While riding a Metro bus last week, I finally witnessed an operator using his authority to get a rider who refused to wear a mask off the bus. The rider boarded the bus, talking to himself loudly, and sat in the back. The operator played the canned message about needing to wear a mask. He waited a few seconds, then got on the loudspeaker to let everyone know they need to wear a mask while on the bus. The guy in the back didn’t budge, but kept talking loudly to himself. (I realize there may be a medical condition involved here.)
The operator proceeded a couple stops. He then walked toward the back, and told the rider he needed to put on a mask, or get off the bus, and also to please be quiet and stop disturbing the rest of the riders.
Sound Transit recently released its proposed 2021 Service Plan, in which it prepared for the pandemic to continue through the duration of 2021, by continuing the suspension of ST Express routes 541, 544, and 567 indefinitely, continuing to have pared-down service on most other routes, and making 15-minute off-peak headway on Link Light Rail the plan for the foreseeable future.
There are a couple of categories of service savings, related to Link connections that have not been fully utilized by the collective transit agencies.
Sound Transit continues to suffer revenue losses due to COVID-19, with more cuts taking effect from September 19-21. But there is good news in the proposed Service Plan: the opening of Northgate Link in September 2021, adding new stations in the U-District (NE 43rd St & Brooklyn Ave NE), the Roosevelt District (NE 65th St & Roosevelt Ave NE), and the Station at what is currently Northgate Mall, along with a pedestrian bridge over I-5 to North Seattle College.
The Plan document buries the lede regarding Link Light Rail’s September 19 service change:
September 2020:On weekdays, trains operate every 8 minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hours, every 15 minutes during the early morning, midday and early evening, and every 30 minutes late at night. On weekends, service operates every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes late night.
March 2021 Proposal: Maintain September 2020 service levels.
September 2021 Proposal: Service to Northgate begins, using the same frequencies implemented in September 2020, but with four-car trains instead of three-car trains.
Sounder service will continue at pandemic levels through 2021, to wit:
Sounder North will continue to have just two trips in each direction, weekdays only.
Sounder South will add two more peak-direction trips back in September, in each direction. The Plan would maintain that level of service through 2021. Weekdays only.
Several Sound Transit Express routes will be directly impacted by the proposed 2021 Service Plan. While the Plan does not impact the upcoming service changes, those changes for routes impacted by the Plan are detailed in the Plan’s online presentation.
Last month the National Park Service started asking what to do about crowds at Mount Rainier National Park overwhelming parking and road space. More parking would be very expensive and undesirable for the atmosphere of the park. Anywhere parking and road space are at a premium, transit is an obvious answer. But what would be involved in making service good enough that people would actually use it?
The obvious terminus for any Mt. Rainier bus service is the Tacoma Dome. It is the closest major regional transit hub and also has ample surplus parking on weekends. There are excellent, frequent bus connections at all times and light rail coming in the (early?) 2030s. And luckily, with the exception of Sunrise, all the accessible attractions are essentially on a linear path.
The bad news is that even the closest major hub is a long, long way to Mt. Rainier.
Snohomish County is continuing its virtual public engagement for its “Light Rail Communities” project, which will be used to decide on placemaking and zoning around two (or potentially three) light rail stations between Lynnwood and Everett. Previous rounds had solicited feedback on station locations and multimodal access to those locations. This fifth round, open until September 25, is an online “housing workshop” dedicated solely to residential housing types around the station subareas.
While the cities of Lynnwood and Everett have adopted bold plans for upzoning around their planned light rail stations, going as far as to allow for high-rise construction, the unincorporated land between them is somewhat of a blank slate. It has long been home to low-slung apartment complexes built to take advantage of laxer county regulations, but they have since given way to larger, multi-story complexes along Interstate 5 and Ash Way in recent years. While these developments are denser, they remain very car-oriented, with large garages at street level and parking lots separating buildings with little in the way of gathering spaces.
Metro has been signaling for a long time that major service cuts were coming. Between the impending expiration of Seattle STBD funding (with only very partial replacement) and the major loss of sales tax revenue caused by COVID-19, the funding picture is drastically different than it was a year ago. Now we know just how major those cuts will be. On Saturday, September 19, Metro’s network will regress to its worst state in years.
Very little is spared. We lose most of the additional frequency on the Seattle network that STBD funded. Much night and weekend service that became frequent in recent years won’t be frequent anymore. Express service suspended during the pandemic because of lower commute ridership isn’t coming back for the time being. Outside Seattle, service restructures built on increased frequency (including those in Kirkland and Kent) are going to lose some of that frequency. There are so many cuts, affecting so much of the network, that we have little choice but to present them in chart form. But the big picture is that local service is largely back to 2013 levels, and peak-hour commuters will have to use that reduced local service instead of the expresses they were used to before the pandemic.
This is not a formula for continuing Seattle’s transit mode share growth, reducing carbon emissions, or improving mobility for people without cars. The reduced network makes both commute and off-work trips slower and wait times longer. More people are going to drive and park, especially those traveling nights and weekends. As traffic volume recovers, expect worse traffic than Seattle has seen before. The city is going to have a tough time meeting the mode share goals it set for the West Seattle bridge closure. Even once the pandemic is over, it is going to be a sustained and difficult political effort to restore Seattle bus service to where it was at the end of 2019, let alone to make any of the further improvements Metro imagined in Metro Connects..
If there is any good news, it is that Metro wisely has sought to spare those routes that have carried the most essential workers during the pandemic. Workhorse routes that have seen only modest drops in ridership, mostly in the south end, are almost totally unaffected.
In addition to the cuts, there is a significant restructure of service in and around Kent. Normally we would give this much more coverage, as it will improve service for Kent-Auburn riders (even after the cuts) and make some east-west trips faster and simpler. But since the cuts are so sweeping and will make this post so long, we’ll refer riders in Kent to our earlier post for details. That post remains accurate except for COVID-related cuts detailed below.
Two charts listing out all the cuts are below the jump: one for all-day service and one for peak-hour service.