Inside Capitol Hill Station

Photo by the author

Photo by the author

Yesterday Sound Transit gave elected officials and media the most in-depth tour to date of Capitol Hill Station, set to open sometime in Q1 2016. Mayor Murray, Executive Constantine, and others praised ST’s project management, nearly breaking into a repetitive chant of “$150m under budget and 6-9 months ahead of schedule.”  They also renewed their call for Olympia to pass a transportation package with ST3 authority.

Officials announced that “substantial station completion” will occur in August, at which point testing can begin and Broadway can be fully restored with a protected bike lane and parking, where for over a year it has been reduced to just one travel lane in each direction.

Sound Transit brought a four-car train up to Capitol Hill for the tour, providing a glimpse of what service levels could look like in 2021. Spokesman Bruce Gray noted that while two-car trains will still be the norm for U-Link, three-car trains will be mixed in during peak, with flexibility for four-car trains for special events. In 2018, three-car trains will be the norm, and four-car trains will run full-time upon the opening of Northgate Link in 2021.

The station itself is compact, deep, and tall. Relative to the DSTT, the mezzanines are graciously much smaller, and the center platform really narrows the feel of the station box. The overall feel is reminiscent of a cross between an industrial cathedral and the flight pod from Battlestar Galactica.

More photos below the jump. [Read more…]

New Summer Hiking Shuttle

This summer various hiking interests have banded together to respond to congestion at parking lots at popular trailheads. The “Snoqualmie Valley Adventure Shuttle” will run on weekends from June 6th through September 12th. Reservations are recommended.

The shuttle will be an 11-passenger van running from North Bend P&R to Little Si, Mount Teneriffe, and Mount Si trailheads, running every half hour through the heart of the day. On Saturdays, this connects with Route 208, providing 7 round trips to Issaquah Transit Center, which the 554 in turn serves regularly from Downtown Seattle.

MtSiShuttle

This is a sensible response to congested lots, a lifeline to carless hiking enthusiasts, and an encouraging initiative. The idea of special routes with enhanced frequency on weekends to recreational destinations is a good one that I wish Metro would embrace. At the risk of being churlish about this positive step, however, there are several problems with this implementation.

The round trip fare is $5 per person, which includes $25 in “SnoValley Adventure Bucks” good for some credit and local businesses. As a daily park Discover Pass is $10/car*, parties of two will break even if they have no use for the Adventure Bucks. While not gouging passengers by any means, this price point fails to reward most people for the greater inconvenience of taking parking pressure off the trailheads. For most parties of two or more, the optimal strategy is to go straight to the trailhead and use North Bend strictly as an overflow lot, assuming there is space available on the van.

Furthermore, the 208 is a thin line with which to connect, one that doesn’t run at all on Sundays. This is perhaps an inevitable consequence of sponsorship by North Bend and efforts to control costs, but direct service to Issaquah would make an all-transit trip downright convenient. With two-hour-plus headways on the 208, this shuttle is, again, more in service to a North Bend satellite lot than a true transit alternative.

But once again, bravo to the City of North Bend, DNR, Mountains to Sound Greenway, and Washington Trails Association for putting this service together. Hopefully this summer’s pilot will demonstrate that there is demand for these trips.

* $30/year for unlimited access.

Community Transit on Google Maps

Just 6 hours 22 minutes from Olympia to Darrington

Just 6 hours 22 minutes from Olympia to Darrington

Planning a trip to or through Snohomish County?  You’re in luck. Community Transit buses are now integrated with Google Maps.  You can now plan that trip from Olympia to Darrington.

CT data has been available for some time now on OneBusAway.  However, it was only once Sound Transit – which now manages OneBusAway and associated data – opened up their feeds last February that it became possible to integrate the CT data with Google.  Great news for folks who use Google to plan their trips around the region.  Thanks to Brian Ferris, friend of the blog, OneBusAway creator, and current Googler, for pushing it through and for giving us the heads up.

Transit Tunnel Closed Next Two Weekends

The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel will be closed for the next two weekends (May 30-31 and June 6-7) to allow further preparatory work for U-Link. Per Bruce Gray at Sound Transit:

Similar to what we did in the Beacon Hill tunnels in March, we’re testing the newly upgraded fire/life/safety and train control systems in the DSTT over the weekend of the 30-31. The following weekend, if all goes well, we will make the final switchover from the old to the new systems in the DSTT and integrate with U-Link ventilation control. Finishing this upgrade is an important step towards connecting all tunnel systems later this summer and being ready for more intense testing scheduled through the fall.

Route 97 will pick up Link riders at Stadium Station, and take them downtown.

Route 97 will pick up Link riders at Stadium Station, and take them downtown.

Link Light Rail will only run between Stadium Station and SeaTac Airport Station, and will serve all stations in between. A free shuttle (route 97), as well as regular routes 101, 106, 124 and 150, will serve the bus stops closest to Stadium Station and SODO Station. All the tunnel buses except route 255 will run on 2nd and 4th Ave through downtown. Route 255 will run on 4th and 5th Ave. Route 97 will run on 3rd Ave. A full list of stop locations for the re-routed tunnel buses is here.

The Mariners will be playing here both of these Saturdays and Sundays. The Sounders will be hosting the New York Red Bulls at 2 pm on May 31. Three-car Link trains will be running all day on the 31st. Sounder will be serving the simultaneous Sounders and Mariners games on May 31, and the Mariners’ game on June 7.

Roosevelt HCT is Underway

This is a guest post.

SDOT_Roosevelt_HCT_OpenHouse_Boards_FINAL-11a

Click to Enlarge

SDOT has started work on its second HCT corridor, “Roosevelt to Downtown”. It’s one of three HCT corridors in Seattle’s Transit Master Plan (TMP) adopted in 2012. The other two HCT corridors are Madison BRT, which is in design, and Ballard to Downtown, which was part of a joint light rail/streetcar study done by Sound Transit. The TMP also has fifteen Priority Bus Corridors, of which 23rd Avenue is about to start construction. The goal of the current Roosevelt study is to identify a “locally preferred alternative” mode and route by November. This summer SDOT will choose two alternatives and analyze them in detail.

SDOT held open houses last week to present their initial work and ask for comments. The initial alternative has a downtown rectangle (5th and Boren Avenues, Stewart and Virginia Streets), then goes north on Fairview Avenue N, Eastlake Avenue E, Roosevelt -11th-12th, NE 80th Street, and 5th Avenue NE to the Northgate transit center. Readers will recognize this as route 70 south of the Ship Canal and route 66 north of it. A “South Alternative” follows the SLU Streetcar’s routing from Valley Street on south. Most of the work done so far focuses on the corridor’s existing conditions and expected growth; i.e., the context for the line.

SDOT is heavily leaning toward BRT rather than rapid streetcar for this corridor; they said most of their results are pointing in that direction. One of the posters showed a chart of the unique advantages of BRT vs streetcars: BRT came out ahead in 8 of 11 metrics.

SDOT_Roosevelt_HCT_OpenHouse_Boards_FINAL-09

[Read more…]

Seattle’s Population Growth in Context

On Thursday, the Seattle Times’ Gene Balk broke the news that Seattle was no longer number one. Our time as fastest growing city in the nation lasted only a year. While it’s sad to no longer have those bragging rights I think a bit more context is in order.

First off, as the data wonks at fivethirtyeight pointed out Seattle is the fastest growing big city that is an actual city:
[T]he new census population data shows that the fastest-growing large cities tend to be more suburban. Among the 10 fastest-growing cities with more than 500,000 people, five — Austin, Fort Worth, Charlotte, San Antonio and Phoenix — are majority suburban, and a sixth, Las Vegas, is only 50 percent urban. Only one of the 10 fastest-growing, Seattle, is at least 90 percent urban.
Wait, when did Seattle become 90% urban? Apparently the bar for ‘urbanity’ is pretty low. Just goes to show how suburban the other cities in the top 10 are. More after the jump.

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To Linkage Fee or Not?

Solar array with crane (See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bullitt_center/ for usage information)

A few weeks back Owen Pickford made the urbanist case for linkage fees, a controversial proposed tax on new construction that would fund affordable housing:

Seattle urbanists often conflate additional building costs with limits on housing; frequently suggesting that regulatory cost, not housing limits, are the biggest impediment to affordable housing. The result of this mistake has been detrimental to urbanists’ goals, creating an adversarial relationship between urbanists and affordable housing advocates. Furthermore, blurring the lines between housing limits and regulatory costs induces urbanists to overlook the most important factor in housing affordability: land values.

This week Dan Bertolet wrote a rebuttal:

To put a finer point on it:  Pickford’s position contradicts the standard methodology used by the City of Seattle, King County and countless other municipalities to estimate “buildable land,” that is, land that can be redeveloped. This alone should be enough to cast serious doubt.

For bonus credit, here’s Martin’s take from last fall when the fees were first announced.

Bertolet has the stronger argument, but I wish he’d discussed the actual recommendations on the table instead of refuting the concept in the abstract. The linkage fees are designed to be higher in the central city and taper off in the North and South ends, which would seem to mitigate concerns about the development of “marginal” lands.  That said, to the extent that linkage fees keep cheaper market-rate housing from getting built while at the same time pushing up the costs of high-end housing, they are problematic.

Memorial Day Service Levels

Northwest Folklife 2015

Monday, May 25 is Memorial Day.

King County Metro, Pierce Transit, Everett Transit, Intercity Transit, the South Lake Union Streetcar, the West Seattle Water Taxi, and Sound Transit will be operating on Sunday schedules (which means no Sounder).

Washington State Ferries will be adding trips on select routes, so check your particular route’s schedule.

Community Transit will not be in service, hopefully for the second-to-last time ever (with the last time hopefully being Sunday, May 31). Sunday service resumes on June 7 after 5 years of no CT Sunday bus service.

In addition to Sounder and Community Transit, Kitsap, Mason, Jefferson, Clallam, Skagit, Whatcom, and Island Transit will not be in service on Memorial Day. The Vashon King County Water Taxis will also not be in service.

Bucking this trend will be the Monorail, which will be open regular weekday hours, 7:30-11:00, well beyond the hours of the Northwest Folklife Festival.

Also, Sounder will be serving the Sounders match vs. Sporting Kansas City this Saturday, arriving in town ca. 5:00, and departing ca. 9:30. First kick is set for 7:00.

News Roundup: Test Run

SDOT Photo

SDOT Photo

This is an open thread.

Meetup: Talk ULink Restructure May 29

UW Station rendering

UW Station (Sound Transit rendering)

We invite you to join us for our next STB Meetup on May 29 from 5:30-7:30pm at the Impact Hub in Pioneer Square.

Metro planners Ted Day and Jeremy Fichter will join us to discuss the U-Link restructure, with a brief presentation beginning at 5:30 and plenty of time for open Q&A thereafter. At roughly 6:30, we will head over to Good Bar down the street for beer, snacks, and continued conversation.

Meetups are a great opportunity to meet your fellow readers, get a little face time with agency staff, and to get more involved with transit advocacy more generally.  We hope to see you there! We also encourage you to attend Metro’s Link Connections Public Meeting tonight from 6-8pm at Seattle Academy (1432 15th Ave).

When: Friday, May 29, 5:30-7:30pm
Where: Impact HUB, 220 2nd Avenue S. (2nd & Washington)

Center-running open BRT on Madison

This is a guest post.

There seems to be wide agreement that enhanced bus service on Madison Street between the waterfront and at least 23rd Avenue would be a great asset for the city.

The debate here on STB seems to be whether to move forward with dedicated, center-running lanes and median platforms, or bus/right-turn only lanes on the outsides of Madison with platforms constructed on current sidewalks. This center vs side debate exists in part because, though center-running lanes provide protection from right turns (leading to improved travel times and reliability) and afford greater visibility, the current center-running configuration seems to necessitate buses with left-side doors, precluding open BRT as the rest of the Metro fleet does not have doors on both sides. So the center-running vs side-running discussion has really become a discussion about closed vs open BRT.

As it turns out, no operational compromise is necessary to achieve open and center-running BRT on Madison. Below I explore two options (one of which SDOT seems to be considering but doesn’t get much attention) that are compatible with the center-running and open BRT concept.

Option 1: Center-running contraflow lanes

What if we could have all the benefits of center-running bus lanes and joint median platforms while allowing multiple routes to make use of different segments of the Madison BRT infrastructure?

Madison Street center-running BRT mockup

One way this is possible is to have contra-flow, center-running bus lanes that allow buses with right side doors to drop off and pick up passengers at a median platforms. With this arrangement, there is no need to purchase buses with left side doors or exclude other buses that might travel down Madison—like a Broadway to Madison route 49—from using the infrastructure. Center-running contraflow lanes would allow us to retain future operational flexibility while still building what is necessary for a premium BRT the length of Madison.

This center-running contraflow concept creates a few complications:

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Top 5 Irritating Agency Operations Habits

ST Express 9641K and Link waiting under Airport Way & 5th

Our transit system, like any other, has many problems. Many will cost a lot of money to fix, or will require the political will to basically ignore the perceived interests of drivers. But a few of them are the result of nearly inexplicable agency policies. The delays and inconvenience are small in the scheme of things but they communicate to riders that their time isn’t valuable. As with any internet listicle, I wouldn’t get too excited about the precise rankings below:

5. Missing or inaccurate real-time data. Brian Ferris and Caitlin Bonnar detailed the technical problems with Metro’s data in January. Real time information is absolutely critical to a decent experience when riding unreliable transit, even at moderate frequencies, and quite useful even with frequent and reliable modes. Data problems degrade it considerably.

At least Metro exports their data; Community Transit still isn’t sharing it with onebusaway (OBA). And as for Sound Transit…

4. Misused electronic signs. The wonder of electronic signs is that they can change dynamically to reflect real-time conditions, but the ones in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) are almost entirely wedded to canned policy announcements. OBA data, or even Sound Transit’s Twitter feed, would provide much more useful information to users.

[Read more…]

GTFS for Microsoft Shuttles

This is a guest post.

I recently found out that Microsoft posts the schedules for its fixed route service on the publicly-accessible msshuttle.mobi. Those that are affiliated with Microsoft can also use the site to book rides for on-demand (e.g. intracampus) shuttles. Note this is not the same as the Microsoft Connector–the commute-oriented bus network whose reservations and schedules are part of a different application available only to Microsoft employees.

I’ve converted the shuttle data to GTFS, which you can download here. The GTFS is generated with a small PHP script.

Could this be added to OneBusAway? Maybe; the (also private) Children’s Hospital Shuttles are already there. Enterprising users can also grab OneBusAway Quickstart to host your own OBA server.

Roosevelt HCT Open Houses This Week

This is last-minute, but SDOT is doing some early open houses for Roosevelt-Downtown, one of the corridors identified in the Transit Master Plan for high-capacity transit (bus or rail):
South Lake Union
Monday, May 18
6–8PM
Y at Cascade’s People Center
309 Pontius Ave N, Seattle WA

Roosevelt
Tuesday, May 19
6–8PM
UW Tower, Cafeteria North
4333 Brooklyn Ave NE, Seattle WA

Who Wants Their Bus in the Tunnel?

train and bus in tunnelThe Link connections exercise, which has spilled much ink on this blog, has focused on many elements of route paths, but not much on downtown routing.

After March 2016, only eight routes are currently planned to be in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, according to Alternative 3 of Metro’s and Sound Transit’s Link connections route restructure process, released last week: Routes 41, 74, 101, 102, 106, 150, 255, and ST Express 550.

The original proposal kept Route 73 in the tunnel, but the new proposal for route 73 turned it into an all-day neighborhood route to UW. Route 255 was scheduled to leave the tunnel in all previous proposals, but now is being left in the tunnel due to route 73’s departure.

We have discussed which routes ought to be in the tunnel, from a systemic view. But we haven’t posed the question: Who wants *their* bus in the tunnel?

This question is directed towards those who actually ride those routes, or would if it were moved upstairs / downstairs. You can suggest that your bus be moved into the tunnel, moved out, or remain right where it is. If you want your bus to leave the tunnel, please say where you want it to go downtown (or if you don’t want it to go downtown at all). Please include reasons.

I will start with my own route, 132. I would prefer it not be in the tunnel. It would have to make two extra turns to get into downtown. If it ends up there, I will ride it just the same, though, and won’t mind too much.

The Other Low-Income ORCA Card Fee

Per Rochelle Ogershok at King County, the ORCA Joint Board is considering adjusting the regular and youth card fees ($5), with a decision expected in the next two months. The Regional Reduced Fare Permit card fee ($3) is set by an interlocal agreement among all the members of the ORCA pod, plus a few more agencies outside the pod, so that fee is not being looked at.

kids on Laredo busIt should come as a shock to nobody that children disproportionately live in poverty. Indeed, the annual count done by Kids Count Data Center has the portion of children under 18 in Washington living below 200% of the federal poverty level hovering closely around 40%. That number contrasts with 28% of the state’s adult population qualifying as below 200% of the federal poverty level.

The ORCA Lift program’s eligibility threshold is 200% of the federal poverty level. However, the card is for adults. The fare structure, on the services that accept the LIFT ORCA, has the LIFT fare identical to the youth fare, at least when using ORCA.

One difference is the card fee. King County opted to not have a fee for the LIFT ORCA. The $5 youth card fee remains in place.

Many public school students get a free card, and loaded passes, through their school district. In those cases, the school district is assumedly eating the card cost.

Nearly every transit service in the ORCA pod allows riders 6-18 to pay the youth fare just by paying that amount of cash. The King County Water Taxis are the exception. So, there is little incentive to get the card, unless it is being offered for free through one’s school.

The agencies want to partially recuperate the administrative costs of card production and distribution. Of course, the agencies will probably save more in bus travel time speed-ups by simply offering the card for free. The main differences between the regular and youth administrative calculations is that youth card distribution is a little more expensive, and the transit agencies would end up charging the school districts less. (This would not necessarily be a bad result, if we want school district money to be spent first and foremost on education.) Also, there is little reason to believe youth cardholders would treat the card as disposable or swiftly replaceable.
.

The ORCA Joint Board may look to the $3 RRFP card fee (which is actually a “permit fee”, with the card technically being free) as a philosophical reason for keeping the regular card fee at least $3. However, there is nothing in law requiring that the RRFP permit or card fee be no higher than the regular card fee. Again, it comes down to gambling lots of service hours that people will readily pay $3 for the card rather than continue just paying with cash, years of evidence (See page 13.) to the contrary. And it would still leave ORCA as easily the most expensive bus smart card in the USA if one doesn’t count Utah Transit Authority’s Fare Pay, which exists only because not every rider has contactless debit/credit cards, which are readily accepted on UTA services.

Nor does the RRFP interlocal agreement pre-empt having $3 of e-purse pre-loaded on each new RRFP ORCA card.

Madison BRT Survey

2014_0138_N289_medium

As a follow-up to the recent open house on the Madison BRT project, SDOT is conducting a survey to gauge more feedback on the project.  If you have an opinion, now’s the time to share it.

SDOT’s Maria Koengeter also filled us in on a few details of the project, which is slated for opening in 2019, assuming it gets funding (such as the Move Seattle levy).  She indicated that, while no decisions have been made, the agency currently prefers the idea of a “closed system” that would look and feel more like a rubber-tire version of the Seattle Streetcar than a traditional Metro bus.  Depending on how the system was designed, however, it’s possible that Metro buses could use the same right-of-way.

If the system is extended to MLK, the assumption is that trolley wire would be built the whole distance.  We’d initially heard that articulated coaches couldn’t sustain the vertical bending required to climb Madison, but SDOT is confident that they can spec vehicles that can handle the climb.   SDOT would work with Metro to determine service hours and operating revenues as the project develops.

The survey closes May 24.

Top 10 Locations for Transit-Friendly Employers

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There are several regional awards for transit-friendly employers, which usually recognize their implementation of programs that subsidize commute modes other than driving alone to work, or provide some other amenity or scheduling framework that supports car-free commuting. And that’s great, because there should be incentives for pro-social policies.

However, the best pro-transit policy is to choose a location that has good transit service in the first place. Cut-price transit passes and shower facilities only do so much if employees have to pay an enormous time penalty when getting out of their cars. If you’re an employer interested in attracting talent that doesn’t want to stare at taillights all day, here are some recommendations from your friendly local transit experts.

The criterion here is how much of the region is reachable with minimal time penalty over driving. If your employees want to live in Ballard or Capitol Hill or Puyallup or Bainbridge Island, can they get to your office in a reasonable amount of time or not? Since Seattle lies at the center of the region, its best-connected neighborhoods are among the most accessible ones. And of course, to be on this list there has to be an appreciable amount of office or industrial space.

10. Northgate. The minor office park district just south of the Northgate Transit Center is already a hub for bus service for prosperous North Seattle, including the freeway express #41 to Downtown. It’s also six years away from light rail, which will provide very quick connections to points in Central Seattle and the Eastside, and later will stretch into Snohomish County. The City also has ambitious plans for more commercial development here. If making a long-term siting decision, Northgate moves up a bit on this list when Link offers an alternative to the daily nightmare on I-5 reverse-commute to downtown.

9. Rainier/I-90. The modest commercial district strung along Rainier Avenue on either side of I-90 also surrounds the intersection of a very intense-yet-slow transit corridor (Rainier) and an intense-and-fast express bus corridor (I-90) with rapid, frequent connections to the downtown hub and the Eastside. In 8 years, Link will improve connections to the Eastside and transform its relationship with North Seattle.

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