Real-Time Transit Info Coming to the Ballard-UW Corridor

Photo by Oran

Photo by Oran

We reported back in 2013 that SDOT planned to add Real-Time Information Signs (RTIS) on Jackson, Rainier, and as funding permitted, the Market/45th Corridor. In welcome news for riders, SDOT announced on Friday that the remaining 11 signs will be coming to the Market/45th corridor by this summer. The signs will be located at:

  • (2) Ballard Ave/Market (Routes 17X, 18X, 29, 40, 44)
  • (1) 15th/Market (44 Eastbound)
  • (1) 8th Market (44 Eastbound/28X inbound)
  • (4) 46th/Phinney (5, 5X, 44)
  • (2) 45th/Wallingford (16, 44)
  • (1) 45th/Roosevelt (44 westbound, 810, 821, 855, 860, 871, 880)

Continuing SDOT’s recent laudable history of not missing ancillary opportunities presented by new construction, each of these stops will also be rebuilt at the same time to provide pedestrian-activated street crossings and curb ramps.

RTIS-Map-Final

SDOT Photo

 

While this is great news for riders, those without smartphones, and for the aesthetics and usability of the system more generally, I do hope that the data will be more thoughtfully curated than the current signs on Rainier and Jackson. Deciding what data to exclude is more important than deciding what to include. The signs usually present the next six or nine arrivals in batches of three, and at stops with frequent service and multiple routes this makes good sense. But if you are standing at 15th/Market, where only the 44 stops, you would see a display for Route 44 arrivals in 5/20/35 minutes, followed a few seconds later by arrivals 50/65/80 minutes away. Unlike on a smartphone, where you are likelier to plan a future trip, if you are already standing at the bus stop it is 100% certain that you do not need to see trips on the same route that are over an hour away. In such cases the feed should always show the nearest 3 arrival times only.

The same principle applies to arrivals at the end of their trip. At the westbound 45th/Roosevelt sign, SDOT would do well to exclude the 167 and 373, for which this is the last inbound stop, and push Community Transit to provide real-time data for their 800-series express routes.

 

Vanpools are a Success Story

Metro VanShare at Tukwila Sounder Station

Bob Pishue, of the Washington Policy Center, has a recent piece highlighting the growth and improved economics of Metro’s vanpool program. He notes that Metro’s vanpool program is now running a farebox recovery rate of 107%. Other programs in the region are also doing well. Pierce Transit’s vanpool program is at 73% and Community Transit is at 70%. All of these numbers have been trending up.

Ridership is up too, outpacing other transit modes. In the ten years to 2013, Metro’s vanpool ridership grew 96%, and the program is now the largest in the nation. All other Metro modes grew 25% in aggregate. Operating costs per rider have fallen from $3.10 in 1996 to $3.02 in 2013, a 34% decrease in real terms. Pishue credits reduced operating costs to increased ridership. While scale efficiencies may play a part by spreading the burden of administrative overhead, shorter average trip lengths (down from 27 miles to 21 miles) have also reduced mileage-related costs.

These are great numbers, although Pishue goes too far in arguing they make the case for reducing investments in bus and light rail. Martin expanded on that point in response to a previous Washington Policy Center advocacy piece in 2010. It’s interesting, however, to look at why vanpools are successful and to understand their limitations.

[Read more…]

Designing Service for a Multipolar Downtown

Commuter-Mode-Split-Survey-Report-2-23

Mode Share Survey Results

25 years ago, to pick a round number, “downtown” Seattle was small. The 12-block “JCMSUP” area contained the overwhelming majority of downtown jobs. Commuters could be easily served by an express bus that got off the freeway and made 4-5 stops.

Since then, downtown has grown, as you can see from the Downtown Seattle Association’s map below. What was once a unipolar downtown is now multipolar, with several distinct sub-areas – like a big city! All this growth sets up an interesting and difficult challenge for transit planners as downtown grows. One recurring theme in David’s coverage of the Metro U-Link restructures has been the tradeoffs involved in providing frequent service to Seattle’s downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.

dsa_center_city

Recently, we looked at Commute Seattle’s 2014 report on transit usage for downtown commuters. The headline number – that just 31% of commuters drive alone – got a good deal of attention. The fact that a city with a relatively small rail system can get that many people out of their cars is a testament to excellent work done by the agencies, the city, businesses, and partners like Commute Seattle.

When we dive deeper into the data, though, we find that drive alone rates vary greatly among different downtown neighborhoods. Just 23% of workers in the commercial core drive alone, compared with more than double that in peripheral downtown neighborhoods such as  South Lake Union (46%) and Lower Queen Anne (53%). Large employers help as well, as they generally have trip reduction programs and give out free ORCA passes and the like. Then again, Amazon employees have free transit passes too.

The poor performance of these neighborhoods shouldn’t be too surprising since they lack the same peak express service enjoyed by the commercial core. If you live south of downtown or on the Eastside, all transit commutes to SLU require a bus or streetcar transfer. Most ‘direct’ service to SLU skirts its periphery on its west (Aurora and Dexter) or on its east (Eastlake/Stewart). Only if you live in Downtown (Streetcar), Capitol Hill (8), Eastlake (70), Fremont/Ballard (40), or parts of SR 522 (309) do you enjoy the front-door service that most other Downtown commuters enjoy.

So how might we better serve this multipolar downtown, with its quarter million jobs, so as to get more people in the fringes of downtown using transit?

[Read more…]

Spokane Transit: Why You Care

Downtown Spokane WA postcard

Downtown Spokane, in 1963. Flikr user Ethan.

As promised a few weeks ago, over the next week STB will have short series on Spokane Moving Forward, the Spokane Transit Authority’s ten-year plan to dramatically improve public transit in its service area. Voters in STA’s service area will vote on a 0.3% sales tax to fund the plan next month. We’ve written previously about Spokane’s transit history and present, and about last year’s Transit Plaza controversy.

First, though, I want to motivate you, average STB reader, and presumed west-sider: Why do you care about Spokane, when it’s seems — and, to be fair, kind of is — such a long way away? Here’s a few reasons:

  • It’s a real city, with a real urban core. Recent, high-quality, Creative Commons-licensed photography of downtown Spokane is sadly lacking, so you’ll have to take it from me, and the postcard up above, that downtown Spokane is endowed with a gorgeous, diverse collection of high rise buildings, from railroad era to modern.
  • It’s got a bunch of people in and around it. With around 209,000 residents in the city proper, it’s the second largest city in the state. (Tacoma is the other serious contender, with 198,000). Its metropolitan area extends east into northern Idaho, encompassing Coeur d’Alene, and about 600,000 people in total. It’s growing, and expected to continue growing.
  • It’s the city for a huge geographic swath of the northern United States. Spokane is the most populous urban area between Seattle and Minneapolis. (Only Boise, population 208,000, and 350 miles to the south, comes close). Like all real cities, the way it is experienced echoes far beyond its borders, because a critical mass of people have experienced it enough for it to feel familiar, making it a shared point of reference.
  • Its got lots of transit riders. Spokane Transit provided about 11 million rides last year, making it the fourth largest agency by ridership in the state (after King County Metro, Sound Transit, and Washington State Ferries) and its busiest routes would be solid routes in Seattle or King County. STA’s top three routes pull in 2,500-3,400 riders per weekday, which is about half of Seattle’s comparable routes (e.g. 6,600 on Route 5, Greenwood local) — a great showing for a city a third the size of Seattle.
  • Its got lots of transit voters. Spokane votes Democratic, and while in an ideal world, we’d have a smart bipartisan consensus in favor of moving people and goods — not just cars — transit at the state level is a Democratic-identified cause. The way we’re going to change Washington’s transportation trajectory to something more sustainable is to grow the number of pro-transit state legislators, and for that we need urban growth everywhere it can happen in the state, not just Puget Sound.

First up, because I know STBers love projects, I’ll discuss the proposed Central City Line. Subsequent posts will cover the West Plains Transit Center and service to Eastern Washington University in Cheney, possible service to Coeur d’Alene, and broad-based improvements to service throughout the area.

Finally, one personal note: I lived without a car in Seattle for four years, and didn’t visit Spokane until I bought a car. That was an omission I regret! Spokane is totally worth a weekend trip, and it’s a really short, cheap flight (or a much less convenient train ride) away. While weekend transit service levels today aren’t quite at the level of real convenience, weekdays are, and it’s totally doable without a car.

Alternative 1: Downtown, SLU, and Uptown

Note: This is the last (and, mercifully, shortest) in a series of four posts describing the details of Metro’s proposed “Alternative 1″ restructure, which would take effect at the same time as the planned early 2016 opening of Sound Transit’s University Link.  “Alternative 1″ is the more ambitious of Metro’s two U-Link proposals.  Our overview of both proposals, and our short description of the minimum-change “Alternative 2,” is here.  Although these posts are under my byline, they owe a huge amount to the hard work of the entire STB staff, and especially Zach Shaner.

With the major structural changes proposed in Metro’s “Alternative 1″ U-Link restructure for the bus networks in three separate parts of town, it’s easy to overlook a few interesting details outside of the areas most affected.  But Alternative 1 would have some beneficial effects on the network serving downtown and nearby employment centers, which shouldn’t be overlooked.  Fittingly given its astonishing growth, South Lake Union would see some of the biggest benefits, while both Uptown and Downtown would get a new connection or two.

SLU-Wallingford-Green Lake: Route 16.  Metro would change route 16 to use Dexter through SLU rather than Aurora (as well as other major changes described in our Northeast Seattle post).  This would provide a new frequent connection from SLU to the center of Wallingford and East Green Lake, replacing the infrequent connection to the periphery of these areas on current route 26.

routes 64 and 66

Alternative 1 routing for peak-only routes 64 and 66. Map by Metro.

First Hill-SLU-North Seattle (peak only): Routes 64 and 66.  Both routes 64 and 66 would be revised as pictured at left, to serve an entirely new common routing that would create a new connection between SLU and North Seattle.  The routes would meet (and alternate for 10-minute frequency) at Green Lake P&R, and head to SLU via I-5 and the Mercer St exit.  From SLU, they would continue to First Hill on a straight shot using Fairview and Boren Aves.  This routing would work wonderfully in the morning, but might present a few reliability problems in the afternoon as Boren can become congested approaching Olive and Howell Sts.  Nevertheless, the quick connection between SLU and Green Lake P&R is likely worth the occasional delay.  At Green Lake P&R, these routes would also connect with frequent routes 45 (now 48N) and 67, serving many North Seattle neighborhoods. It seems to me, though, that Metro is missing an opportunity to make this connection even more useful by not making the same change to First Hill route 303.

Uptown-SLU-UDistrict-Eastside (peak only): Route 311.  As fully described in our SR-520 post, Route 311 would create a new 10-minute peak-hour, peak-direction connection between Woodinville, Kingsgate, SR-520 transfer stations, UW Station, the U-District, SLU, and Uptown.  While we wonder about speed for Eastside riders,  this will be a wonderfully fast trip to either SLU or Uptown for U-District riders, and will make possible a wide variety of new SLU-Eastside connections with same-stop transfers.

Route 8 Improvements.  The Denny Mess is still there, but the 8 should get a bit better anyway.  First, frequency would improve to 10 minutes weekdays and 15 minutes nights and Sundays.  Second, the route would be revised to terminate in Madison Park, rather than continuing on the long trek through the Central District and Rainier Valley.  The shorter routing should strongly improve reliability westbound, even if eastbound reliability remains a subject best left unspoken.

Route 70 Improvements.  Route 70, now a very heavily used core service through SLU, would gain 10-minute frequency during most of peak hour and begin running nights and Sundays in place of the notoriously overloaded and unreliable route 71/72/73 locals.  This is a change that will likely happen no matter what, as Seattle intended to fund it with Prop 1 money before Metro proposed to fund it through Alternative 1.

No Demons Here

wikimedia

Thank you to everyone who filled out the reader survey. It gave us several insights into how we can improve the site, but mostly it served as morale-boosting encouragement that we’re doing something that people find valuable.

I do want to address one of the more common negative comments, which I would generalize as “stop demonizing me for driving a car and living in a single-family home.”

If any STB staffers actually are demonizing people for driving cars and living in detached housing, then they are stinking hypocrites. Partly because car ownership and single-family residency are far from uncommon in our ranks; but also that the entire premise of Seattle Transit Blog is that the region has done a poor job of prioritizing transit so that dense living and transit dependence are widely appealing options.

More broadly, I believe people respond to incentives and make decisions in accordance with what they value. It’s easy to criticize a giant truck for its carbon footprint, but like anyone raised Catholic I know we are all sinners here. Some of us fly all over the world for leisure, some eat more meat than is even healthy, and some of us burn a little extra gasoline. Who am I to judge which impactful choice gives you the most pleasure?

This empathy does not extend to people who seek to use regulatory power to control the choices of others. Campaigns to ensure that no one in search of compact, inexpensive housing can live in a certain neighborhood is well beyond the exercise of personal freedom. Making thousands of bus riders wait in traffic, or bicyclists risk their lives mixed with cars, just to cheaply store a car in public right-of-way is a remarkable indifference to the well-being of others.

So by all means, if it works for you please keep living in your detached house and driving your car everywhere. But please recognize that policies that discourage or prevent other choices are bad for sustainability and for freedom.

Alternative 1: SR-520 Cross-Lake Service

Note: This is the third in a series of four posts describing the details of Metro’s proposed “Alternative 1″ restructure, which would take effect at the same time as the planned March 2016 opening of Sound Transit’s University Link.  “Alternative 1″ is the more ambitious of Metro’s two U-Link proposals.  Our overview of both proposals, and our short description of the minimum-change “Alternative 2,” is here.  Although these posts are under my byline, they owe a huge amount to the hard work of the entire STB staff, and especially Zach Shaner.

Revised SR-520 routes (others not shown).  Map by Metro.  Note "255X" in legend should read "256."

Revised routes (others not shown) on the Eastside. Map by Metro. Note “255X” in legend should read “256.”

While Alternative 1 brings significant change everywhere it reaches, its effects are most dramatic in the greater SR-520 corridor.  Almost every Metro and Sound Transit route that currently crosses the Evergreen Point Bridge would see some change, and a significant portion of commuters and off-peak riders alike will end up with new routines.

The vision is compelling: to serve a large array of commuter destinations on each side, with enough peak-hour frequency that lots of cross-lake commutes that are painful today become easy.  Most connections will involve same-stop transfers or Link transfers with very short waits.  Given the extremely peak-centric (although bidirectional) nature of cross-lake ridership, focusing first on the peak network makes sense.  But, more than any other part of the restructure, making this vision actually work will require excellent execution by both Metro and Sound Transit.  And the Alternative 1 proposal offers mixed signals in that respect.  Some aspects of it are compelling right now; others may require refinement if the agencies are to maximize SR 520’s potential.  More below the jump.

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Jarrett Walker’s Network Design Class Comes to Seattle

Next month, noted transit planning consultant Jarrett Walker is bringing his firm’s Transit Network Design course to Seattle:

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 forms the basis of that city’s booming contemporary network; on Bellevue’s promising Transit Master Plan; and will work with King County Metro on its incipient long range planning process. 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.

Most recently, Jarrett’s contributions in Houston made national news, where he helped that city radically re-imagine its failing, vestigial transit network. The new network reflects both the land use and travel demand patterns of contemporary Houston, a very multipolar city, along with a modern understanding of how to design transit networks that can compete with driving — offering services that are frequent, direct, and reliable. If you want to go from reading about this stuff to really understanding it, taking this class is the fastest way.

The two-day class will be offered April 16th & 17th. I’ve taken it myself, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Alternative 1: Capitol Hill and First Hill

Note: This is the second in a series of four posts describing the details of Metro’s proposed “Alternative 1″ restructure, which would take effect at the same time as the planned March 2016 opening of Sound Transit’s University Link.  “Alternative 1″ is the more ambitious of Metro’s two U-Link proposals.  Our overview of both proposals, and our short description of the minimum-change “Alternative 2,” is here.  Although these posts are under my byline, they owe a huge amount to the hard work of the entire STB staff, and especially Zach Shaner.

As in Northeast Seattle, Alternative 1 in Capitol Hill and First Hill focuses on creating a grid of very frequent routes, and making transfers between those routes much easier than they are today.  Capitol Hill, with its high density and ridership, would feature several major bus routes with 10-minute service.  Most Capitol Hill routes will allow for easy transfers to U-Link at Capitol Hill Station (“CHS”).  Many other popular trips will involve transfers between two 10-minute bus routes.  To achieve these high frequencies, a number of one-seat bus rides to downtown and the U-District would disappear.

As we’ve noted in other posts, these high frequencies are before improvements funded by Seattle’s Proposition 1, so some frequencies are likely to be even better than indicated by Metro.

Frequent service in Cap Hill

Frequent service in Capitol Hill under Alternative 1. Map by Oran Viriyincy.

 

The Capitol Hill Alternative 1 proposal is also notable for what it does not contain.  Metro decided not to restructure service in the Central District, or in South Seattle corridors (such as the route 36/60 corridor or Rainier Avenue South) served by routes that also serve CHS or UW Station.  We understand that including all of these corridors would have made the scope of the restructure difficult for Metro planning staff to manage, and likely increased the political difficulty of implementing any restructure plan.  Metro has not forgotten about these corridors; we can still expect to see further Central District and south-end restructure proposals in the future.

The following are the major frequent corridors in Alternative 1 south of the Ship Canal; for each one, we describe the service it’s replacing as well.

Route 8: 10 minutes.  Alternative 1 splits current Route 8 into two routes, 8 and 38 (discussed below).  Revised route 8 would get 10-minute frequency, while route 38 would get 15-minute frequency.  The revised 8 would be identical to today from Uptown to Madison Valley, but instead of turning south on MLK it would continue on Madison to Madison Park. Unfortunately, there are no changes to Denny Way, so the 8 would still be unreliable and prone to bunching eastbound in the afternoon.  Westbound, reliability should improve significantly as a result of the split and the improved frequency.

Route 8 would entirely replace the deleted route 11 along Madison, and represent a dramatic frequency improvement in Madison Park. Madison Park and Madison Valley customers traveling downtown would need to transfer to Link at CHS, but would usually have a faster trip than current route 11 despite the transfer.  In exchange, riders in those areas would enjoy new connections to SLU and Uptown.

Route 8 would also replace the east/west portion of route 43.  Customers traveling from John Street to the U-District would need to transfer to Link at CHS or to route 48, which would have 10-minute frequency, at 23rd and John.  Customers traveling from Summit to downtown would need to use route 47, which (Metro has unofficially reassured us) will continue to operate after the restructure through Seattle Prop 1 funding.

Route 48: 10 minutes.  The south half of Route 48 would be unchanged south of the Ship Canal, but receive a welcome and overdue improvement to 10-minute frequency.  (North of the Ship Canal, it would be through-routed with revised route 67 to Roosevelt and Northgate, instead of the current north half of the 48, which would become new route 45.)

Route 48 would replace the north/south part of route 43.  Riders between Montlake and Capitol Hill would transfer to 10-minute route 8 at 23rd and John.  Riders between Montlake and downtown would use route 48 and transfer to Link at UW Station, which would provide a faster trip in almost all cases despite the backtrack and the time spent transferring.  (This fact is a real indictment of current route 43, which west of Broadway often has an average speed slower than walking.)

[Read more…]

Alternative 1: Northeast Seattle

Note: This is the first and longest in a series of four posts describing the details of Metro’s proposed “Alternative 1″ restructure, which would take effect at the same time as the planned March 2016 opening of Sound Transit’s University Link.  “Alternative 1″ is the more ambitious of Metro’s two U-Link proposals.  Our overview of both proposals, and our short description of the minimum-change “Alternative 2,” is here.  Although these posts are under my byline, they owe a huge amount to the hard work of the entire STB staff, particularly Zach Shaner.

Frequent NE Seattle map

Map of frequent NE Seattle routes under Alt 1. Map by Oran Viriyincy.

There’s one essential fact about Alternative 1 in Northeast Seattle: It creates a real 15-minute grid, no excuses.  Overnight, there would be 15-minute or better bus service, all day, to almost every place east of I-5 and north of the ship canal—including neighborhoods far from a Link station, and a huge number of places that have never had 15-minute bus service, ever.  And the service would be in an easy-to-understand grid pattern.  Alternative 1 would establish all of these frequent corridors, spaced 1/2 to 1 mile apart, with newly frequent corridors in blue:

North-South:

  • UW Station-University Way-Ravenna-Roosevelt Way (to Northgate): Route 67 (10 minutes)
    • (additional service south of N 65th St on 15-minute Route 45)
  • Roosevelt Way/15th Ave NE (north of Northgate): Routes 347/348 (15 minutes)
  • 25th Ave NE-Lake City Way: Route 372 (15 minutes)
  • 35th Ave NE: Route 65 (15 minutes)
  • Sand Point Way: Route 75 (15 minutes)

East-West:

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Sunday Open Thread: Our Story. Our Future.

Our neighbors to the north are having a transportation referendum that could significantly expand transit options across all of Metro Vancouver. This video shows why it matters. Vancouver is a model for transit that Seattle should look up to.

Weekend Reading: U-Link Planning Background Information

ulink-route-data-sheet-key

Observant readers may have noticed a section on Metro’s Link Connections project website called “For Transit Geeks”. The title certainly caught my attention. Click on it and you’ll find a wealth of information that Metro provided to its community sounding board members during the alternatives development process: a background report analyzing existing service and market demographics, detailed route-by-route data sheets for all routes in the study area, and a summary of the first phase of public outreach. The materials have been up since early February.

So if you want to be fully prepared for our detailed coverage and discussion of the Alternative 1 restructure plan next week, check out all the documents above. It will be nice to know that, for example, the section containing the Laurelhurst loop on Route 25 attracted 24 boardings going inbound for the entire day, or that feedback from many immigrants found that they “are used to relying on a service network that is less complex and comes more frequently”. Metro’s planning process is more transparent and objective then ever before thanks to its Service Guidelines and by releasing this information, we can all plan along and make informed comments.

Sounders FC 2015 Gets Sounder Service

Sounder trains will once again be providing special service to and from select Sounders Football Club matches this year, as the Sounders defend The Supporters’ Shield.

The complete schedule for special Sounder service is here. For the season opener on Sunday, March 8, against the New England Revolution, the South Sounder will depart Lakewood Station at 3:45 p.m. and arrive at King Street Station at 4:58. The North Sounder will depart Everett Station at 4:15 p.m. and arrive at King Street Station at 5:14. Both trains arrive in time to join the March to the Match, taking off from Occidental Park at 5:30. First kick is at 6:30.

Return Sounder trains depart 35 minutes after the final whistle, giving fans time to catch most of Sound Wave’s post-match jam at the north end of the stadium.

This is the first full season that fans will be able to park at Burien Transit Center, South Renton Park & Ride, or Renton Transit Center, and take the new F Line to Tukwila Sounder Station (for the matches that have Sounder service) or Tukwila International Boulevard (light rail) Station, and get back to these parking lots on the same bus line.

Fewer Tunnel Buses in September

Route 316 coach

Route 316, to leave the tunnel.  Photo by T.C.M.

This morning, Metro sent out a press release discussing the proposed U-Link changes it released last night.  Also in the press release was confirmation of another Link-related rumor that has been swirling for a while.  In September 2015, Sound Transit will start testing Link trains on the U-Link alignment, which will increase the number of Link trains in the tunnel, especially during peak hours, when a train will arrive every six minutes.

To create space for these extra trains, six peak-hour bus routes serving North Seattle, Shoreline, Issaquah, and Sammamish are leaving the tunnel, effective September 26, 2015.  Northbound, routes 76, 77, and 316 will use either Third or Fourth Avenue (Metro has yet to confirm which).  Southbound, routes 216, 218, and 219 will pick up on Second Avenue.

To put it mildly, joint operations has not worked well during afternoon peak since Metro and ST began collecting fares on buses at tunnel stations.  Perhaps there is hope that reducing the number of peak bus operations will make things a little bit smoother.

Metro Presents U-Link Restructures

UW Station rendering

Sound Transit rendering of UW Station area,

UPDATE:  Metro has created a survey about the changes described here.  Please take it once you feel comfortable with the concepts; our stories next week may help.  Metro’s Jeff Switzer says: “The 200+ comments are great, and we’re reading them, but it would help to capture them for tracking and analysis via the survey.”

Yesterday evening, Metro and Sound Transit made public for the first time their proposals for restructuring bus service around Sound Transit’s University Link light-rail extension.  The fully tunneled extension will add two new Link stations: Capitol Hill Station near Broadway and John, and University of Washington Station next to Husky Stadium.  The trip between UW Station and Westlake Station should take just 6-8 minutes.  As of now, U-Link is scheduled to open to the public in March 2016.  A Metro and Sound Transit service change, when the agencies will restructure bus service, will happen at the same time.  (UPDATE: Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray emails to say: “[This post] says U Link opens in March.  Right now we’re still just saying First Quarter.”  This leaves open the possibility that U-Link could open before the restructure takes effect.)

Metro is taking the lead on developing the restructures, because the vast majority of the impact is to Metro’s network.  In a package of information released late yesterday, Metro is offering two alternatives for public comment.  “Alternative 1″ represents a major rethinking of bus service in several areas affected by U-Link, while “Alternative 2″ seeks to keep change to a minimum.  Metro designed both alternatives to be revenue-neutral; neither alternative spends an extra dollar compared to today’s bus network.  Metro has created route maps of both alternatives, which include midday, peak, and Eastside route networks, as well as frequency maps.

One thing that is absolutely critical to understanding this proposal: Metro did not take extra funding the City of Seattle is providing because of Proposition 1 into account in designing either alternative. Prop 1 only provides 6 years of taxing authority, and Metro wants to build a network it can sustain indefinitely. So everything you will read below, in upcoming posts, and in Metro’s materials is purely funded by Metro, without Prop 1.  Seattle’s Prop 1 funds would add to these proposals. The city has not yet decided exactly what to add, but its additions will likely resemble SDOT’s choices to improve the current network.  Bill Bryant of SDOT’s Transit Division told STB’s Zach Shaner by email that the city would need to develop specifics by late summer or early fall.

Broadly speaking, the restructures cover four areas: Northeast Seattle, Capitol Hill, SR-520 bridge service, and to a lesser extent, Downtown Seattle and South Lake Union.  In the coming days, we will have four posts that will go into down-in-the-weeds detail about what Alternative 1 would mean for each of these areas.  For now, we’ll look at the big picture.

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ACTION ALERT: Write in Support of Director’s Rule 6-2015

If you’re a person who cares about improving housing affordability, and reducing legislated car-dependence, stop what you are doing, and send an email to Mike.Podowski@seattle.gov, expressing support for the adoption of DPD’s proposed Directors Rule 6-2015.

This proposed rule change would create a sane definition of “frequent transit” near a proposed development, allowing transit service to be considered frequent if that service is provided by multiple routes with staggered schedules (e.g. Route 66 & 67 in the U-District), or if service is provided, in the same direction, at multiple separate stops within walking distance of the development.

It also clarifies the way frequent service is calculated, to vacate a flawed appeal ruling obtained last year by a West Seattle NIMBY group, which effectively prevented transit from ever being considered frequent if a single headway during the day was 16 minutes or more. Instead, only that hour with the substandard headway will not count towards the twelve hours of frequent service required.

You can be sure that DPD will be snowed under by messages from Lesser-Seattleites seeking to legislate their car ownership and lifestyle preferences onto the rest of us. They need to hear from people who chose to live car-free or car-lite, who want the right to make their own choices about housing, and who want the option to live car-free or car-lite not just in urban centers, but in the streetcar suburbia that comprises most of Seattle’s land mass.

THE DEADLINE FOR COMMENTS IS TODAY, so don’t dawdle.

Maintaining StopInfo: Rider Contributions Matter

This is a guest post.

February marked one year since the launch of OneBusAway’s StopInfo feature, a web-based collection of information about bus stops that was created to help visually-impaired transit riders locate stops. While the basic data about bus stops in the application came from King County Metro, the rest is contributed by transit riders in the community using the OneBusAway iOS app or the website. StopInfo will also be incorporated into the next release of OneBusAway Android.

Shows a person entering information about a bus stop as she stands waiting for the bus.

   A transit rider adds information about a stop to StopInfo while she waits. (Photo belongs to me.)

Over the past year, transit riders have submitted information for over 1000 unique bus stops in the Seattle area, and the numbers are still climbing. But as with any contribution-based project where the information collected is subject to change over time, maintaining a stable level of contributions is crucial toward long-term adoption and success. That’s why my research team at the University of Washington has been focused on learning what motivates people to contribute, and adding in features that support these values and motives. For example, an initial study discovered that sense of community was important to many contributors, and therefore are working on a feature that allows contributors to respond to direct requests for information from other community members.

If you’d like to give your own input on what might matter to you when contributing information, or suggest potential new features for StopInfo, we have created a form for feedback here. It takes about 20 minutes to complete, and also includes a chance to win a $50 gift card of your choice. Feel free to pass it on to other transit riders (near or far) as well!

We’ve appreciated all of the help that Seattle Transit Blog readers have offered us in the past, and want to ensure that this project remains a community-driven effort. As we’ve started to see recently, speaking out in support of better information tools can benefit developers, transit agencies, and Seattle-area riders alike.

This is a guest post.

Update on Metro’s TVM Trial

Ticket machine at 3rd & Pine.

Ticket machine at 3rd & Pine. Illustration SDOT. (The TVM is actually installed elsewhere).

A while ago, King County Metro installed a TVM in the Westlake area, as part of a trial project. I asked Metro for an update, and spokeswoman Metro Rochelle Ogershock kindly sent me this response:

The six-month pilot began in December and will continue through May. At the conclusion of the pilot, we’ll assess elements such as equipment performance, usage, potential benefits to bus schedules and how this TVM might fit with the overall redesign of Third Ave. before deciding whether to continue or expand the program. We also plan to periodically survey users to find out how useful they think the machine is. We estimate about ten percent of riders who board at this stop currently use cash to pay their fare.

Since the TVM was installed three months ago, approximately 400 tickets have been purchased. We have also noticed quite a few incomplete transactions, which suggest riders have been trying the machine out to see how it works. As time goes on, we would expect the ratio of completed transactions to cancelled transactions to increase.

Most people who have been buying tickets from the TVM have been using their credit or debit card to purchase their ticket (69%). This may indicate that the machine is attracting people who don’t have exact change for the bus, which can be a barrier to riding.

Based on some early surveying of usage, it appears that many who catch the bus at that location are not familiar with the machine and how it works. Those people who are familiar with the TVM find it convenient and easy to use.

As Metro and SDOT continue to work on the overall redesign of Third Ave, the use of TVMs will be need to be assessed before we know if or how they might fit in with the longer-term vision. The 30 percent design phase should be completed this fall. Also, the city’s outdoor advertising initiative will potentially introduce new street furniture and transit-supportive features. Once we know how the city proceeds late this year, we will be able to create a comprehensive approach for guiding future transit and pedestrian improvements.

You can look over the Third Ave. Transit Corridor Improvement site for more detail.

So, on the one hand, I’m very glad that Metro and SDOT are attempting to get away from on-board cash payment, especially in downtown Seattle. Metro deserves praise for running this pilot. On the other hand, 400 tickets over three months is about 4-5 tickets per day, which, given the passenger volumes at northbound 3rd & Pine, is pretty underwhelming. I hope Metro manages to find some way to get more purchases from this machine, and that the hitherto-low level of activity isn’t taken as prejudicial to the concept of off-board payment, which is essential to the long-term scalability of buses in downtown Seattle.

One obvious optimization that occurs to me, is to install a second machine at (or move this one to) the northbound RapidRide stop on Pike. Passengers who use the machine at this location will actually get the full benefit of off-board payment, which is the ability to board RapidRide at any door. Doubtless STB commenters will have other ideas.

The Empire Builder Gets Back on Track

Chuck Taylor (Flickr)

Chuck Taylor (Flickr)

On Saturday I was bicycling in Monroe early in the morning and heard a train horn sound and the crossing gates come down. I thought surely it was freight, as the Empire Builder had developed such a reputation for notorious lateness that I wouldn’t have expected it through there until noon. But alas, there it was, on time and humming along adjacent to Hwy 2. Remembering the unexpected dip in gas prices we’ve experienced this year, I thought I’d check in on the train’s on-time performance. Has the Bakken’s bust been the Builder’s boon?

Indeed, it has.  For now at least, it appears that Amtrak has seen a welcome reprieve from the 12-hour delays and terrible headlines of the recent past. In February, the train arrived early into Seattle 17 times, and was late more than 30 minutes only 4 times. Day to day variability is still unacceptably high, of course, but the word ‘success’ when it comes to Amtrak often means ‘doing the best you can within your myriad constraints’, and by that score things are definitely looking up on the Hi-Line.

Empire Builder Recovery