A new network in North Seattle

[UPDATE: Sound Transit says Metro did not check with them when announcing new train headways. It will remain every 6 minutes peak and 10 otherwise, with no trains turning around at Stadium. In 2023, it will be every 4 minutes peak and 5 off peak through downtown, with the South King and East King branches each getting 8 and 10.]

The Northgate Link restructure has started. Metro is studying routes 26, 31, 32, 41, 45, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 71, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 301, 303, 304, 308, 309, 312, 316, 330, 345, 346, 347, 348, 355, 372, and 373 for possible changes. (Not the 44, 48, 49, 70, or any routes west of Aurora.) At this point Metro wants to know what people think about the current network, and recruit people for a “Mobility Board” to review the restructure proposals starting this fall.

According to Metro’s briefing on the project, Northgate Link will open in 2021 with U-District, Roosevelt, and Northgate stations. Frequency will be every 4-6 minutes peak hours, with 4-car trains. Some trains will run Northgate-Stadium, as MLK will not exceed 10 trains per hour. Travel time from Northgate to UW will be 7 minutes. That puts Northgate-Westlake at 13 minutes and Northgate-SeaTac at 47 minutes.

There is a not a lot of meat on the project website. However, a glance at the Seattle Transit Map can provide insights on the current network. Some parts work pretty well:

  • Above Northgate Way, the system conveniently already funnels people into the Transit Center.
  • The 67, 45, and fellow travelers provide good connectivity to Roosevelt, U-District Station, and places in between.
  • The 62 provides a straighforward connection to Link on 65th Street.

But it’s not all roses. Lake City Way buses like the 522 whiz right by Link stations without really connecting to them. With 145th St BRT coming and Northgate an attractive terminus as well, it’s not clear what happens to lower Lake City Way.

Moreover, much like mighty route 7 further south, the main north-south routes east of the 67 parallel Link for a long time before winding up in a difficult transfer environment. Any bus route that funnels into UW faces a dilemma between a direct-but-congested route on that doesn’t really serve the campus, and a slower one that goes through campus but skirts the fringes of UW station and takes a while to wind up in the U-District.

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Sound Transit shows off new Siemens light rail vehicles

Link LRV 202, the first of the Siemens S70 fleet

The long-awaited second generation of Link light rail trains has arrived at Sound Transit’s OMF in SoDo. The Siemens-built S70 car was put on display for local media on Wednesday, giving a small look into the future of our light rail system.

The display car, number 202, is the first of 152 Siemens light rail vehicles that were ordered by Sound Transit in 2016 for use on the ST2 extensions (including those that rolled over into ST3), covering Northgate Link, East Link, Lynnwood Link, and Federal Way Link. The $624.5 million contract covers all 152 vehicles, which are being manufactured and tested by Siemens in Sacramento, California. The ST3 extensions beyond 2025 will be served by a third generation that will require a new bidding process, and potentially more design changes if necessary.

Sound Transit expects to receive one to three vehicles per month through the end of the order in 2024, with many cars slated to also fill the under-construction OMF East in Bellevue. Following a few months of testing and commissioning, the first of the new Siemens cars will enter service in early 2020. Northgate Link will require 40 cars, while East Link will take up 112; both sets will be shared with the Lynnwood and Federal Way extensions.

The new Siemens cars will run in separate trainsets from the old Kinikisharyo cars, which will be pulled from service and trucked to Bellevue while undergoing minor software change to prepare them for East Link service, namely adding a new speed setting for the Bel-Red section’s 25 mph limit. Yes, this means that four-car train service will have to wait a bit longer, perhaps until the in-service testing for Northgate Link begins in late 2020.

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Sound Transit Board plays hooky, plans to study fare enforcement

Summer school. Credit: David Seater

Thursday’s Sound Transit Board meeting didn’t have any Earth-shattering news, but it did feel a lot like summer school. Agency staff presented some updates on ongoing projects, but the board didn’t do much: too many elected officials cut class to move along the day’s most substantial agenda item.

Fare enforcement

Metro rolled out a new fare enforcement policy a few weeks ago. (Expect an in-depth look soon.) The transit and social justice activists who worked with Metro are excited about the Metro policy, which will reduce fines and hopefully prevent escalation.

The same coalition approached Sound Transit to make similar changes, but the agency is moving more slowly; on Thursday, the board approved a staff proposal to study fare enforcement policy and come up with recommendations.

Capitol Hill affordable housing

The board formalized ST staff’s laudable work on several affordable housing projects on Broadway, which we covered in depth here. The board approved the requisite land transfers with Seattle Central College and affordable housing developers.

Seattle Mayor and ST board member Jenny Durkan praised the projects, and said that the city would try to get the buildings open sooner by expediting permitting and construction.

Northgate Link construction update

The Northgate extension is humming along. ST staff said that construction is on schedule. Most of the major structural work on the stations is done, and the right of way is nearly ready for guideway system installation.

Northgate Link’s budget allocated about $223 million to handle contingencies and cost overruns. The board voted on Thursday to allocate $3.7 million from that pool to complete final design work.

Federal Way Link land transfers

After ST builds the Federal Way Link extension, the agency will have some leftover land. The agency needs to hold staging sites and the land under the future guideway during construction, but not after. When the project is finished, ST plans to transfer some of the surplus land to WSDOT, which will build an extension of SR 509.

The board was supposed to approve the baseline budget for the project on Thursday, but needed a supermajority vote to do it. However, the board didn’t have a the votes necessary for the supermajority, so the vote couldn’t go ahead. (The board did approve the land transfer.) Early in the meeting, the board stalled votes because a quorum of members was not present.

Claudia Balducci compounded the embarrassment by pointing out that the project’s baseline budget had not yet been studied by the ST Board’s capital committee.

“Because we’re not going to take action on this, can this go through capital committee like it should have in the first place?” Balducci said.

The board sent the land transfer back to committee, after a wisecrack by Durkan (who skipped the last board meeting):

“Who knew so much could be done by people not showing up?”

This post has been corrected. According to ST spokesperson Scott Thompson, the board approved the eventual land transfer, but not the Federal Way baseline budget. An earlier version of the post said that the land transfer was not approved.