Metro Rider Communication Plus

Montlake Bridge

Photo by Voght

Last year I criticized Metro for not letting anyone know that boating Opening Day was going to create massive disruption to buses in the Montlake area.

That makes it gratifying to see that routes like the 48 now have the reroute listed under their alert page.  To further help things, they’re adding a shuttle every 20 minutes to get people from Campus Pkwy (where the 43 and 48 will cross the canal) to the University Hospital area.

Bravo Metro!  In a short time your new rider alert system has made it much easier to find out about service disruptions. In fact, it’s now Sound Transit that takes the hits for absent or uselessly generic information.

3rd Ave Getting Bus Bulbs, Bigger Sidewalks

Pedestrians on Third Ave. Photo by Oran.

If you’re wondering why Third Avenue has been under construction recently, we asked SDOT about the work and they told us that the corridor is receiving some great bus and pedestrian improvements.

The Third Avenue/Belltown Transit Priority Corridor Improvements Project is located on Third Avenue between Cedar Street and Virginia Street.  The project will create more attractive sidewalks and dedicated passenger waiting areas, while improving bus travel times in the corridor.

Specific Improvements to the Third Avenue/Belltown Corridor Include:

• Building concrete bus bulb/curb and sidewalk extensions to eliminate buses having to pull in and out of traffic at passenger loading zones.
• Making improvements to street lighting
• Building new curb ramps
• Installing new bike racks

We asked Bill Bryant, the Transit Program Lead at SDOT for more information on bus bulbs and he sent a detailed reply.

“‘In-lane’ bus stops prevent bus delays caused by the need for buses to swerve into and out of the parking lane to service bus stops. In-lane bus stops exist in many places in Seattle, primarily where no parking lane exists,” Bryant told us. “Where a parking lane exists, a bus bulb is often the best answer.”

Bus bulbs seem to be popping up all over the city recently, with more to come. “Locations exist on University Way, Alaskan Way, N. 45th St, Market St, Pine St, and others.  SDOT is currently constructing new bulbs at the six Third Ave stops in Belltown, and will soon begin construction of a number of bulbs along Route 7 on Jackson St and Rainier Ave. Additional bus bulbs are in design as part of SDOT’s Market/45th (Route 44) transit corridor project.”

More on bus bulbs after the jump…

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State Proposes Changes to New 520 West Approach

"New Portage Bay Bridge looking east," image from WSDOT.

Update @ 2:55 pm: WSDOT has posted a web page detailing the changes.

Original Post: The Seattle Times has the scoop on changes to new SR-520 west approach to mollify concerns that the Seattle City Council expressed in a letter earlier this month. One change that Mayor McGinn proposed to afford the ability for light rail in the future is included as well. Some of the proposed changes are:

• A direct ramp from the Washington Park Arboretum to eastbound 520 would be dropped, and other approaches could be limited to peak hours only, said Clibborn. These moves are meant to reduce Arboretum traffic and are more dramatic than what City Council members requested.

City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, as well as Paige Miller, executive director of the Arboretum Foundation, have suggested extra tolls on cars that use the Arboretum to reach the floating bridge and other moves to calm traffic.

• The section across Portage Bay, from the Montlake Interchange to Interstate 5, would be narrower and perhaps have a 45-mph speed limit, Clibborn said, to reduce noise and provide “more of a boulevard feel.” Earlier, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a standard highway segment, with a new seventh lane for merges and exits.

• A second drawbridge would be included across Montlake Cut. King County Metro Transit needs those extra lanes to improve bus connections, but a plan for better transit flow has yet to be worked out, Eddy said. Seattle leaders also have called for room for new bike and pedestrian paths.

• An open-air gap would exist between new westbound and eastbound lanes at Foster Island, a change also promoted by Mayor Mike McGinn. If light rail is added someday, trains would exit from the middle and head directly toward the stadium station, presumably on a new Union Bay bridge.

We need to see more details on the changes to get a good idea of things, and we’d like to see a “better transit flow” plan sooner rather than later. Overall, though, the city council is likely to respond positively to these changes.

The gap described in the last bullet point would make future rail more viable if region eventually wants it. Even though I’m not supportive of light rail across 520 because bus service would do a better job for the foreseeable future, I’d support changes like the gap, to hedge my analysis, if the costs were low enough. WSDOT apparently feels the costs of that particular change are low enough to include without much prodding. (I should note that our coolness on light rail over the new span is not the straw man that “it isn’t in the plans” but rather that there is no concrete destination in the Eastside suburbia to run another light rail line toward, with Bellevue and Overlake already being served by East Link. There are arguments of merit, not of process.)

Vanpools are an Important Part of the System


Michael Ennis, of the right-wing Washington Policy Center, has a post extolling the virtues of vanpooling.  Although there are plenty of distortions in the piece, I actually agree with one of its points, which is that vanpools are a cost-effective solution to moving people on work trips.

Aside from that, though, his argument seems to be the following:

  1. People driving by themselves is awesome, since people choose it over other options.
  2. Vanpools are a cheap way to move people to and from work.
  3. Therefore, other spending on transit is wasted.

More after the jump… [Read more...]

News Roundup: % who take public transit

Image from The Infrastructurist.

This is an open thread.

WTA Tax Increase Losing in Early Returns

Whatcom Transit Bus (wikimedia)

Yesterday was the mailing deadline for an all-mail election in Whatcom County to raise the sales tax by 0.2%, in order to avoid a similar story of deep cuts to transit service.

Early returns indicate it is losing by 247 votes, or 0.58%.  You can follow this story as it develops by checking out Jared Paben’s Traffic blog at the Bellingham Herald.  Election results from the source are available here.

I don’t know enough about the jurisdictions to speculate on why Walla Walla would have a similar measure win by 50 points, but it would be so close here.  I don’t mean to suggest the areas are at all similar, but if anything I’d expect Walla Walla to be more conservative.

TIGER II Grants to Encourage Smarter Land Use

Streetsblog DC reports that the federal TIGER II grants will look at land use, hopefully encouraging transportation projects to be built with larger goals in mind:

Perhaps the biggest news in today’s announcement was the U.S. DOT’s intention to marry its decision-making on the new TIGER-esque grants with the process for allocating $40 million in land-use aid at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). If the two agencies can sustain that goal past the period of public comment on the new grants that begins this week, their move would take the cooperative ethos that has defined the Obama administration’s sustainable communities effort to the next level.

In its preliminary TIGER II guidance, published in today’s Federal Register, the U.S. DOT wrote that officially linking its grant decision-making with HUD’s would ideally “encourage and reward more holistic planning efforts and result in better projects being built with federal dollars” by recognizing the inextricable connection between transportation and local planning.

The U.S. DOT’s criteria for choosing TIGER II winners differ in several notable respects from those for the original program. At least $140 million of the new grants are required to go to rural areas, and localities selected to receive federal funding would need to provide a 20 percent match — a requirement that had been waived for the original TIGER competition in view of the economic downturn.

TIGER grants are competitively-awarded transportation grants that pit highways against transit projects, and roads against bike projects, and award based on a project’s merits rather than formula funding. $1.5 billion worth of TIGER grants were included in Obama’s stimulus package that passed early in his administration. (The Transport Politic has a great entry on this policy as well.)

A new jobs bill including yet another round of TIGER grants is on “life-support” according to WSDOT’s federal funding blog.

First Hill Streetcar Passes Council Committee

SDOT's Recommended Alignment: Two-Way Broadway

The First Hill Streetcar alignment.

The Seattle City Council Transportation Committee voted today to send Resolution 31207, authorizing the construction of the First Hill Streetcar, to the full council. Every member of the committee voted to move the resolution forward. The resolution will be considered next Monday by the full council, who is expected to pass it.

The resolution adopts the two-way Broadway alignment recommended by the city’s Department of Transportation. Construction would begin in 2011 and the streetcar would start operations in late 2013, three years ahead of the original schedule that was approved by voters as part of the Sound Transit 2 measure in 2008.

The resolution authorizes the city to seek funding for an extension, north to Aloha. This includes asking the Sound Transit Board for the use of money budgeted for the streetcar, but would be unspent if the initial streetcar line comes under-budget as estimated.

[P]er Section 1 of the Funding and Cooperative Agreement between Sound Transit and the City, SDOT should request the Sound Transit Board allow the City to use any excess capital funds provided by ST2 for the First Hill Streetcar Project for the purpose of extending the Project’s route north on Broadway.

For what it’s worth, we’ve heard plenty of push back on this idea from Sound Transit staff who are already concerned about the rest of ST2′s financial plan because of the economic downturn that came right as the agency began to collect additional revenue to fund projects across the region.

Vancouver, Seattle, and Bus Allocation

Vancouver Skyline (wikimedia)

Zach Shaner has a very provocative and well-researched post on the advantages of Vancouver’s bus service over Seattle’s.  The post is wonderfully quantitative although its central thesis is kind of squishy and subjective:

In Vancouver there’s just a real je ne sais quoi; I really feel like I can go car-free, put on my backpack, and walk anywhere I want and take transit anywhere I want without planning any of my journeys.  The routes are intuitive, frequent, and they just work.  In Seattle, even though I know I’m surrounded by options, they somehow seem indecipherable.

The key is that King County places more emphasis on peak-only commuter routes and geographic span of service, while Vancouver has more frequent all-day routes.  Shaner comes up with a bunch of good reasons, and there are several more good ones in his comment thread.  ECB at Publicola piles on some more.

I don’t have much more to add, but few rail corridors, a robust highway/HOV network, and at-grade light rail are a combination that will perpetuate this problem.  Unreliable buses create reluctance to transfer and increase demand for one-seat rides; freeway routes straight into the city mean that indirect routes are not competitive, time-wise, with driving; and although it serves many other objectives, rail routes that are on-paper slower than express buses make it hard to divert bus hours to serve rail stations.  That’s a shame, because as a rail advocate I’m really about having excellent service in a few key corridors rather than marginal service everywhere.

ORCA: One Year Later

'ORCA is Here!' by Oran

ORCA, the region’s new transit card, has been in service for a year and it’s been a mixed performance.

For the uninitiated, ORCA cards can store value (in an “e-purse”) as well as monthly passes. Both passes and e-purse balances can be automatically loaded with a credit card through orcacard.com, or in person in the downtown Seattle transit tunnel, at any Link station, and at a handful of locations around the region.

On the positive side, ORCA cards are flexible and much better than dealing with cash. For transit agencies, they can reduce verification of paper transfers and improve boarding speeds. For passengers, ORCA makes transferring between agencies (and paying the fare difference) much easier. Riders without monthly passes no longer have to work about having the exact fare on them. According to data from Sound Transit, 200,000 daily boardings are handled with ORCA.

More after the jump.

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RapidRide Timeline and Display Coach

RapidRide on display at Westlake, by Oran.

For anyone hanging around Westlake last Thursday, you might have noticed a shiny new RapidRide bus on display. The coach was being showcased as part of Earth Day festivities.  Metro has also informed us that more coaches will be on display in various locations around the region during the summer.  Where and when hasn’t been finalized yet. A few STBers added several pictures of the display coach on our Flickr pool.

We’ve also received a timeline for the opening of the A-Line this fall as well as rough dates for the remaining five lines.  The original opening date was supposed to be during the February service change, but budget cuts have pushed that back to October, which we originally reported at the beginning of the year:

  • A Line – Pacific Hwy S. – Oct 2, 2010
  • B Line – Bellevue/Redmond – fall 2011
  • C Line – W. Seattle – 2011 (service adds only), 2012 (fully branded)
  • D Line – Ballard/Uptown – 2012
  • E Line – Aurora Ave N – 2013
  • F Line – Burien, Tukwila, Renton — 2013

“The A-Line will have 10 minute service during peak hours on weekdays and 15 minute service during off-peak hours (including weekends),” Rochelle Ogershok, a spokesperson for Metro Transit, told us in an email.  “Evening and overnight schedules will offer more limited service.   This A-Line schedule will more than double the current frequency of the Route 174.”

Sunday Open Thread: Prototype

Next “Public Transit Adventure” May 7th

For a while now, Sound Transit planner Jim Moore has been putting together relatively informal “public transit adventures” where a bunch of enthusiasts go to some out-of-the-way place to experience some routes they might not otherwise interact with.  He’s decided to open these up to the general public.

The next one is May 7th, and will take riders to Stanwood.  If you’re interested, please contact jim.moore@soundtransit.org in the next couple of days.  The full draft itinerary is below the jump.

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Teenager Walks in Front of Link Train

According to the Rainer Valley KOMO blog:

A 13-year-old girl using her cell phone stepped in front of a moving light rail train at the station at MLK and Othello and was hit on Friday afternoon.

The incident happened at around 3:45 p.m. The girl was not paying attention and didn’t see the train coming as it was pulling into the northbound station.  She suffered cuts to the face, but no other serious injuries.  She was taken to a hospital for treatment.  It isn’t known if she was talking or texting on her phone when the collision happened.

After some delays, service is now restored.

Marko Liias Speaks at the Meetup

For those of you who never had a chance to attend our meetups, this is a glimpse of what it’s like. After some mingling, Martin introduces the bloggers and other notable guests. In the last meetup, Representative Marko Liias of Edmonds, a champion of transit in the State Legislature along with Geoff Simpson, got to speak briefly on the last legislative session. He expressed the need for a “broad base coalition” to get the Legislature and Senate to help transit agencies in crisis.

Many thanks to punkrawker4783 for producing the video.

Link Service Spottier this Weekend For Maintenance

For anyone looking to travel on Link this weekend, be prepared for spottier service as track maintenance will reduce trains to single-track running between SODO and Columbia City stations.  Sound Transit is finishing the installation of switch heaters near the OMF (Operations and Maintenance Facility).  The heaters will allow switches to be fully operational when snow and ice bring pandemonium during the winter months.

Service will be reduced from normal 10-15 minute headways to 20-30 minute headways.  Single-track running also means that only one platform will be used for both northbound and southbound trains at Mt. Baker and Beacon Hill stations.  ST will have signage and staff on hand to direct riders.  The service disruptions are expected to last from 10PM tonight through 5AM Monday morning.

Rethinking Station Access (II)

Detail of the Bicycling Guide Map. Blue and Green indicate sharrows or better for bikes.

The philosophy behind the plans for Link stations in the Rainier Valley was that people would take “alternate” transportation — buses, bikes, and feet — to get to the train.  A couple of weeks ago, we looked how the bus side of that plan was working out.  Today, walking and biking:

Walking

Sound Transit invested a lot in improving sidewalks, along MLK in particular. However, MLK is a relatively undeveloped, low-density corridor by Seattle standards, and the density was further reduced by eminent-domain seizures for construction staging areas.  The walkshed, measured in people, is simply not that large.  West of the line, the steep and heavily wooded side of Beacon Hill further restricts the accessible area.

If walk-up ridership is to significantly improve, the most important thing is to upzone and aggressively encourage dense development, although sidewalk improvements are urgent in the places where they are needed.

Bicycling

Sound Transit was sure to put bicycle racks at each station, and more importantly trains are well designed to accommodate bikes.  However, the failure to put any sort of bike infrastructure on MLK itself  — just rebuilt for the train — is a huge failing.  A quick glance at the latest Seattle Bicycling Guide Map (pdf) shows the pitiful bike infrastructure around most stations.

Beacon Hill is served by sharrows, and Rainier Beach has an actual bike lane (thick blue) and bike trail (green) approaching it.  For the other three Valley stations, there are oh-so-inviting “unmarked, un-signed connectors” (yellow lines) in the rough vicinity of the station.  There isn’t even a signed bicycle route (dotted black line) that takes you directly to any of the five stations in the Southeast.

Building along the relatively sparse MLK corridor, with little to no parking, was a conscious decision to trade lots of ridership now for the promise of a more development, and therefore, more ridership, in the future. While that decision is defensible, it makes it all the more imperative that the City make minor improvements in pedestrian and bike access, as well as doing whatever is necessary to bring about the development that was the purpose of the routing in the first place.

Breaking: B2M and C9T is Preferred East Link Alternative

The Sound Transit Board unanimously moved to modify the preferred alternative for the East Link project as reported yesterday. B2 modified (112th Ave SE) and C9T (downtown tunnel) are now selected as the preferred alternative for the South Bellevue and Downtown Bellevue segments for East Link.

The Board also adopted a new fare policy and ST Express bus and Link light rail fare changes.

[Update from Sherwin:] Here is a press release (PDF) from ST that breaks down the meeting and motion.

Route 8 Stop Consolidation

Route 8 stop closures in red, new stops in green.

Metro is putting another bus on a stop diet. Route 8 is the latest to see some stops removed, after routes 28, 7, 16, 48, and 120 have all had some stops removed in the last handful of years.

The 8 currently services 70 stops, but 18 of those will be removed which will increase the average stop spacing to about 1,080 feet from 940 feet.

“The projected travel time savings is one minute per direction,” said Linda Thielke, a spokeswoman for Metro. “The exact operating cost savings won’t be known until more detailed scheduling work is completed.”

The 8 recently faced a major service change. Last September, to coordinate with Link light rail, the 8 was extended deep into the Rainer Valley and its frequency was boosted to 15-minute service all-day. These major service changes may have affected the route’s reliability, spurring Metro to evaluate removing some stops.

Just 6% of  route 8 riders will have to change their stop. Other bus routes affected by the stop closures include are routes 1, 2, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 18, 27, 36, 43, 81, 84, 106, and 107.

The list of affected stops is available from Metro’s website. Affected riders have until April 30th to comment on the changes, which will go into effect on May 16th.

ST to Change Preferred East Link Alternative Tomorrow

The three alignments (B2M/C9T, B2M/C11A, B7/C9T), click to enlarge

Tomorrow, the Sound Transit Board is expected to modify its preferred alternative (motion: PDF) for East Link.  On Monday, in a surprise move, Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson voted with councilmembers Balducci, Degginger, and Chelminiak to sign a term-sheet that establishes the basic funding principles of financing a C9T tunnel.  With this non-binding term-sheet (PDF) now approved by Bellevue, the ST CEO Joni Earl will likely sign off on it as well and move forward to select B2 modified and C9T (downtown tunnel) as its preferred alternative.  C11A (downtown at-grade) will be chosen as a secondary backup alternative for the downtown segment.  These were all earlier recommended by ST’s Capital Committee on April 8th after it was found that Bellevue’s obligated funding gap for C9T was far more possible with a B2 connection.

While C9T is the alignment of choice for the vast majority of Bellevue residents, there will likely be discontent among neighborhoods that have eagerly supported pushing light rail away from the South Bellevue Park and Ride, and to the BNSF corridor.  This B7 route has been shelved by ST multiple times because of multiple concerns, including low ridership which wouldn’t justify its construction.  The Bellevue City Council voted 4-3 for B7, and 7-0 for C9T.

The board meeting will take place tomorrow, April 22nd, in the Ruth Fisher Boardroom at Union Station from 1:30pm-4:30pm.  Public comments will be taken near the beginning of the meeting (the agenda can be found here).  We’d encourage you to make it out and show your support to move forward on ST’s decision.