More on Mukilteo: Blogging from Sounder

Martin’s let you know that Mukilteo Station is now open on Sounder North, but I actually went!

First, though, I have a sad story about bus transfers in Seattle. I nearly missed the entire thing because my bus passed its timepoint early, but fortunately, as some of you know, I live where I have many options – so another route came along soon enough.

I caught a Sound Transit bus (the 510) to Everett, and then an Everett Transit bus (23) out to Mukilteo. There was already quite a crowd at the new station – I took some pictures that I can post later on.

On the 510, I met a seasoned train rider who had come to be on the first train that stopped at Mukilteo. He wasn’t the only one who mentioned it – several on the bus from Everett to Mukilteo were Clinton-Seattle commuters who are looking forward to using the train instead of driving or bussing. I also learned that while the ferry schedule lists a 20 minute trip from Clinton to Mukilteo, the actual time taken is often only some 15 minutes – especially during the calmer waters of the summer months – so the transfer to the train in the morning isn’t as bad as we thought.

At the new station, several tents were set up by local transit agencies, and a few food stands were serving free clam chowder (thanks Ivar’s!) and other goodies. There were a few hundred people, and several speakers: the Snohomish County Executive, the mayor of Mukilteo, Deanna Dawson (an Edmonds city councilmember), Senator Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island), and Greg Nickels.

I’m blogging from the train right now – we’ve just gotten south of Edmonds, and it sounds like the train picked up 350 in Everett and more than another 300 in Mukilteo. Sounder South tops out at a bit over 1000 people per trip with seven cars – we have five cars, and they’re all packed! This won’t be normal ridership, of course, this is game service being offered for free, but it’s nice to see people interested!

Congratulations, Mukilteo!

Welcome to the family of cities that have rail transit.

Mariners service is free today, with regular-fare commuter service starting Monday, June 2.

Eugene BRT: Rosy Outlook and Harsh Reality

Eugene’s BRT service is great! Check out the adorable video, complete with butterflies and whistling music. Hmm, though – they sure seem to make an effort to be anti-rail – note the line at the end: “There and back, with no clickety-clack.”

Apparently avoiding “clickety-clack” (which doesn’t exist on modern rail systems anyway) wasn’t such a great idea after all: fuel prices are forcing the Lane Transit District board to cut service – possibly dramatically, with some routes potentially going from 30 minute headways to 1 hour headways, some routes being completely eliminated, and increases in fares. Their base fare is already going up from $1.25 to $1.50 on July 1st, and that doesn’t eliminate the $2-3 million shortfall in their $36 million budget.

So, next time you ask yourself “When was the last time a bus route disappeared?” – here’s your answer, and it’s only going to get worse. All these areas have hydroelectric power with stable prices, too – I learned on a trip to Grand Coulee Dam last year, for example, that they have never increased their rates, and don’t plan to. MAX won’t be going anywhere, and nor will Link.

Do Seattlites Really Not Know How To Ride A Bus?

This blogger, kj at RajeKaje thinks that Seattlites don’t know how to ride the bus. His problem is on a crowded bus, standing passengers don’t always file to the back.

Apologies for the rant below: I’ve found this true, I think it’s mildly a protest about more people boarding the already-crowded-bus, but this is no where near worst problem. The worst problem for me is the people wasting time figuring out how to pay when they get on or off (whatever the pay time may be). I don’t have the problem on my commuter route very often but I do have the problem when riding around town.

A friend once put it this way: “When it my stop comes, I’m ready like I’m a parashooter over Normandy; I am ready to jump when the read light goes on. Pass out or correct change and standing near the door.” Oh, if only all bus riders were like that. Maybe we need a union!

This has happened more often recently, but we have more and more noobies riding the bus. I welcome them, and after a while, I’m sure they’ll share the same feelings I have. But in the mean time, I get just a little peeved.

What’s your most annoying trait of rush-hour transit riders?

Reminder: Metro Route Changes

Martin wrote about this before, but I wanted to remind you that the route changes take effect this Saturday. Here’s the KC Metro site, and here’s a Times story for an overview.

Rail, Not Buses

One of the common questions we get from commenters is “why are you so sure that rail is the right solution?” and “why are you so enamored with rail?” Both these questions are often followed with “buses are cheaper”. I want to explain the main reasons why high capacity rail transit gets so many more riders, is so much more effective at moving people and why it is in the long run cheaper than bus transit. I want to focus on the argument between “bus rapid transit” (BRT) and light rail transit (LRT), so I’m going to ignore the elephant in the room: most bus rapid transit does not run in its own right of way, thus adding the largest knock against bus transit: buses get stuck in traffic.

Rail transit is more permanent than bus transit. As famous conservative rail transit supporter Paul Weyrich points out, one of the main arguments for buses is their “flexibility”. But this flexibility is the source of one of the largest draw-backs of bus transit: inconsistency. That a bus is “flexible” means that the routes are also flexible, and riders aren’t sure that a bus line will remain in place into the future. If someone is making a decision about where to live for the foreseeable future, say they’re buying a house, they won’t make that choice based on a bus line that may not be there in the future.

I’ve forwarded this argument before, and people have said “when was the last time a bus route was removed in Seattle?” When I was in high school I took the 43 to my running start classes at Seattle Central Community College. We moved from Capitol Hill to Wallingford, and I could take the 43 straight from Wallingford to Broadway. Then, in the middle of the year, Metro split the line: the 43 no longer went from Downtown through Capitol Hill to Ballard: most runs ended in the U District, where the 44 route to Ballard began. I can think of a couple other routes that did this same thing, the old 7 has been split into the 7 and the 49, the old 65 now stops in the U-District. So it happens; service can stop or shift dramatically. That makes people far less inclined to change their life around the bus.

The permanence of rails also leads to more development than buses. For the same reason as above, new development near rail transit tends to be higher density than development near bus transit: if you are building a large project, part of your plan has to be transportation. That’s the reason Microsoft settled next to SR 520, one of the reasons downtown Bellevue is so much more developed than, say, downtown Everett, and one of the reasons South Lake Union is currently attracting so much development (this is the streetcar and I-5). Imagine if I-405 weren’t permanent; would Bellevue be experiencing so much growth?

Rail is much more attractive to the non-dependent rider, and thus get more riders. As Carless in Seattle has pointed out:

[A]mong bus-based [High Capacity Transit] users, more than 60% of US bus riders do not own a car. But of rail-based HCT, nearly 60% of subway, streetcar and light rail users DO own a car. (Those numbers include Manhattan, where less than 20% of people own a car, vastly depressing the number of rail users in the rest of the US who could own a car but choose mass transit).

Seattle’s highest ridership bus routes go through the most transit dependent areas. Even with those routes, ridership is no where near the ridership of a rail line. Each Link station will get as many riders as most bus routes, and some will have far more boardings than even those routes with the most riders – and these estimates do not take into account development spurred by the system. University of Washington station, for example, is supposed to get some 27,000 daily riders in 2020. Recent light rail construction in the US has almost universally has almost universally exceeded pre-construction estimates, with only one exception (VTA, in the South Bay).

Stepping on a train is enough to see why the difference exists. Trains have a smoother ride, more comfortable seats, and more space. Boarding is also far simpler – instead of a dozen people fumbling with fares, there are several doors, and payment is done on the platform where it doesn’t affect operation. Anyone who’s ever been on a standing-room-only bus can attest to the discomfort. A forty-five minute 545 ride standing up in Friday evening traffic is enough to convince people to drive to work. Here’s photographic evidence of the difference.

The most expensive part of building high-capacity, reliable transit is the right of way – with very similar cost between BRT and LRT. Even Ted Van Dyk, the most adamant BRT supporter and light rail opponent, admits that BRT costs at most 30% less than LRT to build. For University Link, for example, 95% of the costs are for tunneling and stations. A BRT system that would serve the same corridor would need also to build its own right-of-way, and would cost just as much as light rail. And since BRT ridership projections tend to be more than 30% less than LRT in the same corridors, even if the Ted Van Dyks of the world were right, LRT would still be cheaper per passenger to build than comparable BRT.

Rail is cheaper to operate per passenger than buses are. Labor is over 50% of King County Metro’s costs. Each bus needs an operator, but an articulated bus only carries 80 at maximum, compared to 800 for a Link LRT train. And with diesel already over $5 a gallon, the gap in operations expenses will continue to grow. Even in bus systems with little to no right-of-way costs, total costs for BRT are higher per passenger mile than LRT. Metro takes a .9% sales tax share now, and moves about 365,000 people per day. A fully built out LRT package from Prop. 1 would have moved that many people by 2030, admittedly a long time, but would have cost just .15% to operate. The capital costs for rail are temporary expenses – Metro will keep spending .9% to move that many people for the next hundred years, but Sound Transit would build three Prop. 1 packages with the same money in that time. Considering about two-thirds of the Sound Transit district is King County, Metro would have to move 1,400,000 million people per day, nearly the entire population of King County right now, to be as cost effective in the long run.

Absolutely rail is expensive and takes longer to build than most bus service. But the investment pays off over time in lower maintenance, higher ridership, and more dense development around stations – which can allow for less density pressures away from rail lines. High-quality transit service ultimately makes a region more affordable, more sustainable, and in some ways more fun. That’s why we at this blog prefer rail over buses.

Sound Transit: Time to Decide

What do you think of this?

Apparently these have been airing on cable television in our area. I like it for the most part, but the wave at the end is a little cheesy.

14 Miles of Track Completed

Sound Transit has completed 14 miles of track from Tukwila International Boulevard to Westlake Station today. There was a ceremony at the Link Operations and Maintenance to mark the occasion. I’ll post the photos I took tonight when I get home, but in the mean time you can check this link for some details and video, and here’s the official press release.
Five board members, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, King County Council Member Julia Patterson, King County Council Member Larry Phillips, King County Council Member Dow Constantine, and King County Executive Ron Sims. took part in “hammering the golden spike” signifying the completion. They took turns offering speeches, and I think from their speeches it’s possible to glean their support for an expansion ballot measure this year.

Greg Nickels is the ST board chair, and he went first, giving a speech about how great the progress has been, but how just as this project is not finished, the road to expansion of Sound Transit isn’t either. Nickels is a vocal supporter of going to the ballot this year, and his speech showed that as well.
Ron Sims was next, and he had no speech prepared, and instead grabbed Link director Ahmad Fazel and sort of put him on the spot to give a speech. It was funny, and while it’s refreshing to Ron Sims still have a sense of humor, it also shows how little engaged he is in Link that he couldn’t be bothered to give a speech.

Julia Patterson gave an impassioned speech about how much Puget Sound residents are going to want light rail when it gets up and running. The speech was great, I’ve never head Patterson talk but she’s got a definite knack for engaging the listener with fresh phrases, and not tired cliches. However, I wasn’t completely happy with the subtext of her message, which I felt was that Sound Transit may want to wait until 2010 to go to ballot.
Larry Phillips I’ve heard talk before, and he has a natural inclination for straight and clear talk. He made it clear to me that wanted Sound Transit back on the ballot this year.

Dow Constantine was last, and he strikes me as a bit of an intellectual, and spoke about transportation and land use planning, and sustainability. He reminded me a lot of Ben talking.

So of the five that showed up to the ceremony, it looked like two were definitely for going this year, one was leaning against, one made no indication either way, and one looked completely unengaged.
Ok so on to my other thoughts:

  • The trains coming out of Beacon Hill into SODO are going to have a great view of downtown, First Hill (which is getting a little skyline of it’s own) and the stadiums.
  • The Kinkisharyo cars that link will be running make an old-school “clang-clang” to notify pedestrians (and cars I guess). Kind of like a horn on a car, but some how much cooler.

Capitol Hill Station Art Project Getting Cancelled?

Via Daryn blog, I find that Mike Ross, the artist who was chosen to work on the art in Capitol Hill Station, is concerned his project might be canceled due to public outcry over the use of decommissioned fighter jets in the installation:

————— Forwarded message —————
From: Mike Ross>
Date: May 22, 2008 11:04 AM
Subject: Sculpture may be canceled — please help
To: Mike Ross>

Hey folks. As some of you know, I was selected to make a sculpture for Seattle’s new subway station in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. I proposed a sort of stylistic sequel to Big Rig Jig, using a pair of fighter jets. The jets would be deconstructed into pieces, painted pink and orange, and spread out along organically-inspired curves above the station platform between the ceiling beams (they have high ceilings in this station). The exact design is not yet finished. But you can see mock-ups of some early variations here:

The project is in now in danger of being canceled, and I need your help.

Several people have written letters to Seattle’s transit agency, Sound Transit, complaining that the piece is offensive, a glorification of war, and culturally insensitive to neighborhood residents. The area’s 43rd-District Democrats have even passed a resolution officially condemning the sculpture:…

Unfortunately, the only people who have been moved to write letters are those who object to the sculpture, and the transit agency is seriously considering canceling the project. It has been demoted from “approved” to “not yet approved,” and the rest of the station development is now proceeding without the sculpture, until we can
demonstrate significant community support.

I am hoping that some of you might know people in or near Capitol Hill, Seattle, who can see the potential of the sculpture, and who disagree with the idea that it is offensive or a glorification of war. It may use military technology, but it is not just a pair of jets — it’s jets, chopped up, painted pink, and made to look like two birds
kissing. There is a peaceful message there, and I believe the artwork will ultimately be accepted by its detractors as an object and process which references many of their own views. But before that can happen, the transit agency needs to know that there are people in the community who support the sculpture.

If you know anyone who might wish to write a letter or email (emails are just as good), they should send it to the following two people:
Joni Earl, CEO
Sound Transit
401 S. Jackson St.
Seattle, WA 98104

Barbara Luecke, STart Program Manager
Sound Transit
401 S. Jackson St.
Seattle, WA 98104

Thanks for any help you can offer. Please feel free to forward this email.

Mike Ross

The 43rd Democrats protested the piece for being culturally insensitive? That’s embarrassing. I can understand thinking a local artist should do the piece, though I’ve seen a lot of local art and I’m not always impressed. Knowing these people are out to sabotage the art, and put something in that inspires less conversation makes me more attracted to the art than I was before. I think using the warplanes as art pays homage to Seattle’s former reputation as the Jet City, though it’s fair for recent migrants to Seattle to not appreciate this. I also think two pink fighter jets kissing is a nice play on “swords to ploughshares“. I also think it’s ironic that people who claim to fight for tolerance and a range of ideas oppose something that falls outside their way of thinking.

I like it, and I’ve written emails to those mentioned above. What do you think? Is this really culturally insensitive or an over reaction?

Non-Transit Related: Prefab Apartments

These pre-fab apartments on Westlake could be really interesting. The article focuses on the affordibility aspect of the units, which cost far less to build than traditional buildings. I wrote a little about them late last year, and I was concerned because the designs I saw at the time were hideous. But the proposed design (warning! huge pdf) is actually attractive, and especially attractive relative to the standard building being thrown up around here. And if this can be built to be affordable to “work-force” renters (those earning between 80~120% of the city’s median income), then I would love to see more of these being built when compared to this areas average beige and green building being thrown up.

What do you think about prefab apartments? Would you live in these?

Car Era Coming to an End…

This is a pretty interesting opinion piece about the approaching end to the car era. These days you can’t open anewspaper without reading about people moving their commutes to transit, or how expensive gas has become and how it will only get more expensive. So there’s nothing really new in this piece, but its succinct and I thought it was worth sharing.

Oh now it makes sense, that’s per year!

Carless in Seattle explains what I couldn’t figure out from the P-I article on the ULI report last week. I wrote that I couldn’t understand how the shortfall was just $800 per person, less than the cost of the any of the major road or rail projects in the region. But CIS explained the missing piece: it’s $800 per person per year. Wow. That’s a lot of money, more than four times the cost of the failed Prop. 1 measure from last year.

Private Commuter Rail?

Snohomish County has given a private company, GNP Railway rights to operate commuter rail in the portion of the old BNSF railway in Snohomish county. Currently that portion of the former railway is a trail. GNP railway wants to operate commuter rail service from Snohomish to Bellevue or Renton, with a station in Snohomish (the city) where there was one the larger part of a century ago.

In order to accomplish this, GNP would need to make a similar deal with the Port of Seattle, get the capital to add rails where there’s currently just a trail, and build stations along the line. It sounds a little iffy to me, because I doubt the line would get enough ridership to make this a profitable enterprise, but GNP chairman Tom Payne has a history of bringing railroads from the dead:

Payne, a former locomotive engineer, transformed a failing rail line into Canada’s third-largest railroad in the 1980s and 1990s. He operated a tourist-oriented excursion train out of Tacoma in 2006.

I would be awesome if this works, though I imagine some sort of public-private partnership would be needed. This is going to be an interesting one to watch.

Wow, in a country with bad transportation infrastucture, we’re the worst

That’s what the ULI is saying. We’ve got a backlog of about $800 per person in this region, for about $800 per person. Seems low: that’s only about $3 billion, the 520 bridge and the viaduct are each more than that. Dallas-Fort Worth is second at about $400 per person, so we’re twice as bad as the next worst.

American cities are falling behind Asia and Europe in investing in roads, transit, bridges and other systems needed for growing populations, the study said.

Among U.S. cities/metro areas studied, the Seattle-Puget Sound area’s infrastructure-funding gap was nearly twice that of Dallas-Fort Worth, which was second at nearly $400 per capita. ULI, a nonprofit education and research institute that focuses on land-use, population growth, urban planning and the environment, worked with financial consultants Ernst & Young to produce the 60-page study.

“By 2040, the population of the Seattle area is projected to grow by 1.7 million new people, with 1.2 million new jobs … that’s like dropping the population of greater metropolitan Portland into the Puget Sound area,” John Hempelmann, co-vice chairman of the Reality Check Task Force for ULI Seattle, said Wednesday.

“That’s a big number, and a huge challenge, given the lack of infrastructure capacity and lack of funding.”

America is losing the transportation race quickly. If you go to Singapore, China, France, Korea or practically anywhere else the airports are nicer, the trains are nicer, sometimes even the highways are nicer, and it’s generally easier to get around than in most US cities, wonder why? Infrastructure spending:

“It’s kind of discouraging,” he told the audience, that in 1960, the U.S. spent 12 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure and now spends 2.4 percent. Japan spends 10 percent, China 9 percent and India 4.6 percent, Hudnut said.
Earlier this year, he said, a bipartisan congressional commission estimated the U.S. needs to spend at least $225 billion annually on transportation systems alone “just to catch up and keep pace with the rest of the world.”

It shows in Americans’ daily lives. Europeans are connecting major cities using high-speed trains traveling 200 mph, Hudnut said.

But Seattle-area drivers spent about 45 hours in traffic delays in 2005 — more than a week of vacation — in contrast to 12 hours in 1982, according to the report.

Some are hoping for a reauthorization of the depleted federal Highway Trust Fund in November 2009, but with a shifted focus from cars to transit.

That’d be a start. But we’d also need to start approving funding for these project on a local level. Let’s hope ST2 gets through this year…

A mini-vacation on Metro

This Seattle Times article about miniature vacations on Metro to summer hotspots around town is pretty interesting. Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, Seattle Center … Just kidding. The article is about semi-natural and outdoorsy places such as the Ballard Locks, Golden Gardens and Alki. And since it was in the Times, it was written by someone who lives on the Eastside (this time Kirkland). I honestly learned how to get to Snoqualmie falls by transit (271 from Bellevue TC or 209 from Issaquah PNR), which is awesome for moving my carless life forward. Snoqualmie falls is a great place to take friends from out-of-town, and now I can do it without a car.

The Alki directions miss the mark: West Seattle Water Taxi, guys, come on! This is really the only way to get to Alki in the summer months, I can’t imagine why someone would want to take the 56 there.

Ok, so what other interesting places can you get to by bus in this area? I can think of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma (a worthwhile visit on ST route 594), Magnuson Park (65), Emerald Downs (152), and the Arboretum (48, 11)? Help me out!

Nickels wants you to consider leaving the car at home

Mayor Nickels is back in the act of encouraging people to consider alternatives to car ownership in the city. The City will provide the following incentives to encourage carless commutes:

To find out more about how to participate, go to Seattle residents who commit to reduce car trips at the Web site are eligible for the following:

• Commit to eliminating a few car trips, and qualify for a drawing for a $50 gift certificate for bus passes or REI.

• Commit to reducing commute trips for several months, and receive a $150 cash card.

• Sell or donate a car, and receive $200 in gift certificates for bus passes or REI; a $100 discount to Tiny’s Organic; $50 off a Zipcar membership; free membership in the Cascade Bicycle Club and Bicycle Alliance of Washington; and a signed proclamation from the mayor.

• For those who already bike, walk or take transit, the city will hold a quarterly drawing for an iPhone.

There used to be flexcar incentives, but when zipcar bought flexcar, they decided to not participate in the program. That’s kind of a shame, zipcar is a great way to ween people off car ownership, but I guess that option is still available.

Final South Sounder Project now with pics!

Starting this Friday, BNSF Railway will start cutting over the new main line relocation project which will move the normal main tracks from it’s current location to the new construction tracks between King Street Station and South Lander Street. The new main line will enable faster trains between Lander and Spokane Street shaving a few minutes off passenger train schedules.

At Lander Street, the main line will curve from it’s current location and shift to the right next to the Seattle School District building. The garbage cars and coal train approaching me were in the way to see the new tracks.

The schedule is as follows

May 1st – 3rd – BNSF installed new crossing gates at Royal Brougham and Lander Street which will protect the new tracks. This also includes quad gates at Royal Brougham to prevent pedestrian incidents. (Completed and Operational)

Friday, May 23rd – MUD Track cut over – This is the Eastern track of the 5 tracks at Lander Holgate Street.

Saturday, May 24th – Main 2 (Northbound track) cut over…since this is CTC (Centralized Traffic Control) trains can run on either main in either direction

Sunday, June 8th – Main 1 (Southbound track) cut over…read note above.

The Lander Main (Main 3 – Work Lead Main for Argo and Stacy Street Yards) is set for cut over June 16. On June 17, track speeds go up! F20/P20 will go to F35/P50 at Stadium. This means 50mph passenger trains between Holgate Street and Spokane Street.

At Holgate Street, shows the new Stadium control point and cross overs and new gates.

Looking the other direction towards Lander Street

The old Main 1 and Main 2 tracks be turned over to Amtrak for switching, storage tracks, etc between Royal Brougham and Lander Street. The photo below showing Sounder approaching on Main 1. The new main lines is on the left on the photo.

Once all of this work is completed, it is to be said that construction will start on the new Amtrak/Sounder maintenance facility. This will be a medium sized facility with a new State of the Art Indoor Wash Rack, Wheel Truing building, Machining shop that will handle medium service repairs, a new PIT track, and 7 more storage tracks that will hold a 14 car train sets. I’ll get more information on this later to make sure this is correct but the last I heard on this was 2 months ago from Amtrak themselfs.

We’ll see.

Want to see the progress of the Seattle Construction Project? Check out this post which has been following the construction projects since 12/31/2005 !!

Editors Note: I do not include the Lakewood Extension as part of the “BNSF South Sounder Project”

Amtrak Cascades ridership up due to fuel costs

Today, King 5 did an interesting story regarding how fuel prices are improving ridership on Amtrak Cascades. Check out the crowd getting off Sounder!

On another note.. King Street Station needs to hurry up and get remodeled.. the brief video clips they showed were terrible….

Metro Service Changes

Along with Sound Transit, Metro has rider alerts for their service changes. It’s basically a bunch of shuffling of routes around the new Issaquah Transit Center, shifts of stops for the 5X, 358, 230, 914, and 916.

There’s one more trip each for the 212, 221, and 271, a nice bonus for the Eastgate area.

The 74 local will be renumbered as the 30.

Also, in July they’re raising Off-peak Senior, Disabled and Youth Fares by a quarter. I suppose that’s in line with the recent adult fare increases.

New Sound Transit Schedules

It’s that time of year again: in a little more than a week, we have new bus and train schedules. Sound Transit’s changes, effective June 1, are already online. Highlights: