Fixing WSDOT’s Amtrak Cascades Timetables

Backwards, unecessarily segmented, unreadable.

Backwards, unecessarily segmented, unreadable.

For over a year now, Amtrak Cascades schedules have been incorrectly printed on their website, reading backwards in the southbound direction, both on mobile and on desktop platforms. While tech mistakes happen and are eminently forgivable, not having processes in place to quickly fix crucial pieces of information – such as a basic timetable – is inexcusable. Passengers have a basic right to correct information, and they have a right to have its accuracy prioritized. Over the past several months via Twitter, I have submitted multiple requests to fix the schedule, to no avail. We have been told that it’s a ‘tricky fix’ that they are working on. In the meantime, Amtrak’s stock schedule is much more legible.

[Read more…]

A Brief History of Link Line Colors

Link Red Line diagram from Sound Transit

Link Red Line diagram from Sound Transit

Sound Transit staff have long suggested by example prior to adoption of the Link line naming system that Central Link will be named the Red Line and East Link be named the Blue Line. Those “example” names became official in June when ST announced new and improved signage to be unveiled systemwide when U-Link opens next year.

I asked Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray about choosing the colors. This is what he said:

Red and blue were chosen for the first two segments because they are contrasting colors (create a high visual distinction between the two lines). And, we followed the established convention and practice of other transit agencies by starting with red and blue. Our original Central Link line color was a red/maroon color so it made sense to make that segment red.

Austin, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis and Washington DC picked Red for their first rail line. Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Portland, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and San Diego named their first lines Blue. Some of them were given a color name from the beginning and some acquired colors later as the system expanded.

The line presently known as Central Link (Westlake to SeaTac/Airport) has been colored both red and blue throughout its operational history. This confusing state is visible in all the information products ST has produced. Let’s begin with the system map.

[Read more…]

Blue Line Travel Times in 2023

Corrected Map #3-01

Full ST2 buildout, plus Star Lake and Federal Way added pending funding. Map by the author.

On Monday we looked at travel times on Link’s ‘Red Line’, the central spine that will run between Lynnwood and Des Moines (or possibly Federal Way) in 2023. We made a few observations along the way, including the relative benefit to Snohomish County compared to South King, about the gifts of Link to the Rainier Valley, and more. Today we’ll look at the Blue Line – or East Link – which will run from Lynnwood to Redmond via Bellevue.

At the outset, two characteristics differentiate the the Blue Line (‘East Link’) from its spiney anchor, the Red Line, namely demand symmetry and affluence:

  • Demand symmetry. Beyond Northgate in the north and Rainier Beach in the south, the Red Line serves predominantly bedroom communities with intensely asymmetric demand that today is served by rivers of peak-direction express service. With the exception of Route 512, no suburban corridors along the Red Line currently sustain all-day frequent service, with the 578 and 594 dropping to half-hourly off peak. By contrast, the Blue Line will serve the both the Seattle-Bellevue and Seattle-Redmond markets, both of which sustain frequent all-day service and achieve the most symmetric demand of any city pairs in the region. Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond are job centers in their own right, and reverse peak demand is very strong. The buses that the Blue Line would ostensibly replace – the 545 and 550 – are the most successful all-day bus routes in the Sound Transit system (page 32), nearly breaking even at the farebox with costs of roughly $3 per rider.
  • Affluence. The Red Line will provide a critical link both for middle class suburban communities and those hit hardest by the continuing suburbanization of poverty, linking low cost housing to job centers, primarily in Seattle. (As I’ve written before, the long travel times from South King County to Seattle should have spurred a stronger movement for intra-South King mobility and development, and the I-5 alignment choice makes that more difficult, though not impossible.) By contrast, the Blue Line will stitch together the wealthiest centers of the region, namely North Seattle, Central Seattle, and the Inner Eastside. The balance between choice and non-choice riders on the two lines will likely be stark, with a much more moneyed set of folks traversing Lake Washington compared to those crossing the Duwamish.

Travel Times

Much like the Red Line, the Blue Line will supplant already successful bus corridors while also creating new travel opportunities via intermediate stations. Relative improvement in travel times is greatest for the new intermediate stations that currently require transfers, while for destinations that replace current bus service, Link’s primary selling point is reliability.

The Blue Line will likely replace Route 550, force a restructure or deletion of Route 226, provide a faster alternative to the B-Line, and replace the Bellevue-Redmond tail of the 566/567. The chart below shows Link travel times to Westlake atop today’s scheduled bus variation for each Blue Line station area. As you can see, the Blue Line halves travel time between Westlake and Overlake Village, Bel-Red, the (yet unbuilt) Spring District, and the East Main area. For today’s big transit markets at Microsoft, Bellevue TC, South Bellevue Park & Ride, Mercer Island, and Judkins Park, the train is slower than the fastest bus trips, but the Blue Line virtually guarantees a median travel time or better in perpetuity, everywhere along the line. For anyone stuck in reverse-peak traffic on I-90, the gold-plated Blue Line is likely actually worth its weight in gold.

[Read more…]

Sound Transit and Good Transit Outcomes

Everett, WA skyline from Everett Station

Downtown Everett


Sunday’s open thread had a video about a new light rail line in Toronto, and people took the opportunity to have a little fun with Sound Transit’s expansion plans. The Toronto line is straight, compact, and has dense station spacing, and the Everett-Tacoma-Redmond spine is none of those things. Seattle doesn’t have Toronto’s transit potential in any case, but the complaints have some validity.

There is no objectively optimum way to build a rail line; any claimed optimum has some subjective values embedded in it. But given our community values, I propose the following aspects of the very best light rail lines:

  • Moves people faster and more reliably than a plausible bus operations plan serving the same areas. This is generally in paths without freeways, and/or where congestion dominates and taking right-of-way for buses is unrealistic.
  • Allows operating savings by aggregating passengers from many buses. This implies fairly high ridership demand.
  • Is useful not only for commutes to work and school, but also other incidental trips of a person’s week.

If a line doesn’t meet some or all of these tests, that doesn’t mean it’s not “worth it.” It means it’s not the best. Parts of the emerging Link system meet the tests quite well (the stretch from the U-District to Westlake stands out); others, not so much, mostly because they were built to serve a totally different set of values.

[Read more…]

Brenda Hits a Snag, Tunneling to Resume Next Week

Brenda in Her Youth (2011 Photo – Sound Transit)

Brenda in Her Younger Years (2011 Photo – Sound Transit)

While on a visit to the future Roosevelt station site recently, STB tipper Leslie B. heard that one of Sound Transit’s tunnel boring machines (Brenda) hadn’t moved in a few weeks. We reached out to Sound Transit, and Kimberly Reason told STB that the problem was a large boulder:

Brenda (TBM #1) has stopped mining since July 22nd , and has been undergoing inspection and repairs.  Mining is currently expected to resume next week, following a final inspection and readiness check. Evidently, Brenda encountered a boulder large and hard enough to damage several of the teeth on the TBM cutterhead. The inspection and repairs have been carried out to date without incident and per plan. Brenda is currently 1500 ft. from U District Station. No delay to the overall scheduled is expected.

Brenda is now a veteran, having been refurbished from the ULink project prior to working on the Northgate Extension. Though this stoppage was unplanned, teeth wear is very common occurrence, and the anomaly here seems to be the rate of wear caused by the boulder. So this bears no similarities to the more systematic bearing and sealant problems of another famous TBM you just might be familiar with.

Link Excuse(s) of the Week: Rainier Valley Heritage Parade, Othello Music and Arts Festival

RV!

The Rainier Valley will be bustling this weekend with two fantastic and family-friendly events. The annual Rainier Valley Heritage Parade, on Saturday from 12:00-4:30pm, will offer food, live music, street sports, a beer garden, a pie eating contest, a police picnic, B!kecitement in front of Bike Works, an afterhours movie in Columbia Park, and more.  Take Link to Columbia City and walk a 1/4 mile east to Rainier to join the festivities. In addition to an incredible diversity of food and artistic talent, the festivities offer a great opportunity to see a Rainier Avenue S that prioritizes people, even if just for a day, as Rainier will be closed to cars for the 3/4 of a mile between S Alaska St and S Brandon St. 

O!
On Sunday, go one stop further on Link for the Othello Park International Music and Arts Festival, from noon to 6pm (free). The festival will have live 11 music and dancing acts, a petting zoo featuring a camel, 6 food vendors, and much more.

Podcast: ST3 Options

Martin and I took some time to record a podcast this week.  Topics include:

You can find the podcast feed here if you’re inclined to subscribe, although I can’t promise when another episode will appear.

HCT Travel Times in Kirkland

Metro_255_KTC

Metro 255, and ST Regional Express 540, arriving at Kirkland Transit Center

Among the projects that Sound Transit has suggested for the Eastside are I-405 Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail between Totem Lake and Issaquah. While light rail is a clear priority, Eastside cities are interested in BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) as an interim solution. So there are several proposals in play that could serve as a high capacity transit (HCT) corridor in Kirkland.

Kirkland is attempting to balance these options. Some form of I-405 BRT is very likely to be included in any ST3 package, but requires an expensive station at NE 85th St to be relevant to Central Kirkland. The City has asked for a NE 85th St station along with a fast, frequent connection to downtown. A fixed guideway connection – aerial tram or people mover – has been suggested, but bus is surely more probable.

Light rail on the ERC gets closer to more Kirkland transit riders, but still has a last-mile problem in downtown Kirkland. BRT on the ERC could resolve the last mile issue with a deviation to downtown and at much lower cost than a rail alignment.

Letter AC-6

Kirkland seeks a new project for the Project Priority List, adding BRT between Kirkland and Issaquah with the Kirkland leg to run largely on the Eastside Rail Corridor. Source: Letter from Mayor Amy Walen to Sound Transit Board Chair Dow Constantine, July 8, 2015.

Casual observers surely take for granted that any of these new transit options will be better and faster than today. Surprisingly, this is not the case for many riders to the most popular destinations. For riders to Seattle, neither light rail nor I-405 BRT would even approach the travel time of today’s Metro services. For travel to Bellevue, light rail would be slower than current bus service. I-405 BRT could deliver somewhat improved times for some customers, but would mean longer travel times for others. BRT that follows the Eastside rail corridor would handily beat any of the alternatives for a much larger number of transit users.

[Read more…]

Red Line Travel Times in 2023

Corrected Map #3-01

Full ST2 buildout, with Star Lake and Federal Way added. Map by the author.

In 2023, Link Light Rail’s Red Line will travel from Lynnwood to either Highline College or Federal Way Transit Center, depending on funding. Lots of digital ink has been spilled about things like long endpoint travel times, armchair quarterbacking the time savings that might be achieved from buses leaving the tunnel, with no real clarity on the answers. In addition, we usually look at Link in fragments, with the nomenclature of “Central Link”, “U-Link”, “North Link”, “the Spine” etc far more common than the Red Line and the Blue Line. But no one in Portland still refers to the Blue Line as “Eastside MAX” and “Westside MAX”, and come 2023, the wonkier segment names will give way to simple color.

So I thought I’d take a look at the nascent Red Line in its entirety. Where will it take you? In how long? If you were to rent or buy a home to maximize the value of Link’s frequency and reliability to your life – if in Jarrett Walker’s phrase, you wanted to be on the way  – where should you live? Where is Link’s ‘center of gravity’, the place along the line where the most places are accessible most quickly?

I asked Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray for travel times between all stations for the full ST2 buildout, and I’ve reproduced those with modification below (also adding Star Lake (STL) and Federal Way (FDW)). I then split the travel times into 5 tiers to show where you can travel from any given station in 0-15 minutes (green), 15-30 minutes (yellow), 30-45 minutes (red), 45-60 (purple), and 60-75 minutes (gray).  While the first chart is most useful for seeing the relationship between individual stations, the second chart below presents the same data in a way that is most useful for relating an individual station to the Red Line as a whole.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 9.07.39 PM

Link Stations Updated

Abbreviations in the chart are Lynnwood (LNW), Mountlake Terrace (MLT), Northgate (NGT), Roosevelt (RSV), UDistrict (UD), Capitol Hill (CPH), Westlake (WSL), University Street (USS), Pioneer Square (PSQ), International District (IDS), Stadium (STA), Sodo (SOD), Beacon Hill (BHS), Mount Baker (MBS), Columbia City (CCS), Othello (OTH), Rainier Beach (RBS), Tukwila International Boulevard (TUK), SeaTac Airport (SEA), Angle Lake (AGL, Highline College (HGL), Star Lake (STL), and Federal Way (FDW).

Observations below the jump. [Read more…]

Carbon Tax Initiative

Two weeks ago the Times had an interesting article ($) about a grassroots attempt to introduce a carbon tax in Washington State, Initiative 732:

They’re wrangling signatures for Initiative 732, which would put a new tax on carbon burned in gasoline, natural gas and other fossil fuels — while cutting other taxes by an equal amount. By raising the price of dirty energy, I-732 aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and encourage development of cleaner alternatives.

Jim Whitehead called for people to sign the petition on Page 2, citing its relevance to transit advocacy and he’s right. I’d like to expand on why. But first, our climate-activist state leadership is on board with this, right?

Nope. Instead, a powerful coalition that includes the state’s major green and labor groups is trying to squash the effort…

As a “revenue-neutral” plan, I-732 would not fill state government coffers with cash. While the carbon tax would raise an estimated $1.7 billion a year — and cost the average family an estimated $300 a year in higher gas and energy prices — it would give away an equivalent amount back to consumers, mostly through a full percentage point cut in the state sales tax.

That differs from cap-and-trade legislation offered up by Inslee and backed by the alliance in this year’s legislative session. That plan would have raised more than $1 billion a year from fees on carbon and directed the proceeds to the state education budget, transportation projects, affordable housing and other programs.

The establishment version seems like a classic example of chaining a popular cause (doing something about the climate) to an unpopular one (increasing the size of generic “government”).  I can’t help but think of I-1098, the 2010 Income Tax initiative, which chained a very popular progressive tax system to the most beloved of all local government spending, education.

Obviously, there is some segment of the population that prefers a regressive tax system, but not nearly enough to defeat an income tax. But by not making the measure revenue-neutral, I-1098 made the following additional enemies: [Read more…]

Last Chance to Fill Out Metro’s Long Range Plan Survey

One of Metro’s very newest buses, which may still be around to see some results of this plan. Photo by SounderBruce.

Metro is taking a survey in preparation for its new Long-Range Plan, which Victor Obeso generously talked with us about a few months ago.  The Long-Range Plan, which is separate from Metro’s short-term Strategic Plan, will be the agency’s first long-range plan in decades.  The last day to take the survey is Sunday, August 9.  We encourage all STB readers to weigh in today, no matter how (or whether) you use the bus, and no matter whether you typically agree with our views or not.

A bit more about some of my own answers below the jump, for those who are interested.

[Read more…]

What if Seattle’s Population Boom Isn’t Just a Fad? Are We Ready?

SeaPop2
The last few years have seen explosive growth in Seattle proper, the fastest growth since the early days of the last century. But how long can the boom last? By the available data it doesn’t look like it is going to slow any time soon. From a Seattle Time’s article on the construction industry:

Still, he said, indications favor continued growth for the [construction] industry, with overall permits for the Seattle market up 53 percent through April compared with the first four months of 2014.

Permits for multifamily construction rose 104 percent, he said, with 6,700 units permitted compared with 3,313 permitted [in the first four months of] last year.

And the job growth in the area that is pushing population growth doesn’t appear to be slowing:

[Read more…]

Welcome Our New Reporter: Zach Shaner

zach shanerHaving successfully met our fundraising goal last month, we’re thrilled to announce that Zach Shaner, who has been volunteering for us on-and-off for the last few years, will be our first staff reporter!

Zach has lived in Seattle since 2009 and has been writing for the blog off-and-on since 2010. In addition to volunteering with STB, Zach has worked at Pierce Transit, the City of Tukwila, and Commute Seattle, and he also recently co-founded a bike rental delivery service. Zach recently served on the ULink Sounding Board, and will soon serve on the first iteration of the Seattle Transit Advisory Board. Due to his busy work schedule, we’ve only been able to get a taste of Zach’s writing, and it’s left us hungry for more (the preceding food analogy is in honor of one of my all-time favorite Zach posts, How to Cook a Train).

We couldn’t be happier to find someone who can hit the ground running. Expect to see a lot more news and analysis in the coming months as Zach gets ramped up. Between the elections, Move Seattle, Sound Transit’s System Plan, ST3, Metro’s Long Range Plan, and U-link opening, there will be plenty to talk about. If you have news tips, story ideas, or well-informed gossip, please send it Zach’s way.

And rest assured that our existing volunteer staff isn’t going way. Zach is going to supplement, not replace, the opinion and analysis you already get from STB.

Thanks again to all of you who gave during the fundraising drive.  We’ll keep the link up on the right-hand side for a little while longer if anyone still has a deep desire to give.

Sound Transit Likely to Expand Permit Parking

Tukwila Int'l Blvd Station (Wikimedia)

Tukwila Int’l Blvd Station (Wikimedia)

Back in 2013, Sound Transit introduced a modest pilot project to test permit parking at a few high demand Park & Rides, namely Mukilteo Station, Issaquah Transit Center, Sumner Station, and Tukwila International Boulevard Station. Riders could apply for a space and pay a nominal fee (just $5-$33 quarterly for HOV/SOV respectively, equivalent to 8¢-53¢/day), and in return would be guaranteed a parking space before 9:30am. After 9:30, the spaces reverted to general parking. There was no test of daily parking pricing.

The results of the pilot – which ended last summer – were encouraging enough that Sound Transit will soon ask the Board to proceed with an expanded program. 515 permits were issued (out of 1,427 applications), though just 56 of those (11%) were HOV permits, despite being basically free. Lots were still generally as full as before, though permit holders took advantage of the 9:30am guarantee and took the opportunity to arrive later. Whereas Sumner was usually full by 5:30 am, providing service for only the first two trains of the morning, permits allowed those riders to arrive 1.5-2 hours later. Tukwila Int’l Blvd (TIBS) saw a small decline in usage, indicating that many permit holders didn’t park there daily but were willing to cough up a few bucks for the right to do so a couple times per week. TIBS also saw its peak occupancy shift from 7:00am to 9:30am. So to a small extent, Sound Transit proved the ability to shift customers to later buses and trains, effectively reducing pressure at peak-of-peak. This is a good thing.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 11.51.42 PM

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 11.51.10 PM

The new proposal would issue HOV permits  in mid-2016 at a nominal fee at an expanded list of Park & Rides, the four mentioned above plus Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, Mercer Island, Overlake, Puyallup, and Angle Lake (which would be unique in having permit parking from Day 1). With Board approval, in late 2016 or early 2017 ST would issue SOV permits at a yet to be determined fee. Whether the fee will continue to be purely administrative or tied to revenue and demand management goals is a policy question for the Board.  All permit applicants would have to prove possession of a valid ORCA card and to renew, prove that they rode transit an average of thrice per week during the previous quarter.

Sound Transit will host a series of info sessions in the coming weeks, and they are also taking input via a short survey. If you believe that managed parking is good policy, please let ST hear from you.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 12.06.32 AM

Primary Election Liveblog

At 8:15 tonight the first results of the August primary will be posted. Turnout has been estimated at 30%, but as of tonight only 15% of registered voters have returned ballots. In keeping with tradition most everywhere, the initial results are usually the least progressive on urbanist issues, with decent trending in our direction thereafter. And results may not be known for days, with Kshama Sawant’s slow bleed of Richard Conlin being the most recent example.

The unfortunate tensions in the progressive community between pro-development urbanists and social justice urbanists may also lead to very unpredictable results, so there will be much to watch. Primaries may often seem boring, but they occasionally come in with a bang, elevating the Mallahans and McGinns of the world and sending the sitting Mayor packing for Harvard. And in any case, a 47-candidate free for all and unprecedented district elections leave a little something for everyone to analyze tonight.  So go at it! We’ll be liveblogging off-and-on with any interesting observations.

Follow the results here. 

8:03: As SounderBruce points out, Snohomish County results are posted here.

8:04: As always, follow the Stranger crew doing what they do best: election party pub crawls!

8:07: On Twitter, follow #seaelex for the latest news and gossip.

8:15 FIRST DROP. Bolded are STB endorsed candidates

  • District 1: Braddock 29%, Herbold 27%, Tavel 19%, Thomas 10%
  • District 2: Harrell 62%, Morales 24%, Farris 13%
  • District 3: Sawant 50%, Banks 35%, Hearne 10%, Beach 2%
  • District 4: Johnson 33%, Maddux 23%, Godden 21%, Provine 14%
  • District 5: Juarez 38%, Brown 21%, Watkins 14%, Lethin 8%,Toledo 6%, Elizalde 6%, Dash 5%
  • District 6: O’Brien 58%, Weatbrook 22%, Lisbin 14%
  • District 7: Bagshaw 76%, Zech-Artis 13%, Hartmann 10%
  • At-Large 8: Burgess 48%, Grant 28%,  Roderick 16%, Persak 7%
  • At-Large 9: Gonzalez 64%, Bradburd 15%, Bassok 9%, Tobin 9%

8:26: Quick hits. Godden is the only threatened incumbent, with Johnson a clear winner and Maddux and Godden too close to call. Banks is consolidating the anti-Sawant vote, but that isn’t likely to be anywhere near enough. Braddock and Herbold will almost surely face off in D1. Roderick’s showing is disappointing, and Grant looks to have successfully ridden Sawant’s coattails and consolidated the rent control vote. Bradburd didn’t come close, and Gonzalez will cruise to election in November.

8:43: I agree with Erica’s basic analysis.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 8.44.18 PM

The neighborhood pitchforks are blunt. Urbanists look to have survived the night, with candidates like Bradburd losing badly. The interesting races to watch will be D1, where Braddock and Herbold will likely go neck and neck, and Grant vs. Burgess, which will likely be a very ugly contest.

Light Rail is Best for West Seattle

Map by Oran.I ran Ross’s Open BRT plan for West Seattle because it’s a good analysis of the best the region could do with a budget roughly four times lower than what it takes to build light rail to West Seattle. There are many reasons Sound Transit may need to economize on the West Seattle segment, and in that case they could do worse than to follow Ross’s blueprint.

But Ross’s thesis is much stronger: that BRT would be better than light rail for most riders, largely because an open BRT system would avoid transfer penalties. This runs counter to a lot of work on STB that shows the merits of a transfer-oriented system, which largely involve the operating savings of not running downtown to enable other trips. This aspect doesn’t appear in Ross’s work because he completely punts the issue of operations. This is crucial, because it’s in the operational details where claims of “rail-like” BRT collapse.

(1) One can only assume that Sound Transit 3 would pay for the excellent capital projects Ross proposes. But does ST actually take over operations on the C Line, 21, 120, 37, 55, 128, 116, and all the other buses duplicating each other on the bridge? If so, that’s a lot of ST’s taxing authority tied up in running buses forever. It also assumes an unprecedented level of ST bus service provision in this corner of the region, and other corners without light rail may wonder why they’re not getting the same. Both problems would kneecap ST’s ability to deliver big capital projects.

If Metro keeps running these buses, then that forfeits the opportunity to seriously increase the frequency of buses within West Seattle. This not only would cut headways to board the bus, thus eroding the putative time advantage of no transfer to light rail, but would also improve all intra-West Seattle trips.

(2) On a related note, Ross blithely asserts that his BRT system will have off-board payment. Off-board payment either requires turnstiles (and someone to monitor them) at all stops (which is not going to happen), or fare inspectors, which are one of the big cost differences between light rail and traditional buses. But this is an open BRT system! So are these routes fully equipped and staffed over their entire length, with machines at essentially every bus stop in West Seattle, or do the rules change when they enter the BRT zone? If the latter, then that will impair reliability of what feeds into the zone. Or is it, as I suspect, not really going to be 100% off-board payment?

[Read more…]

Vote By 8 PM Tuesday

[Author’s note: The above video has little to do with city council issues. I put it up as an ode to flailing candidate Tony Provine and nihilist filmmaker Jean Luc Godard. Provine’s bulldozer’s-are-coming mailer is about as absurdist as a Godard flick. The only difference is that Provine is actually taking his delusions seriously.]

The bulldozers are coming for your homes! Okay, not really. But we have the chance Tuesday to toss the most outrageously incendiary and reality-challenged campaigns into the compost bin of history (hopefully without destroying said compost bin).

To vote in person, get in line by 8 pm at Union Station (the building right next to the ID/Chinatown light rail station), at the King County Elections HQ in Renton, or at Bellevue City Hall.

You can drop off your filled-out ballot at any of these sites or any of a couple dozen ballot drop boxes all over the county, by 8 pm.

If you mail your ballot, get it post-marked by Tuesday, and don’t forget to affix first-class postage worth at least 49 cents.

If you haven’t filled out your ballot yet, refresh yourself on our city council endorsements.

Come back here for live-blogging Tuesday night, as we attempt to divine and spin results based on a minority of ballots coming in, since they traditionally trickle in over the next week.

Build Real BRT for West Seattle

This is a guest post.

by ROSS BLEAKNEY

[This seems a good a time as any to remind everyone that guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of STB staff or the editorial board – Ed.]

What exactly is Bus Rapid Transit (or BRT)? Perhaps, like the Supreme Court said about “pornography”, you know it when you see it. If the Wikipedia definition of BRT is any guide, I haven’t seen it in Seattle. To quote their definition, “To be considered BRT, buses should operate for a significant part of their journey within a fully dedicated right of way (busway) to avoid traffic congestion”. RapidRide is not BRT, falling well short by ITDP standards.

But we can certainly build a real BRT system for West Seattle that has almost every advantage of what we call “light rail” (mostly grade separated, off-board fare collection, station platforms level with the bus floor, priority at intersections, etc.). Unlike the light rail concepts being offered by Sound Transit, BRT to West Seattle would allow riders from all the key corridors of West Seattle (California, Fauntleroy, 35th, Admiral/Alki and Delridge) to enjoy a fast and frequent ride to downtown without having to transfer.

The Challenges of Serving West Seattle with Transit

West Seattle is a fairly large area, separated from the rest of Seattle by the Duwamish River. If you look at a census map of West Seattle, there are a few pockets of scattered density, but nothing over 25,000 people per square mile. The more densely populated areas are not in a line, either, making it all but impossible to connect the area with one rail line. A light rail line that serves the Junction is likely to miss Admiral, Alki and the Delridge corridor. A rail line on Delridge would miss Admiral, Alki, California, Fauntleroy and 35th.

Link to West Seattle would be expensive. It would have to traverse low-ridership Sodo and Harbor Island, cross water and rugged terrain. Martin Duke estimated the cost of getting to the junction at $2 – 2.5 billion, not including a downtown tunnel.

The city is unlikely to build parking around the stations, meaning that most riders would walk to the station or arrive by bus.  A comparison of population density and the proposed set of stations shows that no set of West Seattle stations will be within walking distance of a majority of potential riders. For light rail to be successful, a vast majority of riders would have to arrive to the station by bus.

Transferring from to bus to train incurs a transfer penalty: exiting the bus, walking to the station, getting to the platform, and waiting for a train (Sound Transit suggests headways of ten minutes). In most of Seattle, the train makes up for that penalty by using its dedicated right of way to outrun buses mired on surface streets. In West Seattle, however, there is easy access to a high-speed freeway if agencies execute several relatively low-cost infrastructure projects. For most riders on West Seattle’s major bus corridors, this would result in a faster trip to and through downtown than with light rail.

[Read more…]

This is a guest post.