I don’t want to move away from Prop 1’s amazing and inspiring victory this week, but I want to talk a bit about what the future holds, both for this blog and for transit in Seattle. My main motivation for starting this blog was to provide a (virtual) place to go for those interested in a transit in our area to become keep informed and to meet like minds, as well as to advocate for a Sound Transit exansion. Even though thankfully the second goal is no longer necessary, there’s still plenty going on to keep activity here into the future.

The following stories will certainly be among those that we track here over the near future:

  • Link Light Rail Opening
    Obviously, Light Rail in Seattle has not been complete yet. Central Link’s opening is going to be a huge news story here over the next 14 months. I have taken one ride on Link, and I can hardly wait to take it again. The opening is going to be a huge step for transit here, and honestly, a really fun one.
  • Metro’s funding gap
    Light Rail will be a major part of our transportaion future, but it cannot be successful without a healthy Metro. Our hugely popular bus system still has a massive funding gap, and what it takes to close that gap is an open question. Fare increases, increased advertising and possibly even service cuts are on the horizon. This is a huge issue, and Metro expects the gap to continue into 2010, so I anticipate this story to continue for some time.
  • 520 replacement
    The plan for the 520 replacement has becomclearer, but we still have no idea how it’s going to be paid for.
  • Alaskan Way Viaduct
    On the viaduct, we don’t even have agreement on an approach. Will it be a tunnel? A new elevated freeway? A retrofit? Surface and transit? And how are we going to pay for it?
  • Streetcars
    Seattle still has plans to create a streetcar system, and with Prop. 1 passing, we are gauranteed at least one more line, the First Hill streetcar. Will streetcars get expanded? Can the Waterfront Line be resurrected? Also, Tacoma also has a growing movement toward building a streetcar system.
  • Rapid Ride service
    I really worry that if Metro is forced to cut service, this will be the first to go. Hopefully service won’t be cut, Rapid Ride will be completed, and will become a great success. The first Rapid Ride route is slated for a 2010 opening.

On the advocacy side, I see some potential causes for the greater public transit good:

  • Getting Metro More Funding
    Metro is a critical part of transportation in King County – more than 17% of commutes in Seattle are taken on Metro buses – and we need it as healthy as possible. Metro has maxed-out its sales tax capacity as provided by the state law, and has a massive funding gap of about 10% of costs. Metro may be forced to cut service, which will be a tragedy not just for those who use or rely on Metro, but for traffic in our region. Other than fare-box recovery and increased advertising, there is essentially no mechanism whereby Metro can secure more funding.
    There are a few ideas floating around on how to allow for more greater funding. There do seem to be provisions in the state code to allow for the creation of transportation districts levied by either business taxes or property taxes. Ron Sims has been floating the idea of legistlation around creating such a district, and I would support this whole-heartedly. I am not completely sure about the state law surrounding this, and I will follow up on this in coming weeks. If state law does not allow such levies, we should push for either an initiative allowing for other funding sources or for our legistlators in Olympia to pass law allowing for it.
  • Light Rail transportation investment district
    It might make some sense to pass a light rail investment district to bring rail to the western side of Seattle. The monorail had massive public support before the taxes came up short and the organization fell apart. Prop 1 does provide funding for studies of light rail expansion to West Seattle and Ballard. If the numbers work out, it could be an idea worth pursuing.

There are certainly more than the list above, what’s on your mind? What do you think about these ideas?

29 Replies to “What’s Next”

  1. Your list is a great start. I’d expand on Seattle-specific concepts. We have a great regional bus system, and a good regional rail system, and now we’ll have a great regional light-rail system. But we have a terrible local system for a city our size. Our buses are stuck in traffic and it takes 30 minutes for a 2.5 mile bus ride.

    To make car-free life comfortable in Seattle (which I consider to be a primary goal), we’d need a way to connect neighborhoods together in a fast and efficient way. Light rail? Maybe. Streetcars? If traffic-separated. Buses? Only if we dramatically change our system.

    1. Tell me about it. I work 3 miles from my house (as the car drives), and the bus route makes it about 4 miles to get there (route 8). This seemingly simple path takes 35-40 minutes each morning. Luckily in my situation I will be able to ride Link with a short walk at each end come next July, but I’m sure that there are many, many other bus routes at least as slow as the 8 that won’t be able to switch to the Link. Finding ways to more efficiently move people within the city is a crucial next step.

    2. I don’t think we should have a Seattle bus service. But Prop. 1 passing by this margin will probably force the city’s hand with streetcars (with our diligence, of course).

      I think the biggest investment in local bus service will come from the Viaduct, actually. I think surface will happen and, well, check out this list: http://www.metrokc.gov/exec/news/2007/pdf/49pointstable.pdf

    3. Streetcars are pretty much meant to be in traffic. They’re like buses, except they have more legit stops, are more permanent, and get at least 50% more ridership. It wouldn’t be a streetcar if it was separated from the street.

      1. I strongly disagree. Streetcars are meant to be able to run in traffic. Next time you’re in Istanbul take a ride on their streetcar. It runs through the city in a gated-off lane that is streetcar-only until the evening, when cars are allowed back on.

        Streetcars are a versatile, low speed transit solution. I hate that they’re often treated like buses, since you remove many of the benefits. Yes, light rail is better for anything over ~30mph – especially if you have full grade separation, but streetcars are scaled better for mixing with traffic where needed (intersections, and low-traffic areas).

        My vote would be for light rail for longer distances (West Seattle –> Downtown –> Ballard), and traffic separated streetcars for shorter distances.

      2. I apologize. It turns out that the train I was talking about in Istanbul is in fact a Light Rail line. It sure felt smaller and slower than the light rail trains we’re building in Seattle, but maybe that’s because I transferred from their metro system.

        Perhaps at some point the differentiation between light rail and streetcar becomes vague.

      3. Oh wait! That was the wrong line. It’s actually a tram, which is effectively a streetcar. Man do they have a lot of transit systems in Istanbul.

      4. There’s a fine line between Light rail and in some systems.

        SF Muni Metro is a definitely some places like the SLUT and other places like Link.

  2. Seattle definitely needs some help in moving people around. Light rail will help though. I think their should be a more concerted effort to connect neighbourhoods (Ballard, Eastlake, Wallingford and such) to the downtown core. The best proposal right now is the streetcars but I don’t think it will fully work until they have some sort of grade seperation (especially to/from Ballard).

    1. Agreed. We need an intra-city system that is faster and more reliable than busses. This means, by definition, that street cars running in a regular lane of traffic are not the answer.

      So, if we can agree that we need something running in its own right of way, we should go for light rail, which is faster and has a higher capacity than SLU-style street cars.

      This is the same case that is often made against BRT on this blog: If you are going to go to the trouble and expense of creating a dedicated right of way (whether through constructing an elevated guideway, tunneling, or taking over a lane of traffic), don’t then waste the infrastructure by having inferior vehicles run on that ROW.

      1. I think some of the blocks along the SLUT route aren’t long enough for a 5-segment streetcar, particularly where Westlake cuts diagonally through what would otherwise be a normal block. This could probably be fixed with better traffic signal synchronization, though.

      2. I mostly agree with what you’re saying here, but how exactly do we create a politically tenable plan along these lines? Now that the Green Line is dead, I don’t think the political will exists to do anything of comparable expense, at least not for now. So we get streetcars because they can be built quickly for $30 million a mile, and we get RapidRide “BRT” which doesn’t seem to involve building any BRT ROW. And as part of Prop 1, we’re now getting a new streetcar line connecting Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the International District. So all the momentum appears to be on the side of the streetcars. I guess I’m okay with using them for short trips that connect to light rail, but I question the wisdom of trying to build a street car to Ballard.

        So can the streetcars be made more rail like? Or, if you were going to propose a light rail line to Ballard or West Seattle, where would you put it and how much would it cost? What streets in Seattle are begging to have a light rail line put on them? Broadway? It seems that would require considerable widening and elimination of parking, which is scarce already there…

        I also don’t think we should get too hung up on grade separation — I think people will be pleasantly surprised by how fast the light rail trains move on MLK way, at least compared to buses, not having to stop for any traffic or lights. Surface based transportation could be plenty fast enough for local transportation, but the key is giving it its own lane and signal priority. And if capacity becomes an issue you will need to be able to lengthen the vehicles, as headways need to be enough to accomodate cross traffic. But to be able to arbitrarily lengthen vehicles you need your entire ROW to be exclusive, so at that point you’re basically building light rail. So what should we propose on this front?

      3. Once we have the streetcar, we can make the fences to make near right-of-way separation possible.

        Streetcars solve a few problems. First, capacity & thus required less drivers. Second, they encourage density. Third, they are easier to use when you’re not familiar with the route.

        But we can’t afford a city-wide light rail network for a while now. It’s good to aim for the stars. But as the light rail network does develop, streetcars should tie in nicely for trips that are “that last mile” between light rail and work, for example.

      4. I question how much of the existing streetcar tracks could be turned into exclusive ROW. On capacity, at least for the ones used by the SLU streetcar, they don’t hold that much more than an articulated bus. Gordon says they come in 5 segment versions, but I don’t think you’d want ones much bigger than the ones we use mixing with traffic. Yeah, they should work fine for short trips and there is something to be said for appearing on the transit maps.

        So, seriously, can we design a fast 5-segment mostly exclusive ROW streetcar with signal priority to Ballard? Is that doable? I could get behind that.

      5. I don’t see why you would do any of this. Streetcars are for short trips shuttling around, light rail is for longer trips. An integrated system of regional grade-separated light rail and streetcars running in the street, per their definition, to replace current local buses and get people to their nearest light rail station is the best way to do it.

      6. The fences comment is funny – I think you’d see rumble strips and curbs but no fences since the fence would literally be between lanes and maybe the street and sidewalk. Thanks for the laugh, though.

        Give the streetcars their own lane even if it is nothing more than what we do for bikes. Hell, make that lane for buses, too (my preferred option). Cost per mile does not shoot up with this either like building grade separation.

        I think there is confusion regarding reserved rights of way and complete grade separation. Even an MLK-like ROW would be better than the current plan (which is, frankly, stick them on a fixed guideway in mixed traffic). Grade separation is, of course, putting it on stilts or in a tube (or a platform, etc) and is even better, of course, but would be cost prohibitive for a single city – at least if you wanted a “network.”

        Assuming electric all around, I’d say there are five categories that we should look for in building a transit system (or even a people mover system as some people seem to be imagining the “streetcar network”):
        1) Capacity
        2) Reliability
        3) Speed
        4) Scalability
        5) Comfort

        Where does the streetcar plan – as it stands now – beat electric buses decisively? Capacity and comfort. And comfort will fade as it gets older (though it will fade slower than buses). The others are much more of a wash due to the limitations imposed by being in vehicle traffic constantly. Even capacity would be improved by the existence of grade separation.

      7. cjh, I meant fences in the vein of link light rail… With curbs. Maybe no fences. Who knows? I’m saying, hopefully its own lawn.

      8. That’s fine, then. Nothing to see here, move along.

        To couch my whole post in “I really want…” terms. I really want reliability and the streetcar doesn’t deliver it.

  3. One of the things I don’t understand about funding is the large number of buses where many of the interior advertising spaces aren’t full. Some of the buses I ride (usually the 48 or the 28) don’t have any advertising inside, and only poetry (which is cool) and blank spaces. I realize that the amount of money to be made from the interior advertising is small compared to exterior ads and tiny compared to the funding gap, but I’d feel better about a fare increase if I felt metro was doing everything they could to raise money other ways first. These buses are pretty crowded and lots of people have nothing else to look at, so why can’t metro sell the ads?

    1. It could be that those spaces just didn’t sell out. I see buses without outside ads too and I figure they just didn’t sell the space. They need to get more aggressive with attracting new advertisers. I’d like to see them add ads to the website (I’m not sure the legalities of advertising on a .gov site so maybe it wouldn’t work, but there’s usually a loophole for those kinds of things), or putting ads on timetables. I’ve mentioned ads many times before, and although it won’t solve all of our problems, finding new ways to advertise through our transit system is a great way to at least close the budget gap a little.

  4. Seattleites should be planning on a major and on-going push to hang wire for electric buses and streetcars. Building the electric supplies is expensive and the city and county will tend to shy away from the task. The electrics have better acceleration, are more comfortable, and of course can use energy from wind, hydro or solar.

    The LID approach the city has been talking about sounds very promising. The best thing would be if DCD were working with groups and businesses along several proposed streetcar routes to have proposals ready to submit as applications for federal funding. We’re all hoping the new Congress will be more friendly to transit, and it would be good to be ready to take advantage of anything that comes of this.

    Last year the Seattle DOT had some good proposals for LID-funded streetcars. Maybe not the ones I would have chosen, but there is a lot to be said for having platoons of planners come up with stuff they think will work. I think the big picture is clear- increase the routes powered by electricity from wires, and the development along those routes.

    1. I have always wondered why they didn’t electrify the #8 route … especially since it runs under wires in lower Queen Anne as well as on Capitol Hill

  5. This may sound a bit simplistic to some, but the quickest way to improve local transit times are to remove street parking along arterials that serve as primary bus corridors. Not only does it free up an extra lane (if wide enough), it at least improves transits major causes for ‘sluggish’ route times.
    Buses must ‘split two lanes’ to ensure they don’t get tagged for the drivers who open their doors just before the bus gets there. (Yes, the bus driver gets a ‘preventable accident’ charge if the door stikes the front bumper) Buses are not stuck behind someone who marginally passed the parallel parking test –taking 3 tries to squeeze in. Bus drivers have a huge increase in streetscape visibility, allowing them to go the speed limit, instead of expecting a pedestrian to dart out from between parked cars at any moment. The list goes on and on.
    The clitch is two-fold. Convincing the city to find “pocket parking” opportunities in the neighborhood to accomodate the same number of parking slots abandonned, and figuring out who pays for the improvements. Convincing business owners that it’s a win-win is the biggest hurdle, and is a good place to start educating the public. More transit customers, plus same vehicle customers equals more business.

  6. First Avenue through Downtown needs to be a candidate for that. I hate that cars are allowed to park there.

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