Zombie route diversions

excerpted from route 107 map from Metro website

King County Metro has been and continues to be shutting down an unprecedentedly long list of routes while the virus sets its own long-term calendar, with new cases worldwide topping 300K daily.

And yet, like a bad zombie TV series, my silly bus stop in Georgetown that I rarely see anyone else use, persists. Yes, I’m talking about the loop-de-loop in the middle of route 107 that adds several minutes to other riders’ trips, almost certainly costing more ridership than it adds. Some of the business establishments that stop benefits are shuttered.

This expensive pimple of a bus stop is one of several throughout the Metro and ST system map that turn a relatively straight route into a milk run providing time-consuming off-arterial curbside service, some at facilities that are closed for the time being.

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Metro scales back North Link plans

Metro map of the revised network covering areas near Northgate and Roosevelt
The areas arguably worst affected by Metro’s latest changes. Map by Metro.

In January, we reported with some excitement on Metro’s initial plans to restructure bus service around the three new Link stations opening in fall 2021. Since then, a combination of COVID-19-driven resource constraints and some mixed public feedback has dampened Metro’s ambitions. The agency’s latest restructure proposal largely maintains the first proposal’s approach of replacing downtown bus commutes with more frequent Link connections, but cancels many of the proposed changes to the all-day network that we praised in January. The resulting network is a missed opportunity for non-commuter trips.

The largest change is the elimination of the proposed route 61, which would have created a slew of new east-west connections to Northgate. Other headline changes include the retention of current, slower routing on routes 45 and 62 that will slow Link connections to Greenwood and Wallingford; the retention of a truncated version of today’s route 26; and retention of current routing on route 67 that will prevent easy transfers at U-District Station.

If voters approve the planned measure to partially renew Seattle Transportation Benefit District funding, it is conceivable that the City of Seattle will be able to fund a restoration of the proposed route 61, although neither Metro nor the city is yet in a position to address how STBD funding would be used in that level of detail.

Metro is still accepting public input through a survey. While some of the changes in this proposal are driven by resource constraints, others were driven by public feedback. If you have feedback of your own, please provide it.

Details about the changes around each of the three stations are after the jump. (UPDATE: Metro reached out to correct an error in the original post on Route 44 routing in the U-District and to clarify a couple of other items. See corrections/clarifications below.)

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Buses and Reconnect West Seattle

King County Metro RapidRide 2013 New Flyer DE60LFR 6082

SDOT’s plan for replacing 4,800 cars per hour that used the West Seattle Bridge at peak includes 1,280 more people per hour riding buses in the peak direction. Once Covid has receded to the point that most people are returning to work, how feasible is this?

That’s a little under 11 full articulated buses over what was running the bridge in 2019, or a 42% increase in people. The July 2020 draft SDOT framework comes up with a bunch of ideas:

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News roundup:the difference

Pierce County ferries @ Steilacoom ferry terminal
Pierce County Ferries (LB Bryce/Flickr)

This is an open thread.


Editorial: Don’t let Mercer Island impede regional progress

The 77th Ave SE configuration as outlined in the 2017 SEPA Addendum

[Update: the original post incorrectly implied that the Mercer Island city council meeting will be on 9/16, when it in fact will be on Tuesday 9/15. This has been fixed.]

It’s hard to believe that more than ten years have passed since Bellevue and Sound Transit began their long slog over East Link routing. It took rounds of council meetings, open houses, endless studies, and competing community activism to get to a compromise that both agencies continue to champion today.

Although neither side got exactly what they wanted, both the City of Bellevue and Sound Transit managed to escape the saga free of litigation directly between the two parties. This accomplishment is precisely what makes Mercer Island’s recent actions particularly frustrating. Bellevue — arguably responsible for higher decision-making impact — managed to abstain from habitual litigiousness; yet this act is somehow beneath Mercer Island.

Readers may recall that the 2017 Settlement Agreement was only the result of first a suit from Mercer Island and then a subsequent counter-suit from Sound Transit. Sadly, the city council’s recent announcement shows that the agreement was merely a short reprieve from what looks to be a lengthy legal contest. Most disappointing is the impact that this will potentially have on the rest of East Link’s beneficiaries.

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Near-term decisions offer clues to ST3 realignment

A contract with WSDOT to build a BRT station in Kirkland will remain paused until at least 2021.

On Thursday, two Sound Transit committees heard staff recommendations for proceeding with paused actions this year. The seven project actions staff are recommending come to just $76 million, though they relate to some $7 billion of larger projects. Along the way, there were tantalizing clues to staff intentions about the larger realignment process to come next summer, perhaps including a phased approach to some rail and BRT projects.

When the pandemic and recession hit in March, it immediately imperiled Sound Transit’s already finely balanced financial plan. The most current projections show the agency running up against constitutional debt limits by 2028 unless spending plans are adjusted or new revenue sources found. The Board decided early on to proceed with projects that are already in active construction, and would consider later how to ‘realign’ timelines and priorities for those further in the future. A comprehensive realignment of future projects is now scheduled for July 2021.

Between the ongoing projects where construction is continuing, and the future projects whose fate will be decided next year, are a set of mostly smaller project actions that were briefly paused in March. Staff are now recommending to move some of these forward, and to delay others until the broader realignment is decided. More details by mode after the jump.

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Collapse is a Choice

Washington State Capitol March 2020

Feigned helplessness is one of the least attractive qualities in a state or local politician. Dunking on Olympia, or on President Trump, is the cheapest kind of talk when policy tools exist in Washington to address our most serious problems. Not all of our current crises are solvable with money, but it could blunt the worst effects, and nothing is stopping us except political will at the state level.

Of course, it’s much easier to blame Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell for failing to rescue state and local governments. This blame is richly deserved: the federal government can borrow at very low interest rates, in a currency it can print in theoretically infinite quantities.

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The ferries and Reconnect West Seattle


Souls Waiting to Board the West Seattle Water Taxi 27 Sept 2019

SDOT’s plan for replacing 4,800 cars per hour that used the West Seattle Bridge at peak includes 950 more people per hour using waterborne transit. Once Covid has receded to the point that most people are returning to work, how feasible is this?

The draft SDOT framework requires “options to increase capacity for waterborne transit.” The regular West Seattle Water Taxi boat (Doc Maynard) holds 270 passengers. It generally takes 35-40 minutes to do a round trip, meaning the best case capacity is about 400 people per hour in one direction.

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Pierce Transit cuts Sunday frequency to save bus network

While we lament the loss of Seattle’s frequent bus network (which has largely been in place since the opening of University Link in 2016), Pierce Transit is in a much more dire situation. Due to a smaller sales tax base, and the fact that Pierce Transit currently only levies a 0.6% sales tax (with measures to increase the levy in 2011 and 2012 both failing), transit was already sparse before the pandemic. 30-minute headways would be considered “frequent service” in Pierce County, with only routes 1 and 2 (in addition to better-funded Sound Transit service) ever exceeding that, and frequencies rarely better than hourly on weekends. A recent restructure of service had improved matters, and effectively brought 30-minute headways to as many places as possible given the limited resources, without having to reduce weekend service. Additionally, it extended the span of service on most routes to 10 PM. So while frequency of these routes weren’t all that good, it would still probably run late enough to get you home.

Then the pandemic happened, and this threw a wrench in the slowly-improving prospects for a usable transit network in Pierce County. In a series of changes in April and May, Pierce Transit reduced service to match ridership demand. As a result, service would generally run on weekdays would run as often as it would on Saturdays, but would run as late into the evening as it normally does on weekdays (with some exceptions). With Pierce Transit planning for the future, Pierce Transit is faced with pressure to restore service while facing financial troubles in the future. With Pierce Transit’s September 2020 service change schedules out, we see their solution: cut frequency on Sundays to bring back mostly normal service on weekdays and Saturdays.

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News roundup: important information

West Seattle Water Taxi Pulling Away From Seattle in the 2019-09-27 Sunset

This is an open thread.


When public health tactics collide on the bus

While riding a Metro bus last week, I finally witnessed an operator using his authority to get a rider who refused to wear a mask off the bus. The rider boarded the bus, talking to himself loudly, and sat in the back. The operator played the canned message about needing to wear a mask. He waited a few seconds, then got on the loudspeaker to let everyone know they need to wear a mask while on the bus. The guy in the back didn’t budge, but kept talking loudly to himself. (I realize there may be a medical condition involved here.)

The operator proceeded a couple stops. He then walked toward the back, and told the rider he needed to put on a mask, or get off the bus, and also to please be quiet and stop disturbing the rest of the riders.

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Getting more savings from Link feeder buses

KC Metro route 49 bus / photo by Paul Kimo McGregor

Sound Transit recently released its proposed 2021 Service Plan, in which it prepared for the pandemic to continue through the duration of 2021, by continuing the suspension of ST Express routes 541, 544, and 567 indefinitely, continuing to have pared-down service on most other routes, and making 15-minute off-peak headway on Link Light Rail the plan for the foreseeable future.

There are a couple of categories of service savings, related to Link connections that have not been fully utilized by the collective transit agencies.

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Sound Transit proposed 2021 Service Implementation Plan, upcoming cuts

Northgate Station / photo by Bruce Engelhardt

Sound Transit has put out its proposed 2021 Service Implementation Plan, with a user-friendly online synopsis, and is taking public input through Thursday, September 24. You can offer your input through an online survey (with eight language choices), through remote participation in a public hearing scheduled for 11 am on September 24, or by submitting written comments through September 24.

Sound Transit continues to suffer revenue losses due to COVID-19, with more cuts taking effect from September 19-21. But there is good news in the proposed Service Plan: the opening of Northgate Link in September 2021, adding new stations in the U-District (NE 43rd St & Brooklyn Ave NE), the Roosevelt District (NE 65th St & Roosevelt Ave NE), and the Station at what is currently Northgate Mall, along with a pedestrian bridge over I-5 to North Seattle College.

The Plan document buries the lede regarding Link Light Rail’s September 19 service change:

  • September 2020: On weekdays, trains operate every 8 minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hours, every 15 minutes during the early morning, midday and early evening, and every 30 minutes late at night. On weekends, service operates every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes late night.
  • March 2021 Proposal: Maintain September 2020 service levels.
  • September 2021 Proposal: Service to Northgate begins, using the same frequencies implemented in September 2020, but with four-car trains instead of three-car trains.

Sounder service will continue at pandemic levels through 2021, to wit:

  • Sounder North will continue to have just two trips in each direction, weekdays only.
  • Sounder South will add two more peak-direction trips back in September, in each direction. The Plan would maintain that level of service through 2021. Weekdays only.

Several Sound Transit Express routes will be directly impacted by the proposed 2021 Service Plan. While the Plan does not impact the upcoming service changes, those changes for routes impacted by the Plan are detailed in the Plan’s online presentation.

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A bus to Mt. Rainier

Old Desolate and Rainier

Last month the National Park Service started asking what to do about crowds at Mount Rainier National Park overwhelming parking and road space. More parking would be very expensive and undesirable for the atmosphere of the park. Anywhere parking and road space are at a premium, transit is an obvious answer. But what would be involved in making service good enough that people would actually use it?

The obvious terminus for any Mt. Rainier bus service is the Tacoma Dome. It is the closest major regional transit hub and also has ample surplus parking on weekends. There are excellent, frequent bus connections at all times and light rail coming in the (early?) 2030s. And luckily, with the exception of Sunrise, all the accessible attractions are essentially on a linear path.

The bad news is that even the closest major hub is a long, long way to Mt. Rainier.

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Snohomish County asks for community ideas on housing types near light rail

Earlier concept for Mariner Station (Makers/Snohomish County)

Snohomish County is continuing its virtual public engagement for its “Light Rail Communities” project, which will be used to decide on placemaking and zoning around two (or potentially three) light rail stations between Lynnwood and Everett. Previous rounds had solicited feedback on station locations and multimodal access to those locations. This fifth round, open until September 25, is an online “housing workshop” dedicated solely to residential housing types around the station subareas.

While the cities of Lynnwood and Everett have adopted bold plans for upzoning around their planned light rail stations, going as far as to allow for high-rise construction, the unincorporated land between them is somewhat of a blank slate. It has long been home to low-slung apartment complexes built to take advantage of laxer county regulations, but they have since given way to larger, multi-story complexes along Interstate 5 and Ash Way in recent years. While these developments are denser, they remain very car-oriented, with large garages at street level and parking lots separating buildings with little in the way of gathering spaces.

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News Roundup: Plateauing

An Everett Transit Proterra Catalyst BE40 at Everett Station During Nighttime

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Two Axes to Swing for Metro in September

An ax. Public domain image.

Metro has been signaling for a long time that major service cuts were coming. Between the impending expiration of Seattle STBD funding (with only very partial replacement) and the major loss of sales tax revenue caused by COVID-19, the funding picture is drastically different than it was a year ago. Now we know just how major those cuts will be. On Saturday, September 19, Metro’s network will regress to its worst state in years.

Very little is spared. We lose most of the additional frequency on the Seattle network that STBD funded. Much night and weekend service that became frequent in recent years won’t be frequent anymore. Express service suspended during the pandemic because of lower commute ridership isn’t coming back for the time being. Outside Seattle, service restructures built on increased frequency (including those in Kirkland and Kent) are going to lose some of that frequency. There are so many cuts, affecting so much of the network, that we have little choice but to present them in chart form. But the big picture is that local service is largely back to 2013 levels, and peak-hour commuters will have to use that reduced local service instead of the expresses they were used to before the pandemic.

This is not a formula for continuing Seattle’s transit mode share growth, reducing carbon emissions, or improving mobility for people without cars. The reduced network makes both commute and off-work trips slower and wait times longer. More people are going to drive and park, especially those traveling nights and weekends. As traffic volume recovers, expect worse traffic than Seattle has seen before. The city is going to have a tough time meeting the mode share goals it set for the West Seattle bridge closure. Even once the pandemic is over, it is going to be a sustained and difficult political effort to restore Seattle bus service to where it was at the end of 2019, let alone to make any of the further improvements Metro imagined in Metro Connects..

If there is any good news, it is that Metro wisely has sought to spare those routes that have carried the most essential workers during the pandemic. Workhorse routes that have seen only modest drops in ridership, mostly in the south end, are almost totally unaffected.

In addition to the cuts, there is a significant restructure of service in and around Kent. Normally we would give this much more coverage, as it will improve service for Kent-Auburn riders (even after the cuts) and make some east-west trips faster and simpler. But since the cuts are so sweeping and will make this post so long, we’ll refer riders in Kent to our earlier post for details. That post remains accurate except for COVID-related cuts detailed below.

Two charts listing out all the cuts are below the jump: one for all-day service and one for peak-hour service.

Continue reading “Two Axes to Swing for Metro in September” | 111 comments