After months of rider restrictions and reduced services, Community Transit officials briefed the Lynnwood City Council Monday on the impacts the coronavirus pandemic has had on the public transit agency.
The first item on the council’s lengthy Aug. 3 work session agenda was an update from CEO Emmitt Heath on how Community Transit is recovering from a drop in ridership amid advice from public health officials to stay home. When the pandemic first hit in March, service was reduced to 70% of pre-COVID levels.
Now, Heath said they are starting to increase services. Last month, rider fares — which were waived as a safety measure to avoid passengers boarding through the front door — were reinstated. Also, the level of service was increased to 75% of those prior to the pandemic. In September, Heath said Community Transit will bump service levels up to 85% and will remain there through March 2021.
“That level of service is one we expect to be able to sustain for the long term,” he said.
As of last week, ridership was still down 61% from pre-pandemic levels, but Community Transit continues to serve an average of 13,000 daily riders. At the Lynnwood Transit Center, the average weekday boardings for July were down more than 70% since the start of the pandemic. During the third week of April, ridership hit its lowest point, with a 68% decline, but Heath said that since then, ridership has recovered 21%.
According to results from a recent survey, riders primarily used Community Transit during the pandemic for three reasons: They are essential employees traveling to work, they are running errands, and they are accessing medical services. Though services were reduced, Heath said he was proud their buses kept running, especially to help those seeking medical care during the pandemic.
“I think that’s an amazing service to the community,” he said.
Reductions in the service level also affected staffing and led to some furloughs and layoffs, many of which Heath said were voluntary.
Roughly 70% of Community Transit’s operating revenues come from sales tax revenue. However, after receiving almost $39 million in federal CARES Act funding and using cash reserves meant to cushion the impacts of a future recession, Heath said Community Transit was able to avert any major revenue reductions.
“Certainly, we knew there would be a recession, but we didn’t honestly expect it would be caused by a pandemic,” he said. “Regardless of the cause, we did enter this pandemic in a very strong financial position.”
Swift Bus Rapid Transit
The council also received from Community Transit an update on the future Swift Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Orange Line. During the meeting, the council discussed a proposed interlocal agreement for Community Transit and city to move the project along.
The proposed Orange Line will provide an east-to-west connection from Edmonds College to McCollum Park Park & Ride, with stations in Lynnwood City Center and Alderwood. The 11.3-mile route will include stops at Lynnwood’s City Center district, Alderwood Mall and Mill Creek Town Center. According to the presentation, the Orange Line will run every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends. The Orange Line will also connect with the Swift Blue and Green lines to enhance the local bus network that feeds into the light rail station.
Community Transit first briefed the council on Orange Line last year and has been working with city staff to prepare for its arrival, which is scheduled for 2024 — before the arrival of Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link light rail station. Since then, Swift Bus Rapid Transit Program Manager Christopher Silveira said he has been working with Lynnwood city staff to improve communications, reduce risks and overall improve designs for the project.
“The interlocal agreement is really a culmination of this effort,” he said. “It formalizes some process and responsibilities while helping us meet our federal requirements.”
During the discussion, Mayor Nicola Smith — who serves on the Community Transit Board of Directors — also said the city will be eligible to distribute ORCA Lift cards, which provides low-income residents with a reduced transit fare on select regional transit systems throughout Puget Sound.
The council will vote whether to approve the agreement as part of its unanimous consent agenda for the Aug. 10 business meeting.
Scriber Creek Trail improvements
In other business, the council discussed a request from city staff to approve a supplement to the design contract for the Scriber Creek Trail Improvements project. During the meeting, city staff asked the council to approve a contract with the Seattle-based engineering firm Parametrix for $112,214 to conduct preliminary design and alignment alternatives. The city hired Parametrix in 2018 to assist the city with an alternative alignment analysis and advanced the project to 30% design using the existing trail. It was completed this spring.
If approved, the authorization would progress the project to 60% design, in preparation for environmental permit applications and right-of-way acquisition services for Phase 2 of the Scriber Creek Trail Improvements. Phase 2 extends from north of 200th Street Southwest to the southwest corner of the Lynnwood Transit Center. This would add $296,000.01 for a new contract maximum amount payable of $898,139.06.
Improvements to the Scriber Creek Trail are part of the city staff’s plan to make Lynnwood more pedestrian friendly and provide the community with more non-motorized methods of transportation. The Scriber Creek Trail project involves completing approximately 4,000 feet of shared-use trail from Wilcox Park at the intersection of 196th Street Southwest and 52nd Avenue West to the Interurban Regional Trail and Lynnwood Transit Center.
The existing 1.5-mile trail begins at Wilcox Park and heads south to the Lynnwood Transit Center, where it ends. While the current trail provides critical access to the transit center, it is not bikeable or ADA compliant, experiences season flooding and is overall the “worst condition of trail in the city,” said Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Sarah Olson.
Olson said the Scriber Creek Trail serves as an important recreational amenity, providing access to nature and health opportunities like Scriber Creek Park, Sprague’s Pond mini park, Scriber Lake Park and Wilcox Park.
“Improving this trail is vital to the city strategy for improving multimodal choices,” she said. “We’ve also seen an unprecedented increase in walking and biking in the pandemic, stressing the importance for improving walkability and connectivity in Lynnwood.”
The existing trail varies in size from 5 to 8 feet and in surface types, with a combination of asphalt, gravel and soft surface made up of compacted earth or wood chips. With the improvements, it will be upgraded to a 16-foot-wide trail with 12 feet of asphalt and 2-foot-wide gravel shoulders on each side.
Similar improvements are planned for the 5-foot-sidewalk along Cedar Valley Road, as well as other crossing and ADA compliance improvements. Along 200th Street Southwest, the project will expand the existing 5-foot sidewalk with an elevated boardwalk over open water to maintain a 16-foot-wide multimodal trail. Additionally, locations with stream crossing, wetlands or floodplain that require an elevated structure will be improved to accommodate a 16-foot-wide crossing
“While this trail project is critical, it is complex,” Olson said. “It will be designed and constructed over four bienniums and requires multiple council actions. Multiple council actions are required because we execute consultant supplements by tasks and milestones as we go.”
City staff is currently working on Lynnwood’s 2021-22 capital budget, which will include funding for Phase 2 of the project for right-of-way acquisition and design work needed for Phase 3. Construction for Phase 3 is scheduled to begin in 2023.
The proposed agreement will also be part of the council’s unanimous consent agenda at its Aug. 10 business meeting.
Housing action plan
Also during the Aug. 3 meeting, the council received an update from staff on the work to create a housing action plan to bring more affordable housing to Lynnwood.
To address the growing need for more affordable housing options in the city, staff have been developing a policy that the city will use to develop clear, actionable strategies that meet Lynnwood’s current and future housing needs. State law requires that the plan identify strategies to encourage construction of a greater variety of affordable- and market-rate housing at accessible prices across all income levels.
According to city staff, 37% of Lynnwood households spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing. Additionally, more than half (51%) of renters — and 26% of homeowners — in the city are considered to be cost burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their gross monthly income on housing. Comparatively, 47% of Snohomish County renters are considered to be cost burdened with 26% of the county’s homeowners being cost burdened.
The city received a $100,000 grant from the Department of Commerce to develop a plan with strategies for the city to create more housing in Lynnwood with a variety of price points.
“This isn’t specifically for low-income housing or for market-rate housing,” said Senior Planner Kristen Holdsworth. “Part of the grant is we’re looking at all levels of affordability.”
If adopted, the plan will help the city guide where efforts and resources in the city go to create more housing. Earlier this year, staff proposed using the HB 1406 fund — created by the state Legislature — which authorizes cities to use a portion of their sales tax revenue to fund affordable housing initiatives.
“This is one way that we can develop a strategy that can help guide how we use those funds and make sure that our efforts aren’t competing against each other and that we’re really leveraging the limited resources we have and most effectively use them,” Holdsworth said.
Lately, staff have been engaging in community outreach — which will continue through the year — to further assess housing needs and are developing a draft needs assessment and existing conditions report. In October, staff will bring a draft plan for council’s review. To continue to receive full grant funding, Holdsowrth said an action plan must be adopted by June 2021.
“An adopted plan means we have a vision forward, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have all of the finer details worked out,” she said. “We anticipate a lot of community engagement and a lot of conversations with different stakeholders in order to have the time to really iron out those details.”
–By Cody Sexton