Sound Transit begins double-decker bus service in Snohomish County

Coach 91501 on display at Union Station yesterday afternoon. (Photo by author)

This morning at Everett Station, the first of five new double-decker buses began regular service on Sound Transit Express routes. The double-decker buses, ordered in March 2014 for approximately $5 million and first proposed in November 2013, are identical to the second generation of Alexander Dennis Enviro500s that Community Transit debuted last month and will be operated by the agency’s drivers on contract with First Transit.

Measuring 42 feet long and 13 feet, 6 inches tall, the buses can seat 82 and accommodate some standees on the lower deck. The stairwell has a monitor with four camera feeds of the upper deck, allowing riders to know if there’s room upstairs. There’s a few backwards-facing seats at the back of the bottom deck over the wheel wells. Out front is a triple bike rack manufactured by Sportsworks.

The buses will be used on crowded runs of routes 510, 511 and 512, with some possible testing on other ST Express routes able to move forward once the full fleet is in service.

The first coach, numbered 91501, features a wrap around the upper deck with the hashtag #SeeingDoubleST, which is being used to promote the new buses.

Freeway Project Eliminates CT Service at Marysville II Park & Ride

The Marysville II P&R just before the arrival of the last northbound 422 of the day (photo by author)

The Tulalip Tribes, in cooperation with WSDOT, the FHWA, Snohomish County and the City of Marysville, is currently rebuilding the 116th Street NE interchange on I-5, one of the two primary access points for the reservation’s outlet mall and casino complex. The current interchange, built in 1971 and handling traffic far beyond its capacity, also includes a pair of Community Transit bus stops adjacent to a small park-and-ride lot. Though the 57-space lot and interchange only see 4 trips per day from Stanwood to Seattle (Route 422) and Paine Field (Route 247), The Everett Herald reported in June that its spots are regularly full by 8 a.m.

The completed interchange will be the third single-point urban interchange (abbreviated as SPUI), in the Puget Sound region, with the other two at I-705/SR509 in Tacoma and at I-5/41st Street in Everett. SPUIs require a single signalized intersection with three light cycles, but due to the lack of thru lanes they do not facilitate quick reentry to the interstate and are thus incompatible with transit flyer stops.

A Double Tall on route 422 and the two cranes tasked with the erection of a new NE 116th Street overpass (photo by author)

In an email, a representative from Community Transit explained that the park and ride would instead be used by carpool and vanpool users after the stops are permanently closed. An email to the project team at the Tulalip Tribes was not returned.

Continue reading “Freeway Project Eliminates CT Service at Marysville II Park & Ride”

CT Sales Tax Increase on the November Ballot

An out-of-service Swift bus headed towards Everett Station
Funding for Swift II operations is on the line with the November ballot measure

The signing of the statewide transportation package yesterday by Governor Jay Inslee granted permission to Community Transit to exceed the maximum 0.9% sales tax rate set for public transportation benefit areas (as allowed for in Section 312 of Senate Bill 5987, specifically for counties with a population of at least 700,000 that contains a city of at least 75,000 with its own transit system). The CT Board voted unanimously today to place a measure on the November 3, 2015 ballot that would increase sales taxes by 0.3% (3 cents on $10 taxable purchases) and generate an estimated $25 million in additional annual revenue for the agency.

In their press release, Community Transit outlined where the new revenue would be spent, beginning as early as March 2016:

  • Swift II, whose capital costs are already covered by state and federal grants, will use $7 to 8 million per year in op. It is scheduled to open as early as 2018. (See my open house report from last month for more details)
  • Improved frequency on local routes with more trips added throughout the day and expanded service spans.
  • Additional commuter runs to downtown Seattle and the University of Washington.
  • Increased east-west connections within the county.
  • More service to job, housing and educational centers throughout the county, including communities such as Arlington, Monroe and Stanwood.
  • New routes, including service on State Route 9 from Marysville to McCollum Park via Lake Stevens, Snohomish and Silver Firs, last proposed during the failed annexation of Cathcart, Clearview and Maltby in 2008.
  • Reconfigured local bus service to connect with Sound Transit Link Light Rail when it reaches Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood in 2023, and eventually to Everett.
  • More vanpools and expanded DART paratransit service.

Swift II Open House Update

Swift II legend
Though only for illustrative purposes, this map at the Swift II open house shows CT could be considering using colors to brand its Swift lines. (Photo by author)

Community Transit held three open houses this week for their Swift II project, which aims to build a 12.5-mile-long bus rapid transit line with 15 stations connecting northern Bothell to Mill Creek and the Paine Field industrial area in Everett. The project is estimated to cost $42-48m, with the majority of capital funds provided from the FTA (through their Small Starts program) and WSDOT (through their mobility grants). The money will primarily fund two major projects: the new Seaway Transit Center on the east side of the Boeing factory and BAT lanes on 128th Street SW as it approaches its interchange with Interstate 5.

The second of these meetings, held Wednesday night at Mariner High School near the midpoint of the Swift II corridor, was attended by five members of the public (including me) and six Community Transit employees. CT also published the slides online.

While most of the information presented was already previously public, mostly as documents on CT’s website, there was one noteworthy new item. The table map of the proposed stations used colors to label both the existing Swift line and the proposed Swift II line as the “Blue Line” and “Green Line”, respectively. Swift I and Swift II will be eventually renamed, but not until the run-up to a local election on Swift II funding. The election will occur after the passage of House Bill 1393 by the state legislature, which would allow CT to raise sales taxes by an additional 0.3% with approval from voters. The bill is still alive in the special session.

CT expects the line to open sometime between 2018 and 2020, at the earliest September 2018. It projects 3,300 daily boardings by the end of the first year of operations, dominated by commuters to the Paine Field industrial area and Canyon Park’s office parks until the corridor matures into an all-day destination. The goal for base frequency is every 10 minutes, the same headway Swift I had until it was reduced to 12 minutes in 2012. This requires 12 new coaches funded by the FTA and WSDOT grants. CT confirmed they are looking into shadow service on the Swift II corridor, similar to how Route 101 stops on the southern half of the Swift I corridor, but there are no concrete plans.

The draft plan for the proposed Seaway Transit Center was in the presentation but omitted from the online copy because of its unfinished nature. It showed a layout for the transit center that accommodated both Everett Transit as well as a possible Boeing shuttle with its own bay, similar to the Microsoft Connect shuttle at the Overlake Transit Center in Redmond.

The initial Swift line still has one remaining infill station, located southbound at 204th Street SW east of Edmonds Community College, that will be named “College Station”. This presents a possible conflict with a future Swift line on North Broadway that could serve Everett Community College.

Sunday service returns to Community Transit on June 7

The newly-opened Smokey Point Transit Center on a recent Sunday, without a single bus or rider in sight. (Photo by author)

Snohomish County residents looking to ditch their car for Sundays and holidays can breathe a sigh of relief for the first time in five years. June 7 marks the restoration of Sunday service for Community Transit after its massive service cuts in June 2010, thanks to sales tax revenue returning to 2008 levels as well as a 25-cent fare increase to take place in July. Sunday and holiday service will be limited to hourly headways on most local routes, with the exception of Swift bus rapid transit (20 minute headways) and rural lifeline routes to outlying communities (2 hour headways). The June changes page on their website has specific, route-by-route details, which includes minor improvements to existing local service and additional trips on commuter routes 413 and 860.

In addition to the service restoration, Community Transit has modified its local service to eastern Snohomish County with the replacement of Route 275 with Route 271 on the Highway 2 corridor and extensions of certain Route 280 trips to serve the Boeing Everett plant.

Full list of changes below the jump.

Continue reading “Sunday service returns to Community Transit on June 7”

The Awfulness of Merrill Creek Station

The lone shelter at Merrill Creek, as seen by the author in February 2015.

Merrill Creek, where the first ever bus rapid transit station in the state was unveiled six years ago next month, is a darkhorse candidate for the northern terminus of Swift II, Community Transit’s second bus rapid transit line. While extending the line from the planned, but not yet built, Seaway Transit Center adjacent to the Boeing Everett plant would eat up a non-negligible amount of bus hours, the lure of an already-built and sparingly-used station might be enough to entice CT to terminate their frequent, mid-quality BRT service in the middle of nowhere

But just what is with this BRT station you’ve never heard of? I visited the platform two months ago and I’ve only now got around to writing this analysis.

Transfers? Forget about ’em.

The final northbound Swift bus on Airport Road will most likely stop at Merrill Creek around 10 p.m., just as Swift I does at its termini. Unfortunately, this means that you’re thirty minutes late for the final run of the only connecting bus in the area, Everett Transit Route 8. Even if you’re not a night owl, the bus only runs half-hourly at best, making connections to a frequent route like Swift II more difficult than it should be.

At least ET 8 has Sunday service.

A new type of TOD: Warehouses & Asphalt

Merrill Creek is surrounded by zones designated for manufacturing and industrial use, unlike its counterparts on Evergreen Way that allow for mixed-use commercial and residential. While it is good to have a large amount of jobs within reasonable distance of the station, the lack of pedestrian amenities (consisting of a single sidewalk on one side of nearby Hardeson Road) cancels it out.

The station is completely surrounded by a sea of concrete parking lots belonging to a place called “CommTrans”, probably some kind of communications firm, further limiting any kind of TOD potential.

Is There Hope?

Sadly, no. None at all.

In case you haven’t noticed already, this is a work of satire, poking fun at how transit advocates will thoroughly analyze everything they can, such as the poorly-planned Mount Baker Station. Happy April Fool’s Day, STB.

Smokey Point Transit Center dedicated, to open on February 16

Community Transit Board Chair Mike Todd and artist Julie Berger cut the ribbon to dedicate Smokey Point Transit Center Saturday morning

Braving Saturday morning’s cold conditions, onlookers watched Community Transit Board Chair Mike Todd and artist Julie Berger dedicate Smokey Point’s new transit center with a traditional ribbon-cutting, complete with oversized scissors. The transit center features five bus bays (four at the center island and one on Smokey Point Boulevard), improved lighting and shelters, and the notable exclusion of a park-and-ride. The $4.4 million project began with the demolition of the previous, smaller transit center that closed in 2005 after reconstruction of the nearby I-5 interchange limited access for buses. The Smokey Point Transit Center was originally proposed as a 200-stall park-and-ride at 169th Place NE, but the plans were scrapped in 2008 in favor of the cheaper option of renovating the old transit center and an adjacent vacant lot.

The transit center’s most visible aesthetic features are the shelter’s white, pointed fabric roofs and the use of light green paint on the benches and information boards. The centerpiece of the complex is Julie Berger’s “Honoring” Tenses of Time, a large “story pole” beacon adorned with metal shapes representing the past, present and future of the area, in the form of a phoenix, forestry and an airplane, respectively.

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Community Transit Looks Forward to Brighter 2015

The last few years have not been kind to Community Transit or riders in Snohomish County. The Great Recession forced the largest cuts in the agency’s 39-year history, every winter has cancelled Sounder North runs, and the Oso mudslide interrupted bus service to Darrington for several months. Despite these setbacks, Community Transit will be able to welcome 2015 with open arms, with several major events planned.

Sunday and Holiday service restored

Proposed Sunday service (Photo by Community Transit)
Proposed Sunday service (Photo by Community Transit)

This month, the Community Transit Board approved the addition of 27,000 hours of new service, of which 18,000 are to be used on Sundays and holidays. The June 2015 service change, five years to the month after the cuts to Sunday service, will bring hourly Sunday service on major routes and 20-minute headways on Swift.

To fund the new service, Community Transit will be raising their adult and DART fares by 25 cents effective July 1. The increased fare will bring the cost of a round-trip on commuter routes from Marysville, Stanwood and Snohomish to a staggering $11 for adults.

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Community Transit Proposes Restored Sunday Service

Proposed Sunday Network map, courtesy of Community Transit

Community Transit has proposed a 25-cent increase for adult and DART fares to help fund 27,000 hours of restored service, including 18,000 hours of Sunday and holiday service on 16 local bus routes beginning as early as June 7, 2015.

Swift would get 20 minute frequencies on Sunday, last seen before the June 2010 service cuts, while major routes in Southwest Snohomish County, Marysville and Arlington would get hourly service. “Rural lifeline routes” serving far-flung cities such as Stanwood and Gold Bar would see buses every two hours on Sundays. CT hopes to fully restore Sunday and holiday service that was cut in 2010, with the 2015 proposal funding 65 percent of the lost hours but covering the same area. The ultimate goal for the agency is to operate the same amount of service on Saturdays and Sundays as a single weekend schedule.

Full list of routes after the jump.

Continue reading “Community Transit Proposes Restored Sunday Service”