Community Transit’s Swift Blue Line, the most popular bus route in Snohomish County, is being extended south from Aurora Village to meet Link light rail at Shoreline North/NE 185th Station in 2024. The agency is proposing three routing options for the extension, as well as potential changes to service that would take effect at the same time. While the extension itself is exciting news, the service change concepts are worth discussing, ranging from rearranging stations to introducing short-turn trips.
The three routing options all begin around Aurora Village at Aurora Avenue and 200th Street, and proceed south and east to Shoreline North/NE 185th Station. Alternatives A and C would skip the current terminal at Aurora Village, opting for a set of bus stops on Aurora Avenue, and continue down the street to another stop at North 192nd Street that serves the Shoreline Park and Ride. From there, Alternative A takes the direct route east from Aurora to the station on Northeast 185th Street, while Alternative C turns east at Northeast 175th Street and north onto 5th Avenue Northeast to complete a “hook” with no additional stops.
Alternative B would continue to use the current stop at the transit center and turn south on Meridian Avenue until it reaches Northeast 185th Street. Meridian is a fairly quiet residential street with two lanes and on-street parking, and would not likely run into unfavorable traffic.
Swift’s status as fast suburban BRT is helped along by the use of BAT lanes, which would be incorporated into the Shoreline extension. The Aurora Avenue alternatives would use an existing set of lanes added for the RapidRide E Line, but would have to merge into traffic to make its eastbound turn. The City of Shoreline has adopted plans to add a set of BAT lanes on Northeast 185th Street from near Aurora to 5th Avenue Northeast on the west side of the station. According to CT spokesperson Nashika Stanbro, the agency’s study of extension options will include an analysis of what other transit priority treatments can be added for each alternative, including queue jumps and signal priority.
Alternative A is the most straightforward, being able to use these two BAT-enabled streets without much of a hassle. Alternative C would have to use Northeast 175th Street alongside traffic trying to enter Interstate 5, which causes long backups during peak hours and could reduce schedule reliability. It would, however, be beneficial to riders if stops were added at Shoreline’s civic campus (near Aurora Avenue) and public library (at 5th Avenue Northeast), which both lie on the route.
Other service concepts
The Blue Line extension survey also includes three service concepts for review. In an email to STB, Stanbro stated that these concepts are early in the planning process and will be shaped by public input and further development down the road.
The first concept would add or move stations to be more legible for riders and improve accessibility. The Blue Line currently has six “station pairs” that have platforms at separate intersections. While some are fairly close together, a future major junction between Swift routes in Lynnwood currently has its stations a quarter-mile apart. The Swift Orange Line will intersect with the Blue Line at 196th Street and Highway 99, but the northbound platform is at 200th Street, requiring an unpleasant walk for transferring riders.
The stations concept would not be limited to consolidating pairs, but also opening up opportunities to add infill stations. A set of four infill stations were opened by 2011 and a fifth was added at Edmonds Community College in 2016, setting a precedent for CT. The spacing between stations on the Blue Line has been kept to about a mile since the first set were added, but there are still gaps of 1.5 miles between 216th and 238th streets and Crossroads (196th) and Cherry Hill (176th).
The second concept would add limited-stop (or skip-stop) trips into the schedule during peak periods between high-ridership stops. CT is looking to improve travel times, and the corridor would be able to handle some level of express service without running into capacity issues. Alternatively, the third concept proposes short-turn trips (already employed by Metro and other agencies), which would bring higher frequency to the southern half of the Blue Line, which has higher ridership over a shorter distance.
While adding either to the Blue Line could introduce a more confusing schedule for riders and undermine the simplicity associated with BRT, the time savings would be hugely beneficial. The Blue Line will be over 16 miles long after the Shoreline extension opens, which would bring schedule reliability issues that are already seen today with bunching on the corridor.
The Blue Line survey runs until February 27 and will be used during planning of the extension. The extension to Shoreline North/NE 185th Station will open in 2024.