Snohomish County asks for community ideas on housing types near light rail

Earlier concept for Mariner Station (Makers/Snohomish County)

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.

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Community Transit tries out new trip planner

An example result from the beta trip planner (Community Transit)

Community Transit has begun a public beta test of a new trip planning interface on its website using the OpenTripPlanner system. The trip planning website will be able to provide real-time departure information and service alerts for Community Transit routes and integrate with other regional agencies, including Everett Transit, Metro, and Sound Transit, in a manner similar to the current trip planner.

The beta trip planner uses a modern map interface similar to Google Maps, putting destinations first and collapsing time and mode options. The current trip planner puts all of these options at equal importance on the launch screen, which isn’t as intuitive for users. The current interface also requires an extra screen for most addresses to confirm which city they are in, while the beta interface uses a simple drop-down box for suggestions as the user types.

The beta trip planner is also able to mix modes, adding a personal bike or use of a park-and-ride for extra flexibility. This comes in handy for some trips that would otherwise have an extremely short or slow bus connection to reach a high-frequency hub, or is out of range for buses but is in easy driving distance to a park-and-ride lot. As a bonus, the bicycling and walking options also include an estimate of calories burned for those who need some extra encouragement to add an active segment to their commute.

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Spokane looks to use double-deckers for its next high-capacity corridor

An earlier preview of double-deckers in Spokane

The Spokane Transit Authority will be purchasing a set of double-decker buses for use on the Cheney Line, one of its High Performance Transit routes set to begin service next year. A $2.95 million FTA grant awarded this week will help fund the purchase of up to seven coaches, which would enter service in 2023, replacing normal coaches that will temporarily be used on the route.

The Cheney Line is one of several “High Performance Transit” (HPT) projects that were funded by the STA Moving Forward ballot measure, which was passed on its second try in 2016. While the program’s centerpiece is the City Center Line, a BRT corridor set to open in 2022, the other projects will also bring major improvements for Spokane County commuters. Each HPT corridor will have frequent service with buses every 15 minutes during peak periods, enhanced bus stops, special branding, and other features that fit some characteristics of American-style BRT lite.

The Cheney Line in particular will share similarities with the long-haul Community Transit and Sound Transit Express commuter routes where double-deckers have been used over the past decade to great success. It will only have a handful of stops and operate primarily as an express service between Downtown Spokane and Cheney, home of Eastern Washington University. Two routes, 6 and 66, will combine to form 15-minute headways on a common trunk between the two hubs while also serving a new transit center at West Plains.

The project’s $13.47 million budget will be covered by a mix of STA Moving Forward funds as well as grants from the FTA and WSDOT.

Metro draws up service scenarios for West Seattle

Aerial view of West Seattle (2016)

The double crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and the West Seattle Bridge’s closure has left tens of thousands of people stuck in commuting limbo. As demand for commuter capacity begins rising again, Metro is preparing several scenarios based on bridge availability, bus capacity, and funding impacts related to the pandemic. The West Seattle Bridge Closure Transit Action Plan lays out two scenarios for transit service to the peninsula beyond September 2020, when the first set of service changes can take place.

Scenario 1 would be used in the event that the Spokane Street Bridge (also known as the “low bridge”) remains open to transit. Scenario 2 would be used if the low bridge is closed, with two sub-options based on whether the bridge is closed for short-term maintenance or malfunctions (Tier 1) or for long-term evacuation in case the “high bridge” becomes critically unstable (Tier 2). The presented scenarios would cover a “horizon period” until the September 2021 service change, when service would need to be re-evaluated to fit different commuting trends.

With the high bridge closed until at least 2022 (and likely for longer if a full replacement is deemed necessary), some 900 weekday bus trips carrying 19,000 daily passengers have been displaced. A large portion of these trips were oriented towards downtown workers, a demographic with a slower rise in demand, leaving essential workers working through the pandemic as the main users of transit through these near-term changes.

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Seattle presents potential improvements around light rail stations at 130th and 145th

Map of candidate projects (Seattle Office of Planning & Community Development)

Vertical construction has reached the northernmost of Seattle’s Link stations, bringing with it plans to improve surrounding streets for all modes. While both stations at NE 130th Street and NE 145th Street will be at freeway exits that bookend the Jackson Golf Course, there is room for better access, especially from the east and west.

The Office of Planning & Community Development has been drafting a multimodal access plan for the two stations over the past year and has reached the next step in their planning process. A new online survey, open until August 19, presents a slate of 18 potential projects for public feedback before they are whittled down to recommended options. Each project on the website has a separate survey, allowing for the public to pick and choose those that matter most to them without having to rank them like a traditional survey.

Some of these projects are also being planned in tandem with improvements to the north side of North 145th Street that are under the purview of Shoreline. Their corridor plan includes left turn lanes, a shared-use path, and a separate crossing of I-5 for pedestrians and bicyclists at North 148th Street. These projects also tie into a proposed “Trail Along the Rail” that would follow I-5 from 145th to the existing 195th Street pedestrian bridge. The cities and WSDOT are also designing a potential double-roundabout (or dumbbell) interchange to replace the existing ramps at NE 145th Street, which would improve traffic flow but at the cost of additional crossings for pedestrians and cyclists.

Each of the candidate projects are described below the jump. Click through the survey links on the project page to see maps and a fuller description.

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Federal Way Link breaks ground, virtually

“Powering Progress: Federal Way Link Extension Groundbreaking” by Sound Transit

Federal Way Link, the last of the core ST2 light rail projects, has finally broken ground. In lieu of the traditional ceremony with elected and community leaders speaking from a podium and tossing dirt, Sound Transit has chosen a pandemic-friendly alternative: a virtual groundbreaking.

Sound Transit’s virtual groundbreaking (linked above) has short videos from many local officials and representatives from businesses and organizations like the Multi-Service Center and the Federal Way Black Collective. The golden shovels, a hallmark of the regular groundbreakings, remain and are handed off with some nice cuts in the video.

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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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