About Bruce Nourish

Associate Editor Bruce Nourish grew up in rural England and suburban Phoenix, before discovering his love for cities and mass transit during two weekend visits to Portland and Seattle. His degree is in Physics, and he works as a Site Reliability Engineer at Google. Bruce's posts focus on publishing and visualizing King County Metro's data in order to discuss and advocate restructures of Seattle's bus network to be more efficient, cost-effective and reliable. Bruce lives without a car in Belltown. He joined the blog in Summer 2011.

Commute: Bike or bus from Belltown to Fremont. Key Routes: 2, 7, 10, 13, 15, 16, 49, 70, Link.

Yes, Metro’s Deficit is Real

metro recession

Every so often, a local anti-transit or anti-tax group will write a hit piece against Metro, alleging, for a variety of reasons, that the agency’s financial crisis is made up. These pieces invariably rely on creative graph-making, conflating Metro’s primary tax-funded service with externally-funded contract service (such as that provided to Sound Transit), or making some other obvious error of fact. In this post, I’m going to present Metro’s raw data for sales tax collections and services delivered for the last decade, and explode a couple of myths in the process.

Myth #1: Metro’s revenues have increased each of the last three years. The agency has loads of money!

The chart above will be familiar to anyone who’s taken an interest in Metro’s finances, but seems to elude Metro’s drive-by fiscal critics, who’s data mysteriously always begins in 2010. It’s true that Metro’s sales tax collections have increased each of the last three years, and will increase again this year, but that omits the crucial fact that revenue fell off a cliff between 2008 and 2009, bottoming out in 2010, for a total drop of about $72 million.

Despite this plunge in revenue, the total amount of service Metro provides has dipped only very slightly. Instead, over the last three years, that hole has been filled with a combination of fare hikes and operational cost savings, along with about $344 million of one-time cash transfers, notably including $180 million from axed capital programs and $41 million from operational reserves.

Those measures, taken at the behest of elected officials, whose directive to Metro was to preserve service at all costs, are now exhausted, but an ongoing gap of about $75 million/year remains between what Metro needs to continue offering its current level of service, and what Metro’s sales tax is bringing in. Closing that gap will require either a major cut in the quantity of service Metro delivers, or new revenue, which, along with helping the dire state of County Roads, is what Prop 1 will do.

metro mvet sales

Myth #2: We keep voting to give Metro more money. Surely the agency must have lots of of it by now.

[Read more...]

Better Connecting Harborview and Downtown

Map of ideas described in post

Map by Oran

About two years ago, I wrote a post comparing the speed and reliability of two transit pathways between downtown Seattle and Harborview Medical Center, James St and Yesler Way, using data from the Metro routes that currently travel on those corridors. That data showed what anyone who’d ridden those buses already knew: the buses on James St, which directly serve Harborview, are packed to overflowing, but crippled by appalling slowness and unreliability for much of the day, partly from being so busy, but primarily from all the cars on James St queuing to access I-5. By contrast, buses on Yesler run fast and like clockwork, partly because they’re less used, but crucially because Yesler is a very lightly-trafficked arterial with no direct highway connections.

Harborview and the surrounding area, which includes numerous other medical facilities, and the Yesler Terrace housing project (soon to be rebuilt at much higher density), comprise a major ridership center just beyond the periphery of downtown, cut off by a huge hill and a freeway. Better connecting that area to downtown should be a priority for Metro and the City of Seattle, and the combination of James’s incurable congestion, and Yesler’s almost equal directness and near-total lack of congestion, suggest that moving trolleybus service from James to Yesler is the smart way to do so.

Moving the James St trolleybus service entails building new trolleybus wire on streets that have never had it previously, as well as operating buses on a couple of short sections of 8th and 9th that have not previously had any regular Metro service, so implementation will require significant study and civil engineering work. This being Seattle, getting anything built will be a multi-year process, but, happily, this process has at last begun: in last year’s budget, the city allocated $150,000 for a study of transit service on Yesler, which will include a conceptual design for trolleybus overhead wire, expected to be complete by the end of the year. No funding is available for engineering or construction, but SDOT hopes the conceptual design will better equip the city to pursue more funding.

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

Wednesday: Greenwood Sidewalk and Bus Stop Improvement Open House

bike lane behind bus bulb

SDOT has some great improvements in the works for residents of the southernmost sidewalk-less section of Greenwood Ave, between 90th St and 105th St. Previous plans to improve transit and bike facilities on this section of Greenwood have been expanded to include a continuous sidewalk on the east side of Greenwood, and design work for sidewalks on the west side, which then could quickly be built as funding becomes available. Once this gap is filled in, Greenwood will have continuous sidewalks to about 112th St, meeting a critical need on this heavily-trafficked, densely-populated arterial corridor.

I’ve previously discussed the bus and bike improvements slated for this section of Greenwood (essentially: stop consolidation, bus islands and bike lanes, similar to Dexter) and while those improvements have been refined, they don’t appear to have changed significantly; they remain an excellent idea. As before, my only criticism of this project is that the stop consolidation and bus island treatment should continue further south. The stop spacing Metro allows to persist between 50th St and 80th St, and the crawling sluggishness and unreliability thereby inflicted on Greenwood riders, is appalling. I can only hope the improvements between 90th and 105th, once built, will embarrass Metro into action further south.

The open house for this project is this Wednesday, 5-7 PM, at the Greenwood Public Library. SDOT hopes to begin construction this winter, finishing sometime next year.

SDOT and Metro Improve Queen Anne Trolleybus Routes

SPU Layover

Two small but significant trolleybus improvements are in the works for Queen Anne, both of them painfully obvious time- and money-saving optimizations to the overhead wire network that should probably have been built decades ago, but which I am overjoyed are finally happening. (“Better late than never” is the watchword of the STB Metro beat).

Under construction now is inbound trolleybus wire on Denny Way for Routes 1, 2, and 13. This is part of an SDOT-funded project, called the Uptown-Belltown Transit Improvement Project, which I’ve covered from its incipience, and which also brought us the new bus lane on Broad St. The new trolleybus wire will allow inbound trolley coaches to use Denny, just like diesel coaches have done for decades, and will save riders about two minutes per inbound trip. Construction is estimated to wrap up in late April, followed by a period of testing before Metro coaches switch to using the wire in-service. The eastbound Denny & Warren stop will be moved a block east, and upgraded with improved facilities.

The estimated cost of the project (which will likely change somewhat as construction goes on) is around $1.5 million. It’s worth pausing to mull his number for a moment: $1.5 million, for two minutes per day saved by thousands of riders from Queen Anne and Uptown, for the foreseeable future. The various Ballard rail options differ in travel times by about eight minutes per direction and in cost by billions of dollars. Obviously this comparison is somewhat apples to oranges: any of those alignments would serve far more people per day, and all aspire to provide a Rapid Transit level of service, which, if successful, provides more benefit per rider. Nevertheless, this frames a crucial point: any remotely sensible bus improvement on a well-used route will be amazingly cost-effective.

The final part of this project, a traffic study to evaluate whether outbound coaches could use a bus-only signal at 3rd & Denny, is ongoing.

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

SDOT Restoring Old Fremont Streetcar Stop

Westlake & Dexter stop

Westlake & Dexter stop

SDOT’s Transit division is restoring and rehabilitating a pair of old streetcar stops, which, with the passage of time, have become rather dilapidated bus stops. One is in the Rainier Valley, for which a community meeting was held last week, and another is just outside Fremont, at the intersection of Westlake and Dexter, for which the meeting is this at 6:00 PM this Thursday at History House of Greater Seattle, in Fremont.

The Fremont shelter probably lost quite a bit of ridership in the September 2012 service chance, when Route 40, which runs through the heart of Fremont, replaced Route 17, for which this stop is the closest to Fremont. Still, the stop continues to serve about 50 riders per day, despite its current sad state. Getting this stop shipshape, ideally with better lighting and real-time arrival information, would be a real service to riders.

WSDOT Comes Through with Promised SR99 Money

WSDOT SR99 Transit Letter

This weekend, we heard a rumor that WSDOT had found the money to fulfill their promise of viaduct mitigation funding through the opening of the SR99 Deep Bore Tunnel, scheduled for the end of 2015, a commitment which had been cast into doubt a couple of years ago.

This money, which amounted to about 40,000 hours of Metro service per year, was intended to provide drivers an alternative to driving on SR99, and to compensate Metro for increased running times on SR99 routes. Metro had used the money to improve schedule reliability on West Seattle routes, and add trips to high-performing commuter and all-day service in West Seattle, Ballard, and on Aurora. Those added peak trips are packed full of riders, so premature loss of this funding would have resulted in a “pre-bloodbath bloodbath” of cuts in July, falling extremely hard on West Seattle.

The potential loss of this mitigation money was one of the two fiscal swords hanging over Metro this year. The other, even larger one which remains, is the structural post-recession deficit of 600,000 hours per year. King County voters will get a chance to vote on additional revenue for Metro in April.

Quote from Dow:

“This is great news for everyone who commutes on the SR99 corridor, especially those coming from West Seattle and Burien,” says King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Viaduct mitigation has reduced traffic and increased transit use, and will continue to help manage the impacts of construction on businesses and the traveling public.”

Critiquing Metro’s Day-Pass Trial

Last week, in response to Martin’s questions about tunnel operations, Metro staff slipped in this quiet bombshell:

Metro continues to take actions to expand ORCA use throughout the system and reduce cash payments. [This includes...] working with our regional transit partners to implement a regional ORCA day-pass demonstration beginning in April.

A multi-agency ORCA-based day-pass is probably the most requested fare product in the Puget Sound region, and for good reason. Today, interagency transfers are free with ORCA but (mostly) not with cash fare. An ORCA-based day-pass, if priced right, holds out the concurrent possibilities of improved comprehensibility for visitors, and good value for residents who plan to make several trips in a day. For people like me, who want buses to not suck, it’s another weapon in the war against time-consuming on-board cash payment, and easily-abused paper transfers.

The devil, however, is in the details, which Metro staff supplied to us last week.

As you saw, the ORCA agency partners are planning a six-month pilot/demo of a regional day pass later this year, hopefully beginning sometime this spring.

The day pass demonstration will target visitors using hotels and convention centers. But, because the regional day pass will be available at all our current sales outlets, anyone could load the product on their card. At the conclusion of the demo, the ORCA partners will assess how well the card was received and determine the future of the program depending on what we learn.

Q: What agencies will or could be included?
A: All ORCA agencies except WSF

Q: How much will it cost?
A: $9 sales price, $4 per trip value. Riders would use E-purse to supplement higher fares based on how much they plan to travel.

Q: What modes and fare zones will it cover?
A: Good for any trip up to the $4 per trip value.

Q: Is it a daily cap or a fare product you have to buy?
A: It is a pass product loaded on the card. Once tapped it is valid for that service day. Service days is 3 a.m. – 2:59 a.m.

Q: Will it be issued on a disposable ORCA or just added to the existing $5 ORCA?
A: Existing card. We do not have disposable card stock in the system

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

Tonight: 23rd Ave Open House

Tonight, from 4:30 to 7 PM at the Miller Park Community Center, SDOT is hosting an open house on the 23rd Ave corridor, a Complete Streets project that will remake 23rd Ave to improve mobility and safety for all road users. The project’s current primary elements include, in addition to repaving, a road diet (four lanes to three, except at major intersections), transit priority (bulbs/islands and signals), repaired and widened sidewalks, an adjacent neighborhood greenway, and some design work towards future trolleybus overhead.

23rd is the primary arterial for north-south travel in eastern Seattle, between Mount Baker Station and the future University of Washington Station. With no major transit investment slated for this corridor, the new 23rd Ave design’s success in accommodating buses will likely define north-south mobility in this part of the city for the foreseeable future; getting it right is essential. If this is a part of the city you care about, you should be there tonight to make your voice heard.

King County Moves Ahead with Plan B

This afternoon, King County Executive Dow Constantine, backed by a majority of of the King County Council, formally proposed an ordinance which would ask King County voters for a 0.1% increase in sales tax, and a $60 annual vehicle license fee. The tax increase would be accompanied by a new non-cash low-income fare of $1.50 (for people with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level), and a 25 cent increase in the adult fare.

The $130 million total expected revenue is broken down 60/40 between Metro and County Roads, effectively giving Metro $80 million per year* — just over the $75 million per year the agency has previously stated it will need to avoid the “bloodbath” 17% cut scenario. The tax would last up to ten years, unless renewed by voters; the package is expected to go before voters at the April 22nd election.

* Although by my calculations, 60% of $130 million is $78 million, which is a small but significant difference.

The Cheaper, Brighter Future of American Passenger Rail

Stadler 2/6 DMU in Austin

Stadler 2/6 DMU in Austin. Flikr user Paul Kimo McGregor.

A couple of months ago, Frank wrote a blurb about the Obama administration’s commitment to legalize European passenger train designs, which today are effectively prohibited by Federal Railroad Aministration regulations, by 2015. He chose an illustrating photograph which represents, I’m sure, exactly the kind of thing most Americans think when they hear “European train”, namely a picture of Spain’s AVE high-speed train between Barcelona and Madrid.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that photograph, or that thought: Europe’s high-speed rail services (AVE, TGV, Eurostar, etc.) are indeed wonderful! The FRA modifying its rules to legalize European train designs in the US could make American high-speed services faster, much cheaper to build, and more environmentally friendly, because American trains will no longer have to be built to a completely unique crashworthiness standard, girded with battleship-like quantities of steel. That’s a wonderful and long-overdue advance in itself, but I’m going to argue that cheaper high-speed trains are not the most exciting technology this rule change could unlock.

Europe’s high-speed trains are the icing on a tall cake of public transport, which begins, at a local level, with generally-excellent local bus service, rapid transit in medium to large cities, and extensive high-capacity subway and Metro systems in the biggest cities. At a larger scale, cities and large towns are connected by regional passenger rail lines that run all day and late into the evening, with coach services extending to smaller towns. Most of those regional lines will never carry enough people to justify the massive expense of high-speed rail, but they’re well used, and taken together, carry far more trips than the high speed lines.

The success of the high-speed lines could not happen without the connectivity provided by regional and local services, not to mention the higher-density, less-car-focused land uses they have facilitated for more than a century. These regional services make extensive use of a technology that, thanks to the FRA’s over-zealous regulation, had hitherto occupied only a niche role in American passenger railroading: the Diesel Multiple Unit train.

DMUs are diesel-powered versions of their cousins, Electric Multiple Units, of which American light rail vehicles are an example. Each carriage has its own propulsion system, and trains can be made up of as many or as few as are needed to meet demand. DMUs are typically slightly larger than a light rail car, and seat 100-200 people; the photo above is an example European DMU, a Stadler 2/6, on Austin’s Capital Metrorail Red Line. That design was previously only usable on track not shared with freight trains or other traditionally-constructed mainline passenger trains, but after 2015, it will be legal to operate it on shared track. This is a very big deal, because much of the existing urban and suburban rail trackage in the US has at least some freight or mainline traffic.

This rule change makes passenger rail financially viable and environmentally justifiable in markets where it would never be possible to fill up a full-size locomotive-hauled train; it allows trains to scale down. A local example of a market DMUs could serve post-2015 would be Sounder North, a commuter rail service that has struggled with low ridership, currently attracting (pp. 19 & 20) less than 125 riders per trip in the mornings, and 150 per trip in the evenings  Sound Transit currently runs the shortest trains allowable under federal rules, a locomotive and two bi-level carriages, providing just under 300 seats, half of which go empty. A pair of Stadler 2/6s, with about 100 seats each, or a Stadler 2/8, a slightly larger DMU which seats about 170, could comfortably carry that load.

To get a sense of the economic and environmental cost of America’s overbuilt trains, let’s look at a simple number, the weight of the trains, taking Sounder North as an example. To a first order approximation, the environmental and economic cost of building and operating a vehicle (of a certain type of fuel) is proportional to the amount of metal that goes into it. A three-car Sounder North train weighs about 240 metric tons (50 t carriages, 120 t locomotive), while the Stadler 2/8 weighs 79 metric tons. So, roughly speaking, we could comfortably move Sounder North’s passenger load with a third of the fuel and materials we use today. This would do much to bring down Sounder North’s painfully high cost per boarding; to boot, a DMU train would almost certainly accelerate faster, ride more smoothly, and be quieter to the neighbors. DMUs on this line could be a huge win.

I should be clear that I’m not advocating that we build a nationwide passenger rail network of the kind found in Europe. In much of the interior of the country, the population is far too sparse to pull in significant intercity transit ridership, population centers are two far apart to allow trains to easily compete with flying, and half a century of freeway building has created a network much more direct than the railroads of the 1900s. What I am arguing is that in those places where regional density exists, DMUs could allow services to exist that otherwise wouldn’t, and that is potentially revolutionary. Later this month, I’ll have a detailed post on how we could apply this idea locally, but I’m sure readers will chime in with their ideas of where DMUs could be useful.

Westlake Needs a Queue Jump

Route 40 at 9th & Mercer

Route 40 at 9th & Mercer

A few weeks ago, I attended SDOT’s open house on the proposed Westlake Cycletrack. While most of the public feedback has focused on safety and possible parking loss, transit is also part of the picture, and one of my items of feedback for SDOT was that the project should maintain or improve the speed and reliability of transit service, as Westlake is a major thoroughfare for bus riders to Fremont, Ballard and South Lake Union. I think there is an opportunity to combine improved bike connectivity at the south end of the proposed cycletrack with improved southbound bus service.

Riders at the south end of the off-street portion of the Westlake cycletrack (which will end roughly at Aloha) will need a safe, comfortable, and direct way to connect to bike lanes on 9th Ave, Valley St, and (once Mercer West is complete) a cycletrack to Seattle Center on Mercer St. Currently, there are no bicycle facilities on the street that could provide such a connection. Meanwhile, southbound buses on Westlake in the PM peak are regularly stuck in a southbound traffic jam on the same part of Westlake, caused by all the cars that want to turn onto Mercer to access I-5.

My idea is shown on the map to the right. The section of 9th Ave from where it splits from Westlake, down to Mercer, is wider than the rest of Westlake or 9th. With the removal of one lane of parking, the conversion of another lane of parking to a peak-period bus lane, and a bus-only signal at 9th & Valley, it would be possible to put in a southbound queue jump for buses on the west side of 9th, and a two-way, separated cycletrack on the east side of 9th. 9th/Valley idea

While the queue jump would not completely eliminate transit delays in the PM peak, as traffic can back up to Aloha, it would probably allow each bus to spend one less signal cycle getting though Mercer — a significant time saving. Similarly, the cycletrack would not completely solve all the bike connectivity issues in this area, as there would be an awkward transition to the 9th Ave bike lanes, which, to fix, would probably require a complete rethinking of 9th Ave.

The loss of the current right-turn pocket at 9th & Valley would be mitigated with signs further north on Westlake directing eastbound traffic on Roy St (likely headed to northbound Dexter or Aurora) to use 8th Ave, which is uncongested, and provides good access to Roy St.

This section of Westlake/9th has needed improved bus and bike facilities for years, but construction on the Mercer East project meant the street space in this area was needed for temporary reroutes. Now that Mercer East is over, that road space should be put towards longer-term more optimal uses — transit and biking. The Westlake Cycletrack project provides a great opportunity to do so.

Some Thoughts on Ballard Option C

Option C

Option C

Zach’s summary and analysis of the Tier 2 alternatives arising from Sound Transit and Seattle’s Ballard HCT study is excellent, and if you’ve not read it yet, you should do so. There are some good ideas and some less-good ideas among the options, and I’m sure by now, our regulars will have thoroughly digested them, but in this post I’d like to point out one option that I was hoping would have made it into the final analysis but didn’t, a variant of Corridor C.

First, I’d like to explain my criteria for a sensible downtown Seattle rail line, beyond the obvious ones of being frequent, direct, reliable and focused on areas of high ridership potential:

  1. It needs to be no worse than an existing express bus trip, including transfer time. Ballard’s express services are massively popular, but express service is expensive to operate, both in terms of operations (lots of deadheading) and capital (lots of buses that sit at the base twenty hours a day). Riders will revolt if we try to cut their service without offering them something at least as good. If we can cut the 15X, 17X, 18X and maybe the 28X in favor of better connecting services, that’s a shedload of buses we can reallocate to better all-day service at minimal cost.
  2. It needs to be grade-separated south of Denny. Lots of people worry about the top speed of transit service, but it’s not very important for in-city services (say, typical trips of less than ten miles, stops about every half-mile), because even a fully grade-separated train spends much of its time accelerating or decelerating for stations; frequency and reliability matter most. Assuming any of these lines will be both very frequent and reasonably reliable, the most important factor to minimize trip time is to avoid extended periods of very low speeds, e.g. slogging at-grade through the city center.

To the first point. The current scheduled time from 15th/Market to 3rd/Pine on the 15X is 19-21 minutes inbound in the AM peak. Supposing train headways of 10 minutes (i.e. a five-minute transfer penalty) and a couple of minutes of added walking, we need Market to Pine travel times below 15 minutes if we’re going to build a rail line worth getting out of bed for. Option C currently fails that test — but I think it could be fixed through much smarter design, at a plausible cost.

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

RapidRide E’s Fare Rules are Insane

Recently, a friend send me an excerpt of Metro’s rules for fare collection and enforcement for Rapid E:

E Line Fare Rules

I have some free advice for Metro management: this is insane, and the complexity and confusion it will create for your staff and passengers, and the discouragement from using ORCA, will vastly outweigh the whatever paltry benefit the zone fares could provide.

Here’s what’s actually going to happen in the real world:

  1. Virtually everyone with an ORCA card will pay whatever fare happens to be associated with whatever reader they tap.
  2. After a few weeks (or less) of flailing, fare enforcers and drivers will stop wasting their time trying to enforce these unworkable rules and just check that everyone (a) has paid something and (b) isn’t lighting up joints or drinking 40s in the back of the bus. (Let’s be real here, this is Aurora).

Real leadership from Metro would involve management acknowledging this reality, telling the King County Council that the current zone system is archaic and unworkable in this context, and that the council needs to do one of three things as part of the E Line deployment: abolish the zone fare system, make an exception for the E Line, or fund a truly smart transit card system complete system of off-board readers that can handle tap-on and tap-off seamlessly.

UPDATE: Clarified the “truly smart transit card system” remark. ORCA itself can handle tap-on tap-off, Metro’s depoyment of it can’t. Apologies for the error. — Bruce

Washington’s Transportation Local Options

In my blurb yesterday, I mentioned a “Plan B”, whereby in the event that the state legislature fails to allow the people of King County to vote on a countywide MVET for maintaining county roads and Metro service, the county could use existing legal authority to refer an alternative revenue package to voters for those purposes. Staff and elected officials at King County have deflected most questions about any such plan, preferring (understandably) to focus their messaging on the legislature, but nevertheless, I think it’s worth transit advocates discussing the options in the open.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to pore over the text of the RCW to see what options are out there. In 2011, staff at the state legislature compiled an updated report describing every source of local-government revenue intended to fund land or sea transportation. The document is 22 pages long, and includes a summary table on the last two pages. The “Plan B” most people are referring to is the idea of forming a countywide Transportation Benefit District (or, perhaps, a TBD that includes a large subset of the county area, presumably the parts which enjoy fixed-route service), and referring some combination of a flat vehicle licensing fee and a TBD sales tax to voters, in lieu of an MVET.

The authority for doing this is discussed on document page 118 of this report. There are a raft of tax options available to TBDs, including property taxes and road tolling, but the only ones which appear to be workable, and which could provide sustainable levels of funding for bus operations, are the sales tax and VLFs. With a vote of the people, King County could levy a 0.2% sales tax and a $100 VLF for Metro and county routes, although the $100 VLF is subject to a “stacking” provision which limits the total TBD VLF to $100 in the event that a vehicle is registered in an area covered by multiple TBDs. I don’t know offhand how the revenue is allocated in that case.

Other sources of revenue I’ve batted around informally with county staff are the county gas tax (document page 119) and county HOV/commuter rail MVET (document page 115). I’ve been told that the county gas tax (which would only be available to address paving issues with county roads, not bus operations) would not raise enough money to be worth going to the ballot for, and the HOV/commuter rail authority is not available for bus operations. Notably, there appears to no way to pay for ongoing Metro operations with property tax, or any other progressive tax.

Metro Cuts Proposal Posted

It’s here, and it’s a bloodbath: Metro has posted the initial proposal for the 600k cut scenario, which will begin to take effect next September, absent action from the state legislature to allow a local option MVET, or the King County going ahead with the “Plan B” option of forming a countywide Transportation Benefit District and levying an additional VLF and sales tax. The proposal also includes a separate block of cuts to West Seattle, arising from the failure of WSDOT to deliver the contractually-promised viaduct mitigation money, which will run out in June.

Rural Transit on the Ballot Tomorrow

Public transport in Aberdeen, Washington. Flikr user gillfoto.

Public transport in Aberdeen, Washington. Flikr user gillfoto.

Two rural Washington counties will have a referendum on the ballot tomorrow, each asking voters to approve a sales tax increase to restore or begin lifeline fixed-route and dial-a-ride service. The financial and ridership numbers involved in these proposals are on a different scale to the Puget Sound metropolitan region, but the presence or lack of service will matter for people who live in these areas.

First up, Okanogan county:

Local voters will probably have a chance to decide in November if they are willing to pay 4 cents on every $10 purchase to fund a new public transportation system in Okanogan County.

The proposed transit system would provide regular daily bus service linking Okanogan County communities, including three round trips on weekdays between Winthrop and Omak and two round trips between Winthrop and Pateros.

Okanogan county is roughly twice the size of King County (or about the size of Connecticut), and its population is about 41,000 (just over that of Ballard).

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

Tonight: 300 Free Cab Rides for Halloween


If you’re out celebrating this evening, and you need a cab ride home, the company offering Seattle’s first taxi-hailing app is running a promotion that may be of interest:

Flywheel wants to make sure Seattleites are safe tomorrow evening while enjoying all the Halloween festivities. Flywheel is offering free rides up to $20 for the first 300 Flywheel requests starting at 8pm tomorrow evening. [...] This offer applies to all Flywheel users in the Seattle area – not just first timers!

Flywheel joins a competitive and sometimes controversial market of ride-sharing apps in US cities, which includes licensed town-car hires (Uber), unlicensed drivers working for donations (Sidecar, Lyft, UberX) and taxi-hailing services (Taxi Magic, Hailo). Flywheel cars will initially be provided by East Side for Hire:

Flywheel has initially partnered with Seattle’s leading transportation company, East Side for Hire, to launch their service in the area. They have equipped over 260 East Side for Hire cars and drivers with the Flywheel technology needed to respond to ride requests in Seattle and the surrounding areas including Bellevue, Burien, Federal Way, Issaquah, Kent, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Northgate, Redmond, SeaTac and Shoreline.

East Side for Hire maintains fleets similar to taxis, but instead of a meter, they offer customers flat rates calculated by pickup and drop-off zip code. The company has received superior ratings and is the most affordable option in the area, with a typical for-hire ride from downtown Seattle to the airport costing $29.

Affordable, safe, easy-to-use taxis are a part of car-free living, and Hailo worked well for me when I was recently in London. I’m glad to see more players move into the Seattle market.

Monday: Westlake Cycle Track Open House

Westlake Cycle Track Project Area

Westlake Cycle Track Project Area

Are you a bicyclist in Seattle who appreciates not being killed, or nearly killed, when you ride? I certainly am, and if you are too, you should turn up for the Westlake Cycletrack Open House, on Monday, from 5-7 PM, in the gym at B.F. Day elementary school. There will be a presentation at 5:30, followed by an open-house format for feedback. If you can’t attend the open house in person, you can email WCT@Seattle.gov instead.

Just as the principal way a useful transit network delivers mobility is by high-frequency, reliable, comprehensible service, a bike network needs to provide safety, comfort, and easy wayfinding if its appeal is to extend beyond dedicated, risk-tolerant bikers. Fully-separated cycletracks are how those features are provided on multi-lane arterials, and this cycletrack will be a big step towards making Seattle a city that is genuinely accessible to anyone on a bike. I can’t wait for it to open.

News Roundup: Counterfactual Nonsense

RapidRide 4 Line Sign. Flikr user andrewjn_minn.

RapidRide 4 Line Sign. Flikr user andrewjn_minn.

This is an open thread.

Puget Sound Bike Share Struggling to Find Sponsors

This week’s Stranger describes the struggles of Puget Sound Bike Share as it prepares to launch in 2014. Unlike Citibike in New York, or similar schemes in numerous other cities, PSBS has thus far failed to attract the private capital that its funding plan depends upon to launch with coverage of the core service area. From the Stranger:

“We’ve seen a lot of initial excitement with little follow-through,” says Holly Houser, director of PSBS, who’s been in talks with the region’s largest companies to sponsor the program since last fall. While Seattle Children’s Hospital has stepped in with a $500,000 donation, Houser says that companies like Amazon, Starbucks, Vulcan, Alaska Airlines, Capitol One, BECU, Cambia (Blue Cross/Blue Shield), and Microsoft have declined to sponsor PSBS… “It’s been really frustrating—especially dealing with Amazon,” adds Houser, because South Lake Union is destined to get bike-share stations around the Amazon campus regardless of the rest of the city. “It’s going to serve their employees,” Houser says, “but so far, they’re not willing to support it.”

First, I have to question the wisdom of publicly criticizing any potential major sponsor for choosing not to donate, and I fear this may make other potential sponsors wary of working with PSBS. (As an aside, I’d expect a fundraiser to know that Amazon has a history of complete disinterest in civic and charitable causes, and not to be surprised by this response.)

Second, what would a lack of a title sponsor mean for Phase 1? It’s not pretty. [Read more...]