New Metro Bus Tracker

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Check it out here. I like the interface: clean, simple and optimized for mobile devices. I’ve been using this one for a few months, and it’s okay, but takes forever to scroll down to to the stop you want. I think organizing the data primarily by bus, rather than by stop, makes more sense, at least for my use.

I like the intuitive appeal of “I’m at this intersection, what buses are coming my way?” But in practice, there are just too many intersections for the interface design. And most of the time you’re probably really only interested in one or two known buses.


Link and Metro Meetings

King County Metro is starting the process of planning South End service around Link ahead of whe n Light Rail opens to the airport. Sound Transit and King County Metro are looking for meeting members to help plan the process. I know Sims was talking about using McCellan/Mt Baker station as a transit hub for buses through that area, and I would bet that something similar is being planned for Tukwila.
The requirements for members:

The agencies are looking for sounding board members who:

  • Ride the bus frequently;
  • Live or work in an area that will be served by light rail; or
  • Would like to represent a specific community, ethnic group, or set of special-interest bus riders – such as students, night-shift workers, and people who are elderly or have disabilities.

Should be good. If you live in the Rainer Valley, Tukwila or Beacon Hill and ride the bus often, I’m sure they’d love to have you.

Bus Lanes on Elliott

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

If you’ve been wondering what’s up with the new bus-only lanes on Elliot Ave W, This week’s Getting There column has some answers.

I’ve also noticed that SDOT is paving the area of the street where the bus stops with concrete, instead of asphalt. This is being done at Metro’s request, they tell me.

Honolulu Light Rail

Honolulu’s Mayor, Mufi Hanneman, has been pushing for light rail through the area for sometime. But recently attacks have intensified by an anti-rail group, whose website is appropriately named Stop Rail Now. What does Stop Rail Now want? Light Rail to get to the ballot.

Crazy, right?

Unlike many Mainland communities, Honolulu’s transit tax hike was never put to a ballot vote.

“Virtually every other city that has done a rail system since World War II has done a ballot question,” said council member Charles Djou, who opposes the project. “It is highly unusual that Honolulu is moving forward with this rail system without a vote.

“If we don’t put this issue on the ballot, this issue will never be resolved. This project will always be controversial.”

I do hope Honolulu builds the line, and I hope they get it to the airport. But that’s not why I’ve written this post. Here’s my question: are we better off or worse off that we have to vote on light rail?

Without a ballot measure, it would likely be impossible to get a light rail expansion through this year, because enough of the politicians in region are against it. But we likely could have got Prop. 1 through last year without a hitch. Still, there could always be a sense of illegitimacy about light rail that was not voted on. So what do you think?

Sound Transit Tests Link and Buses Sharing Tunnel

Last Friday night, Sound Transit tested Link Light Rail sharing the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel with buses.  Buses and Link will share the tunnel until Link headways and/or extensions eventually re-align bus service to the surface.  Here’s how the test is described in this week’s Sound Transit CEO Corner:

Last Friday evening, after the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel was closed for the weekend, we successfully ran light rail trains and buses together in the tunnel.

This was a significant achievement — the first time ever that trains and buses ran together in the tunnel. Friday’s test was necessary to make sure the tunnel’s signal system works properly, allowing trains and buses to use the tunnel at the same time. The good news is the test showed that the system works very well and trains and buses can both safely occupy the tunnel.

Two light rail trains and nine buses were used in Friday’s test, which took about 90 minutes.

$7 Gasoline in 2010

That’s not a peak oil alarmist or a tree-hugging car-hater. That’s CIBC World Markets, trying to figure out the impacts on the economy.

Hence we must narrow our focus on those Americans where a European style shift in driving habits is currently feasible. People can’t simply abandon their cars if they have no other means of getting around, particularly in terms of getting work. There must be at least a public transport alternative.

As it turns out, roughly 57 million American households that own a vehicle have reasonable access to public transi4, slightly more than half of the number of households who own a vehicle (Chart 11). And applying the 80% vehicle ownership rate seen in Europe to this target group suggests a 10 million reduction in the number of registered vehicles in the US.

Where will this decline come from? The focus is on those who can least afford to operate a car when gasoline costs $7 per gallon. No less than 80% of low income Americans (or roughly 24 million households) with less than $25,000 annual income own a car. With gasoline bills surging to record highs, they will be the first to come off the road.

And presumably, he’s not even considering people that will accept a smaller or more expensive property to move closer to transit.

Meanwhile, in Olympia, increased funding for transit isn’t on the table — not even for buses that could help every jurisdiction in the state. Sound Transit 2, which could be the largest public transit investment in the state’s history, is on a knife edge.

And WSDOT is still talking ($) about $2.6 billion in highway improvements in Skagit County. (hat tip: Wesley Kirkman) The world has changed, but the machine keeps rolling along.

As 78% of real estate agents report clients showing “greater interest in city living”, we have NIMBY opposition to density, denunciation of “social engineering,” and opposition to the one technology — rail — that could support that density, while supporting bus technology subject to the same price pressures as cars.

What reality are these people living in?

Bradford Plummer at TNR says it best:

To put things in perspective, only about 5 percent of Americans used public transit to commute as of 2005, compared with about 50 percent in Japan and Europe, where pricey gas has long been a reality. It’s not clear whether the United States could scale up that quickly by, say, 2012, though it sounds like, among other things, it would be a good idea to get started now.

Get mad.

Via Sullivan.

Inside the Box

On SLU Streetcar

I’ve been thinking about what we can do about really crowded routes like the 15 and 545, where the buses are already articulated and are still absolutely packed, and literally can’t accept any more riders. The headways are already as short as is practicable with a bus in traffic, and it’s not clear that there’s the money to put more buses on anyway.

What if we tore out seats? Yeah, sitting down is more comfortable, but isn’t more standing room preferable to standing with someone’s elbow in your gut? Preferable to not being able to get on it all? Best of all, the cost of something like this is a rounding error compared to the cost of some other capacity increases.

I’ve ridden buses with this configuration in Montreal and Marseille, although I couldn’t find any pictures.

The buses I ride typically aren’t quite as crowded, so what do you guys think? Fewer seats on a selected set of buses?

Tacoma Link photo by Seatrans Flickr Pool contributor Oranviri.

Fanboy Poll Complete

Sound Transit’s unscientific opinion-gathering operation is complete. As we’ve remarked before, these things skew pretty heavily towards those who are heavily invested in transit expansion, or strongly opposed to it. After all, there were 5,661 web responses, and our best estimate is that our humble blog alone has about 1,000-1,500 readers!

Still, there are a few interesting trends, and it’s interesting to see where transit-fan opinion lies on the various questions.

Slide-by-slide commentary:

  • The difference between opinion gathered on the Web and over the phone (slide 10) is easily explainable when you look at the age distribution of each (slide 7). It’s clear that transit advocacy, quite understandably, is largest among the young. With Obama running and boosting youth turnout, that’s a pretty good argument for going to the ballot in 2008.
  • The distribution of voters (slide 8) is somewhat worrisome. The large number of responses from “North King” (Seattle and Shoreline), far out of proportion to its population, shows that enthusiasm in some of the other areas is a little lukewarm.
  • Slides 12-14: everyone’s in favor of the type of service most likely to help them.
  • Slides 15 and 17, a regional breakdown of plan preference, tell an interesting story. The 12-year plan does really well in North and East King, which after all will get pretty much the same benefit in less time. The other counties really want the 20-year plan, because it’s the only way light rail gets anywhere near them.
  • Slide 18. Everybody wants 2008.

I don’t think the others contain much in the way of useful information.

Conclusions? I think it’s pretty clear they should go to the ballot in 2008, as we’ve stated before. Beyond that, things are pretty muddled. I think ST needs to do some scientific polling of the various plans, and also wargame the various lines of attack opponents will use, and figure out both their effectiveness and the effectiveness of the counterarguments.

Basically, the 20-year plan can be attacked as too big and too long, while the 12-year plan can be attacked as Seattle-centric. It’s hard to rebut the kind of provincial thinking that makes the latter an appealing point. The “too big” argument, however, could be argued more effectively than in 2007. First, express the expense in terms of cents per day per household, rather than a meaningless number of billions; secondly, explicitly compare the whole cost of ST2 with the cost of road projects like I-405 widening. The realization of Tacoma residents than they’re paying more for the mobility of Eastside drivers than they would for a regional system should be eye-opening.

Personally, I’d be happy with any of the options. It’s most important just to keep the ball moving downfield.

Another Great Audit

Sound Transit had another solid audit report this week.

The annual financial audit for 2007, conducted by KPMG LLP, found that the agency complied in all material respects with federal program requirements. It found no reportable conditions or material weaknesses involving internal control, and no instances of non-compliance required to be reported under Government Auditing Standards.

Sounds like the kind of administration that we should scrap immediately, and replace with a directly elected board like the squeaky-clean Port of Seattle.

House Passes Emergency Transit Bill

A $1.7 billion emergency transit bill passed the US House or Representatives Thursday by a 322-98 margin (wow). The bill, if it passes the Senate, would provide the money over the next two years to local transit agencies to help offset their increased operating costs. Hopefully King County Metro and the rest of the cash-strapped local agencies can get some of that money.

(Thanks to Gordon Werner for the link!)

New Viaduct Options

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Larry Lange reports in the P-I. Here’s my favorite:

A third “surface” option similar to the second but with waterfront traffic handled using six lanes on Alaskan Way and Western Avenue. Estimated speed: 30 mph. With all three “surface” Third Avenue would be restricted to transit traffic downtown and 10-minute Metro “Rapid Ride” service is assumed on Aurora Avenue, West Mercer and from West Seattle.

Several of the other alternatives assume a First Avenue streetcar in the scenario. I don’t get that. I mean, a First Ave streetcar is cool and all, but how does it help displaced Viaduct traffic? All the people who jump on the Viaduct to get from Pioneer Square to Belltown? Then again, one of the other alternatives assumes a Lake Forest Park Park-and-Ride. How that affects the Viaduct mystifies me. But traffic flows are crazy things, and I defer to the experts.

Politically, though, it seems like the ones that make major changes to I-5 — like a single managed toll lane — are going to be the most difficult and time-consuming to implement.


lrt cartoon
Cartoon from Yesterday’s Issaquah Reporter

Doug MacDonald has written a series of anti-light rail pieces at Crosscut. You can read the comments where a lot of his arguments are taken apart, so I won’t bother going over it here. But I do want to show this. It’s the text of Resolution 667 from the Washington State Transportation Commission’s Website. The resolution was in 2004. This text in particular is interesting:

WHEREAS, all parties to the 1976 I-90 Memorandum of Agreement have approved an amendment to include Sound Transit as a party to the agreement and to reflect current understandings regarding the future configuration of I-90 that reaffirm the commitment to conversion of the center roadway for use by high capacity transit, specifically:
• High capacity transit operating in the center roadway is the ultimate preferred configuration for I-90;
• Construction of high capacity transit operating in the center roadway should occur as soon as possible; and
• Implementation of high capacity transit should proceed as quickly as possible, depending on the outcome of required studies and on the securing of necessary funding. 

Now check out the signature page:
Ex-Officio Member
Secretary of Transportation

Now MacDonald is hanging out with anti-light rail pro-brt billionaire John Stanton. Just sayin’.

Anti-Rail Signs

Anti-Rail signs on Capitol Hill
STB reader Jacob Langley noticed these oddly anti-rail fliers posted at the Convention Center Bus Tunnel station on the pillars.
Text of the flier:

Want your bus to run more often?

Sound Transit is asking for your opinion on what to do.

They have 2 main options:
-Build more Light-Rail, Trains and Trolleys before the one’s being built now have been finished and tried out. (Have you ever taken or seen how full the South Lake Union Trolley is?) And this would cost us quote a bit of money.
    -Hire a company to plan where the tracks are to be laid
    -People move, tracks don’t
    -Tear down houses, stores, etc.
    -It could be 12 years or it could be 20
-Or They Could Triple or Quadruple the Buses whose routes are already planned out which would not cost us near as much
    -And this could be done in one or two years at the most
Learn ore on this website and you can contact them on this # or E-mail address:

I think it’s kind of funny. I just want to point out the amount of money Sound Transit would ask for couldn’t even come near to doubling bus service. Also, the website’s url is

Note from Ben: The comment period is over anyway.

Way Off

At the Seattle Weekly’s blog, Seattle rocker John Roderick has a “music” post about how much he dislikes Sound Transit. These days it feels like you can’t read a blog without reading something bad about light rail in this region, and even musicians in bands I like are no exception. Anyway, Roderick is way off on a few points:

First, in comparing Portland and Seattle, Roderick says it’s “paternalism” that Sound Transit decided to put link in its own riight-of-way down MLK. He says “unavoidably paternalistic message is that Seattle drivers are too incompetent, stupid or blind to navigate around a gigantic train that runs every fifteen minutes without being crushed beneath its wheels”. Uh, no. The message I received was that Sound Transit didn’t want to put cars right on the place that the train runs every six minutes, because they didn’t want to slow the train down. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard the argument against grade-separation.

Next, Mr Roderick says that the Capitol Hill tunnel project for U-Link “is a design which emphasizes everything that is exactly the opposite of what light-rail is good for… An elegant and effective form of public transit is destined to be an unloved and underused white elephant. If the light rail instead ran down Eastlake Way to the University district it could be built for a hundredth the cost, serve thousands more people, and be built in a tenth the time” There’s no way they could build a light rail line down Eastlike for $10 mn, even the SLU car cost $50 mn. And there’s no way it would serve more people: 40,000 people live with walking distance of the Capitol Hill station, and twice that many more live within a bike ride. Eastlake, on the otherhand, has just 6,000 people live in Eastlake, with few plans to build more housing. And there’s no way an at-grade light rail could connect the U-District and Capitol Hill in just three minutes.

I guess I shouldn’t fault a rockstar for not knowing about transit, but then again…

Super Light Rail!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


Try doing this with a bus:

DART is updating its fleet of 115 light rail vehicles (LRV) by inserting a new, low-floor insert between the existing sections of the vehicle adding seating capacity and improving access through level boarding. The newly modified vehicles began service on June 23, 2008.

Known as Super Light Rail Vehicles (SLRV) because of the greater length and added passenger capacity, the SLRV will seat approximately 100 passengers compared with 75 on the current vehicles. Standing passengers on the vehicle can nearly double the capacity.


Light Rail over Columbia River moves forward

A few months ago, we mentioned that that Washington and Oregon state have been considering adding Light Rail over the Columbia River as part of a project to replace the I-5 bridge.

Today the Columbia River Crossing Committee voted to recommend a replacement bridge that includes light rail between Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR.

From the article:

VANCOUVER — Representatives of Oregon and Washington voted Tuesday night to recommend replacing the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River with a new bridge and a light-rail extension to Vancouver, marking a milestone in dealing with a West Coast traffic bottleneck.

Those of you who are interested can find more information about the proposed alignments here.


Good for Virginia Beach.

Two Republican legislators from Virginia Beach have introduced a bill that would extend the light rail system now under construction in Norfolk to within blocks of the Oceanfront.

The legislation was put in by Del. Robert Tata and state Sen. Frank Wagner with little apparent discussion with local elected city leaders.

“It’s time for this to happen, whether they favor it or not,” Tata said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Olympia, the debate among the Democratic supermajority is not how much to fund Sound Transit, but whether to hobble it with navel-gazing governance reform.

Our Democrats are to the right of Virginia Republicans.

Via The Overhead Wire.

A Way Forward: Seattle Built, King County Run Transit

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In my previous post, I argued that:
1. Seattle needs a city-level mass-transit system – not to replace, but to augment the bus system.
2. King County is the wrong agency to build this.

There were several comments about how the branding a Seattle transit agency would be confusing. I’m not sure I agree (many other cities handle this fine), but I’m ok with not having a new agency as a requirement.

Here’s my proposed compromise: We build all of the infrastructure, buy the trains, then ask King County to run it. They may need to pay for a few new drivers, but it would certainly be an easier sell than having them come up with all of the initial capital.

Of course, this is exactly what’s happening with the streetcars. But I’d argue that streetcars aren’t enough. Unless they’re completely traffic-seperated, they’re just busses with increased ridership (good, but still slow and inefficient). What we need is a monorail-scale plan. We could still use streetcars (though light rail may be better), but elevate them, put them in tunnels, or just make their path completely seperate from cars.