Metro Needs Your Help Toppling Other Metros

(Right picture courtesy of Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Interstate 5 Turns 50 and Shows Its Age

Downtown Seattle and the newly-built Interstate 5, as seen in 1966 (Seattle Municipal Archives)

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.

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Five Years of Lynnwood Link Construction To Begin Soon

A train will run (near) here, in five years’ time (Mountlake Terrace)

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.

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Trailhead Direct Expands For Its Second Season

No, not that Mount Baker (courtesy of King County Metro)

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.

Everett and Community Transit Restructure Routes for Swift

The Swift Green Line in Everett

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.

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This Weekend: Last Ride on a Tunnel Bus, First Ride on the Green Line

A Breda dual-mode bus at University Street Station, seen in 1994 (Photo by Steve Morgan/Wikimedia Commons)

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.

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Photo Tour: Northgate Link, Two Years Out

Northgate Station

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.

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Link OMF Decision Could Threaten Future TOD at Kent-Des Moines Station

Aerial view of Highline College (Joe Mabel/Flickr – CC-BY-SA)

The Link light rail extension to Federal Way is up next for federal funding approval, but Sound Transit is looking beyond for its future operational needs once the Tacoma Dome extension is completed in 2030. Among the priorities is identifying sites for an operations and maintenance facility (OMF), which is the subject of an ongoing search and environmental review.

Sound Transit is considering six general sites between Highline College and southern Federal Way for the OMF, which would require a 30-acre plot of generally flat land that is adjacent to the proposed route of the Federal Way Extension. One of the options, at the site of the recently-opened Dick’s Drive-In and a Lowe’s home improvement store, is causing a ruckus that has mobilized city officials in Kent.

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I-405 and SR 522 BRT Will Be Known as “Stride”

Stride BRT station concept (courtesy of Sound Transit)

Sound Transit is entering yet another round of public feedback for the I-405 BRT project and has revealed the name of the service: Stride.

In their online open house and an e-mail to STB, Sound Transit described their criteria for choosing the name, the first new ST brand introduced since Link and Sounder were chosen in 1997. Stride (with a set of dangling legs in its logo to presumably represent someone running for the bus) was chosen with help from interviewed stakeholders because it was short, memorable, and integrated well with ST’s other brands.

The name had been mentioned a month earlier, which we only recently noticed thanks to a tip from commenter Robert Norheim. As other comments in the thread point out, the name could also be read as “ST-Ride”, but Sound Transit insists it’s prounounced like the word “stride”. Cambridge defines it as “to walk somewhere quickly with long steps”, which definitely fits the bill of freeway-running BRT with long stop spacing.

Details about the BRT stations and a rant about transit brands are after the jump.

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Chariot Shuts Down, But Eastgate Ride2 Will Continue

A Ride2 shuttle in Bellevue

On Thursday, shuttle bus operator Chariot announced that it would cease all operations by March. The company has a contract to operate King County Metro’s pilot “Ride2” microtransit service around the Eastgate Park and Ride, which hoped to shuttle suburban residents and visitors to and from the park-and-ride without relying on the existing, meandering bus routes.

Chariot, one of several startups that aimed to reinvent “mobility”, was acquired by Ford two years ago and had partnered with transit agencies in Austin, Los Angeles, New York, and its native San Francisco. They also operate private shuttles for large companies, including a small fleet in Seattle.

While the shutdown might not affect a huge number of people—about 100 daily riders requested rides in its first months—the idea of a more effective suburban transit option will nonetheless persist. Metro has contracted Hopelink, the operator of West Seattle’s Ride2, to assume operations on February 25. Eastgate riders will have to download the separate West Seattle app, which will handle all Ride2 shuttles once a new update is pushed to phones.

According to Metro, the Eastgate Ride2 currently has an average wait time of about 9 minutes and an average travel time of about 14 minutes. These figures are not expected to change with the new operator, which uses a similar trip-deployment system.

Swift Green Line Is 90 Days From Launch

The new Swift Green Line Station at Airport Road & Highway 99, with the Blue Line Station in the background

The Swift Green Line will launch on March 24, 2019, bringing bus rapid transit service to Mill Creek and the new Paine Field passenger terminal. Community Transit’s second bus rapid transit line will have 34 stations and run from Seaway Transit Center on Airport Road, 128th/132nd Street, and the Bothell-Everett Highway (SR 527) to Canyon Park.

The Green Line will intersect several of the county’s major routes at various points: the Blue Line at Airport Road and Highway 99 in south Everett; the Ash Way “trunk” routes at Mariner Park and Ride; and Silver Firs-bound routes in Mill Creek. While connections to a Seattle-bound bus are only possible through limited commuter routes, the Canyon Park terminus will be served by Sound Transit Routes 532/535 to Bellevue, which will eventually be upgraded into a bus rapid transit line.

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Lynnwood Link is Ready to Begin Construction Next Year

Aerial view of Mountlake Terrace Station, looking southwest (courtesy of Sound Transit)

On Thursday, Sound Transit announced that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has executed its $1.17 billion full funding grant agreement, which will cover one-third of the cost to construct Lynnwood Link and extend light rail service 8.5 miles from Northgate to Lynnwood.

The grant agreement and $300 million in other federal appropriations were sidelined by the FTA for several months until Washington’s congressional delegation lobbied for its inclusion in the federal budget. It is the largest appropriation in the Capital Investment Grant program for this fiscal year, which also includes funds for the nearly-complete Swift Green Line BRT.

The uncertainty of securing the federal grant under the new presidential administration was one factor that pushed the completion date of Lynnwood Link from 2023 to mid-2024, along with other design changes made due to cost increases.

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