Saturday Open Thread

For your weekly dose of light rail porn, here’s the Seattle Channel’s story on the Link Media Ride. (Hey, Seattle Channel, how about an embed function?)

Also, Streetfilms profiled our sister Light Rail system in Phoenix:

We’ve covered the Phoenix opening extensively.

STB Flickr Account

LINK Interior

LINK Interior

I wanted (and no one objected) to getting at STB Flickr pro account. From now on any photos we don’t want to post on personal accounts will be posted on the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr account. I have uploaded photos from this weeks O&M tour as well as the LINK media ride from a few weeks ago. I have also added some transit related photos from a recent trip to the east coast. Please continue to contribute to the Seattle Transit Blog pool. Thanks to the over 70 people who have already contributed 2,000+ photo to the pool. Keep on adding and tagging! Below are a few of the flickr sets that we have already uploaded to the new account. This is an open thread. Enjoy!

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Seattle Sketcher Sketches Seattle Transit Bloggers

A couple of weeks ago, we had the chance to ride Link light rail with a handful journalists. Among them was the well-known Seattle Sketcher of the Seattle Times. Below is his sketch of some of us bloggers. Martin H. Duke is in the red shirt, Ben Schiendelman is wearing shorts and a camera, and I’m on the right. Click through for more sketches from the ride.


Reroutes Galore

There are special events and closures everywhere this weekend, most notably of the 520 bridge.  Metro’s blog has the details.

UPDATE: Whoops! Link is fixed.

News Roundup: $99,000,000,000

Intercity Transit Bus, by majinandoru

Intercity Transit Bus, by majinandoru

Lots of interesting stuff coming in over the interwebs yesterday:
  • Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), Chair of the House Transportation Committee, has a doozy of a transportation bill.  The transit fund would shoot up to $99 billion, from $53 billion in 2005.  The Bush-era FTA cost-effectiveness metrics would be revised to allow for benefits aside from reduced travel time.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! It’s far from law, but there’s tons of coverage at Streetsblog, the NYT, the transport politic, and Transportation For America.  There’s also a 17-page proposal available for viewing (pdf).
  • In an increasingly common refrain, however, the Obama administration is a little chilly towards pursuing major transportation reform this year.
  • Portland’ s proposed streetcar extension becomes the first in the nation to get federal funding. (H/T: Gordon)
  • The APTA named Thurston County’s Intercity Transit best transit system of its size in the nation.  It’s in the middle of three size categories, and competed against 108 other agencies.
  • Headline from Bizarro Washington: Maryland transportation board raids road fund to pay for light rail. (H/T: Yglesias)
  • Seattle Mayoral candidate Norman Sigler wants to find the money to do Ballard-to-West Seattle light rail sooner.   The Daily Weekly’s Damon Agnos gets Ben’s reaction.

The only thing I might have added to Ben’s comments is to point out that there are useful things to do between a study and actually building the thing. For starters, it’s fairly evident that we’ll have to tunnel under Second Avenue, and a rail-convertible bus tunnel would be a nice down payment that’s useful in the meantime, all for about $1 billion or so.

I was also pleasantly surprised to hear Sigler’s $5 billion figure, which for a total stab in the dark, is both a good guess and not as sugarcoated as most political promises.

29 Days

Waiting to Start, by Stephen De Vight

Less than a month to go!

A Link Car is 29 meters long.

According to, there are 29 American cities with rail systems prior to Link opening. I might quibble with the number (why count Detroit’s tiny system, but not Tacoma or the Seattle Monorail?), but given that we’re the 14th largest metro area it’s pretty sad.

This is an open thread.

Blog Service Outage This Weekend

Beginning Friday evening, we’ll be taking the blog down for some maintenance.  A few posts are going to appear over the weekend, but access is likely to be intermittent for a few days.

Over that period, any comments you submit are fairly likely to disappear into the ether, so do so at your own risk.  Commenting may be flat-out disabled for a while too. There will be a short period where comments are disabled, and you may periodically have trouble posting comments for a few days afterwards, depending on where you are in the internets.

Bus Reliability Metrics

Greater Greater Washington has an outstanding piece up about how we measure bus reliability:

Every month, Metro’s customer service committee looks at a presentation on operating statistics, including a chart showing the latest bus “on-time performance” percentage. That percentage reflects the number of buses that arrive within a certain time before or after the published schedule — usually around 73-75%. However, on its own, this number doesn’t give management enough information to effectively maintain bus quality. In addition, it doesn’t capture important elements of bus performance, like bus bunching…

London looks at bus on-time measuring differently. Because the bus lines in London are operated by private contractors, it’s very important for the local transit authorities to accurately measure on-time performance because there are real financial incentives or penalties involved. They measure how often buses pass by certain points on the network and track the “excess waiting time.” All that time you have to wait for a bus that’s running late or is bunched with others is added up and averaged over the route, and the excess waiting is compared to how much you’d normally have to wait assuming you come to the bus stop randomly. The reports for bus performance are published on the web.

Do click on that last link to London’s bus reports (excerpt pictured above).  I think Sound Transit’s ridership reports are pretty transparent, although Metro’s are somewhat less so.  But this blows both of them out of the water.

Metro’s definition of “on-time” is between 1 minute early and 5 minutes late, tighter than WMATA’s standard of 2 and 7 minutes, respectively.  Still, they were able to achieve a 75% on-time performance (pdf) in 2007.  Sound Transit’s definition is less than 10 minutes late, which they’ve achieved about 94% of the time (pdf).

The point that GGW makes, though, that on frequent routes the actual service interval is more important than adherence to any actual schedule.  I know that neither agency’s staff is really looking for more things to do right now, but it’d be nice to start adding this framework for routes like the 3 and the 550.

On the other hand, adherence to this metric and this metric only would incentivize some odd behavior — like having some bunched buses simply idle for a while to fix the interval.  What’s better: making sure the wait at the stop is uniformly short, or preventing people from sitting on idle buses?

Old School Trolley Buses Hit the Road Last Sunday

Old-style trolley bus on 3rd Ave. Taken last Sunday by reader Andy Fenstermacher.

Old-style trolley bus on 3rd Ave. Taken last Sunday by reader Andy Fenstermacher.

Were you out and about in Seattle last weekend and noticed something… different about some of the buses on the street? Yep, they looked straight out of the fifties.

Did sleeping in a few hours really cause you to enter a time warp? No, don’t worry, you weren’t caught up in time — you were just caught up in a Metro Employee Historic Vehicle Association excursion. It turns out the MEHVA does tours with many legacy buses they maintain, and their next trolley adventure is in just a few months:

Saturday, September 26: NIGHT TROLLEY TOUR
A 3-hour tour of Seattle’s distinctive and varied nightlife neighborhoods; Pioneer Square, Broadway, lower Queen Anne and the University District. Stops for photos and coffee. Trackless trolleys depart at 7 p.m.

Head to their site for more details.

Regional Rapid Transit news

Canada Line at YVR by indyinsane

Canada Line at YVR by indyinsane

As we count down the remaining month left before the opening of Central Link, I was reminded that in less than 3 months, Vancouver, B.C. will welcome it’s newest Metro system, Canada Line, set to open on September 7th. That same week, Portland will celebrate their 4th light-rail route, the Green Line to Clackamas Town Center. The Canada Line will connect the Downtown Vancouver Waterfront to Richmond and Vancouver International Airport, a ride which on a bus would take 48 to 54 minutes. A ride on Canada Line will take only 25 minutes. The new Canada Line was privately built and funded and will share the fare structure with TransLink for easy fare integration, whom operates SeaBus, local and express bus service, West Coast Express Commuter Rail, and SkyTrain. The Canada Line is estimated to cost $1.9 billion dollars and is currently $200 million under budget and 3 months early. On the heels of this new line opening, TransLink announced the $1.4 Billion CN Evergreen Line which will also run from Waterfront to Longheed Town Centre via the Millennium Line. The Evergreen Line is slated to start construction after the 2010 Olympics and open in 2014.

New Green Line @ 5th and Oak by Brian Bundridge

New Green Line @ 5th and Oak by Brian Bundridge

Starting September 12th, the 4th MAX line will start shuttling passengers from Portland State University and Clackamas Town Center. This $575.5 million dollar project will add another 8.3 miles to the expanding system. Tri-Met opted to order the popular Siemens S70 Avanto light-rail vehicles with a few slight modifications. The biggest difference is the vehicles will always be in pairs since the vehicles are single ended cabs (Meaning only 1 end of the car has a operator cab, the other is more seating). Like the Canada Line, the new Green Line will shave 20 to 40 minutes compared to the current buses.

The Green Line is also part of a multi-phase project that will allow expansion of the route to Milwaukie/Oak Grove. With the Green Line near completion, the dubbed Orange Line will continue onward from the PSU terminus to Park Ave Park and Ride in Oak Grove. The Orange Line will be the most expensive MAX line due in part that most of the line will be elevated and a new MAX/Streetcar bridge will be needed. Cost is expected between $1.2 to 1.5 billion dollars and add 7.3 miles to the system. The line is slated to open in 2015.

Train Frequency and the Downtown Tunnel

Link Inaugural Ride (by Ben)

Link Inaugural Ride (by Ben)

Every once in a while, someone asks me how long it will be before the buses are kicked out of the tunnel downtown. I bet we’ve talked about this before in the comments, but we could do with a discussion of frequency and routes.

At launch, peak train frequency will be 7.5 minutes. It’ll be listed as 7-8 minutes on the schedule – Metro’s scheduling system doesn’t handle 30 second increments. I was hoping for 6 minute peak headways, but we’ll get them eventually. As the first year of operation is only projected to average out with 20-25,000 on weekdays, I think we can wait a bit for 6 minute peaks.

I’ve been told that somewhere around 5 minute headways, there’s no longer safe time for buses to get through and load between trains, and at that point they’ll go back out to third avenue and elsewhere. That may happen when University Link opens, as ridership demand skyrockets. As we saw during the tunnel closure, surface congestion isn’t that bad with the extra buses, and a number of the tunnel routes will be replaced by rail soon after anyway. Perhaps at that point, we’ll consider further separating the bus corridor from cars.

When ST2 lines are built out, the expectation is that we’ll drop to 3 minute headways. The ST2 planning documents I’ve seen show three ‘lines’ – Lynnwood to Sea-Tac, Northgate to Federal Way, and Northgate to Redmond, each running on nine minute headways to combine to three between Northgate and ID Station. But we’d end up with headways of 3/6/3/6 minutes in the Rainier Valley, and I’m not sure 3 minute headways there would be feasible.

A little bird told me that a better option might be two six minute headway lines – one all the way from Lynnwood to Federal Way, and one from Lynnwood to Redmond. I like this better, it would cause far fewer passenger headaches. Oh, and wouldn’t it be awesome for the two lines to be Purple and Gold? It’s not my idea, but I like it.

Okay, how about the longer run? We should be able to get headways down to 2 minutes north of ID Station. At that point, in fifty years, we’re probably going to want to increase speed to Sea-Tac anyway. This is pure speculation, but I’ve mentioned in the past that it’s interesting that we leave and return to the Duwamish valley with Link. An elevated bypass along Marginal Way could save a couple of minutes for trains to the airport, serve SoDo better (with a stop near Georgetown), and allow us to add stations at Graham St. and S. 133rd without affecting longer distance users.

Consider this an open thread.

Amtrak Cascades – More Track work

Rail Grinder by Brian Bundridge

Rail Grinder by Brian Bundridge

Starting Monday, June 29, 2009, BNSF will be starting on a bridge maintenance project between Vancouver, WA and Portland, Oregon. Amtrak Cascades trains will terminate and originate from Vancouver Station with bus transportation to Portland Union Station to connect to trains bound for Eugene, Oregon. There will be a small detour in place that will add about 30 to 60 minutes to the Coast Starlight (Trains #11/14) and the Portland section of the Empire Builder (Trains #27/28)

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Sound Transit Ramps Up Safety Campaign

We’ve caught wind from the Slog that Sound Transit has released a PSA warning folks to be cautious around light rail. It’s a surprisingly creepy ad, which must be the point. Quite a different tone than Zap Gridlock!


Students at Rainer Beach High School have gone a different route, and offer up a more fun take on light rail safety:

And the Seattle Times is hard at work, penning up a short piece about Link safety education in the Rainer Valley.

Tacoma Thursday and Furlough Friday

This Thursday June 18, Sound Transit and the City of Tacoma are hosting a public meeting about the future of Tacoma Link. They’ll be talking about plans, funding, and how to move forward with extensions. It’s from 6-7pm Thursday at the Tacoma Municipal Building.

Friday, June 19 is the fifth of ten County unpaid furlough days this year.  The buses will still run their normal schedules, but all Metro offices will be closed.

10 furlough days also more or less amounts to the 5% pay cut frequently suggested by armchair budget cutters.

20/40/40 Under Fire

Photo by Oran

Photo by Oran

[Update: Aubrey Cohen at the P-I takes this post and runs with it, by collecting some quotes from some of the important players.]

The service allocation rule known as 20/40/40 is a directive from the King County Council that requires new Metro service hours in the proportions 20%/40%/40%. That is, 20% to the West area (Seattle, Shoreline, etc.), 40% to the East area, and 40% to South King County.  It is intended to gradually remedy the traditional allocation to Seattle well in excess of its share of the County’s population, and bring service to areas that currently have little or no transit access.

Critics have long contended that this reduces Metro’s cost efficiency and denies relief for overloaded routes in dense, transit-dependent areas.  As we discovered in February, Metro policy dictates that cuts be made in proportion to the current service levels (approximately 60/20/20).  This means that cuts would heavily impact Seattle, but restored service would be directed to the suburbs.  $100m in operating cuts would therefore require a $300m budget increase to fully restore the situation in Seattle.

This asymmetry, combined with the strong likelihood of some service cuts, has given new energy to the 20/40/40 opponents.  Last week, the P-I reported that  King County Executive candidate and State Sen. Fred Jarrett, perhaps trying to reach beyond his Eastside base, came out against 20/40/40 as a “failed model.”

On nearly the same day, Mayor Nickels’ office sent a letter to Interim County Executive Kurt Triplett (pdf) insisting that the strictly geographic criteria be replaced with four metrics: [Read more...]

32 Days

A Happy Mix, by Steven De Vight

"A Happy Mix", by Steven De Vight

We haven’t had one of these in a while.

Route 32 will be replaced by Link. It’s basically the express version of the 36, it runs from Rainier Beach to SODO and then Downtown, much like Link does. It’s only five runs in the morning and another four at night, so it won’t mean anything significant for Metro (another route likely already gets the hours).

In 1996, the same year some folks older than I am passed Sound Move, measure 32 would have authorized lottery funds for light rail in Oregon. It failed, the count was about 660,000 to 700,000. Since then, the Oregon legislature has approved lottery funds (presumably multiple times) for light rail construction, although another public vote failed in 1998. I haven’t found a solid timeline – does anyone know when light rail has passed at the ballotbox in Oregon?

32 is also the number of times Mike Lindblom made a dig at light rail in the Seattle Times today.

358 Bus Stop Plazas

Existing Conditions

Existing Conditions

Some great news from the Aurora Seattle blog. SDOT is looking at creating mini plazas along Aurora Ave N by reallocating side street ROW to transit riders. The project, which is funded by Bridging The Gap, will improve the waiting environment at 3 locations (104th, 84th, and 76th) for transit riders, especially in areas where existing sidewalks are narrow and ridership is high. This is an innovative (I have never seen this anywhere before) example of how street ROW can be put to better use. Aurora is one of the most hostile streets for pedestrians, and this is definitely a step in the right direction. I’m guessing this is a result of planning for the larger RapidRide station shelters. More information herehere and here. Thumbs up SDOT!

Option #1

Option #1

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“We need to do everything possible to get new stations built quickly.”

img_4628The Stranger recently wrote about seven things they learned when they rode light rail for the first time. The last one caught my eye – we need to speed this up.

There’s a big shrug from Sound Transit about accelerating University Link or Northgate – we can’t do much without immediate infusions of hundreds of millions of dollars, and I keep hearing they’re already working on a Northgate acceleration plan. But we can definitely do something about ST2′s other components. We could speed up Lynnwood, Federal Way, or Redmond extensions with more cash in the next few years, and we could accelerate planning for a new line in the city. This is why we’re starting to try to talk about new funding sources.

At the national level, there’s not much. There’s pressure on the Federal Transit Administration to improve their New Starts grant process, but we’re all here in Seattle, where it’s tough to have an impact in DC. It makes more sense to me to fight for new funding at the local level – we’re going to have to go to the state, and that’s a tough task on its own.

The options that stuck out for me are the basics:

  • State or local MVET using a smarter approach than the tables the state used to use.
  • Local option property taxes, both at a city level and through LIDs.

Were there other obvious funding sources I missed? I know there are lots of other options, but these seem like they’d be the easiest. Sound Transit already collects some MVET for Sound Move, but they won’t be able to continue using that revenue after the bonds are repaid, probably around 2023. Would that be a good place to start? How about allowing local voters to double it?

I-90 HOV

bridgesLast session’s legislative attack on the I-90 two-way HOV project has been discussed mainly as an attack on East Link, and it was.  Nevertheless, it’s useful to remember on days like today that “reverse-peak” HOV capacity is critical to the flow of buses and carpools.

There weren’t really any accidents or anything today; it was just run-of-mill congestion on a sunny Thursday afternoon.

Edit from Ben: I can’t say it was really run-of-the-mill. I got on the 545 at Overlake around quarter after 6, and didn’t make it to Denny and Stewart until nearly 7:45. An extra hour lost. Yesterday was the same way – exceptionally nasty.

Edit from Martin: I was referring to I-90, not 520, and the point was that there wasn’t some massive wreck or other cause of delay.  I believe my point stands.

36 Days: 194 Love

Route 194, by Oran

Starting in September, Route 36 will connect Othello, Beacon Hill, and the tunnel stations.  It will be entirely electrified, which means it’ll serve neither the extreme southern end of Beacon Hill nor the front entrance to the VA hospital.

The guaranteed time from Westlake Station to the airport will be 36 minutes, which makes this a good a time as any to discuss what I like to call “194 love.” [Read more...]