Bruce Gray at Sound Transit was kind enough to send us the newest station level data report for Link. These reports are a treasure trove of information, too much in fact for one post. Some things I found interesting:
During the week the Rainier Valley (Beacon Hill Station to Rainier Beach Station) accounts for 28% of all boardings and alightings. During the weekend it is only 22%. This suggests a strong commuter focus and room for continued growth.
Growth rates at Rainier Valley stations are higher than system average, except for Rainier Beach Station which is half of system average.
International District/Chinatown Station has the least weekday to weekend fluctuation, Stadium Station the most.
SeaTac Airport Station, Tukwila International Blvd Station, and Westlake dominate weekend ridership (52% of all boardings and alightings).
Combined with earlier reports we now have data from February 6th 2010 to February 15th 2013:
Also, see Station Level Data posts from 2010 and last year, and other related charts and a data posts from Bruce and Andrew. I’ve also uploaded my spreadsheet (where I have a half dozen charts) if anyone wants to play around with the data.
Lots of interesting things have been announced at Google I/O this week, including a major update to Google Maps, a Google product that’s familiar to almost everyone, and used by many on a daily basis. Most of the news coverage has revolved around visual, social or privacy aspects of the Maps experience, but I want to talk about a major upgrade to the transit functionality of Maps.*
This new transit feature is known as Guidebook Routing. The catchy explanation is that the new Google Maps will give you the kind of directions you’d get from a guidebook: simple, intuitive and convenient. When you ask for directions between two points, rather than getting an itinerary that minimizes travel time for a handful of particular departure or arrival times (as you do today), you’ll be offered an itinerary that gets you between those points, as frequently as possible, for as much of the day as possible.
To put it in transit nerd terms, Maps will evaluate all the possible ways to get between two points to figure out the effective all-day frequency and span of service (accounting for connections between services of different frequency), and show you itineraries which prioritize those qualities over a naive minimization of scheduled travel time. It will still be possible to look at departures or arrivals at specific times, but the general guidebook itineraries will be the first thing users see.
The screenshot at the top, taken from the public preview, shows an example of this. To travel on transit from the PacMed building to downtown Fremont, take bus 36 and then transfer to 26, 28 or 40 in Pioneer Square. This itinerary works at least every 15 minutes from 6AM to 11PM, every day; within those time periods, it’s a general solution to the problem of getting between those two points. An alternative route, using the 5, 16 or 26X to get off at 38th & Bridge Way and walk down the hill is also available.
In both cases, note that even though a single route determines the baseline daytime frequency for the connection, Maps notices that other routes also serve an identical pair of stops origin destination stops, so if one of them comes first, you should take it.
In the years since OneBusAway took over the realtime arrival market, Busview, the old UW website that provides recent bus locations rather than expected arrival times, has been quietly doing its job, largely forgotten.
That may change thanks to Andrew Filer,* a local programmer who (among other things) runs a site that indexes trademarks . Filer has updated the Busview concept with a new website named busdrone. “The biggest problem [with busview] is that it’s a Java applet, and I think a large percentage of people just don’t have the ability to run applets anymore,” Filer explained. “Mapping has also just gotten a lot nicer and more flexible since Busview’s mapping code was written, and so I think Google Maps sets the bar fairly high for anything that uses custom maps.”
After what Filer estimated to be about 30 hours of work, busdrone launched last Sunday. “Eric [Butler] just suggested it one day, and it’s actually kind of a fun problem to begin with, because it was like, ‘how do I figure out this busview software,’ which was written in the late 90s, I think. I basically ended up decompiling Java and figuring fdall that stuff out and it was a good challenge, but then it was like, ‘ah, it’s kind of useful,’ so I’m still working on it!”
The color code is not yet clearly explained on the site. Most buses are blue; when there hasn’t been a position report for 10 minutes, it turns gray. The SLU streetcar is Black, Red, and Purple, corresponding to the actual colors of those streetcars. Link, of course, has no public real-time data.
At the moment, it’s hard to tell at a glance which direction the bus icon is moving. Filer has the heading information and should have the indicator running within a week or so. Another problem is that the icons don’t show up on some mobile browsers, including my Android phone. In the next “week or two,” Filer expects to tweak the site to work on more browsers. A beta version currently incorporates the OneBusAway feed, which includes Pierce and Intercity Transit, and that should also be stable in the next week or so.
Currently, when you click on an icon it shows all possible paths that bus route could take. Filer can use the OneBusAway data to instead display the path relevant to that trip. He is also toying with the idea of connecting it to webcam feeds so that you can physically see the bus on its way.
Filer says that Butler (an STB alum) is interested in making a mobile app, though he’s not sure when that might be ready.
Busdrone is to onebusaway as a system map is to Trip Planner. One gives you a single answer, digested to what you exactly need to know. Map-based displays let you see all the options at one time. The two approaches complement each other, so it’s good that busview is getting a modern update.
*Andrew also helped out a bit with the STB back end a few years ago.
Festivities begin with an art opening at 5:30 pm, Thursday, May 16, at Mioposto, 3601 S. McClellan St, a one half mile walk from station. Walk north on Rainier until McClellan, then east. Mioposto is located in my all time favorite building in Seattle. A beautiful art deco building that serves as the anchor of that part of the neighborhood (but unfortunately could not be built today). The main attraction is the talent show Friday, May 17, starting at 7 p.m. in the school’s auditorium, 3013 S. Mount Baker Blvd. The arts festival will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 18, on the plaza in front of FHS.
The events, which are open to the public, bring together students, their families, teachers and staff and Mount Baker neighbors. The festival raises money to benefit Franklin’s art, drama and music programs and student clubs, while the talent show raises money for the senior class of 2015. Tickets to the talent show are $3 for FHS students and $5 for others. The art opening and the arts festival are free.
The festival will feature student performances, including the steel drum band, fashion club, jazz band, Quaker band and lion dancers, along with displays of visual art, ceramics and wood arts. Student clubs will sell heirloom tomato and vegetable plants, treats and handmade crafts. Also for sale are woodcrafts, such as cutting boards, created by students and notecards featuring student art. Vietnamese sandwiches, chips and soft drinks also will be for sale.
As the video indicates, a broad coalition of interest groups, many of which broadly share STB’s ideals, are expressing support for the latest version of the Clibborn package, HB 1954. The conventional wisdom is that these bills will pass the House but run into trouble in the Senate.
For transit advocates, this bill is about saving transit agencies around the State. There are tax provisions tailored to each of the big Puget Sound county agencies. King County (Sec. 405) could levy a 1.5% Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET),of which 60% would go to Metro and 40% for roads; this would answer Metro’s desire for a “stable” revenue source and basically make the agency’s budget whole. Pierce Transit (Sec. 406, 408), which can’t get voters to approve authorized taxes, could create an “enhanced public transportation zone” to serve precincts interested in supporting transit. Community Transit (Sec. 406), currently maxed out, could add another 0.3% to its sales tax rate. Finally, transportation benefit districts could approve a $40 vehicle license fee without a public vote, up from $20 (Sec. 404).
The summary suggests that over a 12-year period, out 0f $7.8 billion in state spending $100m will go to complete streets and $100m to passenger rail, in addition to $120m in direct state funding for transit. Transportation Choices Coalition Executive Director Rob Johnson tells me that has since increased to $400m, and that its formula suggests Metro would get just under half, which by itself would patch about a fifth of the budget hole.
On the other hand, the bulk of the bill is about raising the gas tax (from 37.5 cents now to 50.5 in 2015, Sec. 101). While gas tax is an excellent source of revenue for roads, the package is heavy on new highways rather than maintenance. 10% of the funding goes to cities and counties, 5% to ferry operations, 7.5% to the “Puget Sound capital construction account,” and the remaining 77.5% to the new “Connecting Washington” account (Sec. 103). That account draws from this list of environmentally destructive highway widening and new freeways, but can also be used for maintenance and upkeep. Some of the proceeds are set aside to complete SR 520. There are also new vehicle weight fees (Sec. 301).
In one of the basic asymmetries in Washington between the way the legislature treats its drivers and its transit riders, the bulk of transit funding is subject to a public vote, while the new highways are deemed too critical to risk at the ballot box.Personally, I’m no fan of direct democracy, but it would be nice if the sustainable transportation options had the same number of veto points as the anti-urban ones.
I imagine transit advocates will have different takes on this issue. For those that primarily care about making sure the transit-dependent have a way to get around, this deal meets their needs, but only if they’re optimistic that the transit measures would pass. For those whose advocacy is more about stopping the spiral of environmental destruction and avoiding land use patterns that are hard to serve with transit, the overall merits are far less clear.
Of the six RapidRide routes Metro has rolled out, or soon will roll out, only one will have more than one adult fare: RapidRide E, an improved version of today’s Route 358, which connects downtown Seattle and Shoreline via Aurora Avenue. Metro’s fare system has two zones, with Zone 1 the city of Seattle, and Zone 2 the rest of the county; adult riders pay a 50c surcharge on rush-hour trips that cross a fare boundary, while off-peak riders, seniors and youth each pay a flat rate. All E Line trips will cross the boundary at 145th St. I don’t know exactly how long the zone system has been around, but it’s at least 30 years, and like so many things of that era at Metro, seems to have been designed with a focus on the downtown Seattle 9-5 commute trip.
One of the few rapid transit-like features all RapidRide lines will ultimately have is partial off-board payment at the busiest stops: riders with ORCA will be able to tap on at the platform, while cash payers delay the bus, fumbling with change and dollar bills at the farebox just like they’ve always done. Zone fares present a problem in this system, as riders have no way* to declare to the ORCA platform reader how many zones they wish to pay for; of necessity, platform ORCA payers risk under- or over-payment. We at STB, along with many of our readers, have wondered how Metro is going to deal with this, and after more than two months of pleading and nagging, we finally have an official answer:
The E Line will have the same 1 and 2 zone boundaries as the 358. The off-board readers can only handle one fare set so we are setting them to the number of zones that the majority of the riders pay (which is also consistent to the default settings for the farebox and ORCA reader on the bus).
This means in the inbound/southbound direction, the off-board readers from Aurora Village Transit Center to North 160th Street (the last station before the zone boundary) will be set to two zones.
Riders who are only going one zone will have to pay on the bus and ask the driver to override the two-zone setting on the bus. All other off-board readers, inbound and outbound, will be set to one zone. Again, if the rider is going two zones from those locations, they will have to ask the driver to override the default setting.
A Martin mentioned last week, at 3:30 PM today King County Metro will host an open house on the extensive service cuts that could come if the legislature fails to provide a sustainable local revenue source for the agency; this will be followed by a public testimony to King County’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee from 4-8 PM. This may be your best chance in this legislative session to say your piece on how the cuts would affect you.
If sustainable transit funding does not become available through efforts by the Legislature, an estimated $75 million annual revenue shortfall could force Metro to reduce bus service beginning in fall 2014. Metro has identified 65 routes at risk for elimination and 86 routes at risk for service reductions.
The potential cuts would create a transit system with fewer travel options and longer travel times, with buses that are more crowded and less reliable. These effects could cascade through the system as bus routes are eliminated and riders compete for space on other already-crowded routes.
So far, Metro has been able to avoid these cuts through $798 million in reforms, reductions and additional revenue – such as the implementation of the congestion reduction charge, a temporary $20 charge on vehicle licenses for two years. The fee ends in 2014, and without new sources of revenue, Metro must reduce service.
Open house and public hearing Tuesday, May 14
Union Station, 401 S. Jackson St., Seattle
Now that Sound Transit has cleared the hurdle of finalizing the entire East Link alignment, the next step is chugging through final design of the project. There will be an open house for the downtown Bellevue segment this Thursday, May 16th from 5 to 7pm at Bellevue City Hall, and another for South Bellevue on May 30th at the Bellevue Hilton. The Bel-Red open house was held in early April prior to adoption of the final alignment, since none of the cost savings options applied to the Bel-Red segment.
The final design process allows Sound Transit to advance specific design elements for the alignment– we’ll likely get glimpses of some architectural renderings as well as site plans of the stations. Station naming will also be finalized, in line with public input and other Board-endorsed guidelines.
After a series of comments that challenged the STB consensus on various Sound Transit-related issues, I asked Sen. Murray to explain his positions in more detail.
In the email exchange reproduced below, Sen. Murray says he doesn’t support governance reform anymore, expresses his support for ST3, and explains why he thinks Seattle would do better without subarea equity:
1) Can you explain what exactly your vision for transit agency consolidation is? What agencies would merge? Are governing board members appointed, elected in districts, or elected at large? By what criteria would it allocate resources? Would it have responsibility for roads or zoning?
Unlike those who believe that transit planning is a zero sum game, where a benefit in one jurisdiction necessarily means a loss to others in the region, I believe that Seattle will benefit from better transit service via a cooperative relationship with our growing, increasingly dense inner-ring suburbs. Every day tens of thousands of people enter Seattle from the suburbs, and vice versa, travelling from homes to jobs and other destinations. Our goal must be to maximize the number of these trips that are made via transit rather than single-occupancy vehicle, while also supporting transit usage in Seattle between neighborhoods.
So, I have long believed that smart regional planning and cooperation, based on forward-looking transit and land use policy principles, is something worth encouraging. Until a few years ago I thought the best way to achieve that cooperation was through creating one consolidated transit agency that was dedicated to maximizing the efficient allocation of our transit dollars to move the most people in the Seattle metropolitan area. The other factor for me that heightened my interest in consolidation was that in the past there was poor coordination between transit agencies, particularly between Sound Transit and Metro, something that consolidation would obviously have been designed to address. Many successful cities around the country have vibrant bus and rail systems that support and complement each other to create near seamless experiences for the riders. Seattle has a robust bus system and a growing rail system that also must be coordinated to the maximum benefit of the user. Fortunately this issue is being addressed and the agencies now work together and coordinate much better than they did even a few years ago.
However, after watching the debates around governance reform evolve – what started as an idea championed by pro-transit progressives morphed into a stalking horse for some anti-transit elements – and after feeling some of the backlash (including from places like STB), I realized a few years ago that my approach was wrong. It is not that I have changed my opinion about the importance of regional cooperation, or my belief that a stronger alliance between Seattle and our inner-ring suburbs is the right way to build up our transit infrastructure most effectively; I have not. But I realized that these divisive and polarizing governance reform debates were not the way to get this done. I realized, rather, that regional cooperation must be an organic, incremental and evolutionary process, as Seattle and suburbs like Bellevue become more like one another in terms of urban culture and land use principles.
My goal today is to make our transportation system work better – all aspects of it – including public transit in Seattle. Agency consolidation may no longer be necessary, but the coordination and integration of our transit agencies remains important. My approach now is to focus our attention on continuing to improve coordination between the agencies – and building collaborative regional ties – to put together the next round of transit investment and to earn the public’s support for ST3.
2) Would you support Sound Transit 3 if it retained the current governance structure?
In the comments to my last post on transfers, a few people referenced Jarrett Walker’s excellent post on Seattle’s prospects for carbon neutrality, which discusses Seattle’s geographic “chokepoints” such as lakes and cliffs. Some commenters argued that these chokepoints make a gridded bus network impossible, but I don’t think that’s right. Walker’s point is simply that geographically-induced chokepoints can improve transit usage, provided enough of the capacity in the chokepoint is given over to transit*:
Transit planning is frustrating in such a place, but road planning is even more so. Ultimately, Seattle’s chokepoints have the effect of reducing much of the complex problem of mode share to a critical decision about a strategic spot. If you give transit an advantage through a chokepoint, you’ve given it a big advantage over a large area.
None of this is inconsistent with having a grid. If transit is given priority at critical chokepoints (crossing Lake Washington or the Ship Canal, say) then transit suddenly has a major advantage throughout the city. This advantage increases the more grid-like the system is, since you can increase the area of the city that’s a single transfer away from using transit across the chokepoint.
As I said in the last post, Metro does a fantastic job of providing one-seat rides to downtown during rush hour, but it can (and should) push to provide better all-day access in places where land use patterns warrant it. Given the looming budget crisis and limited resources, exchanging one-seat rides for all-day mobility via transfers should definitely be on the table.
A few weeks back ST released their corrected February 2013 ridership report (an Excel error threw off Sounder numbers in the earlier version) and once again the system had healthy year-on-year gains for most services.
February’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 25,370/18,015/12,934, increases of 14.4%, 21.0%, and 12.2% respectively over February 2012. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 8.7% (21% North, 9% South)*, but Tacoma Link continued it’s downward trend, – 2.3% weekdays (although part of this is due to running Sunday service on President’s Day). ST Express Ridership increased 7.5% (part of this is counting tunnel trips). Overall weekday system ridership was up a very healthy 9.0%.
The report for March would normally be released around this time, but due to the cancellation of this month’s Operations Committee meeting the numbers will be rolled into the 1st Quarterly Report due out at the end of the month. Bruce Gray was kind enough to provide us with their March Link ridership estimates which show continuing strong growth: 26,485 Weekday, 20,771 Saturday, and 14,603 Sunday riders. Weekday ridership in March was up 13% from last year. Ten out of the last 12 months have had higher than 10% year over year growth.
For those who couldn’t attend last Wednesday’s Government Performance and Finance Committee meeting, you didn’t miss much. Some time between printing the official agenda and starting the meeting Councilmember Burgess pushed back the Ship Canal Crossing Study and University District to SLU Study to the May 15th meeting. In an earlier post we mentioned some reasons why these studies are important:
Both of these projects are needed. We have the money, the Council just needs to follow through on its prior commitments and allow the Mayor to fund them. The more shovel ready projects we have, the better able we are to compete when federal dollars come available.
Unfortunately, yesterday Councilmember Burgess’ staff let us know that the initial discussion of these items will be pushed back even further, to the June 5th Government Performance and Finance Committee meeting. Apparently, they need more time “to sort through technical and policy questions related to [the] transportation items.”
I think a lot of readers are confusing the increase in developer height fees in South Lake Union and the lower absolute limit on heights along the lakeshore. This Sharon Lee column explains the two items well, and points out that the City Council’s changes are a net loss for affordable housing.
For this bill, the Department of Revenue says that FY 2015, the first full year of implementation, the State would receive $113m in additional revenue. By 2017, projections expect compliance rates to stabilize so that revenues increase by $333m per year. Using my estimate that Metro revenues are 5.6%* of the state total, that amounts to $6.3m escalating to $18.6m annually for Metro.
Metro’s total 2015 budget gap is $60m, so this doesn’t come close to solving the problem. But it does mean they’d cut a little less core service, and if a tax package does pass it’d be a little more new service and a little less backfilling old service. And of course it’s the same story for Sound Transit, Pierce Transit, Community Transit, and so on.
The bill is S.743, the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013. In the House, where the bill awaits action, the equivalent is H.R. 684. Letting your Representative know this is important to you always helps. In particular, Washington’s Suzan DelBene is on the subcommittee currently reviewing this legislation, and she is also a cosponsor of the bill.
One of the stranger proposals that came out of last month’s joint meetings between Sound Transit and Puyallup was the idea of a new “transit station” on Shaw Road, just less than two miles east of downtown. Although I’m still trying to figure out what “transit station” actually means, it sounds like Puyallup officials are referring to a brand new Sounder station– which would mean new platforms and presumably new parking.
So far, the Puyallup City Council hasn’t bought into proposals for more parking at the existing station or anything that would put more pressure on the downtown core. According to the Puyallup Patch, many on the council have warmed up to the idea of a new station, an idea which Sound Transit has balked at:
Most on the Puyallup City Council agreed with the idea that adding more pressure on the historic downtown core is not a feasible option and that a Sound Transit center on Shaw Road could help ease traffic, for both Puyallup and Sumner.
During a joint planning meeting on April 30, Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl said that a full service station at Shaw Road isn’t possible and is “a much more expensive scenario” than Sound Transit can commit to.
While I’m no railroad expert, I’d suspect that BNSF and the FRA wouldn’t be too pleased with a new mainline station, especially given the already short distance between Puyallup and Sumner. I’m also wary of the bad precedent this could set– a new Shaw Road station planned solely for park-and-ride customers would be the first not to serve a downtown core or activity center. That’s hardly the kind of regional planning investment we want to be making.
PubliCola’s detailed, insightful writeup of last week’s Mayoral forum is worth your time if you’re interested in this race. A few transportation-related answers stood out:
Q: Do you support tolling on I-90?
Yes: Burgess, Martin, Murray, and Steinbrueck
No: Harrell and Staadecker.
McGinn’s equivocation here is less surprising than it seems. McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus says “The mayor supports tolling on I-90 only if some portion is dedicated to supporting transit. We need to support options for those that cannot afford tolls.”
Q: The city of London charges a congestion fee for cars to enter downtown. Do you support a similar charge or fee for downtown Seattle?
No: Burgess, Harrell, Martin, McGinn, Murray, and Staadecker.
Afterwards Peter Steinbrueck told me that by “maybe,” he meant “we should have access to all the available transportation demand management tools, and leave the door open for possible use of a congestion pricing mechanism or user fee in the future, should SOV-related traffic congestion downtown worsen to the point of total gridlock.”
Whatever you think of its immediate political feasibility, good for Mr. Steinbrueck for speaking well of a solution that reduces congestion, encourages alternative transportation, and raises useful revenue in the process.
Disembarking onto a sprinkler head is one of the many premium experiences King County Metro offers.
Over the last few months, I’ve been on a tear of complaining, both directly to Metro and on the blog, about substandard Metro facilities, perhaps originally motivated by the number of them on Metro’s Route 40, which is one of my new neighborhood’s core bus routes. I’ve had some success with this, but I’m sure the problems which affect my routes affect others too, so I want to share some examples, and get a list of suggestions from readers about where else such facilities exist.
By substandard, I don’t mean lacking premium features like bus bulbs and realtime arrival signs — desirable as those are, they’re expensive, and aren’t going to make sense at every stop — nor even shelters and benches, which are desirable and cheap and thus shouldbe standard everywhere there’s room in the right-of-way. Rather I’m talking about basic functionality like signs which have the correct route numbers printed on them, an absence of overgrown hedges that render riders invisible, and concrete landing pads, so riders can board without walking through roadside landscaping, and wheelchair users can safely board at all.
Here are a few improvements in the works for Ballard and Fremont:
In June, the notorious Hedge Stop (#18140) on Leary at Ione will be relocated a block north on Leary to a sane location outside Ballard Landmark.
The “mulch and sprinkler head” stop on Westlake, just south of the Fremont bridge (#26850), pictured above, has also been put on the list for repaving, but may not make it through the design process in time for this summer’s paving season.
Stops #29217 and #28415 are going to get proper Metro bus signs, not the blank ones they have now.
Metro staff have been extremely responsive and informative when I have complained about these things, and I sincerely thank them for their work, but I can’t completely let the agency off the hook here. Some of these stops are new, so it’s understandable that they’re still a work in progress, but some of them should have been taken care of years if not decades ago, and it’s really kind of an outrage that they weren’t. What was the agency doing with its money back when it wasn’t broke and understaffed?
Lack of basic comforts and dignity at bus stops perpetuate the corrosive notion that transit riders — bus riders in particular — are second-class citizens. If our local and regional governments are to stand a chance at achieving the mode-share goals they have set themselves, if we are serious about providing an alternative to universal car ownership, this kind of prejudice needs to die, which implies that this kind of substandard facility must precede it in death.
Enough about the past; let’s find things to complain about today. I’m taking suggestions in the comments for other stops that have problems such as those described above, and I will take them up with Metro. I’ll put only one condition on suggestions: they need to be in places with existing sidewalk infrastructure, because adding proper new stops in areas without sidewalks is likely to be very expensive. Every urbanized part of the county should have sidewalks, but there’s no way they’re going to get built out of Metro’s stop improvement budget, that infrastructure needs to come from the responsible municipality.
In attempt to call attention to the human suffering that the legislature’s failure to authorize more transit taxes will cause, the King County Council is accepting testimony about that subject on May 14th:
A potential 17 percent reduction in Metro transit service due to a lack of sustainable revenue will be the topic of a special meeting of the Metropolitan King County Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee:
Tuesday, May 14
3:30 p.m. open house
4:00 p.m. public testimony
401 South Jackson Street, Seattle
When discussing political tactics, it’s tempting to discuss “starving the beast” to force efficiencies through a round of steep cuts. While there are times that may be appropriate, it’s important not to lose sight of the impact on actual people cuts of this magnitude will have.