Sunday Open Thread: Suica

A sampling of TV commercials for JR East’s Suica (Super Urban Intelligent Card). Their penguin mascot is way cuter than what we got.

ST Board Selects Tunnel for Bellevue

Final East Link Alignment (Sound Transit)

The Sound Transit board on Thursday officially selected an alignment for East Link, which services the South Bellevue Park and Ride, and also tunnels under downtown Bellevue. The line will be entirely grade-separated from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to Hospital Station in Bellevue.

There are still some gates to pass through before we can be sure that this alignment will happen. The City of Bellevue and Sound Transit have to sign a final, binding agreement. Bellevue has to actually produce the $160m they’ve committed to the tunnel, and Sound Transit has to find about $150m.

The uncertainty about how ST will fund its share prompted the two no votes in the 15-2 decision, King County Councilman Larry Phillips and Mayor Mike McGinn. One possibility brought up in the meeting is to find funds in the North King (Seattle/Shoreline) subarea, where tax revenue is bouncing back strong and projects have come in under budget.

I’m hearing murmurs that some Seattleites are outraged. There are two questions here: what are the impacts on North King projects, and what are the legal and “justice” issues of using North King money to pay for East King projects? In short, the answer to the first question is probably “not much, but be careful;” to the second, “none at all.”

In terms of project impact, it’s really impossible to say at this stage. To state some principles: Northgate to Downtown is the biggest slam dunk transportation project in the state and ST should not compromise there on scope or schedule.Taking money obviously increases risk, but there’s lots of project to cut before Northgate is threatened even if things go terribly. Cleaning out North King’s petty cash may eliminate consideration of Seattle’s desired add-ons, like a $30m Aloha extension to the First Hill streetcar.

As for the justice of it all, I’m entirely unmoved. There’s a lot of ambiguity over what is an “East King” or a “North King” project, and typically that ambiguity has favored North King because East has the money and North has the demand. For instance, East King is paying (for now) for the entire East Link project, starting at the DSTT and including the Rainier/I-90 station. Similarly, spokesman Geoff Patrick confirms all Eastside ST buses – 540, 542, 545, 550, 554, 555, 556 – are paid for entirely by East King, even though Seattle residents definitely get more than zero benefit out of them.

Ridership Patterns on Route 36


Chart by the author

This chart summarizes Metro’s most recent stop-level Automatic Passenger Count (APC) data from Route 36. The bars show the average daily number of boardings and deboardings by stop, and the origin of the bars is the average daily “load approaching” for each stop; i.e. the number of riders on the bus as it approaches each stop. Thin colored lines show the load approaching by time period. This is the passenger data Metro’s planners refer to when they do their work.

There are lots of caveats that accompany this data. A degree of error is intrinsic to APC technology. In the average, these errors are statistically “washed out” to a higher degree as the sample sizes are increased. Thus there is more confidence and less error in the all-day average than in any one time period, and similarly between (say) the mid-day data than the night data.

The data do not quite begin at zero probably because of the complicated configuration of the 36 at its northern end: some trips are through-routed as 1s, others terminate at 3rd & Lenora, others (diesel peak trippers) at 6th & Lenora. It’s also worth noting that the data begins at the Fall ’09 service change, when the 36 was extended from Beacon & Myrtle to Othello Station, so the data partially reflect the initial bedding-in of Link and the revised 36 alignment, when ridership patterns had not yet adjusted to the new network.

Here are a few things that stand out to me:

* S Jackson St, including the parts outside the RFA, is a blockbuster ridership corridor with a constant on-off churn, comparable to 3rd Ave. This bodes will for the First Hill streetcar’s ridership.

* Density and land use drives ridership. Even ten minute headways doesn’t seem to motivate residents in Mid-Beacon to to ride the bus to shop at the commercial area at Othello, whereas the data suggest that happens much more between North Beacon Hill and Little Saigon. Ridership fizzles out, with the bus steadily unloading as it leaves downtown.

* I wonder if the early morning ridership spikes that begin and end at 5th & Jackson could be related to Sounder? The VA hospital is evident in the “Beacon/EXIT [VA HOSP]” AM/PM peak data.

Those of you who live or work on Beacon Hill, please let us know in the comments what else you see in this data that I’ve missed.

TMP HCT Analysis (VI): First Avenue

We complete our weary journey through Seattle’s High Capacity Transit study by looking at the First Avenue Streetcar. There was no BRT option evaluated here. Although a streetcar has 24 times more capital expense than an enhanced bus, it has triple the number of new riders and runs near capacity throughout the day. In fact, the First Avenue Streetcar ranks third according to my favorite efficiency metric, ANC/NR, behind the 4th/5th streetcar couplet and Eastlake BRT, at $2.59. The bus is considerably worse at $3.14.

To wrap things up, here’s a handy summary chart of the 11 options with some of the key metrics:

Corridor Length (mi) Mode Capital ($m) Op ($m) Time Saved (min) Daily Riders ANC/NR Ann. GHG Change (mt)
Westlake 7.0 Rail 327 9 11 26000 $4.53 -427
BRT 111 8 11 21000 $3.11 -400
Bus 17 10 2 16000 $4.74 +1211
Eastlake 6.1 Rail 253 9 15 25000 $2.73 -405
BRT 83 8 15 20000 $2.28 -376
Bus 28 11 2 15000 $5.83 -328
Madison 2.1 BRT 81 5 8 14000 $2.96 -80
Bus 20 6 1 12500 $4.16 -56
1st 2.3 Rail 121 5 1 12600 $2.59 +1
Bus 5 3 1 6200 $3.14 +19
4th/5th 1.1 Rail 74 5 0 11500 $1.71 -12

In spite of what some commenters seem to think, I’ve actively refrained from endorsing any particular mode or corridor in this survey. What’s best really depends on what you value most and the external financial situation. Politics matters, too: even if these projects are more cost-effective than those out in other neighborhoods, the plan is going to have to spread some love out to the other priority corridors to win a citywide ballot.

News Roundup: Exonerated

Photo by Wings777

This is an open thread.

STB Meetup Featured Michael Taylor-Judd

This blog hosted a meetup Tuesday night and it was great to see some of our readers come out to say hello. Our guest speaker for the evening was Michael Taylor-Judd, perhaps the only person running for city council who is a regular reader and commenter!

Adam took a great panorama shot of the audience. It feels like you’re there, man.

Thanks to the Diller Room for hosting us free of charge. What did everyone think of the venue?

TMP HCT Analysis (V): Madison

The Madison corridor, from Colman Dock to 23rd Avenue, has grades that are simply too steep for conventional streetcars. The $81m BRT option is more efficient, according to ANC/NR, than the cheaper enhanced bus option ($2.96 vs. $4.16 per rider). Both values are middling for the study as a whole. The ridership difference is small – 14,000 vs. 12,500 weekday riders in 2030.

The BRT option would save about 8 minutes for travelers going end-to-end. It is both relatively cheap to max out and the one truly east-west HCT corridor. In either alternative, the this line replaces the 11 and 12, but buses at the end split between heading to Interlaken Park or Madison Park.

TMP HCT Analysis (IV): Lowest Operating Cost

Eastlake is a very strong corridor for high-capacity transit that has both high, long-distance ridership and good efficiency metrics. The proposed route would begin at Roosevelt station, absorb and improve the SLU streetcar (if rail), and use a 4th/5th Avenue couplet to complete its run through downtown. Routes 70 and 66 would be eliminated. These operating savings help give the Eastlake streetcar the lowest net operating cost per new rider, at 65 cents per head.

For the rail option, weekday ridership is strong (25,000 a day in 2030, only 1,000 less than Ballard) and the $253m capital cost is substantially lower than Ballard. Using my preferred cost-effectiveness metric, Annualized Net Cost per New Rider, BRT is the second most effective corridor/mode combination in the study at $2.28. Rail is fourth overall (behind the First Ave streetcar) at $2.73, while “enhanced bus” has the worst ratio in the entire study at $5.83.

In general, there is not exclusive right-of-way for this corridor, except for downtown and perhaps Fairview/Eastlake.

Back Door Policy Followup

Back door of a Breda trolley bus

This is King County Metro’s back door policy, stated in my words:

Passengers may exit through the back door on any trip that is pay-as-you-enter at any time, except at downtown bus stops when the Ride Free Area is not in effect (7 pm – 6 am).

Jim O’Rourke, Metro’s Manager of Operations confirms:

Current policy is as Oran states – back door is OK outside of the CBD.

As for the signs on buses, Linda Thielke, Metro spokesperson, says “[management] will work to see what can be done to get the signs altered; but it may take some time unless it’s already part of the decal campaign for this summer.” The policy change by Metro’s Operations folks probably didn’t reach everyone, thus signs that continue to conflict with the new policy.

So there you have it. I hope that riders, drivers and management will all get the memo on this policy for consistency and efficiency of bus unloading.

A Word on ROW

SDOT, Nelson/Nygaard

It’s become clear from comments that there’s some confusion about what the streetcar and BRT modes in the TMP actually mean. It is not, in general, the service quality of the South Lake Union Streetcar. You have to dig into the pamphlets to which each post links to understand what treatments the streetcar (or BRT bus) would receive.

In the case of the 4th/5th couplet, there are two options. The best one, presented at right, has a dedicated transit lane in both directions. The other alternative would do so only on 5th.

For cost reasons, in that project we’re likely stuck with the current configuration through SLU, unless one of the other lines is built.

As for Ballard/Fremont, the plan envisions dedicated transit lanes in the Ballard/Leary couplet, on Westlake between Valley and Nickerson, and on one or both avenues downtown as above. Elsewhere, it would operate in mixed traffic, although it would get other priority treatments like queue jumps and signal priority.

Eastgate Bike Ride Tonight

I’m not sure why July 26th is the official day for good transportation events, but the City of Bellevue is hosting a bike ride of the Eastgate corridor, so that cyclists can provide suggestions to planners on how to make the corridor bike-friendly. Meet at 5:30 at Enatai Beach Park.

This is a great opportunity to help plan for the future of the Eastgate Corridor. Join representatives from the Mountains to Sound Greenway and City of Bellevue for a loop ride from Enatai to the Sunset Trailhead and back. You’ll be able to learn more about Greenway Trail options that are being explored, and provide your input to transportation planners on how to make this important corridor more bike-friendly. We’ll be back to Enatai Beach Park around 6:45 p.m. Please RSVP at www.surveymonkey.com/s/eastgateI-90corridorbikeride.

TMP HCT Analysis (III): Maximum Ridership

Of the all possible High Capacity Transit corridor projects in Seattle’s Transit Master Plan, nothing carries more riders than a fast streetcar from downtown to Loyal Heights via Ballard and Fremont. Up to 26,000 riders per day could use this line in 2030, which would run a train train every 8 minutes at the peak, 15 minutes evenings and weekends, and 10 minutes the rest of the time and save the average traveler about 8 minutes over the current situation.

On the other hand, the 7-mile rail corridor would cost $327m in capital, well out of range for Seattle without outside assistance. It also would run less frequently than the BRT option, which costs $111m, draws 21,000 riders and is cheaper overall per new rider ($3.11 vs. $4.53). Enhanced bus takes up the rear at $4.74.

No matter what you do, nothing is big enough to handle the demand in this corridor. Even running every 5 minutes, BRT simply doesn’t; only coupled streetcars come close.

But if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. On the other hand, if you build the streetcar here you get the SLU/First Hill connector for free.

Nelson/Nygaard looked at constructing a ship canal crossing. They estimated the cost at $50-70m, but judged it to not meet cost/benefit considerations.

County Council Divided, Defers CRC Decision

A Divided County Council

The Metropolitan King County Council this evening decided to give themselves more time before deciding on the fate of the temporary 2-year $20/car/year Congestion Reduction Charge (CRC). They will meet to discuss the matter again and vote on Monday, August 15. Jim Brewer, legal counsel, said that August 16 is the deadline to put the CRC on the November ballot. To put the CRC on the ballot that late would require 6 votes and an emergency clause. However, there is no immediate deadline for adopting it directly, not until the authorizing legislation expires in 2014.

Councilmember Reagan Dunn reaffirmed his position that he will not support councilmatic action (adoption without a public vote), “There’s no scenario where I’m able to accept passing this out of the council.” He might support sending it to the ballot if Metro continues to demonstrate additional efficiencies.

The public hearing, scheduled at 3 pm, began an hour late. Over two hours, over 50 citizens testified, most were in support of the council adopting the CRC with a supermajority vote. Only two spoke against it. After a brief recess, the council was scheduled to reconvene at 6 pm for debate and the vote. At 6:15 pm, the council was called back to the chamber, only to have Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer request an additional 20 minute recess to discuss “new information”. After 40 minutes, Councilmember Patterson withdrew her motion to allow more time to work things out and the meeting was adjourned.

Transit advocates at the hearing remain optimistic. There’s still time to convince the other councilmembers to support and adopt the fee.

STB Meetup Tomorrow

Please join us tomorrow at 6pm at the Diller Room for a long overdue STB meetup. Facebook event here. Please note this is a 21+ location. If you have not already done so please RSVP in the comments thread here. There should be lots of great discussion, as a lot has happened since our last meetup.

Last Chance to Testify Before the King County Council

Today, the Metropolitan King County Council votes on whether or not it will approve a $20 CRC (congestion reduction charge) car-tab fee to delay Metro cuts until 2014, pass the same decision to the voters in November, or reject the charge entirely, resulting in 600K hours of cuts beginning February of next year.  After three public hearings, a tremendous amount of testimony has been heard in favor of the charge, ranging from disabled riders dependent on transit to people who never take Metro but support those who do.

This afternoon the public will have one last opportunity to weigh in on the issue.  Public testimony on the CRC, officially Ordinance 2011-0288, will be heard around 3pm, but sign-up will begin at 1pm in the 4th Avenue Plaza of the county’s Administration Building at 500 4th Ave.  The council will not vote until all testimony has been heard.

The hearing and vote will be covered in depth on Twitter, which you can follow with the #SaveKCMetro hashtag.

TMP HCT Analysis (II): The Efficiency Winner

SDOT / Nelson/Nygaard

There are many metrics that Nelson/Nygaard used to evaluate each mode in Seattle’s future High Capacity Transit corridors. Unfortunately, the one I really wanted to see wasn’t included: Annualized Net Cost per New Rider. Let’s break that down.

The cost is annualized because it breaks down the upfront capital cost over a 30-year period to combine it with operating cost; net because it subtracts savings from bus operations made redundant; and “new riders” because it only counts the trips added to the system. It captures what the city would have to outlay to put another fanny in the seats every day. And as luck would have it, one can compute ANC/NR it using the metrics that the consultant provided.

This metric doesn’t capture everything that matters; it’s subject to the assumptions that went into the inputs. Moreover, it ignores trip length, greenhouse gas emissions, rider speed and comfort, what you can get people to vote for, and what capital costs the federal government or private investors might defray. Nevertheless, the winner by this metric is the “CC2″ South Lake Union-Downtown streetcar, which connects the SLU and First Hill streetcars. Its ANC/NR comes in at $1.71, 47 cents below its nearest competitor.

The 1.1 mile Corridor_CC2 would run in a couplet down 4th and 5th Avenues. The streetcar would run every 10 minutes during the day and every 15 minutes evenings, and carry about 11,500 people a day in 2030. Most riders throughout the day in 2030 would be standing. At $74m, it’s also one of the cheapest capital projects on the menu; it’s also a down payment on longer potential lines up Eastlake or to Ballard.

Due to the unique nature of this project, there were no analogous bus projects for this corridor. Bus service would remain unchanged.

Sunday Open Thread: The Price of Gasoline

Transit Hikes: Shaw Island and Friday Harbor

Shaw Island – Wikimedia

If you really want to leave it all behind for a night or two, you can hardly do better than Shaw Island.  The least populous and least-visited among ferry-served San Juan Islands, Shaw is a quiet, wooded treasure.  The island has only one commercial establishment, the Shaw General Store, famously operated by nuns until just a few years ago.  San Juan County Parks operates the lone public campground, charging $12-$16 per night for one of 11 tent sites.  The campsites rest on a cliff above a sandy, south-facing beach with great views of San Juan, Canoe, and Lopez Islands.

If you strap on a backpack with a small tent, or better yet take a bicycle, you can have an easy car-free loop, 2 nights of quiet camping, a late lunch in Friday Harbor, and a scenic cruise back to Seattle…while still arriving back in Seattle for a full night’s sleep before work Monday morning.  Here’s a sample itinerary, below the jump.

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A Workshop for Technically-minded Transit Geeks

Photo by Atomic Taco

APTA’s annual Multimodal Operations Planning Workshop will be held here in Seattle next August from the 15th through 17th, a three-day event consisting of workshop sessions, panels, and technical tours.  Unlike larger conferences like Rail~Volution, the Multimodal Workshop is much more technically-oriented and typically draws a clientele of transit planners and schedulers from around the country.

While geared more toward professionals in the transit world, the workshop is open to the general public, albeit at a higher price for non-APTA members.  Topics include service scheduling, route design and structuring, facilities planning and more.  Attendees will be treated to a luncheon on the workshop’s first day with guest speaker Jarrett Walker, author of Human Transit.  There will also be four technical tours of various systems in the region, including a joint operations tour in the DSTT.

Registration information can be found here.  Though there’s no set cap on how many can attend, there is limited capacity at the Red Lion, where the workshop is being held.  If you plan on attending, please RSVP in the comments below and register as soon as possible so that APTA and Sound Transit, the host agency, can get a sense of how many will need to be accommodated.  A pre-workshop technical tour will also be held in Portland the weekend before, which does not require workshop registration but does have space limitations so RSVP for that ASAP if you’re interested.

Cascades Ridership Breaks Another Record

Cascades at King St Station

Photo by Jim Wrinn – Editor of Trains Magazine – Original Image HERE

2nd Quarter 2011 ridership on Amtrak Cascades set an all-time quarterly record, with 231,194 passengers.  Ridership was up 8% on Q2 2010, the next highest year.  Since 2007 Q2 ridership has grown by an impressive 25%.  As opposed to Q1 (mudslides, 2010 Olympics, etc…) Q2 ridership is broadly indicative of annual trends, so these numbers are solid evidence of the growing popularity of the service.  Good news!

Cascades has always drawn most of its ridership from Seattle and Portland, and as ridership has grown major cities have only increased their relative share of riders. Comparing May 2010 to May 2011, ridership is up 8% in Seattle, 9% in Portland, 9% in Eugene, and up another 24% in Vancouver BC. Smaller cities lost riders, however, with 5% fewer passengers in Tacoma and 15%  fewer in Bellingham.   It’s clear to me that Vancouver BC deserves a 3rd train. More below the jump.

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