Yes for Transit Campaign Kickoff Events this Week

This is a guest post.

Yes for BusesThe Yes for Transit campaign in support of this November’s Seattle Transit Proposition No. 1 is holding two volunteer events this week.  The campaign kickoff event is on Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Fado Irish Pub and, for those who can’t attend, the Transportation Choices Coalition is hosting a campaign volunteer happy hour at their office today at 4:30 p.m.

David Lawson covered the funding measure here earlier, but in short, it will protect King County Metro bus routes in Seattle from proposed service cuts by raising an estimated $45 million per year.  The funding sources are the same as in the failed countywide proposition earlier this year: replace the expiring $20 CRC annual vehicle fee with a $60 vehicle fee and increase the sales tax rate by 0.1%.

At both events transit supporters can learn about the campaign, donate and sign up as a volunteer.  It may be exhausting to gear up for yet another campaign to save buses, but it is critical to avoid the devastating cuts Metro has planned for 2015.  Seattle-only transportation measures have failed with voters in the past, so advocates should not be overconfident.

About Wednesday’s kickoff Rob Johnson of the Transportation Choices Coalition says:

Please join Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Transportation Choices and fellow Seattle transit supporters to celebrate the kick off of this important campaign!

There will be beverages to drink, appetizers to enjoy, and plans to be made to keep our transit system moving. And of course, invite your friends!

Details:

What:        TCC Volunteer Happy Hour
When:       Tuesday, September 16 at 4:30 p.m.
Where:     Transportation Choices Coalition, 219 1st Ave S., Suite 420, Seattle WA 98104

What:       Yes for Transit Campaign Kickoff
When:       Wednesday, September 17 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Where:     Fado Irish Pub, 801 1st Ave S., Seattle WA 98104

Living Without a Car

wikimedia

I imagine there are two possible reactions to Danny Westneat’s brief experiment ($) living without a car.

If you like the term “war on cars” – that is, you think every building and every inch of road space should be always available to single-occupancy vehicles – then your conclusion is that given the means to do otherwise, only fools would choose to rely solely on the bus. Redesigning our cities to encourage it is pointless.

Part of that sentiment is absolutely correct: given the current state of our transit system, few people with alternatives rely solely on transit. The system is far from comprehensive and almost never has a time incentive over driving. Moreover, government constantly intervenes to make parking and driving cheaper, reducing transit’s cost advantage. As a result, able and reasonably prosperous car-free people often use carshare services and bikes where convenient. If one can’t afford car2go and can’t bike, our political system doesn’t really care if it takes them an hour plus to go anywhere.

The alternative reaction to the piece, which requires either a little imagination or some experience of other cities, is that we’ve done a really poor job of providing people with good alternatives to owning a car. Reasonably direct walking paths, bike routes that won’t kill you, an easy-to-understand transit system with high frequency and adequate capacity to absorb demand*, and enough priority to often give transit a time advantage would create those alternatives.

Although such a world is beyond living memory for most people, people trying to get around will respond to incentives. Unless we’re pleased with huge amounts of space dedicated to storing cars, fouled air and water, dollars shipped out of Washington to oil producers, obesity, asthma, and the steady carnage of our roads, it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up. A nice start would be not making things any worse, by maintaining Metro service levels, and revolutionizing transit mobility by preparing for Sound Transit 3.

* which would address Mr. Westneat’s specific problem.

SDOT: Improvements at 1st/Denny to speed QA, Magnolia, Ballard routes

This is a guest post.

SDOT Blog announced more upcoming transit improvements around 1st/Denny. They will:

  • Add a signal phase that allows left turns to Denny from northbound 1st Avenue’s right-side bus lane. This will allow outbound Magnolia routes and Ballard expresses to use the bus lane all the way to the intersection instead of merging into the often congested general-purpose lanes to turn left. Details of the signal phase are not given, but there’s precedent for short, vehicle-actuated queue jump phases in similar situations throughout Seattle. The biggest question I have (as someone that doesn’t ride through here regularly) is whether more advanced detection is needed at this intersection, to check whether multiple buses need to get into the intersection. When the 44 bunches (or when the 44 and 16 go through 45th/Wallingford together) its queue-jump signal phases aren’t long enough for both buses to get through. When it’s two buses on the same route giving the first a head start doesn’t matter much (the second, emptier bus will catch back up to the loaded first bus within a few stops), but this turn serves five different routes.
  • Move the bus stop just after this left turn west, to make more room when multiple buses approach the stop. The need to do this suggests that multiple buses indeed go through the left turn together often.
  • Extend bus lane hours on northbound 1st approaching Denny. Currently it’s open for a few hours in the evening peak. A few hours in the morning peak will be added as well. This is good news as it helps out the D Line and all-day Queen Anne routes making counter-peak trips. It’s not quite the all-day bus lanes requested here, but it’s an incremental step.

Investments at this intersection suggest SDOT isn’t imminently planning to let northbound buses turn left from 3rd to Denny, for better or worse. I haven’t seen any exact dates, but the blog says “complete by fall 2014″.

Columbia City Developers Believe They Need the Parking

After completing most of the necessary steps with the City of Seattle, construction for a new apartment building in Columbia City is set to begin sometime in December.

“We’re finishing up our building permit application, the project is phased, and we’ve already got a permit for demolition,” said Chris Weber of BAR Architects, one of the firms in charge of this project. “It’s been a fairly typical building permit and application process.”

The new Columbia City development at 4730 32nd Ave South will have six buildings consisting of 244 apartment units. The apartment building is also expected to have a roof terrace, lounge, and a fitness center. Weber said the target date for the completion of construction is set to summer 2015.

Columbia City Map

With 215 parking spaces, 126 on the surface and 89 underground, the amount of parking is a major issue for a neighborhood with ambitions of being transit-friendly.

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Union Rejects Metro’s Wage Offer

Mike Lindblom has the details ($):

[Amalgamated Transit Union members] have overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer to freeze wages for 2014 and 2015, followed by an inflation-indexed raise in 2016.

The count by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 on Wednesday was 839 yes, 1,595 no — a pass rate of 34.5 percent — to oppose union leaders’ call to accept the offer.

The next step will likely be binding arbitration between the union and the county.

Although by law the union cannot strike, this is probably bad news for riders, as it may put further pressure on Metro’s budget. On the other hand, perhaps the signal that the County is driving a hard bargain with organized labor will appease at least some critics, easing the path to a more general funding solution.

As I’ve argued before, drivers are entirely justified in advocating for themselves, but it’s hard to argue that the interests of riders lie with them in these cases.

Link Excuse of the Week: Night Market & Autumn Moon Festival

nightmarketSaturday night, come down to International District/Chinatown Station for the CIDBIA’s Night Market & Autumn Moon Festival. From 6pm to midnight there will be over 40 food trucks and a Japanese Beer Garden at the station, there will be merchants and an all ages dance party. I’ve never been so I can’t say much more, but it should be a good time. Look out for the red bearded man with a monster truck sized stroller and say hi.

See past Link Excuses of the Week here.

July 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Where Does it Stop?

Aunty’s Wheel

Don’t get me wrong, I love good ridership news as much as the next transit nerd, but at some point the wheel has to slow down. July’s Link weekday ridership was 16.9% higher than July’s of 2013. 16.9%. And July 2013 was no weak month, it was 10.7% percent higher higher than July 2012.

I’m going to say December. Looking at my charts, December of last year was when Link’s ridership growth really started spiking. Up until that point growth was pretty consistently averaging between 10 and 11 percent. Since then it’s been 5 points higher. What’s your prediction?

July’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 37,354 / 32,873 / 27,135, growth of 16.9%, 0.1%, and 13.6% respectively over June 2013. Similar to June Saturday was low, however the weekend average still increased as a whole. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 8.9% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership decreased 3.3%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 5.7%, with 22 out of 25 routes showing growth. System wide weekday boardings were up 9.2%, and all boardings were up 8.8%. The complete July Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the fold. [Read more...]

Constantine Pushes Agencies to Integrate and Innovate

Dow presser

Yesterday, Dow Constantine, King County Executive and chair of the Sound Transit Board, along with other regional officials, unveiled a high-level plan to improve integration between the region’s various transit agencies. The report covers a number of areas — station design, wayfinding, bus-train transfers, better trip planning and realtime arrival information through smart phones and displays — and the ideas there seem laudable. High-level political reports are less important for their details (which politicos usually just aren’t versed in) and more important for their sentiment, which tell staff and management which direction they should be heading with their work.

To me, though, the most interesting part are some of the ideas around network design, and there are more specifics here. Here’s a few, which stand out to me:

  • Consolidate the 36 and 49 to create a connection between SE Seattle and the UDistrict via Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Beacon Hill. Some variation on the theme of strong north-south transit service on 10th Ave/Broadway/Beacon Ave has been floating around in post-2016 concept networks and the SDOT Transit Master Plan for some years. A complete amalgamation all the way from the U-District to Othello seems to me like it might have reliability issues, but at any rate, it’s good to have the idea explicitly on the table.
  • Extend the 271 to Northgate via Maple Leaf and Roosevelt. This sounds, more or less, like connecting the 271 and 67, a variation on an idea I published once with the 48N and 271. Unsurprisingly, I think this is a great idea, although the 271 is currently infrequent on evenings and Sundays, so either 271 frequency would need to go up (an excellent idea, if expensive), or turnback trips would be needed, to provide full-time frequent service on the Roosevelt/Northgate corridor.
  • Possible Route 8 revision to connect uptown, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill and Madison Valley. This sounds like extending the 8 to service the 11 alignment in the Madison Valley. When Denny is uncongested, this will work amazingly well, but Denny is a disaster on most weekdays. I want to like this idea, but it will need to be coupled with changes in SLU, or with some other way to make sure Denny’s unreliability doesn’t ruin Madison Valley service the way it’s ruining Rainier Valley service today.
  • Provide opportunity to connect Link riders to South Lake Union and First Hill. This sounds like what the two streetcars we’ve built are supposed to do.
  • Restructure commuter service from East King County — routes 252, 255, 257, 268 and 311  — with ST Express Route 545. Could be good, but we’d have to see what the details are.
  • Extend some commuter service beyond U District to other areas such as South Lake Union or Fremont. The South Lake Union idea is excellent. The future 520 west-side reversible HOV ramp seems like a great way to provide great peak bus service to SLU from the Eastside, avoiding a three seat bus-U Link-streetcar ride that won’t compete well with driving. I’m less sure about Fremont — there’s no good way* to get between the U-District and Fremont in the peak without hitting a wall of cars somewhere.
  • Create better connections to U District and Link light rail service at University of Washington station for Laurelhurst, Sand Point and Ravenna. Good sentiment, but other than Childrens Hospital, not sure I’d consider Laurelhurst much of a priority.

Sadly absent are ideas about infill stations along the existing light rail segment, or about converting any of the “potential stations” on the Lynnwood Link alignment, notably at 130th St in Seattle, and 220th St in Lynnwood, into actual stations. Each one of these, while expensive, would offer significant access and connectivity improvements for local transit riders.

Discuss!

* Well, there is, if you can ride a bike.

News Roundup: Welcome

First Hill Streetcar Trams under Construction

This is an open thread.

Amtrak Cascades Ridership By City Pair

When I last wrote to argue for express service on Amtrak Cascades, I used revenue by city pair because that was the best data to which I had access at the time. As I noted in the post, using city pair revenue as the basis for analysis was suboptimal, both because it unnecessarily privileged longer trips and also because it is vulnerable to distortions due to Cascades’ dynamic pricing. Ridership data would have been a more intuitive and human-focused metric, favoring “How many people travel between x and y every day?” as opposed to “How much revenue did trips between x and y generate?”.

Responding to the previous post, WSDOT graciously sent ridership data between all city pairs, allowing such a comparison to be made.

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WSDOT Data

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The Senior Fare is Forever

U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. Census Bureau

Now that a low-income fare is coming, it’s a valid question whether having a separate senior fare is defensible on social justice grounds. After all, seniors are the richest segment of society (see chart above) for all income quintiles, and the low income fare should handle any seniors who are truly in need. It’s hard to see why working adults should have to pay $2.25 and up for themselves and $1.25 for children while the senior fare remains locked at 75 cents.

Of course, seniors are a reliable voting block, but that’s an explanation, not a defense. Many businesses practice price discrimination to capture varying willingness to pay, including among seniors, so perhaps there’s business logic to the concept, if not the precise level. A better defense, at least from the perspective of local transit agencies, is Federal Transit Administration guidance:

For fixed route service supported with Section 5307 assistance, fares charged elderly persons, persons with disabilities or an individual presenting a Medicare card during off peak hours will not be more than half the peak hour fare.

So there is some capacity for the County to raise the Senior Fare, but not to bring it in line with what other adults pay. It’s notable that the first fare increase in the low-income fare era also inched up the senior fare, a process that if continued would bring it in line with the statutory maximum. This frees more revenue to either stabilize the low-income fare or buy more service.

Sounder to Remaining Mariners’ Sunday Games; Convergence with Sounders Friday

Author’s Note: The title of the article has been changed. The author apologizes for any unnecessary confusion and alarm caused by the original title.

Sounder MarinersDue to popular demand, and the fact that the Mariners are in contention for the playoffs, Sounder will be serving the remaining Sunday games, September 14th and 28th.

But first, there will be an unfortunate scheduling convergence: The Mariners and Sounders will be playing at home simultaneously, 7 pm Friday evening. The two events combined could eclipse last Thursday’s Seahawks attendance. Thanks to Matt for pointing out the scheduling convergence collision course.

ST Express Minor Service Changes

ST Express 522 at UW Bothell (Photo by Oran)

ST Express 522 at UW Bothell (Photo by Oran)

While the schedules for all of Sound Transit’s trains and streetcars will remain unchanged with the September 27 service change, a few of the ST Express bus routes will have schedule tweaks, with only weekday service impacted. The new schedule books can now be found on Sound Transit vehicles.

Route 522 will have some northbound runs terminate at UW Bothell for the first time, balancing out the morning runs that were already starting at UW Bothell. The impacted runs are every other afternoon peak-direction run starting from 6th and Atlantic from 4:22 pm to 5:55 pm. This will help enable the addition of a morning and afternoon peak-direction run.

Route 555 will have two new mid-morning runs leaving Northgate TC at 8:49 and 9:24, terminating at Bellevue TC. Previously, all 555s continued on to Issaquah Highlands P&R.

Route 590 is losing its first morning southbound run, which is being converted to a 594 run which will go to DuPont Station instead of Commerce St. The first morning run of route 590 will now be departing Eastlake and Stewart at 6:00 am.

Route 592 will have both of its morning counter-peak runs from Seattle to DuPont Station eliminated. Also, morning service from Olympia will be starting a half hour later (4:42), and ending a half hour later (last bus departing Olympia TC at 7:12).

Route 594 will have one of its evening northbound runs start from DuPont Station at 4:44 pm, and its first morning southbound run continue to DuPont Station, leaving Eastlake and Stewart at 5:30 am and arriving at 7:12 am.

Jarrett Walker’s Network Design Course Returns to Portland

Next month, noted transit planning consultant Jarrett Walker is hosting another session of his firm’s Transit Network Design course in Portland:

“Transit Network Design: an Interactive Short Course” is designed to give anyone a grasp of how network design works, so that they can form more confident and resilient opinions about transit proposals.

The course is ideal for people who interact with transit planning in their work but don’t necessarily do it themselves — including land use planners, urban designers, developers, traffic engineers, sustainability advocates, transit employees of all kinds, and people who work on transportation or urban policy generally. Advocates who want to be more realistic and effective will also find the course valuable, especially as a companion to my book Human Transit.

Jarrett’s firm consulted on Seattle’s previous Transit Master Plan, which first outlined the goal of a citywide frequent-service Urban Village Transit Network; on Spokane’s 1998 transit network redesign, which dramatically rethought a failing streetcar-era radial network; and Bellevue’s recently-adopted Transit Master Plan, which promises to do similarly for that city. If you regularly ride transit in Washington, you’ve almost certainly benefited, directly or indirectly, from the clarity of thought Jarrett’s work has injected into contemporary service planning, and if you want to go from reading about this stuff to really understanding it, taking this class is the fastest way.

City to Enact Changes in Paid Street Parking

To improve accessibility of on-street paid parking in the city, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is looking to make minor adjustments to the prices, paid hours, and time limits for Fall 2014.

SDOT published the 2014 version of the annual paid parking occupancy report earlier this month, which showed the occupancy rate and the Fall 2014 changes of on-street paid parking areas in core and peripheral areas of Seattle neighborhoods. The data collection effort is part of the Performance-Based Parking Pricing program that was established by the city in 2010.

Current Parking Rates

“Doing this data collection allows us to know if adjustments are needed,” said SDOT’s senior transportation planner Jonathan Williams.

The report explained that SDOT makes these adjustments in rates, time limits and paid hours as means of helping customers find parking within walking distance of their destinations and to increase access to businesses by ensuring turnover of parked cars.

SDOT bases its assessments of occupancy on whether or not the parking areas were between 70 to 85 percent of capacity. Areas that were five percent over or under the range were included in the watch list, meaning the adjustments will wait for at least another year. Occupancy rates below 65 percent mean SDOT will consider lowering rates, splitting the zone into subareas, and increasing time limits, while rates above 90 percent will lead to decreases in time limits and increases in prices.

“It’s a constantly evolving process,” Williams said. “We’ll adjust in 50 cent increments, which is not a really big change. We’re going to count these [occupancy data] every year, and if it’s above or below target, we’ll make these changes.”

Williams added that in addition to changing the prices, hours, and time limits, SDOT in the past has encouraged drivers to seek parking in the city’s edges or “periphery” areas, rather than the neighborhood’s core areas. He recalled an example from 2010 when the entire Ballard neighborhood was struggling to reach its target zone with 61 percent occupancy rate, despite having extremely full spaces in the area’s busiest blocks.

[Read more...]

Comment of the Week: Multimodal Plans

Whenever Seattle’s various master plans (Transit, Bicycle, Pedestrian, Freight) are the subject, it’s fashionable to decry segmentation of transportation plans into “silos,” because who could be against a holistic, unified plan?

Well, a plan that tries to solve every problem won’t do very well at any of them. In any case, the SDOT staff I talked to about the Freight Master Plan were very eager to tell me how much they were cross-checking all of the other modal needs at every step. But in the comments in that piece Al Dimond offers a very reasonable defense of silos:

It is, of course, important to think about how all modes work in a corridor when that corridor is being designed.

It is also important to think about how all the city’s transportation corridors combine into a network for each particular mode of travel. It can reveal gaps that corridor-based thinking misses. One of the most glaring examples in Seattle is the gap in our cycling network south of downtown. In every specific corridor a combination of weak cycling advocacy and strong trucking opposition has doomed bike facilities. But when we look at the cycling network as a whole it’s clear that a bike route is necessary in the general area, even if none of the individual corridors cry out for it.

Of course the example that comes to mind first for me is a cycling example, since I get involved in that more than other stuff, but it wouldn’t be hard to come up with driving, freight, and transit examples where whole-network mode-specific thinking is needed to identify weaknesses and inform and prioritize improvement projects.

Repurpose This Building

This is a guest post.

Space at a transit center in the heart of a growing downtown should be at a premium. Strangely, The Bellevue Transit Center has a 2,100 square foot building uselessly taking up space. Here’s why I think it should be repurposed, and I’d love to see some ideas on how that could happen. First, a bit about what is there: the Bellevue Transit Center has 12 bays, 23 bus lines, and thousands of passengers every day. It also has the Bellevue Rider Services Building, which Sound Transit described in 2008 as

…adjacent to the Bellevue Transit Center. Several rider amenities are available including transit schedules and other rider information, public phones, community information, bike racks and public restrooms. The building also houses a station for the Bellevue City Police.

The majority of the stations users are workers in the core of Bellevue. They are extremely likely to have access to transit schedules via computer or smartphone. They are also unlikely to need a public phone (wait, there are still public phones?), or access to paper community information. There are no bike racks in the building (though there are *many* in the nearby area), and the police station closed 3 years ago.  A bike shop apparently was in the building several years ago, but it failed. In addition, just a few feet away is a small building attached to the transit center that housed a ticket office at one point. Now, it is a very expensive and big map holder so you can find your bus in the 12 bays of the transit center.

[Read more...]

This is a guest post.

Density isn’t Dangerous

BeatWalk-outside-1-650x400Over at crosscut, Anthony Robinson has a moving first hand account of the most recent incident of a runaway automobile smashing into Columbia City storefronts. While I agree with his main point, the need to lower speeds, I have to disagree with his conclusion, that the answers are to simply lower the speed limit, increase enforcement, and install bollards. Those steps simply won’t go far enough. Speeders ignore speed limits. Enforcement only works if you have police out every day. While bollards can be useful, a wall of them cluttering up the pedestrian environment because automobile operators can’t be trusted to drive safely is not the answer. There must be physical changes to the roadway itself to alter drivers’ unsafe behavior. 

Which brings me to my main point. I strong disagree with the title. Density is not dangerous. I think it might help to remind ourselves that density is nothing more or less than people. And when you have tons of steel moving at high speeds through a lot of people, the people aren’t the danger, the people are in danger.

If you live, work, or play in the Rainier Valley, or you are just passionate about safe streets for all users, please join the Cross “Walk-in” for Safe Streets at the intersection of Rainier Ave. South and S. Ferdinand tomorrow, Friday the 5th, from 4:30-5:30.