Link’s First Week

Link in SODO by Brian Bundridge

Link in SODO by Brian Bundridge

So with Link up and running for a week, here is a recap;

On opening day, 2 people got stuck in the elevator at Beacon Hill Station.

Many people complained about the rough wiggle the train made along the elevated segment.

TVM’s had their share of problems.

A power/signal outage shut down the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel for nearly a full day.

Trains were “light ridership” according to some newspapers.

Today I rode on Link and my observations are the following;

The wiggle in Tukwila is barely noticeable. The maintenance of way team at Sound Transit did a great job fixing this for both tracks!

Beacon Hill has some incredible food.

Sports fans are enjoying taking Link… the train I got off around 4:45pm had at least 40 jerseys waiting at Tukwila after over 200 commuters got off at Tukwila.

TVM’s all have been upgraded, including the Sounder TVM’s.

No power issues in the DSTT.

Ridership is steadily increasing. Both of my trains had easily over 200 people, which was shocking. The A/C on the trains did a good job keeping the temps cool.

How was your first week on Link? Good experiences, bad experiences? Considering this is the first week, I am shocked on how well this is going!

Link to the Mariners!

Safeco Field (Wikimedia Commons)

Safeco Field (Wikimedia Commons)

Tonight marks the first game that one can take light rail to see the Mariners play at home.  As a pretty serious baseball fan, that’s a big deal to me, and I’ll be there tonight.  Woo!

Given the need of transit agencies to get approval from a broad constituency, and the extent  to which the spread of jobs and homes makes it hard to serve many commuters, it’s important to look out for non-commuter markets that are suitable for transit.  Along with the airport, sporting events fit the bill for having expensive parking and ugly congestion not mitigated by buses.  It’s that combination that probably made the Airport a more attractive destination than Southcenter, which is easy and cheap to drive to.

There will be a non-trivial number of people whose primary interaction with Link will be through Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders, and (one day) Husky games.  It’s a market to which I hope Sound Transit makes a serious effort to provide a good rail experience.  That means some crowd control, perhaps an additional train or two for big events, and lots of assistance to expedite the ticket-buying process.

Meanwhile, Across the Sound…

www.islandtransit.org

www.islandtransit.org

The trains are great, but the buses that most of us rely on are still under threat.  In Washington’s rural counties, things are really bad:

  • Kitsap Transit, in the past year, has raised fares from $1.25 to $2 and abolished Sunday service.  Now, to save an additional $1m a year, they’re looking at trimming Saturday service to 8 hours a day and eliminating some more routes.  So much for that weekend foot-ferry outing to the peninsula!  (H/T: Gordon)
  • Island County has an August 18 ballot measure to raise the transit sales tax from 0.6% to the maximum 0.9%.  This is to avoid a 34% service cut.  Island Transit levies no fares and has no Sunday service.

Service Restored in the Tunnel

We’ve just gotten word that Link is back to normal in the tunnel again. A circuit breaker was flipped earlier in the day, and it took ‘rebooting’ the whole tunnel signal system to get things back to normal.

Metro to Fund RapidRide with No Net Tax Increase

King Count Executive Kurt Kurt Triplett announcing Metro funding increases.

King County Executive Kurt Triplett announcing Metro funding increases. Photo from West Seattle Blog.

RapidRide will be saved, announced interim King County Executive Kurt Triplett. Triplett announced plans today to use recent legislative authority to create a transit share of property taxes of 5.5 cents, while cutting other levies to make the plan tax neutral.

“This five-and-a-half cents for Metro Transit would provide 23,000 additional passenger trips a day on our most heavily used corridors during a time when overall bus ridership has jumped 20%,” the Executive said in a press release. This would amount to about $18m a year for Metro, compared with a structural deficit of about $100m a year.

The legislature granted property taxing authority of 7.5 cents per $1000 of assessed value for public transit. The legislature also allowed for enactment of an MVET, but the Governor vetoed that portion of the bill.

Funding would be used primarily to save the beleaguered RapidRide bus rapid transit network that Metro is planning to roll out over the coming years. Failing to deliver on RapidRide could have been politically infeasible given that the 2006 Transit Now! measure campaigned heavily on the idea of rapid, frequent, and fast RapidRide service servicing the fastest growing areas in King County. That measure that increased Metro’s sales tax authority by 0.1% to a maxed-out 0.9%.

The legislature mandated that a portion of the property taxing authority must be dedicated to SR-520 service. Metro is receiving millions in urban partnership funds to buy new buses for the 520 corridor, but no money from those grants fund bus service. Tolls are set to begin along span next year.

Since all of this funding will be used to fund RapidRide and SR-520 service, this additional revenue may not help avoid deep service cuts. Triplett said he will announce a plan next week that will outline the expected deep service cuts and perhaps fare increases. Last November, the King County Council approved a 50-cent fare hike that will finish phasing in next January. It’s hard to say how much more fare riders can stand to pay, particularly without some sort of hardship or poverty exemption.

Read on for more details after the jump…

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Power outage in the tunnel

UPDATE 1:13pm: Trains seem to be back in the tunnel, but only for testing. The evening commute will be bus only in the tunnel.

UPDATE 11:27am: Maybe not quite this soon. Link’s back to Stadium-Tukwila for the moment.

UPDATE 11:09am: “Soon” means soon. Link is running its complete route again.

Link trains are serving Stadium-Tukwila due to a power outage affecting some control equipment.

Buses are still running in the tunnel.  No word on when it’ll be fixed, other than “soon”.

New Anti-Tunnel Site

A group of deep-bore tunnel opponents have launched a new site — tunnelfacts.com — that brings a lot of anti-tunnel arguments in one place. (Disclosure: STB associate editor Ben Scheindelman has contributed material to the site).

Among STB staff, I’m probably the softest on the tunnel, yet even I think it’s a dumb idea.  I’m “soft” in the sense that the state is going to blow its gas tax money on a dumb project somewhere, and this isn’t any dumber than most other options.  What I can’t tolerate is the city’s contribution, plus its commitment to cover the overruns (which the Mayor’s office claims is unenforceable).

So I agree with what tunnelfacts.com is trying to accomplish. That said, I’m kind of uncomfortable with some of the stuff there, in particular this page and this little graphic (go here for the interactive version, sorry for the small pic):

tunnel

Two things about this make me queasy:
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News Roundup: Pedestrian Safety Edition

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

While waiting for the 48 this morning, I witnessed a car-vs-pedestrian collision.  The pedestrian was hurriedly crossing MLK illegally to catch the bus and ended up shattering the windshield of the car.  I was first on the scene, and assisted the pedestrian, who was limping, but apparently not really seriously injured, fortunately.

The driver was appropriately mortified, but that may have been because of the police car 20 feet away, parked to observe traffic.

We really ought to elevate or bury the traffic on MLK, to avoid this kind of thing.  Anything less would be gross negligence.

That’s all just a long introduction to the P-I‘s nice piece on the state of pedestrian safety in Seattle.  Other news items:

Passenger Rail News Roundup: ARRA Funding and Talgo

A lot has been happening!

  • Washington State has requested $1.8 billion dollars in stimulus money to upgrade the Vancouver BC – Portland, Oregon with diesel locomotives but includes funding for a 220mph corridor
  • Meanwhile, Oregon State has requested $2.1 billion dollars in stimulus money to upgrade the Portland, Oregon – Eugene, Oregon route into a 110mph electrified rail corridor
  • Wisconsin has won the bid to build a new Talgo Assembly and Maintenance Facility. The State of Wisconsin will also be purchasing 2 new 14 car Talgo trainsets with an option to buy 2 more with a capacity of 420 passengers. I am not sure if Washington State ever competed for this project. It is expected that the trainsets will be the Talgo 7 or Talgo 21 (H/T; Trains4America)
  • Amtrak has put out an RFO to build the new Viewliner II long distance single level passenger cars. Hmm, Oregon Iron Works perhaps? (H/T; Trains4America)
  • And in Canada, Via Rail may strike due to contract issues with the government (again)…

News Roundup: Link Reactions Everywhere

Kitty eats an orange, by beatnikside

"Kitty eats an orange", by beatnikside

Open Thread

I went to a bar in Downtown last night and on the way there I needlessly took the Westlake train to University St. What a transit nerd, right?

Obviously our comments sections are filling up with all of our recent Link discussion, so here’s a new thread for you guys.

Link Observations from Today

1991 Orion 1.508 by Oran Viriyincy

1991 Orion 1.508 by Oran Viriyincy

This evening, I rode 4 trips of the first public revenue runs on Link. I was happy, disappointed, appalled but also understanding, which is why this post is here.

1. From a railroaders point of view, the elevated section is decent. The southbound line is much smoother than the northbound by a long shot but overall, I rate this a C in terms of ride quality. While the benefit of not having to align track is good, the noise, ride quality and such is going to be the bigger deterrent for many riders. Personally, until the segments are fixed and adjusted, I would recommend only doing 45 to 50mph. This has nothing at all to do with breaking in the track because the track will never be “broken in”. It is “anchored” down with a very, very limited amount of tolerance. I could get very technical on how this could be fixed but it would be a post within itself.

2. Waiting for buses in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel gets old..fast. Having to wait 5 to 7 minutes between Pioneer Square Station and International District Station is absolutely unacceptable by any standards. This happened on 3 of my 4 trips. At least the automatic announcement notifying why we are being held went off. That still did not help the people whom hoped for a quick round trip.

3. Pierce Transit is operating the Sea-Tac Airport shuttle service, ST Route 575 with 1999 Orion 1.508 buses. Very cool to see that pull up to Sea-Tac Airport! However, besides the lone destination sign in front of the bus, there wasn’t any other signage that states that the bus is the Tukwila Link Connector. Also, while some people were able to find out that the bus was indeed the connector from people standing at the bus stop, there was still a lot of confusion on to take the 194 or the shuttle. There were also complaints that there was no ST agent at the Airport Information Booths regarding the light rail.

4. Seattle Transit Blog was mentioned 11 times while I was on-board! Hi to those that I talked with today!

5. I am still slightly annoyed by some of the operators. Some were smooth, others were rough as hell. Kudos to those operators for making the rider experience even better.

6. The more I rode Link, the more I looked at Southcenter Mall. 70% of the people questioned why that route did not go there… as it would only add 2-5 minutes to the schedule (but add several million dollars to the project), depending on the routing, etc. A Southcenter Mall stop would have easily tripled the ridership alone…take a look at the ridership of the Route 150 for that proof.

7. The routing via MLK was probably the smartest decision Sound Transit could have made, regardless if the routing would have been faster via the Duwamish. The ridership today from the on and offs from my observations were pretty amazing.

8. The Seattle Times naturally stated that the ridership was weak and South 154th Street Park and Ride was nearly empty. I have a picture when I arrived at South 154th Street Park and Ride and counted maybe 20 open spaces remaining. The line to get tickets was nearly 40-50 deep at times. Today was a very, busy day. The morning, maybe not so much, but the numbers were most definitely there.

9. Security and Sound Transit police were present off and on throughout the day. Yes, I did get fare checked.. heck, come to think of it, I got fare checked on Sounder for the first time in almost a year.. and no, I am not joking…

10. TVM issues were minimal. If there were any issues, they were reported and fixed within an hour. That is still very, very, impressive. I was able to add money to my e-purse with my debit card in 45 seconds and it instantly added that value… no 24 hour delay that you have with orcacard.com

11. On my way back from Beacon Hill Station, we were delayed for 5-10 minutes due to a disabled train at the International District Station according to the operator. The automatic announcement came on that there was a service delay and would be underway shortly. It was a good way to talk with some people regarding how they felt about the service and such. Even with the glitches, all was well.

All in all, I was happy at some of it, really annoyed at another part of it but most importantly, the vibe was still good, despite the issues throughout the day. People were happy and glad it arrived. Some even stated they are looking at housing near Link stations. This is exactly how things should start. This is only the beginning of course. I am personally looking at some of the newly remodeled apartment a block away from South 154th.

How was your experiences? Agree/disagree? Let me know!

Small Things I Want From Link:

I have a little list of things I’d like to see in the coming months. I don’t know if we’ll get any of this stuff, but these are things people have mentioned to me and I’ve thought of, they’re all relatively small, and I think people would really like them:

  • Realtime arrival information. I know this is already on the way, so this is an easy one for Sound Transit to accomplish. In Paris, the platforms let you know when not only the next train is coming, but the one after as well. I’d like to see that.
  • Anti-glare screens on the TVMs. They’re really hard to read in the sunlight.
  • Better directional signage. In Japan, a station sign usually has the name of the station you’re at (big), as well as the name of the next station (small) and a big arrow in the direction you’re going. As it is, it can be hard to be sure of which way you’re going once you’re already on the platform. I want to see big signs with arrows!
  • Wifi. This is a double ask – I’d like to see an agreement made with a cell network to provide service in the tunnel stations, and wifi on their network so it works the whole way. Mark my words, business travelers will never use shuttle express again.
  • Turn off the platform lights at outdoor stations during the day. Mount Baker is wasting electricity. I’m sure just fluctuations in temperature in the transformers for traction power use more power than those lights are wasting, but it would make us feel good.
  • More seating. Some of the stations are pretty good, but there are places where more benches are needed. Under Mount Baker should have several more. That’s going to be a great place for kids from the high school to go eat lunch on a hot day – with the foot traffic, that’s a good, safe place for them to be. The plaza in front of the station appears to have no seating at all – it should definitely have benches.
  • Heat at Airport Station. These stations are going to get cold during the winter. Airport is where people are going to be waiting in the dead of night at Christmas for the train home. Those reflective heat tubes on the northbound platform – maybe just in one spot, ten feet worth would be awesome – will make a big difference to everyone, especially if they’re coming home from visiting parents in Florida.
  • As ridership increases, the mezzanine at Tukwila and the space under Mount Baker really should get newsstands, coffee shops, or hot dogs – street food, gum, drinks, stuff. I’m sure there are other places where these would make sense too. I’m sure it’s not cost effective right now – that’s okay. Just tell us you’re trying.
  • Finally, let’s tighten up the track down near 599. The train hunts quite a bit there – I don’t know if that’s fixable, but I’d like to know either way. I’ve been on similar systems that don’t rock like that.

Are there more things you’d like to see from Link? This isn’t really for “another station” or “build East Link faster” – but small stuff like this. After seeing a lot of bikes, I’m really not worried about the bike racks, although making the bike hang parallel to the train’s direction of motion in the future probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy: This Is Expected Ridership

Today, we should all remember that ridership takes time. Sound Transit projects 25,000 riders on weekdays – but that’s not until the end of the year.

Today, and probably for the next few months, Link will look like a ghost town. That’s totally expected – we’re drawing a line from zero today to 25,000 at the end of the year. In late August we’ll probably have 5,000 weekday riders, in September 10,000, October 15,000 – maybe it won’t look exactly like that, but it takes time for people to choose to try something new.

All these things we talk about with light rail – the confidence that it’s always there, the reliable travel time, the comfort – these are learned slowly. For each new rider, there’s a tipping point: a bus breaks down, a car accident, a day of really bad traffic. These inconsistencies in other modes of transport teach people to try the train, but they teach it a little at a time. In the meantime, the train will run like clockwork, showing a little more every day that it’s the most reliable option.

The real ridership gains will start next year, when Airport Link is open and it starts getting warmer. The catch basin for a station gets bigger when the weather is nicer and the walk is pleasant – new people will ride, and once their schedules are set, they’ll stick around through the winter.

For now, ridership will be light. I know you all know this, but this is a good time to remind your friends and coworkers reading the Times – we didn’t build this for just 2009, or even 2019. We built it for 2109.

First Revenue Day

On the inaugural train, by Oran

"On the inaugural train", by Oran

I’m taking the day off from my real job, but those of you commuting on Link today can share your experiences and impressions in the comments.

Opening Weekend Photos

Our many spies have uploaded many of their opening weekend photos in our Flickr pool.  Enjoy, and contribute any high-quality photos of your own.  There’s also the STB photostream, which solely consists of photos taken or obtained by STB staff.  To be clear, the photostream is a subset of the pool.

92,000

I think opening day was an unqualified success. Sound Transit planned for the worst, and instead, we had a best case scenario. Every train I rode was full – some packed to the brim, some just standing room only, all well used.

I have a story about ORCA  I’d like to share. Yesterday we saw some problems with the ticket vending machines at a few stations – cancelling a transaction could leave the TVM ‘hung’ indefinitely. Sound Transit already had the contractor on standby in case there was a problem on opening weekend, and overnight, a patch was written by the contractor, tested, and applied to all TVMs to fix the problem. This is unheard-of turnaround, and it just goes to show what a tight ship Sound Transit is running.

I want to say thank you to all the Sound Transit staff who gave up their weekends - sometimes as long as 7am-10pm - to pull this off without a hitch. Also a huge thank you to all the volunteers who helped out – I saw a couple of regular commenters handing out literature and answering questions. I have never seen ST staff smile so much before.

And thank you to the people who took 92,000 rides. We’ll have to wait for University Link before we see that many again!

Opening Day Postmortem

Beacon Hill Station

Beacon Hill Station

It still hasn’t sunk in yet. Seattle finally has mass transit.

Just like the streetcars of a generation ago this system will forever shape Seattle’s urban form. It will connect the region like it has never been before. Unlike the streetcars of the past I feel confident in saying that this system will never get ripped out.  Just like the New York subway or the London Underground, LINK will over the next few decades become an inseparable element of the city.

Lets not fool ourselves, there is lots of work to be done. University LINK is just getting underway and ST2 will be built out over the next 15 years. Development near stations has yet to occur, leaving the station areas feeling desolate and empty. It will be interesting to watch the neighborhood plan updates. In many ways while yesterday was the end to what so many people have been working towards for longer than I have been alive, it is the beginning of so much more.

I know that all of us at STB learned a lot yesterday. Hands down Beacon Hill was our favorite station. The artwork at the station was great and the station entrance was pleasant and pedestrian scaled. I love the seating and bamboo. Actually, the artwork all along the line was amazing. The only other system that I know with comparable public artwork is Stockholm’s Tunnelbana. The artwork transform the stations from a simply utilitarian places that you pass through, to a place that constantly surprises. This really shows why 1% for art is important.

Art in Beacon Hill Tunnel

Art in Beacon Hill Tunnel

What a weekend. We won’t have anything like this for years to come.

New Figures and Closing Time

ST’s twitter feed is reporting that the July 18 ridership figures have been updated to 51,000.

Meanwhile, the preliminary 4 pm Sunday count is 29,800, putting us at over 80,000 with two hours left to go.

Also, they’re reporting that the last roundtrip train leaves each end at 4:47pm tonight.  That means the last train in each direction should be 5:20-ish from the endpoints.

The shuttle buses will continue to run.

UPDATE: Final ridership numbers this weekend are 92,000!

Balkanization and Light Rail

We often talk about Seattle’s inability to act – we spend a long time talking, we can’t agree on the best course of action, an infrastructure project in one part of the city often elicits a “what does it do for me?” attitude from others. I think this happens for two reasons.

First, we’re very educated. Seattle consistently ranks near the top of the list, just over half of over-25s in the city have bachelor’s degrees. We all have our own ideas for how things should be done, and enough confidence in our own abilities to be a little dangerous.

Second, though, it’s horribly difficult to get around. Live around 25th in Ravenna, want to go to Ballard? You’ll be sitting in the same traffic as everyone coming from the U-district, and once you’re there, good luck finding parking. The bus? Sure, the 71 runs pretty often, and if you stand at the corner of 65th you can watch both ways for a 372 or 68, but then you have to transfer to the agonizingly slow 44. And this is probably one of the easier neighborhood to neighborhood trips in the city – try getting to the Madison Valley from anywhere north of the ship canal at rush hour.

It seems like a nitpicky, minor barrier to travel, but it does significantly affect where people are willing to spend their time – and what neighborhoods they’re exposed to. I think a lot of the city simply isn’t aware of what’s over the next hill because they never really have a reason to go there. We often don’t know about big chunks of our own city. This came through in a recent comment from Jason:

“Favorite quote of the day (from an older woman who clearly doesn’t spend much time in the city proper): ‘Oooooh, so THIS is where SoDo is! I always wondered.’”

This is part of why I really don’t mind street level rail, and it’s one of the things that excites me most about Link. On Monday, people commuting into Seattle are going to see places they’ve never been before, and a bunch of them are going to think “I should come check this out next weekend”. Nobody driving up I-5 is thinking “Gosh, SoDo looks really fun, I should come back there!”

This will take time. A lot of time. The approach to Othello Station from the south, for instance, is desolate – but that will start changing with the coming development I mentioned yesterday, and the north end of the station already has quite a bit of cool stuff (including Tammy’s Bakery, a fantastic Vietnamese bakery). When people find these businesses, they will come back, they will talk about that neighborhood, and a section of Seattle that’s been largely ignored will start being part of the city again.

I think we’re seeing the beginning of Seattle’s reintegration as a single city. It will take more infrastructure, of course, but the Valley is a fantastic place to start.