More on Mukilteo: Blogging from Sounder

Martin’s let you know that Mukilteo Station is now open on Sounder North, but I actually went!

First, though, I have a sad story about bus transfers in Seattle. I nearly missed the entire thing because my bus passed its timepoint early, but fortunately, as some of you know, I live where I have many options – so another route came along soon enough.

I caught a Sound Transit bus (the 510) to Everett, and then an Everett Transit bus (23) out to Mukilteo. There was already quite a crowd at the new station – I took some pictures that I can post later on.

On the 510, I met a seasoned train rider who had come to be on the first train that stopped at Mukilteo. He wasn’t the only one who mentioned it – several on the bus from Everett to Mukilteo were Clinton-Seattle commuters who are looking forward to using the train instead of driving or bussing. I also learned that while the ferry schedule lists a 20 minute trip from Clinton to Mukilteo, the actual time taken is often only some 15 minutes – especially during the calmer waters of the summer months – so the transfer to the train in the morning isn’t as bad as we thought.

At the new station, several tents were set up by local transit agencies, and a few food stands were serving free clam chowder (thanks Ivar’s!) and other goodies. There were a few hundred people, and several speakers: the Snohomish County Executive, the mayor of Mukilteo, Deanna Dawson (an Edmonds city councilmember), Senator Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island), and Greg Nickels.

I’m blogging from the train right now – we’ve just gotten south of Edmonds, and it sounds like the train picked up 350 in Everett and more than another 300 in Mukilteo. Sounder South tops out at a bit over 1000 people per trip with seven cars – we have five cars, and they’re all packed! This won’t be normal ridership, of course, this is game service being offered for free, but it’s nice to see people interested!

Eugene BRT: Rosy Outlook and Harsh Reality

Eugene’s BRT service is great! Check out the adorable video, complete with butterflies and whistling music. Hmm, though – they sure seem to make an effort to be anti-rail – note the line at the end: “There and back, with no clickety-clack.”

Apparently avoiding “clickety-clack” (which doesn’t exist on modern rail systems anyway) wasn’t such a great idea after all: fuel prices are forcing the Lane Transit District board to cut service – possibly dramatically, with some routes potentially going from 30 minute headways to 1 hour headways, some routes being completely eliminated, and increases in fares. Their base fare is already going up from $1.25 to $1.50 on July 1st, and that doesn’t eliminate the $2-3 million shortfall in their $36 million budget.

So, next time you ask yourself “When was the last time a bus route disappeared?” – here’s your answer, and it’s only going to get worse. All these areas have hydroelectric power with stable prices, too – I learned on a trip to Grand Coulee Dam last year, for example, that they have never increased their rates, and don’t plan to. MAX won’t be going anywhere, and nor will Link.

More Ridership Data

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Here are a few different ways to look at the data (again click image for higher resolution images).

The first graph is daily ridership per mile. High ridership per mile correlates with high density and all day activity along the whole corridor. As you can see the center city routes are the highest, followed by major arterial routes and then commuter routes. These are the routes that you get the most bang for your buck if you build rail. Some of these routes are so short that a streetcar would be much more appropriate than light rail. Funny thing is that many of these routes can’t have rail because they are too hilly.

I only did the top 20 routes because I had to manually calculate the length of the routes. If anyone wants to figure out the length of the remaining routes and e-mail them to me I’ll redo the graph.

Ridership Per Mile

The next graph is a little more complex. It shows annual ridership per annual service hour. As you can see the routes are all over the place. I think that it is a combination of lots of factors and can’t be attributed to any one thing. A high ranking could mean:

– it has lots of demand and fewer than average service hours
– it doesn’t have a lot waisted time doing deadheads
– it doesn’t get caught in congestion (thus speeding it up)

Any other ideas?

Annual Ridership Per Annual Service Hour

Do Seattlites Really Not Know How To Ride A Bus?

This blogger, kj at RajeKaje thinks that Seattlites don’t know how to ride the bus. His problem is on a crowded bus, standing passengers don’t always file to the back.

Apologies for the rant below: I’ve found this true, I think it’s mildly a protest about more people boarding the already-crowded-bus, but this is no where near worst problem. The worst problem for me is the people wasting time figuring out how to pay when they get on or off (whatever the pay time may be). I don’t have the problem on my commuter route very often but I do have the problem when riding around town.

A friend once put it this way: “When it my stop comes, I’m ready like I’m a parashooter over Normandy; I am ready to jump when the read light goes on. Pass out or correct change and standing near the door.” Oh, if only all bus riders were like that. Maybe we need a union!

This has happened more often recently, but we have more and more noobies riding the bus. I welcome them, and after a while, I’m sure they’ll share the same feelings I have. But in the mean time, I get just a little peeved.

What’s your most annoying trait of rush-hour transit riders?

Unity on the Viaduct

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The holy trinity (Sims, Nickels, Gregoire) have a joint op-ed in the Times today on the “multidimensional” problem of replacing the Viaduct.

Mike @ CIS sees tell-tale signs of squishiness, and I tend to agree. But they do at least seem to be softening up the public for the idea that there might not be a new waterfront freeway in Seattle’s future.

For folks like me who are obsessed with this stuff, the idea of going to an Embarcadero-style surface boulevard makes so much sense, we can tend to forget how much of a shock it might be to the general public when our elected leaders announce that they’re going to tear down a highway and replace it with… nothing.

Well, nothing you can see anyway. Sure, gas is at $4/gallon, yes, Americans are starting to drive less and think about alternatives. But it’s going to take some real public education before they announce the plan later this year.

Bus to Marymoor Park

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The concept of having busses travel to recreational locations has been covered elsewhere, so I’ll be brief.

I heard about Marymoor’s concert in the park series, and found the King County web site. It’s a very green-oriented site, encouraging all kinds of carbon-footprint reduction and recycling. There are even compostable beer cups.

But I noticed despite asking us to bike there or drive a hybrid (they’ll still charge you $5 for parking, but you can park closer), they didn’t encourage me to take the bus or provide any bus information.

I guess that’s because the bus doesn’t go there. Sure, it’ll leave there in the morning on weekdays and return there in the evening. So if you live in the park and work downtown you’re ok. But if you live in Seattle and want to visit and not stay the night you’re apparently out of luck.

Rail, Not Buses

One of the common questions we get from commenters is “why are you so sure that rail is the right solution?” and “why are you so enamored with rail?” Both these questions are often followed with “buses are cheaper”. I want to explain the main reasons why high capacity rail transit gets so many more riders, is so much more effective at moving people and why it is in the long run cheaper than bus transit. I want to focus on the argument between “bus rapid transit” (BRT) and light rail transit (LRT), so I’m going to ignore the elephant in the room: most bus rapid transit does not run in its own right of way, thus adding the largest knock against bus transit: buses get stuck in traffic.

Rail transit is more permanent than bus transit. As famous conservative rail transit supporter Paul Weyrich points out, one of the main arguments for buses is their “flexibility”. But this flexibility is the source of one of the largest draw-backs of bus transit: inconsistency. That a bus is “flexible” means that the routes are also flexible, and riders aren’t sure that a bus line will remain in place into the future. If someone is making a decision about where to live for the foreseeable future, say they’re buying a house, they won’t make that choice based on a bus line that may not be there in the future.

I’ve forwarded this argument before, and people have said “when was the last time a bus route was removed in Seattle?” When I was in high school I took the 43 to my running start classes at Seattle Central Community College. We moved from Capitol Hill to Wallingford, and I could take the 43 straight from Wallingford to Broadway. Then, in the middle of the year, Metro split the line: the 43 no longer went from Downtown through Capitol Hill to Ballard: most runs ended in the U District, where the 44 route to Ballard began. I can think of a couple other routes that did this same thing, the old 7 has been split into the 7 and the 49, the old 65 now stops in the U-District. So it happens; service can stop or shift dramatically. That makes people far less inclined to change their life around the bus.

The permanence of rails also leads to more development than buses. For the same reason as above, new development near rail transit tends to be higher density than development near bus transit: if you are building a large project, part of your plan has to be transportation. That’s the reason Microsoft settled next to SR 520, one of the reasons downtown Bellevue is so much more developed than, say, downtown Everett, and one of the reasons South Lake Union is currently attracting so much development (this is the streetcar and I-5). Imagine if I-405 weren’t permanent; would Bellevue be experiencing so much growth?

Rail is much more attractive to the non-dependent rider, and thus get more riders. As Carless in Seattle has pointed out:

[A]mong bus-based [High Capacity Transit] users, more than 60% of US bus riders do not own a car. But of rail-based HCT, nearly 60% of subway, streetcar and light rail users DO own a car. (Those numbers include Manhattan, where less than 20% of people own a car, vastly depressing the number of rail users in the rest of the US who could own a car but choose mass transit).

Seattle’s highest ridership bus routes go through the most transit dependent areas. Even with those routes, ridership is no where near the ridership of a rail line. Each Link station will get as many riders as most bus routes, and some will have far more boardings than even those routes with the most riders – and these estimates do not take into account development spurred by the system. University of Washington station, for example, is supposed to get some 27,000 daily riders in 2020. Recent light rail construction in the US has almost universally has almost universally exceeded pre-construction estimates, with only one exception (VTA, in the South Bay).

Stepping on a train is enough to see why the difference exists. Trains have a smoother ride, more comfortable seats, and more space. Boarding is also far simpler – instead of a dozen people fumbling with fares, there are several doors, and payment is done on the platform where it doesn’t affect operation. Anyone who’s ever been on a standing-room-only bus can attest to the discomfort. A forty-five minute 545 ride standing up in Friday evening traffic is enough to convince people to drive to work. Here’s photographic evidence of the difference.

The most expensive part of building high-capacity, reliable transit is the right of way – with very similar cost between BRT and LRT. Even Ted Van Dyk, the most adamant BRT supporter and light rail opponent, admits that BRT costs at most 30% less than LRT to build. For University Link, for example, 95% of the costs are for tunneling and stations. A BRT system that would serve the same corridor would need also to build its own right-of-way, and would cost just as much as light rail. And since BRT ridership projections tend to be more than 30% less than LRT in the same corridors, even if the Ted Van Dyks of the world were right, LRT would still be cheaper per passenger to build than comparable BRT.

Rail is cheaper to operate per passenger than buses are. Labor is over 50% of King County Metro’s costs. Each bus needs an operator, but an articulated bus only carries 80 at maximum, compared to 800 for a Link LRT train. And with diesel already over $5 a gallon, the gap in operations expenses will continue to grow. Even in bus systems with little to no right-of-way costs, total costs for BRT are higher per passenger mile than LRT. Metro takes a .9% sales tax share now, and moves about 365,000 people per day. A fully built out LRT package from Prop. 1 would have moved that many people by 2030, admittedly a long time, but would have cost just .15% to operate. The capital costs for rail are temporary expenses – Metro will keep spending .9% to move that many people for the next hundred years, but Sound Transit would build three Prop. 1 packages with the same money in that time. Considering about two-thirds of the Sound Transit district is King County, Metro would have to move 1,400,000 million people per day, nearly the entire population of King County right now, to be as cost effective in the long run.

Absolutely rail is expensive and takes longer to build than most bus service. But the investment pays off over time in lower maintenance, higher ridership, and more dense development around stations – which can allow for less density pressures away from rail lines. High-quality transit service ultimately makes a region more affordable, more sustainable, and in some ways more fun. That’s why we at this blog prefer rail over buses.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

David Kurtz finds a neat TIME magazine article from 1947 that notes, “in half a century of blissful self-delusion [mankind] has failed to perceive that the family automobile is the most monstrous engine of all.”

Things haven’t changed much.

14 Miles of Track Completed

Sound Transit has completed 14 miles of track from Tukwila International Boulevard to Westlake Station today. There was a ceremony at the Link Operations and Maintenance to mark the occasion. I’ll post the photos I took tonight when I get home, but in the mean time you can check this link for some details and video, and here’s the official press release.
Five board members, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, King County Council Member Julia Patterson, King County Council Member Larry Phillips, King County Council Member Dow Constantine, and King County Executive Ron Sims. took part in “hammering the golden spike” signifying the completion. They took turns offering speeches, and I think from their speeches it’s possible to glean their support for an expansion ballot measure this year.

Greg Nickels is the ST board chair, and he went first, giving a speech about how great the progress has been, but how just as this project is not finished, the road to expansion of Sound Transit isn’t either. Nickels is a vocal supporter of going to the ballot this year, and his speech showed that as well.
Ron Sims was next, and he had no speech prepared, and instead grabbed Link director Ahmad Fazel and sort of put him on the spot to give a speech. It was funny, and while it’s refreshing to Ron Sims still have a sense of humor, it also shows how little engaged he is in Link that he couldn’t be bothered to give a speech.

Julia Patterson gave an impassioned speech about how much Puget Sound residents are going to want light rail when it gets up and running. The speech was great, I’ve never head Patterson talk but she’s got a definite knack for engaging the listener with fresh phrases, and not tired cliches. However, I wasn’t completely happy with the subtext of her message, which I felt was that Sound Transit may want to wait until 2010 to go to ballot.
Larry Phillips I’ve heard talk before, and he has a natural inclination for straight and clear talk. He made it clear to me that wanted Sound Transit back on the ballot this year.

Dow Constantine was last, and he strikes me as a bit of an intellectual, and spoke about transportation and land use planning, and sustainability. He reminded me a lot of Ben talking.

So of the five that showed up to the ceremony, it looked like two were definitely for going this year, one was leaning against, one made no indication either way, and one looked completely unengaged.
Ok so on to my other thoughts:

  • The trains coming out of Beacon Hill into SODO are going to have a great view of downtown, First Hill (which is getting a little skyline of it’s own) and the stadiums.
  • The Kinkisharyo cars that link will be running make an old-school “clang-clang” to notify pedestrians (and cars I guess). Kind of like a horn on a car, but some how much cooler.

Our Bus Subway

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I use Seattle’s bus tunnel like a rail subway system. Any time during the day I can walk down an escallator, hop on a bus, walk back up, and I’m across town. I can get from downtown to King Station for asian food of all varaities, and make it back by the end of my lunch hour. Because it’s free, because it’s easy, because it’s fast, and because service is frequent it really beats dealing with surface street busses.

I’m excited about how much faster real rail will be next year, as the bottleneck of people getting on and off will be reduced. But I’m afraid of keeping all of the functionality we have with busses. Will I have to stop somewhere and pay? Will they run along with busses in the tunnel, or will the busses be moved to the street? What will be the initial headway? Will it stay open late?

If anyone out there knows the answers to these questions, I’d love to hear them. If not, tell me how/if you use the tunnel.

Capitol Hill Station Art Project Getting Cancelled?

Via Daryn blog, I find that Mike Ross, the artist who was chosen to work on the art in Capitol Hill Station, is concerned his project might be canceled due to public outcry over the use of decommissioned fighter jets in the installation:

————— Forwarded message —————
From: Mike Ross>
Date: May 22, 2008 11:04 AM
Subject: Sculpture may be canceled — please help
To: Mike Ross>

Hey folks. As some of you know, I was selected to make a sculpture for Seattle’s new subway station in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. I proposed a sort of stylistic sequel to Big Rig Jig, using a pair of fighter jets. The jets would be deconstructed into pieces, painted pink and orange, and spread out along organically-inspired curves above the station platform between the ceiling beams (they have high ceilings in this station). The exact design is not yet finished. But you can see mock-ups of some early variations here:

The project is in now in danger of being canceled, and I need your help.

Several people have written letters to Seattle’s transit agency, Sound Transit, complaining that the piece is offensive, a glorification of war, and culturally insensitive to neighborhood residents. The area’s 43rd-District Democrats have even passed a resolution officially condemning the sculpture:…

Unfortunately, the only people who have been moved to write letters are those who object to the sculpture, and the transit agency is seriously considering canceling the project. It has been demoted from “approved” to “not yet approved,” and the rest of the station development is now proceeding without the sculpture, until we can
demonstrate significant community support.

I am hoping that some of you might know people in or near Capitol Hill, Seattle, who can see the potential of the sculpture, and who disagree with the idea that it is offensive or a glorification of war. It may use military technology, but it is not just a pair of jets — it’s jets, chopped up, painted pink, and made to look like two birds
kissing. There is a peaceful message there, and I believe the artwork will ultimately be accepted by its detractors as an object and process which references many of their own views. But before that can happen, the transit agency needs to know that there are people in the community who support the sculpture.

If you know anyone who might wish to write a letter or email (emails are just as good), they should send it to the following two people:
Joni Earl, CEO
Sound Transit
401 S. Jackson St.
Seattle, WA 98104

Barbara Luecke, STart Program Manager
Sound Transit
401 S. Jackson St.
Seattle, WA 98104

Thanks for any help you can offer. Please feel free to forward this email.

Mike Ross

The 43rd Democrats protested the piece for being culturally insensitive? That’s embarrassing. I can understand thinking a local artist should do the piece, though I’ve seen a lot of local art and I’m not always impressed. Knowing these people are out to sabotage the art, and put something in that inspires less conversation makes me more attracted to the art than I was before. I think using the warplanes as art pays homage to Seattle’s former reputation as the Jet City, though it’s fair for recent migrants to Seattle to not appreciate this. I also think two pink fighter jets kissing is a nice play on “swords to ploughshares“. I also think it’s ironic that people who claim to fight for tolerance and a range of ideas oppose something that falls outside their way of thinking.

I like it, and I’ve written emails to those mentioned above. What do you think? Is this really culturally insensitive or an over reaction?

San Diego

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I just got back from a weekend in San Diego, and I have to say, it was really spectacular. I’d been there once as a little kid, but not since. Balboa Park is one of the best city parks I’ve ever seen:


Oh, and I caught sight of the Sprinter, San Diego’s DMU commuter rail:


One nice thing about an area like that — not unlike Seattle — is that you have a relatively well-developed coastline, with a rail right-of-way running right down it. And since it’s prime coastal beach real estate, the population density around the little downs is actually fairly high. Add to this the super-nice weather that makes it easy to bike or walk to the station, and you have the makings of a pretty decent transit system.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that SoCal is still very auto-dependent, but it’s a good start.

Photos by Flickr users chrisclark and ericharmatz used under a Creative Commons license.

Non-Transit Related: Prefab Apartments

These pre-fab apartments on Westlake could be really interesting. The article focuses on the affordibility aspect of the units, which cost far less to build than traditional buildings. I wrote a little about them late last year, and I was concerned because the designs I saw at the time were hideous. But the proposed design (warning! huge pdf) is actually attractive, and especially attractive relative to the standard building being thrown up around here. And if this can be built to be affordable to “work-force” renters (those earning between 80~120% of the city’s median income), then I would love to see more of these being built when compared to this areas average beige and green building being thrown up.

What do you think about prefab apartments? Would you live in these?

2007 Ridership Breakdown

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

King County Metro 2007 Ridership

Here is a breakdown for 2007 average weekday ridership (click on the picture for a higher quality image). I have an excel file with lots of data in it and I have just started to play around with some of the data. This graph is pretty self explanatory. Per my last post I think that Metro should give the top 10 (or more if there is money) routes BRT treatments for routes along major arterial/corridors (48,7,5,etc) and enhanced service as well as ITS, ATIS, and choke point improvements for neighborhood routes (2,3,4,49,43,etc). Also you will see that RapidRide is taking over a few of the routes that currently have some of the highest ridership (a notable except is the Bellevue/Redmond route).

54 – West Seattle RR
358 – Aurora RR
174 – Pacific Highway South RR (It will start where LINK ends and go south)
15/18 – Ballard RR
230 – Bellevue/Redmond RR

Looking at the ridership numbers makes it obvious Metro didn’t just take its highest ridership routes when it decided to implement RR. In addition to politics I think a major objective of Metro was to serve corridors that will not see HCT for a while and try to create a “backbone” that covers as much area as possible and makes sense economically.

You can also see that LINK serves many of the same corridors that the highest ridership routes do. It will be interesting to see how LINK effects ridership on those routes.

One last point. The highest ridership route for the Eastside is the 550 at 19th place. The highest none UW/CBD to Eastside route is the 230 at 29th place. Pretty pitiful. This just goes to show how much wealth and sprawl kill transit.