New CT Maps!

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while, but whoa, look at the new Community Transit Route Maps! They’re attractive, clear, and have tons of information. It’s such a substantial improvement over their old maps, which were both hideous and uninformative.

In particular I appreciate the ability to understand how the routes fit into the context of the other routes in the area.

I’d wouldn’t want to have the sparse service that CT provides, but I’m continually impressed with the creativity and resourcefulness they display with limited funding.

Transit Report Card: New York City

Third in an occasional series where I wildly generalize about a transit system based on limited experience.

Segments ridden:
More or less all of the Manhattan Routes
D train to Coney Island & Downtown Brooklyn
7 train to Shea Stadium
Various approaches to Yankee Stadium
Bergen County NJ Transit Line (Waldwick – NY Penn Station)
PATH: Pavonia to 14th St
Staten Island Ferry

Scope: A+
If you’re reading this blog you probably know that the subway more or less blankets the city. But what you might not know is the extent of the commuter rail system, which covers all of Long Island, half of New Jersey and deep into Connecticut and upstate New York. Look for yourself; it’s truly massive.

And don’t forget the PATH subway system into New Jersey and run by the Port Authority, as well as the Newark and Hudson Shore Light Rail systems run by New Jersey Transit.

Service: A+
24-hour service on the subway, unparalleled anywhere in the world. As for commuter rail, I rode into the city on a Sunday and found myself with 36 trains a day in each direction to choose from.

Routing: A
Not an A+ because there’s very little in the way of routing that bypasses Manhattan. The city could use some ring lines like they have in Tokyo, London, and Paris.

Grade/ROW: A+
As with all third-rail systems, no pedestrian or auto is ever going to get anywhere near the track.

New York has extreme density where there’s rail transit, not so much where there isn’t. On the other hand, the not-so-dense places would give the average resident of, say, Greenwood some sort of aneurysm.

Culture: A+
Undoubtedly, the city in America where it’s most foolish to own a car, unless you go into the outer suburbs a lot. If not here an A+, then where?


If you have even a little bit of transit tourist in you, get thee to New York City before airfares go up again. Driving is a nightmare, parking can cost over $20 for a half hour (plus tax), and the subway system approaches perfection (unless you require wheelchair accessibility, as I discovered when trying to cart around a baby stroller on this trip).

If you’re a total cheapskate, get a hotel out in the suburbs and take the commuter rail in.

What’s a little frightening is that with all the transit options available, there used to be more. There are tons of transit tunnels and stations abandoned at the peak of the automobile age. The city tore down dozens of miles of elevated track in the last century as well. And yet the system still carries more daily riders that all the nation’s other systems combined.

Smart NYC travelers fly into Newark and take one of the various New Jersey transit options into the city, rather than suffering through a 2-hour AirTrain and Subway slog into Manhattan from JFK.

Multimodalism is at its best here. At Penn Station, for instance, you have Amtrak, PATH trains, commuter rail, 6 subway lines, and God knows how many buses all coming together in one gigantic terminal. The Newark airport has an AirTrain system that connects all the terminals with not only the car rental complex, but also a train station that supports both commuter rail and Amtrak.

This kind of integration makes it plausible to nearly eliminate “puddle-jumper” aircraft, since outlying residents can simply take the train to take advantage of the many destinations available out of the New York airports. I think this kind of thing is very useful as gas prices skyrocket and scarce landing slots have to be devoted to bigger aircraft.

I’m told there are a few traditional tourist attractions in the city as well.

Re: Rising Gas Prices and Transit Agencies

Daimajin posed the question about how Metro should compensate for higher fuel costs. Systematically, this is how I see it:

Raising taxes

  • No negative impacts on ridership


  • Introduces tax fatigue, poisoning the well for capital projects like light rail.
  • Is likely to be regressive

Raising fares

  • The usual suspects (Kemper Freeman, et al) don’t object.
  • $2.00 is easier to pay than $1.75.
  • Corporate pass purchasers (eg, Microsoft) are relatively price-insensitive


  • Highly regressive to poor, occasional transit users.

Capital Investment for less diesel dependence

  • Sustainable, both environmentally and economically


  • Makes the funding squeeze worse in the short term
  • Takes a long time
Although cheaper passes and higher spot fares would benefit me personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea. First of all, as noted above many pass purchasers are corporate and therefore price-insensitive. Secondly, a lot of cash payers are poor, either because they use transit irregularly, or they can’t scrape together the money to buy a pass up front.

I would hate to see a 0.1% tax increase go to maintaining current service hours instead of getting light rail out to Microsoft, etc.

So what do I propose? How about going to $2.00/$2.50 across the board (aligning with ST express two-zone), and a tax increase for capital improvements like trolley bus lines, streetcars, and light rail?

Why add traffic-separated mass transit? A quick cost analysis.

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I will ignore all of the other wonderful benefits of traffic-separated transit for this post, and just talk about dollars (using very rough, estimated numbers).

Let’s take my morning commute: the #2, #2X, or #13, depending on which one comes first. There seems to be a total of around 12 busses serving these lines*. The end result is having a bus come 16x an hour during peak times. It takes each of these ~20 minutes to get the 2 miles downtown thanks to traffic. The full route is around 45 minutes.

How many busses (or, more realistically, trains) would it take to run this route at an average of 15 mile per hour, which would only be possible with traffic-separated transit? Well, that’s more than double the speed, so that would be half the number of trains. So 6.

You’d still get the same frequency of service, but you’d now have 6 less busses and drivers, less maintenance, fewer busses to clean, etc.

Assuming a driver costs on the order of $100k a year**, this is $600,000 saved each year on this one route without even looking at maintenance of the vehicles.

What will it cost us to convert our system for such savings? The deluxe (grade-seperated, think: monorail, or elevated/tunneled light rail) route may be quite expensive, but at a savings of more than $600k per route may pay back quickly. The cheap route (paint on the road reserving a lane for busses, along with signal priority) may create traffic for drivers, but will surely pay back the day you paint the road.

An added cost benefit is that as soon as travel times are cut in half, ridership will immediately go up. Assuming we go for streetcars or light rail instead of busses (and can therefore fit in more riders per vehicle), then we get added farebox income without any additional cost.

*Correct me if I’m wrong – it’s my best guess based on time tables.
**I’m sure the average driver makes much less than this, but factoring in benefits, managing this employee, etc. this may even be low.

[Frank]’s comment made me realize I hadn’t stated the point of this post strongly enough: One bus moving at 15mph can carry twice the number of (much happier) people the same bus can carry at 6mph. It simply drives the loop twice. Basically, we’re paying a whole lot of bus drivers a whole lot of money to sit in traffic with a lot of unnecessary busses.

Source Request

If you’re an employee at Metro working on the reorganization of routes in the Rainier Valley after LINK starts running, and I haven’t contacted you already, I’d love to hear from you for a piece I’m working on. Please email the address at right (

I’d be happy to talk on or off the record.


Rising Gas Prices and Transit Agencies

The Times has a chart of how the rise in gas prices are going to hurt the transit agencies in our region. It’s surprising that for an agency like Metro with a budget of more than $500 million, even with higher prices fuel is less than ten percent of costs. The $13 million shortfall Metro has, may require cuts in new Transit Now projects just to keep current service levels.

The increase in ridership is great, but it’s worth keeping in mind that adding more service could take a long time, and we should begin taking those steps now.

If Metro has to choose between raising fares, cutting service or raising taxes, which would you prefer? Since my employer pays for my pass, I would personally benefit if they raised fares rather than taxes, but I know that most people buy their own passes, and depending on the tax, that might be they way to go. Cutting service seems like a terrible ideal to me.

Seattle’s Funding Gap in the DJC

Claire Enlow has a guest editorial (behind paywall) in the DJC.

We’ve got lots of plans, and many transportation needs. But when it comes to funding, Seattle has the biggest gap of any city in the nation. It amounts to more than $700 per year, per person, according to a report called Infrastructure 2008 commissioned by the Urban Land Institute. That’s how fast we are falling behind. The runner-up—Dallas—has only half that gap. New York City is tenth on the list.
Why are we first in this race to nowhere? Former Seattle mayor Charles Royer, who appeared on a panel at the event releasing the ULI report, offered his assessment: “We are very good at making plans, and really bad at pulling the trigger.”

The room where Royer spoke was full of people accustomed to making plans and carrying them out—developers and their professional milieu. We could safely say that this group has a strong bias toward predictability and rationality over chaos.
And they are worried. Votes for transportation funding around here have been very hard to win. Deciding just what to do, even in the face of failing infrastructure like Seattle’s viaduct, is more difficult than ever.

To be fair, underlying the gap is a high expectation: 1.7 million more people in the central Puget Sound region in 2040 than there were in 2000, a figure the Puget Sound Regional Council uses in transportation planning. If they all commute in single-occupancy cars, that kind of increase could cause chaos.

At the same time that the Federal Highway Trust Fund is going bankrupt, the report tells us, a congressional commission has recommended that the country spend $225 billion annually over the next 50 years on its transportation systems.

There’s an estimated gap of $170 billion per year between national needs and funds, according to keynote speaker William Hudnut, four-term mayor of Indianapolis. Previously unthinkable disasters like the collapse of levies in New Orleans and a bridge in Minneapolis remind us that this gap is tragically real.

In the ULI report, comparisons to Europe and Asia make things look particularly stalled. While the European Union is banding together for infrastructure funding, the U.S. has yet to build its first high-speed train or even make plans to build a system.

Capacity on our roads and highways is already passing its limits. Relief can only be found in patterns of development that are self-contained and served by transit. And that’s going to take long-term investments in a number of areas, including rapid transit and transit-oriented development.

It won’t be cheap and Proposition 1 failed to impress the voters. The Regional Transportation Investment Authority asked for approval of a confusing, something-for-everyone list of roads and transit projects.

If regional voters are ever going to “pull the trigger” on big infrastructure investments or long term funding mechanisms, they need a convincing narrative of the post-oil future. Ongoing climate change and stratospheric gas prices should point the way to smarter development and more transportation choices. With a little more national and regional leadership, political will and voters just might be close behind.

I actually disagree that we need to convince the voters of a “post-oil future”, they can already sort of see it with gas prices going higher. I think now is the time to put a transit expansion on the ballot, and without the expensive and controversial roads portion.

MSM and Transit

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It’s really interesting watching the mainstream media start covering mass transit.

I think the NBC clip is pretty good. If I’d written it I probably would have added a line or two about how Americans have chosen to subsidize auto-centric land use patterns for so long. But overall, not bad.

Rapid Ride

The West Seattle Blog knows a lot about Rapid Ride after a brief to the Council made yesterday. Some details from the longer WSB piece:

  • Rapid Ride Routes will be given letters instead of numbers. For example, the West Seattle route will be the “C” route.
  • The buses will have space for three bikes on the racks.
  • Wi-Fi will be available on all coaches.
  • There will be ticket machines in “stations” that will enable off-coach payment. This, I think, will be the biggest improvement over regular bus service.

The troubling paragraph from the WSB is this:

The briefing also brought pointed questions from city councilmembers including Transportation Committee chair Jan Drago, who is concerned that the RapidRide bus won’t be so rapid — with a variety of stops planned in addition to the “stations” that will be about a half-mile apart. Metro acknowledged that in fact, while certain parts of the route might save commuters time, in some cases RapidRide will NOT be the most “rapid” way to get downtown — express buses will still beat it.

Not so rapid, huh.

I get this sinking feeling about Rapid Ride sometimes. I asked Sims how many new service hours Rapid Ride would have and he wouldn’t say, I worry there’s very little. And when I read things like this about Metro’s operation budget evaporating as fuel prices sky rocket:

Service increases scheduled for September are not at risk, said Kevin Desmond, Metro’s general manager. But the extent of future service improvements funded by the Transit Now sales tax could be in question. The plan, approved by voters in 2006, calls for bus rapid-transit service every 10 minutes at peak hours to five corridors: Pacific Highway South, West Seattle, Ballard, Aurora and Overlake, to begin in the 2010s.

If only we had electric rail transit. It wouldn’t have these spikes in operating cost…

The C Line

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Details emerge on the Metro RapidRide service to West Seattle.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the point of RapidRide is not necessarily to get people to and from downtown quickly. We have express buses for that. RapidRide is designed to work more like a subway, with potential starts and destinations all along the route. Sure, some stops will be more popular than others, but serving downtown commuters is not the primary goal, as I understand it.

All that said, I think Metro is probably being too conservative in evolving this service from its standard buses. Free Wi-Fi is cool and all, but there are more important things. For example, if the goal is really to move people between destination centers, why not eliminate the stops in between “stations”?

The point of the new color and naming schemes is to signal to people “this is not a bus.” Why not go further in that direction?

Seattle’s Transit Use Rising Faster Than Normal

Sorry to keep posting stories like this but here’s a nice video about the recent transit ridership increases.
It’s interesting to think that transit use is rising nationwide, but even more so in our area. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the Seattle area had the third highest net-increase in transit ridership in the first three months 2008 of the twenty largest metro areas. That’s huge.

My 545 this morning was standing-room-only, even in the pouring rain.

Obama and Transit

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

What do you think that Obama’s platform on transit should be? I read his blue print for progress a while back but I didn’t see anything extremely specific about transit. Anyone know anything more concrete?

Riders Swamp Transit

As gas goes up so do the transit riders:

This month, researchers from International Business Machines Corp. surveyed 4,091 drivers in 10 U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York. With national gasoline prices averaging $3.67 per gallon at the time of the survey, 9% of drivers said they already were seriously considering other commuting options. At $4.50 a gallon, the figure jumps to 46%.

At $5 a gallon it goes to 66%. This actually a problem for transit agencies who are having a hard time finding money because of lower economic activity due to the recession and are fighting higher diesel prices at the same time. From the WSJ:

After decades trying to gin up enthusiasm for their services, public transit agencies are now having trouble meeting rising demand as more commuters dodge high gasoline prices by hopping on a train or bus.

Under normal circumstances, the surge in ridership would be a boon to the agencies, which have long argued that public transit is one of the best ways to combat social ills such as traffic congestion and global warming.

But at the very moment they should be investing to expand their services, the same driver that is ballooning ridership is crippling transit budgets: steep fuel bills. As record numbers of people board buses and trains, higher costs are forcing public transit agencies to scale back on services, further straining capacity. Local transit agencies fret that the capacity problems may squander the opportunity to convert more Americans to public transportation.

The P-I editorial board hopes that Metro won’t have to cut service, I do too. I think the opportunity that could be squandered is the good will of the voters that will enable Sound Transit to win a the ballot. Electric light rail doesn’t get more expensive when diesel prices rise. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but if service does get cut, how will we cope with our commutes?

You learn something new every day

For the first time in a while, I used a Metro peak-hour transfer to get on a Sound Transit bus this morning. The driver insisted that my transfer, which had cost me $1.75, was only good for $1.50. I paid the extra quarter to avoid a scene, but didn’t think it was right.

Lo and behold, he knew what he was talking about:

Valid transfers from Community Transit, King County Metro Transit (Metro) and Pierce Transit are accepted on ST Express as a one-zone ST Express fare (Adult $1.50, Youth $1.00, Senior/Disabled* $0.50).

In retrospect, this actually simplifies things, since the different transit agencies have different fares. Nevertheless, this highlights the tradeoffs in having at least four different fare systems (and soon a fifth, RapidRide) in the three-county region. If the fare system is intricate enough to confuse someone like me, it’s too complicated; on the other hand, I woudn’t want tax-averse out-of-county voters forcing lower service levels on us in a combined Puget Sound super-agency.

On a different note, the driver also was enforcing “Pay as you enter” at the Rainier/I-90 stop outbound from Seattle. I suppose this is correct, but certainly isn’t SOP for most drivers on the 554. All in all, not a good day for me in terms of bus etiquette: today, I was the idiot without his fare ready.

Bus Lanes to Ballard

I’m not sure how this escaped our notice up to now, but the giant repaving project going on on Elliott and 15th Avenues NW involves installing peak-only bus lanes. This is a crucial improvement if RapidRide BRT in this corridor is to be worth anything.

We still haven’t seen any other details about what Ballard RapidRide will entail.

Of course, the project is mentioned in the context of a driver whining about losing road capacity, but the P-I at least makes an effort to acknowledge the number of people this will help.

It’s good to know there will be a decent option for densely packed Ballard residents before light rail gets there 2030-ish. Hopefully, the existence of this capacity won’t be used as an argument against eventually getting there with LINK.