Sunday Open Thread: Smart Growth Stories

Via Smart Growth America.

Metro Releases New System Maps

To cap a week of pleasant surprises from Metro, the agency unveiled its new system map yesterday – and it’s beautiful, split into five overlapping components for greater clarity. Many readers will geek out on this for hours; I know I will.

I expect people will split over whether geographic accuracy was the right choice, instead of systemic clarity, but I think it was unavoidable.*

What’s great about it?

  • Color is liberated from showing the service provider — which no one cares about — to what matters: service quality, indicated by mode and frequency. Blue-green is Link, orange is streetcar, light blue monorail, red RapidRide, black is 15-minute all day headways, blue is all day, DART is brown, and white is peak-only.
  • It shows ORCA vending machines!
  • The map is simply beautiful to look at, although I miss the light green of the last Eastside map.

What nitpicks are there?

  • A good principle of map design is that the most important lines are thickest and most prominent. RapidRide is correctly shown as king of the buses, but that line shouldn’t be thicker than Link, no matter the agency to which it belongs. Sounder is almost invisible, as it should be.
  • This isn’t the map’s fault, but Metro’s route network is still too complicated (compare to Portland). Perhaps as Link is built out and RapidRide becomes more BRTish, Metro can make its reduce its network to a series of gridded, intensely served corridors. For the time being, I would like to see a version that, like the last Eastside map, leaves peak routes out entirely.

What are your impressions?

*Within the next week you should see Oran’s latest shot at a schematic map of frequent Seattle transit service.

Olive Way Freeway Station?

Route 545′s Detour in Capitol Hill

Every now and then there is a simple fix to an existing inefficiency that improves transit access, decreases travel time, and costs very little.  Such an opportunity exists at the Olive Way/Melrose Ave on-ramp to northbound I-5.

In a well-known story, in 2005 Anirudh Sahni successfully lobbied for a morning-only Capitol Hill stop for Sound Transit Route 545 at Bellevue/Olive, sparing mostly Microsoft commuters living on the Hill an unpleasant walk over I-5 to Olive/Terry.  (In the afternoons, however, Route 545 commuters still have a longer and even more unpleasant walk back up the hill from Denny/Stewart or 9th/Stewart.)

Made by 30 AM trips,  the Bellevue/Olive deviation requires 5 turns in ½ a mile – 3 of which are signalized left turns (from Boren to Pine, Pine to Bellevue, and Bellevue to Olive) – adding a minimum of 5 minutes to each AM trip.  Simply adding a stop at Melrose/Olive/I-5, a mere shift of about 750 feet, would save 2-3 hours of cumulative delay every day on the 545.

But the benefits of this stop would extend well beyond just the 545.  At the cost of perhaps 30 seconds per trip, and without changing any routing at all, the stop could be also served by:

  • U-District and Northgate express routes in the AM peak (41,71,72,73,205)
  • All SR-520 PM peak routes (250,252,257,260,265,268,311,424)
  • All outbound trips on the 255 and 545
  • All off-peak northbound trips to Lynnwood (511) and Everett (510)

In all, over 350 daily trips could serve the stop.  Just as one example, UW students living in the Summit Slope/Olive Way corridors – many of whom likely take the much slower 43/49 to the UDistrict rather than walk/bus to Convention Place – could see their travel times halved.

Olive/Melrose/I-5, Photo by the Author

Sound Transit included this idea as a service change concept in their 2010 SIP (Service Implementation Plan), but calls and emails to Sound Transit and Metro staff indicated that there are no current plans to add the stop.   Even more, the intersection has recently received a pedestrian safety upgrade (see photo above), and all that is needed now is a shelter and signage.

If you live on Capitol Hill, would you like to be able to get to Northgate, the UDistrict, Kirkland, Redmond, Everett, Lynnwood, etc much more quickly and without walking across Boren and I-5?  Equipping dense neighborhoods with regional mobility is a central mandate of our agencies, and to me this stop seems to be very low-hanging fruit.  How can we get it done?

 

Knock Down the Key Arena

The Key at Night

The Key at Night

Even before the Seattle City Council put its seal of approval on a revised deal to permit a new arena in SODO, local news sites were awash with discussion of the future of KeyArena. On Wednesday, the Times editorialized on the subject, calling for the city not to forget “KeyArena and the neighborhood economy it supports”. Since the loss of the Sonics in 2008, the arena has struggled financially, and a newer, larger arena might draw away the last of its regular tenants, such as the Seattle Storm, ending for the foreseeable future its viability as an entertainment venue. Should this come to pass, no consensus exists on what may become of the arena.

I don’t suppose I’m going to change that lack of consensus in this post; but I’m going to tell you, as someone who lives very close to KeyArena and sees its effect on the neighborhood, that in the long run, I’d like nothing more than to see it knocked down to build some nice mid-rise apartments, and along with it all the other old low-slung Center buildings and multistory parking garage south of Republican and west of 2nd Ave N. Contra the Times, KeyArena does not support a “neighborhood economy”; it’s a pox on the neighborhood, and only supports lots of parking lots and dive bars.

In general, local discussions of anything to do with the Seattle Center have, to me, an emperor-have-no-clothes quality to them. It’s taken as given that Seattle is greatly invested in the Seattle Center as an entity, as a campus, but in fact there’s nothing particularly optimal about the current arrangement. Great cities around the world have magnificent operas, thrilling theaters, absorbing museums, and attractive landmark highrise structures like the Space Needle; but the norm is not to put them all in one place. Such attractions work just as well dotted throughout the urban center, where they are close to transit and lots of people. Other functions of the center, like the (excellent) International Fountain and small event space rental could work just as well through other city departments.

More after the jump.
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Third Ave to Get Loaders for Up to Two Weeks, Tests Afterwards

Following up the news that RapidRide C and D Lines wouldn’t have off-board ORCA card readers downtown and my suggestion that Metro look to use loaders, two weeks ago Councilmember Larry Phillips asked King County Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond to look into this. While some news of this came to light via the Times, details weren’t clear until now. Yesterday I got a copy of Kevin Desmond’s response to Phillips with details of Metro’s plans.

We are working with the City of Seattle to successfully leverage use of a new communication network being built by the Seattle Police Department. Delaying the implementation of the permanent ORCA card readers in downtown Seattle is saving Metro the considerable cost of building our own network. We considered using boarding assistants with portable ORCA fare collection devices for the RapidRide program during the interim period and have a test planned for October. The test, to be conducted after the initial transition period from the elimination of the Ride Free Area, will provide data on the achievable speed and reliability benefits. Of course, a cadre of boarding assistants with handheld ORCA readers would be expensive, so we would want to ensure the benefits outweigh the costs. We will have 35 permanent ORCA readers in place along the other portions of the lines when we begin RapidRide service, consistent with the RapidRide brand that improves customer convenience.

We will be using boarding assistants while the system transitions from the Ride Free Area beginning October 1. Because the DSTT is such a fragile operating environment, we felt there would be a significant benefit to providing boarding assistants in that location at the start of the service change. We will also have boarding assistants at five of our busiest Third Avenue bus zones, three of which are RapidRide zones, for up to two weeks at the start of the service change.

In preparation for the operation of RapidRide through the busy CBD, we have created a position in the transit control center to actively manage RapidRide. In addition to communicating directly with operators, the coordinator will have two cover buses available to put into service as necessary. During the peak periods, the cover buses will be staged just north and south of the CBD to provide extra operating insurance for the C and D lines. Other transit agencies have demonstrated the effectiveness of active service management, and we think this will be an important means of maintaining our reliability through downtown.

This is good news but obviously a firm commitment to providing long-term and ongoing mitigation for the lack of ORCA card readers for the C and D Lines and RFA elimination is much preferable.

Unlike Metro’s previous cost-benefit analysis related to elimination of the RFA, I hope that all of Metro’s future speed and reliability studies, include the one Kevin mentions, attempt to quantify the monetary time-value equivalent cost of degraded speed and reliability on riders, not just the direct monetary impacts to Metro’s bottom line. A high-quality, fast and efficient transit system is in the interest of both Metro and its riders, but without looking at both sides of the ledger, Metro has been missing a key part of the picture.

News Roundup: Bikeshare Action

Atomic Taco/Flickr

This is an open thread.

Thinking Outside the Farebox: Creative Approaches to Financing Transit Projects

Next Thursday Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) in coordination with a variety of other transportation and land use advocacy groups is hosting a day-long conference focused on transportation funding. The various panel discussions will focus the new funding environment created by MAP-21, local and regional funding in the Puget Sound region, what future funding might look like, and how to get Washington State to invest more. Full agenda here.

TCC asks that you RSVP by this Friday here.

RapidRide Opening “Meetup”

Brilliant reader and super-commenter Mike Orr is interested in sampling some of Metro’s new offerings on Saturday, and invites the rest of the STB community to join him:

11:00am. Westwood Village, RapidRide C open house starts

11:30am. Take the next C to downtown and remain on the bus; it will switch to a D and continue to Ballard and Crown Hill. Get off at the northern terminus.

The 40 overlaps with the D here, so walk one block south to Holman Road (westbound side), and take the 40 back through Ballard, Fremont, and downtown.

Then, people might want to do different things. I’ll probably take Link to Othello and ride the 50 end-to-end to Seward Park, Columbia City, SODO station, West Seattle and Alki, and spend some time at the beach. Coming back you can either take the 50 to SODO station and transfer to Link, or take the 50 to Alaska Junction and transfer to the C, or take the water taxi downtown if it’s running. (The 50 is half-hourly on Saturday and hourly on Sunday so you’d definitely want to do it Saturday.)

[The 120 and 60 are your best bets to get to Westwood Village in the first place.] I’ll be starting on the 9:43 #60 at Broadway & Pine.

I put “meetup” in quotes because I don’t know that any staff writers will be there, but our open threads indicate we don’t have to actually do much of anything for you guys to have a good time.

Our Long National Nightmare is (Half) Over

[Update 9:12pm: Metro has now posted rider alerts at the relevant stops, explaining that the stop in front of the auto parts store is going away. My experience on Monday notwithstanding, drivers are not to serve the new stop until Saturday. As if to give me one final middle finger, my transfer from the more distant stop caused me to miss the train this afternoon by five seconds.

Why Metro doesn't post the rider alert at the same time they erect the new stop, I don't know.]

About 38 months after Link opening, southbound 7, 7X, 9, and 42 riders finally have a decent transfer to and from Link at Mt. Baker. I took the photo above Monday after my 7 stopped there. One can discern the contour of the stairs in the station superstructure at right, perfectly oriented to this plaza. Now more Rainier Avenue riders save time by taking the train and transferring instead of the one seat ride, another step towards allowing Metro to shift resources from largely redundant service.

But Link isn’t the only bonus. Transferring from Rainier Avenue buses to the southbound 8 usually involved a crossing of the Rainier Motor Speedway. Now, the easiest path is to the 8 stop just south of the intersection, involving zero busy street crossings.

Progress is slow, but it’s happening. Now Mt. Baker is something less than infinitely awful. If we could just get the northbound transfer right, we’d have a decent intermodal station.

Northgate Construction Open House Tonight

From Sound Transit:

Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012 6-8 p.m. (presentation begins at 6:30 p.m.)

Olympic View Elementary School Cafeteria
504 NE 95th St., Seattle

The open house will include updated information about the construction schedule and staging, construction noise, nighttime work and proposed truck hauling routes.

These construction open houses tend to be lower-key than station design open houses, mostly focused on disseminating logistical information to neighbors, although they can sometimes take a turn for the exciting.

Solid Ground’s Free Downtown Circulator

Shuttle stop marker (via Solid Ground)

With the Ride Free Area’s (RFA) demise in a matter of days, those in need of a free ride in the downtown area are not entirely out of luck.  Solid Ground, a local social service agency, will be operating a free circulator which will run a fixed-route one-way loop within downtown, Belltown, and First Hill.  The circulator will use two shuttles, a 19-seater and 23-seater, to run 30-minute headways from 7AM to 4PM.

The shuttle is a pilot project funded by the City of Seattle for $400,000 a year, which was previously used to help Metro allay the costs of the RFA.  While it will be operated at no cost to riders, its limited operation and coverage in no way replaces the breadth and expanse of the RFA.  According to Solid Ground, the circulator primarily caters to low-income folks and those needing access to social services:

“Solid Ground’s focus is creating a response that meets the needs of this underserved population,” said Gordon McHenry, Jr., President and CEO of the nonprofit agency that operates housing, homeless preventions and other programs aimed at helping people move from poverty to thriving.

“Given fiscal constraints, a downtown circulator is a practical response to the needs of people who are the least advantaged in our community. Solid Ground’s drivers understand the population being served and have experience providing transit services in the downtown core,” McHenry said.

Unfortunately for those dependent on the circulator, there will be no set schedule for the shuttles to adhere to; a Solid Ground flyer (PDF) even warns that “hours of service and location of stops are subject to change.”

While the circulator is devised to best meet the needs of the impoverished, homeless, disabled, and other underserved populations, the scantness of its operations represents nothing more than a flimsy band-aid for the problem social service agencies are aiming to combat.  $400,000 a year could go a long way in the form of free-ride tickets, free ORCA cards, or other assistance programs that don’t involve running a shuttle that is a non-option for most intra-downtown travelers.

The circulator starts operation next Monday, October 1st.  For more information about hours, routing, stops, and destinations, check out Solid Ground’s website.

Reruns: Seattle’s HCT Plan

With all this talk about Seattle building out a high-capacity transit network on its own, it’s worth telling new (or forgetful) readers that STB had a six-part series about this over a year ago:

TMP HCT Analysis (I) (Introduction)

TMP HCT Analysis (II): The Efficiency Winner (4th/5th connector)

TMP HCT Analysis (III): Maximum Ridership (Ballard/Fremont)

TMP HCT Analysis (IV): Lowest Operating Cost (Eastlake)

TMP HCT Analysis (V): Madison

TMP HCT Analysis (VI): First Avenue (includes a summary of the numbers for all five lines)

Street Parking as a Study in Complexity

Pay Here to ParkThis weekend, I read an interesting guest post at Human Transit, discussing a project to reform the pricing and regulation of street parking in Auckland’s city center, and as articles about what’s going on in the rest of the world often do, it gave me a familiar feeling: that of watching other cities do smarter things than Seattle. Briefly, the outcome of Auckland’s reform is as follows: all street parking time limits are abolished; all parking is charged in one of three simple (color coded) price brackets, based on demand; all parking is free for the first 15 minutes.

Contrast this with Seattle’s city center (say from Denny to Jackson, waterfront to Boren), where in addition to five different meter rates, there are time limits from two to ten hours, and differing policies on evening parking; but, most of this doesn’t apply on Sunday, when parking is free everywhere and has no time limits (except on the waterfront). This is before we get into the different types of loading zone (30 minute commercial/non-commercial, 15 minute charter/shuttle bus, three minute passenger load, one minute (!) passenger load to name a few) or any of the myriad other ways the city tries to slice up the curb.

More after the jump. [Read more...]

Sunday Open Thread: RFA Ending

Extreme Bus Bunching

I wasn’t actually at this stop, and can’t confirm whether this was the actual situation on the ground or OneBusAway weirdness. But for a 15-minute headway bus on a Saturday afternoon, yikes. [Update: Numerous commenters say they witnessed this.]

TCC’s Annual Event Coming Up

Peter Rogoff

I’m gonna take a moment to make a pitch for Transportation Choices Coalition’s annual event, which is set to play host to a very special guest, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff.  Because Rogoff is such an important power player for transit in Washington DC, the opportunity to hear him speak will be considerably valuable.  While he’ll be speaking largely to the state of transit on a national scale, his opinions undoubtedly influence local matters, particularly when it comes to talking points like espousing RapidRide as “rail on wheels.”

All snarkiness aside, this is an also an important fundraising event for TCC, which has made a fairly huge impact on bettering local transit in recent times, most recently helping save Metro from draconian service cuts.  Two fights on the horizon are imminent– ballot measures in Pierce County, with lots of service at stake, and Clark County, which would give local support to help usher in MAX expansion to Vancouver.  Money raised going to further these causes would be well spent.

The event will take place the evening of October 2nd, from 5:00-7:30PM at 1927 Events.

Amazon to Buy 4th Streetcar, Fund 10-Minute Headways

[Update 1:20] Aaron Pickus from the mayors office sent some additional details. “A few folks in the comments thread are asking about the cycletrack. I thought you may also be interested to know that the mayor’s proposed budget will include funding to create a Center City Mobility Plan. The Center City Mobility Plan will review how all modes of transportation interconnect downtown. As part of this work, we will begin planning a downtown bicycle network, using best practices, to build on the Denny Triangle cycle track. This study will help lead us to a safer and easier biking experience for residents and visitors alike in Downtown and beyond.”

Today the Mayor’s office sent out a press release with exciting information related to Amazon’s expansions plans with relation to public compensation for an alley vacation necessary for the development to occur. From the press release.

The overall proposal includes $5.5 million of support for the Seattle Streetcar. This funding will allow the City to purchase an additional streetcar vehicle and increase operational support for 10 years as a part of the Planned Community Development benefit package.  In total, these benefits will increase street car service to every ten minutes during the workday.  Alley vacation public benefits proposed by Amazon include:

  • Supporting a higher level of service for the Seattle Streetcar, including the purchase of a fourth vehicle;
  • Designing a new cycle track on 7th Avenue;
  • Enhancing pedestrian crossings at 8th and Lenora and 7th and Virginia intersections, consistent with the Westlake Avenue Concept Design;
  • Creating a shared use street along Lenora to enhance the pedestrian experience and calm traffic;
  • Providing green street enhancements, wider-than-required building setbacks, and enhanced landscaping and sidewalk improvements around all properties;
  • Providing additional overhead canopy between buildings;
  • Integrating art throughout the development;
  • Contributing to the future park at 8th Avenue, Westlake and Lenora. The Department of Parks and Recreation recently purchased property at this location.

Metro Moving Ahead with Delridge Improvements

King County Metro 125 at 1st & Columbia

King County Metro 125 at 1st & Columbia

Metro is moving ahead with a WSDOT-funded set of minor capital improvements on the Ambaum/Delridge corridor served primarily by Route 120:

A new bus lane will soon be under construction on Delridge Way Southwest to improve bus speed and reliability for Route 120 – one of Metro Transit’s Top 10 busiest routes. [...]

[T]he half-mile-long northbound bus lane along a key stretch of Delridge Way Southwest will improve travel times approaching the West Seattle Bridge during the morning commute. The bus lane will operate 6-9 a.m. weekdays from Southwest Oregon Street to Southwest Andover Street and help reduce signal and queuing delays for Metro bus routes 120 and 125, benefitting more than 900 riders during the morning commute.

The roughly $170,000 bus lane improvements – striping, signs and pavement repair – are part of a larger $2.8 million Route 120 Transit Improvement Project funded by a State Regional Mobility Grant and King County matching funds. It is led by King County Metro Transit and coordinated with the City of Seattle.

More after the jump. [Read more...]

Initiating Bellevue’s Transit Master Plan

Metro’s frequent service map for the Eastside

Bellevue is in the midst of updating its Transit Master Plan (TMP), which will serve as a much-needed update to the 2003 plan, adopted once upon a time when transit took a backseat to other transportation priorities.  Since then, ridership in Bellevue has increased nearly twofold from 22,000 daily boardings in 2003 to over 40,000 last year.  The new and improved plan is much more comprehensive than its predecessor and is constructed on nine project principles (PDF), which range from considerations of future growth and development, to accommodations of light rail expansion and companion projects.

While the Bellevue TMP won’t mirror its counterpart in Seattle in terms of identifying high-capacity/rapid streetcar/rail corridors, it does largely hinge on accommodating Metro’s new service guidelines, which emphasize things like productivity, frequency, and geographic value, rather than the one-seat-ride-oriented approach that the agency has taken in years past.  For a brief primer on the TMP, you can watch a video short about the project.

More below the jump.

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News Roundup: Supply Tracks

‘Auburn Station before dawn’ via Joshua Putnam

This is an open thread.