Seattle Area Mass Transit

Build a light rail station at N.E. 130th St.

News about existing and proposed mass transit in and around Seattle, and a healthy dose of my own opinions!

by Bob Fleming

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My name is Bob Fleming, and I am very interested in seeing a greatly improved transportation system for Seattle and the surrounding region.

Current System

First of all, I must say that the Seattle area has a pretty good transportation system now, with a pretty good highway system and quite good system of public transportation.

FREEWAYS: There are two north-south Interstate highways, one east-west Interstate highway, and several other main routes. For more about the current highway system, click here.

MASS TRANSIT: Public transportation is provided by public bus systems operated by three counties and a city. There is also a regional transit authority providing express bus service, commuter rail service, and light rail service. Additionally, there is a short monorail line and two short operating streetcar lines. For more about current public transit, click here.


COMMUNITY TRANSIT OPENS BUS RAPID TRANSIT LINE (Monday, 30 November, 2009) — Today is the first day of public service of Community Transit’s new Swift Bus Rapid Transit line, mostly along highway 99 between Everett and Aurora Village Transit Center at the north edge of Shoreline. The line features streamlined articulated buses, with only 12 stops along the 17-mile route. Passengers pay their fare by machine at the station, before boarding the bus. The buses can operate at higher overall speed because of no delay for fare collection when boarding, there are three doors, and the route uses dedicated bus lanes where available and traffic lights extend the green light time for approaching buses. The buses run every ten minutes.

MAN DIES AFTER JUMPING IN FRONT OF LIGHT RAIL TRAIN (Wednesday, 29 Jul 2009) — The King County medical examiner’s office reports that a man that jumped in front of a light rail train Monday night committed suicide. Shortly before midnight Monday a man climbed over a Jersey barrier onto light rail tracks and was struck and killed by an oncoming train.

LINK LIGHT RAIL OPENS (Saturday, 18 Jul 2009) — Today the 14-mile Central Link light rail line opened from Downtown Seattle to Tukwila about two miles short of reaching Sea-Tac Airport. About 45,000 people rode the trains during the opening day. Rides are free today and tomorrow. The final segment to the airport opens in December.

Most people were happy, even ecstatic, about the beginning of service. Most of the riders commented on the quiet and smooth ride. A few residents complained about noise, concern about crossing the tracks, lack of parking, and other things.

TRANSIT TUNNEL NOW OPEN MORE DAYS AND HOURS (Saturday. 30 May 2009) — Today the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel will be open more hours a day and will also be open on weekends, in anticipation of the start of light rail service on 18 July. Until yesterday the tunnel was open weekdays until 7:00 pm and was clesed on weekends. The new hours are from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 6:00 a.m. to midnight on Sunday. Formerly buses used surface streets during hours that the tunnel was closed but light rail does not have that option. Currently 18 bus routes use the tunnel. Light rail trains and buses will share the tunnel.

PEDESTRIAN RUNS INTO TRAIN, SUFFERS INJURIES (24 April 2009) — This afternoon a woman suffered facial injuries when she ran into a Link light rail train in motion on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. It has been reported that the train had a green light at the time. This is the second accident since the lrains began testing. MY OPINION: If they had built monorail instead of light rail, trains and pedestrians could not collide.

18 JULY SET FOR LIGHT RAIL OPENING (22 April 2009) — Sound Transit announced yesterday that the opening date for Central Link light rail in Seattle and Tukwila will be Saturday, 18 July. There will be some ceremonies and celebrations with music and other activities. The first two days of service (Saturday and Sunday) will be free.

SMART CARD SYSTEM STARTS OPERATION (20 April 2009) — Today the ORCA (One Regional Card for All) system was placed in surface on a limited basis in the Seattle region. The rider obtains a “smart card” and loads it with a dollar amount up to $300. The card is then tapped against a reader on the transit vehicle and the appropriate fare is deducted from the balance in the card. The new system will be used on Sound Transit, King County Metro Transit, Snohomish County’s Community Transit, Everett Transit, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit, and Washington State Ferries.

OBAMA ANNOUNCES HIGH-SPEED RAIL FOR THIS REGION (16 April 2009) — Today U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans for high-speed rail for ten corridors in the United States. One of the corridors would be a north-south line connecting Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, Portland, and Eugene. O.K., Vancouver, B.C., is not in the U.S. (it’s in Canada), but it is close to the border and there is a high level of travel between Vancouver and Seattle. Portland is in the state of Oregon, just south of the border with Washington State, and Eugene is further south in Oregon.

LINK LIGHT RAIL CLAIMS ITS FIRST AUTO COLLISION (15 April 2009) — Today a car allegedly making an illegal left turn collided with a Link light rail train on Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. The damage appears to be relatively minor. The driver of the car was injured but it is believed not to be serious. Service on the line doesn't begin service for almost three more months and already it has a collision! Sound Transit is currently conducting test runs with the trains. MY OPINION: If they had built monorail instead of light rail, trains and cars could not collide.

GROUND BROKEN FOR UNIVERSITY LINK LIGHT RAIL (6 March 2009) — Today there was a groundbreaking ceremony to begin construction on the University Link light rail line between downtown Seattle and the southeast part of the University of Washington campus. The ceremony was outside of Husky Stadium, to initiate work on a 3-mile-long pair of tunnels that will go south of there under Capitol Hill to the Convention Center Station of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.

The Convention Center Station is the north terminus of the Central Link light rail line between downtown Seattle and Tukwila that is scheduled to open in July of this year, with an extension to SeaTac Airport that should open about five months later. The University Link will extend Central Link north to the University of Washington and is scheduled to open in 2016.

VOTERS APPROVE NEW EXPANSION BALLOT MEASURE (4 November 2008) — Today voters approved a Sound Transit ballot measure to expand light rail and add more service to ST Express bus routes and Sounder commuter trains.

In 2009 Sound Transit will open its new Central Link light rail line from Downtown Seattle to SeaTac Airport. The newly-approved plan will extend this line further south to the north part of Federal Way. Another extension will be from Downtown Seattle northward to Lynnwood. A third leg will cross Lake Washington via the Interstate 90 floating bridge to Bellevue and the Overlake district in the southwest corner of Redmond.

The expansion will be financed by a sales tax of 0.5%, added to the existing sales tax, in the Sound Transit taxing district which basically covers the urban areas of Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties. The existing sales tax varies throughout the region, but for Seattle the existing sales tax of 9.0% will increase to 9.5%. The estimated cost of the expansion is $17.9 billion.

SEATTLE-AREA TRANSIT RIDERSHIP SHOWS BIG GAINS (10 March 2008) — The American Public Transportation Association reports that ridership increased more than in most other areas of the U.S. in 2007. The national average was an increase of 2%. but for Sound Transit it was 12.5% and King County Metro showed an increase of 7%.

Broken down differently, by mode rather than agency, commuter rail in the Seattle area increased by 27%, the fourth highest in the country. For bus service, Seattle was number one in the nation with an 8% increase, and the Seattle area increased 4% in light rail and trolley ridership, with the only operating line in 2007 being the 1.6-mile Tacoma Link streetcar.

By mode, national averages are 5% for commuter rail, 1% for bus service, and 6% for light rail and trolleys.

Proposed Projects

There are several projects being considered for future transportation. These are some of them:

EASTSIDE RAIL CORRIDOR King County executive Ron Simms is trying to make a deal with the Port of Seattle to obtain use of part of a rail corridor no long needed by BNSF railroad. The corridor runs from Renton north to Snohomish, and Simms want King County to lease or buy the southern portion of the corridor for use as a bicycle and walking trail, with possible future use for a light rail line. Click here for more about the Eastside Rail Corridor.

My Opinions

My opinions are concerned mostly with mass transit in the Seattle area. This region is quite hilly. The population of the City of Seattle is approximately 550,000 people, and the population of the region which includes Seattle is approximately 1,500,000. The population density is fairly high in a few small areas, but is fairly low for most of the area (urban sprawl). Most of the people own cars and would rather drive than use mass transit.

The modes of mass transit that I think would work best in the Seattle area are different from those that I think would work best in areas with mostly flat terrain, with significantly lower or higher population, or with significantly lower or higher population densities. The availability of funding can also make a difference.

WE NEED BOTH HIGHWAYS AND MASS TRANSIT: The Seattle area needs improved highways and streets, but also a good mass transit system with an integrated mix of different modes of transportation. The two systems complement each other.

MANY PEOPLE CAN’T USE MASS TRANSIT: No matter how good the public transportation system is, many people need to drive. The goal should not be to try to eliminate most of the automobile traffic, but rather to improve public transit as much as possible in order to reduce a significant part of highway traffic. We still need to improve the streets and highways, but we also need to put a lot more money into public transit. Superior public transit will reduce highway traffic and therefore reduce the amount of money needed to improve roads.

PROVIDE PARKING AT RAPID TRANSIT STATIONS: The City of Seattle has a zoning restriction prohibiting parking for light rail riders near transit stations. The idea is to avoid acres of unsightly parking lots and encourage high-density housing and business. There is also a movement to encourage people to take buses to the stations instead of driving. The ideals are nice, but the reality is that many people can’t take a bus so drive to their destination rather than take the train. I would encourage nearby parking, including a multi-story parking garage, to encourage people to take the train. Click for more.

MONORAILS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED AS A VIABLE TRANSIT MODE IN BUILT-UP AREAS: The current plan is to extend light rail to more and more places. This is good. However in many cases monorails would be better. In a built-up urban environment, monorails can be built along existing streets, are less disruptive to the neighborhoods through which they pass, are saver, and can cost less than light rail. More about monorail.

MONORAILS AND LIGHT RAIL WOULD BE SUPPLEMENTED BY BUS RAPID TRANSIT AND EXPRESS BUSES: Express buses would extend this network to other areas of relatively high ridership density but without enough ridership and/or too geographically remote to be economically served by monorails. Express bus service can also include bus rapid transit (BRT).

LOCAL BUS SERVICE WOULD FILL IN THE AREA BETWEEN THE HIGH-SPEED ROUTES: Local bus service would fill in the areas between the higher-speed routes, passing as close as possible to as many homes, businesses, and other origins and destinations as possible.

THE VARIOUS MEANS OF TRANSIT WOULD BE INTEGRATED INTO ONE SEAMLESS SYSTEM: The goal of this system would be that most people in the region could walk only a short distance to a bus stop and then be able to travel to within only a short distance of their destination. Riders would transfer as necessary from local to high-speed services and back again in order to complete their journey. In order to attract the maximum number of riders, therefore reducing as many auto trips as possible, the services would have to be well integrated into one seamless system. A rider should be able to board a transit vehicle anyplace in the system, pay the fare, receive a transfer, and use that transfer freely throughout the system, possibly paying an additional fare if their trip is long. The fares and zone system should be the same regardless of whether the trip is by bus, street car, monorail, light rail or other mode of public transport within the system.

CONVERT TO MORE ELECTRIFIED TRANSIT: For this area electricity is basically non-polluting. Unlike most areas where coal-fired power plants generate most of the electricity, here in the Pacific Northwest most electricity is generated by hydroelectric plants, using water impounded behind dams. Light rail trains are electrically powered. So is monorail. A substantial network of electric trolley coach lines operate in Seattle. I would like to see an extension of the trolley bus system, in addition to the light rail extensions. I would also like to see monorail lines.

BIKEWAYS WOULD PROVIDE AN INCENTIVE FOR MORE PEOPLE TO USE BICYCLES: If a lot more people ride bicycles instead of driving, there would be a lot fewer cars on the road, alleviating congestion. Bikeways would make it easier and safer for people to go more places by bicycle.

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©2002 Robert M. Fleming Jr.

This page was last updated 16 May 2018.

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