Metro Service Change, Maps and Commentary

by mujalifah, STB Flickr Poll
by mujalifah, STB Flickr Pool

If the list version of the Southeast Seattle and Southwest King County Link-related service changes wasn’t helping you visualize what was happening, I’ve obtained .pdf route maps of both SE Seattle and SW KC.

Tuesday is the deadline for your last chance to comment on these changes before Metro starts making timetables.  You can comment in person, or by email or phone.

Thanks to Rochelle Ogershock and Jack Latteman from Metro.


In related news, Dick Burkhart, transit activist and representative of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce, criticizes the plan for reducing connectivity of Seward Park to light rail, and generally doing a pretty poor job of connecting people to the train instead of downtown.

I’m actually sympathetic to Burkhart’s points; longtime readers might recall my August proposal to nuke the whole system and replace it with circulator routes.  However, Metro resources are far from infinite, and as I predicted then, such a radical change to the status quo would create a torrent of negative comments.  Even cuts to express bus service to downtown — the most obviously replaced by rail — provoked a firestorm of protest.

Part of this is due to an instinctive and well-earned distrust of authority in the Rainier Valley.  To make matters worse, Sound Transit took so long to even announce options for their fare structure that the early rounds of comment were polluted by a fear that the train would cost radically more than the bus, although that turned out to generally not be the case.

Furthermore, after to talking to some of the Metro planning staff, it’s an article of faith in some quarters there that “circulators don’t work.”

The text of Burkhardt’s letter is after the jump.  I’ve posted a specific reaction to some of the points afterwards.  Again, I agree with him in spirit but don’t think the service hours are there to fit his vision.  Taking those hours from elsewhere in the Southeast is, for now, politically impossible.

Continue reading “Metro Service Change, Maps and Commentary”

83 Days

Sound Transit
Bus tunnel, photo by MSPdude

It was in 1983 that King County and the City of Seattle approved the Downtown Transit Tunnel. Construction begain in 1987 and it opened for buses in 1990. It will open for light rail in 83 days.

Pedestrian Hits Light Rail Train

We’ve just gotten word that a pedestrian near Othello Station has run headfirst into the side of a light rail train.

I think this proves that pedestrians are unsafe and should be banned from city streets.

Seriously, though. It sounds like the person has “facial injuries” from running into the side of the train, but will be okay.

It’ll be a while before we get used to these.

Let’s Not Cut Metro Service 20%, Please?

Westlake station in the evening
Buses to disappear? Photo by Oran

This is the last time this legislative session that we’ll ask for help – but ask we must.

Metro is $100 million in the hole because sales tax revenue is dropping like a rock. This will mean service cuts to the tune of 20% – and I’m hearing maybe even more than that – as soon as next year.

We have some tools to help out. SB 5433 is the biggest one, and we pretty much just have today to help it pass. This would enable a county council vote to use ferry district revenue for Metro, with which we could cut some $30 million from this shortfall. The other provision in Rep. Simpson’s amendment, the ability to go to voters for a tab fee, could cut the shortfall even further.

This is an easy way to make next year much, much less painful. Buses will simply go away as a result of this shortfall. Please help us out and give your legislator a ring to ask that the transit funding portions of SB 5433 are kept intact!

84 Days

Link Elevated in Sodo, photo by Slack Action

Link Opens in 84 days, and when ST2 is built out in 2023, there will be 84 km of Link Light Rail lines (not including Tacoma Link).

Times: Tunnel Overruns “may be toothless”

I was all set to write an editorial slamming the tunnel overruns provision, but this morning the Times reports that it’s likely to be unenforceable.  That explains Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis’s relative indifference to it, since coming out strongly opposed would delay things even further.

Read the article for the rest of the legislative gossip; it’s worth it, and Jim Brunner’s reporting deserves the page hits in this case.

Metro’s Tunnel Buses to Match Link Hours

New tunnel hours start May 30.
New tunnel hours start May 30.

According to the image above, provided by a bus driver that we’ll keep anonymous for no particular reason, Metro’s tunnel buses will now stay in the tunnel beginning on May 30th and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel’s hours will be extended.

Metro told us that the change is “related to the coming of light rail.” They’re not kidding, considering the hours sync up perfectly with Link’s operating hours. Link light rail begins service on July 18th and will serve all of the tunnel stops with the exception of the outdoor Convention Place station.

Sometime between now and 2016, the opening of the U-Link extension that’ll serve Capitol Hill and the U District, light rail headways will become too small for bus operations and the downtown tunnel will be light rail only.

Rail Costs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Overhead Wire points to a Charlotte blog that shows that Charlotte’s light rail University extension will cost more than planned:

The Lynx extension will be much more complicated to build than the original light-rail line, which opened in 2007. That line cost $48 million per mile. The extension could cost more than $100 million per mile.

TOW wonders, “Why must they cost so much!!!??!!!” In a separate article, The Infrastructurist proclaims that “Building A Subway Is 96 Percent Cheaper In China”, a figure they arrive at by comparing the cost of building a subway in China as”$100 million per mile versus $2.4 billion per mile in the Big Apple.”

Okay, $2.4B is on the high end because… well, it’s New York. But $100M per mile for China — considering that there’s NO environmental review and abysmal labor conditions — actually sounds like it’s in the ballpark of most US systems, no? Sound Transit’s Link will be in the neighborhood of $150M – $200M per mile (guessing here), and that’s got a substantial subway component.

Obviously there are lots of differences between China, Charlotte, Seattle, and New York, in terms of rail technologies, costs of construction, labor, etc., etc. Still — $100M per mile doesn’t seem all that expensive to me, in Charlotte OR China, especially when you compare it to the costs of building a new highway that would carry that many people.

85 Days

In 2030, when Sound Transit 2 is built out and we’ve had another real estate development cycle, 85% of regional jobs will have access to light rail. I suspect that this means “With a half mile drive to a park and ride,” but that’s still fantastic – if anyone knows more about this number, I’d love to know exactly what it includes.

Sounder cars are also 85 feet long. With seven in a train (plus a locomotive), they add up to nearly 700 feet, with seats for 980. I’m glad we’re not waiting 980 days for Link…

Almost Done: Budget Conference Committee

Right now, a conference committee in Olympia is hashing out the details of the 2009-2011 budget. We’re almost done – the session should be over Sunday – so we really only have today and tomorrow to remind our legislators that we’re still paying attention.

This is mostly a recap, but here’s a list of what we care about in the budget conference, and where it came from:

  • Regional Mobility Grants are fine in the Senate at $40 million, retaining the competitive grant process (and Sound Transit has three of the five most cost-effective projects), but gutted in the House to remove Sound Transit’s projects entirely and cut the total down to $15 million.
  • Representative Simpson’s amendment in the House gives us a good solution to the ‘asset assessment’ for the I-90 express lanes, both requiring Sound Transit and WSDOT to be at the table and funding the assessment. While Senator Jarrett’s amendment was a step in the right direction, it left holes in funding and in process that Simpson’s amendment fills.
  • Representative Clibborn funded $10.6 million of R8A preliminary design work in this biennium, which keeps the WSDOT portion of the project on track. The Senate version as it stands would derail East Link entirely, but we’re hoping Senator Jarrett will help us out here!

There are other non-budget items of interest for transit as well:

  • SB 5513 means I can’t get drunk and unruly on nearly as many transit vehicles as I used to (without getting kicked off, anyway). Oh well. It basically just ensures that transit workers can enforce safety measures on more than just buses.
  • HB 1225 makes sure Sound Transit and other public and private transit agencies are exempt from special fuel taxes. Keeping government from taxing government!
  • And of course, SB 5433, which I posted about earlier in the week, would give transit agencies new funding tools, which we need everywhere in the state right now.

Those budget items could use phone calls! And if there’s anything I’m missing, please let me know.

ST May Delay New Bus Service Hours

Sound Transit is considering delaying the full implementation of a voter-approved bus service expansion by one year. The bus expansion plan called for 100,000 new bus hours to be implemented by September 2010, but a new document from Sound Transit (.pdf) highlights a plan to extend the implementation of the plan to September 2011.

While most of the peak hours would still be delivered on schedule, Sound Transit says that the proposed Alternative 2 “delays the off-peak service improvements originally proposed for September 2009 by two years.”

The document says that Sound Transit will save $13 million by delaying full implementation of the new service hours and says that worsening sales tax revenue is to blame for the possible extension. Sound Transit 2, which includes this bus expansion, is projected to have a $2.1 billion shortfall — even though revenue collections started just this month — because the country is experiencing the worst recession in a generation.

News Round Up: Park-and-Ride Bait and Bus Bulbs

japan april 158
More Pretty Bridges, Shimonoseki
  • The House has approved a bill approving the deep bore tunnel option as the preferred option for replacing the aging Viaduct. However, a House amendment pushed by Speaker Chopp puts Seattle on the line for any cost overruns. Never in the history of Washington State have local taxpayers been asked to contribute to a state roadway project.
  • The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department nabbed a park-and-ride burglar by setting up a bait car. Turns out, the sheriff’s department has been running a bait program since 2007, and the amount of incidents has fallen from 82 to in 2006 to just 20 last year.
  • CHS Capitol Hill Seattle Blog talks about the upcoming transit and pedestrian improvements to Pine St. Pine is a pretty strong corridor for buses, feet, and bicyclists so these improvements will be quite welcome.
  • A commenter has posted a photo set of his ORCA card and related documents. ORCA is the region’s next transit smart card, which can be used as both a monthly pass or a fare storage card. Did we mention that it automatically handles transfer for you? You can get one for free at

86 Days

Here’s an ’86’: In 1986, Portland’s MAX light rail opened, with the Blue Line (now called Eastside MAX) between downtown Portland and Gresham. This was the first light rail line I rode in the United States.

Funding for studying this line in the seventies came from state funds intended for the Mount Hood Freeway – local residents came out against the freeway and forced a cancellation. The line ended up being 83% federally funded, 12% state funded, and 5% locally funded.

Reportedly, in 1988, the line beat its 2005 weekday ridership projections.

And I saved the best for last: Sound Transit projects Link’s operating costs per passenger mile in ST2 to be 86 percent lower than bus service – 15c/mile as opposed to $1.12/mile. If my math is right, as Sound Transit 2 comes online, this will represent operating cost savings of over a million dollars per weekday relative to the same trips on buses.

Earth Day

We like to think of every day at Seattle Transit Blog as an earth day, but today people around the world are celebrating Earth Day. How are you honoring Earth Day today?

Next Friday: Transportation Town Hall

Transportation Choices Coalition is hosting a three event series to discuss how our transportation needs are changing, how we can do things differently, and where we’re already going.

The first will be next Friday, May 1st, Noon-1:30pm, in the Bertha Knight Landes Room in Seattle City Hall. The guest list is fantastic:

Jan Drago, Chair, Transportation Committee, Seattle City Council
Kevin Desmond, General Manager, King County Metro
Chuck Ayers, Executive Director, Cascade Bicycle Club
Carla Archambault, General Manager, Zipcar Seattle
Eric dePlace, Senior Researcher, Sightline Institute
Carla Saulter, Seattle P-I Bus Chick, transit advocate

The guests cover a wide range of pro-transit options and viewpoints – from streetcars and buses to cycling and building walkable communities, even carsharing as the last step many need to consider getting rid of a car entirely.

The idea is to create a vision for what we want transportation options to look like in the next 20 years – I think most of us have clearly defined values in this regard, and we might be able to benefit the end result by going to these town halls. As a lot of us are thinking about how to serve Ballard and West Seattle with transit, what station areas should look like around Link, and how to better mesh our bus system and our new rail spine, this seems like a great time to start talking about where we should make our investments to enhance mobility for everyone.

PugetPass and ORCA, Lessons from London

PugetPass Card
PugetPass Card

How many of you have already purchased an ORCA card? How many of you have purchased one, even though you have a PugetPass, FlexPass, or U-Pass? I’m guilty on both charges, and so are a lot of other people. I purchased one today, and my card number is in the 40,000 range. Anyone have stories about using ORCA yet? All of the card readers on the 3 buses I rode today said out-of-service.

While filling out all of the information and poking around the website, I found myself looking at PugetPass options. In the past, this monthly and yearly fair structure made sense, but going forward it looks cumbersome and overly complex from a user perspective.

PugetPass costs a fixed amount regardless of the number of times it is used. That cost is based on the fare value multiplied by 36 as you can see below. I wonder why 36 is so magical. Basically if you use a certain value more than 36 times a month, you are saving money with that card.

Continue reading “PugetPass and ORCA, Lessons from London”

87 Days

In 87 days, Link will have been open for some eight hours, and almost all of us will have packed onto a Link train. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find something for every day between now and then, but here’s some trivia you might not know:

87 years ago, in 1922, the State Supreme Court ruled it illegal to use anything but farebox revenue to pay off streetcar debts. That was the beginning of the end of the streetcar era in Seattle – there was nothing the city could do to save them, largely because they didn’t have the political power to raise fares at that point.

Today, you can go to the Seattle Room at the Central Library and find the city budget for 1922 (and many other years). Streetcar operations and maintenance were in the ‘office of self-sustaining departments’. Someday they will be again.

Transit Perks: 10% off Tully’s

I meant to post this sooner but at certain Tully’s Coffee locations, you can get 10% off your next drink when you show your bus pass, including Orca.

I only took advantage of this lovely offer at the King Street Center location where I picked up my Orca card.

Any other transit perks you all are aware of?

Action Item: Getting Transit Revenue Options

With about five days to go before the end of the legislative session, there’s plenty more we can do to help.

Since the loss of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET), many transit agencies have hurt for revenue – and today that hurt is double due to huge falls in sales tax. This year we may have two new options, but only if we tell our legislators we want them!

The first is a transportation benefit district, that would allow transit agencies and municipalities to ask for (yes, ask, this would require a public vote) a $20 car tab – not based on value, just flat. The second would allow King County to use some of our existing ferry district revenue, which is much higher than our ferry needs, for transit. This would fill $30 million of Metro’s $100 million budget hole.

In the House, Representative Simpson was able to add an amendment (PDF) to SB 5433 (“Modifying provisions of local option taxes”) to do these things, but the Senate did not concur. This is normal, it just means that the bill has to go into conference committee.

As this would greatly benefit King County, I’m hoping to see Senator Jarrett take a supportive position on the bill as passed by the House.

This would also be a great time to take a moment to call your legislators to support these tools to prevent transit service cuts! Here’s the District Finder tool, as well as the legislative hotline, 1-800-562-6000 (8am-8pm).