Fares go up tomorrow

Metro fares are going up 25 cents tomorrow, so remember to bring those extra quarters.

UPDATE 12:29 PM: Via Seattlest:

According to the Metro rep we just got on the phone, you can either keep the old pass and pay an extra quarter each time you get on, or go down to the Second and Jackson office (201 S. Jackson) to pay the difference. (You’ll get a new pass.) Lucky holders of a three-month pass for the months January, February and March will not be liable for that extra quarter until their passes run out.

Parking Becoming Ever Harder in the City…

It looks like the City plans to install new parking meters around different neighborhoods, which I can only guess is a good thing. They seem to be going to neighborhoods which hadn’t had meters before, which also is a good thing.

This year, the city will look at parking in West Seattle Junction, upper Queen Anne, the Denny Triangle, Fremont, the triangle bordered by Denny, Broad and Aurora, and the Pike-Pine neighborhood in Capitol Hill.

In 2009, the city will study the rest of Capitol Hill, Madison Valley and First Hill, and in 2010, Morgan Junction, Ballard again, Wallingford, Madison Park and Greenwood/Phinney Ridge.

Many of the neighborhoods Snyder is visiting also are expecting better public bus service in the next few years, a result of the Transit Now initiative passed in 2006. West Seattle residents are expecting express bus service to downtown and upper Queen Anne, and more frequent bus service downtown later this year.

As HugeAssCity points out, in some neighborhoods gridlock is going to become endemic, and the only way out is transit use. Removing parking is another way to encourage people to ride transit.

The worry is, of course, that people in the City will decide to drive to work elsewhere, and that people who currently work in the City will choose jobs in the suburbs. But with gas prices the way they are, I am not too worried.

And the NIMBY of the Century Award Goes to….

That’s Will from Horse’s Ass’s photo, which was taken next to the piroshky spot on Broadway which will be Capitol Hill station, a subway station for Link Light Rail.

This is the text:


Wow. And I thought transit was about moving people around…

Sea-Tac Station Update


If you haven’t been following, Sound Transit originally estimated it would cost $53 million for the Sea-Tac Airport station. The lowest bid came in around $93 million, but with negotiations they were able to get a bid around $73 million. Thanks to the P-I, we now learn what caused the Sea-Tac station to be cheaper.

The building still will look basically the same as planned, Lewis said, but cost savings were made by reducing the size of the building’s internal structural supports, narrowing the roof width, reducing the amount of glass and eliminating an enclosure for an emergency-access stairway.

Well the station is getting smaller, but that doesn’t meant the transit-oriented development is. Sea-Tac is planning an entertainment district around the station, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.

The city of SeaTac said it plans to create an “entertainment district” in the south Seattle suburb that would include retail, dining and entertainment facets.

The city has hired Heartland LLC, a Seattle real estate consultant, to devise a strategy for the district. The area that SeaTac officials have targeted is around the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Sound Transit light rail station now under construction at International Boulevard and South 176th Street, which is scheduled to open at the end of next year.

Hm… I wonder what district Sea-Tac is planning around the $413 million parking structure? My guess? Nothing at all.

Streetcar Answers

photo from Caseysail, on the STB flickr pool

Tuesday I asked for streetcar questions, now I have the answers via Ethan Melone, SDOT’s project manager for the Seattle streetcar.

STB What sort of in-street configurations are being studied? In San Francisco, they run streetcars in the street like the SLU car in some places, in dedicated right-of-way in others, and in subways in some sections. I am sure a subway is out of Seattle’s price range, what sort of in-street configurations are being studied? Could any have their own right of way?

EM We are generally looking at in-street configurations, not separate rights-of-way. As noted, some cities have “hybrid” light rail systems that operate primarily in their own right of way, but on streets in some neighborhoods. It is also possible to consider a “hybrid” streetcar system, which would operate mostly in-street, but with some separate rights-of-way. We have not ruled out that possibility, but most of the corridors we are looking at would work well with in-street configurations. In-street configurations are generally less expensive and do more to connect passengers with the urban environment. We are also looking at left-lane alignments and other options to address concerns about conflicts between cycling and tracks.

STB One of the major concerns with the proposed study was that an at-grade West Seattle-Ballard line would be built in lieu of a faster light-rail system. Some of those fears would be allayed with a more rapid streetcar alignment like San Francisco’s. What is the ultimate purpose of that potential line?

EM We agree that the speed and reliability that a streetcar could offer needs to be compared against rapid bus and light rail alternatives for longer corridors such as West Seattle and Ballard. It is possible that one or both of these corridors would be best served by a “hybrid” configuration such as San Francisco’s MUNI system, or by bus rapid transit. For the Ballard corridor, we are also looking at alternative routing to take advantage of the relatively free-flowing Westlake Avenue N and Leary Way.

STB Would the streetcar lines be constructed one at a time? If so, is there any idea which line/lines are likely to be constructed first? Also, when is the earliest a new streetcar line/extension would be ready for use?

EM We envision the streetcar lines would be built in phases, although simultaneous construction of more than one line would be feasible if funding were available. One of the major objectives of the study that is now underway is to identify the “most promising” route or routes to be built first. We anticipate that the “most promising” routes would be those that have the best combination of ridership potential, economic development potential, ease of construction, and funding opportunities.

STB Do you have any updates on the Waterfront Line #99? We miss it.

EM King County Metro is continuing to work with a private developer on a joint-use project for a new maintenance facility in Pioneer Square that would allow the Waterfront line to resume service. However, there is no development agreement in place yet.

STB Why are there no cameras on the streetcars like there are on buses?

EM The streetcars are wired for CCTV and we intend to add the cameras as funding becomes available.

STB Are you working with the police to prevent parked vehicles blocking the line?

EM We have asked SPD Parking Enforcement to give special attention to parking along the streetcar line. We have experienced very few blocking incidents to date, and the handful that have occurred have mostly related to emergency vehicle response, or construction equipment.

STB Are there plans to avoid the troubles the trains have been having with cars?

EM The two incidents with cars involved illegal traffic movements by the motor vehicles–running a red light, and making a right turn from the left travel lane. They do not seem to result from cars lacking awareness of the streetcars. However, we do plan to experiment with converting some of the exterior lights on the streetcars to strobe lights to increase driver awareness.

STB What should a cyclist biking on the street (between the rails, on the nice new smooth concrete) do when a streetcar comes behind then in the same lane?

EM A cyclist “taking a lane” that is a streetcar lane should follow the same traffic rules that would normally apply to “taking the lane.” The streetcar operators are required to follow all traffic rules, as well as Metro’s Standard Operating Procedures, which include lower speed limits than the general posted limit. Cycling in the streetcar lane in front of a streetcar should not present any issues different from cycling in front of other traffic, as long as the cyclist feels comfortable with the maneuvers necessary to cross the tracks at a 90 degree angle when they leave the trackway.

STB Thanks Ethan for the answers!

Wednesday Transportation Round-up

Photo from the STB flickr pool.

Lane Closures on I-90

A four month lane closure on I-90 has begun. The closure is so Sound Transit and WSDOT can add 24 hour HOV lanes on the bridge. This is getting things one step closer to eventually running light rail in the current express lanes on that bridge, as the bridge was originally intended for.

Photo emailed to me, photographer unknown.

Portland MAX

Last weekend, I took the Portland MAX. I fully realize that I am the last man in a 1,000-mile radius to do this, so I’m not looking for props. Still, I’m surprised to say I’m not all that impressed.

Before I go any further, I should concede that at least Portland has a system. Their dedicated right-of-way system vastly outshines our (small) grab bag of monorails, bus tunnels, and bus ways. So for now, advantage Portland.

In a few years, though, our system is going to be a substantially better design than theirs. Consider:

  1. Because the stops have to fit in a city block, the trains are only 2 cars long, so the capacity sucks.
  2. It’s at-grade just about everywhere, including downtown. Pedestrians are everywhere, making speeds crappy. The stops are too close together, too.
  3. Almost all of the line is along the freeway. So much for TOD!

If you look at Sound Transit’s track in the Rainier Valley, it’s much less inviting to pedestrians because it sits in the middle of a boulevard. The crossings are limited so that stations can be four cars long, and the only stretches of the ST2 that have stops along the freeway are Northgate to Lynnwood and I-90 across Lake Washington.

The MAX strikes me as rail-on-the-cheap. There is no less expensive way to build a dedicated-right-of-way system than to do it at-grade and use freeway rights-of-way, although this compromises its capacity, operating speed, and ability to promote long-term ridership through transit oriented development. If Sound Transit delivers on its promises, it’ll be worth the wait.

Yet again, Transit is Cheaper than Cars

So the port wants to build a $413 million rental-car center at Sea-Tac. The center will house 5,400-cars at most.

Sea-Tac light rail station? More than 3,000 daily riders at just $73 million.

Sure, apples-and-oranges, whatever. The fact is, cars are hugely expensive, their infrastructure is even more expensive, but few bat an eye when $413 million is spent on them.

Photo from the STB flickr pool.

Inside-out Cities

There’s a great new article in The Atlantic about the trend towards urban living and the likelihood of exurbs becoming low-income neighborhoods. The takeaway is that if you own property in a place like Marysville or Black Diamond, you should sell.

I’m not the best person to critique the article, because it entirely reinforces my prejudices, but I’ve always thought that the hollowing out of our inner cities has been a peculiarly American product of mid-20th-century racism and the breakdown in law enforcement in the 1960s. As those causes recede, we’ll probably end up with a more European-style configuration where the rich people live in the city center and the poor are warehoused out on the fringes.

But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay…

The experience of cities during the 1950s through the ’80s suggests that the fate of many single-family homes on the metropolitan fringes will be resale, at rock-bottom prices, to lower-income families—and in all likelihood, eventual conversion to apartments.

But don’t panic, Bellevue residents:

Of course, not all suburbs will suffer this fate. Those that are affluent and relatively close to central cities—especially those along rail lines—are likely to remain in high demand. Some, especially those that offer a thriving, walkable urban core, may find that even the large-lot, residential-only neighborhoods around that core increase in value. Single-family homes next to the downtowns of Redmond, Washington; Evanston, Illinois; and Birmingham, Michigan, for example, are likely to hold their values just fine.

A little further out, though, oy:

But much of the future decline is likely to occur on the fringes, in towns far away from the central city, not served by rail transit, and lacking any real core. In other words, some of the worst problems are likely to be seen in some of the country’s more recently developed areas—and not only those inhabited by subprime-mortgage borrowers. Many of these areas will become magnets for poverty, crime, and social dysfunction.

This has implications for transit planning. For one thing, effective high-capacity transit is a crucial amenity in those dense urban centers; to not have one is a debit against the city’s quality of life in the same way that a giant chemical plant in the middle of downtown would be. Additionally, the people that will absolutely require transit — who are now the urban poor — may become the “periphery poor,” creating new challenges for transit planners. So perhaps those long-haul transit services, so derided by The Stranger and West Seattlites, may be serving the strongest future markets for transit.

BTW, Seattlest beat me to posting about this by quite a bit.

Do You Have Streetcar Questions?

If you do, and you want me to ask SDOT for answers, leave the questions in the comments below. I’ll be posing them to the SDOT folks tomorrow, and will give you answers here shortly thereafter.

Eight Lane 520?

The Seattle Times just seems continually behind the, er, times. First, they ran an editorial for Haugen’s 6772 super-agency bill the day after it failed to escape from committee (lost the link sorry). Now, after the Seattle PI reports they are finishing up on the bridge plans and only working on Montlake section, and the Times Editorial Board come out with this argument for an eight-lane 520 bridge:

But for the 21st century, six lanes is small. A six-lane bridge will be full at rush hour, right from the start. The new bridge will have to charge tolls, and not only for finance but to limit demand — that is, to price the bridge out of reach of people who can’t or won’t have $6, or whatever the toll is.

Uh, I am pretty sure that six-lanes will be huge for the 21st century. If they did build an eight-lane bridge, will it might not be full, the highways on either side would be, as would the on-ramps. That road’s capacity would no longer be determined by the bridge, but rather by the ability to get people on to it. And do we really want an eight-lane highway through Portage Bay?

The Seattle Times is stuck in 1965 thinking.

Eastside Rail

So now that the Eastside rail has carried its final freight train, and the debate over Eastside rail is picking up, we add a new voice to the fray, Mark Gardner over at Whacky Nation.

But do the math. It’s scary even if the project would only cost the intitial $107 million capital expense plus $10 million (highly suspect) in operating costs every three years. But, I’ll use their numbers to be fair. And I’ll suppose two trains would support 200 commuters a day. Over a twenty-one year period, subtracting out weekends and a week’s worth of holidays, I pencil out the daily tax-payer subsidy to be $180. Yes, divide the costs by the passenger trips and the taxpayer is paying $180 a day per commuter so that a bunch of choo-choo loving liberals can have their toy.

I’m sure he’s wrong on about the ridership. You’d see a lot more than 200 people on each train, probably at least 500, especially by twenty-one years from now. On the other hand, he’s not counting the cost of acquiring the rails, which I guess is the same whether a train runs there or not.

Though at what ridership would you need to justify the capital cost? The $4.4 billion 520 replacement will carry at least 115,000 cars, and thus at least 57,500 commuters, each day. At that price it pencils out to $14 a commuter. U-Link will carry 90,000 riders at $1.75 billion, or about $4 per rider. Central Link’s cost is about $7. Cost effectiveness is an important argument for transit, and that’s one of the reasons Link Light rail is a no-brainer.

Eastside rail doesn’t seem to be nearly as much a slam dunk as the last two, but with a large enough base it could pencil out to be as effective as the 520 bridge at least.

Second Tunnel Hole Through Next Week!

There is less than 300 feet remaining for the Emerald Mole! This will complete the second tunnel through Beacon Hill.

Here is the e-mail I received from Jennifer at Sound Transit.

Yes, you are correct…we approaching exciting times! According to the latest projections, hole-thru could be as early as Friday, February 29, 2008! Of course, this is only an estimate, and we won’t know until possibly the day before.

Keep an eye out on our website, as I’m sure there will be an announcement. Also, I have attached a link to a graphic that shows approximately where the tunnel boring machine is…about 300 feet to go!


Click on ‘Tunnel Boring Machine “Emerald Mole” Progress’.

Excellent! Congrats to Sound Transit for this!

More Transit Now Service

We’re getting more Metro service as part of Transit Now, if the King County Council agrees.

In Seattle, the service changes include expanding 19 individual routes, several of them near South Lake Union, and a Rapid Ride route serving West Seattle with hybrid buses.

The West Seattle corridor has not been determined. The service is one of five Rapid Ride routes planned as part of the Transit Now expansion package approved by King County voters in 2006.

As part of the proposal, Seattle would receive more-frequent trips on Routes 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 14-S, 26, 28 and 44 in 2008.

Service frequency also would increase in 2009 on routes 2, 13 and 48 and in 2010 on city routes 5, 7, 8, 70, 74 and 75, with costs to be shared by Metro, the city and the South Lake Union Mobility Partnership for Routes 8 and 70. Some trips on Route 60 would be extended in 2010.

The county also has proposed a new route linking the Colman Ferry Dock and King Street Station, the International District and First Hill, financed partly by Harborview, Swedish and Virginia Mason medical centers. The route could be displaced by a streetcar if one is built in that area.

Details of the plan, part of a 10-year bus expansion financed with a sales tax increase, must be approved by County Council members, although they have generally approved sharing costs of route improvements with others, council spokesman Frank Abe said Wednesday.


Other projects are proposed for parts of Auburn, Bellevue, Redmond, Renton, Issaquah and Federal Way and include a new Route 913 connecting areas in the western part of Kent.

Another “Rapid Ride” corridor would be established by 2013 between Bellevue and Redmond, though the exact route hasn’t been determined, officials said.

Sea-Tac Station

In the on-going drama over Sea-Tac station for Link, the next station is going to cost $74 million, according to the DJC.

Sound Transit has put a new price tag on the light rail station at Sea-Tac Airport after months of value engineering and negotiations with the contractor, Mowat Construction. It will cost $74 million — $22 million more than the engineer’s estimate, even with a scaled-down design.

The airport station was supposed to cost $52 million, but Sound Transit only received one bid for the project and it was $95.3 million. So the agency split the contract in two parts and retooled the design.

Sound Transit may transfer $12 million from an administrative fund — which would be an unusual move — to help pay for the airport station. Its finance committee is scheduled to discuss the matter today.

Last week the Sound Transit board directed staff to finish negotiating the second airport contract with Mowat rather than put it out for bid. Rebidding would delay light-rail service to the airport past the December 2009 deadline, staff said.

Well at least it’s going forward, but it’s unfortunate that it has come in so much more expensive.

The DJC also covers the drama surrounding the Totem Lake bus on-ramps:

It will also take an additional $3.8 million for Sound Transit to finish the beleaguered Totem Lake freeway station project.

An HOV ramp at the station, which connects Interstate 405 and Kirkland’s Totem Lake area, had to be partially rebuilt last year after contractor Max J. Kuney Construction discovered long cracks in it. The cracks showed up after the contractor removed temporary supports holding up the ramp.

Engineers with the Washington State Department of Transportation designed the station for Sound Transit. They admitted the cracking was their fault because they didn’t put enough steel reinforcement in the concrete.

WSDOT did not say it would pay for the error. Former Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald suggested at the time that Sound Transit share responsibility for the cost overrun since it costs Sound Transit less to use WSDOT design and construction services than those of the private sector.

Sound Transit approved $2.2 million to fix the ramp last March in order to keep the project going. Now, the agency needs to put in an additional $3.8 million, and may transfer the money out of a reserve budget.

The additional costs — which Sound Transit said it expects will be reimbursed — brings the total project budget to $80 million.

“Sound Transit would not be moving forward with this budget amendment request if we were not confident that the costs to pay for the repairs will be reimbursed by WSDOT,” said agency spokesperson Bruce Gray.

Looks like the Board has a full plate for today’s meeting.

New Change at Washington State Ferries

Frank over at Orphan Road has picked up on a change of names for the Washington State Ferry system.

It is now seemingly called “Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division”

So…WSDTFD? I think I’ll keep the WSF….


How the Other Half Lives…

Here’s a pretty enlightening op-ed piece from Karen Steinberg, a Snohomish resident, about taking the bus downtown. The summary: parking downtown sucks (big surprise), the bus to downtown is convenient (another big surprise) and park-and-rides facility easy bus rides from the suburbs. Some highlights (and nothing I am saying is meant to be facetious):

My 11-year-old son had never been on a bus, so he was excited. We easily found a spot in the Park & Ride lot, walked over to the clearly labeled bay, and waited to board.

As we zoomed down Aurora Avenue North, stopping occasionally to drop off and pick up passengers and chatting with seatmates, I realized that although I’d grown up using buses and trains in Chicago, my son had never interacted with his communities in this way and was having a great time.

You know, I grew up on Capitol Hill and in Wallingford, so my experiences with the bus are clearly different than an eleven-year-old who grew up in Orange County and Snohomish. But it’s great to see that modern-day kids love the bus, even from Snohomish. It’s a different experience, and you never really get to see your neighborhood if you’re in a car the whole way.

Our day cruise was splendid, with crystal-clear views of the Olympics, Mount Rainier and the Cascades, and after doing some shopping, we found the northbound bus stop for our return trip. Within five minutes, the 358 pulled up, and we hopped on. On our trip back, a fellow rider offered us a newspaper he’d finished, and we had an interesting conversation about the paper.

Yup, you can enjoy your environs from the bus in a way you can’t when you are staring at the breaklights in front of you.

But, the gorgeous weather on Martin Luther King Jr. Day tempted me, especially when I contemplated a day cruise out on Elliott Bay. I logged onto Metro’s online Trip Planner, spent half an hour figuring out my options, and decided to go by car to the Park & Ride at the Aurora Village Transit Center and take the No. 358 downtown. (Had there been more time, I could have caught Community Transit’s 131 just a block from my home to the transit center — or, during regular weekday rush hour, taken CT’s 416 all the way downtown, no transfer or car required.)

Now, I hope Ms. Steinberg takes the bus when she commutes as well. But the point is great: the bus can be convenient, and even, dare I say, more convenient than driving. And, I think, the article gives more credence to the mayor’s center-city strategy: put more people and jobs downtown, and it becomes easier to plan infrastructure.

Request for Feedback

I want to know, do you want us to talk about ferries more? There has been a lot of drama surrounding ferries, we have not covered it because I think none of us here know much about it. If you want to learn more about ferries, let us know in the comments. If you would like to write for STB on ferries, we would be interested.

I think we cover Light Rail and the politics surrounding rail and transit in general fairly well. I also think Martin does a great job covering rapid ride and metro service. Nick covers streetcars well, and I think we are well-rounded on transit outside of ferries. If there’s anything you’d like to hear more (or less) about, let us know.

Seattle Streetcar Tagged

There are some really freaking low life people out there that would willingly break in to the maintenance facility and put graffiti all over a streetcar….