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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.