Amtrak adding four Cascades trips for Christmas holidays

(click to enlarge)

If you’re journeying down to Portland or coming back for the Christmas holidays, you may want to consider taking a Cascades train, as Amtrak will be adding four trips, one roundtrip on Thursday, December 23rd and another roundtrip on Sunday, December 26th.  Both roundtrips will operate on an identical schedule for both days.

You can refer to the schedule above for specific times.


Redmond’s TOD plans for Overlake

D segment alternatives from ST East Link SDEIS (click to enlarge)

I recently sat down with Redmond city planner Terry Marpert to talk about the city’s plans for the Overlake area when East Link comes in (hopefully) by 2021.  When the project’s SDEIS (Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement) came out last month, I took an editorial slant favoring the D2 NE 24th Design Option over the currently preferred freeway-running alignment for the D segment.  That option would have veered off 520, along NE 24th Street, and curved up 152nd Ave NE to rejoin the freeway, stopping once at the Overlake P&R.  The new D2A continues entirely along the freeway with an Overlake Village station at the north end of 152nd.

In the past, we’ve been pretty opposed to freeway-oriented stations generally due to their deterrence for mid-day transit dependent users and unfriendliness toward TOD (transit-oriented development).  According to Marpert, however, the city’s plans and support for the new freeway-running D2A alternative will actually help encourage walkable TOD in the Overlake area.

More below the jump.

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The Next House Transportation Committee

Capitol Interior (wikimedia)

PubliCola has the intel on the next group of Democrats:

Transportation
Clibborn [Mercer Island], Chair; Billig [Spokane], Vice Chair; Liias [Edmonds), Vice Chair; Eddy [Kirkland/Redmond]; Finn [Shelton]; Fitzgibbon [West Seattle/Burien]; Jinkins [Tacoma]; Ladenburg [Tacoma]; Moeller [Vancouver]; Morris [San Juans]; Moscoso [Bothell]; Reykdal [Olympia]; Rolfes [Bainbridge Island]; Ryu [Shoreline]; Takko [Aberdeen]; Upthegrove [Kent]

Overall, this is a very promising group. Of the 16, Liias, Fitzgibbon, and Reykdal received an exclusive STB endorsement in their elections, which signifies substantial agreement with our agenda. It’s good that these folks are finding their way onto this committee.

Chair Judy Clibborn, while in the past a de facto opponent of light rail over I-90, is generally understood in transportation policy circles to have improved considerably, and was honored as the guest speaker at the last Transportation Choices holiday party.

Among the rest: Moscoso is a former CT bus driver; Connie Ladenburg is the wife of former ST board chair John Ladenburg, whatever that’s worth; I’m hearing good things about Billig as a transit/bike/ped guy; Upthegrove has solid enviro credentials; and Eddy, while no  ideologue, engages pretty well with transit advocates. So there’s a nice block of votes to get things like more Metro funding done, through probably not a more radical stop-greenhouse-gases agenda.

On the other hand, the problem in Olympia is no longer the House, but the Governor and Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island), who have blocked transit funding bills in consecutive years.

I don’t have much on the Republicans on the committee.

Transit Master Plan – Scope of Work

2030 Transit System from 2005 Transit Plan

Starting in January the planning process for the Transit Master Plan will start in earnest. The past few months have been used to create a work plan, create an advisory board (which Martin is on), and other scoping type work. Below is the draft scope of work from the enabling resolution 31238, as passed by the council. The meat of the project is in Task 3 and Task 4.

The West Seattle to Ballard corridor will certainly be a major focus on the study, and it should be. However, I think it is important everyone doesn’t forget the rest of the transit network. Seattle is in an interesting position. Because of Metro’s budget woes simply saying that corridors need more service is somewhat of a moot point. Rather, capital projects that improve the efficiency, speed, reliability and integration of service, especially if it is within the city’s purview will in the short term will be very valuable.

For example, it would be great to see minimum thresholds for speed and reliability for routes. The larger the gap between the performance threshold and actual performance, the more aggressive the solution should be. A structure like this is critical because it counteracts the natural tendency of bus projects to be watered down, which we are already seeing. A high level topic that I’m interested in is the restructuring of service due to North Link, and the inevitable re-orientation of service from a downtown centric system to a more gridded and transfer based system. As Link expands north and east the “gravity” of the system will grow to the point that reorientation of the bus system will be obvious.

Scope of work after the jump. [Read more...]

Sunday Open Thread: London Bus Racing

This is an open thread.

(H/T: Evan Siroky)

Editorial: Bad Tunnel Arguments

WSDOT

A day late, I finally watched the PubliCola tunnel debate. Adam already shared his reaction and I endorse it. Thursday’s debate also illustrated some of the arguments in the broader debate, on both sides, that I think are unconvincing:

Anti-Tunnel

Let the Voters Decide. In principle, asking the electorate to judge a project of enormous technical and fiscal complexity is a terrible way to make policy. More practically, in a three-way contest the result of a vote is more likely to be determined by ballot design than by any merits of the projects.

“As many cars as the Ballard Bridge.” Eli Sanders practically begged the Mayor to pick up this sound bite. They’re both better judges of its political impact than me, but it’s a terrible comparison. For one thing, the tunnel is four times longer than the bridge. Secondly, an underground solution is more expensive than an elevated solution, as with light rail, for similar reasons and with similar benefits.

Tolling will divert most cars to the surface anyway. I have mixed feelings about this argument. It is true that the DBT robs the City of the funding to adequately fund alternative routes and modes. However, like a BRT “advocate” who doesn’t actually care how well transit works, many critics of tolling diversion aren’t interested in moving cars and actually like tolling. An underutilized tunnel improves freight mobility, which is the single best argument for the tunnel. Finally, like all surface/transit advocates I have faith that some of those trips will simply disappear, even without spending. This is a better project with tolling than without.

Bad pro-tunnel arguments after the jump…

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Sound Transit Reduced Fares Drop Next Month

In my Metro fare increase reminder I forgot to mention that selected Sound Transit fares are actually going down next month.

The “reduced” (Senior/disabled) 2-zone ST Express fare will drop from $1.25 to 75 cents, in line with the Metro rate. Central Link reduced fares will be a flat 75 cents instead of varying between $0.75 and $1.25.

Link Track Maintenance Policy

Photo by Atomic Taco

[UPDATE 1:30pm: Tonight's trackwork has been canceled. Link will operate normally.]

Alert reader Carl Stork, who has gone as far as to compose a guest post on the topic, directly contacted ST with his concerns and received the following very encouraging response from Deputy Executive Director of Operations Mike Perry:

[Sound Transit is] implementing a plan to test the reliability of a fixed Link schedule on days when construction support, etc. result in service delays. Here are our thoughts and direction at this point:

1. The initial single tracking delay frequency was overstated. We expect to be operating service every 20 to 30 minutes on Thursday and Friday. Steps are being taken to address the communication glitch. [The original alert said 30-45 minutes, but has been corrected.]

2. We will produce and distribute a schedule to operate every 30 minutes beginning on Friday, December 17. There is not sufficient time to start [Thursday] in order to be cost efficient and comfortable with the quality of information. We will release an update to more accurately communicate the level of delay today (20 to 30 minutes).

3. Going forward, any planned Link delay (DECM construction rework, repairs, etc.) that would result in delays of more than 25 minutes will trigger a fixed schedule and not estimated headways. This should allow customers to better plan their trips around the slow down.

4. We will create a number of different schedules for different single track operating scenarios based on where on the alignment work is being done. This may take several weeks to accomplish i.e. to complete the repository of scenarios/ schedules, but we will still be able to complete the scheduling work needed as single track requirements arise in the meantime.

5. We will work with Communications and Customer Service to increase our notification period to customers when service delays are known in advance.

This is probably in my top three list of Really Annoying Things about Link operations, so I’m grateful that it will apparently be solved shortly.

Viaduct Debate

[Update 11:02 pm] Most of the debate was rehashing of topics that have long since been old news for most people following the debate.

What I find disturbing is how transit was hardly brought up. As a project that primarily serves downtown Seattle, I find it amazing that transit is essentially an after thought for tunnel supporters. This becomes even more ironic when you compare it to similar past and present projects. I-90, SR-520 and I-5 in Vancouver all did or will at least make some improvement in transit speed and service.

David Freiboth (King County Labor Council) and Cary Moon (People’s Waterfront Coalition) argued about what the stakeholder committee actually agreed to, David saying it was the tunnel and Cary saying it was the I-5/Surface/Transit. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen argued that the design-build contract and other city and state agreements protected the city from overruns, while Mayor McGinn disagreed. Cary talked a good deal about the the I-5/Surface/Transit alternative and how it would work. O’Brien’s most forceful points were about how the tunnel is costing billions when the city and state are cutting the social safety net. He said he didn’t want to be part of a system that allows that to happen.

The SDEIS, which infuses the debate with new information, was mostly glossed over by both sides.

Ed Murray, who chastised McGinn for creating disharmony in the progressive movement, mostly talked about the politics of the project on the state level and dismissed rail to West Seattle and Ballard when an audience member yelled it out. Most of the arguments from Freiboth, Rasmussen and Murray essentially boiled down to the assertion that the surface option doesn’t move all the cars so it isn’t a viable option.

[Original Post] Through the marvels of modern telecommunication I’ll be live blogging this event from home where I can enjoy a warm dinner and a nice glass of wine. I don’t know if this will work well or at all, but please join me in a group live blogging event. Please include a timestamp in your comment so readers can go back and match your comments with the video.

More after the jump.

[Read more...]

Tracking Down Link Maintenance

The leaky tunnel ring in Beacon Hill Station

Montage of the leaky station tunnel

I was curious with the maintenance Sound Transit was doing the week before the pre-Thanksgiving snow storm, so I went for a field check. The Rider Alert said southbound platforms at Mount Baker and Beacon Hill would be closed, telling me the general area of work. I arrived at MLK and Walden around midnight, where there is a crossover for trains to switch tracks, and saw the red STOP sign and flasher on the southbound track indicating “men at work”. I saw no visible activity outside, suggesting the work was being done in the Beacon Hill tunnel. Later, someone commented on the blog that the work was about fixing leaks on the southbound platform of Beacon Hill Station.

Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray confirmed to me that the work was indeed about fixing the leaky tunnel. The work is covered under warranty, which means the contractor, Obayashi, is responsible for the costs of fixing the defect. Beacon Hill Blog has photos and a report from September that quoted Gray saying such leakage is common in the first year for deep-mined projects. I visited Beacon Hill recently and saw the drainage system they installed in an attempt to collect the water and prevent it from dripping. It was still dripping though not as much as it used to. Fortunately, once this issue is resolved, Gray said “this should be the last of these maintenance delays during revenue hours for a long time.”

Past engineering and maintenance work on Central Link during revenue hours include noise reduction work with rail grinding in Rainier Valley and Tukwila, modifying crossovers on MLK to reduce noise, installation of track lubricators at Mount Baker and Tukwila; installing switch heaters by the Operations and Maintenance Facility to keep trains running during snow and ice conditions; and a weekend closure of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel for upgrades and testing of the fire/life/safety systems.

If You Missed the Meetup

Tom Rasmussen Speaking

You missed a lot of fun. Tom Rasumussen gave a great rundown of the RTTF and how the hard work isn’t done, we now need to convince the Regional Transit Commission (RTC) that that RTTF was on to something. Stay tuned, especially if you work or live in a suburban city. Jack Lattemann who has been a planner at Metro for 16 years followed Tom, giving us a great data dump, state of the union type speech. Thanks to GGLO for letting us use the space and Tom and Jack for coming and speak to us. Below are my tweets from the night.

More after the jump.

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News Roundup: More Trackwork

"Link and the Duwamish Valley", by Atomic Taco

This is an open thread. See you tonight.

Meetup Reminder

Just a reminder that we’re having our meetup tonight starting at 5pm at the offices of GGLO.  We’ll have Jack Lattemann, Metro service planner, and Tom Rasmussen, Seattle city councilmember, on hand as our guest speakers.  If you’re coming and haven’t done so already, please drop an RSVP in the comments here.  Hope to see everyone there.

Important Note: Don’t go in the front door of GGLO – as before, head down the steps at Harbor Steps, and the door to the space for us is about 30 feet down on your right side.

WSDOT Secretary to Head Rail Group

Paula Hammond

Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond has been elected by her peers to lead a national passenger rail coalition:

The States for Passenger Rail Coalition was established in 2000 and is an alliance of 32 state departments of transportation with a mission to promote the development, implementation and expansion of intercity passenger rail services.

The coalition played a major role in helping to advance the $8 billion in new funding for passenger rail projects in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

I have my differences with the Governor for her actions with respect to transit and the deep-bore tunnel, and thought that Secretary Hammond was an unhelpful brake on the effort to get light rail on the ballot in 2008*, but both have shown a steady commitment to our State’s intercity rail mission. The Governor has been energetic chasing stimulus money, both in the first round and the funds that Wisconsin and Ohio returned, and quarreled with the Canadian government over the second Vancouver train. Here’s a list of projects funded for Cascades.

More broadly, one of our underlying principles is that great service in selected corridors is better than lousy service everywhere, and I think that applies to intercity rail. Cutting out some halfhearted efforts and investing in California HSR and the Northeast Corridor makes sense for the nation. I suppose Cascades is more marginal than those projects, but the overall theme of consolidation is encouraging.

* Though Hammond did come around eventually.

Tax Deduction Update

Photo by Oran

We’ve been following the effort to keep the transit pass subsidy limit in the federal tax code equal to the parking subsidy at $230 a month. Fortunately, the measure seems to have made it into the federal tax cut compromise. The extension only takes us through 2011, but it’s a start.

PubliCola reports cloture in the Senate, and helpfully links to a summary that confirms the benefit is still in there.  Without passage, the monthly cap would have slipped to $120, big enough for most Puget Sound commuters but far too low for some other areas.

In a related tidbit from the Forbes story:

A new law, also enacted in 2009, that lets your employer reimburse you $20 a month for bicycle commuting as a nontaxable fringe benefit, is permanent.

Here’s some more information on this benefit, which those of you who are employers might wish to explore. One key fact is that it can’t be taken in the same month as a transit benefit.

Losing Transit Synergy

Two ideal transfers with 15 min trunk service turn into one with 20 min trunk service

Jarrett Walker had a terrific in-depth post last week about pulses (AKA ‘timed transfers’) and how 20 minute service could ever be worse than 30 minute service.  I was mulling over the concept when I realized how familiar the situation sounds– turns out Sound Transit is doing exactly that for its Issaquah-Seattle 554 express route.

Metro designs a lot of Eastside routes on clock-face headways, where you have regularly timed departures after the hour.  You can tell how this would be pretty ideal for a typical configuration of a local feeder route on 30 min service with a frequent trunk route on 15 min service.  That way, as long as you make your local bus, you typically don’t have to wait more than a few minutes to make your connection.

Lengthening headways on your trunk route from 15 minutes to 20 minutes drastically reduces the quality of the feeder-trunk transfer.  If connecting from a local route, it turns two good transfers an hour into one– and that’s not something that makes transit look very attractive.  Eastgate, in particular, seems to be a hub that Bellevue is eying for future growth, so any reduction in service there is going to be disappointing.

To be clear, the 554 is a trunk route so I don’t actually think 30 minute service would be better than 20 minutes.  Trunk service usually has to be maintained at the highest-level frequencies you can afford, and I fully understand that 20 minutes is the best we can get right now.  That being said, however, if we do ever get out of dire straits, achieving synergy will be one of our better bets at making transit more viable.

Another Speaker

We’ve scheduled another speaker for Wednesday’s meetup. In addition to Metro planner Jack Lattemann,  Seattle City Council Transportation Chair Tom Rasmussen will share his thoughts on the Regional Transit Task Force, the Seattle Transit Master Plan, and whatever else comes up.

Socializing still starts at 5 and speeches still start promptly at 6.

If you want to come and haven’t said so in the comment thread in the original thread, please do so.

Where Do I Pay My Link Fare?

Paper sign on TVM pointing to 3 other TVMs at SeaTac/Airport

Paper sign on Link TVM

I find the signage pointing people to Link’s ticket vending machines to be non-existant or poor, especially in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Over the last few weeks I met a few people at Link stations who did not know where to purchase a ticket to ride Link, notably at Westlake and International District, or were confused between ORCA and paper tickets. I also saw people at the Airport station lining up for ticket machines although there were three open ones on the north side. My guess is that most people who buy paper tickets are likely infrequent riders and visitors, who are not familiar with the system on a daily basis. Obviously, many people have no trouble finding and figuring out how and where to pay their fare but the issues below make the system less user-friendly and accessible for all.

Details after the jump.

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Rider Alert: Amtrak Cascades Service Canceled Until Tuesday

Two separate mudslides have canceled all Amtrak service between Portland and Vancouver BC.  Conforming with BNSF’s 48-hour moratorium following such events, service is expected to resume on Tuesday morning.

  • Buses will completely replace trains 501, 506, 508, 510, 513, 516, and 517 .
  • Trains 11 and 14 (Coast Starlight), 500, 507, and 509 will run as trains between Eugene and Portland and as buses between Portland and Seattle.
  • Train 504 (Portland to Eugene only) is unaffected.
  • Due both to our mudslides and heavy snow in Minnesota/North Dakota, please check with Amtrak regarding the status of the Empire Builder.  Over the next two days trains will be severely delayed and will originate either at Everett or Spokane (depending upon tardiness) and passengers will be bused to/from Seattle.
  • North Sounder will not run on Monday.  South Sounder is currently unaffected.

Real-time train information is always available here.  Given the likely extent of flooding in Western Washington through Tuesday, bus replacement may soon experience its own delays or cancellations.  Stay tuned.

Sunday Open Thread: 486.1kph

China, of course.