BNSF One Last Time

I lied when I told you the previous would be post being the last on the BNSF eastside route.
Here is a map of possible downtown Bellevue alignments for East Link. For the BSNF rail line to be useful, it would have to be alignment C1 or C2, which one depends on the alignments for the South Bellevue Section.

Americans still driving less despite lower gas prices, are you?

From USA Today:

Americans are driving less despite falling gas prices, reflecting the deepening recession and signaling a shift in lifestyles and driving habits that could outlast the current turmoil.

Tony Douglas is a good example. Douglas, 46, gave up driving the 26 miles from Gallatin, Tenn., to his office in Nashville in September, when gas prices were still high. He took a bus instead.

Driving cost him $8 to $10 a day while the bus was $6. Now that gas prices have dropped and the cost benefits are gone, he’s still on the bus.

“It’s much more relaxing: reclining seats, TVs … and it takes about an hour, too,” Douglas says. “I’m able to watch CNN in the morning.”

Amusingly, I saw this article a few hours after talking to someone about how I thought there were noticeably fewer cars on the road back in summer when gas prices were at their highest, and that I thought roads were looking more crowded again recently since gas prices have fallen. Am I crazy? What are your observations? Have you or anyone you know made any driving habit changes this past year? Share your stories in the comments.

Viaduct Costs

Alaskan Way Viaduct
Here’s the details on the costs of the various viaduct proposals (from the WSDOT website):

A: Surface Boulevard $800 million
B: Surface Boulevard $800 million
C: Surface Couplet $900 million
D: Independent Elevated $1.6 billion
E: Integrated Elevated $2.2 billion
F: Bored Tunnel $3.5 billion
G: Cut & Cover Tunnel $2.7 billion
H: Lidded Trench $1.9 billion

Not suprisingly, the surface options are cheapest. These don’t include $1.1 billion in so-called “Moving Forward” costs, which are the projects related to strengthing the most northern and southern pieces. Those projects have already started.

C was my favorite, and is only slightly more than the absolute cheapest. Dino Rossi’s bored tunnel was by far the most expensive.

Viaduct & 520 Costs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The numbers for the Viaduct:

Three possible replacement options disbursing viaduct traffic onto city streets would cost $800 million to $900 million, according to estimates from engineers. One elevated highway design, assuming one new streetcar line and new traffic-flow improvements on Interstate 5, would cost an estimated $1.6 billion. Another elevated design, including a park on top and office and retail spaces and pedestrian access points, is estimated at $2.2 billion.

This is one of those situations where the transit-friendly approach is also the least expensive in the short term. And when the state’s facing a $5B potential budget shortfall next year, cheap is good.

The new 520 bridge, however, is not going to be cheap:

Least expensive at $4.6 billion to $4.8 billion, Plan A features a second bascule bridge alternative, which removes the Lake Washington Boulevard ramps to south Montlake, the arboretum and Madison Park. It urges a public switch from single-occupancy vehicles to transit.

Plan K, or the Parkway Plan, would cost between $6.6 billion and $6.7 billion. It features a tunnel beneath the Montlake Cut and a bermed stretch of highway at Foster Island, lidded to restore arboretum connections. Madison Park, North Capitol Hill, Portage Bay, Roanoke, Montlake and Laurelhurst, as well as the boating, arboretum and bicycling communities, support the Parkway alternative.

Tolling will almost certainly help mitigate these costs, but it’s still going to be a whopper for the state budget.

Lego Viaduct

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

via LostCarPark

Well the cost estimates are out. As Hugeasscity had a little bird tell him it looks like everyone is leaning towards Alternative C. It is a good balance between vehicle capacity and making the waterfront a great place to be. As pointed out in previous entries these different alternatives are not mutually exclusive rather just a mixture of different elements, many of these elements can be applied to most or all of the alternatives.

In order to make any of the surface alternatives viable there must also be a significant investment in transit including streetcars, rapid trolleys (anyone know what that is?), and rapidride. For a comparison I’m picking what most people in this blog and STB would pick. So…. let build a viaduct replacement.

Hybrid B/C: Capital/Operating (cost in millions)

Central Waterfront: Couplet – 900
I-5: Medium – 346
Surface: Medium – 291
Streetcars: High – 641/26
Transit: High – 476/60
Policies and Management: High – 24/36

Capital Cost – 2,678
Operating Cost – 122
Already Committed Costs – 1,100
Total Cost – 3,778

Funding + 2,390
Balance = 1,388

Below are the minimum cost for the other alternatives. As you can see the surface option with all the transit goodies is a good amount more expensive that the elevated option and falls mid-range in comparison to the underground/trenched alternatives. So if Hybrid B/C is to be built a compromise will probably have to be made. With Hybrid B/C the road improvement cost comes out to 2,346 million, roughly 400-900 million less than the elevated options. Although the elevated alternatives aren’t where this region or its leaders want to go I think this will limit how many transit goodies can be added on top. If they all cost 2,778 million we could justify coming up with the extra money and spending it on transit. My guess is that both Rapidride and the streetcars will be scaled back with the streetcars taking a larger hit unless alternative funding (federal, LID, etc) can be found.

Elevated Alternatives Minimum Cost = 2,700 to 3,200.
Underground/Trenched Alternatives Minimum Cost = 3,000 to 4,600

A huge thing that wasn’t factored in was tolls. Everyone is thinking about them. If tolling on I-90 and SR-520 start in 2010 and they improve traffic, which the models show they will, this region might move ahead with region wide tolling faster than expected… I think???

Ridership Again

I keep hearing that the 5,600 riders a day number is too low. Let me put this argument to why I think that ridership estimate is realistic. Sounder, which goes through the downtowns of many cities up and down the the central coridor – including Seattle and Tacoma, has big park-and-rides near many of the stations and has modal transfers at ferry terminals and bus depots at others, gets about 10,000 or so riders a day.

The BNSF route does not have clean transfers, since it does not go near bus park-and-rides, and it does not go through the downtown of any city on its route. Why would the BNSF route get that many more riders?

At best the number would be 10,000; it couldn’t possibly be more than sounder. And if that’s all it is, than it’s not worth the investment with the number of higher-ridership possibilities available.

Promise this is the last post I’ll write on this for the time being.

Not a lot of riders

Unlike Brian, I think the $1 billion number is probably right. I’ll give a few reasons why.

The Sonoma-Marin comparison is not apt at all, since that train goes through rural areas, and has relatively few crossings. There are scores of crossings for that BNSF corridor, some of them in the downtowns of major employment and residential areas, and the track crosses major arterials. There’s even a “double crossing” at Totem Lake, and it runs in the middle of the street in Renton.

There are two huge bridges that would need to be re-built for the BNSF corridor, the Wilburton tunnel and the Wilburton tressle. The Wilburton tressle is a 975-foot-long bridge over a ravine in South Bellevue, and is not in good enough shape to carry large passenger trains. The Wilburton tunnel was a bridge over I-405 where the BNSF tracks were. The Tunnel was removed. Building 1000-foot long bridges or bridges over major interstates is very expensive.

Those are just two major reasons. The track and the track bed are in terrible shape. New right-of-way would need to be acquired to building passing sides, and to connect the disjoint pieces of the track in Woodinville. Stations are expensive, and so on.

But really, who cares? $1 billion or even $500 million for 5,600 or so riders? Forget it! McClellan station will get more than that many next year. There are more spending options than there is money, and 5,600 riders doesn’t justify the expense.

Eastside Rail Corridor = $1 billion dollars?!

The Seattle Times reports that the Eastside Rail Corridor will cost around $1 to 1.2 billion dollars to develop the corridor according to the study that was completed. I am for one simply and 100% baffled and blown away about the cost. It does NOT seem right at all. Why?

The Sonoma-Marin corridor which is 70 miles long would cost $450 million for the rail line and $90 million bike trail along the entire length of the corridor. This includes several new bridges, train sets, maintenance facility, etc.

The Sprinter also pegged out around $450 million for 22 miles, new train sets, several new viaducts, maintenance facility, no bike trail. The viaduct and mainline relocations were the most costly aspect of Sprinter.

The Eastside Rail Corridor is 45 miles (Downtown Snohomish to Tukwila Jct) and there is already a trail for the majority of this route as seen from I-405.

I’d love to see this report on just why this is so expensive but I can take a guess that the entire corridor is double track, every crossing has wayside horns, fancy stations, etc… something that only needs to be basic, single track, and a simple bike/walking trail.

This project should peg out at no more than $750 million at the maximum WITH the extension to Tukwila Station.

More on this later….

Groundbreaking for Swift

Community Transit "Double Tall" Bus
If you’re in Everett December 3rd, you might want to check out the groundbreaking for Community Transit’s Swift BRT construction:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008, 11:00 a.m.
11915 Highway 99 and Airport Road
Southwest Corner of Home Depot Parking Lot
Everett, Washington
Site of the first Swift station
in partnership with Everett Transit

More details on Swift are here.

Photo from the indispensible Oranviri.

Capitol Hill Station Discussion on KUOW

I missed this, so sorry for telling you a day late, but they were talking about the Capitol Hill Station construction on KUOW. You can listen to the whole conversation in the podcast. It’s pretty interesting, and everyone seemed pretty satisfied with the community involvement that Sound Transit is taking part in with the Capitol Hill. There’s also a good discussion on transit oriented development, and what will be done with the staging area after construction is finished.

The funniest part for me is how Steve Scher seems to wish there was some contentious issue that was dividing the Capitol Hill community leaders and Sound Transit, but is unable to find one. It does seem that Sound Transit has learned from building the first line through the Rainier Valley.

Stolen Pay Stations

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Looks like someone made off with the credit card parking stations under the Viaduct. Obviously the public policy lesson to be drawn here is that elevated urban roadways are a threat to parking meter safety and thus should be torn down immediately.

Viaduct Option C

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

hugeasscity says that Option C is “the horse to beat.” Good to know. Option C is pretty fantastic from where I sit. Instead of trying to get 6 N/S lanes on Alaskan Way, they’ve routed Northbound traffic onto Western Avenue. I like taking Western Avenue when I’m leaving Pioneer Square and heading North. The challenge is that intersection right in front of Steinbrueck Park, where pedestrians are streaming back and forth between the park and the Market:

Picture 1.png

The solution? Tunnel under it! This has the advantage of opening up that whole area between the Park and the Market to pedestrians. Similarly, it would potentially make driving on Pike Place much less useful (Drivers would enter at 1st and Pike, and drive two blocks and have to loop back out at 1st and Virginia). This might make it possible to close Pike Place to vehicular traffic altogether (except maybe deliveries), which is an added bonus.

Picture 2.png

March of the Metro

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


While there’s certainly some good public art here in Seattle around and inspired by LINK, I think Phoenix has to take the cake. The Phoenix Symphony has commissioned a new piece of music, “March of the Metro,” in honor of the coming light-rail line there.

Hmm… when’s the last time someone commissioned music celebrating a new bus route? Advantage: Light Rail!!

“Subsidy” is a Loaded Word

In a post yesterday, I asserted that Seattle bus service is subsidized by King County instead of the opposite. But I didn’t exactly prove it which helped launch a very lively comments thread. With the help of Matt from Orphan Road and commenters here (AJ and Multimodal Man in particular), I was able to get some numbers which I’ll keep below the jump.

Here’s the conclusion: Seattle provides 42% of Metro’s revenue, and receives 58% of Metro’s service hours.

Is there anything wrong with this picture? No. Urban areas have good reasons to receive strong transit subsidies. We’re simply exploring this issue because two high-profile (and smart) blogs implied the opposite — that Seattle is subsidizing the rest of King County. I wanted to correct this misconception, since knowing where things stand from an analytical point of view is always a good thing. Read on for why these “subsidies” are a good thing, why Seattle vs. King County debates always come up, and the raw numbers.

Continue reading ““Subsidy” is a Loaded Word”

Looking to take the Cascades for Thanksgiving?

If you haven’t made your reservations several weeks prior, you’re already too late.. Unless you want a sleeper on the Coast Starlight which is almost also all sold out…There are still SOME seats available on the 26th, 29th and the 30th. Those however WILL GO FAST!

Extra trains are the following

#511 SEA -> PDX 1330 -> 1745 becomes #514 PDX -> SEA 1900 -> 2315
#512 PDX -> SEA 1345 -> 1800 becomes #515 SEA -> PDX 1900 -> 2315

Turkey trains start on November 26 until November 30th

Equipment for the extra trains will be used for the Alki Tours Leavenworth Snow Train in December. There will be private cars on this train, which is a first as well. The trips are pretty much already sold out as well. You’ll find me on the Silver Lariat, December 20th.

Travel Demand Forecasting Class

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This quarter I’m taking a travel demand forecasting class. It has been very theory heavy but luckily our final project is hands on. The goal of the project is to reduce emissions, total delays and VMT with a hypothetical city. The catch is that we have to do this with as little money as possible and oh by the way population and employment will increase by 50%.

Well today I slaved away in the dungeon, ie the CEE computer lab for a few hours and I got a good way through the project already. We have the authority to control where growth is located. My strategy was to increase the percent of intra-zonal (ie local trips, which are not loaded onto the regional transportation network) by focusing all growth in three TAZ’s one of which was the CBD. I also tried to balance housing and employment so all of the TAZ’s have a good balance. This included the smaller TAZs as well. These strategies are essentially what smart growth is all about. Put people closer together and close to everything they want.

I haven not made changes to the roadway or transit network yet but as you can see below smart growth principles have cut delay in half (even below current levels) and substantially reduced VMT. Emissions did not go down much because cold starts are the major cause of emissions and I didn’t cut down much on this yet.

Base / New / Change / Change%
VMT= 355242 / 249295/ -105948 / -29.82
Delay= 19010 / 778 / -18232 / -95.91
Emission= 0.85 / 0.81 / -0.04 / -4.58

Also look at the difference of intra-zonal trips and average travel times. This approach reduced the average trip travel time from 12 minutes to 5 minutes. Not to shabby! We’ll see what happens when I get the transit network working. I’ll post again when I complete this project.

Total / Intra / Avg Time
HBW = 122673 / 39.81% / 13.08
HBO = 136416 / 64.48% / 8.04
NHB = 170281 / 66.29% / 14.69
TOT = 429370 / 58.15% / 12.12

Total / Intra / Avg Time
HBW = 122673 / 56.73% / 6.96
HBO = 136416 / 70.26% / 4.45
NHB = 170281 / 75.62% / 3.77
TOT = 429370 / 68.52% / 4.90

I show this just as an example. This is a hypothetical example and there were a lot of simplifications that went into the model.

In Fact, King County Subsidizes Seattle Buses

ECB over at the Slog gave front page treatment to a post from Matt on Orphan Road that claims that Seattle subsidizes King County’s bus operations. In fact, the opposite is true: The rest of King County subsidizes Seattle’s bus service. Seattle has more service hours per the revenue it brings in compared to the other Metro subareas (the subareas are Seattle, East King, and South King).

Matt’s “revenue” figures are fare-box revenue figures — in other words, the money you give the bus driver when you enter the bus. However, the bus system is primarily funded though sales tax receipts. While Seattle gets the most bus service of any subarea, it does not provide a proportionate amount of sales tax receipts. This basic fact, that King County subsidizes Seattle bus service, is the rationale why the 40-40-20 rule exists: That is, 40% of new service hours go to South King, another 40% go to East King, and the final 20% go to Seattle.

Matt’s post correctly illustrates that Seattle bus service is most cost-effective, but the raw numbers also neglect that there are hundreds of thousands of people throughout the county who don’t live in Seattle and who pay for bus service. And frankly, I think when we’re talking about cost-effectiveness or thinking of the word “profit” we’re not in transit-friendly territory. In truth, public transit systems are not always about the most cost-effective routes — otherwise we’d only have buses at peak times and minimal service throughout the rest of the day. And when the entire county pays for transit service, I think it’s fair to expect that much of its population should have some access to it.

Continue reading “In Fact, King County Subsidizes Seattle Buses”

Metro Sub-area Disequity

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In a recent STB post, John asked why we don’t just raise fares in Seattle, since that’s where the money is. I’d argue that Seattle is already subsidizing the rest of King County’s bus service to a large extent.

A few notes from 2007 ridership data:

West area revenue: $55.6M
East area revenue: $10M
South area revenue: $19.8M

West area fare/expense: 25.7%
East area fare/expense: 14.4%
South area fare/expense: 19.6%

Ordering routes by fare recovery looks almost like the original bus route list back when streetcars were removed, with four Seattle routes actually making over 50% farebox recovery. The average farebox recovery for the West side off peak is 24% – that’s almost as high as the system-wide peak recovery (25%).