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

Diagram showing how the train operations will work during Connect 2020. A train heading south from UW Station will unload at Pioneer Square Station, then head back north. The Northbound train from Angle Lake will do the same. So through-passengers will need to change trains in Pioneer Square Station.
From a Sound Transit video.

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:

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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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24 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

    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?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      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.

    2. 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.”

    3. Tim F

      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

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

    1. (Another) Tom

      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

    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?

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

      1. Taylor

        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.

      2. Mikala


      3. @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

    “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.

  5. mark smith

    So they will be asking people with strollers, roller bags, suitcases and those giant basket things with cars the homeless are so fond off…to get off as well? Oh…no. Just the one person who is using a bike. Those evil bikes.

    1. Andy Dannenberg

      I understand not wanting bikes near construction area in peak hours.
      Could they allow bikes to continue to use those stations non-peak and weekend hours?

  6. Jordan

    I’m concerned about the new bike lockers – ST probably saved some money and overhead by privatizing these but I like the fact that I know my locker is going to be available when I get to the station in the morning. With on demand lockers, I can’t guarantee that there’s going to be a locker available. What do I do then? Get on the train and get off at the next station and look for one there? I’m now late to work…

    And we all know there is a months-long waitlist for the existing lockers, especially in the south end, are there going to be more lockers to meet the demand? Or less?

    And who is accountable when this private company inevitably fails to meet its 24/7 maintenance and support SLA?

  7. John Neller

    Will these new, undependable, un-free lockers be installed at Sounder Trains stations as well? Will motorists be charged to park at ST locations?

  8. John Neller

    I just ran the numbers. With the new card costing $20 and the parking fee at five cents per hour, the card doesn’t become ‘free’ until after 400 hours.

  9. Duke Danger

    Having moved away to the Bay Area for 2017 and 2018, I used the Bike Link lockers there and they were really easy to use, safe, and convenient. The number of lockers is important for capacity. The flexibility to pay upfront for up to 72 hours I believe, in the Bay, was great if I thought I might not make it back to my bike for any number of reasons. The funds being put back is great on an early return. Now that I know they will become available for use I can not worry about the wait list. This is a very good thing for bikers, especially ones that don’t have covered or secure bike storage at their places of work.

    1. Jordan

      If there is indeed a way to reserve lockers in advance within a reasonable time frame, then this is a positive move although it may end up being more expensive than the current $50 year.

      If there is no way to reserve a locker and it truly is first come first serve, I don’t see how this is good for bike commuters as it makes for a completely unpredictable commute.

      I’ve emailed and DM’d ST multiple times asking for clarification on this but have not received an answer.

  10. Kevin

    To be honest, I feel like this is a step in the right direction, but it would be better to just ban bikes on Light Rail altogether. While each car expresses capacity for only two bikes (one on the hook & one with a standing rider), that capacity is often compromised, as the bike hook area also doubles as a luggage storage area. If a cyclist hits a time with heavy traveler capacity (often holiday travel, student travel at the end/beginning of the school year, etc.), I don’t see cyclists leaving their bikes behind. Too often, I see them just taking up additional space in one of the cars, often the space otherwise reserved for mobility-limited or elderly riders. When they can’t do that, they’ll often just stand in the middle of the aisle or in the entryway area, bollocksing everything up for other riders.

    With the ridership increase that will come with both the upcoming opening of the UW, Roosevelt & Northgate stations, as well as the eastern link, this problem is only going to get worse. The Light Rail cars aren’t built to optimize mixed ridership (cyclists & pedestrians) – they’re built for pedestrian traffic with a slight nod to two cyclists per car.

    There’s already enough trouble getting riders to understand that their luggage needs to go beneath their seat or in their lap (they often put it on the seat next to them or in the leg space in front of the seat). If we exacerbate this with cyclists who expect everyone else to make room for their bikes, the whole thing will get very tense, very quickly.

    1. A better response to the mix of people and wheels would be to add a “bike/wheels car” at the back of every train. No or few seats, just stanchions/space to roll in/out, poles to hold onto. This could serve various bike types, people using wheelchairs, folks w/strollers, rolling carts, what-have-you with easier space management.

      So many benefits, and recognition that for some people their bike is also an assistive device that enables them to travel more comfortably than by walking. When I was recovering from a broken elbow, had a frozen shoulder, could ride some distance but not too many miles, and certainly couldn’t lift my bike onto the overhead hooks, that would have been a fantastic service.

  11. […] loss of Lime comes just as Sound Transit is preparing a major multi-month service reduction on light rail service downtown as they work to connect the East Link tracks to the existing line. […]

  12. […] stops. There is some good news for bicyclists, however. Seattle Bike Blog reports Sound Transit is adding new on-demand bike lockers at UW, SODO and Rainier Beach […]

  13. […] Transit’s downtown light rail service restriction started this week, and people with bikes must exit trains at International District/Chinatown Station northbound and University Street Station […]

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