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.
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.
On May 14, 1969, the final section of Interstate 5 opened between Everett and Marysville, forever changing life in the Puget Sound region and completing a new road link to Vancouver, British Columbia. The last of some 276 miles of concrete and asphalt that had been laid down in sections for twenty years had opened up a new frontier for sprawling communities and left U.S. Highway 99 behind to decline.
Now, at over a half-century old, I-5 is something of a necessary evil in eyes of many who live here. Its use of left-hand exits causes traffic to weave and jam, the use of reversible express lanes creates a bottleneck for reverse commuters, and it creates a visual, auditory, and olfactory barrier between the neighborhoods it slices through. But it is also the backbone of the state’s freight movements and our regional express bus system, which is among the best in the nation.
At 50 years of age, I-5 is now chronically congested, seismically vulnerable, and has maintenance issues that often require emergency repairs during the middle of rush hour. The I-5 Systems Partnership was formed by local governments to study near-term solutions and develop a master plan for the 107-mile central corridor, which stretches from Tumwater to Marysville and includes 60 percent of the state’s population (some 4.3 million people, of whom 3.3 million are licensed drivers).
Last month, the I-5 Systems Partnership published its draft call to action, highlighting several proposed solutions to patch and repair our way out of traffic and misery, rather than endlessly expanding the freeway. The report estimates that $5.1 billion would be needed by 2040 to maintain the freeway and its bridges while also upgrading seismically-vulnerable structures and fix pavement issues. With the vast majority of gas tax revenues needed to pay off debt service for other projects, other funding sources will have to be found, such as a congestion charge or per-mile fees.
The start of construction for Lynnwood Link is only weeks away, just over a decade since the project was approved by voters as part of the Sound Transit 2 package in 2008. The first inter-county Link trains are scheduled to arrive in July 2024, traveling on 8.5 miles of elevated and surface tracks along the side of Interstate 5 between Lynnwood and Northgate.
While a firm groundbreaking date has not been announced yet, Sound Transit has released detailed plans for the scheduled construction activities at and around each of the project’s four planned stations. While the status of Northeast 130th Street Station is still up in the air, the citizens of Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, and Lynnwood will have easy access to their stations once opening day arrives, but will have to deal with varying levels of disruption over the next five years.
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.
The 830 Northern Dalesman is an inter-city bus route in the Yorkshire Dales of northern England. It takes two hours to complete its 40-mile journey from Richmond to Ingleton, and the BBC decided to film one of its daily runs.
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.
Two of our most anticipated events of the year are coming up this weekend, providing Seattleites with a chance to celebrate transit and the start of spring. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the final bus will run through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel before it is handed over to Link light rail trains for good. Just under 36 hours later, the first buses will travel on the Swift Green Line in Snohomish County, bringing frequent service to a new airport and several suburban activity centers.
The celebrations begin at 11 p.m. on Friday, March 22 at the plaza atop International District/Chinatown Station, with photos and autographs available for members of the public. MEHVA, the historic bus society run by Metro employees, will drive a 1990s Breda dual-mode bus through the tunnel, one of 236 coaches built specifically for the transit tunnel before being converted for trolleybus use in the mid-2000s and retired in 2016. This particular Breda coach was preserved before the conversion and retains all of its original features, including the suburban-style seating with ample legroom.
The Breda bus will begin the last run through the tunnel with a northbound trip departing International District/Chinatown Station at 12:45 a.m. The bus will run through the tunnel and turn around at Convention Place before it heads back southbound and terminates at International District/Chinatown Station. There will be a few in-service trips on Routes 41 and 550 in the hour before the final departure, so keen busfans may also want to ride them as well before catching a Night Owl surface bus or finding another way to backtrack to the International District.
It’s been almost a year since our last photographic update of the Northgate Link stations, and a substantial amount of progress has been made. Sound Transit still has its eyes on a September 2021 opening date for the line, but there is plenty of float time to burn while the most challenging construction has wrapped up. A bookie would place good odds on the opening being a few months early to take advantage of the summer break, but it’s still too soon to tell.
The two subterranean stations on the extension have been mostly closed up and are now peering above street level, allowing sidewalk superintendents to rest their necks and enjoy a view of progress that doesn’t require dirty and scratched up windows beyond the noise/dust walls.