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.
The series in which STB writers travel around to other cities and make wild generalizations about their transit and land use is back, with a slight change in venue. I visited Columbus and Detroit in mid-October for a Wikipedia conference and spent plenty of time on the buses and bikeshare in the cores of both cities, gaining a decent enough understanding of their mobility situations. That being said, both cities sprawl out a bit and I was only able to really see the urban cores and inner neighborhoods of both cities, so there may be perspectives on both systems that I’m missing out on.
First up is Columbus, anchoring the largest U.S. metro area without a single passenger rail service, as Amtrak had ceased service in 1979 and the streetcars were dismantled in 1948. Several light rail proposals have come and gone, along with plans to build a proper inter-city rail system across Ohio, and have only left us with nice fantasy maps and a city that still dreams of building a greater transit system.
Lynnwood Link is inching closer and closer to a firm date for the start of construction, thanks to the submission of the project’s full-funding grant agreement (FFGA) by the FTA lat week. The agreement has been held in limbo by the FTA for several months, but lobbying by Sound Transit and the state’s congressional delegation proved to be successful in pressuring the FTA to fork over federal funds.
Before the full $1.2 billion in funding can be accepted by Sound Transit, the grant application has to be reviewed for a 30-day period by Congress before the agreement is signed and executed. If no major objections are raised, then the signing of the final agreement will release $200 million in immediate funding that Sound Transit was appropriated from the Capital Investment Grants program. The agreement also comes with $658 million in TIFIA loans that were promised two years ago.
Kitsap Transit showed off its newest fast ferry, MV Finest, as part of Monday’s pre-launch celebrations for the Kingston–Seattle fast ferry route. The ferry will begin regular weekday service on November 26 and run six round-trips between Pier 52 in Downtown Seattle and Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula, taking approximately 40 minutes. This is a massive improvement compared to the 1.5 hours it takes for a Kingston resident today via the car ferry to Edmonds and a transfer to either Sounder or an express bus. The debut of the fast ferry may open up the relatively quiet hamlet of Kingston (pop. 2,099 in 2010) to further growth as a more accessible bedroom community for Seattle workers.
The Kingston fast ferry is the second of three routes connecting Seattle to various points on the Kitsap Peninsula, all funded by a sales tax increase that was approved by voters in 2016. The Bremerton fast ferry, which uses the high-tech Rich Passage 1 catamaran, debuted in July 2017 and has run into occasional fleet hiccups, necessitating the use of a backup vessel. For the Kingston route, Kitsap Transit has leased the MV Melissa Ann, formerly part of an older Bremerton fast ferry trial and the King County Water Taxi system, to serve as a backup to the Finest. The Southworth route is planed to debut before 2020 using a newly-built vessel, bypassing the slow “Southworth Triangle” car ferry and an equally-slow trip on the RapidRide C Line through West Seattle.
The Snohomish County government has started early scoping for the seven stations on the Everett Link Extension, which is scheduled to open in 2036. An online open house and survey is open until the end of the month to collect feedback on potential station locations near the current Ash Way and Mariner park and rides in northern Lynnwood and southern Everett. The survey will inform the county’s recommendations to Sound Transit when it begins the official scoping process in 2020.
The open house follows an earlier survey that was conducted over the summer and gathered general suggestions on an interactive map, similar to those used recently for ST3 projects in Seattle and Tacoma. Of 114 map comments collected, the top-ranking answers wished to address affordable housing, at-grade crossings, public amenities, and alternate routes over I-5 for cyclists, pedestrians, and buses to and from the stations.
A set of three concepts for each station were generated by the county based on the suggestions and criteria accounting for design constraints, future connections to the Swift Green and Orange lines, bicycle and pedestrian accessibility, and TOD opportunities. The TOD scoring assumes that mixed-use development of buildings ranging from three to ten stories would be programmed within the half-mile walkshed of each potential station site.
During a rather uneventful rush-hour on Friday, I ventured out to Eastgate and tried out Metro’s new ride-hailing service, “Ride2”, which is operated by Ford subsidiary Chariot. Service is available during weekday rush hours, from 6 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m., and is booked using a smartphone app.
Installing and setting up the app was straightforward, only requiring a name, e-mail address, phone number, and password. There’s also an option to add your ORCA card to improve service (though it isn’t spelled out what the card data is used for) and another screen has an option to mark yourself as a person needing mobility assistance (which would book a wheelchair-ready van). There is also a dedicated phone number for riders without access to the app, which promises full functionality that is equal to the app version.
The app works for any trip originating from or heading to Eastgate Park-and-Ride, which has a dedicated drop-off area on the northeast side of the bus bays. The map screen lets you input an address or scroll around to drop a pin within the highlighted service area, which covers Factoria, Somerset, and Lake Hills.
I recently sat down with Everett Transit director Tom Hingson to talk about the agency’s place in the regional transit system and whether it should merge with its larger neighbor Community Transit, the latter of which is a topic that frequently comes up in comment threads on our articles about Everett.
Everett Transit proudly traces its roots back to 1893, with the establishment of the first private horse-drawn streetcar within the newly-incorporated city. The streetcars and their electric successors were replaced in the 1920s with privately-operated buses that were rescued by city voters in 1969 to form Everett Transit. Community Transit was formed in 1976 by several cities in the county, with the notable exception of Everett, after two attempts at passing a countywide sales tax for buses were turned down by Everett voters.
Last month, the first pair of 18 new Swift bus rapid transit buses entered service on the Blue Line, as part of the line’s return to 10-minute weekday frequencies. The buses were ordered for the Green Line, which will debut next year, and have a few differences from the decade-old coaches that run on the Blue Line today. This being the transit blog, I naturally stalked these new buses for a quick look inside.
The new buses, based on the New Flyer Xcelsior series, is slightly shorter due to its flat front (shaving 2 ft. from the original’s 62 ft.). The shorter length means that the doors are slightly off from the “welcome mats” painted into the platforms at stations, but it’s within a reasonable margin of error. The Xcelsior buses have the same interior features as the first-generation fleet, including the all-important rear door bicycle racks that speed up dwell times, but its seats are arranged in a slightly different manner, with a mix of aisle-facing and forward-facing seats above the third axle.
Voters in the Intercity Transit district, which roughly covers the cities of Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, and Yelm, will soon decide on Proposition 1, a ballot measure that would increase sales taxes by 0.4 percent in order to fund transit services. Intercity Transit currently levies a 0.8 percent sales tax, which makes up 79 percent of annual revenue.
The sales tax increase would raise about $16-$20 million annually and would be used to patch operational costs that were originally paid for using ever-shrinking federal grants (which makes up 8 percent of the agency’s annual budget). It would also be used to launch new services, including routes to underserved areas, improved frequencies, expanded evening and weekend service, and perhaps lead to a bus rapid transit system.
Everett Transit, on the verge of a major network restructure, brought its first electric battery bus into service earlier this week. The bus, a 42-foot Proterra Catalyst E2, is identical to the newer generation of electric battery buses operated by Metro in Bellevue and has been one of the most popular electric models for the past several years. The bus can carry 31 seated passengers and about 18 standees, can handle grades of 10% at 40 miles per hour, and can run for 250 miles on a single charge (which takes 2.5 hours to complete). Similar Proterra buses have been making trial runs in Bellingham for the Whatcom Transportation Authority and a pair were recently delivered to Kitsap Transit and Pierce Transit.
The new bus is the first of four that will enter service by the end of the year and will primarily run on Route 7, the system’s flagship route that runs along Broadway and Evergreen Way—Everett’s two busiest transit corridors. It was funded by a $3.4 million Low or No Emission Vehicle grant awarded by the Federal Transit Administration in 2016 and matched by funds from the agency.
The Federal Transit Administration approved $2.6 billion in Capital Investment Grants funding this week, including $100 million for the Lynnwood Link Extension. The installment in the second granted to Sound Transit for the project, but can’t be used until the signing of a full funding grant agreement (FFGA) between the FTA and Sound Transit, which has slipped past its scheduled summer 2018 date.
The project’s $2.77 billion baseline budget relies on a heavy federal contribution of $1.17 billion, which would be released in installments by the FTA. Sound Transit reports that it is working with the FTA and the state’s congressional delegation to complete the FFGA by the end of the year, which would allow for a trouble-free January 2019 groundbreaking as set in the baseline schedule.
Everett Transit, like the rest of the region, is going through growing pains. For years, the city-run department had operated about a dozen routes on a small budget with a small fare to match, and it even withstood the recession with only minor cuts to service.
But times have changed and Everett’s good fortune has run out. The agency is facing a $1.6 million budget shortfall within the next two years, which comes just as a new long-range plan had been approved and celebrated by the city. With the shortfall and a need to simplify some of its unwieldy routes in mind, Everett has proposed a “Sustainable Service” change to take effect in March 2019.
After 15 months of relatively easy digging, Sound Transit celebrated the completion of East Link tunnel excavation in Downtown Bellevue. The tunnel will carry East Link trains from East Main Station (at 112th Avenue and Main Street) to Bellevue Downtown Station (at Bellevue Transit Center and the city hall), traveling for 1,984 feet under 110th Avenue, at a depth of about 12 to 30 feet below street level.
Unlike the neat and tidy bores left by the tunnel boring machines on University Link and Northgate Link, the Bellevue tunnel was dug using the sequential excavation method (SEM; also called the New Austrian tunnelling method), which involves removing soil with heavy machinery and spraying pressurized concrete to support the void. Additional waterproofing and steel lattice girders (479 in total) were then added to support the new tunnel, which moved at a rate of a few feet per day.
Mark your calendars for July 21. That’s the date that Convention Place Station will close permanently, heralding the upcoming end of bus service through the downtown transit tunnel.
As we mentioned last month, buses will access the tunnel using a temporary ramp from 9th Avenue between Pine Street and Olive Way. The ramp is nearing completion and the adjacent bus stops, located on 9th Avenue on the north side of Pine Street, will be installed in the coming weeks.
After the changeover takes effect, all seven bus routes in the tunnel will use these two bus stops, eliminating the long-standing tradition of spotting the next inbound bus from the mezzanine level before rushing down the stairs to one of three bays. According to Metro’s Jeff Switzer, the new stops will appear as time points in GTFS data (including One Bus Away) in early August and on printed timetables in September, but until then we can use the 3-to-5 minute delay for peak trips spelled out by the convention center environmental review.
Last Thursday, the Sound Transit Board was briefed about progress on East Link and the related Downtown Redmond Link Extension. East Link construction has been well underway for a few months, with visible progress from Mercer Island to Overlake, while the Downtown Redmond extension is still in early design and is awaiting the publication of supplemental environmental documents.
For the Downtown Redmond extension, Sound Transit plans to release a request for proposals (RFP) in October that will kickstart the selection process for the project’s design-build contract. Similar to the contract used to build South 200th/Angle Lake, the design of the stations and construction of the entire project will be left to a single contractor and would compress part of the planning timeline. Sound Transit expects to have development agreements with the City of Redmond, King County, and WSDOT in place by early next year. The 3.4-mile Downtown Redmond extension is expected to begin construction sometime next year and open in 2024, with two stations and 1,400 total parking spaces.
After a bit of inactivity, the flurry of Lynnwood Link news continues for yet another week. The baseline schedule for Lynnwood Link has been set, and the last round of design open houses we mentioned have been scheduled for later this month and late next month.
Like all open houses, the online version has all the renderings and explanatory text that one could ever ask for. Lynnwood Link’s four stations have not quite reached 90 percent design, the final step before things can be locked in and ready for construction, but have progressed substantially. Thanks to the cost-savings measures adopted by Sound Transit, there’s been quite a few changes from 60 percent design, including slightly smaller garages in new spots and skinnier platforms that come one escalator short of a pair.
While work Northgate Link moves past construction and into cleanup and testing, developers have been busy drawing up plans for new housing near its stations. Opening day is only three years away, so projects that have started early design review should be able to finish up around the same time that light rail service begins running, though some sites are further behind than others. Using the Seattle in Progress map (which is slightly outdated due to changes at SDCI), it’s clear just how popular Roosevelt and U District stations are, while Northgate is seemingly lagging behind in terms of active proposals.
This week, crews started demolition work along the 9th Avenue wall that runs along the edge of Convention Place Station and its bus layover lot. The demolition work will be conducted primarily on weekends from now until October and is being done to prepare for the eventual turnover of Convention Place to the convention center for its $1.6 billion expansion approved last month.
Once the dust settles, the former retaining wall along 9th Avenue will be replaced with a temporary ramp that allows buses to access the transit tunnel without using the two existing entrances along Olive Way (which feed into the platforms at Convention Place). 9th Avenue will be reconfigured as a two-way transit street, with new stops to replace Convention Place Station. Northbound riders will see an average of 3 to 5 minutes of travel time added to every trip because of traffic signals and on-street congestion, especially affecing Route 255 in trying to reach Olive Way with a four-turn maneuver. The ramp will only be in use for a few months before convention center construction requires full use of the block, which is tentatively scheduled for March 2019.
When Lynnwood Link begins construction early next year, it will be joined by two major residential projects in southern Snohomish County as cities begin to attempt their own transit-oriented development.
In Mountlake Terrace, work has begun on the “Terrace Station” project, which will build a complex of three apartment buildings just south of the future Link station at 236th Street Southwest. The first phase, expected to open 2020, will consist of a five-story building with 250 apartments and ground-floor retail space along a new street that leads directly to the Link station. At full buildout, the complex will have 600 apartments and 80,000 square feet of retail space.