Rainier Valley Circulators

In my previous post about possible options for revision of Metro service after Light Rail, one that attracted extra attention was the circulator idea, which would route almost all downtown-bound commuters into the light rail. This would add a transfer for many people, but it would also reduce travel time (if done right), maximally leverage the huge capital investment in light rail, and allow more frequent bus service.

Anyway, I haven’t done professional analysis on the viability of this concept, but with the help of STB Flickr Pool superstar Oranviri, I’ve sketched out how such a concept might work. I emphasize that I haven’t heard of anything like this coming out of Metro, nor do I think it likely that such a radical change would occur. However, even if full implementation isn’t in the cards, I think this might be an interesting thing to phase in during off-peak hours, to test its viability and reduce bus operating expenditure.

Maps and discussion after the jump.

Continue reading “Rainier Valley Circulators”

Elsewhere in the Times

Sunday was a good day for transit stories in the Times, beyond the Bus Wrap story.  First, this blurb in the local section:

While bus ridership usually dips during the summer, Metro’s numbers actually went up, said King County Executive Ron Sims in his blog.

He said ridership numbers topped out in July at 400,457, a 9.9 percent increase over last summer.

Then, nationally syndicated columnist Neil Pierce has another pro-transit, anti-asphalt op-ed.  We like to complain about the Times a lot, but they continually run this guy’s pieces, and I’m grateful for that.  This piece talks about efforts to design cities more for pedestrians and less for cars.  There’s a reference to Seattle and the viaduct controversy, as well as a description of the tension in Washington, DC between the commuters who drive there and the people who actually live (and walk) there.  Luckily, the city appears to be considering the interests of its actual residents rather than those who use it for just a job:

Some commuters are grumbling about Washington’s moves; a spokesman for AAA calls the District of Columbia “the most anti-car city in the country.” But city officials say they’re just intent on reclaiming Washington’s streets for the people who live there, creating a walkable, bikable, transit-oriented metropolis.

Good for the District, especially since there are excellent rail transit options from virtually any direction into the city.

More on Bus Wraps

I just wanted to expand a bit on Andrew’s post.  Like him, I’m all for Metro scrounging every dime of revenue they can, especially given the concessions they’re making to ride quality.  From the Times article:

Sims now proposes that the council allow partial-wrap ads that would leave a 15-inch band of glass unobstructed.

While I imagine that would still leave buses feeling somewhat bunker-like, that’s a lot better than the full wrap, and much better than service cuts.

Councilman Bob Ferguson, who commendably commutes to work on the bus, got in the best cuts at Sims, and they’re worthy of reprinting:

The council has yet to take up the issue, and Councilman Bob Ferguson, a bus commuter who strongly opposes any wrap that would cover windows, said it may be considered as part of the 2009 budget.

He added he would support wrapping bus windows when county executives agreed to wrap their office windows.

Ferguson said there’s nothing to stop Metro from wrapping its buses with ads, as long as the windows aren’t covered. He also said he’s encouraged advertising on bus shelters and in the downtown bus tunnel.

Office windows: tee hee.  Seriously, though, Andrew’s pushed the idea of advertising at stops before, and since it’s done in pretty much every transit system, there’s really not a good reason not to.  It certainly doesn’t impact quality of ride as much as wrapping does.

The bus tunnel, especially, will see tens of thousands of riders shortly, and could be quite lucrative for Metro.

Photo lifted from Bus Chick, who in the same post has lots of neat pictures of shelter advertising in other cities.

20:40:40 Must End

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

20:40:40 is a rule built into funding legislation for King County Metro that allocates funds for new service hours by area. 40% goes to the east side, 40% goes south, and 20% goes to Seattle and north (more complete explanation in this PDF). This sounded strange to me the first time I heard it, and now it seems unbelievable. Seattle has 35% of the population of King County. We must have 5x the ridership of either other area (anyone have #’s for this?). So we pay more in taxes, much more in fares, and get 20% of the benefit?

The justification for 20/40/40 was that Seattle has more buses than the rest of the county, and it was a way for them to catch up. But I’ve yet to hear of a full eastside bus (especially off-peak, which is what improves with more service hours), yet the #2 leaves people behind because it can’t cram any more people on the bus.

20:40:40 was actually an ingenious plan, from the non-Seattle perspective. There is no way, with 35% of the vote, Seattle could have stopped it. I suppose it was nice of the county to give us anything at all.

But maybe all this is beside the point. Although we could certainly use more service hours in Seattle, what we really need is more infrastructure. With our same number of drivers, we could double frequency and quadruple capacity by adding traffic-separated streetcars.

On the Sounding Board

I’ve just been notified that, just like Bus Bitch, I will be on the Southeast Seattle Metro Sounding Board, which will provide comment on proposed service changes in the wake of Light Rail.

I imagine that later this fall I’ll circulate some service concepts on behalf of Metro’s outreach program, so that the wider community can comment.  I also promise to make it clear when I’m speculating and when I’m putting out official plans.

Link Light Rail World’s Biggest Doondoggle?

David Brewster at Crosscut points me to the Miller-McCune list of the “The World’s Biggest Boondoggles”. Sound Transit Link Light Rail comes in Fourth, after the Denver International Airport, the Chunnel, and the Big Dig. Also on the list are Miami’s Metrorail expansion, the Jacob Javits Convention Center of New York and the Sydney Opera House. So apparently the “World” is made up of three countries who speak English. Never mind dams in China that cost ten times their original $2.6 estimate, they don’t speak English, so they don’t count.

Annoyingly, the Miller-McCune piece lumps the Monorail in with Link, and completely ignores inflation in all the numbers. They mention a 1958 study that said Bart would cost $586 million to $716 million, and by October 1974, the cost was $1.6 billion. Inflation of just 4% during that period (much of the 70’s had double-digit inflation), would have pushed the price from $716 to $1.6 billion. Not much for report.

Brewster points out:

Are you shocked? If so, consider that most of these projects are in fact wildly popular, even if the public had to be gulled to go along with building them… And often these are newly formed agencies, as Sound Transit was, and they can make lots of rookie mistakes in the first years

Sound Transit definitely had it’s problems in its infancy, but it’s comforting for Link to be on a list with BART and the Sydney Opera House. That’s good company.

Are People Finally Noticing How Poorly Funded Amtrak Is?

It seems like it. The day after Biden mentioned Amtrak twice in his speech at the Democratic National Contenvtion, Amtrak is all over the news. This AP article mentions Biden’s connections to Amtrak. This Reuters piece highlights what Amtrak’s poor funding gives us: trains that are usually slow, usually overcrowded and late more often than they ought to be. This Bloomberg Piece talks about Amtrak’s rising ridership – it’s up 14% this year from last year, and last year was a record – and some of Amtrak’s plans to handle the new riders.

Biden: Good Pick For Rail

Here at STB, we generally don’t make endorsements for candidates – though we do make anti-endorsements – but I want to write a post about what a rail enthusiast Joe Biden is ahead of his speech at the Democratic Convention today. Biden commutes to work eachday on Amtrak, and has for 30 years, sponsored the recent Amtrak Reauthorization bill and had this to say about Amtrak:

For 30 years, I have witnessed Congress dangling a carrot in front of Amtrak’s eyes, funding it just enough for it to limp along.  And I’ll tell you, this has to stop.  Now is the time to commit politically and financially to a strong, safe, and efficient passenger rail system.

Biden’s son is even on the Amtrak board, and is a big advocate for the agency. In a bit of partisanship, I’ll point out the McCain is not a big fan of Amtrak.

No point to this, but it’s nice to see someone who is an advocate for inter-city rail service getting so much attention. Surely, it’s a lot better than this.

Sims’ Metro Plan in the P-I

 Crammed bus

The Seattle P-I has more information about Ron Sims’ plan for Metro. Including details on what new capital projects might be cut:

Facilities that could be sold to raise money in the short term include 1.2 vacant acres Metro owns in Bellevue next to its transit center, agency general manager Kevin Desmond said. And the $65 million in capital spending reductions mentioned by Sims in his post would include $9.8 million budgeted for an off-street layover facility at the south end of downtown Seattle for buses idling between runs, $10.5 million identified as Metro’s contribution to a South Lander Street overpass that may no longer be needed and $7 million designated for a maintenance of a revived waterfront streetcar line, a project that now seems stalled, Desmond said.

I think we can official call the waterfront streetcar dead.

Thanks to Gordon for the Link. The photo is from Oranviri, as always.

Pierce County Parking

University Place is nearly out of bounding capacity and is trying to work out plans to have Pierce Transit pay for part of the parking they at putting in as part of their Town Center project. University Place wants Pierce Transit to bound $10 million for the second garage off the 851-space project.

UP’s request comes at a time when Pierce Transit is already investing in a $20 million Park & Ride project on Highway 16 in Gig Harbor. Plans call for a pedestrian footbridge, closed-circuit security cameras and adding 180 to 225 parking stalls west of the highway. The agency also would like to build a bus station in the highway’s median once the state adds HOV lanes west of the Narrows.

The groundbreaking on the Peninsula Park & Ride is expected in the fall or winter, and it’s scheduled to open in fall 2010, according to its Web site.

Pierce Transit spokesman Lars Erickson said the most expensive project the agency has built to date is the Tacoma Dome Station Park & Ride, which cost almost $50 million and required state, federal and Sound Transit dollars.

Pierce Transit seems to take park-and-rides seriously: 300 parking spots for Gig Harbor with about 6300 people. The 851-space facility could be a good investment if Pierce Transit has the money for it.


I was thinking about our next meet-up in a couple of weeks, and I wonder what time works best for everyone, and what the best location is. We have a few at Collin’s Pub in Pioneer Square, but the last time it was so crowded, it became a little bit of a problem. We had the last one at the Columbia City Ale House, and that worked pretty well, but it could be a bit remote for some. I also wonder if a weekend evening is the best time. Maybe a Sunday lunch meet-up could work?

So if you want to come to the next meet-up, let us know in the comments.

From the Comments

I promise this will be the last post on this subject – for a while at least. Uh-huh from the comments says it better than I have, and I have tried:

Currently, KCM collects 9/10s sale tax, the maximum its authority allows. That revenue supports operations and some capital to carry 400K trips/day. This tax stream is entirely consumed for these purposes. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that this operating model is sustainable, that KCM’s revenues will grow at a rate that covers cost growth, such that it is able to operate on its current scale for the next three decades. A big and questionable assumption, I know.

ST is currently at 4/10s, proposing to go up to 9/10s in order to finance ST2. (Let’s set aside the mvet for the moment, which disappears in 2028). ST’s financial plan assumes that all projects will be built within 15 years. If that happens, it further assumes that bond pay-off will be accelerated, and the sales tax will be rolled back to cover just operations and maintenance by 2036. The project rollback amount is the entire proposed ST2 tax, 5/10s.

That means, in 2036, ST can sustain (ie assuming capital replacement) operations of 53 miles of LRT, 750K platform hours of express bus, and 17 Sounder round-trips — generating comparable ridership to KCM’s 400K — for less than half the tax load, or 4/10s a percent of sales tax. And, ST’s rolled back 5/10s authority remains available for future voter-approved investments.

That, in a nutshell I think, is what people mean when they say rail is cheaper. Unless KCM has a way to operate the same level of service for less money in the future, the longer term financial profiles indicate rail is the more efficient choice

I loved the bus, and I ride it every day, but we shouldn’t be trying to use buses for what rail is better at. Buses are perfect as a feeder for rail, perfect for neighborhoods and are great for places where ridership is low. But Buses are not the best choice for trunk lines; rail is.

Ron Sims’ plan to save Metro

You can read it here. The plan’s layout:

  • Raise fares 25¢ this year, and raise them again 25¢ in 2010.
  • Sell Metro-owned properties to cover the rest of the budget gap. Sims calls out the Metro base property in Bellevue, or “East Base”. Update See Below
  • Cancel capital projects of about $65 million, he doesn’t say which these are, but I am guessing Transit Now.
  • Raid the rainy day fund for $45 million ~ $65 million.

Even with this cost-cutting, property selling (that’s a huge property in Bellevue there), and fare increase, the budget deficit will return in 2011. Yikes. The bottom line: Metro is in serious, serious trouble, at a time when it’s ridership is growing faster than it ever has before. Out of sales tax funding with costs spirally out-of-control, it’s just a matter of time before something breaks, and it looks like service cuts could be coming in a few years.


I thought from my conversation with someone in Metro the Bellevue Lot was the empty lot next to the East Base, it turns out the lot is likely this one here on 6th and 112th. The land is apparently left over from the land the County sold to Bellevue for their city hall.  The land has an appraised value of some $13.2 million, but is prime for development and might fetch more than that, especially if Prop. 1 passes and a Bellevue station is located near there.

Eastside Transit News

Two quick hits on Eastside issues:

  • The Mercer Island Park-and-Ride that opened eight months ago is already full most days, despite having twice as many spots as the park-and-ride it replaced.
  • In this DJC interview Bellevue’s Mayor, Grant Degginger, talks about walk-ability, environmentalism and transit. It’s behind a pay-wall, but here’s a short excerpt:

    Q. What are your plans to create affordable housing in Bellevue?
    A. We are acutely aware of that challenge. We’ve been a part of an organization called ARCH (A Regional Coalition for Housing). Over the last 15 years, they’ve preserved or created 2,200 units of affordable housing on the Eastside. In Bellevue, we’re looking at delivering more units in the Bel-Red Corridor. The switch is to a mixed use focus with transit orientation and we’re hopefully including some workforce housing in there. It is very, very tough for people to work at Bellevue Square and live in Tacoma and Federal Way and try to make ends meet.

    Q. What tools will you use? Incentive zoning? Requiring affordable housing?
    A. We’re working with the same challenges as the city (of Seattle). We’re trying to see whether we can find the right mix of incentives to provide some of those projects. We’re working very hard on that. We had a citizen advisory committee spend months putting together a plan for Bel-Red, (making sure the) incentives will provide enough lift to deliver units. It’s a challenge, especially when you’ve got an economy that’s slowing down, to see what the right mix is. The other question is, over what period of time? You don’t get all the benefits in the first year, nor all the houses.

    Q. What role does transit play in Bellevue’s future? What is needed and when?
    A. Yesterday. There’s been a tremendous increase in the use of the transit in Bellevue and the Eastside. There’s just a huge need for additional transit. There’s a lot of people that need to get from Redmond to downtown Bellevue. The council has agreed to work with Sound Transit to get a circulator through downtown in 2010. We are really working very hard to see what else we can do to be creative. It’s the number one issue on the Eastside. The Sound Transit measure (on the ballot in November) is a good long-term goal but won’t deliver trains until 2018. There’s a lot to do between now and then. Increase bus service and make downtown Bellevue more walkable.

    Q. How do you make Bellevue more walkable?
    A. Bellevue was laid out as a suburban city and one of the legacies of that is these superblocks that are too long. We’re adding mid-block crossings … and updating and making (downtown) more visible and interesting with more artwork. I think it’s going to be very exciting to have a more walkable downtown. We’re also identifying more bike corridors, running both north to south and east to west.

    Q. It’s just so easy to park and drive in Bellevue. How do you make Bellevue less car-centric?
    A. The nature of the parking is changing. There are more and more lots where people are being charged. If we can make it easier for people to get out of their cars, (then they will) not hopscotch drive through downtown. We’ve got a huge neighborhood developing in downtown Bellevue, so it’s really important for people to be able to walk to the grocery store, walk to the cleaners and not make those short trips that clog up the streets.

    Good stuff. The whole region needed transit yesterday.

Thanks to Ryan for the links.

Rural King County Service

Sorry for the short notice, but the King County Council is holding a Town Hall in Covington tonight to discuss bus service out there.  Details:

The meeting will be held at the Kentwood High School’s Performing Arts Center, 25800 164th Avenue SE, Covington. The public is invited to meet face-to-face with King County Councilmembers at an informal reception starting at 6:00 p.m. The Town Hall will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Reading through the details, it seems like their definition of “town hall” is “open meeting in a different location”, followed by some public questions, rather than an actual back-and-forth opinion gathering session.

Anyone who attends this meeting is welcome to report on it in the comments.

Route 36

Over on the Rainier Valley Post, “Bus Bitch” has found her(?) way onto the SE Seattle Metro Sounding Board. She’s also starting to suggest some routing changes. The first route discussed is the 36:

In the “Bus Bitch” plan, our favorite vomit wagon would still serve residents south of the Beacon Hill station, essentially replacing the 32 Express— only it would run for longer than a couple of hours each day. Following the 32’s cut through SODO and up Columbian Way, the new 36 would still service the VA and SE residents along Beacon Ave. and on out to Rainier Beach where it would terminate at the RB light rail station.

I think this amounts to abolishing the 36 and making the 32 a full-service route. If I had to guess, I’d say this cuts against the concept that Metro is likely to adopt, which is shunting long-haul commuters onto the light rail and continuing to service shorter hops with the bus. In fact, I’d suggest that the stretch north of the Beacon Hill station was the piece they were most likely to keep unaltered.  As an added drawback, the 32 isn’t wired for electric trolley service.  But I’m glad the conversation is getting started.


Coincidentally, the “Getting There” feature in today’s P-I also discusses the 36:

Metro plans a new trolley extension to the new Othello light rail station, which Metro said could be Route 36, using new overhead lines to be completed next year as part of the “Transit Now” expansion. That service could begin by September 2009.

My sources at Metro tell me that this extension is specifically intended for the 36, so perhaps all this discussion is irrelevant anyway. I’m pleased that Transit Now is allowing some extension of the trolley lines. In a perfect world, all the main access routes to the LINK stations would be electrified, but it’s not clear if that’s in the cards.

Light Rail and Bus Comparison

You longer have to take my word that buses are more expensive than LRT, we have the National Transit Database and Sound Transit doing the hard work. LRT is more than 50% faster, and less than half as expensive per passenger mile than buses. Sound Transit says Link will be 13% the cost per passenger mile expresses buses, and will move nearly twice as fast.