How Community Transit and the Seattle Department of Transportation are Changing Minds About Public Transportation

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On October 21, 2021, the SACOG Board of Directors heard from two transit leaders about how the Seattle and North Washington regions have been able to improve the rider experience by providing fast, reliable transit services. Community Transit and the Seattle Department of Transportation gives the Sacramento region something to aspire to when it comes to improving access and speed to transit service.

Ric Ilgenfritz, CEO of Community Transit, the transit authority of Snohomish County, WA (north of King County), has over 20 years of experience in transit, including 16 years as a member of the executive leadership team at Sound Transit where he developed their transit-oriented development practice and sustainability program. During his presentation, Ilgenfritz described how Community Transit has built a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that connects to regional hubs, urban city centers and future rail lines in Snohomish County. The transit authority has built a high frequency transit line, Swift Blue Line, which picks up riders every 10 minutes, no schedule required.

“What we’re trying to do here is provide an easy-to-use network that’s integrated with our regional investments,” explained Ilgenfritz. The BRT lines connect urban and suburban centers within the county where there is a concentration of residential and employment growth. To plan for growth and success of the BRT lines, Community Transit has aligned the network with their MPO’s regional growth goals. The authority has also had to work closely with cities to integrate strategies like bus only lanes and signal priorities along city roads. To achieve the successful line, Community Transit has had to problem solve “mile by mile,” shared Ilgenfritz.

Sam Zimbabwe, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation who joined the agency in 2019, also presented. Zimbabwe came from Washington D.C. where he served for seven years in senior management positions at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Prior to his role at DDOT he served as the Director of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development.

The Seattle region has seen rapid growth over the last few decades, and people’s transportation habits have changed significantly. Zimbabwe shared that the use of single occupancy vehicles to get to central Seattle has declined by 9.1% between 2010 and 2017. While use in transit, walking, and biking has gone up. This due in part to Seattle’s focus on increasing access to the very frequent transit network, which is a bus pickup every 10 minutes, all day long. Five years ago, only 25% of households had access to the 10 minute transit service, that has grown to 70% today. Zimbabwe explained, “That kind of access and reliability really drives a lot of what we’ve seen in terms of people to thinking differently about their transportation options.”

 

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