An example of guidebook routing
Lots of interesting things have been announced at Google I/O this week, including a major update to Google Maps, a Google product that’s familiar to almost everyone, and used by many on a daily basis. Most of the news coverage has revolved around visual, social or privacy aspects of the Maps experience, but I want to talk about a major upgrade to the transit functionality of Maps.*
With the new version of Google Maps, when you ask for directions between two points, rather than getting an itinerary that minimizes travel time for a handful of particular departure or arrival times (as you do today), you’ll be offered an itinerary that gets you between those points, as frequently as possible, for as much of the day as possible.
To put it in transit nerd terms, Maps will evaluate all the possible ways to get between two points to figure out the effective all-day frequency and span of service (accounting for connections between services of different frequency), and show you itineraries which prioritize those qualities over a naive minimization of scheduled travel time. It will still be possible to look at departures or arrivals at specific times, but the general guidebook itineraries will be the first thing users see.
The screenshot at the top, taken from the public preview, shows an example of this. To travel on transit from the PacMed building to downtown Fremont, take bus 36 and then transfer to 26, 28 or 40 in Pioneer Square. This itinerary works at least every 15 minutes from 6AM to 11PM, every day; within those time periods, it’s a general solution to the problem of getting between those two points. An alternative route, using the 5, 16 or 26X to get off at 38th & Bridge Way and walk down the hill is also available.
In both cases, note that even though a single route determines the baseline daytime frequency for the connection, Maps notices that other routes also serve an identical pair of stops origin destination stops, so if one of them comes first, you should take it.
After the jump, another example. (more…)
Aurora Village Transit Center
Of the six RapidRide routes Metro has rolled out, or soon will roll out, only one will have more than one adult fare: RapidRide E, an improved version of today’s Route 358, which connects downtown Seattle and Shoreline via Aurora Avenue. Metro’s fare system has two zones, with Zone 1 the city of Seattle, and Zone 2 the rest of the county; adult riders pay a 50c surcharge on rush-hour trips that cross a fare boundary, while off-peak riders, seniors and youth each pay a flat rate. All E Line trips will cross the boundary at 145th St. I don’t know exactly how long the zone system has been around, but it’s at least 30 years, and like so many things of that era at Metro, seems to have been designed with a focus on the downtown Seattle 9-5 commute trip.
One of the few rapid transit-like features all RapidRide lines will ultimately have is partial off-board payment at the busiest stops: riders with ORCA will be able to tap on at the platform, while cash payers delay the bus, fumbling with change and dollar bills at the farebox just like they’ve always done. Zone fares present a problem in this system, as riders have no way* to declare to the ORCA platform reader how many zones they wish to pay for; of necessity, platform ORCA payers risk under- or over-payment. We at STB, along with many of our readers, have wondered how Metro is going to deal with this, and after more than two months of pleading and nagging, we finally have an official answer:
The E Line will have the same 1 and 2 zone boundaries as the 358. The off-board readers can only handle one fare set so we are setting them to the number of zones that the majority of the riders pay (which is also consistent to the default settings for the farebox and ORCA reader on the bus).
This means in the inbound/southbound direction, the off-board readers from Aurora Village Transit Center to North 160th Street (the last station before the zone boundary) will be set to two zones.
Riders who are only going one zone will have to pay on the bus and ask the driver to override the two-zone setting on the bus. All other off-board readers, inbound and outbound, will be set to one zone. Again, if the rider is going two zones from those locations, they will have to ask the driver to override the default setting.
More after the jump. (more…)
Photo Ned Ahrens, King County Metro.
A Martin mentioned last week, at 3:30 PM today King County Metro will host an open house on the extensive service cuts that could come if the legislature fails to provide a sustainable local revenue source for the agency; this will be followed by a public testimony to King County’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee from 4-8 PM. This may be your best chance in this legislative session to say your piece on how the cuts would affect you.
From the Metro Future Blog:
If sustainable transit funding does not become available through efforts by the Legislature, an estimated $75 million annual revenue shortfall could force Metro to reduce bus service beginning in fall 2014. Metro has identified 65 routes at risk for elimination and 86 routes at risk for service reductions.
The potential cuts would create a transit system with fewer travel options and longer travel times, with buses that are more crowded and less reliable. These effects could cascade through the system as bus routes are eliminated and riders compete for space on other already-crowded routes.
So far, Metro has been able to avoid these cuts through $798 million in reforms, reductions and additional revenue – such as the implementation of the congestion reduction charge, a temporary $20 charge on vehicle licenses for two years. The fee ends in 2014, and without new sources of revenue, Metro must reduce service.
Open house and public hearing Tuesday, May 14
Union Station, 401 S. Jackson St., Seattle
3:30 p.m. open house
4-8 p.m. public testimony
Can’t attend? Submit your testimony online.
Disembarking onto a sprinkler head is one of the many premium experiences King County Metro offers.
Over the last few months, I’ve been on a tear of complaining, both directly to Metro and on the blog, about substandard Metro facilities, perhaps originally motivated by the number of them on Metro’s Route 40, which is one of my new neighborhood’s core bus routes. I’ve had some success with this, but I’m sure the problems which affect my routes affect others too, so I want to share some examples, and get a list of suggestions from readers about where else such facilities exist.
By substandard, I don’t mean lacking premium features like bus bulbs and realtime arrival signs — desirable as those are, they’re expensive, and aren’t going to make sense at every stop — nor even shelters and benches, which are desirable and cheap and thus should be standard everywhere there’s room in the right-of-way. Rather I’m talking about basic functionality like signs which have the correct route numbers printed on them, an absence of overgrown hedges that render riders invisible, and concrete landing pads, so riders can board without walking through roadside landscaping, and wheelchair users can safely board at all.
Here are a few improvements in the works for Ballard and Fremont:
- In June, the notorious Hedge Stop (#18140) on Leary at Ione will be relocated a block north on Leary to a sane location outside Ballard Landmark.
- The new Route 40 stop eastbound on Leary at 11th Ave NW (#28255), currently just a post in a wet, grassy verge, will be properly reconstructed this summer. We’ve previously reported that a new stop is in the works eastbound at 8th Ave NW.
- The “mulch and sprinkler head” stop on Westlake, just south of the Fremont bridge (#26850), pictured above, has also been put on the list for repaving, but may not make it through the design process in time for this summer’s paving season.
- Stops #29217 and #28415 are going to get proper Metro bus signs, not the blank ones they have now.
I’m also told that the new Route 21 stop at 3rd & Lander (#99232), currently a post in a grass verge, is also in line to be upgraded.
Metro staff have been extremely responsive and informative when I have complained about these things, and I sincerely thank them for their work, but I can’t completely let the agency off the hook here. Some of these stops are new, so it’s understandable that they’re still a work in progress, but some of them should have been taken care of years if not decades ago, and it’s really kind of an outrage that they weren’t. What was the agency doing with its money back when it wasn’t broke and understaffed?
Lack of basic comforts and dignity at bus stops perpetuate the corrosive notion that transit riders — bus riders in particular — are second-class citizens. If our local and regional governments are to stand a chance at achieving the mode-share goals they have set themselves, if we are serious about providing an alternative to universal car ownership, this kind of prejudice needs to die, which implies that this kind of substandard facility must precede it in death.
Enough about the past; let’s find things to complain about today. I’m taking suggestions in the comments for other stops that have problems such as those described above, and I will take them up with Metro. I’ll put only one condition on suggestions: they need to be in places with existing sidewalk infrastructure, because adding proper new stops in areas without sidewalks is likely to be very expensive. Every urbanized part of the county should have sidewalks, but there’s no way they’re going to get built out of Metro’s stop improvement budget, that infrastructure needs to come from the responsible municipality.
Deception Pass – Wikimedia
Looking for a transit adventure this Saturday? The Seattle Transit Hikers are organizing a cheap, fun 8 AM — 6 PM loop around Whidbey Island, starting and ending in Seattle, and stopping at the pleasant and scenic Deception Pass State Park. Our own Zach Shaner wrote up a similar transit trip a couple of years ago, although note that his itinerary and direction are different (and might be out of date!). RSVP on the meetup page by 8 PM tonight.
The group has done some great-looking trips recently, and has more coming up. To name a few:
Route 16 “Detour”
If you’re one of the many bus riders who wants to travel to Wallingford from Belltown or Downtown, but doesn’t like travelling in circles on often-hopelessly-gridlocked streets, Metro has finally taken pity on you: on May 18th, Route 16 will switch from 5th Ave N to a direct route from 3rd Ave to Aurora, just like Route 5. Lane reductions on Aurora associated with SR-99 tunnel construction will likely screw up traffic for several years, but the agency has told me that a public process to make the Aurora alignment permanent will start before construction is complete.
Route 16′s horrifyingly awful outbound routing was the reason I started writing for STB, and I can’t wait to dance on its grave.
Final Broad Street Plan
The Seattle Department of Transportation has finalized its plan for a bus lane on Broad Street, a facility which will improve the speed and reliability of outbound trips on RapidRide D and Routes 1, 2, 13, 15X, 17X, 18X, 19, 24, and 33. We’ve written about this project several times (1, 2, 3) since its inception. In response to public feedback, including complaints about parking loss from adjacent retailers, a couple of components from were eliminated or reduced from the original plan: the bus lane will only be in effect from 7 AM to 7 PM (rather than at all times), and the eastbound bike lane originally proposed was eliminated.
One aspect of the plan has actually become more ambitious: both westbound and eastbound bus stops on Broad will be removed. In a previous post, I argued for this, as the stops in this segment are very close together, but in a response to my questions, Metro staff only agreed to consider removing the westbound stop. I’m not sure what changed Metro’s mind, but I’m certainly not going to complain. Both eastbound stops between Denny and 3rd will ultimately be replaced in favor of a single stop on Denny once SDOT completes the Denny trolleybus wire project. SDOT staff tell me that project just finished 90% design, and a public open house will be scheduled for June.
I’m little sad that the bus lane times were cut back, but congestion isn’t usually a problem on Broad St after 7 PM, so it seems like tolerable compromise. Similarly, the bike lane would have been nice, but the huge hill immediately west of 1st would have limited its patronage. One idea that occurred to me, which SDOT has promised to look in to, is extending the hours of the northbound bus lane and queue jump on 1st approaching Denny, just north of this map. Currently this only operates from 3-7 PM, but harmonizing its operation with the new lane on Broad St makes sense to me.
The Pioneer Square transit mall we won’t get.
In 2016, when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is closed and demolition begins, King County Metro will lose its primary conduit into downtown Seattle from West Seattle and southwest King County. While all post-Viaduct pathways will be significantly slower and less reliable, the agency has to figure out the best replacement according to some combination of speed, reliability, access to the city center, and ease of operation. After eliminating options deemed unworkable, the choice basically boiled down to variations on two themes: a waterfront pathway, following the surface Alaskan Way to Colman dock, then up the hill to 3rd Ave via some combination of Marion and Columbia; and a Pioneer Square pathway on some combination of Main and Washington.
As announced on the Metro Future Blog last week, the agency is proposing a two-way configuration on Columbia Street. Beyond the announcement, Metro has quite a bit of information up about the decision. There are some easily-digestible nuggets also on Metro Future about the pathways not chosen and likewise in this fact sheet, and a report which comprehensively analyses the four final alternatives. To get right to the bottom line, skip to PDF pages 67-69 for a tabular summary of the results. As far as I can tell, the report seems thorough and well written, with reasonable conclusions.
I’ve said my piece on this already, but for posterity: the two-way Main St pathway, pictured above, would have provided by far the best intermodal connectivity and access to the south end of downtown, and been almost immune from ferry traffic congestion, all for the ongoing cost of about a minute in travel time inbound, and three minutes outbound. The pathway would have been significantly more expensive to implement — Main Street completely rebuilt with wider sidewalks, custom paving and bus shelters — but it could have become a beautiful and functional gateway to one of the few truly urban places in Seattle, and provided year-round activation to the often-forlorn Occidental Mall. By contrast, Columbia is nothing more than a pipe for cars.
Unfortunately, the people with the most to gain from a Pioneer Square alignment fought the hardest against it, and when I discussed the alternatives with Metro staff some months ago, it was made clear that whatever the technical merits of this pathway, well-connected anti-bus NIMBYs had foreclosed that possibility; a Columbia pathway was almost a foregone conclusion. The question now is whether Seattle will give Metro the transit priority treatments needed to get buses reliably through the mess at Colman Dock.
Proposed Interbay Rezone
On Monday, April 29th, from 5-7 PM at Q Cafe, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development will hold a community open house to obtain feedback on their proposal to rezone a portion of Interbay:
For the past six months, city planners have been studying possibilities for the future of Interbay. Metro has introduced Rapid Ride frequent transit, and new apartments and offices are under construction in the area. Newcomers, ranging from small craft distiller Sound Spirits to large retailer Petco, have joined long-standing businesses like GM Nameplate and Keller Supply to become part of the business community. And more change is likely.
Some background: the public process for this rezone has been underway for some time, and of the original three concepts — an urban village, an industrial area, and a “local production district” — the choice appears to have been winnowed to down to some variation on the third. You’re probably wondering what a local production district is, so here’s the blurb from the DPD concept:
Industrial lands develop in ways that support growing opportunities for locally-produced, customized, specialized, small lot production. [...] Integrates retail and production uses. Small parcels accommodate independent businesses, and large parcel offers centralized management of campus-like environment.
What this translates to in policy is a rezone from Industrial General (IG), which is what most people would think of as industrial (e.g. much of SODO, the Ballard docks) to Industrial Commercial (IC). The best example of IC zoning that I know of is the area of Ballard just northwest of 15th & Leary, which hosts an eclectic and growing mix of microbreweries (which retail on-site), car mechanics, bike shops, bars and other businesses, all housed in a jumble of buildings of various vintage and quality. This is, I believe, what DPD is aiming for in the part of Interbay west of 15th Ave NW. One minor code change, to create a neighborhood retail area at Dravus & 14th, is also proposed.
Ship Canal Connector. Map from Our Interbay.
At this point, the urban village concept having been rejected, this rezone doesn’t seem to hold out the possibility of increasing housing availability in any meaningful way, rather it’s mostly about allowing more productive non-residential use of a swath of the city that’s well-served by transit, which seems like a good idea in as far as it goes.
One transportation investment in this area that strikes me as forehead-slappingly obvious, and would aid the success of the proposed local production district, is to connect the recently-built Ship Canal Trail to Thorndyke, via a short section of trail, on existing public right-of-way underneath the Emerson St ramp, as shown on the map at right. Today, the trail passes within a hundred yards of the proposed rezone area, but the only safe and sane way for a bicyclist to get into the area is by detouring more than a mile through Magnolia. Anything DPD could do to move this connection forward would be highly desirable.
The proposed changes seem unlikely to be controversial, but it’s always good to have pro-transit, pro-bike, pro-density comments so DPD’s public feedback isn’t all just whining about parking. If you can’t attend Monday’s meeting, take the online survey here. Finally, if you’re interested in Ballard zoning, a similar rezone process will begin in May for the 15th & Market area of Ballard, an area now dominated by very car-oriented development, so I’ll try to keep an eye out for that.
The Seattle Department of Transportation has proposed eliminating two small loading zones and a handful of parking spots in order to extend the very busy pair of bus zones in downtown Fremont to cover essentially their entire respective block faces, as shown on the map above. We’ve written at length before about the specific problems at these stops (along with some other transit problems on Leary between Fremont and Ballard) but the letter from Metro succinctly states the case:
The need for these revisions is driven by an increase in transit service and ridership in the area as well as interest in improving general traffic flow along the block. Since September 2012, transit service to these bus stops has increased from about 8 buses an hour to 15 buses per hour during the peak, greatly increasing the likelihood of concurrent bus arrivals at both northbound and southbound bus stops. Since two large buses can’t fully pull to the curb at either the northbound or southbound bus stops, buses often have to block a general purpose travel lane until the space is cleared. This causes delays to riders and to drivers that get stuck behind the waiting buses. Similarly, restricting parking along the block will allow buses to move through intersections without having to wait for vehicle queues from the traffic signal to clear.
Over 1000 riders use these bus stops each day; we believe these revisions will provide a great benefit to them as well as general purpose traffic.
If you’re someone who uses these stops and you want to comment on this proposed change, email your comment to Jonathan.Dong@seattle.gov by May 3rd. Absent supportive comments from riders, the public feedback might well just be grumbling about parking loss from adjacent businesses, so if this will benefit you, be sure to make your voice heard.
I talked on the phone to Car2Go CEO Nick Cole a couple of weeks ago, to follow up on our last interview, and relay some of your questions; apologies for the delay in getting this published. I did ask if car2go could share heat maps, or some other graphic of Seattle’s demand, but they declined. They did, however, point out a video from South By Southwest showing car2go usage in Austin one weekend, which while not official, is apparently accurate.
Bruce: Everyone seems to agree the car2go refueling process is terrible for users. Do you plan to make any changes to it?
Nick: Refueling is a necessary evil, of course. Unlike competitors, car2go only requests (not requires) that drivers refill the car below a certain fuel level, so most users will be able to avoid it if they wish. Essentially, we crowdsource refueling: for example, there are apps [e.g. free2go] which show users cars that are eligible for the refueling bonus; this is much cheaper for us than paying someone to go out and refill cars. The current bonus seems to provide an adequate incentive to keep the cars fueled, so there are no plans to change it.
One common request is for the option to buy down the insurance deductible; $1,000 is more liability than many people would like to carry. For example, ZipCar allows users to do this on a monthly or per-trip basis. Are you guys planning to offer this?
Yes, this is something we want to offer. We are talking to our insurance company now, and we hope to offer something by the end of the year.
Another is for the ability to drive in other countries, e.g. I’d like to be able to drive in Vancouver or London with my Seattle membership. Is this something you could offer?
Again, this is another thing we want to offer, and we’re working with our legal team to make it happen. car2go is a global company, and we want car2go to be globally seamless. Keep in mind, though, It’s quite a lot of work: we have to solve more than just the US-Canada problem, we also have to solve Germany-UK, Canada-France, Austria-US, etc.
More after the jump. (more…)
Bixi Bikes. Flikr user manskilo.
At noon today, at the South Lake Union Discovery Center, Puget Sound Bike Share will hold a press event to formally announce their choice of operating partner for the Seattle-area bike share, whose roll-out is expected to begin next year. Two other local transportation agency heads will be on-hand, including Peter Hahn from SDOT, and Metro’s Kevin Desmond. From the PR:
Puget Sound Bike Share, a nonprofit partnership of public and private organizations, announced today that it has selected Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share as its operator/vendor. Alta will work with PSBS to plan, launch and sustain a regional bike share network beginning with approximately 500 bikes and 50 stations in Seattle and eventually expanding into other areas of the Puget Sound region. One of the most experienced bike share companies in North America, Alta is the vendor/operator behind the highly successful Capital Bike Share in Washington D.C. and Boston’s Hubway. In the coming months, Alta will launch Citibike in New York City, the largest bike share network in the nation, as well as systems in Chicago, Vancouver, B.C., Portland and San Francisco.
The selection of Alta isn’t a great surprise to those of us who’ve watched the bikeshare movement expand in this country. The US market is dominated by two players: Alta and B-Cycle, and most larger or coastal cities seem to end up choosing Alta. The difference to users is primarily in the details of the bikes and docking stations: Alta’s equipment is designed by Bixi of Montreal, whose eponymous original system has served that city since 2009, while B-Cycle is partnership of bike manufacturer Trek with other companies, most well known for the successful Denver B-Cycle program. Both systems work well, although (completely anecdotally) most people I know who’ve ridden both found Bixi slightly more polished.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of talking to Holly Houser, executive director of PSBS, and I relayed some of your questions from yesterday. After the jump, a summary of our conversation. (more…)
Boris Bikes at Waterloo Station. Flikr user Jack999.
I suspect most readers know what bike share is by now, but if you don’t, go read the wiki page or take a gander at the websites for Denver B-Cycle or Capital Bikeshare. Tomorrow, Puget Sound Bike Share is holding a press event to announce the selection of an operator for the system they plan to roll out in Seattle starting next year, and they’ve kindly offered to answer my questions today.
So, what questions do you have for Puget Sound Bike Share? Keep in mind that there’s no point asking low-level or operational questions, like the location of specific bikeshare stations, as those things will not have been decided yet.
I need the questions by 1 PM.
Tracks out of Service
Sometime last week, Seattle chalked up another tiny victory in the endless war against slow, unreliable transit. Yesterday evening, I noticed that SDOT had finally replaced the unnecessary crossbucks for the long abandoned and disconnected Bardahl industrial spur on 14th Ave NW at Leary. No longer will Route 40 drivers risk severe punishment if they fail to stop and look for a train that will never appear, sometimes missing the light as they do. I’m told that railroad bureaucracy is the worst kind of bureaucracy, so to the staff who worked to made this happen — thank you very much.
Route 29 at Market & Ballard
We’ve written before about SDOT’s long-running efforts to improve transit speed and reliability, and the rider experience, at heavily-used stops on key corridors, by constructing sidewalk extensions (or transit islands) to improve bus speed and reliability, reconstructing the sidewalks at and around the stops to improve pavement quality and accessibility, and installing or upgrading shelters. For maximum efficiency and effect, these small projects have often been combined with Metro stop consolidations (e.g. Market, Rainier) or SDOT repaving projects (e.g. Dexter, 85th, Northgate).
Soon, riders will reap further rewards from this low-profile but important work: 25 new real-time arrival signs on the Jackson/Rainier and Market/45th corridors. SDOT is currently working on the 13 signs on Jackson/Rainier, and will install the Market/45th signs as funding permits.
The stop locations slated for real-time signs are as follows:
- On Jackson, serving Routes 7, 14 and 36, eastbound at 12th and Maynard.
- On Rainier, serving Routes 7 and others, at the following cross-streets, northbound only except where noted: Walker (also southbound), Forest (also southbound; transfer point for Mount Baker Station), Walden, Andover, Genessee, Orcas, Graham, Rose, Henderson.
- On Market/45th, serving Route 44 and others at the following cross-streets, in both directions except where noted: Ballard Ave, 15th Ave NW, Phinney Ave (eastbound only), Roosevelt/11th Ave, University Ave.
- On 15th Ave NE in the U-District, at all stops in both directions between Pacific and 45th.
To give a sense of what these things (and public works generally) cost, from the numbers SDOT gave me, a three-line realtime sign and a pole to mount it on costs just over $6,500 — not including installation or setup. These signs require a fiber drop to be in place to deliver data, so their installation must almost always be preceded by a complete rebuild of the stop. A stop reconstruction, including a fiber drop but minus the cost of poles, shelter and furniture, is roughly $100,000 (if it’s not included in a larger paving project, in which case it’s effectively free).
More after the jump. (more…)
2000 USA Population Density by Dave Walbert.
Growing up in the United Kingdom, a country with passenger trains radiating from or converging on the capital every 30 minutes or better in all directions until late in the evening, I’ve never quite been able to wrap my head around the American conversation about intercity rail. There seem to be essentially two camps, the conservative “Amtrak is a money-losing boondoggle, sell it off stat”, and the “Every train is sacred” liberal camp fighting to preserve what we have today; Eric Jaffe’s post today over at Atlantic Cities was an effort in the latter camp. Alas, I can find no organized group of people saying, “Let’s figure out what works and what doesn’t, double down on what does and abandon what doesn’t”.
Some basic geometric facts: Intercity rail in the UK works because of the 63 million people in the country, 53 million of them live in England, an area about 16% smaller than the US state of Georgia, or 30% smaller than Washington, which has less than 7 million; most of the rest live in a small belt of Scotland or a pocket of Wales. There are therefore nearly an order of magnitude more people within a distance of each other that can be traveled by rail in a time competitive with flying.
Only two places in the US offer this kind of aggregate mega-regional density, which is essential to sustain a network of intercity trains at a reasonable level of public subsidy: the North East Corridor, possibly extended west out to Chicago; and the coast of California from San Francisco to San Diego. In other places, individual city pairs could make sense (e.g. Portland – Seattle), but those will always be A-B(-C) lines, not part of the network where you can travel widely.
For a direct critique of Jaffe’s piece, I can do no better than Jarrett Walker, from the comments of that post:
My understanding is that the real reason to run the long-haul trains at taxpayer expense is to touch enough states that most of Congress can feel good about Amtrak in general. The other arguments presented here sound largely rhetorical. Ridership may be rising but it’s a long way from profitable or even a reasonably level of subsidy per passenger. “National rail network” sounds like rhetoric without content. Rail is optimal for particular distances. Europe has lots of great rail services, but still, if you’re going 2000 miles within Europe, and you’re not a tourist or time-rich wanderer, you’re definitely going to fly.
Australia has a “national rail network” made of long-haul trains traversing comparably vast distances. But they’re run by the private sector with fares set to ensure profit based on an explicitly tourist intent. Australians think of them (accurately) as beloved tourist trains that everyone must ride once in their lives, not as a “national rail network”. Australia is too big for rail networks to be national, and so are the US and Canada.
It may be that by touching so much of the country, the long-hauls are playing a crucial role in maintaining national support for Amtrak, both in Congress and among the population. But if we over-hype them we just sow confusion about what really successful rail lines look like. If some segments of long-hauls show so much ridership that they need more local frequency (e.g. Minneapolis-Milwaukee-Chicago), then target those corridors for more frequent shorter-haul trains. But I’m puzzled by what national interest is being served in one train a day for Fargo, ND, passing through between 2:00 and 4:00 AM. States and compacts of neighboring states must be the leaders on intercity rail, because they exist at the scale where rail can actually succeed.
Ultimately, you’re either into transit advocacy as a workable alternative to car ownership for working adults who can’t spend three days to get from Seattle to Phoenix, or you’re into it because “Yay, trains!” I’m in the former camp.
Proposal for Improving Route 5 in North Fremont
The Greenwood corridor, extending from Fremont to Shoreline Community College via Fremont Ave, Phinney Ave and Greenwood Ave, is one of Metro’s core North Seattle routes, but it has a raft of problems. Stops on the local Route 5 are spaced too close — far too close on the section south of 80th St; almost all the stops are out-of-lane stops, which, along with the busy traffic, often causes delays pulling back out; there are too many different service patterns; and the bus spends about a mile in the area between Fremont and the Zoo threading its way along slow, narrow, twisty streets. In this post, I want to talk about the last problem, but I’ll have more to say on those others in future.
As far as I can tell, from looking back at old maps like this one from 1914, public transit heading north out of Fremont has always followed the alignment of the current Route 5: north on Fremont Ave; west on 43rd; north on Phinney, through the wiggles of the 19th-century street grid at 46th and 50th. Generally, neighborhoods in Seattle grew up around streetcars, so absent natural or political obstacles, the rails were generally laid out in pretty straight lines. Guy Phinney’s enormous personal estate, which is now Woodland Park Zoo, would have presented an insurmountable obstacle at 50th St, but the curious question of why the men who laid out this line chose to jog over on 43rd rather than stay as straight as possible may be lost to time.
Regardless, time has not been kind to the 43rd/Phinney alignment. One of the terrible legacies of the 1940′s streetcar removal was the way the roads were paved when the tracks were abandoned: the rail ballast and ties were buried in place, poured over with concrete. This turns out to make a terrible road foundation, and the thin, poorly-supported layer of concrete on top is brittle, cracking when subjected to heavy loads like modern buses. Many streetcar roads went on to become heavily-trafficked arterial streets, and have been repaved properly and given traffic signals at intersections, but Phinney is not one of them, presumably because the vast majority of car drivers recognize that Fremont Ave, 50th St and 46th St are more direct ways to get anywhere than Phinney and 43rd. Finally, Phinney and 43rd are unusually narrow for streetcar streets, being only a little wider than the adjacent neighborhood streets.
More after the jump. (more…)
As SDOT and Sound Transit have begun to study the possibilities for improving transit between downtown Seattle and Ballard, the idea of a new Ship Canal crossing in the vicinity of Fremont has lately been discussed extensively but informally in transit circles. That discussion became a little more public on Wednesday, when the Mayor’s office, along with transit, freight and bicycle advocates, held a press conference asking the City Council to fund a proposed study of the idea. The concept has been around for a while, making its most recent public debut in the 2012 update of the Transit Master Plan.
Like several of the capital projects in the TMP, the Ship Canal crossing idea seems rather obviously inspired by our neighbors to the south, in Portland. As part of the the MAX Orange Line, TriMet is currently constructing a crossing of the Willamette river that will carry light rail trains, buses, emergency vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, and (eventually) streetcars. Perhaps for that reason, most thought and discussion of a crossing (including mine) defaulted to the assumption that it would be a transit, pedestrian and bike crossing, west of the current Fremont Bridge. Then, late last year, someone relayed to me a better idea that, once I heard it, seemed absurdly obvious and considerably superior.
It begins with the quite pedestrian observation that minimizing travel distances is much more important for people walking and biking than any other mode. Asking someone to take a quarter- or half-mile detour in a car just means they would have to watch the world scroll by for an extra minute or two, but asking someone to walk that distance is maybe five to ten minutes of their time. As almost all transit riders are also pedestrians when they’re getting to or from the service, it’s thus much more important for transit to directly access the heart of ridership centers and transfer points than for cars; and similarly for bicyclists.
The chronically congested Fremont Bridge is perfectly located to maximize access to Fremont, and to minimize travel distances between almost any point on the west or south side of Lake Union and any point north or northwest of the lake (without building an extremely long bridge). Perhaps rather than looking to take transit, bikes and pedestrians out of Fremont, we should be looking to prioritize them on the Fremont Bridge, and find a way to get the cars out of Fremont. We could turn the original idea on its head: build a new road bridge west of Fremont (complete with excellent bike and pedestrian infrastructure) and reconfigure the Fremont Bridge to primarily move people, not cars.
The map and diagram above, by Oran, illustrate one possible implementation of this idea. After the jump, I’ll discuss all the components in detail.
Aurora Ave & 38th St, looking north
One of the problems with the current Route 358, which will persist with RapidRide E as currently planned, is the lack of access to Fremont. The core of Fremont is on Fremont Ave at 35th St, about two blocks west of Aurora Ave, but roughly 100′ below the deck of the George Washington Bridge, which carries Aurora Ave at that point, and the entire hillside north of the Ship Canal around Aurora is densely built-up. Routes 5 and 16, which travel over the Aurora Bridge, but exit near 38th St to serve Greenwood and Wallingford respectively, have stops on the Fremont Ave/Bridge Way ramps which provide peripheral access to Fremont. The E Line’s nearest stop, however, will be on Aurora at 46th St – almost a mile walk from the center of Fremont.
I suspect there is a relatively cheap and straightforward solution to this problem, and moreover, other engineering work that Metro and SDOT are engaged in further north on Aurora as part of the RapidRide project could lay the groundwork for implementing it. The basic idea is to add a pair of E Line stops on Aurora, just north of 38th St, which sounds extremely simple, but if it were simple, it would probably have been done a long time ago. The northbound stop would be fairly straightforward, but there are multiple issues with a southbound stop, given the road’s current configuration.
The first problem is evident from the photo above. The curb lane disappears at 38th St, and the two center lanes of Aurora carry continuous, high-speed traffic. There would be no safe way for the bus to merge in to those lanes from a stationary positon, and this is a show-stopper — Metro will not build or use such a hazardous facility. So, we need to come up with another lane south of 38th St if this idea is to have a chance. After the jump, let’s look at a photo taken one block south of the one above. (more…)
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Via StreetsBlog SF, this is interior layout of Muni’s newest 40′ coaches:
Interior Layout on Muni’s new buses. Flikr user munidave.
Metro should take note:
- Passive restraint wheelchair seating, to give wheelchair riders a faster, less-invasive securement option.
- Forward section prioritizes standing capacity and passenger circulation, while still providing up-front seats for frail or disabled passengers who need them.
- Virtually indestructible seats.
Word is that the new 60′ trolleybuses will have three doors and RapidRide-style seating layout, similar to this, but the 40′ trolleys may end up with the 2×2 commuter seating Metro loves so much. That makes sense in the suburbs, but it’s just not going to cut it in the city. We need a bus fleet where interior circulation doesn’t fail completely the moment the bus runs short of seats, or someone brings on a stroller. The buses on Seattle core routes need to have interiors that look like this.