Community Transit and Sound Transit have a revised service restructure proposal oriented around future Link light rail service at Northgate, which is slated to open in 2021. Key changes since the initial proposal from the fall involve retention of ST Express Route 510 service between Everett and Downtown Seattle, higher frequencies on several routes, and elimination of Community Transit Route 855.
The proposal provides much greater details about service patterns envisioned and affects about a dozen commuter and express routes operating between Snohomish County and Seattle. Under a separate but related process, King County Metro released a proposal affecting local and express routes in Seattle and North/Northeast King County in January.
According to the transit agencies, feedback from riders in the initial outreach phase indicated that most are willing to make transfers between buses and light rail for faster and more reliable trips. On a typical weekday, I-5 is mired in very slow traffic during peak and even midday hours in the peak direction. However, the transit agencies report that riders indicated a preference for higher frequency bus service to make light rail transfers palatable and better connections in reaching destinations.
Since the proposal is predicated on connecting riders between buses and light rail, it is designed to limit the amount of time that riders will need to wait during transfers. The transit agencies estimate that bus-to-light rail wait times will average three to seven minutes. Conversely, light rail-to-bus wait times will average three to fifteen minutes, depending upon the route and time of day. Trips to Downtown Seattle could be a significant time savings during peak hours. Light rail travel time from Northgate to Downtown Seattle is estimated to be fourteen minutes while travel time from Northgate to the University District is estimated to be six minutes, making the transfers palatable for many riders. Still, the 400 series and Route 510 are planned to remain for riders that want a one-seat ride between Downtown Seattle and Snohomish County destinations.
The following are the proposed route-by-route changes, if any:
- Routes 402, 405, 410, 412, 413, 415, 416, 417, 421, 422, 424, 425, and 435 will continue to operate from Snohomish County to Downtown Seattle since some of those routes serve unique locations in Downtown Seattle that are not readily accessible by light rail and would require an additional transfer. Service frequencies are not proposed to change.
- Route 510 will maintain service to Downtown Seattle at its current 10-minute peak-hour frequencies in the peak direction. However, a new stop will be added Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station to provide additional connections for riders. Riders can avoid light rail while still giving connections to Routes 511 and 513, and provide redundancy in the event that light rail service is disrupted. While this proposal is essentially the status quo, it is a notable change from the original proposal in the fall that would have terminated service at Northgate Station, saving a significant amount of service hours instead of spending them on continuing to and from Downtown Seattle.
- Routes 511 and 513 will be modified to terminate at Northgate Station and provide staggered trips every six minutes between Ash Way Park-and-Ride and Northgate Station. There will be two trips of Route 511 for every one trip of Route 513. This will result in much more frequent trips on Route 511. While both routes will only operate on weekdays during peak hours, Route 511 will only operate in the peak direction; Route 513 will operate in both directions. These routes only operate in the peak direction currently
- Route 512 will be modified to terminate at Northgate Station, provide higher frequencies during certain times, and no longer serve the stops at NE 145th St. Sound Transit attributes the proposed stop elimination to low ridership and travel time savings. Personal experience though is the stop pairing does generate a high level of ridership during peak hours and affects travel times minimally compared to other stops on the corridor. Proposed frequency upgrades are 10-minute headways on weekdays during midday and early evening hours, 10-minute headways on Saturdays, and 20-minute headways on Sundays.
- Route 810 will be modified to terminate at Northgate Station and no longer service Lynnwood Transit Center. Community Transit also plans to add two morning trips, six early afternoon trips, and two late evening trips on weekdays. This will allow slightly higher frequencies of every 20 minutes during some periods.
- Route 821 will be modified to terminate at Northgate Station. Community Transit also plans to add six morning trips and eleven afternoon trips on weekdays. This will allow span of service to be expanded in the morning and afternoon and offer 20-minute headways in the morning and 15-minute headways in the afternoon.
- Route 855 will be eliminated, no longer providing service between Lynnwood Transit Center and University of Washington. Riders will need to use Routes 511, 512, 513, and 821 plus light rail or local bus service to reach the University District or University of Washington.
- Route 860 will be modified to terminate at Northgate Station. Community Transit also plans to add four morning trips and four afternoon trips on weekdays. This will allow span of service to be expanded in the morning and offer 15-minute headways during peak hours.
- Route 871 will be modified to terminate at Northgate Station. Community Transit also plans to add three morning trips and four afternoon trips on weekdays. This will allow span of service to be expanded in the morning and afternoon and offer 15-minute headways during peak hours.
- Route 880 will be modified to terminate at Northgate Station. Community Transit also plans to add eight afternoon trips on weekdays. This will allow span of service to be expanded in the afternoon and offer 15-minute headways during the afternoon.
While the intended implementing timing for this proposal is in 2021, that could slip as light rail construction is slowed and delayed to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Sound Transit has already begun to slow and halt construction projects to meet social distancing protocols and the spirit of Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of novel coronavirus. The order is intended to last at least through May 4th and could be further extended as the novel coronavirus epidemic persists. Even though infrastructure projects are exempt from the order, being deemed as essential activities, absenteeism among construction trades is high and work safety for the virus can be challenging or lead to slower construction times. Continued risk of infection could lead to many months of high absenteeism for projects that do remain in motion.
An online open house is available through May 6th. Riders can learn more about the proposals and weigh in through a survey. Feedback received from this outreach process may influence a final proposal that will be presented to the respective Sound Transit and Community Transit boards of directors in the summer. At that point, the boards of directors will deliberate and decide on the final service restructure plans.
Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.