Everett Transit looks at future options, including merger

Everett Transit could merge with Community Transit under one option

Months before the economic outlook turned gloomy amid the global COVID pandemic, Everett Transit was looking at financial trouble. Last year, the city-run system revealed that it forecast a $1.6 million budget shortfall that would continue due to Everett’s declining retail sales. While the agency has great plans to improve its network in coming years, they will have to be re-evaluated to preserve current service levels.

Everett Transit has launched its “Rethink Transit” survey, which runs online until July 13, with three options for the public to consider. Everett Transit is also re-introducing regular fares on all routes and services on July 1.

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Community Transit plans phased reopening in July and September

A bus at Mountlake Terrace TC

With Snohomish County well into Phase 2 of its pandemic recovery, Community Transit is set to begin restoring its bus service over the next few months. On July 6, CT will bring service levels back to 75% of pre-pandemic trips to accommodate an increased need on heavily-used routes. A 85% restoration will take place in September, followed by a potential full restoration by spring 2021.

Community Transit will also begin collecting fares on all routes on July 1. Drivers will wear face coverings and will be able to wear face shields when passengers are boarding from the front door. The agency is encouraging riders to wear face coverings, but not making them required.

Transit ridership in Snohomish County began to increase in May and is expected to return to high levels as more employers reopen. Retailers have been permitted to reopen for in-store shopping and most national chains have followed suit for their locations in the county.

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Photo Tour: Lynnwood Link, quarantine edition

The state’s message to motorists on Interstate 5

It’s been 9 months since Sound Transit broke ground on Lynnwood Link, the first step towards a light rail spine in Snohomish County. While the past few months have gone in an unexpected direction, there has still been visible progress along the I-5 corridor from Northgate to Lynnwood.

As with past photo tours, these shots were taken in the past few weeks from areas that are open to the public, but such access may be changed as construction continues. As we are still under stay home, stay healthy orders, please follow health guidance and limit trips to essential journeys. For the record, this photo tour was completed using a personal vehicle instead of short bus rides between the future stations.

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A guide to researching Seattle’s transit history

A scanned map of the Forward Thrust transit plan (SPL)

Believe it or not, Seattle has had a long and illustrious history of public transit and exotic forms of transportation, dating back to the beginning of American settlement in the region midway through the 19th century. While rail nerds on the East Coast have the luxury of picking between hundreds (if not thousands) of good books about their local railroad and transit history, we’re stuck with comparatively few options (but that is improving). I’m here to guide would-be transit scholars into the world of online (and in-person) research, based on my own experience writing about local transit history for Wikipedia.

Researching the past is very similar to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, and reaching the end result can be highly rewarding — to the point of being addictive. And it’s not hard to get started with the help of online and old-school resources that can answer pretty much any question you’ve ever had about our transit systems. This guide is meant to help budding transit nerds find their way in the jumble of resources out there, but hopefully seasoned readers can also discover something new here. Note that some of this information was written in the pre-pandemic era, so some resources will not be available until things return to near normalcy.

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Fares and service to be partially re-introduced on June 1

These signs will be removed at Link and Sounder stations (photo by author)

For those who are still riding transit for essential business or activities, it’s time to dust off your ORCA cards and keep your cash and cards handy. Three regional agencies have announced plans to re-introduce fare collection as part of a phased recovery process.

Beginning on June 1, Sound Transit, Pierce Transit, and Community Transit will have fares on some or all services for the first time since March. The two-month pause in collection has impacted revenues for most agencies and contributed to an increase in “unsanitary conditions” according to Sound Transit. Link will also be boosted to 20-minute frequencies on weekdays, while Sounder remains on its reduced schedule.

Sound Transit will charge discounted “recovery fare” of $1 for Link riders and $2 for Sounder if paying at a ticket vending machine or using the Transit Go mobile app. Riders with ORCA cards will have to pay the regular fare that are assigned, including for LIFT, youth, and senior/disabled riders. ST Express will remain fare-free, with riders asked to use the rear doors unless in need of accessible accommodation.

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Pierce Transit’s first bus rapid transit line to split between mixed and exclusive lanes

The “Mountain” station design option (Pierce Transit)

Pierce Transit has released a new virtual open house for its bus rapid transit project, which is in the middle of final design. The bus rapid transit line will travel along 14 miles of Pacific Avenue (State Route 7) from Downtown Tacoma and Tacoma Dome Station to Spanaway, replacing the popular Route 1. The agency hopes to begin construction next year and open in 2023, which remains unchanged at the moment despite the pandemic and its financial effects.

The Pacific Avenue bus rapid transit line, which has not been named or branded yet, will take some cues from Community Transit’s Swift lines rather than RapidRide. Stations will be spaced a quarer-mile apart and feature off-board fare payment (including ticket-vending machines), allowing for all-door level boarding from its raised platforms. The buses will have on-board bicycle racks, more capacity than normal Route 1 coaches, and come at a frequency of 10 to 15 minutes.

The buses will also benefit from exclusive lanes and BAT lanes that run for about 7 miles in the south Tacoma section of the Pacific Avenue corridor. Transit priority signals are also in the works, which would provide overrides for buses and allow for the addition of queue jumps at intersections outside of the exclusive lane corridor.

The project is estimated to cost $150 million and will be funded by a mix of grants from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Sound Transit, the latter part of the ST3 package for the Pierce County subarea. Sound Transit approved its $60 million share in August, while Pierce Transit has reportedly secured $30 million in other funding. This leaves a Small Starts grant from the FTA to cover the remaining $60 million, which Pierce Transit has already applied for.

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Snohomish County plots out light rail station area growth, wants feedback

The preferred option for Ash Way Station, as chosen by the county council (Makers/Snohomish County)

While light rail construction in Lynnwood is temporarily halted, the next extension to Everett will continue early planning and design as originally scheduled. Snohomish County has opened a new survey into their subarea planning for stations at Mariner (128th Street) and Ash Way (164th Street), located in the unincorporated area between Everett and Lynnwood.

According to The Everett Herald, the county has been moving ahead with planning at a pace faster than expected by even Sound Transit. Construction funding for the Everett Link project, and its planned completion date of 2036, are both uncertain at this point due to the effects of the pandemic and stay-at-home order on sales tax revenue. If a cut to the project does arrive, planning will be allowed to continue using whatever funding can be pieced together, in a manner similar to Federal Way Link during the recession, with hopes of restoring funding in some form.

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Sound Transit and Metro announce more service cuts

A double-decker Sound Transit bus and the Providence/Colby Medical Center in Everett

Beginning this weekend, Sound Transit and King County Metro are once again reducing service to meet demand for essential travel with fewer available drivers. They join several suburban agencies who have done their own second-route cuts, even as federal relief aid is expected to land here.

For Sound Transit, this means another frequency cut for Link, which will now run every 30 minutes all week beginning Monday, April 20. ST will have four-car trains on all Link trips. Several ST Express routes operated by Metro will also see new cuts to the number of trips. Ridership for Sound Transit has down 87 percent systemwide, while Metro is reporting a 70 percent decrease.

Sound Transit is also advising riders to only use transit services for essential trips, and to wear facial coverings. King County Metro has also instructed its security officers to enforce physical separation on buses where possible, and remove riders who are jeopardizing the safety of those on board.

More details on the cuts after the jump.

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Snohomish County express buses to be more frequent under Northgate truncation plan

Double talls on the Stewart offramp
Double-decker buses on the Stewart Street offramp from Interstate 5

A few months ago, we mentioned that Community Transit was considering a truncation for many of its commuter routes to Northgate Station in 2021 to re-use bus hours for frequency. The second phase proposal for the restructure was presented to the CT Board on Thursday and is now available for online public comments.

The changes are tentatively scheduled for Fall 2021 and would largely be budget-neutral, using the reallocation of service hours to boost frequency on commuter routes. The 800-series routes serving the University District, along with most of the ST Express routes, would be truncated at Northgate Station. The 400-series routes and ST Route 510 would continue to serve Downtown Seattle via the express lanes. Each of the proposed changes will be described after the jump.

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New round of service cuts announced for Sound Transit and Pierce Transit

Link light rail will be reduced to 20-minute frequencies

Last updated: April 7, 2020.

Beginning on Monday, Sound Transit and Pierce Transit will be among the agencies to cut back their service further in response to low ridership, staffing shortages, and cost-saving measures. King County Metro is bucking the trend by restoring some of its service that was cut in the initial reductions last week, primarily trips for essential trips.

This rundown of affected services will be updated throughout the week as other announcements come in. All agencies in the ORCA system have stopped collecting fares except for Washington State Ferries, and most are requiring riders to use the rear door(s) if they are able to.

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CARES Act grants $521 million in relief funds for local agencies

Busier times on 3rd Avenue, taken in November

On Thursday, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced their appropriations for $25 billion in national transit relief funding from the CARES Act, which was passed by Congress a week ago. The relief package includes $521 million in funding for transit agencies in the Seattle area, as well as an additional $133 million for other agencies and cities in Washington state. The relief funds are meant to primarily cover operating costs, especially as agencies have suspended their fare collection and are anticipating a significant drop in sales tax revenue.

The FTA has also announced that all operating expenses incurred beginning on January 20, 2020, are eligible for relief funds or support. These funds will be available to any urban or rural agency that applies directly to the FTA for aid. The share in the current appropriation will be distributed without the need for local matching funds under the normal formula programs (5307 for urbanized areas and 5311 for rural areas).

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Coronavirus: Many agencies offering free fares, some cut service

Community Transit, Sound Transit, and Pierce Transit are among the agencies offering fare-free service

In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, several transit agencies in the Puget Sound region have announced that they are switching to fare-free operations and some are also cutting service. As we’ve been tracking on our updated coronavirus dashboard, there are a lot of changes ahead as the situation evolves.

The general consensus is that reducing most contact between bus drivers and riders can be done with rear door boarding and withholding fare collection until conditions return to normal. Riders needing ramp or ADA access are allowed to use the front doors if needed.

As of writing (on Thursday night), seven transit agencies have announced fare collection suspensions: King County Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit, Skagit Transit, and Whatcom Transportation Authority. These fare suspensions apply to all services, including trains, ferries, and paratransit, and will take effect at various times, the latest so far being Tuesday, March 24.

Full details after the jump.

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Community Transit proposes new corridors and additional peak trips

Route 107, one of several slated for peak-hour upgrades

Community Transit has released a set of proposed route changes for southern Snohomish County that would take effect in September 2020 and March 2021. These changes are a continuation of other small tweaks to the route network that are meant to prepare local connections for the arrival of Lynnwood Link in 2024, which will involve a massive commuter route restructure and a new bus rapid transit line.

Public comment on these proposed service changes can be made via email, phone, social media posts, or at a hearing set for April 2 (barring a COVID-19 cancellation). Community Transit will also have a live Facebook webcast on March 24 to take questions from the public.

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Transit agencies respond to COVID-19 novel coronavirus

COVID-19 under an electron microscope (NIAID/National Institute of Health)

Last updated: March 20, 2020. Replaced by this article.

As you may have heard, there is an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 novel coronavirus, a new strain of virus that is able to be transmitted from person to person. Several major employers have activated work-from-home policies and several large events have been cancelled and postponed.

For those who need to still get around, the transit agencies of the Puget Sound region have been responding to COVID-19 with new cleaning strategies, which we will summarize and update below.

In general, most agencies are encouraging riders to do the following:

  • Avoid public places and mass gatherings when sick
  • Avoid public places if at a high risk of infection (pregnant persons, over age 60, having an underlying health condition, having a weakened immune system)
  • Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing
  • Wash hands frequently for 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Maintain a “social distance” of 6 feet between strangers
  • Telecommute if possible or avoid unnecessary trips

There are several websites with more information on preventative measures and information about COVID-19: Washington State Dept. of Health, King County/Seattle Health, Snohomish Health District, Tacoma/Pierce County Health Dept.

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Kitsap Transit expands Bremerton-Seattle fast ferry service

M/V Reliance, one of Kitsap Transit’s fast ferries (photo by author)

Beginning on Monday, Kitsap Transit will be expanding its Bremerton–Seattle fast ferry service to 24 daily sailings on weekdays. The arrival of a new vessel on the route during peak trips will allow for a frequency boost to 30-45 minutes and non-reserved sailings.

The Rich Passage 1, which launched the fast ferry service in 2017, will remain on its normal schedule. The new trips will be operated on one of the two new catamarans that Kitsap Transit acquired last year: M/V Reliance and Lady Swift. All three boats can carry 118 passengers and take about 30 minutes to make the full sailing from Bremerton to Pier 50 in Seattle.

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Community Transit studies connections from Swift to Link at 185th Street Station

The Swift Blue Line on a snowy day

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.

Routing options for the Swift Blue Line extension (Community Transit)

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.

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Columbia Street busway opens Feb. 22 with stops for ferry riders

Buses only sign on Columbia Street (SDOT)

On February 22, twelve routes from West Seattle and Burien will begin using the new Columbia Street transit “pathway” to reach Downtown Seattle. These routes (RapidRide C Line, 21X, 37, 55, 56, 57, 113, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125) carry a combined 26,000 daily riders and continue south via Alaskan Way to State Route 99.

In the year since the viaduct was permanently closed, these routes have shifted between two corridors through Pioneer Square and the stadiums, but they will now have a permanent home on the waterfront. A new set of bus stops on Columbia Street to the east of Alaskan Way will be served by all twelve routes, restoring much-needed year-round bus access to the Colman Dock ferry terminal that has been absent for several years.

Changes to lanes on Columbia Street (SDOT)

The pathway has a set of continuous bus lanes in each direction and non-bus lanes for westbound traffic. There will be several points where turning traffic will be forced to merge through the westbound bus lane to reach marked turn lanes, but eastbound bus lane should remain unimpeded. The street has been entirely rebuilt by SDOT with concrete pavement and improved underground utilities to serve the waterfront redevelopment project.

Bus lane painting and other late-stage work began on Monday and is set to be completed within a week depending on the weather. The city plans to open a set of bus-only lanes on Alaskan Way between Columbia Street and South King Street by late 2021, while the waterfront promenade is still scheduled to be finished in 2024.

Looking forward to 2020 and beyond

A new light rail car for a new decade (AtomicTaco/Flickr)

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:

Connect 2020

Pioneer Square Station, the focal point of Connect 2020

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.

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