Metro Moving Ahead with New Trolleybuses

King County Metro 4 in East Queen Anne

King County Metro 4 in East Queen Anne

As many readers probably know, it’s been widely announced and reported that King County has decided to replace the existing trolleybus fleet with a new fleet of trolleybuses, each of which will include modern features commonplace in other trolleybus fleets worldwide, including low-floor boarding and the ability to travel off-wire for limited distances. This decision followed an independent report comparing trolleys to modified diesel-electric hybrids (geared down for hill climbing) and a public open house, and was finalized two weeks ago with the unanimous adoption of the 2012 King County budget. The new trolleybuses will start to enter service in 2014, and the old ones will be phased out as that happens.

Metro will now move forward with procuring the buses, a process that involves drawing up a specification for each of the two different models (40′ and 60′), creating a detailed purchase contract, and bidding it out. Metro will probably request bids in the spring of next year, perhaps with a prototype seen 18 months after that. As I detailed in a previous post, the 40′ coaches will be replaced in the same quantity (100), but four fewer 60′ coaches (55) will be purchased, as Metro expects to be able to obtain more platform hours out of each new 60′ coach compared to its unreliable Breda counterpart. The fleet size is chosen to maintain the existing number of platform hours delivered; i.e. it assumes the trolleybus network will remain the same size.

There will be no public meeting regarding the design of this bus prior to asking for bids, so if you have any thoughts on the matter, you should email them to the community outreach contact for this project, Ashley Deforest. One of the perks of being an STB blogger is that I get to write my opinions (not to mention my silly mistakes) across the sky, so here’s what I’d like to see in these new trolleybuses, after the jump.

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Sunday Open Thread: the 7,000 Miles of Metro

Presenting the 1983 Metro transit system map featuring a dark background and white/green lines in high-resolution. Don’t miss the other side with downtown maps, night owl map, rider instructions, and a frequency table of all routes! It was scanned from a copy in UW’s Suzzallo Library. This is one of Metro’s more non-traditional map designs. (Click “View original” on the linked pages to download the full images.)

Evenings in Seattle and RapidRide

Map showing frequent bus routes operating until 10 pm

Frequent service for nights on the town or workaholics.

How late should “frequent service” operate for the purpose of defining a standard span for a frequent transit network? I have found that it varies for each city but I looked at our neighbor Portland for an answer. Before the budget shortfall forced cuts, Portland’s twelve Frequent Transit bus corridors plus MAX light rail offered service every 15 minutes or better until 10:30 pm, every day. TriMet chose that time since it “corresponds to end times for evening activities, based on a survey of evening college classes, movie theaters, shopping and event centers.” Compare this to King County Metro’s quasi-standard of frequent service until 6 pm Monday-Saturday and 5:30 pm on Sunday*. How many of Seattle’s main bus routes meet the Portland standard for Frequent Service?

As you can see from the thick lines in the diagram above, within Seattle itself, there are eight bus corridors plus Link light rail that meet the criteria. While the geographical extent is similar to routes within Portland, all but one go through downtown, limiting easy crosstown travel. Here’s the actual coverage of the Seattle routes on a map. Outside Seattle, there are the RapidRide A (Pacific Hwy) and B (Bel-Red) lines. That’s a total of ten bus corridors plus Link.

What is disappointing is the proposed night** headways for the upcoming RapidRide C (West Seattle) and D (Ballard) lines do not appear to be frequent at all. In conversation with a Metro planner at a recent open house, they were being conservative with the frequencies since they barely have the resources for it, which explains the “15-30” numbers for some routes. It means they want 15 minute headways but might not be able to fund it. Then there is the C Line has which has a night headway of “30-60” minutes. The planner told me those figures might include the late night trips they are adding to the C and D to replace the Night Owl routes.

RapidRide, in its role as a trunk line, should be a guarantee of service at least every 15 minutes until 10 pm every day. The way night frequencies are presented in Metro’s restructure proposal dilutes the RapidRide brand that Metro advertises as its “fastest and easiest way to travel, with service so frequent you don’t even need a schedule.” If that is what RapidRide is supposed to be, then what do you call routes like the 7 and 70-series that run more frequently than RapidRide both during the day and later into the night?

*the Frequent Transit Network in Seattle’s Transit Master Plan has a target service level of 15 minute or better frequency, 18-24 hours a day (6 am to midnight), every day.

** The “Night” time period is defined in Metro’s Service Guidelines as 7 pm to 5 am all days.

Chartapalooza 2: Yesler vs Jackson

Little Saigon -- 12th & Jackson

Little Saigon -- 12th & Jackson

In a previous post, I presented travel time and reliability information for Aurora and Dexter, to help inform the ongoing discussion of the pros and cons of possibly moving Route 5 and Route 16 from Aurora to Dexter. In this post, I’ll do the same for Yesler Way and Jackson St, using reliability data for Routes 14 and 27. As most readers probably know by now, the proposed Fall 2012 restructure reduces route 27 to peak-only past 12th Ave, in favor of adding trips to Route 14. This complements my prior posts discussing ridership patterns on Route 14 and Route 27.

UPDATE: Maps, by popular request: Route 14, Route 27.

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Paula Hammond and Joni Earl on Transportation

Paula Hammond and Joni Earl

Last night’s meetup featured two big names in transportation– WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond, and Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, both of whom spoke at length about the role and status of women in transportation as well as general transportation issues at hand.  It was one of our best attended meetups ever with roughly 60+ in the audience.  The speaking session was led off with short introductions from Hammond and Earl who talked about their beginnings in transportation, and was later followed by a lengthy Q&A session.

Both Hammond and Earl talked about the evolving role of women in transportation, the shrinking gender gap, and cited a few examples where women now occupy traditionally male-dominated positions.  Earl mentioned that 75% 25% of Sound Transit’s senior management is comprised of women and that the CEOs of both Pierce and Community Transit are both women too.  On the highway side, the project managers of the State’s three mega-projects – the Deep-Bore Tunnel, Columbia River Crossing, and 520 replacement – are also women, according to Hammond.

Transportation funding and revenue sources also dominated the discussion for much of the night.  Repeated jabs were made at Tim Eyman and his incessant war on transport funding.  But what was most interesting was Hammond’s unfavorable view of the gas tax, which, according to her, has lost 49% of its purchasing power over the last ten years since the tax isn’t tied to inflation.  When asked if she supported defining transit as a “highway purpose” in context of the 18th amendment, Hammond iterated her support for a more user-based fee, like a VMT tax, and stressed that using gas tax money to fund transit wouldn’t likely work out in the long-run.

Other topics of the night also included State involvement in transit, burdensome bureaucratic regulations at the federal level, integration between highway and transit capital projects, and light rail buildout.  While time was limited, the event provided a robust forum for transit advocates to hear directly from Hammond and Earl, even on opinions we’ve disagreed with.

A big thanks to our guest speakers Secretary Hammond and CEO Earl for coming out to share their perspectives, as well as April Putney with Futurewise, who helped us coordinate this event.

Snow Today?

Photo by Oran

They’re saying it could snow during the morning commute. If it materializes, consider this your snow thread for the day.

News Roundup: No New Service

Photo by Atomic Taco

This is an open thread.

STB Meetup Tonight!

[Update: We're in the west conference room, just to the left of Starbucks]

Here’s a friendly reminder that we have a big meetup tonight– guest speakers include Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl and WSDOT Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, who will be centering their talks on women in transportation.  This is a very good opportunity to meet two big-hitters in the field of regional transportation so come prepared with any questions you might have for our guests.

Along with the all-star cast, we’ve also secured an all-star venue.  The meetup will start at 6pm at the Columbia Center’s 40th floor conference center, although early arrival is encouraged if you would like to get snacks and refreshments. Use the express elevators which says floors 37-76 above them. Elevators lock down at 6:15 so we’ll have someone located in the lobby to help stragglers get up.

We hope to see you there.

Ridership Patterns on Route 55

King County Metro 55 in the Admiral District

King County Metro 55 in the Admiral District

As part of my ongoing effort to remove myself from as many Christmas card lists as possible, I’m going to discuss one more route in West Seattle that’s slated for elimination under Metro’s proposed Fall 2012 restructure, namely Route 55 to the Admiral District. A streetcar suburb overlooking Alki and Elliot Bay, the Admiral District is currently served east-west on Admiral Way by Routes 56 and 57, north-south on California Ave by Route 55, by the Route 775 Water Taxi shuttle loop, and by the little-used Route 51 circulator. The intersection of Admiral and California is Admiral Junction, one of the three Junctions that host much of West Seattle’s residential, commercial and entertainment activity.

Admiral Way is a wide and fairly fast arterial, with mostly car-oriented development patterns, whereas California Ave is quieter. Heading south from Admiral Junction towards Alaska Junction and Morgan Junction, California exhibits a characteristic crowded jumble of low-rise apartments, townhouses, small shops and some remaining small-lot homes. Heading north towards the Duwamish Head, this mix quickly gives way to apartments and townhouses, doubtless due to the magnificent views available here. Heading a couple of blocks away from California in either direction, everything is single-family homes.

Ridership chart and discussion, after the jump.

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What Would You Like From A Transit Rider Union?

STRU Kickoff Meeting

At last night’s Seattle Transit Rider Union (STRU) kick-off meeting a large portion of the program was dedicated to hearing what meeting attendees want to achieve through the STRU. As transit riders I would like to pose that question to our readers as well? What problems do you think STRU should focus on?

Considering the Grid in Downtown Bellevue

405 at NE 8th, photo by KDavidClark

Like most cities on the Eastside, Bellevue has the misfortune of funneling all its transit service into one hub– in this case, it’s the Bellevue Transit Center.  Part of the work to update the City’s Transportation Plan is to address this problem by identifying potential investments in improving the mobility of various downtown modes, transit being no exception.  While the update is currently in the midst of scoping, we can pinpoint major flaws in the way transit is currently structured downtown.

Take a look at a network map of current downtown routes*– nearly all routes, peak and all-day, are funneled through the transit center.  During the peak, the excessive concentration of demand leads to a mish-mash of overlapping routes, which not only congests local streets but also unnecessarily complicates the network.  While this approach is generally more useful with transit hubs in smaller suburbs, its effectiveness in Bellevue is tempered by the downtown street geometry and land use.

More below the jump.

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Northgate Station 30% Design Open House

Rendering of 94th St Portal

Rendering of 94th St Portal

This month, Sound Transit is hosting a series of three open houses, providing information about the progress of the North Link project, which will extend Link Light Rail from the University Link terminus near Husky Stadium to Northgate TC. Because the designs of the three stations are at different stages, the prior open house at Roosevelt and the upcoming Brooklyn open house are primarily intended for neighboring residents and businesses, providing information about construction impacts and ST’s mitigation plans; whereas last Wednesday’s meeting was a presentation of ST’s 30% design for the Northgate station and tunnel portal.

STB covered the Northgate 15% design open house in May, and I’d suggest that readers who aren’t already familiar with the Northgate station design should start reading there, as in this post I’ll only cover information that’s new or different since then. I also recommend the slides from the open house, along with the other material available from the North Link document library.

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Bellevue Council Approves East Link Alignment

It’s unanimous; story here. I haven’t had a chance to look at the Memorandum of Understanding in detail.

It appears that Bellevue is directly on the hook for $100m in costs. A further $60m may be partially waived (Section 4.2c) if there are savings on particular parts of the project. However, if ST has to cut its expenditures it can do so by deferring stations, parking lots, and so on without affecting the city’s contribution.

The grade separation modifications in Segment B are approved pending an environmental review.

Other documents are here. A big element of political risk to the project just went away.

Waterfront Development

WikiMedia

I think this comment about development near the viaduct needs to be interrogated a little more:

No one anticipates the old buildings will be replaced en masse by a wall of gleaming, high-rise condos. The constraints on development are too numerous.

Many buildings are protected by historic-preservation rules. Zoning limits building heights to 160 feet, tops — much shorter than just a block or two inland — and city officials don’t seem inclined to change it.

That’s unfortunate, says Hugh Hotson. His family has owned the Maritime Building, between Marion and Madison streets, since the 1960s.

“You could have a whole new city down there,” he says. If left to his own devices, Hotson says, he’d build tall — “something between Hong Kong and Vancouver, but built for Seattle.”

I’m curious what possible objection there could be to Mr. Hotson’s plans. I think the concepts of neighborhood scale and character are deeply flawed — most of the world’s great buildings are out of scale and out of character with their surroundings — but if there’s anywhere tall buildings would fit in, it’s in the shadow of downtown. So what is the city’s problem?

Are we going to run out of historic architectural examples in that area?

Is it the construction jobs new development would bring?

Is it the increased tax revenue from more property value and more people living and working in the city?

Is it the greater number of activities accessible from nearby transit hubs?

Or is it the greater number of people year-round on the waterfront, preventing it from being dead space on a dreary mid-November weekday? What is the objection, unnamed “city officials?”

More broadly, the fact that there are serious development plans in this corridor makes me feel better about the general trajectory of the waterfront. I’d be very happy if my initial skepticism proves wrong.

Make ORCA Cards Easier to Get and Keep

map of ORCA retail locations in Puget Sound

ORCA retail locations from Sound Transit

Getting cash paying passengers to switch to the ORCA card can speed up bus boarding for everyone and save operating costs. However, there are many who continue to use cash. There are many reasons for this but I would like to focus on just one: the lack of places to buy and reload a card.

There are only 139 locations in the entire four county area where one can add value to their ORCA card, only a quarter of them sell new adult cards, and a handful (with very limited hours) sell youth and senior cards. This is inadequate. Retail locations cannot sell new cards which is a step backwards from the pre-ORCA era and a big mistake. The coverage of ORCA outlets really is pathetic by comparison to Chicago, London, or ORCA’s sister system in San Francisco.

In spite of the limitations, ORCA is now used on half of the region’s transit trips. That was most likely achieved through conversion of pass users to ORCA, many of whom have employer managed passes. That was the easy part. The challenge now is to convert the other half to ORCA users and attract new transit users.

Not everyone has a debit or credit card for online or over the phone transactions. Not everyone can use the Internet nor can they afford to go out of their way at inconvenient times just to get a card. It is even more inconvenient for youth and seniors. And while one can buy an adult or youth card and fare with checks or money orders through the mail, it can take days to process.

If ORCA is to be used by over 80% of transit riders, it must be easy for all users to get a card and add value to it near home or work or on the way. King County’s approved 2012 budget provides funding for eleven ORCA vending machines throughout King County, one of which will be installed at King Street Center. That is a good step towards making ORCA more accessible but vending machines are expensive and other card distribution channels like retail outlets should be studied for expansion.

Sunday Open Thread: Timelapse Videos

WSDOT has posted some really good timelapse videos of 520 construction.
The first here shows installing girders in Medina last weekend:

More below the fold (including some non-WSDOT videos I like).

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Redmond Transportation Master Plan Meeting

by STEPHEN FESLER

Photo by Oran

On Thursday, November 17, the City of Redmond is hosting a final community meeting to receive input on its Transportation Master Plan (TMP) update dubbed Transportation Redmond 2030. Redmond staff will be presenting a list of potential transportation projects for the first time. The TMP meeting is the best opportunity for the public to weigh in on how the community will invest in pedestrian, cycle, transit, and roads in the near- and long-term. You may wish to read a summary of Redmond 2030 compiled from the previous events to get an idea of the brainstorming that went on earlier in the process.

The TMP is important because it will inform the City of Redmond’s Comprehensive Plan and be a key guide for other transportation policy documents. These in turn guide how funding is allocated, the process of the investments, the kind of services the community can expect, and directly impact land use decisions.

If you want to see Redmond become a more vibrant, sustainable, and diverse place, you should make yourself heard at the event.

The event will be held Thursday, November 17 from 6pm to 8pm at:

Redmond City Hall
15670 NE 85 Street
Redmond, Washington 98073

Routes to City Hall: ST 545 & 542 and MT RapidRide B & 232 all stop within two blocks of City Hall; most other routes pass through Redmond Transit Center about five blocks away.

If you have any questions or have any comments, please contact Lei Wu, Project Manager for the TMP update, at 425.556.2749 or lwu@redmond.gov. While not required, it is encouraged that you RSVP to Patrick McGrath at 425.556.2870 or pmcgrath@redmond.gov.

The author is a planning intern with the Redmond Department of Planning and Urban Development.

Seattle Architecture Foundation to Host Lecture on TOD

If the Transit Riders’ Union relaunch isn’t your cup of tea, the Seattle Architecture Foundation will be hosting a lecture on transit-oriented development (TOD) at around the same time next Tuesday, the 15th.  The lecture is the second in a six-part series called ‘Design in Depth’ that focuses on how design impacts people and communities on both a small and large scale.  With the opening and impending expansion of Link, TOD is a good fresh topic for the lecture series.

As part of the lecture, there will be a panelist discussion featuring several big-hitters in the world of Seattle-area TOD:

Local expert panelists for this presentation are Josh Brower, Chair-Emeritus, Seattle Planning Commission; Scott Kirkpatrick, Transit Oriented Development Manager, Sound Transit; Mike Mariano, Principal, Schemata Workshop; and David Hewitt, Principal, HEWITT. They will discuss their varied roles and perspectives, from system wide station area planning to long range land use policy making to community engagement with the design process and completed transit related projects.

When: Tuesday, November 15th, 7 to 8:30pm
Where: Downstairs at Town Hall, 8th & Seneca
Cost: $20 general admission; $10 for seniors, students & SAF volunteers
Register online or call 1.800.838.3006.

Transit Riders’ Union Launch Nov. 15th

The Transit Riders’ Union is having a launch meeting in the Central District:

Join us on November 15th for a discussion of the fate of public transit in Seattle and beyond. We will talk about the Transit Riders Union’s plans for the future, and announce our upcoming campaign. Short presentations by a panel of speakers will be followed by open discussion. Light refreshments will be provided.

Location:
The 2100 Building
2100 24th Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98144

The 2100 Building is wheelchair accessible, and is served by the 4, 7, 8, 34, and 48 buses. It’s about half a mile from the Mt Baker light rail station.

RSVP not necessary, but if you’re sure you’ll be there and can let us know, that will help us to plan. Email contact@transitriders.org, or call (206) 651-4282.

Curious about what this launch means, I had a chat with co-organizer Scott Myers, and edited for length and clarity, below the cut:

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Ridership Patterns on Route 37

Alki Beach

Alki Beach. By Flikr user alison_

Perched at the northwestern-most tip of West Seattle, the Alki neighborhood is blessed with clean air, beautiful views of the Sound, and one of Seattle’s few beach parks; it’s a nice, transit accessible getaway from the city, although it’s usually crowded in the summer. I’m told that decades ago, West Seattle, and Alki in particular, were considered weekend getaways for Seattle residents, West Seattle then being only sparsely populated and weakly connected to the city.

The center of the neighborhood is a dense, low-rise commercial and residential district immediately to the south of Alki Beach, which tapers off into mostly single-family homes to the south; up to the western shore, there is mix of single- and multi-family housing. The neighborhood also includes a small strip just inland of Alki Ave, to the northernmost point of West Seattle, this area being mostly mid-rise apartments of recent construction, with a few vintage beach houses still remaining.

West Seattle and Alki were served by streetcars in the 1940s, with many of the alignments used then still recognizable today. Route 37 appears to be almost unchanged (even in number) since then. Streetcar #18 ran from Ballard to Downtown on the current alignment of Route 18, then continued to Fauntleroy just like today’s Route 54. Streetcar #8 ran almost the same alignment as today’s Route 56 to Alki. Unfortunately, some of these alignments have stood the test of time better than others, and Route 37 is one that has not done so well. Ridership chart after the jump.

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