EVERETT — The next time I fly out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, I won’t be driving there.
Car-centric culture has a deep hold on me. With that in mind, I’m excited to shift my thinking and learn the ins and outs of all things transportation in Snohomish County as I shift into writing this column.
To get myself acquainted with local transit, I decided to take a pretty common route, Everett to SeaTac, using public transportation.
I came to The Daily Herald six months ago and have enjoyed my time in Snohomish County. I live in Everett, and before that, spent 10 months in rural Northern California. Prior to that, I reported on news and sports in Montana for five years.
Taking over this column is no small thing. I watched Ben Watanabe do great things with this space. Its history is a long highway paved by solid reporters: Herald writers Lizz Giordano, Melissa Slager and Bill Sheets all served as Street Smarts columnists before him.
Growing up in the Midwest, you think of everything in driving distance. Chicago was a four-hour drive east. Minneapolis was about three hours north, while Kansas City was about the same time to the southwest.
And living in Montana, you really drive everywhere. There is not a whole lot of public transit to Glacier National Park or Yellowstone. To give you some sort of perspective, it takes about 7½ hours to drive I-90 all the way through the state, from Idaho to North Dakota.
I still will never fully get used to signs reading “last services for 65 miles.”
Public transit is about as alien as “E.T.” in those places. Until moving to Everett, the last time I consistently used transit was the campus bus at the University of Iowa. That was about a decade ago.
Then I realized that, for $2.50, a bus could take me from Everett Station to Northgate, where light rail goes all the way to the airport for another $3.50. (So $6, total, one way.) King County Metro’s trip planner built a trip taking a bit more than the 90 minutes I’d give myself to drive it. That number would change a little bit depending on time of day and traffic.
Last week, I decided to test out the route. It was my first train ride since 2015, when I used Chicago’s light rail, locally known as the “L.”
Overall, this little trip was convenient and efficient, like public transit should be. Granted, taking transit midday, outside of tourist season, is about as calm as it gets.
The Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace Link extensions, meanwhile, are slated to be finished by the end of 2024 and will make this whole exercise a little easier.
For now, getting to Everett Station is easy. I nabbed one of the last parking spots in the lot nearest to the bus stop and walked over to the bus stop.
I boarded the 512 bus and paid for my fare with the last $5 in my wallet. Rookie mistake. There’s no change given on the bus. I also made the blunder of trying to tap my debit card on the ORCA card reader — like you can now do on the subway in New York City. The bus driver corrected me.
About 10 minutes later, it dawned on me: How was I supposed to get back without cash?
A couple minutes of frantic Googling sent me to Sound Transit’s website. As it turns out, there’s an app for that. The Transit Go app lets you purchase fares on your phone that you can show the bus driver.
After promptly leaving Everett Station at 12:36 p.m. (on time), I arrived at Northgate Station at 1:17 p.m. Getting on light rail was more user-friendly. You just pick your stop and it spits out a ticket. Since I was planning to immediately come back to Everett from the airport for this experiment, a $7 all-day pass for adults was the choice for me.
No one checked my ticket during the ride, and while I probably could have gotten away with a one-way ticket, this expedition was about following the rules.
I talked to several people during the ride, including a couple leaving from Everett Station with bags packed for air travel. Regrettably I missed their names, but they asked me how bus fares worked. I shared what I knew about the cost — it seems I was not alone in figuring out transit that day.
I was actually surprised by how fast the Link was. It was a little noisy, but I had headphones in for a good portion of the day. I’ve had KAYTRANDA on repeat lately and one of my favorite songs is “BUS RIDE.”
I felt it was a pretty apt song for the day.
I got on the Link about seven minutes after I got off the bus and it left almost immediately — 1:24 p.m. I arrived at the airport at 2:12 p.m. and in the interest of simulating a real trip, walked about 1,000 feet over to the airport’s skybridge. It took me seven minutes from the train arriving to get to the skybridge.
There are other ways to get there, some of them more scenic: Amtrak Cascades runs to King Street Station in Seattle, where you can transfer to the Link, which would cost about $27. An Uber or Lyft ride runs about $100 to $150, depending on the time of day. It would take over four hours to bike there, or 15 hours to walk. You know, just for fun.
The cheapest realistic option I could find, outside of the Link, would likely be the bus, taking Community Transit’s 201 route to Lynnwood and then taking Sound Transit’s 535 to Bellevue before hopping on their 560 route with service to Sea-Tac. That would take about 3 hours and 15 minutes, according to Google Maps, but would cost less than $10.
While the trip may take a bit longer, you’d definitely save on parking, as rates increased again this summer at Sea-Tac. The last time I flew out in early September, the cost was over $180 when I came back four and a half days later. I knew this would be the case, so I wasn’t going in blind. With more planning, I would have had someone drop me off at Northgate. You could also look into private lots that offer free shuttles to the terminal.
Taking the same route back, I arrived back at Everett Station a little before 4:50 p.m., about four minutes early.
Voters approved the Everett Link extension in 2016 and it is currently in the planning stage, which is expected to last until 2027. The biggest thing now is figuring out where stations will go.
“It’s not going to do a lot of good to have a station if people can’t get to it easily,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a recent interview.
He added: “Transit is necessary in growing areas … it’s affordable for people and it can serve more people.”
It is still unclear if a Link stop will be placed near Seattle Paine Field International Airport. That would be convenient for Everett travelers flying out of town, but add a detour for those commuting to Seattle or to many places in Snohomish County. Community Transit’s plan for the future, known as Transit Changes in 2024 and Beyond, is focused on providing better access to the Link via bus or even the Zip Alderwood shuttle.
Expect more information on changes in the next year, Community Transit spokesperson Monica Spain said.
Bustling population centers need good public transit and Snohomish County is no exception.
The county is projected to be over 1 million people by the late 2030s.
I’d better start learning.
Getting from Everett Station to Sea-Tac*
Bus from Everett Station to Northgate, then Link
Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.
Drive to Northgate Station, then Link
Cost: $3.50, plus about $5 in gas, plus cost of parking if staying longer than 24 hours.
Time: 1 hour, 18 minutes.
Drive with the mileage of a Chevy Malibu
Cost: About $10 in gas to get there. Parking in the SeaTac parking garage costs $47 per day.
Time: 1 hour, 3 minutes.
Cost: $100.94. (Note: Demand plays a major role in price.)
Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, according to its app.
Cost: $123.65. (Note: Demand plays a major role in price.)
Estimated time: 1 hour, 15 minutes, according to its app.
Amtrak Cascades to Link at King Street Station
Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Public bus from Everett Station (Community Transit 201 to Sound Transit 535 and then 560)
Time: 2 hours, 34 minutes.
Time: 25 minutes.
Cost: One life insurance plan.
Time: 4 hours, 13 minutes, largely via Interurban trail.
Cost: Sanity, plus potential of shin splints.
Time: 15 hours, largely via Highway 99.
* = On a typical Wednesday afternoon, with no traffic.
Sources: King County Metro Trip Planner; Sound Transit; Google Maps; Everett Transit; Amtrak; Uber and Lyft apps.
Got questions, comments? Send us an email at StreetSmarts@HeraldNet.com