Lynnwood City Council, Community Transit discuss partnership offering shuttles, community vans

Community Transit Transportation Specialist Alex Mehn (top right) briefing the Lynnwood City Council on microtransit alternatives at the April 19 work session.

Representatives from Community Transit met with Lynnwood City Council this week to explain their proposal to fill gaps in the city’s transportation needs, including alternatives like microtransit shuttles, community vans and Uber/Lyft partnerships. 

Earlier this year, staff conducted a needs assessment study as part of a grant-funded pilot program project seeking to test an alternative to fixed-route transit service in Lynnwood. At the council’s April 19 work session, Community Transit staff provided an update on the study, which identified areas in the city with fewer public transit options.

During the briefing, Community Transit staff presented key findings from the survey including barriers like walking distance to a bus stop, finding someone to share a ride with, where the bus goes and the trip duration. As a result, staff are recommending the city explore on-demand transit service within specified areas accessed by technology like a phone app.

“It provides, essentially, a service that works at a time for the individual and at a destination and origin point of the individual,” said transportation specialist Alex Mehn.

One alternative would be to provide a potential east-to-east shuttle service along 188th Street Southwest, which would provide connection services from Edmonds College to Alderwood Mall. Currently, most of the east-to-west transit options are centralized along 196th Street Southwest. The city used to have a 188th Street Southwest route, however it was eliminated as a result of the budget cuts due to the 2008 recession. The proposed route would include connections to transit services on 44th Avenue West.

One alternative to set-route public transit was an east-to-west option along 188th Street Southwest.

With this alternative, the city would be able to provide a much-needed service for those who may have difficulty accessing transit along 196th Street Southwest, Mehn said.

“If you’re not running on that (196th) core, you’re having a tough time getting across Lynnwood via transit,” he said. “So, this solves that problem by using work that our planners had already done.”

Conversely, a second option would be a circular route with multiple services focused in the Alderwood Mall area. Mehn said the area around the mall was identified as high need due to the number of attractions and apartment buildings but limited parking space. In addition to being the city’s highest-use destination point, Mehn pointed out that the area also has the lowest number of residents who own cars and has the highest minority populations.

“It really focuses all of our efforts and says, ‘We’re going to provide the highest level of service within this one limited area,’” he said.

The alternative would provide more flexibility, allowing microtransit shuttles to run along the route and deviate off them, depending on pick-up requests.

Staff also briefed the council on an option that would involve the city renting out a community van to groups for trips or scheduling carpool trips with the city. This option would most likely be used for recreation like attending sporting events, said Community Programs Manager Jennifer Hass. Services would be available 24/7 and focus more on residential and recreational services instead of being commuter focused.

Another alternative suggested centralizing microtransit around Alderwood Mall.

Another option would have the city partner with transportation network companies (TNC) — like Lyft or Uber — to offer services. However, Hass noted key concerns that would hinder such potential partnerships. For instance, the city would be required to drug and alcohol test employees, since it receives federal funds, and TNCs do not require those screenings. She also cited accessibility concerns regarding vehicle’s potentially not being ADA compliant.

Next, staff plan to continue community engagement by conducting another survey and how it will be distributed sometime in May or June. A community workgroup meeting is set for April 28. Staff anticipate having an option selected by fall of this year.

In other business, the council held its final briefing on the city’s draft Housing Action Plan before a May 10 public hearing. The presentation included a brief overview and a minor update   

The action plan will act as a policy document and work plan to guide and advise the city on what further research needs to be done regarding housing in Lynnwood. The draft was created with input from several community stakeholders, city staff and community members. It defines affordable housing as that which requires no more than 30% of a family’s gross income.

“It’s really more (of the) council saying ‘Yes, we approve this direction, and would like to continue further researching how these should be implemented for Lynwood,’” said Senior Planner Kristen Holdsworth.

Following the May 10 public hearing, the council will vote on whether to adopt the plan into action.

Also during the meeting, public works staff provided an update on the city’s water, sewer and stormwater services. During the presentation, staff reviewed capital projects like the 60th Avenue West sewer main upgrade and the recent improvements to sewer lift stations 4 and 8 located near Alderwood Mall, which will help to accommodate increased utility usage as more developers come to the area.

During the briefing, Operations Manager Les Rustobello said the city would soon need to address the wastewater treatment plant’s aging incinerator, which is used to get rid of sludge that collects during the treatment process. According to Rubstello, changes to regulations regarding air emissions could require the city to find an alternate method for disposing of accrued waste.

Lynnwood’s treatment plant is one of only five in Washington state that use incinerators for sludge disposal. Many cities are turning to more sustainable methods like investing in heat dryers, which evaporate water from wastewater solids and then transport them to Eastern Washington, where they are used in crop fields. Currently, Edmonds is working to replace its incinerator at a cost of up to $25 million.

The council also discussed its plans for selecting a new councilmember to fill the vacancy after former Councilmember Ian Cotton stepped down last month for personal reasons. 

Last week, the council announced it is seeking applicants for the vacant seat. Applications are due April 23 and include two essay questions asking applicants why they want to serve on the council and to detail past community involvement. Each councilmember will score between 1-10 on each question with 10 being the highest possible score.

The council will then deliberate during a May 3 executive session — which will be closed to the public — discussing each candidate and their qualifications. On May 12 and 13, the council is set to interview up to eight candidates, asking each a question about the position and how they would serve if elected. After all the interviews are completed, each councilmember will identify their top three candidates and then the council will vote on its selection.

Another transportation project planned for the city is Community Transit’s future Swift Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Orange Line — an 11.3-mile route that will provide an east-to-west connection from Edmonds College to McCollum Park Park & Ride. It will run every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends.

–By Cody Sexton

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