On Friday, Community Transit released three different options to extend its successful Swift Blue Line to the future Link light rail station at NE 185th St in Shoreline. The agency is planning to roll out the bus rapid transit line extension in 2024, the same year that the light rail station is poised to open.

Swift service currently runs between Everett Station and Aurora Village Transit Center in Shoreline. The proposed extension would route Swift buses up to an extra two miles to reach the Shoreline light rail station, provide service every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 15 to 20 minutes during weekends and evenings.

The existing Swift lines in operation with stop locations. (Community Transit)
The existing Swift lines in operation with stop locations. (Community Transit)

The three options that Community Transit is considering between Aurora Village Transit Center and the NE 185th St station include the following:

  • Alternative A would run the Swift Blue Line via SR-99 and N/NE 185th St;
  • Alternative B would run the Swift Blue Line via N 200th St, Meridian Ave N, and N/NE 185th St; and
  • Alternative C would run the Swift Blue Line via SR-99, N/NE 175th St, and 5th Ave NE, but would not directly stop at Aurora Village Transit Center.
The conceptual extension and new stop locations for the Swift Blue Line. (Community Transit)

Using zoning as a proxy of future ridership potential, Alternative A would seem like the better bet to move more riders than the other alternatives. Zoning near SR-99 provides for substantial multifamily and commercial development. Infill development has grown rapidly along that stretch of SR-99 in recent years. N/NE 185th St was also rezoned in five years ago for much higher development capacity and several small multifamily projects have recently broken ground along the street–with more undoubtedly on the way. The blocks along along Meridian Ave N, N/NE 175th, and 5th Ave NE hold far less potential for Alternatives B and C since they are primarily zoned for single-family residential uses.

Local zoning map for Shoreline. Brown is 45-foot height limit mixed use zoning and is focused on N 185th St. Sea green is 70-foot height limit mixed use zoning and is clustered around I-6 and NE 185th St. Grey is 35-foot height limit mixed use zoning. SR-99 has a mix of multifamily and commercial zoning, and and yellow is single-family zoning. (Shoreline)
Local zoning map for Shoreline. Brown is 45-foot height limit mixed use zoning, sea green is 70-foot height limit mixed use zoning, grey is 35-foot height limit mixed use zoning, SR-99 has a mix of multifamily and commercial zoning, and and yellow is single-family zoning. (Shoreline)

The main drawback of Alternative A is that it would require running buses further along SR-99, which can be problematic at peak times due to congestion. Fortunately though, transit lanes and transit signal priority have been installed along the SR-99 corridor and the extension project ultimately will come with additional transit priority investments. Community Transit will also install new stations using the agency’s signature platforms, shelters, and off-board amenities to aid the speed and reliability of buses.

The local bus route network for the Shoreline area. (King County)
The local bus route network for the Shoreline area. (King County)

Metro currently routes express and local service on the streets that Community Transit is considering run the Swift extension on. The most prominent route is the RapidRide E Line on Aurora Ave N with stops at N 192nd St, N 185th St, N 180th St, and N 175th St. Routes 346 and 348 provides local service on Meridian Ave N and N/NE 185th St respectively while Routes 303X, 373X, and 301 provide peak-hour express service on Meridian Ave N, N/NE 185th St, and N/NE 175th St respectively. Metro is planning a bus restructure to pair with Northgate Link Extension in 2021 and is still finetuning the route changes.

Community Transit has indicated that the extension might only included a limited number of additional stops. Two of those could be infill stops at 228th St SW and N 200th St on SR-99. However, if the extension is routed via SR-99 to N/NE 185th St or N/NE 175th St, a stop could be added at N 192nd St on SR-99. That stop happens to coincide with the Shoreline Park-and-Ride. Other potential stops between the light rail station and Aurora Village Transit Center have not been identified at this time.

If the extension is routed along SR-99 and via either N/NE 185th St or N/NE 175th St, it would seem sensible for Community Transit to at least provide a stop pair at that intersection to allow for local transfers for rides who use the RapidRide E Line. That would ease very local transfers with more frequent connectivity. However, if the goal is not provide a local stop on the stretch between SR-99 and the light rail station on N/NE 185th St or N/NE 175th St, it may wind up being faster to connect Swift riders to light rail by just using Alternative B via Meridian Ave N. The tradeoff there, though, would be much lower ridership.

Community Transit hopes to wrap up project development next year and begin construction in 2022. An online survey on the options will be open through February 27th.

Correction: The original version of this article mistakenly attributed issues with N/NE 175th St to N/NE 185th St.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t travel in this area very often. But, looking at the map, but gut instinct is to stay on SR-99 and 185th St. as much as possible. Between the county line and the Link Station, the bus should stop wherever there’s a transfer point, and nowhere else.

    Looking at the map, the only truly essential stop I see is Aurora/200th. Aurora/185th is nice for getting to Richmond Beach, but the existing bus network treats Richmond Beach mostly as afterthought because hardly anybody rides the bus there. If the 348 is planned as a long-term frequent route, it’s probably not because of Richmond Beach, but other parts of the route, from SR-99 eastward.

    With bus lanes, traffic should be fine. And the lack of ramps to/from I-5 on 185th should limit congestion there.

    I am not a fan of the notion that buses must loop into a transit center, just because it’s there. In practice, the wait time to switch buses is usually far longer than the minute or so it takes for a light to chance – which means not having to cross a street doesn’t actually get you where you’re going any faster. Meanwhile, the physical act of getting into and out of the bus bays slows down service for everyone, increases the financial cost of running the route, and also leads to bus routes chosen by the location of the transit center, rather than getting people where they want to go.

    In practice, the past of least resistance is probably option B. But, I agree with RossB that option A is superior.

    • “Looking at the map, gut instinct is to stay on SR-99 and 185th St. as much as possible. Between the county line and the Link Station, the bus should stop wherever there’s a transfer point, and nowhere else.”

      Exactly.

      You don’t need that many stops — somewhere between one and three. At a minimum you need a stop on Aurora, for transfers between Swift and the E Line. It really could be anywhere on Aurora, as long as there are good bus stops and crosswalks. For example, 192nd would be fine for that purpose. But there are three other corridors worth considering:

      200th — Currently served by the 331, and presumably there would be something similar.
      185th — Serves the Richmond Beach area.
      Meridian — Currently served by the 348 (which also curves around on 200th and gets close to Aurora).

      In general, none of these are bigger than any other. The 348 (serving Richmond Beach) runs as often as the 331, and picks up a lot more riders. But I think having one — and only one — stop in King County would be a big mistake. You leave out potential riders, just as today’s awkward system leaves out riders. Here is a three seat ride (https://goo.gl/maps/Si8m51kGYjWLtpNJA) that exists only because we are dealing with two different agencies. The whole point of sending Swift further into King County is to fix problems like that. It would be crazy to spend the extra money on service while ignoring perfectly good connections.

      A stop at 200th and Aurora makes sense because it serves two corridors. If you had only one stop, that would be it. However, asking folks on Meridian to make a five minute walk, or Richmond Beach riders to go back and forth all the way to the185th transit center is being penny wise and pound foolish. I would have a stop at either 185th and Aurora, or 185th and Meridian, or both. They are all good stops, and worth the very small time spent picking up riders.

  2. It seems like the map is in error. The Aurora Village Transit Center is on 200th, not 204th. There is no 204th to the east of Aurora there (it is just the mall). A bus could turn on 205th (AKA 244th SW for Snohomish County) but that would bypass the transit center. I think they simply meant 200th, which makes sense. For alternative A (or C) that is the key bus stop, as it would connect with just about all the buses that serve the transit center. The only exception would be a bus on Meridian (right now that bus is the 346). That connection could be made on 185th and Meridian, or at worse require a five minute walk (from the transit center to Aurora). It is also possible that the bus on Meridian would keep going on Meridian, and thus get very close to SR 99 on its way to Mountlake Terrace Station.

    The essential stop is the one at 200th. The other stop that is very important is one on 185th. In their long range plan, Metro has the bus to Richmond Beach as “frequent”. If there is no stop at 185th, a rider from Richmond Beach headed to Edmonds would have to go all the way to the 185th station before coming back. That is about a ten minute delay, and especially frustrating for a rider, who would probably see the other bus sailing by the other direction.

  3. “N/NE 185th St can be heavily congested during peak commute hours as it is a main thoroughfare to and from I-5”.

    Not really. The main thoroughfare is 175th. It is where the freeway ramps are. 185th may get traffic in the evening, as people use it as alternative to 175th, but the same could be said for Meridian (as people use it as an alternative to Aurora).

    There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach:

    Alternative A — Likely the fastest way to get over to the station (because it avoids extra turns).
    Alternative B — Passes by the Transit Center.
    Alternative C — Goes by the most places.

    I think A is the best option. The transit center is overrated. Every bus that serves the transit center will likely cross paths with the Swift Bus.

    As far as extra bus stops for the Swift, my guess is there won’t be that many. This is a Snohomish County bus, and they don’t gain much by adding a lot of stops in King County. For that matter, it doesn’t have many stops in Snohomish County (it is a limited stop express). A lot depends on how Metro restructures their bus routes, and it is difficult to say what they will look like — but I think we can make a few assumptions. Both the current and long range plan have buses going up Meridian (and not turning on 185th). So a stop at 185th and Meridian would make that connection. That would also work with a bus coming from Richmond Beach (even if it means a bit of back tracking). Then all you would need is a stop at 200th and Aurora (replacing the stop at Aurora Village). That would enable the connections to the E, as well as local routes on 200th. Those stops would also have decent walk-up ridership as well. Two fairly high value, high use stops in King County would likely work out well.

    The park and ride (at 192nd) could be served with a rush-hour only express route from Metro. The rest of the time, they would take the E. As mentioned, the bus from Richmond Beach would give riders at 185th a quick connection to Link. So even though the Swift bus would pass by some stops with decent potential in King County, those riders would still good connections to Link. Of course, it would probably be best if you added more stops for Swift, but I have a feeling that Snohomish County wouldn’t be interested. You only need a couple stops to create a fairly good network.

  4. Why not make a loop?

    Use Alt A or C south/east-bound, for easy access (no left turns) to Shoreline P&R, and Alt B north/west-bound, for easy access to Aurora Village Transit Center

  5. Aurora Village Transit Center is and will remain an important hub and transfer point. Swift Blue Line needs to continue serving this facility, and Alt. B is the only one that does that. A and B would bypass Aurora Village, and that would be a huge mistake. Local zoning is not an issue for a major limited stop trunk route like Swift.

    • No, Aurora Village Transit Center does not need to be served. You can make all of the connections to other routes by simply stopping along the way, via alternative A. For example:

      200th and Aurora — Connects to the E Line, 301, 331, as well as the 115 and 130 from Community Transit.
      185th and Meridian — Connects to the 346 and 348.

      Obviously there will be some shuffling around. But if you look at long range plan for Metro, just those two stops make all the connections. That is because all the buses that go to Aurora Village Transit Center cross Aurora, or go on Meridian past 185th. Furthermore, in most cases, if the connection is made at the transit center (instead of one of the other stops) it will delay passengers. Someone going from the E to Swift (essentially going straight up State Route 99) will be forced to wait for the bus and loop around a transit center *both directions*.

      If Community Transit does take that approach, it will simply be the result of poor coordination between the two agencies.

      • I live in Edmonds and often ride the CT130, Swift Blue line, and E line. The Transit Center is a rider convenience because it does bring all lines together in a single location, both Metro and CT lines. There’s a reason transit agencies build transit centers!

        Yes, there are transit geeks out there who could figure out how to navigate among several on-street bus zones, but why do that when you don’t have to? Transit is challenging enough for riders, especially newbies; don’t go making it more complicated.

        Alt. B is the best choice. And because Swift Blue is designed and paid for by us Snohomish County taxpayers, there’s no need for intermediate stops between the Aurora Village TC and the Link station. Metro local service will cover that area anyway.

        • ” There’s a reason transit agencies build transit centers!”

          Yes, so buses have a place to layover. There is no fundamental advantage to transit centers.

          Have you wondered why there are no transit centers in downtown Seattle, or the UW, even though they have the highest concentration of buses in the state? It is because they don’t make sense there. They wouldn’t add anything.

          There is nothing challenging about making a transfer on the street. The vast majority of transfers are made on the street (in places like downtown Seattle and the U-District). You are saying that someone who just wants to head up SR 99 will find it confusing that they transfer at SR 99, but find it quite sensible that the bus deviates from SR 99 and does a loop before stopping. Sorry, that doesn’t make any sense.

          And because Swift Blue is designed and paid for by us Snohomish County taxpayers, there’s no need for intermediate stops between the Aurora Village TC and the Link station.

          You do realize that Aurora Village is in King County, right. If Snohomish County taxpayers don’t want to pay for bus stops in King County, they will just skip that one as well. It really makes no difference if they stop at 200th and Aurora, or stop by Aurora Village, except that by using Aurora, the bus will get to the train station faster. Thus the best way to save Snohomish County taxpayer money is to go via Aurora and 185th, not detour to serve a mall.

          • The original concept behind transit centers was Timed Transfers, less so for layover space. At least the ones I visited 40 or so years ago.

            Aurora Village Transit Center is a facility shared by two agencies. It’s located in King County because that’s where land was conveniently available. I was part of the Seattle Metro team that designed the original transit center, back when Aurora Village Mall was adjacent, not Costco and Home Depot.

            I expect Alt. B will prevail; it avoids some congestion and allows continued service to AVTC (your disdain notwithstanding).

          • Sending buses out of there way to an arbitrary location does not help with transfers (timed or otherwise). It makes them harder. What it does do, though, is make it extremely easy for buses to turn around, or layover. I’ve talked to planner for Metro, and that is not a trivial issue. A large transit center simplifies the process considerably.

            But I think you are missing the big picture here. Once Link gets to Lynnwood, and Swift goes to 185th, then 185th is *the* transit center for Swift. Buses turn to serve it, not Aurora Village. It is quite possible that Metro will simply get rid of the transit center (I’ve heard talk of that). Regardless, it would be silly to go out of your way to serve an area that no longer serves it’s main purpose (having been replaced by Link stations).

          • Who at Metro is talking about eliminating AVTC? CT is not going to reroute *all* of its buses to 185th St. — 15 blocks into King County, to serve an area already covered by Metro.

            When I ride the 130 from Edmonds and want to go north on Blue Line, I want a direct transfer, without having to cross a state highway. AVTC allows that.

  6. Hi Stephen

    You wrote: The main drawback of Alternative A is that it would require running buses on SR-99 and N/NE 185th St, which each have their own operational challenges. N/NE 185th St can be heavily congested during peak commute hours as it is a main thoroughfare to and from I-5. Running buses further along SR-99 can be also problematic at peak times.

    185th is not a thoroughfare to I-5. You cannot access I-5 from 185th. You have to do that at 175th or 205th. 185th will take you to Shoreline Stadium. It stops being an arterial just over the east side of I-5.

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