Bikes will be kicked off light rail downtown during early 2020 crush + 5¢ per hour bike lockers coming to more transit stations

Construction work to connect the existing light rail tracks to the new East Link tracks will require a very tough couple months in January, February and March 2020. Dubbed “Connect 2020,” train frequency will be dramatically reduced, and every passenger will need to switch from one train to another by crossing a new temporary center platform in Pioneer Square Station.

Imagine two crush-capacity trains unloading every passenger across a single center platform at the same time. Here’s a video explaining how it will work:

Trains will only run every 12 minutes all-day, compared to every 4–6 minutes during rush hour currently. Every trains will be full-size four-car trains, but this still means they will significantly more crowded (assuming people don’t divert to other modes, like buses, biking or driving).

Understandably, Sound Transit staff is concerned about how crammed that center platform will be during the transition, and they have decided that trying to bring a bike through the crowd won’t work and could even be a safety hazard. So people with bikes will be asked to exit at University Street and International District Stations.

Diagram showing the no-bikes zone between University Street and International District Stations. The bike detour follows 2nd Ave, South Main Street and 5th Avenue South.

While I would usually be against bike restrictions, this one does seem reasonable. And the good news is that SDOT rose to the challenge and made sure the south downtown bike connection was completed before Connect 2020 began. So people will be able to bike between ID and University Street Stations entirely within a protected bike lane. This was not an easy bike lane to build, but it is so important that the city completed it before this light rail project began. It will make the 10 weeks or so without bike access so much easier and welcoming for people with bikes who are not familiar with or are nervous about biking downtown. And it’s a great example of agencies working together to keep everyone moving.

Light rail service will be completely closed between Capitol Hill and SODO on the weekends of January 4–5, February 8–9 and March 14–15. The reduced service will begin when trains restart following the first weekend closure in January.

5¢ per hour bike lockers coming this month

Sound Transit is also launching new on-demand bike lockers at UW, SODO and Rainier Beach Stations. Operated by BikeLink, the lockers will charge 5¢ per hour on a first-come, first-served basis. So if you are only bringing your bike on the light rail because you don’t want to leave it locked up outside all day every day, a bike locker might be a good solution for you. You have to buy a $20 card from BikeLink’s website, but it comes with $20 in credit. So if you become a regular user, the card is free. It takes up to five days to get it in the mail, though, so don’t delay on ordering if you are hoping to use the lockers starting on day one of reduced service.

These are the same bike lockers as the ones King County Metro uses at various transit centers and park-and-rides, including Northgate Transit Center. So your BikeLink card will work for either agency’s lockers, which is great.

The beginning of this video shows how the lockers will work:

UPDATE: Some readers were curious about the potential for ORCA Card integration with the BikeLink lockers. The company noted on Twitter that they hope to eventually allow users to use their ORCA Cards as a sort of key to access the system, but that you will still need a BikeLink account and all charged would go through BikeLink, not your ORCA e-purse or pass. They would really just be using the ORCA Card as a unique identifier for your account so that you can carry one fewer card in your wallet. BikeLink is also working on an app, which could dramatically speed up the process of getting access to the lockers.

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12 Responses to Bikes will be kicked off light rail downtown during early 2020 crush + 5¢ per hour bike lockers coming to more transit stations

  1. Jeffrey Fisher says:

    Why can’t the bike lockers run off an orca card? Because bike-link is a private company I guess. Another account you have to manage and which can have your credit card number stolen and send you email.

    Why have people set the time in advance if you are going to refund the difference if they over-estimate? At $0.05/hour why not just pre-charge at $1 so the thing can have no buttons?

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I agree that the time estimation thing is a bit convoluted. Seems unnecessarily complicated. Like we saw with bike share pricing, people prefer just a standard rate they don’t have to think very hard about.

    • Nick vdH says:

      From their website:
      “Insert your card, get your bike, and get your refund! Unlike a parking meter, any time you don’t use is refunded. If your meter expires you are simply charged for the extra time at a higher rate.”

    • Tim F says:

      In practice I didn’t find the lockers too hard to use. The company has been around for some time (mostly Bay Area, some in Portland) and the readers seem designed to be low maintenance over the years rather than latest-greatest. They’re not proximity cards like Orca. As far as the time goes, I just selected 24 hours or more in case I took a different bus directly home. The system credits you back for unused time and it’s so cheap I never ended up needing to reload with occasional use.

  2. Matthew Snyder says:

    Any word on whether these new bike lockers will be rolled out to other stations as well?

    • (Another) Tom says:

      Yes. They stated that the new lockers will be installed at new stations and stations without lockers first after which they will circle back and begin replacing the existing rented lockers with the new on-demand lockers. I just renewed for another year though so I’m guessing it’ll take ’em awhile.

  3. Mikala says:

    When I first saw this rule announced, I read it as “you can’t get on or off with your bike at these stations” and figured you’d be allowed to pass through them if you were already on the train with your bike… are they really requiring you to exit the train?

    • Nick vdH says:

      No, everyone has to get off at Pioneer Square station during these 10 weeks.

      • Taylor says:

        No, ST’s graphic above says “Bicyclists on northbound trains must exit at International District/Chinatown Station”, and “Bicyclists on southbound trains must exit at University Street Station”. We won’t be able to transport our bikes on Link into, out of, or through Pioneer Square during this period.

      • Nick vdH says:

        @Taylor – Sorry, I meant ‘no’ to ‘you’d be allowed to pass through them if you were already on the train with your bike’. Everyone has to exit the train at Pioneer Square with no bikes allowed.

  4. GlenBikes says:

    “They would really just be using the ORCA Card as a unique identifier for your account so that you can carry one fewer card in your wallet.”

    This is how the 1st gen JUMP! bike worked and I was sad to see it go away with the next gen. You could use any NFC card to tie to your account. I used my ORCA card. Then you just tap that card on the computer units they used to have on the back of the bikes (with the keypad so you could enter your account# w/o needing a smartphone) and it would recognize you and unlock the bike. It was pretty awesome. Much better than having to pull out your phone, launch the app, hit the scan button, scan the code.

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