Not For Tourists Guide to Seattle (2016)
Transit ✵ Amtrak
Reservations and Customer Service: 1-800-USA-RAIL (872-7245)
Website: www.amtrak.com or @Amtrak
King Street Station Address: 303 S Jackson St 98104
Hours: 6 am-11 pm daily
Some travelers hate to fly. Others just hate the airlines. And don’t even mention Greyhound. When the fear and anger become too profound, there’s always Amtrak. Amtrak is hardly a perfect substitute—because of geographic and commercial concerns, train routes can’t match the flexibility of flying, and the bureaucracy can get just as snarled and inefficient as any airline. However, there’s a sweet Zen to the experience of sitting still for hours as the train chugs towards its destination, with nothing to do but read or stare out the windows as America flies by.
Located in Pioneer Square on the cusp of the International District, King Street Station services Seattle Amtrak traffic. It’s a handsome rust brick building complete with a clock tower; it was the city’s tallest structure when erected in 1906. Clueless mid-century renovations dulled the station’s luster, and travelers dwindled over the years, leading to a certain defeated quality in the air as one waits for a train. A renovation project, completed in 2013, restored King Street Station’s original stateliness while implementing a seismic upgrade that added more than 1400 tons of steel to the structure (accounting for more than 40% of the $55 million budget).
Amtrak prices tend to fluctuate wildly, so like airlines, it’s best to book your trip early. Bargain hunters with sufficient lead time can find promotional discounts. Last minute types may find themselves paying near airline prices for a trip that takes ten times as long. Student and senior discounts are available, so consider lying about your age. Amtrak coach seats are very comfortable, and many passengers elect to sleep sitting up (or hunched over) on red-eye trips. But it’s a rare voyager who can take that kind of punishment more than one night in a row, so contemplate a sleeping car for marathon train sessions. It’s not cheap—a private car can easily double the price of a ticket, and they’re hardly deluxe accommodations (imagine a closet with bunk beds). But lying prone behind a locked door is a dream shared by every coach passenger after the first 24 hours of travel.
Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks their trains roll on, giving freight trains the right of way. This can occasionally lead to frustrating delays. If you need to get there fast, it is advisable to find alternate means. Rail travel is as much about the journey as the destination. Speaking of which, alcohol is available in the lounge and cafe cars at airport bar prices. Luckily, they don’t have that blasted three-ounce rule, so sneaking your own adult beverages on board is a piece of delicious cake. Cafe cars feature snacks and light fare and long-distance trains include a full-service dining car that serves hot meals. Which is to say, it’s not a bad idea to carry a stash of food along, adjusting quantities to suit the length of the trip.
Going to Portland
Stumptown is a fun place to visit, and the Amtrak Cascades takes you there in style. The Spanish-designed Talgo trains provide comfy seats with big windows for great views of Puget Sound. They thankfully discourage the use of cell phones on board, and they even offer a free film (just make sure to bring your own headphones). And once you dig into some Ivar’s clam chowder and sip on a Black Butte Porter in the dining car, you’ll never take Greyhound to Portland again.
Going to Vancouver, BC
The Amtrak Cascades departs Seattle every morning for a four-hour trip to Vancouver. As Vancouver, British Columbia is located in the sovereign nation of Canada, you should make sure to bring your passport and remember that all Amtrak trains are subject to random searches by border officials. It’s a beautiful journey up along the coast, but pesky freight train traffic will inevitably cause delays. For a fun Friday night getaway, Amtrak also offers a very un-Greyhound like bus from King Street Station for a good price.
Going to Los Angeles
The Coast Starlight leaves Seattle every morning headed south and makes Los Angeles in about 36 hours. Popular stops along the way include Portland, OR (although take the Cascades if you can) and Emeryville, CA (about 23 hours of travel, and only an hour’s bus ride from San Francisco).
Going to Chicago
The Empire Builder leaves Seattle daily and reaches the Windy City in a mere 46 hours. That’s a long ride with two guaranteed nights sleeping upright in coach and not bathing, but such asceticism can sometimes lead to spiritual fulfillment. So think of it as time to get to know yourself. Among the cities the Empire Builder services are Whitefish, MT, Fargo, ND, Minneapolis, MN, and Milwaukee, WI. Plus, there’s no better way to appreciate the scenery of the heartland than through the window of a train.
Transit ✵ Greyhound
Address: 503 S Royal Brougham Wy, Seattle, WA 98134
Main Phone/Customer Service: 206-624-0618
Baggage/Package Express: 206-624-1825
Website: www.greyhound.com or @GreyhoundBus
Hours: 6:30 am-11:45 pm daily
Nothing epitomizes a “long day’s journey into night” like traveling on a bus full of folks bridging the many miles between Los Angeles and Vancouver. Sure, Amtrak is cleaner, faster, and more scenic, but there’s nothing like the open highway and ten-minute breaks at the Flying J. Suffice it to say, it’s dirt cheap, especially considering perennially eye-gouging gas prices.
Seattle’s Greyhound station is a diminutive facility in SoDo, just steps from the Stadium light rail station. For years, Seattle’s Greyhound station. The facility is nice and clean but rather spare; round up your victuals in advance. (For years the station had been located on Stewart Street at 8th Avenue in one of the last truly sketchy parts of downtown; that site fell to the gentrigods in 2013 and is now set to make way for some massive hotel/condo towers.)
Tickets may be purchased in person at the terminal, online at www.greyhound.com, or over the phone at 1-800-231-2222. The first option is the least convenient due to the long and disorderly lines at the Seattle station; advance reservations are not necessary.
Greyhound offers special web-only fares, advance purchase savings, and friends and family buy-one-get-get-up-to-two-cheaper discounts; check with them for details before you pay full fare. Discounted fares are also available for students, seniors, children, and military personnel.
First bag is free and the second bag is $15. One carry-on bag up to 25 pounds is allowed on the bus, provided it fits in overhead bin or under the seat. An additional fee will be charged for baggage over the 50 pound weight limit, or parcels whose total dimensions exceed 62 inches.
Greyhound Package Express (shipgreyhound.com or 800-739-5020) is available for fast shipping on oversized or overweight items, or as a shipping alternative to USPS, FedEx, and UPS. They offer door-to-door and online service.
Transit ✵ Biking
Cascade Bicycle Club: www.cascade.org or @CascadeBicycle
Bicycle Alliance of Washington: wabikes.org or @WAbikes
City of Seattle Bicycle Program: www.seattle.gov/transportation/bikeprogram.htm
Seattle Bike Blog: www.seattlebikeblog.com or @seabikeblog
Environmentally conscious Seattle is finally starting to bloom as a true bike-friendly city. A massive transportation levy approved by voters in 2006 helped build dozens of miles of dedicated bike lanes, signed routes, and bicycle parking spaces. To plan your route from the comfort of your own living room on the nearest bike trails and on-street lanes, check out the city’s bike map, available online via the Seattle Department of Transportation website: www.seattle.gov/transportation
But before you hop on your brand new Schwinn and take off down Capitol Hill, just remember it’s not a biking paradise just yet. Trails can end abruptly in the middle of nowhere, paths and routes can be poorly marked, and many major arteries have no bike lanes. Plus, you’ll have to come back up that hill after a long day at the office. And it will probably be raining, so pack a breathable coat and waterproof pants if you want to look respectable at your next destination.
Drivers are aware and cautious for the most part, but most of the infrastructure is still set up for cars. Case in point: sometimes the light won’t change until a vehicle rolls up. Look for a t-shaped symbol on the ground to plant your front wheel. Hopefully, this will change the light and get you moving again. Other cyclist-friendly features include green bike boxes, so bikes can pull up ahead of vehicles, and bike dots on the pavement with arrows to show the path of a bike route without having to look up. Plus, there’s even serious talk of bike share launching in the next few years. Watch your back, Portland…
Safety and the Law
Part of biking is riding responsibly, so to that end, obey traffic laws. And by “obey traffic laws,” we don’t mean running red lights, riding against traffic and generally giving non-bicyclists any reason to carp. Ride defensively: avoid blind spots, pass on the left, keep three feet away from parked cars (even the word “dooring” sounds violent), and use hand signals (yes, even if they seem lame). Unlike other cities, in Seattle bicyclists are permitted use the sidewalk, but bikes must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. Helmets are required in Seattle. Cyclists may ride two abreast on streets but not more than that. Reflectors and lights at night are mandatory. A single arrow on the road indicates a dedicated bike lane, while the double chevron “sharrow” is used to indicate a shared lane. When a portion of a bike lane is painted green, it means that cars are permitted to cross into the lane.
Bikes on Mass Transit
If you really don’t want to bike back up the hill, had a few too many at happy hour with your coworkers, or are just feeling plain lazy, you’re in luck. Metro and Sound Transit both have bike racks on the front of buses to make it a breeze to get around town with your two wheels in tow. Just alert the driver first, then place your bike in one of the two racks. The rails are even easier to use. Bicycles are allowed on Sounder commuter lines, Link light rail, and the Seattle Streetcar. Just look for the doors marked with a bike symbol and make sure to always have your bike securely in hand while in motion, so it doesn’t smack a fellow passenger in the leg. Light rail stations even offer bike lockers for rent at a rate of $50/month.
A Few Bike Shops
Bike Works, 3709 S Ferdinand St, 206-725-9408, www.bikeworks.org
Coastal Surf Boutique, 2532 Alki Ave SW, 206-933-5605, www.coastalseattle.com
Electric Vehicles Northwest, 4810 17th Ave NW, 206-547-4621, www.electricvehiclesnw.com
Gregg’s: 7007 Woodlawn Ave NE, 206-523-1822, www.greggscycles.com
Montlake Bicycle Shop: 2223 24th Ave E, 206-329-7333, www.montlakebike.com
Recycled Cycles: 1007 NE Boat St, 206-547-4491, www.recycledcycles.com
REI: 7500 166th Ave NE, 425-882-1158, www.rei.com
Transit ✵ Taxis / Car Service
For its size, Seattle has much fewer taxis than some might expect. It seems that most of the residents here simply prefer hoofing, biking, or busing it around town (if they’re not cruising in their hybrids). Thus, hailing a cab can be a bit dicey, and it’s dang near impossible to find one outside downtown. Your best bet is to call ahead. Normally, you won’t be kept waiting much longer than 10-15 minutes. If you’re cabbing it home after a night at the bars, try to leave before last call or you’ll be waiting at least an hour for a ride home. For ease of travel, use designated taxi stands, which are located around town. If cabs are cruising at all, hotels are a good place to spot one. The standard drop rate is $2.60 plus $2.70 per mile. A $.50 per minute charge is assessed for stopped or slow traffic. On top of that, a 10-15% tip is expected. If you don’t happen to have wads of cash on you to pay for all that, most cabs do come equipped with credit card devices, although some drivers get pretty surly if you use plastic for a short trip.
Should you be heading to Sea-Tac, the Central Link light rail (www.soundtransit.org) will take you there for not much more than a cab’s standard drop rate. But should you be toting an obscene amount of baggage or are extremely averse to the idea of traffic-free public transit, taxis will chauffeur you gladly for a flat rate of $40 from downtown. Coming back to Seattle from the airport is a whole ‘nother ballgame, as there is no flat rate from Sea-Tac. There appears to be no satisfying explanation for this. Just take the light rail.
Yellow Cab: 206-622-6500;
www.seattleyellowcab.com or @SEAYellowCab
Farwest Taxi: 206-622-1717;
Orange Cab: 206-522-8800;
After years of unreliable service from our local cab companies (i.e., showing up late or not at all and getting lost with the meter running) San Francisco-based car services arrived on the scene to make everything better. You can do it all from your smartphone, from ordering a car to paying for it and you can rate your drivers, too (cab dispatchers balk at customer service complaints). Best of all, you can track your car via GPS so you know exactly where it is and when it will arrive. Uber (www.uber.com) is the classy one, Lyft, with their giant pink car mustaches and fist-bump greetings, (www.lyft.com) is the fun one, and Side Car (www.side.cr) is the thrifty one.
Transit ✵ Car Sharing
Seattle is a walkable city with fairly adequate public transportation, so it’s feasible for denizens to live comfortably without owning a car. In fact, the freedom that comes with removing that albatross from around the neck can be quite exhilarating. Farewell to high insurance and fuel costs, the travails of big city parking, and the constant threat of mechanical breakdown—hello to the smug satisfaction of reducing one’s ecological impact on the tender earth. Still, schlepping laundry, groceries, and children around the city on the bus isn’t always ideal, and sooner or later, a private conveyance becomes temporarily necessary. Thus, car sharing.
Website: www.zipcar.com or @Zipcar
Phone: 866-4ZIPCAR (866-494-7227)
Zipcar provides customers with access to a fleet of autos parked in dozens of convenient parking spots throughout the area. For an annual subscription fee, users can reserve a vehicle up to fifteen minutes in advance (via website or Zipcar app) and drive for $8-$8.50 an hour (depending on the plan and day of week). A membership card and a PIN unlocks the car, which is programmed to start only for the particular subscriber holding the reservation. Frequent drivers can choose various monthly packages that include pre-paid road time and reduced hourly rates. Zipcar covers gas, insurance and maintenance costs, and well over 100 cars, trucks, SUVs and hybrids are available—even a few sporty convertibles for a spontaneous joy ride.
Zipcar took over Flex Car, a Seattle-based company with a similar business plan, which was partly funded by the King County government. Flex Car suffered some growing pains which caused grief to its customers in the early days. Of course there were customer complaints about Zipcar at first as well. How many Seattleites does it take to change a light bulb? Five: One to change it and four to complain about how the old one was better. Nonetheless, most citizens of the Emerald City agree that car sharing is an excellent idea in light of current affairs.
Website: seattle.car2go.com or @car2goSeattle
Car2go, from Germany by way of Austin is a cross between ZipCar and bike share. The super-tiny green Smart Fortwo cars are parked in any City of Seattle metered or time-limited on-street parking space in the “Home Area.” Users pick up and return cars to any spot within this area—now expanded to include all of the City of Seattle. Note that certain destinations in the home area are designated as stopover only, meaning you may not leave the car there and you are on the hook for parking fees: Magnuson Park, Discovery Park, University of Washington, Broadmoor Golf Club/Washington Park Arboretum, Greenlake/Woodland Park, and Seward Park. It costs $35 to register with car2go, but unlike Zipcar, there are no monthly fees or charges. Trips are 41 cents a minute up to $14.99 per hour and $84.99 per day. Charges are billed to your credit card. Cars include parking, fuel, insurance, GPS, and roadside assistance.
Transit ✵ Driving
City of Seattle Department of Transportation (DOT):
www.seattle.gov/transportation or @seattledot
Traffic Cameras: www.seattle.gov/trafficcams
WSDOT Seattle Area Traffic: www.wsdot.com/traffic/seattle
Washington State Department of Licensing: www.dol.wa.gov
The bad news is, Seattle is not an easy city to drive in without getting lost or frustrated. There are tons of one-way streets, dead ends, windy roads, and many bridges. Sometimes a street will disappear for a while, then reappear blocks later. And then there’s the fact that Seattle drivers seem to be among the worst in the country. And oh by the way, traffic, especially on I-5, is absolutely horrendous, with no cure on the horizon, all due to the fact that Seattle keeps growing at a furious pace and is split between large bodies of water and I-5, making it nearly impossible to get from point A to point B via a straight line. The good news is, once you do figure out how to get around, there are many alternative routes to take to avoid traffic. Just get out there, strap on your seatbelt, and force yourself to learn the roads. Once you get a route down, try changing it up. Sometimes it can be as simple as going one street over to avoid traffic.
Generally, only streets that run more or less east-west are called “streets.” Only streets that run for the most part north-south are called “avenues.” However, roads, boulevards, and ways can go any direction they please. In other words, good luck. Also, Seattle is full of bold cyclists, but if you just keep reminding yourself that they mean one less car on the road, you’ll find your patience for them will increase.
Seattle is surrounded by water, so get used to dealing with lots of bridges. Drawbridges are enemy number one for the hurried driver. There is no way to know when a bridge is going to go up, unless you are in a really big hurry. Then it’s guaranteed. Drawbridge hijinks include the Ballard, University District, and Montlake bridges. And that’s when someone hasn’t decided to make stopping traffic their final act, by leaping off of it. The other drawbridges you will have to deal with are the Ballard, University District, and Montlake Bridges. If you get stuck when a bridge is going up, all you can do is turn off your engine (idling cars are bad for the environment) and wait it out. Another notable bridge that serves I-90 and connects Seattle to Mercer Island is the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge—the second longest floating bridge in the world. If you’re keen to experience the longest floating bridge in the world, you’re in luck—the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (also known as Bridge 520) is just a few miles north. Both of these get you to I-405, and one is usually busier than the other, so be sure to check traffic status on the WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transit) website before you make your choice. Either way, you will be treated to a beautiful view on your way across. Also important to water-body navigation are the West Seattle Bridge and the George Washington Memorial Bridge (also known as the Aurora Bridge).
Dealing with Highway 99
Highway 99, the original superhighway of Seattle, runs parallel to I-5. It can be a useful route when I-5 is congested (which is almost always). However, it can be difficult to navigate. You may find yourself heading north on the stretch from Greenlake Avenue N to Denny and you need to be going south or vice versa. Well, that’s too bad. Sometimes you just have to stick it out until you find an exit or risk turning off into the black hole that is Queen Anne Hill. Also, the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program (the viaduct, part of Highway 99, has been torn down and is being replaced by an underground car tunnel) is kind of underway and may or may not be finished before men’s professional basketball returns to the Emerald City. Until then, check WSDOT for traffic closures and updates on Seattle’s version of the Big Dig.
I-5, Seattle’s main freeway, running north/south, is almost always congested. From I-5 you can access either I-90 or SR520 running east/west parallel to each other. One is often busier than the other, so pay attention to traffic reports. Running parallel to I-5 is Highway 99, which will go no farther than five miles west of it, and I-405 running on the other side of Lake Washington. I-5 has expressways in the center of the freeway that anyone can access, but be careful because exits are limited and you may end up going farther than you would have liked. The city provides real-time traffic and traffic cameras via the web.
Visits to the Seattle DMV are relatively painless, especially if you go on a weekday morning. If you must go on a Saturday, be prepared to wait. Save time and stress by going online (www.dol.wa.gov) for useful pre-visit utilities (renewals can often be done online as well). There are two official state DMV offices in the Seattle area. The full-service location is in West Seattle (8830 25th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98106; 206-764-4144) and is open on Saturdays. A limited service office (without testing services) is located downtown (205 Spring St, Seattle, WA 98104; 206-464-6845). Private subagents handle vehicle licensing registration renewals; the WSDOT website has a full list of vendors.
Transit ✵ Parking
City of Seattle Parking Information: www.seattle.gov/transportation/parking
Seattle has computerized meters throughout the city that accept credit cards. Pick the amount of time you want, slide your credit card, and a sticker will be printed for you to place on the inside of the window closest to the sidewalk. Seattle has also implemented performance-based parking, which raises or lowers rates based on availability and time of day in an effort to reduce congestion and lower emissions. As part of the city’s Nightlife Initiative, stickers are available at night for the following morning in the event you need to find alternative arrangements to get home (or end up in a different home, we suppose). The ePark program offers real-time parking information at participating garages; look for the mobile app.
Residential Parking Zone Program
Many high-traffic Seattle neighborhoods, especially near commercial strips or hospitals and universities, participate in a permit program meant to discourage long-term parking by non-residents. Look for the green and white signs which limit you to two-hour parking except by permit. Generally, permits cost $65 and are good for two years. Permits can only be issued to residents who live on a block with signs installed or within the boundaries of the RPZ. In order to apply, you must have proof of residency and current Washington State vehicle registration. One permit is issued per vehicle per household (up to four vehicles) and one guest permit. Temporary permits may be issued for up to sixty days for construction, out of state, new, and student vehicles. You may obtain a new permit by mail or in person. Renewals are handled online.
It is important to understand Seattle’s curb color system. After searching for a parking spot on Capitol Hill for two hours, you finally find the perfect one right in front of your apartment. Too good to be true, right?
Well, it probably is. If the curb is painted white, it is either a three-minute loading zone or police and fire department parking. If the curb is yellow, it is a thirty-minute loading zone. Red means no parking anytime and they mean it. You will get towed so fast it’ll make your head spin. Alternating yellow and red makes it a bus zone, so don’t even think about parking there.
Parking Tickets and Impound
Parking tickets issued by the Seattle Police Department are handled by the Seattle Municipal Court. You can pay them online (convenience fee applies) or at neighborhood service centers (handy drop boxes available). If you fail to pay your ticket within 15 days, the fine will automatically double. Unpaid parking tickets will result in a hold on your vehicle registration tabs. To contest a parking ticket, you can request a hearing before a Municipal Court Magistrate to gently explain why they should shove their fines where the sun doesn’t shine.
If your car gets towed, call the SPD Automobile Records Unit at 206-684-5444 or visit seattleimpound.com. Towed cars are taken to one of three impound lots in Seattle. In order to get your vehicle free, you will be required to pay the fine to the impound lot immediately, and the registered owner must be present with appropriate documentation. Impounded vehicles are subject to an impound fee and a charge for every 12 hours of storage.
Extra Parking Tips
Seattleites enjoy parking facing the opposite direction of a street, and even though the police tolerate this quirk, know that it’s not strictly legal. Also illegal is parking a car in the same spot for more than 72 hours. Failure to move your car around the block for no good reason will result in a ticket or towing. In addition, do not let your car bumper hang even a millimeter over the driveway (including your own) into the sidewalk. If a traffic cop is bored, they will slap you with a not insignificant fine with no apologies.
Transit ✵ Metro
Mailing Address: Metro Transit Division, 201 S Jackson St, Seattle, WA 98104
Website: metro.kingcounty.gov or @kcmetrobus
Customer Service (includes Lost and Found): 206-553-3000
Many city dwellers who lack wheels for ideological or financial reasons find getting around Seattle on Metro buses a necessity. Service is extensive, reaching throughout the city, but the quality and comfort of the ride varies from one line to the next. Buses between Capitol Hill and the University District run reliably every ten minutes or so for most of the day. You can also count on regular bus service connecting downtown with the northern hoods like Wedgwood and Ravenna. The express buses that rocket passengers to outlying suburbs are always on time. However, like any modern urban transit system, the city faces unique geographical challenges (in this case hills, water, and bridges) that can lead to trouble. Some Metro routes are chronically late, crowded with standing passengers, or peppered with anti-social types, and woe be to the rider who depends on such a bus to get to work every day. Check Metro’s website for alternate (if inconvenient) itineraries, and take advantage of Metro’s various apps and trip planners.
Riders pay upon boarding the bus. On RapidRide lines with stations that have ORCA readers (and on Sound Transit Light Rail and Sounder), riders may enter through any door (RapidRide is Seattle’s bus rapid transit: pay before boarding, dedicated lanes, and the like). The standard adult fare is $2.50 off peak, but during peak hours (weekdays 6 to 9 am and 3 to 6 pm) it’s $2.75 for one zone and $3.25 for two zones. It’s exact change only and drivers and riders alike are impatient to people fiddling in their pockets, so make sure you have your money and pass ready when you step on board. The price rises depending on how far out of the city limits the ride takes you. Discounts for students, seniors, and the disabled cut the cost, and buses are fully equipped to handle those with mobility challenges. Transfers allow re-boarding for up to two hours on Metro lines.
To make it easier for regular riders, the ORCA (One Regional Card for All) is a single card for Seattle’s various transit options. You can buy and add value to your ORCA at many locations downtown including the Metro office and kiosks located in the bus tunnel. You can also do it online or create an “e-purse,” which will automatically refund your ORCA from your credit card or bank whenever the balance dips below the lowest possible fare. Cards cost $5. See the ORCA website (www.orcacard.com) for more details about how to receive and add value to a card of your very own.
Bicyclists can stash their machines on racks attached to the front of the bus; review the procedure online before holding up everyone though. Bike lockers are available at many park & ride locations around the area; check website for details. In addition, bicycles (and bicyclists) are allowed to ride for free on out-of-service buses going over the SR-520 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge; a nice little perk.
Anyone who isn’t convinced that Seattle is a colorful town of eccentrics and madmen needs to ride the bus. This could be true about many American cities, but Seattle’s lost souls take to public transportation in a major way. A Seattle transplant will have a “Bus Nut” story within a week of moving here. This is not to dissuade the timid rider, but one should always expect the unexpected when facing so much humanity within an enclosed space. Oh, and a charming custom in Seattle is the bus rider’s habit of thanking the driver as he/she disembarks. Most Metro drivers deserve this simple courtesy. It must be a stressful, monotonous task battling traffic to haul sullen strangers to their jobs every day. So don’t forget to give your driver a verbal tip for a job well done.
Streetcars—seeming relics of the alleged golden age of public transportation and sometime allegorical beacon of desire—have made a comeback in Seattle. Seattle Streetcar (www.seattlestreetcar.org or @TheStreetcar) is owned by the city but is operated under contract by Metro. The first route, the South Lake Union Line, opened in 2007 and comprises eleven stops scattered along a 2.6-mile loop around the Denny Triangle and South Lake Union neighborhoods. Its pretty purple streetcars cruise by every fifteen minutes. Apocryphally, the streetcar was originally named the South Lake Union Trolley until officials realized the unfortunate acronym. Indeed, the S.L.U.T. T-shirts were cool, but that was never really the name; everyone knows “trolleys” are for children and rubber-tired art tours. The First Hill Streetcar, opened in 2015, travels between Pioneer Square and the intersection of Broadway and Denny Way via Jackson, 14th Ave S, Yesler, and Broadway. A Broadway Extension to Roy Street is scheduled to open in 2017, and a Center City Connector to link the South Lake Union and First Hill lines downtown is being hashed out. Full fares are $2.25 and ORCA and bus transfers (from ORCA) are accepted. Purchase tickets from machines located at the stations. Bicyclists can store their wheels in the open center section of the streetcars.
Transit ✵ Sound Transit
Sound Transit Address: 401 S Jackson St, Seattle, WA 98104
Website: www.soundtransit.org or @SoundTransit
Sound Transit Overview
Sound Transit was created by the Washington State Legislature to build a mass transit system that connects King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties. The organization has the Central Puget Sound region covered with a broad range of bus, light rail, and commuter rail services.
In addition to operating Link light rail, Sound Transit operates express buses and commuter rail, called Sounder, around the region, connecting major employment centers such as Everett, Bellevue, and Renton. Though many of the buses operate on weekends, Sounder is strictly a weekday affair. If you’re lucky enough to live near one of the stations in Everett or Edmonds, commuting into Seattle via the cushy, wifi-equipped Sounder as it winds its way along Puget Sound’s breathtaking shoreline, is one of the nicest ways to start your day. Sounder and Express Bus stations outside of Seattle city limits often do have free parking, though the lots are often full by 8 am.
Light Rail History
Seattle’s Link Light Rail—which opened in 2009—was a long time in the making.
Underground transit had been proposed in Seattle as far back as 1912, but wasn’t until 1968 that the idea really took off. These were the heady, messy days of “urban renewal” in America’s cities, and Seattle had been on the list for a federally-financed rapid transit system like the one being built in Washington DC. Senator Warren G. Magnuson secured a $900M earmark (an eye-popping $6 billion in 2013 dollars) to pay for the majority of the system, which would have consisted of two lines crossing the city in an X shape. Seattle voters, however, earning their reputation for fickleness, said “thanks, but no thanks” and didn’t give the ballot measure the 60% supermajority it needed to pass. The money instead went to finance Atlanta’s MARTA.
In the 1990s, talk of rail transit heated up again, with basically the same X-shaped system that had been outlined in 1968. Not coincidentally, this is around the time of Cameron Crowe’s 1992 film Singles, in which the main character tries unsuccessfully to convince the city of the value of building a “super train.” (He does, however, succeed in finding love, so there’s that.) After failing on the first three votes, the Central Puget Sound Regional Transportation Authority (now known as “Sound Transit”) was approved in November of 1996, just two days before the release of the documentary Hype! chronicling the rise and fall of Seattle’s grunge scene.
The plan was for a 21-mile line connecting Sea-Tac airport and Northgate Mall, roughly along the I-5 corridor. Sound Transit ran into trouble, though, when the costs spiraled and years of delays mounted. Frustrated, Seattle voters approved a monorail along the western half of the city. After buying up land and spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, the monorail plan, too, went over budget and was eventually killed by another popular vote.
Sound Transit survived, however, thanks to support from the local political establishment. A shortened, 14-mile line between Downtown Seattle and Tukwila, known as Central Link, finally opened in 2009. A short extension to Sea-Tac Airport followed in 2010, along with the University Link (2016). Extensions are being built to Capitol Hill and UW (opening in 2016), Northgate (2021), and finally Bellevue, Redmond, and Lynwood (2023).
Light Rail Operating Hours
Central Link operates from 5 pm to 1 am Monday through Saturday, and 6 am to midnight on Sunday. On average, it carries more than 30,000 passengers each weekday. Trains operate every 7.5 minutes during rush hour and every 10-15 minutes in the evenings.
Light Rail Fares
Fares on the system are distance-based, ranging from $2.25 to $3 for adults depending on how far you’re traveling. You pay your fare using the ORCA card system (though built by Sound Transit, Link is operated by Metro). You can buy tickets from a machine at any station.
When it comes time to board, however, Seattle’s true nature shines. Since we’re such nice, honest folk, Link stations don’t have the turnstiles or gates you might find in a crowded East Coast subway station. No sir. Like the Europeans, whose traditions of soccer and espresso we so adore, Link uses “proof-of-payment,” which means you tap your card on a mechanical reader when you get on, and again when you get off. It’s all very civilized. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can ride for free. As in Europe, fare enforcement officers board the trains from time to time to ensure that riders have paid. Civilized as it might be, proof-of-payment is a bit confusing in action, especially in the downtown bus tunnel. If you’re riding Link, you should tap your ORCA on one of the yellow card readers when you get on and when you get off (because the fares are based on distance traveled). If you’re riding a bus, however, you tap your card once you get on the bus.
Light Rail Stations & Destinations
Downtown, the stations can be a bit hard to find. Look for the blue Sound Transit “T” to enter the bus tunnel, which is shared by buses and Link (at least for the next few years). One entrance to Westlake Station, for example, is inside the downtown Nordstrom, while an entrance at University Street is tucked into Benaroya Hall.
The SeaTac/Airport station is accessible via a five-minute walk from the terminal. Follow the signs for Link, which will take you through the parking garage and to the Link station on the other side.
While many tourists use Link from the Airport to downtown, locals know there are many interesting destinations along the route, including Pioneer Square, the sports stadia, the International District, Beacon Hill and the Rainier Valley. Some of the best Vietnamese food and some of the freshest, cheapest produce in the city can be found along the route. And there are great views of the city to be had from the elevated portions.
Light Rail Parking
Unlike the 1960s-era systems in DC, Atlanta, and San Francisco, Link stations aren’t surrounded by oceans of parking. Only Tukwila station, outside of the Seattle limits, has free parking (and it’s almost always full). Paid parking is available near several Rainier Valley stations including Mt. Baker. If you’re not within walking distance of a station, your best bet is to get there via bus, bicycle, or a car share service like Car2Go.
Taking the bike to the train is encouraged. There are bike lockers at several of the stations and bike areas inside the train cars. Keep in mind you might find yourself in a passive-aggressive Seattle-style standoff with a tourist using the bike storage area for his or her giant wheeled luggage. Proceed with caution.
The Sound Transit Regional Bus line connects Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, and Tacoma with the largest urban centers in the region. Transit centers, park-and-ride lots, and HOV access projects throughout the region have improved transit service for all bus riders and provide some help to the daily commute. The line connects more than 60,000 people each weekday throughout the three counties.
Fares: Adults ages 19-64 pay $2.50 for one zone and $3.50 across multiple zones. Youths ages 6-18 pay $1.25 and $2.50. Senior citizens and the disabled pay $0.75 and $1.50. Children under 6 ride free with a paying passenger.
Sounder commuter trains run 75 miles every weekday (Monday to Friday only) between Everett and Tacoma. The Sounder North train connects Everett with Seattle (with stops in Edmonds and Mukilteo). The Sounder South train runs from Tacoma to Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, Tukwila, and downtown Seattle. The Sounder also runs special trains for Seahawks home games and for select Mariners and Sounders FC games. Check with Sound Transit for more details.
Fares: Ranges from $2.75 to $5.25, depending on how far you travel.
Tacoma Link Light Rail
The Tacoma Link light rail line began operating in August 2003 and quickly became a major factor in the renaissance of downtown Tacoma. The 1.6-mile route connects downtown Tacoma with the Tacoma Dome Station, where connections can be made to ST Express regional bus and Sounder commuter rail.
Fares: At the outset, the cost of collecting fares outweighed the income derived from fares, meaning that the Tacoma Link light rail was free. Although it took ten years to get to the point where it literally paid to collect fares, expect a $1.50 fare to be implemented on the line in late 2016.
Transit ✵ Ferries
Website: www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries or @wsferries
The largest ferry system in the country, Washington State Ferries can actually make commuting pleasurable—once you’re on the boat. The ferry system encompasses a total of ten routes and twenty terminals, so be sure you know where you want to go. The boats running to Bainbridge, Bremerton, and a passenger-only boat to Vashon Island are located at Colman Dock at Alaskan Way and Marian Street. The most popular route, from Seattle to Bainbridge, sails 15 times a day between roughly 5/6 am to 12 midnight/1 am. Check the website for exact schedules, and note that there is a slight variation at the end of the day on weekends and holidays. The ferries run in all weather, but the Port Townsend and Vashon runs are occasionally limited by extreme low tides. The website will have current information as well as real-time webcams on the docks. Bikes and motorcycles load through the auto gates and are given preference over cars at loading time. Colman Dock has recently added several food and coffee vendors as well as a small wine bar. (Commuter Comforts is the best of the lot.) There is food, beer, and wine available on the boats (hooray!) until about 8 pm, but don’t get too excited since the food is abysmal and everything is overpriced. Once you’re actually on the boat, settle in and enjoy the ride. There’s an open deck upstairs for viewing. The scenery on a good day is awe-inspiring—the Cascades to the east, Mt. Rainier to the south, the Olympic mountain range to the west, and Puget Sound is, obviously, everywhere. It’s a good guess that there are frequent proposals (of one kind or another) on the ferries.
Parking? Oh please. Your choices are to drive your car on (expensive and time-consuming—during peak hours, you can sometimes wait through several boat departures), or find a parking spot near the terminal. There are a number of them sprinkled on Western Avenue between Yesler Way and Spring Street. There are also buses that stop in front of Coleman Dock. Check Metro’s website (metro.kingcounty.gov) for details.
Fares can vary depending on where and when you’ll be going, so make sure to check the website before heading out. Of course, bringing a car always drives up the price and in the peak season (May 1 to the second Saturday in October) you’ll have to pay more. Thankfully, the ferry system accepts all major credit cards, so you won’t have to abandon your car and make a run for an ATM. Round trip fare for passengers from Seattle to Bainbridge/Bremerton and from Edmonds to Kingston is $8 for adults and $4 for children, seniors, and disabled. Car and driver is $17.30 (peak). Fauntleroy to Vashon is $5.20 for adults and $2.60 for children, seniors, and disabled. Car and driver is $22.05. When possible, leave the car at home and pay an extra buck to bring your bicycle aboard. Your wallet and body will thank you. Finally, for those who ride the boats often, commuter books are available and will save you a bunch of dough.
Transit ✵ Sea-Tac Airport
Address: 17801 International Blvd, Seattle, WA 98158
Airport Code: SEA
Phone: 206-787-5388 or 800-544-1965
Websites: www.portseattle.org/Sea-Tac or @SeaTacAirport
Ground Transportation: 206-787-5906
Airport Police: 206-787-3490
Lost & Found: 206-787-5312
Customer Service: 800-508-1705
Prior to 1944, Boeing Field was Seattle’s main passenger airport. When the military took it over for use in World War II, we needed a new commercial airport. Thus, Sea-Tac International Airport was born.
Though one of the country’s busiest airports, serving nearly 40 million passengers each year, Sea-Tac isn’t a terribly harrowing travel experience. Indeed, Sea-Tac is well run and organized, consisting of a main terminal with four concourses and two satellite terminals connected to the main terminal via an underground tram. Trains run every 5-10 minutes, so it never takes long to get from one terminal to another.
As with most airports these days, it is advisable to either check in online or at a self check-in station. However, our TSA agents seem to have a handle on security checks, as the line moves fairly quickly most of the time. Of course, in terms of airport travel, it is always advisable not to tempt fate.
If you find yourself with some time, you can grab a bite to eat in the food court or take your chances with the inevitable Starbucks or gift shops in your terminal. For a decent sit-down meal, Anthony’s in the Central Terminal is your best bet for quality. Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, in Concourse C, serves up great Mac and Cheese and Caffe Vita coffee and espresso. For a cocktail, glass wine, or pint of microbrew, there are several choices, none of which particularly stand out from the other.
How to Get There—Driving
From the north or south, take I-5 to Exit 154 B and drive west on State Route 518 to the Sea-Tac Airport Exit. Heading east, take I-405, which turns into State Route 518, to the Sea-Tac Airport Exit. Signs are clearly marked from that point on.
With cost-effective alternatives available, choosing to drive to Sea-Tac is akin to burning money, but there are many options for those willing to lighten their wallet. The top four floors of the garage offer hourly parking ($4 for the first and up to $35 a day). Long-term parking is also available for $28 a day with a weekly rate of $130. Pay with credit or debit cards at exit lanes or bring your ticket with you to pay in advance in pay stations. If you’ve managed to bribe a friend into picking you up, he or she can wait for you in the Cell Phone Waiting Lot. To get there, take the 170th/Air Cargo exit from the Airport Expressway. Turn right and take an immediate left into the clearly marked lot. To get to Baggage Claim from the lot, take a right out of the lot and then an immediate left at the To Terminal sign. Follow the signs to Arrivals.
How to Get There—Mass Transit
Take the Light Rail straight to the airport from downtown in about 35 minutes; it’s cheap, clean, and easy. The station is connected to the fourth floor of the parking garage, about a five-minute walk to the terminals. The 560 Sound Transit Express Bus serves Burien and West Seattle the 574 travels to Lakewood. Metro also has route 180 to service Auburn, Kent, and Burien.
How to Get There—Shuttle
For shared rides, Shuttle Express (shuttleexpress.com or 425-981-7000) serves areas within a 30-mile radius. Pick-up and drop-off is on the third floor of the Airport Garage. The check-in for scheduled Airporter services is on the Baggage Claim level. Airporter Shuttle (www.airporter.com or 866-235-5247) serves Western Washington. Capital Aeroporter (www.capair.com or 800-962-3579) serves the Greater South Puget Sound Area including Seattle, Olympia, and Tacoma.
Sea-Tac has a single car rental location (3150 S 160th St, SeaTac) from which all car rental companies do business. A 24-hour, free shuttle takes customers to the location. Exit the baggage claim area at either the north or south end for the designated pick-up area.
Alamo: 800-462-5266 or www.alamo.com
Avis: 800-331-1212 or www.avis.com
Budget: 800-527-7000 or www.budget.com
Dollar Car Rental: 206-433-5825 or www.dollar.com
Enterprise: 206-246-1953 or www.enterprise.com
EZ Rent-A-Car: 206-444-4974 or www.e-zrentacar.com
Firefly Car Rental: 888-296-9135 or www.fireflycarrental.com
Fox Rent A Car: 800-225-4369 or www.foxrentacar.com
Hertz: 800-654-3131 or www.hertz.com
National: 800-328-4567 or www.nationalcar.com
Payless: 800-PAYLESS or www.paylesscar.com
Sixt Rent A Car: 888-749-8227 or www.sixt.com
Thrifty: 877-283-0898 or www.thrifty.com
Air Canada & Air Canada Jazz/Concourse A
Alaska Airlines/Concourse C, Concourse D, North Satellite
American Airlines/Concourse D
AMC (Air Mobility Command)/South Satellite
All Nippon Airways/South Satellite
Asiana Airlines/South Satellite
British Airways/South Satellite
Delta & Delta Connection/South Satellite
EVA Air/South Satellite
Frontier Airlines/Concourse B
Hainan Airlines/South Satellite
Hawaiian Airlines/South Satellite
JetBlue Airways/Concourse D
Korean Air/South Satellite
Lufthansa Airlines/South Satellite
Southwest Airlines/Concourse B
Sun Country Airlines/Concourse A
United & United Express/Concourse A
US Airways/Concourse A
Virgin America/Concourse B