Crowding, short-term bike ban coming as light rail prepares for construction

SEATTLE — In less than a month, the platform at Pioneer Square is going to get crowded, a lot more crowded.

Sound Transit is preparing for Connect 2020 – a multi-phase construction project that will connect the downtown tunnel, to the East Link light rail line. In order to keep the trains running, thousands of riders will have to adapt to how they travel – including a stop at Pioneer Square where riders will have to swap trains at a newly-built center platform to continue on their trip.

“We’ll have four car trains all during that period,” explained Rachelle Cunningham. “That could mean up to 1,600 people at a time transferring between these trains at Pioneer Station at any given time.”

The project starts on Jan. 4 and runs through mid-March. Those who don’t plan ahead could be in for a surprise. Typically trains pass through every four to six minutes, during Connect 2020 they’ll run every 12 minutes.

“There will be crowding, people should expected delays,” said Cunningham.

While everyday riders will have to get accustomed to a “new-norm,” bicyclists will notice the biggest change. In order to avoid injuries they’re banning bikes between University Street and International District – riders with bicycles will have to exit the train and re-connect on the other side.

“I think part of it is that people aren’t realizing it’s going to be three months,” said Bob Svercl. “That’s going to end up surprising people.”

Svercl is an avid rider – he ends up in downtown Seattle with his bicycle at least three times a week. After a long day at work, or if he stays downtown late with friends, he’ll use the light rail to cut down on how long he has to ride his bike. Since he lives in Tukwila and works downtown, he’s a regular on the light rail. While the changes aren’t ideal, he notes that many bicyclists are happy that there’s a workaround.

SDOT worked ahead of the switch to finish the 2nd Avenue protected bike lane connection, meaning those who have to exit the light rail at University Street and/or International Street can bike between the connections and rejoin riders on the other side during the short-term ban on bicycles.

“I strongly recommend doing that now,” said Svercl -- urging fellow-riders to explore the route ahead of the January change. Sound Transit notes that they’re also constructing bike lockers beginning in late-December that will be open at University of Washington, SODO and Rainier Beach. Those lockers will cost 5 cents an hour in the hope is that it’ll help riders who decide to leave the bicycle for the day while they’re riding into Seattle.

“There are different ways to work around this,” said Cunningham, explaining that this was the best alternative to game plan around the construction instead of shutting down the light rail altogether. “We do ask people plan ahead, plan differently.”