The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and King County Metro have received increased interest in the RapidRide J Line, which is slated to begin service as soon as 2026. The J Line will upgrade Route 70 to provide high-quality service connecting downtown Seattle with Belltown, South Lake Union, Eastlake, and the University District.
Recent community feedback focused on the decision for the J Line to extend north to U District Link light rail station as opposed to Roosevelt Link light rail station as initially planned, as well as on plans for bicycle lanes. In addition to replying to residents directly, Metro and SDOT wanted to provide similar information through this joint blog post.
The decision in 2020 to end the line at U District Link light rail station was due to funding constraints as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the federal government has allocated additional funding to Metro since 2020, that revenue offset immediate revenue losses and ongoing impacts including reduced fare revenue due to lower ridership, cleaning and safety improvements (e.g., enhanced bus cleaning, operator safety partitions, mask dispensers), additional leave time to support employees dealing with COVID, and preservation of most of our service network throughout the pandemic. These federal funds supported investments beyond what was approved in the 2021-2022 budget. Critically, this includes avoiding the reduction of 590,000 hours of bus service that would otherwise be necessary, as well as investing in electrification and the transition to a zero-emissions fleet.
The recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the federal government in November 2021 does not guarantee additional funds for Metro. However, increased funding from established grant programs, including new grants, is expected in the future. This additional funding potentially would allow Metro to do more to meet our target of a zero-emissions fleet by 2035 as part of our commitment to environmental sustainability and to make progress toward the Metro Connects long-range vision.
To keep the RapidRide J Line project moving forward, a revised route – with southbound service beginning on NE 45th St. and northbound service ending at the NE 43rd St and 12th Ave NE intersection – was recommended by transportation planners in the early months of the pandemic. This location, which is one block from U District Link light rail station, balances getting the northbound route as close to the station and the University of Washington campus as possible, with capital and operational considerations. The new route, though shortened, continues on the efforts to deliver improvements to transit speed, reliability, safety, and connections between the Belltown, South Lake Union, Eastlake, and University District neighborhoods, which experience the highest ridership in the corridor (see Supplemental Environmental Assessment submitted). Additionally, with the North Link Connections restructure that took effect on Oct. 2021, several other transit routes will also connect more directly to the area (see North Link Connections Mobility Project website). This was incorporated into the King County budget that was proposed and adopted in late 2020.
With the implementation of the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan, a citywide bike network offering people comfortable spaces to bike and increased access to transit is materializing. Thanks to recent SDOT paving projects, bike facilities for all ages and abilities are now on NE 65th St., NE Ravenna Blvd., Roosevelt Way NE, NE 43rd St., 15th Ave. NE, and other important routes. Continuing in this vein, SDOT will evaluate the cost and funding opportunities of extending a protected bike lane from NE 43rd St to the Roosevelt Link light rail station as part of a paving project along 11th Ave NE and 12th Ave NE expected to be completed in 2024.
The City of Seattle remains committed to building an all ages and abilities connected bike network. SDOT recently reached substantial completion of the Center City Bike Network with the extension of the 4th Ave protected bike lane. Consistent with our values placing equity as a top consideration, SDOT is currently working with Georgetown, Rainier Valley, and Beacon Hill communities to understand their needs, to build trails and protected bike lanes to increase safety, and to make zero-carbon travel a realistic option for more people.
SDOT and Metro will provide ongoing updates and opportunities for community engagement as this work moves forward.