Capitol Hill’s U District connection: Sound Transit announces October opening for 4.3-mile Northgate light rail expansion

The U District Station under construction in 2020 (Image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit has announced an opening date for its Northgate Link light rail expansion that will open up the great northlands of Seattle including the University District, Roosevelt, and Northgate to riders from Capitol Hill Station and beyond:

Today, we are officially announcing the opening date for passenger service on Northgate Link. Mark your calendars for October 2 and get ready to ride! The 4.3 mile light rail extension has three stations: two underground serving the U District and Roosevelt neighborhoods, and one elevated station at Northgate. The opening will coincide with service changes on ST Express, King County Metro Transit and Community Transit bus routes that will be modified to allow riders to connect with congestion-free Link service. Voters approved the Northgate Link extension in 2008 as part of the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure. Construction on the project began in 2012 following six years of planning. Twin boring machines began tunneling in 2014, completing the 3.5-mile twin tunnels in 2016.

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SDOT: E Union will finally get its protected bike lanes this month

(Image: 2020 Cycle)

The Central District’s 2020 Cycle is surely geared up for the occasion. Construction is set to begin for the remarkably speedy installation of new protected bike lanes running by the shop serving E Union between Capitol Hill and MLK.

Here is the latest from the Seattle Department of Transportation on the project:

We’re scheduled to construct the E Union St Protected Bike Lane on the weekend of April 24 – 25*! Our crews will begin site preparation work as soon as April 19. We will be installing a protected bike lane on both sides of E Union St between 14th Ave and 26th Ave and an uphill protected bike lane with downhill sharrow (permanent marking on the road to indicate shared lane between vehicles and bicycles) between 26th Ave and MLK Jr Way.

SDOT has distributed a construction notification, embedded below, in the area around the route. Continue reading

Thanks, Mayor Pete: E Madison bus rapid transit project gets $60M in federal funding — Here’s a block by block look at the planned changes to the street

Mayor Pete has come through. Monday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced $187 million in federal funding for four bus rapid transit projects — San Bernardino, California, Ogden, Utah, Everett, Washington, and right here on E Madison in Seattle:

The City of Seattle Department of Transportation will receive a $59.9 million allocation for the Madison Street BRT project, a 2.3-mile east-west BRT line operating diesel-electric buses along Madison Street spanning from downtown Seattle in the west to the Madison Valley neighborhood in the east, with connections in First Hill, Capitol Hill, and the Central Area. It will connect people to hospitals, schools, businesses, and other destinations as well as to dozens of bus routes, the First Hill Streetcar, and ferry service at the Colman Dock Ferry Terminal.

The federal money helps put the $134 million Madison bus rapid transit project on path for its planned 2024 start of service of the Metro RapidRide G line, a 2.3-mile, 10-station route connecting the waterfront through First Hill and Capitol Hill to Madison Valley.

The final designs for the BRT route’s major overhaul to the Madison corridor’s streetscape were finalized last year. You can check out a block by block look at the changes below.

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Pony’s patio getting slimmed down makeover to make room for E Madison RapidRide bus project

Relax. When this is all over, Pony and its E Madison patio — slimmed down just a little — will still be there.

Owner Mark Stoner confirms that the work underway on the famous street sign wall of Pony’s patio is part of changes being made to make way for E Madison’s coming “bus rapid transit” line.

“We will reopen,” Stoner says, “but with a slightly shrunken patio.” Continue reading

Short billions for coming voter-approved projects, Sound Transit beginning ‘realignment’ process

With news that new estimates show light rail to Ballard and West Seattle will cost billions more than expected, Sound Transit will hold a public workshop this week to bring its board of directors up to date on the cost challenges:

The Sound Transit Board of Directors will convene a workshop on Jan. 21 as part of work toward planned July decisions on long-range capital program adjustments in response to revenue impacts and cost pressures. The 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. workshop will take place as a videoconference due to ongoing COVID-19 precautions and can be watched at the below link. Information on the realignment process and the revenue and cost challenges is available at soundtransit.org

“Sound Transit is facing an unprecedented and extremely challenging financial environment caused by two major, simultaneous factors: (1) a pandemic-driven recession that has severely reduced consumer spending and government agency tax revenues; and (2) unrelenting pressures in the real estate and construction sectors of the economy that are continuing to drive costs to levels significantly beyond those foreseen in our plans,” the agency’s “Realignment Overview” reads.

“With greatly depleted revenues and higher construction costs, Sound Transit will not be able to deliver many expansion projects on their original timelines unless we receive alternative revenue from federal or state sources,” the overview says. Continue reading

Sound Transit: Light rail to Ballard and West Seattle will cost billions more

(Image: Sound Transit)

Your hopes of taking light rail from Capitol Hill to visit friends in Ballard and West Seattle are going to be even more expensive.

Sound Transit officials have unveiled new cost estimates for the “Sound Transit 3” package of projects including light rail connecting to West Seattle and Ballard that have risen nearly 50% from previous forecasts — a potential $5 billion to $6 billion surge.

Publicola reports:

The estimated cost of extending Seattle’s light rail system to Ballard and West Seattle, as well as several other components of the Sound Transit 3 plan adopted by voters in 2015, has risen dramatically since last year, Sound Transit staffers told the agency’s executive committee Wednesday. The main factors driving the increase, according to the agency, are higher than anticipated property acquisition costs, higher costs for labor and materials, and unanticipated “soft costs,” including additional funding for contingencies.

The the new numbers likely mean new timeframes for the projects. Continue reading

Sound Transit board to vote on fare enforcement policy reform

(Image: Sound Transit)

The Sound Transit board of directors will vote Thursday afternoon on what the body is calling the start of “major reforms” for how the agency handles fare enforcement.

If approved in Thursday’s vote, the proposed motion (PDF) would direct the creation of “a new fare enforcement/engagement program” and suspend all “civil infractions for fare evasion” until the board can vote “on an updated fare enforcement policy.” Continue reading

New ‘seated’ option Wheels join Seattle’s scooter share fleet

A “a more accessible” scooter with a ride the company behind it says is smoother and more “suited to Seattle’s hills and weather” has joined the city’s fleet of private company-share transportation options.

Wheels has released its seated rental scooters onto the streets of Seattle Monday:

Wheels are designed far differently from traditional stand-up scooters. A seated riding position and low center of gravity provide a safer and more stable ride — one that’s more accessible for a much broader demographic, as evidenced by the fact that half of Wheels‘ riders are women and one-third are over the age of 35. Large 14-inch tires create a smooth ride across bumps, cracks, and uneven surfaces. And, unlike other offerings, Wheels comes with its own integrated helmet system! Initially, 20% of Wheels scooters in Seattle will have integrated helmets, but this will soon be scaled up to cover the whole fleet.

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Signs of normalcy: You’ll have to pay to ride the bus again (but fare enforcement remains suspended)

Bus rides on Capitol Hill will be a little more like old times starting October 1st. Metro is again collecting fares — though enforcement will continue to be suspended through at least the end of the year. “Essential trips only” also continues to be the message — though that part of the region’s COVID-19 restrictions is also shifting.

“As King County gradually reopens, use of transit will expand beyond essential trips and the need for Metro service, and the funding to support it, will increase,” the Metro announcement on the resumption of fares reads.

The agency suspended fare collection as part of streamlining its operations at the onset of the pandemic in March.

Sound Transit reinstated fares on light rail in June.

All transit operators and riders are required to wear masks.

Fare enforcement on transit, meanwhile, will be part of King County Executive Dow Constantine’s 2021 budget efforts. Constantine announced he will work with Metro and the King County Sheriff’s Office to develop alternatives to fare enforcement which has had a disproportionate impact on riders of color. The goal is for a new, more equitable system to be in place by 2022.

With Lowell to Meany route mostly in place on Capitol Hill, city to hold ‘drop-in’ on Safe Routes to School program

The City of Seattle will hold an online “drop-in” session Tuesday to provide updates on the Safe Routes to School program, an effort to increase “safe walking and biking to school” along select routes across the city.

A $2.2 million project to complete a Safe Routes corridor between Capitol Hill’s Lowell Elementary and Meany Middle School mostly wrapped up this summer even as the district’s campuses remain closed to COVID-19 restrictions. Continue reading