Transit News Round Up

Apparently Wednesday night is round-up time here at STB.

  • From the Times, Metro is seeking feedback on Southeast Seattle changes Martin has been discussing.

    Seattle: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16, Rainier Community Center, 4600 38th Ave. S., in the Columbia City area.
    Seattle: 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 21, New Holly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave. S.
    Federal Way: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 22, City Council Chambers, 33325 Eighth Ave. S.
    Skyway-West Hill: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 23, the Fire District 20 Training Facility, 12424 76th Ave. S.
    Seattle: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28, Jefferson Community Center, 3801 Beacon Ave. S.
    SeaTac: 1:30 p.m. Oct. 30, City Hall, 4800 S. 188th St.
    Tukwila: 6:30 p.m., Foster High School, 4242 S. 144th St.

    After riding link from the Valley to Tukwila, I noticed just how long the ride from Rainier Beach to Tukwila International is, and I think I’m more inclined to support the Boeing Access Road station than I was before.

  • King 5 news apparently has realized there is art in the Sound Transit Stations. I think my analysis was better, though, honestly, still not particularly great. At least I had links.
  • Here’s the Times on the new I-90 hov lanes. An HOV lane has been added for each direction on I-90, to make up for the lost of the express lanes for the eventual placement of light on I-90.
  • For our Snohomish readers, this is an article about the transportation views of the two candidates running in the 44th.
  • The West Seattle Water Taxi is blowing away ridership records, and is still open until the end of the month. I think ridership numbers this month are going to have a big effect on whether the service will stay open late next year. Sadly, I think expansion is unlikely with Metro’s budget shortfall.

I Rode Link Too – And It Was Amazing

I don’t know who did this video, but it’s a time-lapse of our ride. We started at Othello station and went nearly to Tukwila:

We didn’t go full speed – but through a couple of the corners we were at least close. The ride was amazingly smooth – maybe just because it was new, but Yellow Line on the MAX wasn’t this smooth when it was new. The AC was on most of the time, but a couple of times it clicked off – and the line was silent.

Everyone was there, but what was most amazing to me was finally getting to see Jim Ellis in person. He’s been waiting so long to see this… he was probably the only person on the ride who’d actually ridden an old Seattle streetcar. He wasn’t really there to talk to the media, though, he was there to ride. At 87, I don’t blame him at all. It was fantastic that he finally got to see what he wanted when he tried to do this in 1968.

Patty Murray seemed really excited – all the electeds really seemed to be enjoying themselves. I think this was everyone’s first time on a moving Link train, so the reactions were pretty much universally like kids in a candy store.

The view was wonderful. The windows on the train are big – it’s more open and light than I had expected from being on it in the operations base previously. And it’s great even packed full of people – there’s plenty of space to move around, plenty of space to stand and sit. I hope we have interesting buskers. :)

Sound Transit is doing a great job with this. I can’t wait until there’s an end-to-end at full speed – it seemed fast even at 35, and I saw some 55mph speed limit signs on the elevated section we were on. It’s going to be really nice to take this to the airport – the doors are big, people can empty and board in a matter of seconds, rather than the many minutes it takes for dozens of tourists to fumble for change on the 194.

I can’t wait to ride it again, and see how all the new passengers react!


Today I had a chance to get on a Light Rail car riding from Othello station to Tukwila, and my god, it was amazing. The train was so quiet that the air conditioner was the loudest sound, and the ride was very smooth. I’d never been in a Link car with more than a few people in it, and I was impressed to see how much space there was with so many on board. There were probably ten Sound Transit staff, as well as an FTA representative, several Sound Transit board members – including Mayor Nickels, King County Councilmembers Larry Phillips and Dow Constantine, Senator Patty Murray, five of us from the blog, a ton of media folks and other bloggers, so I’d guess there were around fifty or so people, most crammed into the front of the car.

The views coming from Tukwila to the Rainier Valley are breathtaking. I noticed three spectacular vistas: over the Duwamish River, the view of Downtown from Tukwila, and the view of Mount Rainier from across Southcenter. Link is going to be really great to ride.

Here’s some video from the event, expect more pictures and maybe some video to come soon.

This is the 1,003rd Post

I’m a little late to the game, but Andrew’s post about light rail photos brought us over the 1,000 post mark.  At least that’s what WordPress tells us, and it’s counting the stuff from Bundridge’s old transportation blog (now in our archives).  But let’s not quibble.

I know a thousand posts is just a busy afternoon on the Slog, but to us it’s a big deal.  I’d like to thank our readers, who make this exercise more productive than just shouting at the newspaper, and commenters, who teach me things most days.

And sorry for some of the dumb things I’ve written.  I’m sure there will be some in the next thousand, but hopefully fewer.

Southeast Seattle Service Changes

Here are the Southeast Seattle service change proposals:

Southeast Seattle front page (includes questionnaire)

Southeast Seattle brochure (pdf)

Having read through these, here are some general observations:

  • The plans strike a pretty good balance between being hyper-conservative about changing someone’s commute and blowing up the whole system to do something else. MLK service will change radically, regardless of which options are chosen, and the longer hauls will be diverted to light rail, but they really aren’t trying to force the mass of 7 and 36 riders onto the train.
  • Probably the greatest strength of the plan is that they’re using the freed bus hours to improve connectivity to other parts of the city. It’ll be easier to get one- or two-seat rides to places like Capitol Hill, the U-District, and West Seattle without going through downtown.
  • In my opinion, the biggest weakness is that Metro has forfeited the possibility of improving connections within the Rainier Valley. It’s still very difficult to get from random points on Beacon Avenue to random points on Rainier Avenue without a bike or car, and that’s really not going to change until somebody creates a new line, perhaps like the Rainier Valley circulator this blog has played with in the past.

In general, I’m happy with the proposals as a first step. Metro grabs the low hanging fruit to switch the emphasis of bus service from downtown to other locations. In the longer run, I suspect the train will be popular enough that there will be more demand from Beacon and Rainier Avenues to get to the stations on MLK, and we might see some 7 and 36 assets diverted that way.

Overheard in the Bus Tunnel

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Three men, apparently traveling to a restaurant for lunch:
A: “I always take this because the shuttle is so slow.”
B: “Yeah, it takes forever with traffic lights. I can walk faster than that thing.”
C: “We could have walked…”
A: “This is much faster than walking.”
B: “I wish we had a real subway, like Munich.”
(discussion continues about “real” subways around the world)

I really wanted to turn around and ask what they meant by “real” subway. A train? We’ll get there soon. Having more than 5 stops downtown? Ditto.

I used the bus tunnel three times today. We have a subway, and it works. I’m connected to the International district, Pioneer Square, and the stadiums all without usually having to wait for more than 2-3 minutes. There’s no traffic and it’s much faster than any other mode of transportation. The bus tunnel took quite a bit of foresight to build, and Link would be a lot more difficult and expensive without it.

As an aside, today is the first time I’ve seen the Westlake Center station (I hate shopping). It’s beautiful, and provides a nice rain-free path between Nordstrom’s and Macy’s. Actually, soon it will provide a rain-free path between the airport and Seattle Center as well.

Seattle Times: $107 billion figure is false

The Seattle Times’ Mike Lindblom has an article calling out MacIsaac’s misleading $107 billion figure the ‘No’ campaign uses:

So where did opponents get such an inflated number, and is it true?

Not according to Sound Transit: “The clear intent is to suggest that the costs … are far, far beyond what they really are,” says transit spokesman Geoff Patrick.

It turns out the $107 billion is not really a cost estimate.

It is mathematical conjecture by Jim MacIsaac, a semiretired Bellevue engineer and longtime rail-transit critic. Using the agency’s growth and inflation factors, he calculated the amount of tax dollars that Sound Transit could collect from 2009 to 2053, should voters pass Proposition 1.

Such a scenario, however, assumes catastrophic cost overruns, junk financing and zero political intervention if the agency ran amok.

Also, MacIsaac’s estimate includes billions already earmarked for transit projects voters previously approved, including a rail tunnel to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium. Regardless of the Nov. 4 vote, those are scheduled to open in 2016 using existing sales and car-tab tax.

The article is still far from positive on ST and Light Rail, but this is a big step in the right direction for the Times.

Main Streets

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Lance Mannion, in his lyrical way, reminds us that “Main Street,” a.k.a. Small Town America, came out of the railroad era, not the automobile era, and in doing so makes the case for pedestrian, walkable neighborhoods quite beautifully. The crux of his argument is probably familiar to anyone who reads Orphan Road, but Mannion’s post is far more charming to read than a policy paper:

The first suburbs sprang up at the end of the 19th Century and were built not off of highways but along rail lines. They were small towns that in growing grew into one another but did not lose their individual identities or economies and many of those not only still exist but still thrive as distinct towns with prospering main streets.

There’s a big difference between the sprawling subdivisions outside of Dallas and the tightly-packed tree-lined neighborhoods of the towns ringing Boston. Allen and Melrose are both technically suburbs, but the main street of one is a six-lane highway feeding into an endless series of parking lots and the main street of the other is Main Street where you can walk from Uncle Merlin’s embroidery shop to the bakery to the butcher’s to the bank to the back room of Benny’s bar—and I promise never to alliterate like that again—without getting out of earshot of your car alarm, not that it’s likely to go off, because who’s going to break into it with all those people walking around on their errands?

There are still Main Streets, and as it happens I live on one of them. Just around the corner from one anyway. Our town’s main street isn’t called Main Street but that’s what it is, with a couple of banks, the hardware store, a few restaurants, an ice cream parlor, an insurance agent’s, a barber shop, a dentist’s office, a florist, and a video store. The public library, the post office, the police station, the town hall, and the fire house are all there too.

Southwest King County Service Changes: Instant Reaction

As commenter Oran points out, the service changes brochure is already online.

Southwest King County front page

Southwest King County brochure (pdf)

We’ve talked a lot about Southeast Seattle changes, but not this area of King County.  Interestingly, they’ll be impacted not only by LINK to the Airport, but also the Pacific Highway RapidRide opening in 2010.

Since I don’t understand its commute patterns as well, I had less of a vision for what this service should look like.   Nevertheless, it looks like they’re working pretty hard to tie in the Tukwila Sounder station and Southcenter with light rail.  I know I’m disagreeing with many a colleagues when I point out that a Boeing Access Road LINK station would get rid of the need for a lot of this by organically collecting Sounder, LINK, and I-5 buses all in one place.

They’re also encouraging a good chunk of the population West of I-5 to take bus to RapidRide to light rail, and on into downtown Seattle.

I’m a little disappointed to see no mention of extended service on Route 180, which connects SeaTac station to Kent and Auburn, to late evenings.  It seemed like a good opportunity for people to have a way of spending an evening in the city without dealing with the horror show of buses and cars trying to leave a major event.  After all, what good is frequent service 20 hours a day if you can’t get to it?  Ah, well.

South Seattle/King County Bus Changes

King County Metro is soliciting opinions about how bus service should change in Southeast Seattle and South King County once LINK light rail service begins next year.  There are a series of public meetings scheduled beginning Oct. 16 and running through the end of the month.

The various options haven’t been made public yet, but I’m told people in the affected area will be receiving a tabloid outlining those options shortly.  Once they arrive, you’ll get full coverage in this space.

Amtrak Bill

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Amtrak Bill has cleared both houses, been through conference committee, and is finally ready to hit the President’s desk, where he’ll sign it.

A separate appropriations bill will actually provide the cash. There’s lots of good stuff in there, for Amtrak nationally and for the Cascades corridor in particular.

News Round-Up

Here’s a bunch of links, none of which need a post in their own right, but worth reading.

  • This Crosscut piece details how Light Rail is being considered in the effort to update the City’s neighborhood plans. It’s a bit technical and not focused on development, but still interesting. 
  • Pierce County has term limits, which means Sound Transit supporter John Ladenburg is leaving office – he’s running for State Attorney General against long-time light rail opponent Rob McKenna – so there’s going to be a new Pierce County Exec. This post from the News Tribune lists the candidates’ positions on Proposition One.
  • Taxi fares have gone up in Seattle again, from $2 a mile to $2.50 a mile. Fares from the Airport to the Downtown hotel district have gone from $28 to $32.
  • There’s a meeting on side-walks on Mercer street set for Monday. I’ve always felt that Mercer was one of the worst streets for pedestrians, and anywhere near SR-99 in South Lake Union/Uptown is barely walkable.
  • The engineer in the Metro Rail crash in Southern California was definitely texting around the time of the crash. Goes to show it’s never save to operate any motor vehicle while texting.
  • This article from the DJC ($) notes that the City is looking at how parking is used around light rail stations. Visit the City’s parking near light rail page for more info.
  • Door Knockers are needed Saturday for a Mass Transit Now event in Bellevue, details here:

    Please join us this Saturday, October 4 at 10:00am in the parking lot of the Safeway store located at: 1645 140TH Ave. N.E., Bellevue, WA 98005.
    There will a short training and an opportunity to ask questions. Then, pairs will be sent to nearby neighborhoods to get out the vote on Prop. 1!

    If you are able to come for a few hours on Saturday, please contact so we can prepare for canvassing teams.

$6 Million in Federal Funds for Point Defiance Bypass

The Federal DOT is contributing $6 million to the Point Defiance Bypass project so trains traveling south from Tacoma won’t have to use the congested, single track Nelson Bennett tunnel and the slow, winding tracks south of it. The contribution will help the $140 million Sound Transit Project to extend Sounder to Lakewood. When completed, Amtrak trains will use the new inland route, known as the Lakeview subdivision, shaving 6 minutes off Seattle to Portland travel time. 6 minutes isn’t even the biggest impact here – trains can commonly be held up for ten or fifteen minutes waiting for freight in that area. This project will almost entirely eliminate freight’s effect on passenger rail operations around Tacoma.

Once this project is complete, an additional 5 minutes can be removed from the schedule by building a second, 110mph track in part of this corridor. I consider this to be the most important of the high speed segments, as it is adjacent to Interstate 5. Drivers will be very aware that they have an alternative.

A note to Mike Lindblom: $50 million unfunded of $151 million does not mean Sound Transit has “raised only about half”, especially considering the current $50 million shortfall noted on the project web site is probably not updated to include the this $6 million, or the $4.2 million from the FHWA you mention. $40 million of $151 million is a little more than a quarter.

$6M for Pt. Defiance

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

WSDOT’s own Pt. Defiance bypass project got the biggest share of $30M in federal grants that were doled out today. The project is “underfunded by as much as $14.9M” before the grant came out, so presumably this will help close that gap and further savings can be found to make up the rest.

Virginia also got a few million to improve service between DC and Richmond.

Streetcar Love

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

These are good ideas.

I think the streetcar needs to be put in proper context. It’s one of those rare modern transit systems that gets running in advance of population growth. It was built to accommodate an South Lake Union residential and office population that isn’t there yet.

Transit and population growth have a chicken-and-egg relationship. In building the streetcar, Nickels-Vulcan stepped in to break the deadlock by saying, in effect, “screw it, let’s just put a chicken there and an egg will show up eventually.” And they did, because they had the will and the money to do so. The population (the egg) is coming. It may take a bit longer because of the current housing slump, but it’s coming.

However, the problem, if I can extend the metaphor, is that in the interim you have a somewhat useless chicken sitting there in downtown Seattle for all to see. And so people naturally ask, “why did our elected officials put that chicken there? And while we’re at it, what other chickens are they talking about building? Do we really need them?”

This line of thinking naturally makes people chicken-averse, and as such, undermines support for the whole chicken-building enterprise known as “Sound Transit.” And that’s a problem. Voters see empty streetcars moving back and forth on Westlake, and wonder why we spent money on them (never mind that the money was minimal, mostly raised from private funds, and didn’t involved ST at all).

Do I think this is a huge problem that’s going to kill Proposition 1 in November? No, I don’t. But it is worth considering when starting these kinds of projects.