Bruce Englehardt, also known by the handle "SounderBruce", is a college student in northern Snohomish County. Frequent routes include the 201/202, 421/422 and 510/511/512, with occasional trips on Sounder North.
With a decade full of dramatic changes to Seattle and the region as a whole behind us, it’s time to look ahead to what the 2020s has in store. Between completing the bulk of light rail expansion under ST2, starting work on ST3 projects, and figuring out the new region that springs forth from the new transit landscape, it will be an exciting time to be here.
Here’s a rundown of things to look forward to at the start of the decade:
Beginning this weekend, there will be 10 weeks of major disruptions for Link riders passing through Downtown Seattle as part of Connect 2020. While riders will get to enjoy four-car trains, they will be running every 12 minutes because of the single-tracked section in downtown, leading to an overall capacity decrease and forced transfers at Pioneer Square Station. This small bit of pain and annoyance is necessary to connect East Link into the system.
We’ll have a full survival guide later this week, but do note that Link from Capitol Hill to SODO will be fully shut down this weekend and replaced with shuttle buses. People with bicycles will not be able to ride Link trains during the weekday disruptions between University Street and International District/Chinatown stations.
On Monday, Sound Transit announced that the full funding grant agreement (FFGA) for the Federal Way Link Extension project had been sent for Congressional approval, one of the final steps before the grant is awarded. With $790 million in a direct grant and $629 million available through a low-interest TIFIA loan, the final pieces needed for the project to advance to construction are almost in place. Federal Way Link is expected to cost a total of $3.2 billion, having been adjusted by rising property costs and a competitive construction market.
Federal Way Link has already begun pre-construction work, mainly demolishing structures and relocation utilities, and is set to break ground early next year. This will be just over 11 years after the initial vision was approved by voters as part of 2008’s Sound Transit 2 ballot measure. The project was originally set to terminate at South 272nd Street, but was split into several chunks by the 2010 budget shortfall caused by the recession. The northernmost section, between Sea-Tac Airport and Angle Lake, opened in 2016 with accelerated work, while the rest remained in funding limbo until the arrival of Sound Transit 3. Armed with new funding and a one-year extension of the completion date, the project was restored to go all the way to Federal Way.
It’s been a few months since our last check-in with Northgate Link, and things have changed dramatically around the three stations. Holiday shoppers no longer throng Northgate Mall, which is now split in two and without several of its longtime tenants. Roosevelt has gained the first of two cross-streets and welcomed a few new apartment buildings. U District Station now has furnished entrances and lighter fencing.
There is just about two years left until Sound Transit’s due date for Northgate Link, which is set for September 2021, but the project is currently sitting on enough float time to open months earlier. Sound Transit says that, as of this week, overall construction on the project is 95 percent complete and should be turned over for systems installation soon next year.
Intercity Transit is looking to make the rare jump to zero-fare service beginning January 1, 2020, pending a board of directors vote next week. Last year, voters in the urbanized portion of Thurston County approved a 0.4 percent sales tax increase to fund more transit service. Riders on Intercity Transit buses currently pay $1.25 for adult fares on local routes and $3 on express services to Tacoma and Lakewood.
The zero-fare proposal, not part of the long-range plan and goals of the ballot measure, came about as part of a simple opportunity: the fareboxes for the system are in need of replacement. Intercity Transit is not part of the ORCA program and would need to spend more than $1 million to outfit its buses with farecard readers and other equipment.
With Lynnwood Link construction underway, Community Transit has less than five years to prepare for major changes to Snohomish County’s transit landscape. The draft of their latest six-year transit development plan is out for public comment and describes some of the upcoming challenges and priorities for the agency up to the 2024 restructure.
Last year, Community Transit buses and vanpools provided 10.6 million boardings, averaging just under 37,500 on weekdays for fixed-route buses. The agency expects this figure to grow to 14.4 million passenger trips by 2024 with the implementation of more frequent service and the opening of the next Swift line. Community Transit scheduled 412,364 total service hours in 2018, and is expected to use 566,864 by 2024 after several service expansions.
As of today, October 7, the Seattle Center Monorail has a new payment option: the ORCA card in your pocket, bag, or phone case. After five years of study and negotiations earlier this year from the rest of the ORCA consortium, the monorail is now better integrated into the regional transit system as a real commuter option.
Monorail riders using their ORCA cards will line up at the regular ticket booths and present their card to the cashier. After a quick tap with a handheld reader, you’ll be able to board the monorail, which runs every 10 minutes between Westlake Station and the Seattle Center. The monorail will work similar to a normal bus, with both daily and monthly passes accepted as payment alongside e-purse deductions. The two-hour transfer offered with ORCA transactions also apply to the monorail.
The monorail will continue to accept cash, credit/debit cards, and mobile tickets. Paper transfers from Metro buses will not be accepted. The monorail has accepted mobile tickets through Metro’s TransitGo app since January 2018.
Mountlake Terrace, the small suburb of 21,000 often confused with the even smaller fiefdom of Montlake, is looking at big plans for development around its sole light rail station. On Thursday, the city council approved an update to the Town Center Subarea Plan, which was adopted in 2007 to guide development of the fledgling “downtown” of Mountlake Terrace.
The Mountlake Terrace Transit Center and light rail station will sit at the southwest corner of the town center, which spans 18 city blocks that stretch from 230th Street to 237th Street in the south and east to 55th Avenue. The updated plan calls for buildings up to 12 stories tall with a focus on pedestrian-friendly frontages and mixed uses throughout the town center. At full buildout, the town center would have 3,000 new multifamily housing units, 410,000 square feet of office space, and 215,000 square feet of retail, supporting 6,600 new residents and 1,953 new jobs.
Not to be outdone by Metro, Community Transit is also boosting Sunday frequencies for several routes in their September 22 service change. In the first major change to Sunday service since it was reintroduced in 2015, Route 201 (Smokey Point–Lynnwood) will be added to the Sunday roster with hourly service from 7:30 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. Route 201 will supplement existing Sunday service on Route 202 to provide 30-minute frequency on their shared corridor in Marysville and Everett.
Other routs will have added trips on Sundays and major holidays, including extended service until 9 p.m. for Routes 112, 113, 116, and 280. Community Transit is also upgrading Saturday frequency on the Swift Blue Line from 20 minutes to 15 minutes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Both Swift lines will also have extended hours of service, including weekday trips that begin at 4:15 a.m. and evening service on Sundays and holidays until 9 p.m.
On Tuesday, Sound Transit and local elected officials broke ground on the first inter-county light rail project to be built in Washington state: Lynnwood Link. Although visible construction on Lynnwood Link has been underway for months, the final contracts and funding agreements were only recently approved by Sound Transit and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
Lynnwood Link will extend light rail service on the Red and Blue lines by 8.5 miles along Interstate 5, passing through Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace before terminating at Lynnwood Transit Center, the main bus hub in South Snohomish County. Community Transit is planning a massive truncation of its commuter routes to feed into light rail trains, taking advantage of the more reliable travel times to reinvest service hours into expanded local routes. Several bus rapid transit routes, including the Stride network and the Swift Blue and Orange lines, will intersect with Link at stations built along the Lynnwood corridor.
The project was approved as part of ST2 in 2008 and is the final light rail project from the program, discounting projects that were absorbed into ST3 like the extensions to Federal Way and Downtown Redmond. It was originally anticipated to begin service in 2023, but was pushed back by six months into 2024 because of design changes and cost overruns brought on by the local construction boom. The current project budget is $2.9 billion, of which 40 percent will be paid through a $1.17 billion full funding grant agreement with the FTA that was signed late last year.
In case you haven’t heard, Link celebrated its tenth birthday last week, bringing back memories of the long-past era of 2009. Since the first trains left Mount Baker Station on the morning of July 18, 2009, Link has carried over 125 million passenger trips and has become the single busiest transit corridor in the state. For all the milestones and achievements of the past ten years, Link is saving its grandest leaps forward for the upcoming decade.
When we arrive at Link’s 20th birthday in 2029, light rail ridership will have shattered several times over and reached well over 280,000 daily trips—surpassing almost every light rail system in the United States. Trains will whisk away riders from 44 stations, from Lynnwood to Federal Way and from Redmond to downtown Seattle, popping out of the Northgate tunnel every three minutes, alternating between red and blue.
Ten years ago today, some 45,000 riders boarded Link light rail for the first time and celebrated a new era in Seattle’s transit history: the long-awaited start to a real rail transit system.
STB was there to cover every angle of the opening weekend (and the first days in revenue service), which are chronicled in loving detail with posts every few hours. There was number counting, a short postmortem, and plenty of photos and comments. There were also dozens of tweets on opening day, with thoughts ranging from porta-potty cleanliness to the fact that three-car trains were there to take passengers that day.
Link service to Everett remains 17 years away from its estimated completion date, but the narrowing of station options is already progressing at the county level. Snohomish County is soliciting another round of public comments for its light rail station subarea plans, which cover the two stations in unincorporated area between Lynnwood and Everett: Ash Way (164th Street Southwest) and Mariner (128th Street Southwest). These two stations mark the end of the “easy” section of Everett Link, with an opportunity to open early if the stars align.
The second open house, which we reported on in November, drew 3,000 online visitors and narrowed down the set of options per station from three to two. Respondents to surveys about both stations also ranked their priorities in choosing station options, placing Swift and bus connections above the likes of sidewalk/trail access, TOD opportunities, and bike access. The responses from this third open house will be used to shape the subarea plan that will be presented by the county to Sound Transit for further consideration, which will likely involve a good deal being lost to the Seattle process.
Community Transit has long discussed its plans to radically restructure its commuter and local bus networks in anticipation of Lynnwood Link, and its first concepts were presented to the Snohomish County Council this week. First noticed last month by The Urbanist, the agency briefed the County Council on its preliminary plans for its 600,000 annual service hours, including a portion saved from avoiding the long slog on Interstate 5 south of the county line.
By and large, the commuter network would be truncated to Lynnwood City Center and Mountlake Terrace stations, which will both include large bus transfer areas. At Lynnwood City Center (today’s Lynnwood TC), Community Transit anticipates that commuter and local buses will arrive and depart from one of its bays every 35 seconds during peak periods, traveling out to Interstate 5 via its direct HOV ramp or onto nearby streets. The station will have 20 layover spaces for double-decker buses that will be held to meet Link trains as they arrive at the station.
The long-awaited second generation of Link light rail trains has arrived at Sound Transit’s OMF in SoDo. The Siemens-built S70 car was put on display for local media on Wednesday, giving a small look into the future of our light rail system.
The display car, number 202, is the first of 152 Siemens light rail vehicles that were ordered by Sound Transit in 2016 for use on the ST2 extensions (including those that rolled over into ST3), covering Northgate Link, East Link, Lynnwood Link, and Federal Way Link. The $624.5 million contract covers all 152 vehicles, which are being manufactured and tested by Siemens in Sacramento, California. The ST3 extensions beyond 2025 will be served by a third generation that will require a new bidding process, and potentially more design changes if necessary.
Sound Transit expects to receive one to three vehicles per month through the end of the order in 2024, with many cars slated to also fill the under-construction OMF East in Bellevue. Following a few months of testing and commissioning, the first of the new Siemens cars will enter service in early 2020. Northgate Link will require 40 cars, while East Link will take up 112; both sets will be shared with the Lynnwood and Federal Way extensions.
The new Siemens cars will run in separate trainsets from the old Kinikisharyo cars, which will be pulled from service and trucked to Bellevue while undergoing minor software change to prepare them for East Link service, namely adding a new speed setting for the Bel-Red section’s 25 mph limit. Yes, this means that four-car train service will have to wait a bit longer, perhaps until the in-service testing for Northgate Link begins in late 2020.
I recently returned from a week-long trip to three of Canada’s great cities, of which two have already been covered by previous Transit Report Cards (Vancouver and Montreal). While I may return to write about the latter, which has since undergone some significant changes in wayfinding, today’s transit report is focused on the third and final stop on my journey: Ottawa, the national capital.
Ottawa’s transit system has some interesting quirks, namely its reliance on an extensive system of dedicated busways (named the Transitway) and its impending switch to light rail in the coming weeks. Some of its quirks are quite familiar to those of us in the Puget Sound region, as shown below, but I think there are some good lessons that can be learned from the system that OCTranspo (the city’s transit operator) has developed.
Trillium Line (diesel light rail) – Bayview to Greensboro
Various Transitway routes – Fallowfield to Downtown to Blair
For the past two weeks, the American Planning Association has been running a Transit Bracket Challenge, pitting the largest transit agencies in the U.S. against each other in a popularity contest. King County Metro has so far quashed its competition, namely San Francisco’s Muni and the Maryland Transit Administration, leaving us as the sole West Coast representative.
Metro’s winning form has seemingly come teetering to a crawl and is in danger of halting entirely, thanks to its semifinal opponent: the Chicago Transit Authority.
As of writing (near midnight), Metro sits at 44.4%, while Chicago is pulling in 55.6%. Over 17,600 people have already voted in the Metro-CTA matchup, which is more than double the tally for the cross-town MTA-NJ Transit fixture in the other semifinal.
While Metro may not have the history and prestige found in each wooden tie and platform board on the ‘L’, we do punch above our weight in terms of bus ridership. Average weekday ridership on CTA buses is around 765,000, for a metro area of 9.5 million, while Metro carries 402,000 in a metro area half the size of Chicagoland.
And while they may have beat us to the punch in introducing electric battery buses, we’ve still got our reliable old trolleybus system to fall back on while we catch up in battery bus deployment. Our buses are also more frequent, more reliable, and are as busy as it gets in terms of American transit. Plus, we have a dog that regularly rides by herself.
You can vote here. The poll closes on Sunday and you can vote multiple times from multiple devices. The final round starts on Monday and will conclude on Sunday, June 9. The winning agency earns bragging rights at inter-city conferences, while voters can exercise their civic pride in time for the start of Ride Transit Month.