Another ORCA Purchase Option


On Friday Sound Transit announced that they would join the other partner agencies in offering a fixed sales points for special-rate ORCA cards. On the last Wednesday of each month, beginning tomorrow, a booth in Union Station (the building that looms over International District/Chinatown) will offer these from 11-1:30pm.

Although the network of ORCA Card outlets is now fairly extensive, the set of staffed locations that can dispense discounted cards to seniors, youth, and the disabled remains tiny, and with limited hours. Youth cards are available by mail, but the others require showing up in person to one of the partner agency offices during regular business hours.

Last year the consortium created the Orca-on-the-go program to visit major events and selected groups and issue cards on the spot. All of the agencies paid for development, and Metro, Kitsap Transit, and ST purchased the equipment with the understanding that they would cover the whole region. The ORCA website indicates that groups may still call or email schedule these visits. I couldn’t get detailed statistics on this program in time for publication, but ST teams alone have generated about $2,000 in sales so far in limited deployments. Metro has visited 138 locations over the past 12 months.

While more visibility is always good, it’s hard to imagine a smaller improvement in availability. The Metro office is two blocks away, if less obvious, and has much more extensive hours. The best thing to say about the new service is that it’s a low-cost way to add capacity at the busiest time at that Metro office, when the lines become oppressive. Let’s hope there’s decent signage at the Metro office tomorrow.

Link Excuse of the Week(s): Plate of Nations

GTC_OWTBack for the fourth year, the MLK Business Association is running it’s Plate of Nations event.  Similar to last year’s event all participating restaurants will offer $15 and 25$ shareable entrees.  Grab a passport, get your stamps, and qualify for fun drawings.  Proceeds will go to the Rainier Valley Food Bank.

Thai Palms, Joy Palace, Bananas Grill, St. Dames, Rainier BBQ, Cafe Ibex, Olympic Express and Original Philly’s all return, with new additions being Huarachitos, Huong Duong, and Othello Wok & Teriyaki.

Not all of these restaurants are as exotic as the theme suggests, but they’re all inexpensive. Bananas Grill and St. Dames are both former LEOTWs, and Rainier BBQ was on the Travel Channel, Huarachitos was recently written up in the Stranger, and Joy Palace is my family’s go to Dim Sum spot in the Valley.


Sometime in the next couple of weeks (the event runs until April 5th) jump on Link and check them out.

Wednesday: Greenwood Sidewalk and Bus Stop Improvement Open House

bike lane behind bus bulb

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

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

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

SDOT and Metro Improve Queen Anne Trolleybus Routes

SPU Layover

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Open Thread: East Link Animation

The whole line after Mercer Island, for your viewing pleasure:

East Link Animation
[KGVID width="640" height="360" downloadlink="true"][/KGVID]

John Fox on KC Prop 1

johnfoxOn Monday, the Seattle City Council postponed a vote on a resolution to endorse King County Proposition 1, at the behest of John Fox, Coordinator of the Seattle Displacement Coalition. Mr. Fox wants to put conditions on what Seattle’s share of Proposition 1 revenues can be used for in the endorsement resolution. In particular, he has been urging folks to ask the City Council to mandate that the city’s portion of Proposition 1 revenue be used for “bus hours only”.

Mr. Fox graciously agreed to an interview regarding this proposal.

He clarified that he has no problem with Proposition 1 revenues being used for bus capital improvement projects (e.g. bus lanes and signal priority), sidewalks, road maintenance, and bridge maintenance, “as long as they are related to bus service”. This is largely in keeping with his stance supporting sidewalks, road maintenance, and bridge maintenance when he vocally opposed Seattle Proposition 1 in 2011, although at that time, he didn’t insist it be related to bus service.

Fox’s drop-dead condition is that “Not one dime of Seattle’s portion of Proposition 1 revenue can be allowed to be spent on rail.” Nobody had even brought up the idea of spending any Proposition 1 money on rail projects until Fox raised the issue.

But he added an additional word that could wreak havoc on bus service in Seattle: “neighborhood”, as in “neighborhood bus service”. He doesn’t want Proposition 1 money to go to downtown bus routes, unless the neighborhoods ask for their share of money to go there. He believes that “Downtown businesses should do more to subsidize downtown bus service.” The problem with this approach is that most of the overcrowded bus routes happen to serve downtown, and desperately need service hours added.

What would King County Proposition 1 advocates gain from the City Council meeting his conditions? He says if he doesn’t get the language he wants in the city council resolution “I would be much more likely to actively campaign against Proposition 1.” He couldn’t promise that the Seattle Displacement Coalition would endorse Proposition 1 even if the City Council accepted the language he is requesting. According to Fox, SDC is very strongly opposed to regressive taxes, but its membership understands that the funding mechanisms of Proposition 1 are the only options allowed by the state to save bus service.

Various pro-Prop-1 groups have bent over backwards to minimize the regressiveness of Proposition 1. These efforts included a successful campaign to institute a low-income fare for Metro bus service, and a rebate for low-income car tab payers. Low-income bus riders will end up saving a lot more in bus fare than they would be paying in a car tab or the 0.1% additional sales tax. Failure of Proposition 1 would mean the county would almost certainly have to ditch the low-income fare program for lack of funding. A constant refrain among the members of the Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee members was that the low-income fare program should not be funded by cutting bus service.

So, it comes down to this: Is John Fox willing to burn the whole house down to prevent even an outside chance that one penny will be spent on rail?

Springfield’s Subway System is Better Than Ours

At the very least, this map provides innovative suggestions for Sound Transit station names. N 130th St. is boring, but “Queasy Street” or “Fast Food Boulevard” is unforgettable.


Ballot Statement Bad Math

[Note: The precise text of this post has changed since original publication thanks to my inept version management. - Martin]

King County voters will soon be receiving their ballots for the April 22 special election, featuring King County Proposition 1, which is needed to stave off a 17% cut in Metro bus service. The Pro and Con statements for the Voters’ Guide are now available online.

The Con statement contains this math-challenged whopper:

Proposed new taxes would burden low-income and transit-dependent individuals, through highly regressive impacts, while unjustly skyrocketing taxes on motorists from $40 for every vehicle over two years to $600 each over 10 years: an unacceptable 1,500% increase.

First, let’s fill in the blanks. The county car tab that is about to expire was $20 per year, for two years. The car tab in Proposition 1 is $60 per year, for ten years. Unmentioned in the Con statement is the fact that the county will rebate $20 off the tab for low-income drivers. Don’t be confused into thinking the car tab is $600 per year, as the Con statement might lead you to believe.

Next, one can only get close to a 1500% increase by comparing ten years of car tabs to two. This is a completely meaningless and dishonest calculation. The one-time increase in the car tab is $40 (200%), or $20 (100%) for low-income drivers.  After the first year, the car tabs stay the same. Don’t let the deceptively-phrased Con statement lead you to believe the county car tab will continue to go up each year.

Additionally, the County Council, acting as the King County Transportation District Board, will have the power to discontinue the 0.1% sales tax increase and car tab at any time, should it find a more progressive funding source (and hopefully the state legislature will someday allow that to happen).

Here is another whopper, from the rebuttal to the statement For:

End bus subsidies for wealthy riders at the expense of the transit dependent.

This statement got it wrong in so many ways. Every transit-dependent resident of King County stands to benefit from staving off the 17% bus service cuts all over the county. Nothing about this proposition is being done at the expense of the bus-dependent. Nor will anybody’s bus service be improved by voting down Proposition 1. Fares are being increased for those who can afford to pay, while low-income riders will have a new, lower fare, but only if Proposition 1 passes and provides the funding for the low-income fare program.

Attempts to reach the un-named oppostion statement writers at their advertised website were blocked by a password request.

Staying in Touch with STB

This is a brief reminder that there are many ways to get your fix of Seattle Transit Blog:

  • Our Facebook and Twitter feeds are updated regularly, not just with our blog posts, but also links to other interesting, relevant stories we find on the web
  • Our RSS feed contains full-length posts of everything you can read here
  • Our Weekly Digest Email contains links and summaries of every post on the blog.
  • Our Flickr pool contains great photos and is open to anyone

As always, if you’re interested in writing for the blog, don’t hesitate to reach out and submit a guest post.

Also – there seems to be an issue with threaded comments. We’re looking into it.  Thanks for your patience.

News Roundup: Past All the Hype

For Posterity

Our Changing Waterfront

  • King County Metro is looking for undergraduate and graduate interns. Go here and search for “intern”.
  • Wonder why the 3rd and Pike bus stop is closing for construction? This is why.
  • Danny Westneat: A longtime tenant discovers her landlord was shielding her from the modern economy. ($)
  • In 24 out of the 25 largest metro areas the median income household can no longer afford the average new car.
  • 15 different methods to protect bicycle facilities including their pros/cons and cost.
  • New ‘bikeology‘ curriculum for 6-12 graders fills common gap in bicycle education for junior high and high school age teens.
  • Charles Montgomery describes his concept of the ‘Happy City’ in Vancouver, BC.
  • Food desert‘ study for Delridge neighborhood empowers those who are affected to develop implementable solutions.
  • New housing units far outstrips demolished housing units 8 to 1 citywide (2.6 to 1 in Single Family zones, 5 to 1 in Lowrise zones, 15 to 1 Downtown and 18 to 1 in Neighborhood Commercial zones).
  • 2,000 units in four towers proposed on former Seattle Times site in SLU. Parking ratio of 0.85 is low, but not that low given the large number of Amazonians that will likely work a stones throw away.
  • Parking study for West Seattle development with all-day frequent bus service but no on-site parking confirms there there is plenty of on-street parking available.
  • Council unanimously passes ridesharing compromise legislation.
  • 80% of NYC’s taxi rides could have been shared.
  • Senate Transportation Committee co-chairs no longer see eye to eye.
  • Philly speed senors trigger red light. I’m curious to see if it works.
  • Win a free Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB)!
  • Video of one shared Muni/Google bus stop in SF. My first impression, I didn’t realize so many people used the Google buses.

This is an open thread.

Beers for Buses in Bellevue and Redmond

1014402_247924892047178_1694148925_nFor those of us who live or work on the Eastside, it can be hard to get to after work events in Seattle. Luckily, Fuse Washington will be hosting two Move King County Now fundraiser in Bellevue and Redmond on March 24th and April 7th. The April 22nd special election is fast approaching and your financial contribution and/or boots on the ground are key to passing Proposition 1. Maintaining existing bus service is critical and if Proposition 1 fails the Eastside will see significant and painful cuts in transit service. I encourage STB readers to go and bring a friend or coworker along. On a personal note, I’d like to add that the Bellevue Brewing Company’s beer and food makes up for its harder to reach location. Cheers!

Beers for buses – Bellevue (226 and 249)

Monday, March 24, from 5pm–7pm

Bellevue Brewing Company

1820 130th Ave. NE, Bellevue, WA 98005

Beers for buses – Redmond (B-Line, 545, and all other Redmond TC routes)

Monday, April 7th, from 5pm-7pm

Redmond’s Bar & Grill.

7979 Leary Way NE, Redmond WA, 98052

How Germans Manage Housing Prices

Eamonn Fingleton, Forbes:

German house prices in 2012 represented a 10 percent decrease in real terms compared to thirty years ago. That is a particularly astounding performance compared to the UK, where real prices rose by more than 230 percent in the same period…

A key to the story is that German municipal authorities consistently increase housing supply by releasing land for development on a regular basis. The ultimate driver is a  central government policy of providing financial support to municipalities based on an up-to-date and accurate count of the number of residents in each area.

The German system moreover is deliberately structured to encourage renting rather than owning. Tenants enjoy strong rights and, provided they pay their rent, are virtually immune from eviction and even from significant rent increases.

Meanwhile demand for owner occupation is curbed by German regulation. German banks, for instance, are rarely permitted to lend more than 80 percent of the value of a property, thus a would-be home buyer first needs to accumulate a deposit of at least 20 percent. To cap it all, ownership of a home is subject to a serious consumption tax, while landlords are encouraged by favorable tax treatment to maximize the availability of rental properties. (emphasis added)

While housing prices in Germany have increased somewhat as of late as investors flee to the relative safety of the German market, the overall trend is downward. To be sure, there’s a complex array of policies referenced in the excerpt above that work in concert to keep housing affordable.   If you look around America, you can find bits and pieces of these  policies in action.  Texas has many of the same restrictions on lending as the Germans, for example.

If we were in Texas, we’d simply build outward from the city: cul-de-sacs as far as the eye could see would keep housing affordable. But we Cascadians are hemmed in by geography and a crippled by a love of the natural environment. So we must build up, instead of out. Still, the same general rules apply: sufficiently increase supply and housing prices will fall.

Metro Cuts Panel Tomorrow

Tomorrow I’ll be part of Metro cuts panel sponsored by Commute Seattle, along with County CM Larry Phillips and Sharebuilder President Dan Greenshields. It’ll start at noon at the 4th floor conference room of the 4th & Madison Building downtown. You can RSVP here.

The focus will be on how the success or failure of the revenue package will affect employers.

Q4 2013 Sound Transit Quarterly Report

2013Q4-BoardingsMvgAvg-ALLAnother quarter, another strong showing of growth, with Link in the double digits. The system as whole was up 7%. ST Express boardings rose 4%, Sounder 5%, Central Link 14%, and Tacoma Link was down 4%.  Year to date (this being the last quarter) the system as whole was up 8%. ST Express boardings were up 8%, Sounder 8%, Central Link 11%, and Tacoma Link was down 2%.

While overall ST Express weekday ridership was up 5%, Snohomish county routes took a hit.  This could be due to the 510/512/513 restructure, although CT adding 30 additional commuter trips a day likely had a large effect.  While the 566 saw it’s service hours cut, riders moved the 560 and new 567 so overall ridership in the 167 corridor was up.  In general East King and Pierce County routes had the highest gains.  Cost per boarding was $6.70, up 6.3% from Q4 2012.

Sounder experienced strong weekday growth at 7% but lower event ridership on the weekends brought down the overall ridership to 5%.  Sounder’s cost per boarding dropped to $12.34, down 12.7% from Q4 2012.

Central Link had 29,360 boardings per weekday in its customary winter lull. Cost per boarding was $5.44, down 20.4% from Q4 2012.

Quarterly Ridership Reports have a ton of useful metrics not covered in the regular monthly releases, and are well worth reading through.  Later on I will post some analysis of Cost per Boarding.

My charts below the fold.

[Read more...]

Transit Driver Appreciation Day Tomorrow!

The driver of Coach 7065 waits at a red light.  Photo by WhenEliseSings.

The driver of Metro coach 7065 waits at a red light, safely behind the crosswalk. Photo by WhenEliseSings.

Tomorrow is Transit Driver Appreciation Day.  As always, we are very thankful for the hard work of the professional drivers who get us around the area safely and courteously, shrugging off traffic, rude and occasionally combative passengers, lousy and unpredictable hours, and repetitive stress injury.

If you have a bus (or train) driver you particularly like, please let his or her employer know!  Your commendations do make it through to both management and the driver.  When I drove for King County Metro, I really enjoyed getting them.

King County Metro
Feedback form, email, or call (206) 553-3000.

Community Transit
Feedback form, email, or call (425) 353-7433.

Pierce Transit
Feedback form (down the page), or call (253) 581-8000 (press “1″).

Sound Transit
Routes numbered in the 510s or 530s: Contact Community Transit.
Routes numbered in the 520s, 540s, or 550s, and Central Link: Contact King County Metro.
Routes numbered 560 or higher: Contact Pierce Transit.
Sounder and Tacoma Link: Email, or call (888) 889-6368.

OneBusAway for the Visually Impaired


Locating and reaching an unfamiliar bus stop may not be a great source of anxiety for most transit riders, especially when making use of a visual navigation tool with GPS. However, for people with visual impairments, orientation and mobility can be a challenge, particularly when navigating unfamiliar areas. Technologies such as Blinput and multi-sensors for the white cane aim to reduce certain challenges involved with navigation for the blind, yet they are often standalone tools developed particularly for the blind and low-vision community.

So how can popular navigation apps such as Google Maps or OneBusAway achieve equal access for this population? Can they also improve orientation and mobility for blind and low-vision transit riders? These are questions that my research group at the University of Washington seeks to answer as we continue to improve the reliability and usability of the Seattle-born transit app OneBusAway. Recently, we launched a new feature called StopInfo in the iPhone version of the app that provides information about the location and physical landmarks of bus stops in Puget Sound, largely motivated by helping visually-impaired transit riders locate stops.

A screenshot of StopInfo in the OneBusAway iPhone appStopInfo (left) is accessible through Apple’s native screen reader, VoiceOver, and provides information such as stop position from an intersection, whether there is a bus shelter, what type of sign is present and how far from the curb, as well as what other physical objects (such as trash cans and benches) are around. For visually-impaired pedestrians using a white cane, advance knowledge of what landmarks are present at a certain bus stop can help them know what to feel for, while positional information can let them know approximately how far they should expect to travel from the intersection. But this information is not only useful to the visually-impaired. Information such as how well-lit the stop is might help people travel more safely and confidently at night. Displaying whether a stop is temporarily or permanently closed can also be useful for all people using the app.

One of of the more novel features of StopInfo is how the information itself is collected. While the starting information comes from King County Metro’s database, anyone using OneBusAway on an iPhone can add data that Metro doesn’t track. In particular, we hope that Seattle Transit Blog readers will help out – when you are looking at the arrival information for a stop on the OneBusAway iPhone app, tap the information symbol and you’ll land on the StopInfo page. There you can view, add ,or verify information. Logging in via a Google, Facebook, or Twitter account is only required to add free-form comments, but is helpful for the research group to see who is participating.

We hope to soon expand to other platforms for which OneBusAway is available, including Android and Windows Phone. We are currently in the preliminary stage of our study, and are working with visually-impaired participants to evaluate usefulness and design. If results look promising, we are looking to make this a permanent addition to the app, and make it available for other regions covered by OneBusAway.

For more information on the research study and how you can become involved, check out the announcement on OneBusAway’s blog, read about it on the StopInfo page itself, or contact us by e-mail.

Sunday Open Thread: Taking Public Transit to the Trails

Taking Public Transit to the Trails from Laura J. Lukitsch on Vimeo.

Institutional Investors Buying Single Family Homes

Sanjay Bhatt, The Seattle Times:

Major investors — defined as buyers who acquired 10 or more homes in a year ­— overall made at least 7 percent of all single-family home purchases in the Seattle metro area in 2013, RealtyTrac estimates. They bought about 3,100 single-family homes, five times more than the previous year.

Ever since the financial crisis in 2008, there’s been talk that institutional investors would swoop in and rent out single-family homes. With large investors still eager for something that will generate a good return, it looks like it’s finally happening.

Conventional wisdom says that the math of single-family rentals doesn’t work out on a mass scale: detached suburban housing is just too spread out to efficiently oversee the way one might run an apartment building.  But that may be changing. Cheap, wi-fi-enabled security cameras, along with errand apps like TaskRabbit, may enable remote landlording on a larger scale. Consumer preference may be shifting as well, as we move from an ownership society to a sharing economy.

If the concept does take off, it could revolutionize not just housing, but adjacent enterprises like public education as well. Want to get your kid into a good suburban school district? You don’t need to be able to put 20% down on a 30-year-fixed; you’ll just need first month, last month, and a security deposit.

Major Bus Stop Closure

Bus stop closures usually aren’t postworthy, but 3rd & Pine is a pretty big deal:

The bus stop northbound on 3rd Av just north of Pine St will be closed at all times from Monday, March 17 through Sunday, May 18, due to construction…

There will be no temporary stop. Board or exit affected buses at the previous stop northbound on 3rd Av just south of Union St, or at their next regular stop:

Don’t be surprised by this!

Bringing Frequent Service to South King County


Map by Oran (click to enlarge)

Map by Oran (click to enlarge)

Low-density suburbs present a unique challenge for designing an effective bus network. For reasons of geometry, it’s cost-prohibitive to run a direct bus between each suburban corridor and the center city, or to build a grid of ultra-frequent routes running along each arterial. Instead, suburban bus networks are generally organized on the “trunk-feeder” system. A high-capacity route runs between the center city and a suburban transit center, and a series of shorter and less frequent routes run between the transit center and the rest of the suburban area.

Metro has long used this principle to guide its service planning in Kent and Renton. Route 150 provides frequent all-day trunk service between the Kent Transit Center (TC) and downtown Seattle, via the Southcenter Mall (also an important connection point), while Route 101 acts as the trunk between Renton TC and downtown. A pile of other routes connect to one or more of these transit centers, including the 105, 148, 156, 164, 166, 168, 169, 180, and 183. In addition, Metro operates a handful of park and rides (P&Rs) that are also useful as connection points, most notably the South Renton P&R.

When Central Link opened in 2009, it instantly created a new super-high-capacity trunk line, running very close to the 101 and 150. Many people expected Metro to propose an extensive reorganization of Kent and Renton service, moving connection points from the existing transit centers to the new light rail stations. While Metro did reorganize some services, it made few changes in Kent and Renton. To this day, the 101 and 150 each have a long freeway-running segment that largely parallels Central Link.

Riders in Kent and Renton have been resistant to change; they like having a quick one-seat ride to downtown. However, the current network leaves much to be desired. Route 101 only comes every half hour, and it makes a time-consuming detour to South Renton P&R on its way to Renton TC. Route 150 does run every 15 minutes, but it spends 15 minutes slogging through Southcenter, a path that would take 5 minutes to drive. These deviations represent a significant time sink for the riders who aren’t using them.

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