Getting Around by Car
Seattle’s traffic has become as legendary as LA’s, and for a good reason—it’s actually worse. The metro area’s major interstate highways, I-5, I-405, and both bridges to the Eastside are invariably crowded during rush hour. According to the 2000 census, between 1990 and 2000, the number of people in the state of Washington commuting an hour or more to work increased 73%. Despite the frustration of getting behind the wheel, many Seattle residents still persist in driving everywhere—to work, to church, and to the grocery store.
King County and the city of Seattle have sponsored a number of initiatives designed to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles on the road, including the One Less Car study conducted between 2000 and 2002, in which 86 Seattle households agreed to give up one vehicle for a limited period. The program demonstrated that all kinds of families, including those with and without children, can save money and reduce stress by limiting car trips. Beginning in 2008, the Department of Transportation initiated the Car Free Days campaign, urging residents to combat global warming by driving their cars 1,000 fewer miles per year. Seattle also sponsors an ongoing Walk Bike Ride challenge that awards prizes for converting car trips to alternative forms of transportation, and businesses offer incentives to employees who take public transit to work. The city’s website (www.seattle.gov) includes resources to encourage fewer car trips, including calculators that allow you to determine the cost of your commute and the bite that your car takes out of your annual budget. As a result, there have been some signs of progress. Commute Seattle (www.commuteseattle.com), an online resource for Seattle and King County commuters, reports that, according to a 2010 survey, 65% of people who work in downtown Seattle are finding alternative ways to get there, rather than driving alone. Buses, carpools, and ride-sharing programs are viable options for many residents. If you must drive, here are a few tips for making your commute a little easier.
- Metered ramps are freeway on-ramps equipped with traffic lights to control the flow of traffic. Most in-city ramps to I-5 are now metered, although the lights operate only during high-volume hours. Metered ramps usually have an H.O.V. (high occupancy vehicle) on-ramp lane, which allows carpool vehicles on without stopping.
- H.O.T. lanes, or high occupancy toll lanes, allow solo drivers to use carpool lanes if they pay a toll. The state’s first H.O.T lane, established in 2008, extends from Auburn to Renton on State Route 167. If the pilot program proves successful, you may see additional H.O.T. lanes on highways in the metro area.
- Traffic reports are available on all major radio and television stations during rush hour, and on news radio station KOMO 1000 AM every 10 minutes weekday mornings and afternoons. These reports can be invaluable once you’ve identified a few routes to your usual destinations. Or call the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) traffic line at 511 to get information on current traffic conditions, including traffic flow statistics and accident and construction reports. Transportation trouble spots are listed on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s website at seattlepi.com/local/transportation. This is also the site to visit for more information about local transportation issues and concerns, including a link to help you locate the lowest gas prices in the region.
- Traffic webcams and traffic flow maps for freeways and major highways are available from the WSDOT and are updated every few minutes at wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/seattle. You can also access ferry webcams and webcams in the mountain passes and at the Canadian border crossing. The City of Seattle also maintains webcams of city streets and traffic hotspots at seattle.gov/trafficcams, and the City of Bellevue does the same at cityofbellevue.org/trafficcam. King County offers cameras in outlying communities at gismaps.kingcounty.gov/MyCommute.
- Electronic signs placed over freeways alert drivers to accidents and, during rush hours, will give point-to-point commute times. This may not help you plan in advance, but if you’re late for a meeting it’s helpful to know that it will take 21 minutes to drive from downtown Seattle to Lynnwood.
- Travel times for 46 different commute routes around Puget Sound are updated every five minutes on the DOT website at wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/seattle/traveltimes. The table shows distance, average commute time, and current commute time.
As you get to know Seattle, you’ll establish alternatives to the major freeways, highways, and thoroughfares. Until then, here are some of the main arteries:
- The main north-south freeway is Interstate 5. Running smack through the middle of the city, this freeway is both a blessing and a curse for those living near it. If you’re running errands, and if I-5 is moving at all, it is usually the quickest way to other neighborhoods in the city. However, if you’re more than ten minutes from the freeway, it’s often quicker to take local streets across town.
- Another north-south thoroughfare in the city is Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue), which parallels I-5 as far as the Seattle Center, then cuts under the city and follows the waterfront. The section of Highway 99 along the waterfront is a stacked freeway known as “the viaduct.” In 2010, demolition began on the southern part of the viaduct, since the aging freeway and the adjacent seawall have deteriorated and are at risk of failure during an earthquake. The thoroughfare will eventually be replaced by a deep-bore tunnel. Until then, this stretch of Highway 99 will continue to be subject to closures. North of the Green Lake area, Highway 99 can be fairly slow because of the traffic lights. South of the lake and through the downtown area, Highway 99 is a reliable alternative to I-5, especially for those coming from the Greenwood, Phinney Ridge, Fremont or Wallingford neighborhoods. If you travel to the airport often from any of these neighborhoods, there is a shortcut to the airport, which includes Highway 99, Highway 509, and then Highway 518. This can save you 30 minutes during rush hour.
- The main east-west freeway is Interstate 90. The I-90 bridge is usually the better of the two Lake Washington bridges, because it has several lanes in each direction as well as a reversible H.O.V. lane. Because it begins near Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field, I-90 does back up before and after games, so give yourself extra time when traveling on those days.
- The other east-west thoroughfare, Highway 520, runs from I-5 just north of Capitol Hill to the Eastside. The 520 Floating Bridge is one of the worst stretches of road during rush hour. Even if there is no accident on the bridge, the amazing view of the lake and Mount Rainier, as well as bright sunlight, slows traffic on the bridge decks. The “high rises” (the high portions of the bridge) at the west end also cause traffic backups because drivers have to slow for the curves and accelerate for the incline. If you can’t use I-90 as your regular route over the lake, set up a carpool and take advantage of the H.O.V. lanes or try to use an on-ramp as close to the bridge as possible. The 520 Bridge is subject to ongoing closures because of work on a major construction project designed to ease traffic along this route. The SR 520 High Capacity Transit Plan, which will add bus rapid transit lines and eventually light rail over Lake Washington, is scheduled for completion by 2014.
- Another route from Seattle to the Eastside is Interstate 405, which generally runs north-south on the east side of Lake Washington. Interstate 405 goes through Renton, Bellevue, Kirkland, and Bothell, connecting with I-5 south of Seattle near Southcenter Mall, and north of Seattle in Lynnwood. Depending on your destination and the time of day, an I-5 to I-405 route might be the quickest way around the lake.
- The West Seattle Freeway starts at I-5 near Beacon Hill and heads west to the West Seattle peninsula, crossing Highway 99 on the way. This is the main thoroughfare in and out of the north end of West Seattle.
High Occupancy Vehicle (H.O.V.) lanes or “diamond lanes” are located on Interstates 5, 405, and 90. These lanes are reserved for carpools (minimum two or three passengers, depending on the lane), buses, and motorcycles. If you must travel over one of the Lake Washington bridges (I-90 or Highway 520) during rush hour, these lanes are the way to go. You’ll be able to pass the rest of the traffic and cut to the front of the line at the bridge deck. For information on carpool parking permits, which can be used for discounted or free parking in downtown Seattle, call the city’s Carpool Parking/Permits line at 206-684-0816.
If you don’t have a carpool partner, Metro Transit offers Rideshare, a regional ride-sharing program that matches commuters with carpools. Visit rideshareonline.com to find a commuting partner in just minutes. Another option available through Metro and most other public transit services is a vanpool. Vanpools require 5 to 15 passengers and monthly fares vary depending on origin, destination, and number of riders. The advantages are that Metro provides the van, insurance, and gasoline. In addition, the carpool parking permit is just $5 for vanpools. Another program called VanShare is designed to help groups of five or more passengers reach other forms of mass transit without having to drive. For more information on the Ridematch, VanPool, and VanShare programs, call 206-625-4500 or 800-427-8249, or visit Metro’s website, metro.kingcounty.gov.
Free online services that match carpoolers are also an option. You can browse driver and passenger options and post your own offers and requests. Try AlterNetRides.com; Carpoolworld.com; and eRideShare.com.
Park & Rides
Many drive to Park & Ride lots and then commute by bus to Seattle. For a complete and current listing of lots, go to wsdot.wa.gov/choices/parkride.cfm.
- All Saints Lutheran Church, 27225 Military Rd S
- Auburn Park & Ride, “A” Street SW and 1st St SW
- Auburn Station Garage, “A” Street SW and 1st St SW &
- Auburn Station Surface Lot, “A” Street SW and 1st St SW
- Peasley Canyon Park & Ride, W Valley Rd and Peasley Canyon Rd
- Bellevue Christian Reformed Church, 1221 148th Ave NE
- Bellevue Foursquare Church, Richards Rd and 128th, west side, near 20th Pl
- Eastgate Congregational Church, 15318 SE Newport Way
- Grace Lutheran Church, NE 8th St and 96th Ave NE
- Newport Covenant Church, Coal Creek Pkwy and Factoria Blvd
- Newport Hills Community Church, 119th Ave SE and SE 58th St
- Newport Hills Park & Ride, I-405 and 112th Pl SE
- South Bellevue Park & Ride, Bellevue Way SE and 112th Ave SE
- St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, 2650 148th Ave SE
- St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Bellevue Way NE and NE 30th Pl
- St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, 4228 Factoria Blvd
- Wilburton Park & Ride, I-405 and SE 8th St
- Bothell Park & Ride, Woodinville Dr and Kaysner Way
- Brickyard Road, I-405 and NE 160th St
- Burien Church of God, 1st Ave S and SW 166th St
- Burien Transit Center, SW 150th St and 4th Ave SW
- Duvall Park & Ride, State Route 203 and Woodinville-Duvall Rd
- Federal Way Park & Ride, 23rd Ave S and S 323rd St
- Federal Way Transit Center, S 317th St and 23rd Ave S
- Our Saviour’s Baptist Church, S 320th St and 8th Ave S
- Redondo Heights Park & Ride, Pacific Hwy S at S 276th St
- South Federal Way Park & Ride, 9th Ave S and S 348th St
- St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 515 S 312th St
- Sunrise United Methodist Church, 150 S 356th St
- Twin Lakes Park & Ride, 21st Ave SW and SW 344th St
- Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride, Highlands Dr NE and NE High St
- Issaquah Park & Ride, 1740 NW Maple St
- Issaquah Transit Center, State Route 900 and Newport Way
- Klahanie #1 Park & Ride, SE Klahanie Blvd and 244th Pl SE
- Klahanie # 3 Park & Ride, SE Klahanie Dr and SE 40th St
- Tibbetts Lot, 1675 Newport Way NW
- Tibbetts Valley Park Park & Ride, 12th NW and Newport Way
- Bethany Bible Church, NE 181st St and 62nd Ave NE
- Kenmore Park & Ride, Bothell Way NE and 73rd Ave NE
- Kenmore Community Church, Bothell Way NE & 75th Ave NE
- East Hill Friends Church, 22600 116th Ave SE
- Kent Covenant Church, 12010 SE 240th St
- Kent-Des Moines Park & Ride, I-5 and Kent-Des Moines Rd
- Kent/James Street Park & Ride, N Lincoln Ave & W James St
- Kent Station Transit Center, 301 Railroad Ave N
- Kent United Methodist Church, SE 248th St and 110th Ave SE
- Lake Meridian Park & Ride, 132nd Ave SE and SE 272nd St
- St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 26715 Military Rd S
- Star Lake Park & Ride, I-5 and 272nd St
- Valley View Christian Church, 124th Ave SE and SE 256th St
- Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, NE 124th St and 100th Ave NE
- Houghton Park & Ride, I-405 and NE 70th Pl
- Korean Covenant Church of Kirkland, 14220 Juanita/Woodinville Way NE
- Kingsgate Park & Ride, I-405 and NE 132nd St
- South Kirkland Park & Ride, NE 38th Pl and NE 37th Circle
- SR-908/Kirkland Way Park & Ride, NE 85th St and Kirkland Way
- Evergreen Point Bridge, State Rte 520 and Evergreen Point Rd
- St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 84th Ave NE and NE 12th St
- Mercer Island Presbyterian Church, 84th Ave SE and SE 36th St
- Mercer Island United Methodist Church, SE 24th St and 70th Ave SE
- Mercer Island Park & Ride, 80th Ave SE and N Mercer Way
- QFC Village, SE 68th St and 84th Ave SE
- Bear Creek Park & Ride, 178th Pl NE and NE Union Hill Rd
- Overlake Park & Ride, 152nd Ave NE and NE 24th St
- Overlake Transit Center, NE 40th St and 156th Ave NE
- Redmond Home Depot, 17777 NE 76th St
- Redmond Park & Ride, 161st Ave NE and NE 83rd St
- Redwood Family Church, 11500 Redmond-Woodinville Rd NE
- Fairwood Assembly of God, 131st Ave SE and SE 192nd St
- First Baptist Church, Hardie Ave SW and SW Langston Rd
- Fred Meyer, near 3rd Pl, south of Sunset Blvd
- Kennydale United Methodist Church, Park Ave N and N 30th St
- Nativity Lutheran Church, 140th Ave SE and SE 177th St
- New Life Church, 152nd and Renton-Maple Valley Hwy
- Renton Boeing Lot 12, N 6th St and Park Ave N
- Renton City Municipal Garage, 655 S 2nd St, Flrs 4-7
- Renton Highlands Park & Ride, NE 16th St and Edmonds Ave NE
- Renton Transit Center Park & Ride Garage, S 2nd St and Burnett Ave
- South Renton Park & Ride, S Grady Way and Shattuck Ave S
- Calvary Christian Assembly Church, NE 68th St and 8th Ave NE
- Green Lake Park & Ride, I-5 and NE 65th St
- South Jackson Park Park & Ride, 5th Ave NE and NE 133rd St
- North Jackson Park Park & Ride, 5th Ave NE and NE 145th St
- North Seattle Park & Ride, 1st Ave NE and NE 100th St
- Northgate Mall Park & Ride, just north of Northgate Transit Center, floors 1 and 2
- Northgate Park & Ride, NE 112th St and 5th Ave NE
- Northgate Transit Center, NE 103rd St and 1st Ave NE
- Our Savior Lutheran Church, NE 125th St and 27th Ave NE
- Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 14514 20th Ave NE
- Airport and Spokane Park & Ride, Airport Way S and S Spokane St
- Beverly Park First Baptist Church, 11659 1st Ave S
- Community Bible Fellowship, 11227 Renton Ave S
- Holy Family Church, SW Roxbury St and 20th Ave SW
- Sonrise Evangelical Free Church, 610 SW Roxbury
- Southwest Spokane Street Park & Ride, 26th Ave SW and SW Spokane St
- Aurora Church of the Nazarene, 175th St and Meridian Ave N
- Aurora Village Transit Center, N 200th St and Meridian Ave N
- Bethel Lutheran Church, NE 175th St and 10th Ave NE
- Korean Zion Presbyterian Church, 17920 Meridian Ave N
- Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 14514 20th Ave NE
- Shoreline United Methodist Church, NE 145th St and 25th Ave NE
- Shoreline Park & Ride, Aurora Ave N and N 192nd St
- Church by the Side of the Road, S 148th St and Pacific Hwy S
- Olson Place and Myers Way Park & Ride, Olson Pl SW and Myers Way S
- Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, 15420 Vashon Hwy SW
- Ober Park Annex, 17130 Vashon Hwy SW
- Ober Park Park & Ride, Vashon Hwy SW and SW 171st St
- Tahlequah Park & Ride, Vashon Hwy SW and SW Tahlequah Rd
- Valley Center Park & Ride, Vashon Hwy SW and SW 204th St
- Cottage Lake Assembly of God, 15737 Avondale Rd
- Woodinville Park & Ride, 140th Ave NE and NE 179th St
- Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church, 19020 NE Woodinville-Duvall Rd
Seattle and Eastside residents now have a car-sharing option, good for out-of-the-way errands or appointments. Car-sharing services such as Zipcar offer the freedom of driving a car without the expense of owning one. Drivers pay for the time they use the car, and the company pays for gas, insurance, and maintenance. Members determine their monthly driving needs and then choose one of several plans, which start at about $7 per hour. An application fee and yearly membership apply and some plans have monthly fees. For more information call Zipcar at 206-682-0107, or visit the website at zipcar.com.
Those who need a weekend rental should reserve at least a week in advance.
- Advantage, 800-777-5500, advantagerentacar.com
- Alamo, 877-222-9075, alamo.com
- Avis, 800-230-4898, avis.com
- Budget, 800-527-7000, budget.com
- Dollar, 800-800-3665, dollar.com
- Enterprise, 800-261-7331, enterprise.com
- Fox, 800-225-4369, ex. 1, foxrentacar.com
- Hertz, 800-654-3131, hertz.com
- National, 877-9058, nationalcar.com
- Thrifty, 800-847-4389, thrifty.com
Unless you are downtown, on Capitol Hill, or at the airport, you’ll probably need to call ahead to arrange for a taxi. A few of Seattle’s many taxicab companies are listed here; others can be found in the Yellow Pages and online.
- Farwest Taxi, 206-622-1717, farwesttaxi.net
- Orange Cab, 206-522-8800, orangecab.net
- Stita Taxi, 206-246-9999, stitataxi.com
- Yellow Cab, 206-622-6500, yellowtaxi.net
Despite the hilly terrain and the wet, chilly fall and winter weather, a surprisingly large number of Seattle residents use bikes for recreation or transportation. An estimated 4,000 to 8,000 people commute by bicycle each day, and the city government is committed to making Seattle as bike-friendly as possible. To assist bicycle commuters, the Seattle Department of Transportation Bicycle Program has created about 45 miles of shared use paths, 120 miles of on-street, striped bike lanes and sharrows (shared lane pavement markings), and about 120 miles of signed bike routes. In addition, “bike boxes” are being installed to create safety zones for cyclists at intersections, in order to minimize car-bicycle collisions.
During the summer months, Seattle’s Lake Washington Boulevard becomes a long, winding playground for the city’s bike enthusiasts. On Bicycle Sundays, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., the city shuts down the lakeside thoroughfare to automobile traffic. For more information about the Seattle Bicycle & Pedestrian Program or to order a free Seattle bicycling guide map, call 206-684-7583 or visit seattle.gov/transportation/bikeprogram.htm.
Bicyclists can “bike and ride” at no extra cost, thanks to a Metro Transit program that allows riders to load their bikes onto racks installed on Metro buses. For details on the Bike + Bus program, visit Metro’s website at metro.kingcounty.gov or call 206-553-3000. Bicyclists can also travel for free across Lake Washington on the 520 floating bridge (which currently has no bicycle or pedestrian access) on any Metro or Sound Transit bus.
Bicycle helmets are mandatory in Seattle and all of King County. You will be ticketed if you’re caught riding without one. King County maintains a list of organizations that offer free or low-cost helmets. Visit kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/injury/traffic/bicycles.aspx. For more information on helmets, visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute website (www.helmets.org).
By Public Transportation
Traffic and public transportation issues have taken center stage in local elections for many years, as Seattle residents have struggled with some of the worst traffic in the country. Major transportation issues affecting the Puget Sound region include replacing the aging 520 bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct, widening I-405, connecting Highway 509 to I-5, and creating some type of regional transit. As the wealth of public transportation options listed below—as well as the many projects currently in the works—will attest, the region is fully committed to solving its transportation woes.
Light rail service is relatively new to Seattle (if you don’t count the Monorail) and is overseen by the Sound Transit agency. Central Link light rail travels between Westlake Station in downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport, making 11 stops along the way. Link trains run every 7.5, 10, or 15 minutes depending on the time of day. Service is available from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 6 a.m. to midnight on Sunday and holidays. Adult fares range from $2.00 to $2.75 depending on how far you travel. Scheduled to open in 2016, University Link is a 3.15-mile light rail extension that will run in tunnels from downtown Seattle north to the University of Washington. Also in the planning stages is an Eastlink line, designed to eventually (watch for it in 2022!) connect downtown Seattle and Mercer Island, and link the Bellevue, Bel-Red, and Overlake areas. For more information, construction updates, and depot locations, visit soundtransit.org.
The city of Tacoma already has a short light rail line called Tacoma Link, running from the Tacoma Dome Station to the Theater District, with stops at Union Station and the Convention Center. Link trains run every 12 to 24 minutes, depending on the time of day. Service is available from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. Riding on Tacoma Link is free and more information can be found at soundtransit.org.
For the time being, until additional light rail is completed, buses are the primary means of mass transit in Seattle.
Metro Transit provides buses that are generally clean and on time, although they make frequent, time-consuming stops as they traverse the city. Express buses are much faster but go to fewer destinations. Crosstown buses are limited and transfers are often necessary when traveling between neighborhoods. Bus fares have increased sharply in recent years: adult fares are $2.25/off-peak, $2.50/one-zone peak, $3/two-zone peak; the fare for youths, seniors, and persons with disabilities is $.75. Fortunately, most of downtown is part of a Ride Free Area, meaning that passengers can use the bus for free in the downtown area as long as they disembark before crossing Battery Street or South Jackson Street—most bus drivers announce the end of the Ride Free Area. The Ride Free area in downtown is possible since fares are collected at the beginning of the ride if you’re traveling toward downtown, or at the end of the ride if you’re traveling away from downtown. A sign at the front of the bus will let you know when to pay your fare. Another freebie is the Route 99 bus, which connects the Seattle downtown waterfront with the International District, Pioneer Square, the downtown retail area, Pike Place Market, and Belltown. Northbound service runs on 1st Avenue; southbound travels along Alaskan Way from Broad Street to Yesler Way.
RapidRide is a new express bus service being phased in through 2013. These red, yellow, and black hybrid low-emission buses make limited stops at designated stations and arrive with greater frequency than regular Metro buses. The A and B lines are already in service; ultimately lines C through F will be added. RapidRide bus maps and information can be found at metro.kingcounty.gov.
Another option is Dial-a-Ride Transit (DART), which is available in some areas of King County for the price of a regular Metro Transit ticket. DART vans can go off regular routes to pick up and drop off passengers, but you must arrange for this service in advance by calling 866-261-DART(3278) (voice), or 1-800-246-1646 (TTY), or by reserving a place online at hope-link.org/programs/dart.htm. DART vans do not go door-to-door and operate on a fixed schedule, but have more flexibility than regular Metro bus service. DART service areas include West Seattle, Redmond, Renton Highlands, Kent, Federal Way, and other areas beyond Seattle. More information is available at the King County website listed above.
Bus passes and ticket books are available and can save a lot of money for regular passengers. Some employers, institutions, and community organizations provide free or discounted passes for employees and members, as part of the Employer Commute Services sponsored by King County Metro. Metro Transit offers a variety of bus passes, including PugetPass, Access Pass, and a Vanpool pass. Passes are available at over 100 locations in the city, including some drugstores and cash machines, or you can call Metro at 206-624-PASS or visit metro.kingcounty.gov/tops/bus/fare/tickets.html, and purchase online with a credit or debit card. Tickets can also be paid for on the bus with cash (exact change). Metro Transit’s latest payment system is the ORCA card, a value-added payment card that also carries your pass information electronically. Visit orcacard.com for information.
Bus schedules are posted at all bus stops (but only for the buses that use that route), or you can call Metro’s Automated Schedule Information Line at 206-BUS-TIME. Metro’s 24-hour Rider Information Line at 206-553-3000 connects you to a Metro employee who can assist you with schedule and route information, as long as you can provide your starting point and destination. A public-safety service called Night Stop, in effect between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., allows bus drivers to let you off anywhere along a route, even if it is not a regular bus stop—just come to the front of the bus at least a block ahead of where you want to get off and request your stop. The online Trip Planner is a handy tool that lets you input your starting and ending destinations, and date and time of trip to get a customized route that will provide bus numbers and bus stop locations, and can be sorted by fastest trip, fewest transfers or least amount of walking. You can use the service for trips within King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. It’s located at tripplanner.kingcounty.gov. OneBusAway.org lets you get real-time transit information texted to your regular phone, or you can call in for audio bus info. You can also download an app on your smart phone. Metro Transit also has an informative and comprehensive website at metro.kingcounty.gov.
Apps and mobile tools that are useful for bus riders include Google Maps, Walk Score, and SeattleBus (for Metro Transit only).
In addition to buses, Metro Transit runs the Monorail. This relic of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair runs the 1-mile route between Westlake Center in the downtown shopping district and the Seattle Center, where it passes through the dazzling titanium curves of the Experience Music Project. Numerous problems with the aging system make it mostly a tourist attraction with a doubtful future. Another public transportation mini-trip you can take is on the South Lake Union Trolley (or, as some locals call it, the S.L.U.T.), part of the planned Seattle Streetcar network. The trolley makes the 1.3-mile trip between the new South Lake Union neighborhood and downtown Seattle.
Express buses travel between major cities in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, making limited stops along the way. The buses operate on a three-zone fare system. The cost depends on the number of fare zones you traverse and your fare type (youth, adult, or senior/disabled). Fares range from $2.50 to $3.50 for adults, $1.25 to $2.50 for youth, and $.75 to $1.50 for senior/disabled passengers. For more information, call 888-889-6368 or visit soundtransit.org.
Outside Seattle, Community Transit covers most of Seattle’s neighboring communities; Everett Transit covers the greater Everett area north of Seattle; Pierce Transit provides bus service in Tacoma.
- Community Transit, 425-353-RIDE or 800-562-1375, commtrans.org
- Everett Transit, 425-257-7777, everettwa.org/transit
- Pierce Transit, 253-581-8000, 800-562-8109, piercetransit.org
The Sounder commuter trains offer rail service between Tacoma and downtown Seattle, with stops in Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, and Tukwila. The north route serves Everett, Mukilteo, Edmonds, and downtown Seattle. The trains offer service in peak directions only, so trains leave Tacoma at seven different times of the morning, and twice in the early evening, heading for Seattle, and return to Tacoma twice in the morning and seven times in the afternoon and evening. Sounder trains leave Everett for Seattle twice every morning and return twice in the afternoon. In a partnership with Amtrak, two more trains are offered on the Everett-Seattle route each morning and afternoon, although you must use one of the Sounder train passes for your fare, or pay full price Amtrak fares. Some Sounder trains are equipped with free wireless Internet—look for the WiFi icon near the vehicle doors. For the schedule and more information about Sounder trains, call 888-889-6368 or visit soundtransit.org.
Because there are no bridges connecting Seattle with the Olympic Peninsula, many area residents commute to and from work by ferry. The Washington State Ferries system is the largest in the United States, and the third largest in the world, and includes nine routes that serve the Puget Sound area. To commute to the city, residents ride the Seattle-Bremerton, Seattle-Bainbridge Island routes or the Seattle-Vashon Island passenger-only route, which all dock at the Seattle waterfront terminal at Colman Dock. The Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route serves West Seattle, Vashon Island, and the Olympic Peninsula, and the Edmonds-Kingston route departs from a terminal in Edmonds, 20 minutes north of Seattle. The Anacortes– San Juan Islands and Anacortes-Sidney, BC, routes originate in Anacortes, about an hour north of Seattle.
Those routes used for commuting to Seattle can be very busy in the morning and evening hours. If you’re walking on, you probably won’t have any problem, even if you arrive just a few minutes before departure. If you’re driving, however, you’ll need to arrive early or be prepared to take a later ferry. This is also true for weekends or holidays. The wait time for those who want to ferry their vehicles on the San Juan Islands routes can be several hours on summer holiday weekends.
Schedules and fares vary according to season and route. The peak season is May through September when fares will be higher, and non-peak is October through April. Some routes only charge fares one way, generally westbound, like the Fauntleroy-Vashon route. Others charge vehicle/driver fares both ways, but passenger fares only one way. Fares also vary depending on size and type of vehicle. Discounted passes are available for frequent passengers, children, disabled persons, and senior citizens. WiFi is available on board the ferries, but you have to pay for it.
Ferry information pamphlets are available at all ferry terminals, as well as at some transit information booths in the city. For more information, call the Washington State Ferries’ information line at 206-464-6400 or 888-808-7977 or visit wsdot.wa.gov/ferries, where you can also view webcams of the ferry docks, learn wait times, and use a fare calculator to find out how much your trip will cost. Mobile apps, such as iFerry, can bring you up-to-the-minute information.
Two water taxi routes operate in King County for foot passengers and bicyclists. The Vashon Island/Downtown Seattle route provides commute-hour weekday service between Vashon Island’s north end ferry terminal and Pier 50. The West Seattle route connects Seacrest Park in West Seattle with Pier 50 on the downtown waterfront, operating seven days a week in spring and summer. Metro transit buses connect with both routes. Passengers board on a first-come, first-served basis, and animals (with the exception of service animals) are not allowed. For information about water taxi schedules and fares, visit www.kingcounty.gov/transportation/kcdot/WaterTaxi.aspx or call 206-684-1551.
Recently restored to its original grandeur, the King Street Station, which serves as Seattle’s Amtrak station, borders the historic International District and Pioneer Square, near the CenturyLink Field at the south end of downtown. The station is served by the Cascades (Eugene, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, BC), Coast Starlight (Seattle, Portland, Oakland, Los Angeles), and Empire Builder (Chicago, Seattle or Portland) trains. Free WiFi is available to riders on the Cascades line.
- Amtrak National Route Information, 800-USA-RAIL, amtrak.com
- Amtrak Seattle Station, 303 S Jackson St, 206-382-4125
The Greyhound Lines bus terminal is located at 8th Avenue and Stewart Street in downtown Seattle. For reservation information call the terminal directly at 206-628-5526, Greyhound’s national reservation number at 800-231-2222, or visit greyhound.com. Another option for bus trips to some eastern Washington cities is Northwestern Trailways. Call 800-366-3830 for reservations and information, or visit northwesterntrailways.com.
The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, known locally as Sea-Tac, is located south of Seattle at 17801 Pacific Highway South. For parking rates and information, airport weather conditions, and general information, call 206-787-5388 or visit portseattle.org/seatac.
Sea-Tac offers plenty of amenities for passengers, such as shops and restaurants where you can buy food to take on the plane, since in-flight meal service has become a rarity. A USO offers assistance to military personnel and their families, and there is a Meditation Room in the Main Terminal and places to get a massage or a manicure. Passengers can charge their cell phones at designated spots, and “Send It Home” kiosks allow you to mail any items you packed inadvertently that can’t pass through security, such as Aunt Minnie’s pickled onions. In addition, there is free WiFi throughout the airport. If you’re not racing to catch a plane, you can enjoy some of the art on display throughout the airport, which features a permanent collection of 20th-century works as well as a rotating collection of installations.
Recent improvements at Sea-Tac earned the airport an award for on-time departures, and its security procedures have been streamlined, as well. Despite some controversy regarding their implementation, AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology) scanners are now used to screen incoming passengers. If you prefer not to submit to a full body scan, you can request a patdown from a TSA agent. (Give yourself extra time to clear security if you opt for the patdown.) Express security lines are available at security checkpoints for those in wheelchairs, passengers with no carry-on luggage, and for some frequent fliers and first- or business-class passengers, depending on the airline. Contact your airline to see if you qualify. Security regulations change frequently; one day you’re allowed an item in your carry-on luggage and the next it is only allowed in checked baggage. The best ways to keep up with the changes and rules are to contact your airline, check the Sea-Tac airport website for updates, or contact the Transportation Security Administration at 866-289-9673 or visit their website at tsa.gov for the latest news and updates on security and travel-related issues.
Passengers who check in online before they arrive will be able to avoid some of the lines inside the terminal. Curbside check-in is available for domestic passengers only on the upper airport drive, but stopping your car is allowed only for picking up or dropping off passengers, and loading or unloading luggage. Passengers are not permitted to leave their cars while they check their bags curbside. Vehicles left unattended are ticketed even if the driver is nearby. At Sea-Tac, the upper drive is for departures, and baggage claim and pick-up are located on the lower drive. Note: when the upper drive is congested, passengers with few or no bags should consider being dropped-off on the lower drive. A cell phone waiting lot, where you can wait until you get a call that someone is ready to be picked up, is available just a couple of minutes away from the baggage claim area.It has space for 40 vehicles to wait at one time.
When flight delays happen, rain, fog, and clouds are often to blame, since they reduce visibility on the airport’s three runways. Be sure to call your airline or check the status of your flight online before you head to the airport.
These major airlines serve passengers at Sea-Tac:
- Air Canada, 800-247-2262, www.aircanada.ca
- Alaska Airlines, 800-252-7522, alaskaair.com
- American Airlines, 800-433-7300, aa.com
- Asiana Airlines, 800-227-4262, us.flyasiana.com
- British Airways, 800-247-9297, britishairways.com
- China Airlines, 800-227-5118, china-airlines.com
- Condor, 866-960-7915, condor.com
- Continental Airlines, 800-523-5273, continental.com
- Delta Airlines, 800-221-1212, delta.com
- EVA Air, 800-695-1188, evaair.com.
- Frontier Airlines, 800-432-1359,
- Hainan Airlines, 888-688-8813, www.hainanair.us
- Hawaiian Airlines, 800-367-5320, hawaiianair.com
- Icelandair, 800-223-5500, icelandair.com
- JetBlue Airways, 800-JETBLUE, jetblue.com
- Korean Air, 800-438-5000, koreanair.com
- Lufthansa, 800-645-3880, lufthansa.com
- Scandinavian Airlines, 800-221-2350, flysas.com
- Southwest Airlines, 800-435-9792, southwest.com
- Sun Country Airlines, 800-359-6786, suncountry.com
- United Airlines, 800-864-8331, united.com
- US Airways, 800-428-4322, usairways.com
- Virgin America, 877-359-8474, virginamerica.com
Traveling to Sea-Tac Airport
Traveling to Sea-Tac Airport by Car
When traveling to the airport by car, use the following directions: from Seattle take I-5 south to the Southcenter/Sea-Tac Airport exit and follow the signs to get on Highway 518. From Highway 518 take the Sea-Tac Airport exit and stay to the left as you exit. This will put you on the main road into the airport, which is clearly marked with signs to baggage claim, airline counters, and parking.
Alternate directions from downtown Seattle, Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Greenwood, Fremont, and Broadview (these are just a little faster during rush hour): take Highway 99 south until it forces you left onto 1st Avenue South. Stay in the right lane and follow directions to the 1st Avenue South Bridge (only a few blocks). After you cross the bridge, the road you are on becomes Highway 509. Stay on Highway 509 to the Sea-Tac Airport and Highway 518 exit. Take Highway 518 east, then, from Highway 518, take the Sea-Tac exit. This exit puts you on the main road into the airport.
The parking garage at Sea-Tac is connected to the main terminal by skybridges on the 4th floor. To get a complete list of parking rates, visit the airport website or call the Public Parking Office at 206-433-5308. The following parking options are available:
- Terminal Direct Parking, the shortest route from car to plane, is available on the fourth floor, skybridge level. Both short- and long-term parking is possible here. Rates start at $4 an hour with a daily maximum of $35 for up to 24 hours.
- General Parking, available on five floors of the garage (levels 3 and 5–8) for both short- and long-term parking. The rate is $3 an hour with a maximum of up to $28 for up to 24 hours, and a special weekly rate of $130. Six spaces that provide free charging for electric cars are available on the fifth floor of the garage.
- Accessible Parking: ADA-designated parking spaces are located on the fourth and fifth floors of the airport garage; hourly parking rates apply. If you need wheelchair and/or luggage assistance from the garage to the terminal, call 206-433-5287 four to six hours in advance of your arrival.
Sea-Tac uses an automated parking payment system to help travelers get out of the airport quickly. Automated pay kiosks on the 4th floor of the garage allow visitors to pay for both long- and short-term parking before they reach their cars. Simply take a ticket as you enter the parking garage, and keep it with you. When you’re ready to retrieve your car, you can pay at the kiosks with a credit or a debit card and then feed your validated ticket into the machine at the garage exit as you are leaving. Cash is accepted at the toll plazas, or at the black-and-yellow “pay on foot” machines on the fourth floor. For additional parking details, call 206-433-5308 or visit the Port of Seattle’s website at portseattle.org/seatac.
Finally, there are several discount parking lots near Sea-Tac Airport that cost much less than the airport parking garage and offer quick shuttle service to and from their lots and the airport. Many have security services so your vehicle will be monitored while you are gone. Reservations can generally be made over the phone or online. The following will get you started, but check the Yellow Pages under “Parking Facilities” for a comprehensive list.
- Doug Fox Parking, 2626 S 120th St, 206-248-2956; this off-site lot has shuttles equipped with wheelchair lifts for disabled passengers.
- Extra Car Airport Parking, 16300 S International Blvd, 206-248-3452, 800-227-5397, extracar.com
- Park N Fly, 17400 International Blvd, 206-433-6767, parknflyseattle.com
- Sea-Tac Park, 2701 S 200th St, 206-824-2544, seatacpark.com
- Thrifty Airport Parking, 18836 International Blvd, 888-634-7275, thriftyparking.com
Traveling to Sea-Tac Airport by Light Rail
Central Link light rail, which began service in 2009, is a new and convenient way to get the airport. Starting at 5 a.m. until just after midnight (6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays), trains run between Westlake Station in downtown Seattle and the airport, making 11 stops along the way. Tickets are available from the machines at the base of the escalators when you descend to Westlake Station in the Downtown Transit Tunnel on Pine Street between 3rd and 4 th streets. Train frequency varies, but the longest wait time is 15 minutes. The trip takes approximately 35 minutes and costs $2.75 if you travel the full distance. Travelers with a lot of luggage should bear in mind that, once you disembark at the airport, it’s a bit of a hike down a long breezeway until you reach the terminal. For information visit the Sound Transit website at www.soundtransit.org or call 888-889-6368.
Traveling to Sea-Tac Airport by Bus & Shuttle Van
The following public transportation bus routes provide airport service to and from Seattle and surrounding communities. Buses arrive at and leave from the far south end of the baggage claim area, outside Door 2. Departure times are posted at the bus stop and bus timetables can be picked up near Door 16 on the baggage claim level. For bus departure and arrival times, and route maps, check the website at metro.kingcounty.gov/tops/bus/destinations/flymetro.html.
- Metro Route 124: daily early morning service to and from downtown Seattle. Travel time is 30 minutes.
- Metro Route 180: service to and from Burien, Kent, and Auburn, weekdays, Saturday, and Sunday, from early mornings to early evenings. Includes “Night Owl” service from Auburn and Kent nightly.
- RapidRide A Line: service to and from Federal Way Transit Center, weekdays, Saturday, and Sunday.
- Sound Transit Route 560: daily service to and from Bellevue, Renton, Burien, and West Seattle. Travel time is 45 minutes to and from Bellevue, 15 minutes to and from Renton, and 40 minutes to and from West Seattle.
- Sound Transit Route 574: daily service to and from Lakewood, Tacoma, and Sea-Tac Airport.
Shuttle van or bus: most downtown hotels offer shuttle service to the airport; call ahead for times and costs (it may be free if you are a hotel guest). For door-to-door shuttle service, try one of the following:
- Airporter Shuttle, 360-380-8800, 866-235-5247, airporter.com
- Bremerton-Kitsap Airporter, 360-876-1737, kitsapairporter.com
- Capital Aeroporter, Olympia: 360-754-7113, Tacoma: 253-927-6179, Sea-Tac Airport: 206-244-0011, outside Washington: 800-962-3579, capair.com
- Olympic Bus Lines, 360-417-0700, 800-457-0700, olympicbuslines.com
- Quick Shuttle, 604-940-4428, 800-665-2122, quickcoach.com
- Shuttle Express, 425-981-7000, 800-487-7433, shuttleexpress.com
- Vashon Shuttle, 206-463-2664
- Whidbey–Sea-Tac Shuttle, 360-679-4003, 877-679-4003, seatacshuttle.com
There are two other airports in the Seattle area. Renton Municipal Airport (425-430-7471, rentonwa.gov), owned by the City of Renton, is located about 25 miles south of downtown Seattle. The airport is used primarily by single and twin-engine planes, a few corporate jets, and some private flying clubs. There is no commercial flight activity. King County International Airport, also known as Boeing Field, serves air cargo companies, recreational fliers, charter and commercial services, flight schools, and emergency services. Kenmore Air offers passenger service to the San Juan Islands, Oak Harbor, Port Angeles, Victoria and the Gulf Islands and Campbell River Airport in Canada, among other destinations. Call 866-435-9524 or visit kenmoreair.com for more information. Boeing Field is also a major center for Boeing operations. For more information, visit kingcounty.gov/airport.
There are a number of online travel sites where you can sometimes find good deals. They include, among others, Travelocity.com, Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, Lowestfare.com, Hotwire.com and Cheaptickets.com. If cost far outweighs convenience, check Priceline (www.priceline.com), where you may be able to pin down an inexpensive fare at inconvenient hours (often in the middle of the night). Their motto, “Name Your Price and Save” says it all. KAYAK.com is a travel search engine that offers comparison shopping—listing comparable routes, services, and prices from all the major sites like Expedia and Orbitz. Their search results also include listings directly from suppliers and cover some services the major sites don’t offer, like JetBlue.
Many airlines post last-minute seats at reduced rates, usually on Wednesdays. In fact, booking with the airline of your choice, either online or by phone, often proves less expensive than booking with some so-called discount travel sites.
Have you ever wondered where the best seats are on a plane? Seatguru.com can tell you. On this website you can choose the airline and the plane you’ll be flying on and view a diagram of the plane with seats marked as good, be aware, or poor, and use that information when making a seat request with your airline. New mobile apps, many of which are free, can help travelers navigate the airport. GateGuru puts 86 U.S. airport maps at your fingertips and features user reviews of airport restaurants and shops. USA Today AutoPilot stores travel information for your trips, such as flight confirmation numbers, and gives you updates on flight status and weather for your destination.
To register a complaint against an airline, the Department of Transportation is the place to call or write: 202-366-2220, Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave SE, Washington, DC 20590. You can also use e-mail to lodge complaints or concerns using this address: email@example.com.
Information about airport conditions, including weather and air traffic congestion, which could create flight delays, can be checked online at fly.faa.gov.