LIFT Off Sunday!

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Author’s Note: Some links have been added since publication, as websites have been updated.

At long last, the ORCA LIFT program goes into effect Sunday, March 1. Those who obtained a low-income ORCA card, also known as the LIFT card, will start to enjoy $1.50 trips on King County Metro buses regardless of time of day or crossing zone lines, $1.50 trips on the South Lake Union Streetcar, and $1.50 trips on Link Light Rail regardless of distance traveled. Getting that rate requires using the ORCA LIFT card, but comes with a 2-hour transfer on the value of the trip. Or, LIFT holders can get a monthly pass for $54 for unlimited rides on these three services.

The King County Water Taxi is also implementing a low-income fare of $3 on the West Seattle route and $3.75 on the Vashon route. (The webpage needs to be updated.)

Kitsap Transit‘s low-income fare remains $1 on both buses and ferries. The Kitsap and King County low-income ORCA are interchangeable for purposes of all the low-income fares.

ORCA LIFT cards will be charged the regular adult fare on all other services.

Thank you to King County Metro Transit, the Seattle Department of Transportation, Sound Transit, Kitsap Transit, and Public Health – King County for helping to get the farebox out of the way of low-income riders and out of the way of the buses.

Here is a full list of fares for all categories of payers for the various public transit services that accept ORCA as of March 1.

We aren’t planning on having a group ride, since those are traditionally for new services, but we hope to have a meet-up very soon.

Please post your experiences with the new LIFT card, and help us work out any bugs.

Improving Train/Bus Transfer Timing

Bunched buses from the 71/72/73 trunk route, photo by Oran

Bunched buses from the 71/72/73 trunk route,
photo by Oran

Next year, in March, several bus routes may be restructured to serve UW Station and Capitol Hill Station, with more frequent all-day service. It is nice to know that there will be another bus for your route coming every 15 minutes. But for riders transferring from Link trains arriving every 10 minutes off-peak, 15-minute frequency may create problems.

With such a service pattern, every other bus may be crowded, and every other bus relatively empty. On long routes (like route 372), the emptier bus may slowly but surely catch up with the full bus, leading to a pattern where two buses pull up back-to-back, every half hour, at the other terminus. This commonplace phenomenon is known as “bus bunching“.

It may make more sense for minimizing wait time at stations, stabilizing headway, and enabling operators to get their scheduled rest breaks, to keep these routes on either 10-minute-headway or 20-minute-headway, depending on ridership demand for that time of day.

Practical reliability may trump theoretical legibility.

Op-Ed: NE 130th Street Station will Provide Access to Underserved Communities

by JANINE BLAELOCH (Coordinator, Lake City Greenways and Vice-Chair, Lake City Neighborhood Alliance), SANDY MOTZER (Chair, Lake City Neighborhood Alliance and Chair, Lake City Emergency Communication Hub) with support from STB EDITORIAL BOARD

Sound Transit is expected to make a decision in April 2015 regarding light rail station locations in the Northgate to Lynnwood extension, and a NE 130th Street/I-5 station remains under consideration. As Lake City residents working to make our community healthier and more accessible for people traveling in all modes, we are urging Sound Transit to include a NE 130th Street station among the stations that will open in 2023.

The Lake City Hub Urban Village is the third densest urban village in Seattle.  It has one of the lowest median household incomes and home ownership rates in Seattle while also having one of the largest increases in percentage of persons of color in the city.*

The proposed NE 130th Street station would be a critical link to light rail for the Lake City community, which consists of many residential neighborhoods and a fast-densifying Hub Urban Village. In the near future, Lake City will be growing and changing dramatically, as the Pierre family car lots undergo redevelopment. And let us not forget our neighbors to the west in Bitter Lake, who are underserved by public transportation–they, too, would benefit from a station at NE 130th.

The 130th/125th corridor has far more room for additional capacity than Northgate Way or NE 145th Street and offers faster travel between the heart of Lake City and the station.  A new bus route could easily and efficiently serve the community with quick access to light rail without the delays and congestion on NE 145th and Northgate Way.

A NE 130th station:

  • Would bring fast and dependable light rail access to two of the densest and most underserved communities in North Seattle: Lake City and Bitter Lake.
  • Would promote more walking and biking to light rail.  Many commuters in the walkshed of a NE 130th station would easily be able to walk to light rail at NE 130th when they would otherwise need to drive or take a bus to the Northgate or NE 145th stations.
  • Would reduce pressure on demand for building expensive parking garages at both the Northgate and NE 145th stations.
  • Would increase ridership on LINK light rail. At least 3,200 riders daily are projected to board at a 130th Street station from the nearby neighborhoods by foot, bike or transit.
  • Would be relatively inexpensive compared with other stations.

While we still have time to make these decisions, we should plan wisely and maximize the benefits light rail will bring to all of our communities. A NE 130th station makes great sense, and deserves to be part of the light rail plan.

*For all of these facts, see pages 51 and 52 of this DPD document.

News Roundup: 90%

Ravenna Blog Photo

Roosevelt Station Box (Ravenna Blog)

This is an open thread.

New Real-time Transit Data from Sound Transit, Metro

This is a guest post.

Sound Transit and Metro announced this week that they are making new real-time data feeds available to developers, covering vehicles from King County Metro, Sound Transit, Pierce Transit and Intercity Transit. While the eyes of the typical transit rider may glaze over at the mere mention of “real-time data feeds”, data like this powers applications, including OneBusAway and others, that are increasingly critical to navigating our transit systems.

Sound Transit has specifically made GTFS-realtime feeds, containing real-time vehicle position and delay information, available on their Developer Resources portal. GTFS-realtime is a common data format increasingly used by transit agencies across the nation and around the world to share real-time transit information with developers. Common formats are critical because they make it easier for developers to write a great tool once and bring it to multiple transit systems. The end result is better tools and more choices for transit riders.

In fact, someone might be working on that next killer app as we speak. Between events like last Saturday’s Seattle Open Data Day 2015 and the City of Seattle’s upcoming Hack The Commute event in March, there is a lot of energy around open transportation data in Seattle these days. While some of us may never be satisfied (as I whisper Link Light Rail real-time!), I commend Sound Transit for their efforts in making new data available to developers. Data is critical for riders and this is a huge step in the right direction.

Just 31% of Downtown Workers Drive Alone

DSTT Under Construction in 1987 (King County Photo)

This morning at the State of Downtown Economic Forum, the Downtown Seattle Association and Commute Seattle released an updated study of Downtown* commuting trends, with exciting results for transit advocates (our previous coverage here). Just 31% of Downtown Seattle workers now drive alone to work, a new historic low. These results continue the positive trends from prior surveys, down from an estimated 50% in 2000, 35% in 2010, and 34% in 2012.

Of course, these are proportions rather than volumes, so in a growth context a lower drive-alone rate does not necessarily mean less traffic, just as eating a proportionally smaller slice of a larger pie doesn’t mean you consumed fewer calories.  Our region’s traffic woes are real and in need of attention, but nonetheless these results show that Downtown is at least keeping up with what’s needed for job growth to continue without being choked off by gridlock and unreliable transit. The results are also a ringing endorsement of the benefits of transit and density, with 45% of Downtown commuters now choosing transit, and 15% opting for non-motorized trips (walking, bicycling, or teleworking).

Modal Split Snip

Within the high-level data there are also some interesting trends. The traditional Downtown core, with  rivers of peak-hour transit service and the most expensive parking, has a truly impressive drive-alone rate of just 22%, whereas faster-growing neighborhoods such as South Lake Union are more than double that (46%). Clearly, transit service has not kept up with job growth in Downtown’s periphery, and this is an issue that should be urgently addressed.

Company size also appears to be a major factor, which is no surprise considering the prevalence of employer paid ORCA cards in the Seattle area. Yet interestingly, medium sized companies (20-99 employees) showed the greatest positive growth, nearly matching the achievements of the largest companies despite being exempt from regulatory requirements such as the Commute Trip Reduction law. Yet the smallest companies (1-20 employees) are still largely left out, with a relatively high drive-alone rate of 41%.

 

Intermodal Growth

 

The report comes at a time when downtowns across the country are adding jobs faster than their suburbs.

* For the purposes of the DSA and Commute Seattle, “Downtown” includes everything from Elliott Bay to Broadway, and Galer to Royal Brougham. The survey didn’t include Sodo.)

Commute Seattle’s media release is below the jump:

[Read more…]

Curtis King on ST3

Here’s Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima) explaining how he came up with $11 billion in new tax authorization for Sound Transit (over 15 years) instead of the $15 billion ST asked for (at 18:20 if the Youtube link doesn’t work correctly).

Well the theory was they asked for 15. From my limited knowledge, people usually ask for more than they want. In various discussions we heard some lower numbers from time to time. I would say that what we put forth exceeded some of the lower numbers we heard. We thought it was a balance between the 15 that they wanted and some of these lower numbers.

I found this interesting for several reasons. One is that it’s a solid illustration of the Overton Window, and can only encourage future requests to ascend to the stratosphere.

If one accepts the principle that Olympia must parsimoniously mete out local taxing authority, which I don’t, his reply makes a lot of sense given a lot of Sound Transit’s messaging. ST officials have frequently suggested the mix of taxes allowed “flexibility,” rather that indicating the actual level of need. Maybe that’s true, or maybe it’s not, but that’s impossible to really know since ST hasn’t released any sort of official analysis that would show what is achievable with any level of authority. In any case it’s clear that Sen. King cares not for Sound Transit’s taxing flexibility.

That doesn’t make $11 billion any less arbitrary, nor does it do anything for the potential riders whose projects won’t get built at a lower level of funding. But if Republicans that actually represent the ST district don’t care enough to raise a stink about it, then I’m not surprised that Sen. King doesn’t either.

H/T to Avgeek Joe.

Vision Zero Won’t Slow Down Link

ST 112 northbound along MLK - Seattle, WA

Because I have a one-track mind, my immediate reaction to the Vision Zero list was fear that lower speed limits on MLK would slow down the Link trains there, where traffic signals currently enforce the 35mph limit.

Luckily, that’s not the case. Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray says “We have no plans to change our operating speeds along MLK,” and SDOT representative Rick Sheridan says “We do not anticipate any changes to the operating speed for light rail.”

I think this is the right call. Our regional transit spine needs to be fast. Professional drivers operating in an intricately designed signaling system need not have the same safeguards as ordinary people with uneven levels of distraction. Most importantly, fast transit gets people out of cars, and that will save more lives than slowing down trains.

ST3 Authorization Will Get Out of House Committee

Reuven Carlyle

Last week, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington) told the Times that transportation was on the back burner ($) until the legislature handled the education funding shortfall. In a session where even Republicans are on board with a large new Sound Transit tax authorization, and with deadlines for non-budget bills to escape committee fast approaching, I found this quite worrisome. Additional transit projects are too important to lose because of brinksmanship over an unrelated issue.

With HB 1180 – the pure ST authorization bill – still in the Finance Committee and this Friday a deadline for non-budget bills to leave committee, I asked Finance Chair Reuven Carlyle (D-Ballard) what was going to happen. And rest assured that he has our back:

We expect that SHB 1180 is exempt from the fiscal committee cutoff and we will have confirmation on Monday [today] of that ruling.  If it is ruled otherwise by counsel, I assure you that I will move a version of the bill out of Finance prior to the deadline on Friday.  The Majority Leader’s statement was more about timing and the focus on McCleary and transportation than the mechanics of committee deadlines.  We will not allow, in any way, the bill to fail based on committee deadlines. I am working closely with Reps. Fey, Farrell, Walkinshaw, Clibborn and others to maintain the progress.

He really couldn’t have made that reply any clearer.

Speaker Chopp’s office has not yet replied to my email.

Vision Zero: Transit is Part of the Solution

2012 Collision Data

Collision Contributing Circumstances (City of Seattle, 2012 Seattle Traffic Report Section 7)

Last week, Mayor Murray launched the City of Seattle Vision Zero Plan, adding Seattle to a fast-growing list of US cities that have committed to reducing preventable road fatalities to zero. The plan, which was covered here, here and here outlines a variety of near-term actions the City will take to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

The City’s plan, which builds upon Washington State’s Target Zero program, was modeled after Sweden’s Vision Zero programs which began in the 1990s. While Washington State’s road fatality rates are roughly twice those of Sweden, the state has made good progress, with fatality rates dropping by 40% since 2000.

Seattle’s Vision Zero Plan is an excellent starting point. It identifies high-value, near-term actions the City can take now to improve road safety, especially for pedestrians and cyclists, who are the most vulnerable road users. Unfortunately, the level of detail identified by the plan for road improvements didn’t carry over into strategies and actions for reducing impaired driving.

This is important because in 2012, the most recent year that city data was available, impaired driving was identified as a contributing factor in 4 fatal collisions, 16 serious injury collisions and 178 possible or evident injury collisions on Seattle streets. To put these numbers in perspective, speed (speeding and exceeding safe speed) was associated with 8 fatal collisions, 21 serious injury collisions and 219 possible or evident injury collisions during the same time period.  [Read more…]

Senate Transportation Budget Advances, Including ST3

[8:30pm 22 Feb: See correction below]

As Dan Ryan reported a week ago, the leadership of the Senate Transportation Committee struck a deal for their transportation budget. The proposals were formalized in the form of Senate Bills 5987-5989, and had a public hearing this past Wednesday. SB 5987 is the transportation funding bill, and contains authorization for a vote on a Sound Transit 3 capital and service improvement package. (See video above.)

On Thursday, the committee voted on a series of amendments to SB 5987. (See video below, with the portion on SB 5987 starting at 44:45, and lasting about 50 minutes.) Four minor amendments passed. They then voted the bill out of committee, with a few Democrats including Pramila Jayapal (Seattle) and Cyrus Habib (Kirkland) casting symbolic No votes. (The signature sheet with the vote tally was not available online at the time of publication.) The bill, as amended, moves to the Senate Rules Committee, waiting to be scheduled for a Senate floor vote.

[Read more…]

No UW: The Other Reduced Weekday

Metro Route 31

Metro Route 31

One of the things I’ll appreciate about my bus service, after Prop 1’s purchases have taken effect, is that Reduced Weekday schedules, whereby Metro cancels an arbitrary-seeming selection of express routes, and peak period trips on the other downtown-oriented routes, will no longer exist in Seattle. Frank did a great job of covering the meltdown last Veterans Day, as stranded riders raged at Metro for the delays and overloads caused by those cancelled trips.

With the approval of the initial Prop 1 purchases, the vast majority of Prop 1’s revenue has been committed, but I want to point out a corner of the system, where, like with Reduced Weekday schedules, we are doing things that aren’t particularly rider friendly, and which could be improved by modest or incremental expenditures of Prop 1 money, should that become available.

On days when the University of Washington is not in session, Metro runs a “No UW” schedule, which affects about 15 routes countywide, six of them in Seattle (and eligible for Prop 1 money). Similar to Reduced Weekday, No UW schedules cancel a handful of trips in the peak periods of routes which serve UW. For the purposes of Metro scheduling, the UW is out of session for one large, contiguous block of time in the summer (June 15th-September 15th), a couple of short breaks (Christmas, Spring), and a smattering of minor weekday holidays.

Adjusting schedules over the summer break makes a great deal of sense. The UW is a huge ridership center, and the change in ridership with almost all the students gone for the summer will be significant.  Over three months, the remaining riders have plenty of time to adapt to the reduced schedule, and the savings will add up to something significant. The case for cancelling a few trips via footnotes on schedules on the few other days seems much more tenuous, when weighed against the complexity and irritation those cancellations create for riders.

Here’s how I see the No UW schedule breaking down by route, and here’s what I’d do if I had a little Prop 1 money to spend:

  • 31/32, 75: two trips cancelled each. The 31/32 together form a core, frequent crosstown, a service on which we should particularly strive for a good experience. The savings on these cancellations seem hardly worth the effort. Let’s just buy these trips back.
  • 48: 12 trips cancelled; 67: five trips cancelled. The 48 is among the highest-ridership routes in the county, and with the opening of University Link next year, the 67 corridor will become one of the utmost importance in NE Seattle. Other similarly-important routes which serve the U District (44, 70, 70-series) don’t observe the No UW reductions. I think it makes sense to buy these trips back: the extra buses will be no means be empty, and the additional frequency will encourage ridership on these key corridors.
  • 65, ten trips cancelled; 68, nine trips cancelled. Buying back these trips would be more of a stretch. These routes aren’t rock-star corridors in the way of the 48 or 67; they mostly serve residential areas that feed the UW, while downtown riders end up on expresses.

By my reckoning, there are 40 Prop 1-eligible trips on each No UW day, and about 15 No UW days (other than Summer) each year. This amounts to a fraction of the service Seattle purchased to fix the Reduced Weekday problem, which was 4,600 hours for 458 trips per day, 9 days per year. I estimate it would cost around 600 hours to buy back all the No UW service (other than Summer), or about 300 to buy back everything on the 31, 32, 48, 67 and 75.

While the intent of Reduced Weekday, to squeeze every last drop out of our Metro money, made sense in a context of austerity and cuts, in Seattle’s context of growing service levels and ridership, it had outlived its usefulness, and will not be missed. Likewise, I think it makes sense for Seattle to study the possibility of reducing the reductions of the No UW schedule. While No UW has not (to my knowledge) caused a meltdown a la Reduced Weekday, it adds complexity for minimal savings, which is something we should try to eliminate from our transit network.

Seattle Frequent Network Maps Preview (Sept 2015)

maps-preview-1402

This June and September, transit riders in Seattle will see exciting improvements to their bus service, with better frequency and reliability, day and night, on weekdays and weekends. I have created maps that show the frequent transit network (PDF) as of this September. The improvements are sourced from the Prop 1 service contract which David summarized route-by-route last month that was approved on Tuesday. The maps are based on my current frequent transit map that you can use to compare differences with the September maps. What’s new and different with the maps?

[Read more…]

News Roundup: Ballard Bridge

This is an open thread.

Seattle Prop 1 Purchases Approved

26 Bus

Metro Route 26, by WhenEliseSings

As we mentioned on Twitter last night, both the Seattle City Council and King County Council yesterday approved Seattle’s initial purchase of bus service, utilizing Executive Constantine’s partnership framework and the revenue from November’s passage of Prop 1, a Seattle-only sales tax and $60 car tab fee. The details of Seattle’s purchases have not changed materially since David unpacked the details in this post.

Seattle has smartly chosen to spend its money on core service quality (improving reliability, addressing overcrowding, making schedules more consistent and comprehensible) and major frequency improvements on high-performing routes. In particular, I’m thrilled at the evening frequency improvements that will take effect in June, and I will undoubtedly be riding the bus more as a result of them.

Thanks to everyone who worked on, advocated for, and voted for this measure, which will make our city so much better.

Westside Seattle Transit Tunnel: An Introduction

This is a guest post.

WSTT Initial Service Pattern

Maps by Oran Viriyincy

It is becoming clearer that Sound Transit 3 (ST3) will not provide Seattle (‘North King’) with the approximately $7B needed to fund a true subway from Ballard to West Seattle. At currently proposed ST3 funding levels – $11B in the Senate and $15B in the House for all regional projects–  Seattle’s shortfall could be roughly $2-4B. This presents a dilemma: should we build the high quality segments we can afford (and risk alienating the neighborhoods we pass over), or give in to the political temptation to dilute the quality of the lines (surface running, stub lines, etc) to serve more neighborhoods at once? At Seattle Subway we believe we cannot let today’s funding constraints forever dampen the quality of our transit service. So what investments could we make with an ST3-sized budget that would provide high quality (and highly upgradeable) transit?

There is a single project that rises above all the others: The Westside Transit Tunnel (WSTT). For general readers who have heard of Ballard to West Seattle rail for years, proposing a new bus tunnel may seem to come out of nowhere. But let us show you why this is so important for ST3.

What is it?

The WSTT is a new rail convertible bus tunnel through downtown designed to serve Ballard, West Seattle, the Aurora corridor, and South and East King County. The route and features you see in our diagram did not come out of thin air, but are a combination of routing seen in Sound Transit’s Ballard to Downtown Corridor Study and the Downtown portion of the West Seattle & Burien (“South King County”) Corridor Study. We took these studies and enhanced them with a couple of our own ideas: the addition of a Battery Street fork to serve Aurora and bus improvements to the Spokane Street Viaduct to create a direct connection to the E3 busway and improve the connection to West Seattle.

Just like the current Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, the WSTT will start with bus service and switch to rail over time as we expand our subway system. This new bus tunnel would have two important features from opening day: 1) tracks and power systems for rail and 2) separate stubs and portals for rail expansions. This project is a major step in the building of a true Seattle Subway. [Read more…]

WSDOT Strategic Plans

wsdotIn earlier posts I mentioned attending the TCC organized Transit Talk. Along with transit champions Marko Liias and Jessyn Farrell, WSDOT Public Transit Division’s Stan Suchan rounded out the panel. As previewed at the talk, the transportation bill that made it out the Senate Transportation Committee, while containing some ST3 authorization is not what forward thinking voters would like.

The ball is now in House Dems court. However going off history and considering where the Senate is starting from it looks like Sen. Liias was correct, this is not the transportation bill that will significantly move the state forward. It looks like the best path for systemic change is to focus on getting WSDOT’s Strategic Plan to reflect our values. That way WSDOT is collecting the right data and studying the right tools to make the next transportation package forward thinking.

More from WSDOT’s Stan Suchan:

WSDOT’s strategic plan, Results WSDOT, guides our work within our legal and budgetary boundaries and in alignment with Governor Inslee’s Results Washington. We are currently developing implementation work plans. Now would be great time to hear from people who want to share their ideas about the strategies listed in the strategic plan brochure, found at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Secretary/ResultsWSDOT.htm, and steps we should take to achieve our goals. Your comments can be sent to strategicplan@wsdot.wa.gov.

You heard it folks. You might not be able to change the vote a Senator from Yakima, but you can help influence the direction of our state’s transportation department.

Sen. Jayapal Turns SB 5343 into Social Justice Bill

Sen. Pramila Jayapal

Sen. Pramila Jayapal

Senate Bill 5343, the bill to make Sound Transit pay for parking permits for residents in Restricted Parking Zones around Sound Transit infrastructure, got an extreme makeover in the Senate Transportation Committee Monday afternoon. Watch 1:17:30 into the TVW video.

A substitute version of the bill, formally offered by Committee Chair Curtis King (R – Yakima), but written largely by committee member Sen. Pramila Jayapal (D – Seattle), changed the whole tenor of the bill:
[Read more…]