Station improvements for Seattle’s monorail are set to start in January with a goal of finishing them before the city’s still-to-be-named hockey team plays its first home game at the new Seattle Center arena, the private company that runs the monorail plans to announce Tuesday.
NHL Seattle, meanwhile, will unveil plans to give people attending home hockey games free transit passes.
The announcements are the latest efforts by arena boosters to show how they will try to coax attendees to the new 17,000-seat venue to leave their cars at home. Still, city plans assume more than half the people will drive to the arena, plus others who use ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, indicating the transportation challenges will go beyond just the number of people waiting for the monorail.
Monorail improvements, long promoted by arena supporters, will include station redesigns for quicker boarding so trains can carry more people between Seattle Center and downtown.
“This project — a lot of it is about unleashing the real potential of the monorail again,” Megan Ching, general manager of Seattle Monorail Services, said last week.
NHL Seattle will fund free transit passes for anyone who buys a ticket to a home game and who doesn’t already have a transit pass through their employer, said Rob Johnson, vice president of transportation for NHL Seattle and former a Seattle City Council member.
It’s still to be determined whether attendees to other events, such as concerts and WNBA games, or arena employees will get the same benefit, Johnson said.
The arena is set to open in 2021, later and at a higher cost than originally expected. Light rail to Northgate, with stops in the University District and Roosevelt neighborhoods plus a parking garage at Northgate, is set to open next year, too.
“We think that because this is a new arena and because it’s new behavior we can really coach people up to think differently” and take transit to the arena, Johnson said.
Light-rail riders who get off at Westlake can connect to the monorail to get to Seattle Center. Streamlined boarding and station improvements at the Westlake monorail station could get monorail trains moving more quickly and double the capacity from 3,000 to 6,000 people an hour during the business times, Johnson said.
Under the plan, riders would board through all eight monorail doors instead of the present system where riders board through some doors and offload through others. A new boarding area at Westlake would separate fare gates from the machines where tickets are purchased to eliminate a bottleneck and speed up boarding. New signage would more clearly direct riders where to go.
And during the busiest times, Westlake Center mall hours could be extended and an existing second elevator used to get a crush of riders out onto the street by elevator, escalator and stairs. Details are still being finalized with the mall, said Tom Albro, owner of Seattle Monorail Services, the private company that operates the 58-year-old train line.
Renovations at Westlake are expected to cost $5 million to $6 million, and upgrades at the Seattle Center station will cost $3 million to $4 million, Albro said.
Most of the Westlake changes will be funded by Seattle Monorail Services, though other upgrades to both stations will be funded by a combination of city, federal and monorail money. The city and Seattle Monorail Services agreed to the changes in a deal signed in September stating the work would be done by September 2021. Albro said the goal is to finish the work by next summer.
By several measures, more than half of arena attendees are expected to drive there. The arena can seat 17,300 people for hockey and more for some other events.
An environmental-impact statement on the project predicted 63% of attendees will drive to the arena in a private vehicle, with another 15% using taxis and ride-hailing services. In a later plan, the city and arena set slightly less car-dependent goals: 55% driving to NHL games and 59% to other events.
NHL Seattle did its own math, using ZIP codes from people who have already put deposits down on season tickets to estimate that one in five attendees lives or works close enough to the arena that they will likely use transit to get to games.
The city notes in its plans that a new 450-space parking garage will be added under the arena, three garages now operated by Seattle Center have 2,944 spaces, and other on-street and off-street options are available in the area.
NHL Seattle will say more about its plans for dealing with vehicle traffic and ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft later this year, Johnson said.
Arena developer Oak View Group will pay $40 million over 39 years for transportation projects in the area.
In years of debate over the new arena, neighborhood advocates have argued for more aggressive efforts to make it easier and safer to walk, bike and take transit to the new venue.
In a 2018 letter commenting on a draft environmental-impact statement, the Uptown Alliance and several other groups backed the monorail improvements and suggested subsidizing transit trips for people with tickets to events at the arena, among a long list of other ideas.
“We can either collectively get this right before the first puck drops,” the alliance wrote, “or we will struggle for decades to come.”