Evolution of Urban Guideways

Sound Transit Link construction along I-5 (Shoreline, (c) author)

While traditional steel rail works well on the surface, Sound Transit and many other transit agencies favor elevated tracks in more semi-urban areas (tunnels in the urban core). To expedite construction of elevated guideways for the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle turned to Germany for trains to run on a prefabricated monorail. Now another German manufacturer is testing a prefabricated dual guideway system with integrated maglev propulsion.

Continue reading “Evolution of Urban Guideways” | 117 comments

Open Thread 27: Metro, Cascades, and Sesame Street

This article is brought to you by the letters A and E, and the number 36. Specifically, Metro is planning improvements to these routes as noted by commentator WL. Metro’s RapidRide status mentions the A and E, and also has the projected opening years for the upcoming RapidRide lines:

  • 2024: G (Madison), J (Eastlake).
  • 2026: I (Renton-Kent-Auburn).
  • 2030: K (Totem Lake-Kirkland-Bellevue-Eastgate), R (Rainier).

For the A, Metro is still assessing the corridor’s needs. For the E, Metro appears to be waiting for SDOT’s Aurora complete street study to be finished. WL also discusses potential speed improvements for the 36 and bike lanes on 15th-Beacon Avenue.

There’s growing support for incremental upgrades to finish Amtrak Cascades‘s long-range plan instead of high-speed rail.

  • Current: 79 mph, Portland-Seattle travel time 3:25 with 4 round trips daily.
  • Next incremental step: 90-110 mph, Portland-Seattle 3:05, 8-16 round trips.
  • Full long-range plan: 110 mph, Portland-Seattle 2:30, 13 round trips.
  • High-speed rail: 240 mph, Portland-Seattle under an hour.

There are also improvements to Seattle-Vancouver BC service. Stephen Fesler at the Urbanist has written about these options. (Note: Some people are now calling 90-110 mph “high speed” instead of “medium speed”, and 240 mph “ultra-high speed” instead of “high speed”. This is just terminology inflation like BRT creep.) The full long-range plan was adopted in 2006 and was estimated to be finished this year, but the state has implemented only a little bit of it. High-speed rail would cost much more, take decades longer to complete, serve fewer cities, and require an entirely new right of way.

I think 110 mph is enough, and so does Troy Serad at Transportation Matters. And now two members of the Sierra Club ($) have written a commentary in the Seattle Times supporting it. They write, “We must choose wisely in 2024. Tell your legislators how you and your children want to use our precious green land. We need Amtrak Cascades upgrades by 2030, not ultra high-speed rail in 2050, for our health and climate.”

For more Sesame Street, there’s the subway song.

This is an open thread.


Open Thread 26: Longfellow Creek

Last week Martin Pagel and I walked the Longfellow Creek Trail. We took RapidRide H to 26th & Roxbury and walked to the Roxhill Park entrance at 28th. Then we went north through the park and Westwood Village and streets and the football stadium and woods. I discovered a beaver dam, which created a pond for ducks and has its own Facebook fan club. A woman on the trail who has lived in the neighborhood for decades said the beaver dam is wonderful.

We left the trail at Genessee Street and stopped to eat near the H’s Andover Street station on the way home. So I missed the northern part of the woods, which has the Dragonfly sculpture, but I’d been there once before. The West Seattle Blog has an article on the creek and its preservation. The trail goes partly along the avenue west of Delridge, which is surprisingly full of recent middle housing.

Next time I’ll start from the northern end near the Andover Street station and go south to the Dragonfly sculpture and beaver dam. Those are the most woodsy and interesting parts of the trail.

Other news below the fold.

Continue reading “Open Thread 26: Longfellow Creek” | 175 comments

Open Thread 25: Vancouver Upzones

British Columbia has adopted robust zoning minimums around transit stations, as presented by Reece Martin of RMTransit. Currently Skytrain stations have a few highrises surrounded immediately by single-family houses. The new provincial law allows:

  • 20 story buildings within 200 meters of stations (657 feet)
  • 12 story buildings within 400 meters (1313 feet, or a quarter mile)
  • 8 story buildings within 800 meters (2624 feet, or a half mile)

Bus exchanges (transit centers) will allow 6-12 stories within 200 meters, and 4-8 within 400 meters, depending on the size of the exchange. There will be no parking minimums within these train or bus walksheds.

“Over time in metro Vancouver, not only will a lot of people be living near stations, but a lot of their destinations will also be relocated to stations where a lot of people are. All this is going to funnel way more people onto TransLink services, especially buses, thanks to the lack of parking minimums and the fact that bus exchanges are included.”

Let’s play “Apply it in Washington”. Come on, Kirkland, it will be fun! Each entry names a potential rail/BRT station, and describes the maximum 20 stories for 2-3 blocks around it, 12 stories for 5 blocks, and 8 stories for 10 blocks. Or for bus-only transit centers, 12 stories within 5 blocks, and 8 stories within 10 blocks. No parking minimum in that area. FAR can be whatever you think is best.

This is an open thread.


Sound Transit mulls feedback on Link fare restructuring

Expanded fare table for ST2 stations based on the current distance-based scheme

Last Thursday, the Sound Transit Executive Committee heard a staff update on a potential restructure of Link fares, likely in 2024 if approved. Link fares haven’t been touched since 2015 and — given openings of new extensions on the horizon — are due for a refresh. Alex wrote about some of his ideas back in 2020, proposing to maintain the current distance-based scheme, but with fares increasing logarithmically rather than linearly.

Most of the Sound Transit staff analysis has come down to weighing a flat fare — as is the case with ST Express — versus retaining the distance-based fare. The full slate of ST2 stations, when open, will total 38 stations, resulting in a whopping 38×38 fare table.

Continue reading “Sound Transit mulls feedback on Link fare restructuring” | 102 comments

Open Thread 23

Link’s “N minutes to next train” displays are off again. An ST email announcement says:

“The most recent update to the Passenger Information Management System (PIMS) increased uncertainty for train arrival times. To avoid giving passengers incorrect information, they have been temporarily turned off in stations until the issue is resolved. The 2-minute proximity alert and “now arriving” announcements will continue to inform passengers when their train will arrive. Passengers who use trip planner apps to view real time information should also be aware that the information being provided is not accurate at this time. The most reliable source of information about 1 Line arrival times is the 1 Line schedule. Sound Transit is working diligently with our contractor to address and resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

This summer ST turned the next-arrival displays on for several weeks to quantify the errors and trace where they’re coming from. Then they went off, and about a month ago they went on again. This last time they’ve been accurate for all my trips, better than before. So I’m sad to see them gone. Have you used the apps or map services recently? Have you found them accurate?

Why aren’t buses timed to meet trains? (Human Transit)

Portland’s “BRT-lite” on Division Street is a success. (Human Transit)

Portland’s southwestbus restructure last August. (Human Transit)

How to read zoning regulations, and what numbers to change to make cities more walkable. (City Beautiful video)

House sizes are getting absurd. (Stewart Hicks video)

(Do you pronounce the “s” in absurd as an s or a z? I use s, but I’ve been hearing z more recently, so maybe it’s standard in some areas?)

This is an open thread.


Fare enforcement is back, somewhat

Updates to the ST Long Range Financial Plan (2017-2046) forecasts a near billion dollar decrease due to reduced fare revenue

When COVID hit in 2020, many transit agencies across the country paused fare collection for public health reasons. Even after fare collection resumed, much of it went unenforced, partly due to the socioeconomic complexities of the post-COVID world, and partly due to equity concerns raised after George Floyd’s murder. Since then, Sound Transit has implemented a Fare Ambassadors program, which is much more education-heavy than previous enforcement schemes.

However, some latent consequences of a non or low-enforcement policy continue to beleaguer transit systems. On the revenue front, diminished farebox recovery has led to revenue shortfalls, and on the rider experience front, an increased preponderance of safety and security issues has been linked to fare evaders.

Starting on November 14th, Sound Transit will once again begin enforcing fares on Link and Sounder, issuing citations for repeat offenses. The Seattle Times has the story ($):

The new system has many more steps. Now, riders receive two warnings. On the third time not paying, they will receive a $50 citation, followed by a $75 citation after the fourth. Only at the fifth time will passengers receive a civil infraction, which, if gone unpaid, could eventually result in a misdemeanor. King County is still in discussions with Sound Transit to process the infractions, said spokesperson Troy Brown, but a contract has not been signed yet.

It remains to be seen whether fare enforcement might propagate more broadly across other modes as well. Although Metro has not formally announced any changes to its fare enforcement policy, I’ve recently observed more operators begin to verbally request payment from fare evaders, a practice that was paused during the pandemic.


Open Thread 22

Hopeful news to counteract your transit blues.

RapidRide J has finished design and will now select a contractor to start construction in 2024. The email announcement didn’t have any specifics on the alignment beyond what’s on the project page. The J will replace route 70 from downtown to Fairview Avenue and Eastlake Avenue to U-District Station.

Sounder needs weekend service, says STB author Collin Reid in The Urbanist. This is part of Collin’s long-term mission to move the Overton window on what’s politically possible for transit. In conversation with the author, he said the focus should be getting the state to build the third track in the BNSF corridor, as the state’s draft Amtrak Cascades long-range plan says, and the Urbanist has also covered.

Lincoln Park ($) will get a pickleball court and maybe a dog-walking park, replacing a decayed tennis court and a grassy meadow. Not all residents approve. Lincoln Park is one of my favorite Seattle parks. It’s right on RapidRide C at Webster Street, and has forest trails on a bluff over the Sound. There’s a path down to a beach and swimming pool. The path goes down parallel to the water line, so the view changes elevation spectacularly as you go down. I don’t mind a pickleball court. I like watching dogs run happily in dog-walking parks, and I’ve always thought the meadow was a bit plain and lonely. But others play frisbee in the meadow, are concerned about wildlife habitat, and fear pickleball noise.

Seattle will pave a dangerous trail-rail intersection ($) on the Burke-Gilman east of 15th Ave NW. Short-line trains will still be able to reach their businesses. This is not the “missing gap” in the trail, which is further west.

San Franciscans say their city is not dying. And another article says downtowns have a chance for another urban renaissance. The second article says superstar cities got complacent and now have to adjust, but they could have a recovery similar to the 1990s. It quotes Seattle mayor Bruce Harrell saying, “”I’m trying to encourage employers to get folks back, develop the energy and synergy that we need. But the fact of the matter is there will never be the good ol’ days where everyone’s downtown working.”

Houston has an inner city of 500,000 people that’s more urban than you might have heard. (CityNerd video)

Freiburg, Germany, has more bikes than cars, and grassy tram corridors. (Not Just Bikes video) Freiburg is a college town of 232,000 in a metro of 660,000 — both like Spokane. It has five tram lines and feeder buses. “The tram network is so vast that 70% of the population live within 500m of a tram stop with a tram every 7–8 minutes. The tram network is very popular as the low fares allow for unlimited transport in the city and surrounding area. Furthermore, any ticket for a concert, sports or other event is also valid for use on public transport.” Yes, small cities can have comprehensive rail transit.

This is an open thread.


Seattle Transportation Priorities

The Seattle Transportation Plan has added new project proposals to the draft and extended the comment period to October 31. This is a 20-year plan. There are 42 new proposals related to transit, sidewalks, freight movement, complete streets, etc. SDOT or a future Move Seattle levy can fund only some of them in the medium term, so it’s asking the public, “Which projects are the highest priority?”

Map of the projects.


Open Thread 21

Sound Transit has a passenger experience survey open until November 22. I’m sure readers will have plenty to say, and all of it will be positive. Respondents can participate in a raffle for a gift card, or apply to a sounding board. There’s a text box at the end for free-form comments. Beware that you can’t go backward to a previous question. If you choose a specific aspect from the list like safety, it asks a lot of safety-related questions, so I assume it does the same for the other aspects. It also goes on to ask about reliability, cleanliness, escalators, disability features, etc. My main feedback was: “Fix the escalators!” and “When an outage occurs, tell passengers on the platform. They’re the last ones to find out.”

Other feedback opportunities:

Why are so many Amtrak trains late? ($)


This is an open thread.


OneBusAway Needs Help


Hello Seattle Transit Community – 

For more than a decade you have loved and supported OneBusAway. As many of you know, Brian Ferris and I created OBA as two PhD students thinking that we could make transit information better in the Seattle area. Since then, the app and backend have expanded to hundreds of thousands of users in multiple cities as well as providing real-time info in Seattle for a very long time. A few years ago, our longtime mentor Alan Borning helped the OneBusAway community create a non-profit called Open Software Transit Foundation to govern the project. However, we are a meagerly funded non-profit that exists primarily based on the blood, sweat and tears of a few dedicated volunteers on our board. 

Recently, we reached a crossroads. We still powerfully believe that having a transit-agency-controlled, open-source-coded way to get your transit information remains a good thing, even in a world with Googles and Transit Apps and contractors helping agencies spend millions to create their own dedicated app.  Yet it is getting harder and harder to exist as a volunteer-only organization and we feel the need to finally hire a dedicated developer who would work for us on the project to keep the apps up-to-date while trying to increase our reach. 

To do this, we need an influx of cash. We have long had an account set up for you to make donations, but have only used it when people asked us. We are now working on revising the apps to make a plea for donations more prominent. We’re looking at a wikimedia version of taking donations. Every once in a while, we make a plea that if you rely on us to get your info, show us the love. 

We know that Seattle Transit Blog was with us from the very beginning (earliest I can find is 2009), encouraging Brian and I back in the day, so we thought we would start here to make our first plea. Think of this as a way for us to gauge if this is going to work. And if you have funding ideas for us, feel free to reach out at info@onebusaway.org

Thanks for your support all these years,


Kari Watkins is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Davis.


Metro Ridership Recovery

The Seattle Times has an analysis of ridership recovery ($) high and low areas since the 2020 pandemic lockdowns. A stop on the 7 now has higher ridership than in 2019, and the Aurora Village transit center has recovered 95% of its ridership.

2021 saw an early recovery in southwest Capitol Hill; parts of downtown; and between SeaTac airport and Burien.

2022 saw a more widespread recovery, expanding more into Capitol Hill; the neighborhoods east of the Northgate Link extension (U-District, Roosevelt, and Northgate stations); Renton; and individual corridors in east Kent, southern Bellevue, and Kirkland-Redmond.

2023 saw a broad recovery in northeast Seattle; east Seattle; southeast Seattle; parts of West Seattle; Kirkland; central Bellevue; Renton; and the whole area between Burien, Federal Way, Kent, and Auburn. Exceptions are northwest Seattle (Ballard), Magnolia, northeast Kent, and east/northeast Bellevue. Youths under 18 got free fares via a state grant.

“The changes give urgency to Metro’s long-term plan to provide more frequent and reliable all-day and weekend service, nudging away from being a system built around commuters. ‘The trends of where people have continued riding makes the case even more clear for some of the things that we might have been thinking about or hearing about from the community before,’ said Katie Chalmers, managing director of service development with Metro.”

I saw the impact of students riding in Bellevue a few weeks ago. A 550 eastbound at 1pm got 10 students going from Bellevue High School and Main Street to the Bellevue Transit Center. A 226 eastbound at 1:39pm got 15 on and 2 off at Interlake High School, and 3 on/off at Highland school. That 226 run had surprisingly high ridership in general, with 18 initial people at Bellevue Transit Center, and 16 getting on/off along the rest of 12th/Bel-Red.

Coming back westbound in the PM peak, ridership seemed normal. The 245 had 13 initial riders and 6 on/offs in the ten blocks between Main Street and NE 10th Street. The B had 15 initial riders and 10 on/offs between 156th and Bellevue TC. The 550 had 6 initial riders from the library, 12+ getting on at the transit center, 6 getting on at NE 4th, 7 on/offs south of there, and 1 on Mercer Island. Congestion slowed down to 30 mph in south Bellevue and on much of I-90 between Bellevue and Mt Baker, including the HOV lanes.

Do you see other ridership patterns in the charts, or have you seen trends in your own experience or in information from Metro? How are ST Express, CT, PT, and ET recovering? I saw several people waiting for ET 7 two Sundays ago, although I’ve only been there a couple times so I can’t say how it’s changed.

(To comment on other topics, Open Thread 20 two articles before this is available.)


Open Thread 20

West Seattle Link (WSLE) has an online open house now, and an in-person one October 25th.

Sounder South (S Line) has a survey on potentially shifting its focus to more off-peak service. This would cancel plans to make trains longer peak hours, and reduce peak frequency from 20 to 30 minutes. Respond by October 29th, or visit one of the popup tables.

The Seattle Transportation Plan draft is taking comments until October 23rd. The Seattle Comprehensive Plan (“One Seattle Plan”) is ongoing.

King County estimates it will need 309,000 new homes over the next 20 years ($), a third of those for people making 30% or less of median income. Seattle will need 112,000; Bellevue 35,000; Federal Way 11,000; Shoreline 13,000; Kenmore 23,000.

Several West Coast cities wring hands ($) over homelessness. They’re asking the Supreme Court to allow them to close encampments even when there’s not enough housing to move them into. “The cities appear to be acknowledging that the well-meaning effort to house all the homeless, for years now a widely espoused goal, isn’t actually possible.” That it would cost too much to provide housing for everyone. Missing from this is that if you sweep homeless off the streets, it doesn’t make them go away, it just move them to other streets. The only way to get them out of public spaces and church lots is to give them housing, put them in jail, shoot them all, or give them a basic income high enough to afford market-rate housing. Putting them in jail would require building 6,000 jail units, and maintenance costs of tens of thousands per person per year. Meanwhile countries poorer than the US, like Japan, manage to house practically everybody.

Which transit riders matter?

Seattle needs more public restrooms. ($)

Busier transit, better transit (RMTransit video)

Evaluating Portland’s multimodal transit network and bike infrastructure (CityNerd video) The bike infrastructure is stagnating.

Adding coffee grounds to concrete ($) strengthens it and lowers carbon emissions.

The high cost of owning a car. ($)

The final part of the East Lake Sammamish Trail in Issaquah opened October 7th. This provides a continuous series of trails from Golden Gardens in Seattle to the Issaquah Community Center, where several mountain trails start.

This is an open thread.


Environmental Impact of Transit Projects such as the West Seattle Link Extension

One of the FTA’s stated goals is to help “metropolitan areas meet national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) by reducing overall vehicle emissions and the pollutants that create smog” and to reduce “fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.” So we just need to build more transit, right? But what about construction-related emissions? The recent Seattle Transportation Plan (p. 188 3-98) draft states that, “Given the transient nature of construction-related emissions and regulatory improvements scheduled to be phased in, construction-related emissions associated with all alternatives would be considered only a minor adverse air quality effect.” However, Sound Transit’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) estimates that the West Seattle Link extension (WSLE) will generate 614,461 tons of carbon. As so often the answer is: It depends!

Continue reading “Environmental Impact of Transit Projects such as the West Seattle Link Extension” | 128 comments

Transportation Project Spending: 2023-2029

“Yeah, that’s great and all, but how are you going to pay for it?” Such is the buzz of a rhetorical torpedo which has sunk a thousand good ideas. The problem with this question isn’t its deeper truth—we live in a world of limited time and resources—but in how selectively it is deployed. Obstructionist deficit hawks fire it to block millions spent on transit and public health, yet silently allow policymakers to allocate trillions towards highways and war. It is not a question of whether we can undertake massive projects—especially in the state of Washington—but which to prioritize.

In contrast to my home state of Illinois, Washington shines as a beacon of fiscal stability: it consistently maintains healthy financial reserves, meticulously plans budgets according to comprehensive economic forecasts, and steadfastly controls its assumption of debts. These far-seeing practices have insulated the state from global economic instability, engendering confidence among bond holders and credit rating agencies alike. The state appears to consistently ask and thoroughly answer the question: “how are you going to pay for that?”

With wise frugality guiding the flow of money though Olympia, we can move on from asking “how are you going to pay for that,” to a deeper question: “why are you going to pay for that?” With increased wildfires threatening the state’s economy, the legislative mandate to address climate change, and the state having explicitly acknowledged transportation represents Washington’s largest source of emissions, how would a wise administration distribute funds?

Funding data below the fold:

Continue reading “Transportation Project Spending: 2023-2029” | 98 comments