CT Changes to Route 247 and 277

The Community Transit Board will meet tomorrow to discuss further revisions to the plan for routes 247 and 277.  From the press release:

The Community Transit Board of Directors will consider modifications to Routes 247 and 277 for the June 13 service change when it meets at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 1, in the agency’s Board Room, located at 7100 Hardeson Road in Everett. The meeting is accessible by Everett Transit Route 8.

The plan shortens Routes 247 and 277 serving Boeing-Everett to accommodate the transit agency’s shortened operating day. However, at the March meeting the board requested more information about the possibility of starting Route 247 near downtown Stanwood and providing trips on Route 277 from its current starting point in Gold Bar. The board this week is expected to make a decision on these possible modifications.

News Roundup: 82% of U.S. Wants More Transit

This is an open thread.

Bel-Red Open House Tomorrow

There’s been a lot of argument about East Link Segments B and C, but since the “Bel-Red” alignment* was chosen, there hasn’t been very much chatter about Segment D.  That may change with Sound Transit’s open house about this segment tomorrow:

East Link Light Rail Preliminary Engineering Open House

Bel-Red/Overlake Corridor
Thursday, April 1, 2010
5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Highland Community Center
14224 NE Bel-Red Road, Bellevue

* Not actually on Bel-Red Rd. at any point.

Next Meet-up

Our next meetup will be on Wednesday, April 14th at 5:30pm, at the Taphouse Grill (1506 6th Ave), about a block from the Westlake station in downtown Seattle.  This is an all-ages location.

Their excellent happy hour ends at 6:30, so you might want to get there on time-ish.

Gregoire Vetoes 520 Light Rail Planning

Update 3/31 @ 11:20am: The governor’s office tells us that this veto just affects the “legislative intent” section of the bill, not the underlying contents which still directs a work group to study high-capacity transit over the bridge. However, the underlying legislation — with the “intent” section vetoed — does not direct “any final design of the state route number 520 bridge replacement and HOV program accommodate effective connections for transit, including high capacity transit, including, but not limited to, effective connections for transit to the university link light rail line” as the intent section did. I don’t know if other legislation has this provision.

And while the legislation does direct a King County work group to study high-capacity transit over the bridge, it does not require the bridge accommodate any plans from that group. However, we now understand what the governor’s office meant when it defined a section as “vague;” unfortunately, that section had a stronger requirement for high-capacity transit than the rest of the bill, on my reading.

The Seattle PI report we link to below has not been changed as of this writing.

Original report: The Seattle PI reports on another of today’s vetoes, this time not so transit-friendly.

The governor also vetoed a section of the bill [authorizing the 520 bridge replacement] that directed planners to come up with a final design that could handle both carpool lanes and light rail. However Shelton said the governor still supported ultimately seeing whether the replacement span that connects Seattle with its Eastside suburbs could ultimately accommodate high-capacity transit. She felt the language in the bill first section was “vague.”

“We still have work groups addressing those issues,” [a Gregoire spokesman] said. “The work is still going to get done.”

Light rail across SR-520 is a long time away from being seriously considered. Even in the long haul, though, it would be an up-hill lift to build light rail across the bridge if it meant removing capacity — even if that capacity were just HOV lanes. I think if we were to add light rail to the bridge, it should be done in addition to the HOV lanes on the bridge. So that section of the legislation made sense to me; what’s possibly vague about it?

Governor Vetoes Private Provider Provision

Around noon today, as we urged previously (along with pro-transit representatives, transit agencies, and USDOT), Governor Gregoire vetoed the provisions in the supplemental transportation budget (SB 6381) tying state transit funding to allowing private transportation providers to use transit-only facilities. There’s been no news item posted on her website yet, but we’ll post more as we get updates.

UW Favors Rainer Vista Extension

According to the Seattle Times, UW is continuing to push for a more expensive Rainer Vista extension plan that will connect the university to a cross walk on Montlake which leads to the Husky Stadium light rail station.

UW officials are pushing for what they consider to be a more elegant idea. The university calls it the Rainier Vista extension, which would add $12 million in cost.

Instead of a skybridge, transit riders would use a new crosswalk on Montlake Boulevard, aided by a new, midblock traffic signal. State traffic engineers warn that change could worsen traffic on Montlake.

Riders could reach the campus via a new “land bridge” to be built over Northeast Pacific Place. The bridge would help create a visual connection with the UW’s Drumheller Fountain.

(…)

The transit board likely will consider the issue in May, according to project director Ron Endlich. The UW proposal is estimated to cost $18.8 million, of which the UW, Sound Transit and the city each were to contribute $4 million. The transit agency also would contribute $6.8 million “in savings” by not building the skybridge.

The university since has tried to trim those costs. In recent drawings for bidders, the “land bridge” has been slimmed to 35 feet wide instead of a 100-foot-wide version that was shown at a public forum Dec. 2.

The Seattle Times has a busy graphic showing what the plan would look like here (.pdf).

We spoke briefly about a similar plan in early December and later analyzed that plan’s safety and directness. We concluded that a similar plan is a slightly more direct walk for pedestrians than Sound Transit’s current design, but we don’t have any analysis of the plan that UW is proposing today. My base reaction is that whatever reasonable request the university makes, it should be considered.

A Word That Killed, “Yeah”

[UPDATE 3/31] LaHood continues the his theme on distracted driving here and here. Man I love this guy.

On Friday Governor Gregoire  signed stronger legislation which bans text messaging as well as talking on a cell phone without a hands free device. I previously wrote about this here, here and here. From the HeraldNet;

“In the end, this is a public safety bill for me,” Gregoire said, surrounded by a small crowd of people including the chief of the Washington State Patrol.

“To those who have said to me that it’s no different than having a cup of coffee, the coffee doesn’t talk back to me. Coffee doesn’t have anything to say to me. A cell phone does,” she said.

“What if I am a young person and my boyfriend or girlfriend is breaking up with me. Am I really concentrating on what I am doing?” she continued. “While I wish we all could be able to talk on a cell phone in a car, I really do, the fact of the matter is, it’s without question a public safety issue.”

The article goes on to say,

In signing the bill, Gregoire said the law will help troopers who have found themselves driving in a marked car on a freeway and seen drivers on their cell phone “looking directly at them, flaunting it.”

When that happens, she said, “There is something wrong with the enforcement capacity of Washington State Patrol. I find that troubling.”

Secretary Ray LaHood, which has been an unassuming champion of this cause since he was appointed, has been holding up Washington State as a model of what the rest of the country needs to do. AT&T has kicked off a public education campaign and the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission which has been active on this issue will as well. As someone who has been rear-ended by someone distracted by their phone as well as a bicyclist whose safety relies on the attentiveness of drivers, this legislation is a huge step in the right direction. It certainly isn’t the end all but it will undoubtedly increase the safety of all road users in Washington State. A big thanks to Senator Eide for being such a strong champion of this safety legislation over the past few years.

All Viaduct Options Unpopular, Especially Surface/Transit

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[UPDATE 4:16pm: There are some comments that a differently structured poll, or one with more background, would have produced a different result.  I think that is a stronger indication that governance by poll and plebiscite is a shaky proposition, rather than that the public "really" favors a surface option.]

Publicola publishes results from a poll that, looking back, it’s amazing to believe hasn’t been conducted before: a three-way contest between the three viaduct replacement options:

Surface-transit finished a distant third, with only 21 percent support…  The remainder of the Seattle electorate splits almost evenly between the rebuild and the deep bore tunnel, with neither generating anything close to 50 percent support.

The numbers are bad for surface/transit across all demographic groups.

As someone who has drifted from shrugging acceptance to strong opposition to the tunnel project, I could quibble about how the cost overrun provision affects opinion, and so on.  But I’m not really interested in spinning away the apparent fact that my favored policy is unpopular.

Instead, I’d just say that it’s hard to sell “surface/transit” when the “transit” is a combination of buses already stuck in traffic plus some ephemeral promise of better transit in the distant future.

Holding out for Grade Separation

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We still don’t know much about the light rail plan Mayor McGinn will likely put before the voters that we didn’t know before the election.  However, one thing that is for sure is that it won’t be grade-separated from end to end, and that’s enough for some to make blanket statements that anything less than full grade separation is unacceptable, that we should wait to do it “right”, etc.

The Transport Politic makes a strong, Seattle-centric case for at-grade light rail, but here are some other political and financial observations:

  1. The unspoken assumption of the absolutists is that ST3 will deliver full grade separation if we were to wait for it.  In reality, that may be the case if we wait for the Sound Move bonds to get paid off in the 2030s and 2040s.  Otherwise, we’ll get whatever additional taxing authority the state gives us.   That may be billions more, or it may be less.  Dealing with that kind of uncertainty, it makes sense to accomplish whatever we can so that our ambitions can fit in whatever package Olympia gives us.  More after the jump. [Read more...]

Streetcar, Tram or Light Rail – ROW or Station Spacing?

Yonah at the Transport Politic weighed in on rail transit categorization/semantics last week, using the potential West Seattle to Ballard extension as an example.

The dividing line between what Americans reference as a streetcar and what they call light railis not nearly as defined as one might assume considering the frequent use of the two terminologies in opposition. According to popular understanding, streetcars share their rights-of-way with automobiles and light rail has its own, reserved right-of-way.

But the truth is that the two modes use very similar vehicles and their corridors frequently fall somewhere between the respective stereotypes of each technology. Even the prototypical U.S. light rail project — the Portland MAX — includes significant track segments downtown in which its corridor is hardly separated from that of the automobiles nearby. And that city’s similarly pioneering streetcar includes several segments completely separated from the street.

As a result, some have labeled this plan little more than a streetcar, whose slow pace and minimal capacity make it more useful as a development tool than a transportation one. Others are convinced that the project will morph into a multi-billion dollar mini-metro like Link, a high-cost concept into whose face city budget experts are afraid to look.

But Mayor McGinn’s proposal is neither of those things — it’s an effort to build a cost-effective rail transit line on the model used by cities across Europe, known typically as tramways.

Jarrett over a Human Transit has a different take, arguing that station spacing is a more important factor in determining what kind of rail transit something is.

More after the jump [Read more...]

Sunday Open Thread: Traffic Engineering

I really wish I’d found this prior to my two-parter on MLK signals:

Posted under a Creative Commons License

Amtrak Cascades Stimulus Update

Photo by Mike Bjork

When stimulus funding for Amtrak Cascades was first announced earlier this year, it was unclear even to state leaders exactly what projects would be funded – just the goals the feds said they’d like to achieve. The state was asked to resubmit a full project list after the amount ($590 million) was awarded.

Our goals are relatively simple. Two more daily Seattle to Portland round trips should be added, and both speed and reliability should be improved – with on time performance aimed for 88%.

To do this, there are several bottlenecks along the route that must be improved. Trains should get out of the single-track Nelson Bennett tunnel in Tacoma and onto the Point Defiance Bypass, a bypass track is necessary to get around freight congestion in Vancouver, and new tracks are necessary around Kelso and Longview to keep freight trains out of the way.

WSDOT has finally submitted this full project list, broken down by when construction could start (as this is a stimulus package, after all), and we’re now waiting on the Federal Railroad Administration to give us the thumbs up.

Way down at the bottom of WSDOT’s press release is something else I’d like to make sure we all remember. There’s another $2.5 billion available for high speed rail from the 2009 federal transportation appropriations bill. We’ll be in the running for some of that money as well, especially if we break ground quickly on the “shovel ready” projects from this stimulus funding.

New Amtrak Maintenance Facility

As part of both Amtrak Cascades planning and Sound Transit 2, I’ve seen references to a new maintenance facility to be built in SODO to handle all the planned new service.

A year ago, Amtrak made a request for ARRA funding to build this base. It was supposed to start construction a year ago, in fact, but we’re hearing now that the construction contract has just been issued, with expected completion in 2012.

That comes just before Sound Transit and Amtrak will both likely expect new trains for their respective services.

Speaking of Sound Transit, getting Sounder to Lakewood is pushed back to 2013 now, in order for Sound Transit to afford all the changes made to the design of the new track through South Tacoma.

Second Train to Vancouver B.C. Extended Until September

Amtrak Cascades by Timberline1955

Amtrak Cascades by Timberline1955

Great news for travelers to Vancouver B.C.! The second train to Canada will continue operating until September 30, 2010. During the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games, more than 11,000 passengers rode the new service.

“The success of this additional Amtrak Cascades service reinforces what we already know – that intercity passenger rail service is a valuable transportation resource and people are using it,” said Paula Hammond, Washington transportation secretary. “As we continue to grow this service, it will provide more travel options for Pacific Northwest travelers, reduce congestion at our border crossings and help our environment.”

The future of the train service depends on whether the ridership was primarily for the Olympics or if there exists sustained demand for a second train. Canada’s Border Services Agency will waive a $1,500-per-day border inspection fee, money that Washington state doesn’t have budgeted, if it finds the daily ridership sufficient to justify the extra customs agents at Pacific Central Station.

East Link Update: Tunnel Possible, Surface Viable

At yesterday’s Sound Transit board meeting, the City of Bellevue presented revenue options that could help make up $104-150 million of the $285 million gap between budget and the tunnel option (C9T).

Despite attempts from Wallace and Freeman Jr. to derail East Link entirely or keep it out of town, City staff and the transit-friendly council minority seem to have prevailed in helping close the gap. Do remember that Sound Transit has been working to reduce this (and have gone from $500 to $400 to $285), so it’s nice to see the City finally stepping up with options to meet in the middle.

At the end of the joint city/ST analysis we reported on last month, we noticed an option for the north end of the B segment was presented to save $100 million more – it could reduce the gap from $285 to $185 million. At that point, $150 million from Bellevue puts a tunnel in striking distance of reality.

That’s not the only news from yesterday – a peer review panel released its report on the feasibility of surface light rail in Bellevue, and found it totally viable. This is the same conclusion we drew from the joint analysis – while Bellevue traffic will be bad in 2030, it will be just as bad with or without trains. They’re more interested in having great connectivity between light rail and the transit center, as 30-40% of light rail riders at that station will be transferring.

That seems to lend itself to C11A as a great alternative – so if a tunnel isn’t affordable, a great transfer at Bellevue Transit Center is easily within our reach.

Link Will Help Make High Speed Rail Viable

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Now that Link is well into its first year, it’s going to start making additional investment in transit projects easier on many fronts. One of those is intercity high speed rail.  More after the jump.

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Could ST2 Benefit from Federal Loan?

Los Angeles is asking for a federal loan as an advance on its transit tax revenues, in a plan that would take a 30-year rollout of transit projects to just a 10-year schedule that saves money in the process. Would a plan like that work for Sound Transit 2′s regional light rail expansion? Publicola reports that it just might:

This week, Bill LaBorde, policy director with Transportation Choices Coalition (a mass transit advocacy group), is in Washington, D.C. meeting with staff from Reps. Jim McDermott’s and Norm Dicks’ offices and Sen. Patty Murray’s office to make the pitch. (LaBorde was also planning on dropping in on Reps. Jay Inslee and Adam Smith.)

Sound Transit has not reviewed or put their official stamp of approval on TCC’s play for a light rail cash infusion from the feds to speed up construction, but LaBorde says Sound Transit told him that lacking cash flow is a factor in the elongated timeline.

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick tells PubliCola “more money sooner is better … there are [Sound Transit] projects that could probably move faster if there was money sooner.”

However, he said Sound Transit would need to look at the details of any plan before signing off on it.

With a relatively tight schedule already, we could probably save just a few years with a federal loan, and we’ve already heard from sources at Sound Transit that experienced project managers are hard to find. But a loan of some kind may simply be needed to keep ST2 on schedule, as the “conservative” part of ST’s revenue forecasts have largely been eaten up by the deep recession well before most design work has even began.

And building sooner has some benefits…

This post continues after the jump…

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Haugen and Clibborn Oppose USDOT, Transit Agencies On Private Provider Requirement

Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen and House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn have sent a letter to the Governor (PDF) requesting Gregoire not veto the private provider provision we’ve covered before.

The letter’s points are nonsensical, and fail to address or even acknowledge any of the concerns raised in opposing letters from USDOT (PDF) and all of our local transit agencies (docx).

The chairs claim, for instance, that local jurisdictions have “always resisted even an evaluation of the benefits of sharing these restricted facilities” – when several of these agreements have been adopted already, such as shared use of Overlake Transit Center. Interestingly, we’ve heard that the provisions here in the budget may even conflict with existing state law regarding agreements with private providers – the budget does not amend the existing statute, but instead creates conflicting guidance for transit agencies.

As we covered before, the language in this amendment would tie any WSDOT funding for transit to that agency opening their facilities to private operators.

We’ve heard Starline Luxury Coaches may be involved here – they’re smarting from the Obama Administration removing the public transit restriction for game service, and they’ve weighed in on that issue heavily, and were involved in creating the original Bush rule.

When voters approved local transit projects, they didn’t agree to taxes to subsidize private motorcoaches.

Two-Way Broadway Cross Sections

As reported last week SDOT has recommended, and the council and Mayor seam to agree, that building the streetcar entirely on Broadway is the best solution. The next major decision that must be made is the street configuration. Currently the city is looking at three alternatives.

  • 4-Lane: two travel lanes in each direction, shared outside lanes with bicyclist, 1 parking lane
  • 3-Lane: one travel lane in each direction, center turn lane, bike lanes in each direction, 1 parking lane
  • 2-Lane: one travel lane in each direction, bi-directional cycle track, 2 parking lanes

Its good to see the city looking at a broad range of alternatives, especially the last one. The first one treats Broadway like an arterial, essentially as a means to get people somewhere else fast. I assume this alternative is still being looked at as a base alternative because at first blush it would speed up the streetcar. However I’m not convinced this would occur because there is no dedicated left turn lane, and cars will be able to pass the streetcar and then queue in front of it at signals. This could cause situations in which cars that want to make a left turn will pass the streetcar using the right lane and then cut back over. Since no protect left turn phase will be provided these car will have to wait for through traffic and pedestrians to clear the intersection. This waiting will certainly slow down the streetcar.

The second alternative is most similar to the current configuration although it removes parking on one side of this street. It treats bicyclist better however the major emphasis is still on moving through the space. I’d also be a bit worried of people parking on a bike lane, possibly blocking the streetcar, because there won’t be parking on one side of that street.

The final alternative created by the Capitol Hill Community Council envisions a different type of street, one that prioritizes what the community wants, good bicycle facilities and on-street parking. Its good that these interests have been aligned because it creates an alternative that re-defines the purpose of Broadway in a very welcome way. I would hazard a guess that with left turn lanes at specific locations and turn restrictions at other locations the streetcar would probably experience minimal increase in travel time over other alternatives. Traffic modeling that will better flesh this out will be done in June.

A few notes. As Michael Snyder at SeattleLikesBikes points out the, cycletracks are more complex than bike lanes, and all the details need to be figured out for them to work well, especially with a bi-directional cycletrack. Cycletracks on both sides of the street are certainly better but also take up more room, which is why SDOT is looking at the bi-directional design. All this absolutely does not mean that cycletracks aren’t a good solution, they just need to be built where they make sense and thoroughly designed.