubs in the city. Metro, Community Transit, Sound Transit, the Seattle Streetcar, Amtrak, Bolt Bus: thousands riders transfer between modes every day in the area immediately surrounding the vast intersection. King Street and Union Stations, much-used, legacy railroad buildings, loom over an environment dominated by cars.

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Sounder North Was Mudslide Free This Winter

Mudslide mitigation / WSDOT

I am totally tempting fate here by posting this, so sorry if I anger the gods, but I wanted to take a moment to recognize that there were no mudslide-induced cancellations on Sounder North this year. Sound Transit’s Bonnie Todd noted it at the last ST ops committee meeting (video – skip to the ~13 minute mark).

Todd noted the stark change from the winter of 2012-13, when 27.5 days of service were cancelled. Another 1500-foot catchment wall was added in the Everett area this year, further improving reliability.  Some dry months may have helped as well.

In 2015, I wrote about the mitigation efforts WSDOT and ST were undertaking.  Soon after I wrote that, sure enough, there was a mudslide.

More reliability is great news for both Sounder North and Amtrak Cascades.

Wifi Exits the Tunnel Along With the Buses

Tunnel Wifi Advertisement

The free WiFi in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel is no more. Readers asked us what happened, so I followed up with Metro and Sound Transit to find out.

“Our networking team reported that the equipment was past its end-of-life and was expected to be taken down after March 23rd when Metro exited the tunnel,” said Metro’s Jeff Switzer. “Unfortunately, an equipment failure on March 15th escalated the timeline by a week.”

Sound Transit is running the show now, but don’t expect the wifi to get switched back on. “The establishment of cellular and broadband data service throughout all our tunnels made it obsolete,” according to Sound Transit’s Geoff Patrick.

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With Seattle winning the War on Cars, the fight spreads to the ‘burbs

Opening new fronts. Credit: Joe Kunzler.

When it comes to commuting, we may be winning the War on Cars in Seattle proper, but pretty much everyone else in the Puget Sound region is still driving to their free parking at work every day.

According to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), 63 percent of commuters drive to work alone. The figure comes from the PSRC’s recently released 2017 Household Travel Survey, the latest in a series of biannual studies of travel behavior in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties.

But the story is very different in Seattle proper. According to the survey’s study of general-purpose travel in the city, transit is the most popular motorized mode, with a 25 percent share. Walking is the most popular mode, with a 34 percent share, with 2% of respondents primarily biking.

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Community Transit Second ORCA Agency to Adopt Low-Income Half Fare

Credit: Community Transit

Community Transit’s Board of Directors approved a proposal Thursday afternoon to create a low-income fare category, and make the fare half the regular fare, rounded down to the nearest quarter. The new fare category will take effect July 1.

CT will be only the second agency in the ORCA pod where low-income ORCA users will save 50% or more on their fare, joining Kitsap Transit.

Each low-income ORCA card is free for first-time recipients, and is charged the low-income fare for each service that has a low-income fare. All the agencies, except Washington State Ferries, honor transfer value from trips on other ORCA-paid services, for 2 hours from time of payment. All but WSF also honor monthly PugetPasses. Loaded ORCA product will remain the only medium for getting any of the low-income fare discounts.

Everett Transit is in the middle of its comment period on three proposals, two of which would establish a low-income fare category, and the second of which would make that low-income fare a half fare. ET’s Option 2 would also make its youth fare (for riders 6-18) a half fare.

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Durkan Requests More Light Rail Options in Chinatown-ID and West Seattle

Credit: ZhangZhou

Mayor Jenny Durkan wants Sound Transit to study more alignments in the West Seattle and Ballard extensions.

The City asked for “additional study, problem solving, and refinements in West Seattle, Chinatown/International District, SODO, and mid-town segments” in a letter to Sound Transit signed by Sam Zimbabwe, the new director of SDOT.

Chinatown/International District (CID) residents have organized against a 5th Avenue South alignment, and West Seattle residents, particularly Youngstown residents, object to the amount of housing that would need to be demolished to build alignments that are currently under consideration.

The City blessed the results of the process so far in other parts of the line, writing that “in contrast, Sound Transit should feel confident that the final alignment selected in Ballard, Interbay, Uptown, and South Lake Union will be within the possibilities represented by the two Level 3 alternatives.”

Sound Transit structured the current outreach and design process to limit the amount of options submitted in the draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) process, with the goal of opening Link lines as soon as possible.

Anne Fennessy, the City’s ST3 point person and a close ally of the Mayor, says that Durkan doesn’t want to delay project delivery, despite the request for more options. Fennessy said the Mayor has convened a multi-agency working group to expedite permitting and cut red tape on the City side.

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Sound Transit rethinking fare enforcement

Credit: Oran Viriyincy

Sound Transit is pushing ahead with fare enforcement reform. At last week’s Board meeting, CEO Peter Rogoff announced that the agency has formed a working group that will study changes to the existing fare enforcement process. He updated a Board committee on the goals of the working group in comments at a meeting yesterday.

“[We] convene[d] a cross-functional group to review the agency’s approach to fare enforcement, and evaluate opportunities to further enhance our program with an emphasis on our core values of customer focus, safety, inclusion, and respect,” Rogoff said on Thursday, at a meeting of the Board’s operations and rider experience committee.

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News Roundup: Always Open

Stephen Rees/Flickr

New Alternatives for the Tacoma Dome Link Extension

Option for Tacoma Dome Station

While West Seattle and Ballard (and Eastside BRT!) have been getting all the media attention, Sound Transit continues to refine Tacoma Dome Link extension, a 4 station, ~10 mile connection that will complete the southern end of the light rail spine by 2030.

The Tacoma Dome Link extension is not to be confused with the extension of Tacoma Links, the streetcar operated by Sound Transit through Downtown Tacoma. ST even includes a little diagram in case you get confused:

Sound Transit has provided a wide array of options, which as always carry a similar set of tradeoffs: car access vs. bus transfers, TOD opportunities vs. business impacts, ridership vs. capital costs. Sometimes the geography presents a win-win, other times hard decisions must be made.

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Refined I-405 BRT to speed buses, attract more riders

Planned project refinements add up to much better travel times for riders than anticipated in 2016 (Image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit has significantly refined the design for I-405 BRT which is anticipated to begin service in 2024. The final set of refinements from Phase 1 of design were shared with the System Expansion Committee at their March meeting. The design changes reduce travel times on the corridor and improve reliability. The shorter travel times make the service more appealing and ridership estimates have been raised correspondingly.

Construction will mostly occur in 2023-2024. WSDOT will begin construction of two stations (NE 44th in Renton and NE 85th in Kirkland) much earlier. Both are lengthier and more complex projects, and NE 44th is scheduled as part of the widening of I-405 south of Bellevue starting in 2019.

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Everett and Community Transit Restructure Routes for Swift

The Swift Green Line in Everett

On Sunday, Community Transit capped six years of planning and construction on the Swift Green Line with an opening ceremony and a full day of joyriding by hundreds of people. The opening of the Green Line and its northern terminal at the new Seaway Transit Center also triggered a restructure of routes across the Community Transit and Everett Transit systems, the latter of which was completed on Sunday.

All of the existing Boeing services on CT and ET will be redirected to Seaway Transit Center instead of looping around the main plant and the flightline. This shaves off several minutes for each trip, but requires Boeing employees to find another means of reaching the transit center. Boeing is deploying a new shuttle bus route that runs every 12 minutes from 4 am to 2 am and stops at Seaway Transit Center. Community Transit is adding an additional round trip to routes 107, 227, and 247 to serve the plant, while route 107 is also getting new stops that will serve the Future of Flight Museum and other local businesses.

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