Microsoft running larger employee shuttles more often through Capitol Hill amid increased demand

A Connector idles near a Metro bus stop on 19th Ave E (Image: CHS)

A Connector idles near a Metro bus stop on 19th Ave E (Image: CHS)

At least 31 passenger buses roll through three Capitol Hill stops every day, but they don’t belong to King County Metro or Sound Transit.

The Microsoft Connector, which shuttles full-time employees from Seattle to the company’s campus in Redmond and offices in Bellevue, has recently stepped up its central city service frequency and bus size across Capitol Hill due to increased demand, the company says.

Launched in 2007, Microsoft’s Capitol Hill shuttles were recently replaced with larger buses, but the company would not say how many employees on average use the service, only that its fleet of buses can carry more than 7,000 passengers. On some routes like the 12 on 19th Ave E, it appears the corporate perk far outperforms public transit in terms of ridership.
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First look at how light rail, route revisions have changed Capitol Hill bus ridership

Over the weekend, CHS’s Re:Take history series took a look back at some of the lost bus routes of Capitol Hill. We don’t have to look back far in time to find the changes. Late last year, Metro planned out a wave of revisions and reroutes to optimize its service around the opening of light rail service to Capitol Hill Station and UW.

Now, the Seattle Transit Blog has provided the first look at how ridership on the altered bus lines has changed in the first months as ridership on light rail has soared.

STB grouped the impacted Capitol Hill routes into a set of winners…

  • Route 11: up 38% — The #11 is likely absorbing demand on Pine Street east of Broadway for former Route 10 riders unwilling to walk to Link. Continue reading

Why Sound Transit is not rolling out more 3-car light rail trains

Southbound trips

Northbound tripsSound Transit may consider it an encouraging problem to have that the chief complaint among riders of its recently expanded light rail system is that trains are sometimes overcrowded. During last week’s Sound Transit board meeting, members asked transit officials to respond to public demand for more capacity and explain why more three-car trains are not running on the mostly two-car system.

It turns out that even with the huge boost in ridership since the Capitol Hill and UW stations opened in March, Link light rail is still well within its capacity on most trips.

“We cannot guarantee that everyone will have a seat during peak hours, nor was that how the system was designed or funded,” said David Huffaker, Sound Transit’s deputy executive director of operations. Continue reading

$2.65M deal for affordable housing site puts Capitol Hill Station development in motion — UPDATE

Early concept of the development coming to "Site B North"

Early concept of the development coming to “Site B North”

Sound Transit is finally ready to sell off the first of five properties surrounding the Capitol Hill light rail station that will transform Broadway and serve as a new gateway to Capitol Hill.

The board is expected to approve the $2.65 million sale (PDF) of Site B-North to developer Gerding Edlen during its Thursday afternoon meeting. The Portland-based developer previously selected Capitol Hill Housing to develop and own an 86-unit affordable housing project on the site, which runs along 10th Ave between John and Denny Way.

UPDATE (4:35 PM): Sound Transit board members approved the Site B-North sale agreement during their Thursday afternoon meeting. Despite a Sound Transit staffer reminding the board the action was “a very, very big deal,” the approval was rather unceremonious as one member had to be pulled in from the hallway to make a quorum for the quick vote. There was no board discussion of the measure.

“The Capitol Hill community has repeatedly and strongly expressed its desire for affordable housing,” said Brie Gyncild, co-chair of the Capitol Hill Champion community group. “We need truly affordable housing as soon as possible and we near it near the light rail station.”


(Image: Gerding Edlen)

According to Gerding’s winning proposal, half of Site B-North’s units will be restricted to households making no more than 30% of the area median income. The other half will be made affordable to households at or below 60% of AMI. A quarter of the units will have two or three bedrooms. Initial plans call for a community center and a daycare, as well as a rooftop deck and computer lab.

The $2.65 million price tag for the “transit orientated development” “Site B North” comes just under Sound Transit’s estimated price last year. A substantial percentage of the proceeds will go towards paying back federal transportation grants that were secured for the project.

In August, the board is expected to approve land leases for three other sites so Gerding Edlen can move forward with its plan to build 100,000 square feet of commercial, housing, and community space. Seattle Central College has been given a right of first refusal to develop a fifth parcel, Site D, due to the site’s location directly next to the school’s Broadway promenade.  Continue reading

Bus Rapid Transit: Weigh in on Madison’s new station and road designs

BRT-Update-12-18-15The framework may already be set for a new 11-stop “bus rapid transit” line along Madison, but you can still have a say on the interior design.

Stretching from 1st Ave downtown to MLK Way in Madison Valley, the future Madison BRT will travel in a dedicated center lane with island stops from 9th Ave to 14th Ave while the rest of the route will either run curbside with right-turning traffic or in mixed traffic. Within that outline there are still some decisions to be made.

City planners are holding three community meetings around Capitol Hill in August to show off the latest BRT designs and to take public feedback on the project. Seattle Department of Transportation officials are specifically looking for feedback on updated station and roadway designs, which will be unveiled at the first meeting:

  • Wednesday, August 3rd, 5 – 7 PM
    Seattle University, Campion Ballroom, 914 E Jefferson St
  • Thursday, August 4th, 11 AM – 1 PM
    Town Hall Seattle, Downstairs, 1119 8th Ave
  • Tuesday, August 9th, 5 – 7 PM
    Meredith Mathews East Madison YMCA, 1700 23rd Ave
  • You can also submit comments online by emailing

“In 2015 we sought feedback on which blocks the stations should be at, and now we’re narrowing it down to exact location within the identified blocks and how riders will access the stations,” said SDOT spokesperson Emily Reardon. Continue reading

City: Thousands of Seattle drivers ditched own vehicles for car share

Three Car2Go cars ready to go

Thousands of Seattle drivers turned in their private vehicles for a Car2Go membership in 2015, a trend poised to continue in 2016 as a new provider gears up for service in the city.

According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, 14% of Car2Go members gave up a private vehicle in 2015. Half of those said the availability of free floating car share was part of the reason. That translates to roughly 9,100 private vehicles let go by car share users in 2015, with around 4,500 dropped because owners had access to the Daimler AG-backed service.

The data is also a good sign for BMW, which is nearly ready to launch its re-booted car sharing service in Seattle. BMW is expected to officially launch the Car2Go competitor here soon with testing of the all-electric i3 fleet already underway. UPDATE: BMW also uses non-electric Mini vehicles in its car share fleet, which have recently been spotted around Seattle.

Meanwhile, City Hall has also rolled out a Drive Clean Seattle initiative to improve infrastructure for electric vehicle and electrify the city’s own vehicle fleet.

BMW’s preparations come a year after the Seattle City Council voted to allow three more free-floating car share vendors to join Car2Go. Car2Go currently has 750 vehicles permitted for its service — the maximum allowed by the City for an individual provider. With four vendors, that means Seattle could have up to 3,000 free-floating cars on the road. Continue reading

Sound Transit 3: Big, long, Ballard by 2038

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

2016_0324_ST3_DraftPlan_BoardhandoutIt’s finally here: the Sound Transit 3 draft proposal (PDF) for how to extend and complete the agency’s regional light rail network, a $50 billion package which will be put before voters in the fall of this year. Seattle’s transit wonks will be tearing every piece of the proposal apart in the coming days, weeks, and months, but for now, here are the basics.

It’s big. Really big. As local transit advocates had hoped in the build up to yesterday’s unveiling, Sound Transit decided to go all-in with package to build out light rail lines north to Everett, south to Tacoma, east to Redmond and Issaquah, and highly anticipated lines to West Seattle and Ballard.

And it’s long. Really long. Timelines call light rail to West Seattle in 2033 — and then, five years, later, light rail to Ballard.

The plans will require digging a new transit tunnel under downtown and a total of 108 miles of new light rail track.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 6.45.47 AM

There’s no “Metro 8 Subway,” a proposed line running between south lake union and the future Judkins Park station in the Central District (mimicking the Metro 8 bus route); an unlikely investment—it wasn’t even a candidate project or potential investment study—that Seattle subway had been pushing for.

In addition to the new light rail lines, the package also includes a variety of bus and bus rapid transit (BRT) projects—BRT lines on I-405 and SR 522, capital improvements to Metro’s existing C and D Rapid Ride lines, and potentially using highway shoulders for buses during peak congestion hours on the likes of I-5 and I-405—as well as three studies of potential future investment including light rail lines from Ballard to the University District, West Seattle to Burien, and further north to Everett Community college. The Seattle Transit Blog has a detailed, full run-down here on the package and all its non-light rail elements, like Sound Transit’s proposed utilization of their surplus property for transit-oriented, affordable housing development.

The Madison Bus Rapid Transit project, by the way, won’t be part of ST3’s funding — the city will now have to turn to the feds or beg from the state legislature to power that plan to overhaul Madison from downtown to the Central District. Continue reading

As City Hall considers bike share bailout, Seattle car sharing ready to expand

As a Car2Go competitor makes ready to make its move in Seattle, the City Council could be ready to rescue Seattle’s bike share system and put Pronto on track for an expansion in 2017 with a committee vote on Friday.

A year after the Seattle City Council voted to allow three more “free-floating car share” vendors to join Car2Go, a BMW-backed competitor to Daimler AG’s Car2Go service is preparing to launch in Seattle after folding operations in San Francisco last year.

(Image: DriveNow)

(Image: DriveNow)

CHS has learned DriveNow has started hiring for its Seattle operations and is in the midst of setting up a downtown office. DriveNow’s all-electric BMW i3s were also spotted driving around Belltown this week. According to SDOT, DriveNow has not yet filed for a special parking permit that would allow drivers to park cars without paying street meters — a key component to free-floating car shares.

A spokesperson for DriveNow told CHS the company is “exploring the potential” of operating in a number of cities, but declined to comment on the recent hires or the cars seen in Seattle. DriveNow CEO Rich Steinberg previously said service would start in mid-2015.

Launched in Munich in 2011, DriveNow currently operates in several European cities. After its 2013 launch of U.S. operations in San Francisco, the company closed up shop last year citing insurmountable problems with the city’s parking regulations.

Bike bailout
Meanwhile back on two wheels, the city’s bike share plan appears to be to keep the system outside of the for-profit business sphere. Unless the City Council approves a $1.4 million rescue package for Pronto by March 30th, the system goes belly-up. Transportation committee members will once again be considering the deal during their Friday afternoon meeting.

UPDATE: Committee chair Mike O’Brien decided to delay a vote on the plan until early next month so council members could focus on gathering more information.

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75 years later, streetcars return to Capitol Hill

IMG_0313 conup_map1There were no ribbons to cut or long speeches when the First Hill Streetcar shoved off from Pioneer Square for its inaugural passenger journey to Capitol Hill Saturday, but the rain-soaked launch delivered where it counts: regular service started without any major hiccups. Demand on the sunny Sunday that followed was large enough that officials pressed an extra car into service to deal with the crunch.

It’s been a long time coming. September 1, 1940 was the last day that streetcars carried passengers on Broadway and down Harvard Avenue.

Speaking inside a crammed train car at the Occidental Square stop Saturday, Mayor Ed Murray distanced himself from the FHSC project’s many delays but said he was excited to take part in the first trip to his home neighborhood on Capitol Hill.

The opening is the first in a series of massive transportation projects opening in 2016 around Capitol Hill including an April debut of the new 520 floating bridge and the March opening of light rail and the Capitol Hill Station facility which is expected to serve more than 10,000 riders a day at Broadway and Denny.

Across the street from the soon to open light rail station, Saturday’s start of service (CHS Coverage!) for the First Hill Streetcar marked a decade of work to get the line operational. In January 2006, the Sound Transit board authorized staff to begin planning for a possible new streetcar line after it had taken a First Hill light rail stop off the table because of the risk and expense it determined would be involved in creating the station.

Driver Tom did the honors Saturday for the first departure from Broadway and Denny

Driver Tom did the honors Saturday for the first departure from Broadway and Denny

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First Hill Streetcar begins service with free rides — UPDATE


First departure from Broadway and Denny (Image: CHS)

Go take a ride on the First Hill Streetcar. Saturday, the 2.5-mile line connecting Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Capitol Hill begins service. During the “promotional service” period, rides are free. The first streetcar should be leaving the Broadway and Denny end of things around 11 AM Saturday. Got a picture or video of your first ride? Send it to CHS.

UPDATE 1:35 PM: A bright yellow streetcar on the grayest of Seattle days was filled with around 60 riders and a driver named Tom for the first departure of the First Hill Streetcar from the Broadway/Denny stop Saturday morning.

With a “clang clang” and a round of applause, the streetcar departed just after 11:20 AM after getting the go ahead from operations that the train carrying Mayor Ed Murray and a huddle of dignitaries and community representatives had departed from Pioneer Square on the other end of the 2.5-mile route. On a day when the launch of the new $138 million streetcar line had already been downplayed by Seattle Department of Transportation officials, Murray also distanced himself from the brightly painted set of six shiny, new, Czech-designed cars. The mayor said he inherited a project that was delayed but was now happy the line was running.

The streetcar is on it's official!

The streetcar is on… it’s official!

On the Broadway end of things, there was a little more enthusiasm. Some riders said they thought they would use the new line to visit the International District to shop at Uwajimaya or go out to eat in Pioneer Square. Some said they doubted they’d ever ride again except when tourists are in town to visit. A few riders said the line represented a more solid, perhaps more dependable kind of transit that they could be more confident in trusting to show up with regularity and provide a comfortable ride.

But it will be a slow ride. Even in light, Saturday morning traffic and with rather quick boarding and exits at the 10 stops along the line, it took nearly 25 minutes to travel from Broadway and Denny to Occidental Square. With the streetcar sharing lanes with with vehicular traffic and on a route that comes sometimes perilously close to cars parked on the street near the tracks, expect slower times when the line is needed most during rush hours.

Nobody but the media photographers trying to capture a small moment in Seattle history really seemed to be in a rush for Saturday’s first rides, however. Most riders were out to see the new streetcars and enjoy a free ride. The $2.25 fare will remain waived through a few weeks while the system ramps up. SDOT director Scott Kubly, who was part of the first ride out of Pioneer Square, is promising a larger celebration complete with lion dancers and a ribbon cutting when the line is ready for a “grand opening” in a few weeks.

The six streetcars travel the 2.5-mile line’s 10 stops every 10 to 15 minutes from 5 AM to 1 AM Monday through Saturday, and Sundays from 10 AM to 8 PM. The streetcar travels in the traffic lane sharing space with automobiles and buses. Most left turns along the route have been eliminated and signals are now coordinated to help keep the streetcar moving. From Pioneer Square to Broadway, the streetcar will operate with power from a single overhead wire. Hybrid batteries will provide power generated through “regenerative braking” on the mostly downhill return trip. 3,000 riders are expected to use the First Hill line every day with fares set by Sound Transit. The standard adult fare is $2.25. After the free period, riders without ORCA cards will be able to purchase tickets at fare box machines located on station platforms. You can learn more at


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ST3: a Capitol Hill view of what’s next for Sound Transit

Capitol Hill Station opens in March (Image: CHS)

Capitol Hill Station opens in March, part of the great Seattle transit spring of 2016 (Image: CHS)

ST3's "candidate projects"

ST3’s “candidate projects”

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 7.53.11 AMFresh from passing the $930 million dollar Move Seattle transportation levy, Seattle voters will vote on another major transportation investment next November: Sound Transit 3, or ST3, the ballot measure that will finance and guide the expansion of our region’s light rail transit system. The final package of specific new light rail projects and a funding timeline has yet to be put together, but the Sound Transit Board is currently weighing a variety of proposals that bring broader, regional transit mobility to District 3 beyond the University District and downtown connections that come with the slated spring opening of the Capitol Hill light rail station on Broadway between John and Denny. Here is what to watch for — and ask for — as the plan comes together from Broadway’s point of view at Capitol Hill Station.

A long route
ST3 has been a long time in the making, and still has a long way to go before going to the Ballot next November. After last year’s bitter legislative session, lawmakers granted Sound Transit the authority to seek approval from voters to raise taxes (to the amount of $15 billion) to extend existing light rail lines created under ST2—the previous Sound Transit expansion package voters approved back in 2008—as well as build new completely lines within Seattle such as the very popular Ballard to West Seattle connection (potentially via a second downtown transit tunnel). To get the ball rolling on ST3, last summer, the Sound Transit board took input from regional residents on their picks for potential projects. After studying the preferred options, Sound Transit rolled out a set of candidate projects, in addition to various funding timelines in early December.

Now, the board will spend the next few months putting together a draft package to be put under the public’s microscope in March, after which extensive public input will be gathered before the final, final, package put before voters in November. For now, public input and advocacy is limited to writing individual board members about what you would like to see in the draft proposal.

For local transit advocates like Abigail Doerr, advocacy director for the pro-light rail Transportation Choices Coalition and a Capitol Hill resident, ST3 is a key opportunity to get it right to go all out and build out the regional mass transit network to its fullest extent. “We would like to see as many of these good candidate projects in the package.”

The Sound Transit board has a lot hash out in formulating the draft ST3 package. In addition to extending the ST2 era-lines further south to the Tacoma Dome from Federal Way, north from Lynnwood to Everett, and east from Bellevue to Redmond and Issaquah, the Seattle area candidate projects include variations of the famed Ballard to downtown Seattle line — sub-options for this project include elevated and at-grade lines, or a mix of both (some also feature a second downtown transit tunnel) — a downtown Seattle to West Seattle connection, a east/west Ballard to University District route, an extension down south to Burien from West Seattle, additional stations along the pre-existing light rail line snaking through the Rainier valley, studying a potential Ballard to Bothell line (via Lake City) and helping fund the Madison Street Bus Rapid Transit line, a project in the heart of Capitol Hill, which is also relying on the Move Seattle levy and, potentially, federal grants. Continue reading

The great Seattle transit spring of 2016

Sept. 11, 2015 - Final roadway deck panels

22793353349_0900b6f8f0_bThe great Seattle transit spring of 2016 — or, at least, really swell first quarter of the year — is rounding into shape. State officials have announced an April grand opening for the new 520 bridge — the longest floating bridge… in the world:

The public will have the chance to run, bike or simply stroll across the world’s longest floating bridge in April. The Washington State Department of Transportation will host a grand opening celebration to mark the completion of the new State Route 520 floating bridge. The weekend festivities atop the new, 1.5-mile-long floating highway kicks off Saturday morning, April 2, with a community fun run and walk sponsored by the Virginia Mason Heart Institute. On Sunday, April 3, the 520 Go Long celebration closes with a public bicycle ride from the University of Washington, across the bridge and back, through car-free routes of downtown Seattle, and back to the university campus.

Part of the 520 festivities will include a once-in-a-lifetime ride with the Cascade Bicycle Club. Reminder: You’ll have another opportunity to celebrate the new 520 in the future when the full Seattle-side portion of the project is completed.

The April opening of 520 is a little bit off our report from October of planning efforts around the bridge and the March opening of the ahead-of-schedule, under-budget Capitol Hill Station and U-Link extension. A Sound Transit media event Wednesday afternoon at the future Roosevelt station didn’t include an announcement by new CEO Peter Rogoff of an official opening date for the new Broadway station and the 3.1-mile twin tunnels between downtown and Husky Stadium but the agency did confirm the March timeframe. We’d put our money on a Saturday in March if you’re the wagering type.

In the meantime, you can learn more for Sound Transit’s plans for U-District Station at an open house Thursday night. Light rail is expected to reach that portal by 2021:

(Image: Sound Transit)

(Image: Sound Transit)

We don’t know if the final element of the great Seattle public transit spring of 2016 will really stretch into spring but, yes, there is still not an official launch celebration date for the First Hill Streetcar yet, either — though November’s safety day and a recent City of Seattle planning meeting for an event in Pioneer Square indicate we’re (probably?) pretty close.