King Street Station Open House

King Street Station
King Street Station, Photo by Gelund

The City is holding an open house next Tuesday on the King Street Station Renovation. From the press release:

In 2008, the city purchased King Street Station and started a major restoration of the landmark building to transform it into a modern transportation hub equipped to serve Seattle for the next hundred years.

In less than a year, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and its contractor have substantially completed exterior building improvements. Very shortly, SDOT will begin Phase II and the much-anticipated interior restoration. The lobby’s original ornate ceiling will be restored, Amtrak operations reconfigured, the grand staircase to Jackson Plaza reopened, and seismic upgrades will be made.

You are invited to a public meeting to meet members of the project team, learn more about completed and upcoming work, and ask questions.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
4:00 PM to 6:00 PM
International District/Chinatown Community Center
719 8th Avenue South (cross street Dearborn Street)

Please RSVP to Josh Stepherson, (206) 684-3136, or

Looks like a good event. H/T to Tim.

Update: Ben plans to attend, so say hi if you see him there.

12th & Union

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

While I’m making random, half-assed demands for transit-only lanes, let us turn our attention to the intersection of 12th & Union (& Madison), where our friend the #2 bus must drive a meandering bow-tie shaped route to get across 12th:


Could the intersection be altered so that buses — and only buses — have a special traffic light that allows them to shoot straight across on Union?

You can see the intersection here:

View Larger Map

Again, I’m sure there are tons of issues here, and it’s probably not worth the benefit.

News Round-Up: 73 days

"Riding made EASY" RapidRide
Rapid Ride, photo by Oran

1973 is the year King County Metro was formed from the combining of Seattle Transit and the Metropolitan Transit Corporation.

Here’s a news round-up:

  • Metro is facing a giant budget hole, but King County Council-member Larry Phillips wants to make sure that Rapid Ride, Metro’s BRT system that will open next year, will be prioritized over other service when cuts are made. The Federal Transit Administration has awarded Rapid Ride a $13.8 million grant for buses and stops, and it would be a shame if the service was cut down to make the BRT service infrequent. I think we need a chance to see BRT really work in our region, so I agree with Phillips.
  • The tunneling for the station on Beacon Hill apparently created a ton of sink holes in the area around the station. It’s going to cost about $1 million to fill them all up.
  • May 9th is National Train Day. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to take a train that day, but I will be able to in just 73 days.

This is an open thread.

Update: This is a big week for BRT in the Puget Sound region. Today, Community Transit had an unveiling ceremony for its version of BRT called Swift. It will run along SR-99 in Snohomish county starting Nov. 30th of this year. It will have higher service frequencies than Rapidride (10 minutes all day) and use Transit Signal Priority to speed buses along SR-99. This corridor is perfect for BRT and will be very interesting to watch.

The beautiful schools my son could have attended

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

(sorry this is a bit off topic, but schools are infrastructure too)

I have a three month old son, and I’ve been walking him around the neighborhood near my house, looking at the beautiful old buildings that were built around 100 years ago, when my house was built. Here’s a little tour.

This is the high school he could have attended:

This is the Queen Anne High School, probably the most beautiful school I’ve seen. It’s brick and stone with intricate detailing and a 180 degree view of the city. But our underfunded or poorly run school system has decided he doesn’t need these amenities, and sold the building as condos. Instead, he may go here:

Ok, this is just a stock office photo. But I couldn’t find a photo of the Center School, the closest high school to my house. This school is located above the food court of the Seattle Center and looks like a run-down office. Upon entering you expect cubicles rather than classrooms. The Center House building it is housed in was designed as a temporary structure over 40 years ago. The lunchroom is the Seattle Center food court.

This is the middle school he could have attended:

This is the West Queen Anne Public School. It’s another beautiful brick building designed to last at least 200 years. But it was also sold as condos. Instead, he’ll probably go here:

Built in the 60’s, this cheaply constructed mess of concrete and brick facade looks run down already.

This is the elementary school he could have attended:

Not brick, but still a beautiful building. It hasn’t been sold as condos yet, but isn’t being used as the elementary school. Instead he’ll probably go here:

Ok, this one’s a bit nicer than the others. But then it’s new – we’ll see how it holds up in a hundred years or two.

Where did we go wrong? How come we used to build great monuments to our children designed to last hundreds of years and now build cheap, short term classrooms? Were previous Seattlites just much more wealthy than we are, or did our priorities change? Imagine what our schools would look like if spent our road building taxes on our children instead.

Times Prints Anti-Transit Drivel Once Again

I-90 bridge joint inspection 5
I-90 Expansion Joint, Courtesy of WSDOT

Michael Ennis, longtime transit opponent, has been given space on the Seattle Times opinion page this morning (with a bio calling him ‘independent’, no less!) to show us not only how out of touch he is with voters, but also with reality.

He starts his piece by calling light rail a ‘controversial battle’. Maybe in 1995 – that should have been my first clue about the theme of his piece…

Continue reading “Times Prints Anti-Transit Drivel Once Again”

What the Mayor Told Us Last Night

As you heard earlier this morning, Greg Nickels (the Mayor of Seattle) came to our blog’s meet-up last night. After delivering a speech detailing is 21+ year history of trying to bring rail transit to the region, the Mayor asked the audience for some questions. Here are the more interesting facts we found out:

  • Nickels said he wasn’t “convinced” about a 12th avenue streetcar rather than one that runs along Broadway. He implied that it wouldn’t serve the same area that the original First Hill stop promised in Sound Move would have. But he said there is time to look at 12th, and that the city should.
  • The First Hill Streetcar may not pursue federal funds because it can delay a project for years and the city is attempting to open the line ahead of the planned 2016 date.
  • But the 1st Ave (ID, Belltown, Lower Queen Anne) Streetcar will pursue federal funds and will be started during his next term if re-elected. This line will link the First Hill Streetcar and the South Lake Union Streetcar.

More after the jump!

Continue reading “What the Mayor Told Us Last Night”

Meet-Up, Plus Rapid Ride Photos

Metro_Rapid_Ride_Front-Side_View_05-04-09Thanks for everyone who came to the meet-up. Our guest this time was Mayor of Seattle and Sound Transit board chair Greg Nickels. Nickels was awesome, he gave a history of Link and Sound Transit that only someone who has sent years leading the fight for light rail can, and spent a long time answering questions about light rail, streetcars, transit oriented development and buses. It was a great meet-up, and I’m always impressed by the transit acumen our readers have. We’re really lucky to have such smart readers.

Also present was Shefali from TCC, who I want to encourage people to contact for Link opening event volunteer opportunities.

Seattle is playing host to the American Public Transit Association’s Bus and Paratransit Conference, and Metro unveiled its Rapid Ride BRT buses, as well as bus stops, more photos below the fold.
Continue reading “Meet-Up, Plus Rapid Ride Photos”

Transit Cuts Coast-to-Coast

Via Streetsblog, here’s a CNN news clip on transit cuts being faced in St. Louis.

Okay, that’s admittedly a bit melodramatic, but it does illustrate some of the real-world effects of cutting transit service. St. Louis’s METRO is looking at about a 15% service cut. King Country Metro was looking at some larger, somewhere around 20%. Thankfully, the property tax authority that Olympia gave the county for transit should plug about a third of the hole, but still 13% cuts in service are not going to be pretty. At least Olympia helped, Missouri’s state government refused to move at all on transit funds.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Metro shows off its fancy new toys. Though I still find the paint scheme to be a bit ridiculous, I think they’ve done a fine job with the rest of the BRT aspects of the system, including GPS, shelters with clear information about service frequency, real-time arrival information, and multiple ORCA card readers.

Sadly, there’s still on-board fare collection (though the ORCA readers should help with that).

The real test of BRT, of course, is not the paint job or the GPS system, but the right-of-way in which it travels. I don’t know the A Line route very well, and I understand that Aurora and Bell-Red are going to get some more transit-friendly updates in the interim. But any bus that has to snake through Belltown and Queen Anne to get to Ballard is not going to be too much different from the 15 or 18 Express (though the 3rd Avenue routing should help a bit).

While we’re at it, here’s a suggestion for Metro and SDOT: the express buses that head north towards Queen Anne/Belltown from Downtown have to jag West on Broad, then North on First because there’s no traffic light at the corner of 3rd & Denny.

View Larger Map

Why not make that last little mini-block a transit-only lane heading Northbound on 3rd and have a transit-only traffic signal there? It could be reserved for Express buses, who don’t stop on 1st Ave anyway.

74 Days

LINK Interior
Photo by Adam Parast

Each Link car has 74 seats, with room for another hundred and twenty or more standing. The trains can run up to four cars, so that’s as many as 296 seats, and 800 total riders.

In 1974, BART began operation in the Trans-bay tube under the San Francisco Bay. Also, the Seoul Subway first opened that year, and that system now already has ten lines. 1974 was the last year electric trains ran on the Milwaukee Railroad that connected Chicago to Seattle

Link’s launch is in just 74 days.

Guest Post Series: Sound Move, The First Try

by GREG NICKELS, Mayor of Seattle and Chair of the Sound Transit Board

CPSRTA Election Pamphlet (also note the old agency logo on the train)

With just over ten weeks until Sound Transit Light Rail opens, this is my fourth installment on how we got here.

After the three County Councils agreed to place the RTA plan on the ballot, the RTA’s first actual service began on January 28, 1995. Called TRY Rail, this demonstration of commuter rail service carried passengers between Tacoma and Seattle for a few weeks and then between Everett and Seattle. In total, 35,000 passengers rode TRY Rail. Commuter rail was one of the elements of the ballot measure.

The first vote to decide Mass Transit for King County in 25 years (and the first ever for Pierce and Snohomish Counties) was scheduled for a March 14, 1995 Special Election. In addition to commuter rail, the plan contained a mostly surface light rail system connecting Tacoma to Seattle, north to Lynnwood (actually 164th St SW) and east across Lake Washington to Bellevue and Redmond.

The campaign in favor was called “Citizens for Sound Transit,” and the opponents, “Families Against Congestion and Taxes.” Early polls looked favorable with some 60% of respondents likely to vote yes. According to the Pro campaign FAQ:

There are basically two opponents: Ed Hansen, the Mayor of Everett and Kemper Freeman, Jr., a Bellevue developer. Mayor Hansen opposes this project because it doesn’t include light rail to Everett – in other words, it’s not enough. Freeman opposes this plan because he thinks it’s too much.

The campaign was nasty and the proponents often found themselves on the defensive, responding to FACT’s charges that the ($6,700,000,000) cost was too high (compared with buses and freeways), the ridership numbers inflated and it would not put a dent in congestion.

Despite carrying King County 50.3% to 49.7%, getting 61.7% in Seattle and winning in Lake Forest Park and Mercer Island, the measure got only 42.8% in Bellevue, lost Pierce County and did so poorly in Snohomish County (especially Everett) that Prohibition looked popular in comparison. It went down RTA district-wide 46.5% yes to 53.3% no. The region rejected mass transit. History repeated itself – mass transit was once again treated by many politicians in Olympia and the region as political roadkill. It looked like another dead end for rail transit.

The mayor’s previous installments: Counting Down to Link, Light Rail’s Beginnings, 81 Days

Ports Want Rail Stimulus Money

Port of Seattle
Port of Seattle, photo by Red Yam Flan

The DJC is reporting that the Port of Tacoma and Port of Seattle are going after stimulus cash for rail projects along the I-5 corridor that should help ease freight congestion along the BNSF line. These would also ease congestion and increase on-time performance for Amtrak Cascades. The four projects they want money for are:

  • Building a third mainline and storage track bretween Kelso and Martin’s Bluff. There’s only $53 million of state money currently set aside for this project but it is estimated at more than five times that.
  • Completing the Point Defiance bypass, which would shave a lot of time off of Amtrak Cascades and have a big impact on its on-time performance.
  • Building the Vancouver bypass, which would let Cascades bypass the heavily congested rail yard in Vancouver.
  • Improving the Blakeslee Junction, which is where the BNSF line meets the Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad in Centralia. This has a bigger effect on freight and cars than on Amtrak, but congestion there is a problem for Amtrak as well.

These do seem like good projects for stimulus money if they can reduce congestion for both freight trains and Amtrak service.

75 Days

Atlanta - MARTA
MARTA station, photo by Charles Fred

75% is the share of construction costs for Forward Thrust the Federal Government would have paid. King County taxpayers would have had to come up with just 25%.

In late 1975, construction started on Atlanta’s first MARTA line, the East-West line. The Urban Mass Transportation Administration – the Federal Agency that become the FTA – gave MARTA the $600 million it had set aside for our area’s failed Forward Thrust that year. Operations on the West line began in June of 1979, and began on the West Line in December of 1979.

Update from Ben:

Amusingly enough, while looking for light rail related ’75s’, I found another countdown from a year ago – here’s a post made when Phoenix’s light rail had 75 days left as well. I think everyone gets excited about having a new transit system!

Also, New Jersey Transit’s SEPTA’s (thanks) light rail system has 75 stations.

76 Days

Less than eleven weeks to go!

The NYC Transit Museum opened in 1976.

The Memorandum of Agreement on Interstate 90 was also signed in 1976.

Here’s a tangent: I’ve been reading over more of the I-90 documents, and I’m no lawyer, but it looks to me like the state committed to building the facility to be converted to rail. The state was the lead agency on the project, and that memorandum says

The I-90 facility shall be designed and constructed so that conversion of all or part of the transit roadway to fixed guideway is possible.

So, let’s say we find some significant barrier to conversion. Doesn’t that mean the state will be obligated to make it right, as their responsibility was to make it possible? We’ll see what happens between now and November 1st.

New Metro Website

On Friday Metro unveiled a new website design, which as far as I’m concerned is a major improvement on previous versions, in particular the extremely wordy one that immediately preceeded it.

The “Reports” tab is a godsend to transit wonks like us.  In this respect I believe they’re leapfrogging ST’s site, which has long been the gold standard for planning documents.

Frank at Orphan Road pretty much says everything else that needs to be said.

Changing The Conversation

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Impressive as it sounds, the $8 billion promised by the Obama administration for high-speed rail isn’t really not all that much money, right? With the California’s system along looking like a $40 billion project, the $8 billion, spread across thousands of miles and a dozen or more corridors, is a proverbial drop in the bucket.

But I don’t think that’s the right way to think about the money. Rather, the $8 billion is a game-changer, a catalyst. It’s about shifting the conversation. In the months since the money was announced, municipalities all over the country have been scrambling to put together proposals, to explain why their region is ready for HSR. Take a look at this recent set of headlines from The Infrastructurist:

  • Proposed Texas HSR network would cost $10-$20 billion, help with Houston’s Olympic bid, and facilitate hurricane evacs. (Houston Chronicle)
  • Obama touts a “high speed” rail connection between Des Moines and Chicago. Up to 79 mph! (KCCI)
  • US is a half century behind Europe and Japan rail-wise, says head of Washington state rail program. (BBC)
  • Travel writer: Would I use high speed trains? “I’m thinking the answer would be no.” Not unless they were cheap and “seriously fast.” (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
  • “Kansas City should be a key national hub” for a national high speed rail network, says KC rail booster. (KC Tribune)
  • High speed rail is on the horizon for Minnesota: A discussion of the opportunities and challenges on MN Public Radio.
  • Editorial: Nevada’s congressional delegation should fight hard to make fancy gambling train–as Sen Jim DeMint calls the LV – LA rail proposal–a reality. (Las Vegas Sun)
  • If you live in LA, you’ll have a couple of opportunities to show public support for the state HSR project next week. (CAHSR Blog)

Simply by chasing the pot of gold, these local politicians have had to meet with rail advocates and contractors, talk to constituents about the benefits or rail, convince the local chamber of commerce to get on board, draft feasibility studies and long-range plans, etc., etc. Even if they don’t get one single federal dollar, they’ve started to create an internal constituency and a set of stakeholders who are interested in pursuing HSR.

New Metro Site

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Via Erica Barnett, I see that King County Metro’s site has gotten a bit of a facelift. I like how they’ve bubbled up some of the more important content right there on the home page (like the trip planner). Sadly, it appears that the redesign is only skin-deep, as clicking on any of the links takes you to an interior page that’s pretty much unchanged. Nice top-level navigation bar even goes away, which is kind of a usability no-no.

Still, a solid effort, and hopefully only a first step. One new feature worth noting is the “Eye on your Commute” blog, which Metro explains thusly:

Just as traffic reporters alert motorists of spot problems on roadways, Metro’s own “transit reporters” are launching another online product, “Eye on Your Metro Commute.” As part of the pilot project, they will monitor information coming into Metro’s Transit Control Center during daily morning and afternoon commutes and will share what they are hearing. Our reporters will be looking for spot problems that could delay or disrupt bus service. Those delays could be caused by a major accident, road closure, or significant transit operational issue. Updates will then be posted on Metro Online’s home page. You can also subscribe to an RSS feed to receive the updates on your PC or small-screen mobile device.

Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond explains Metro’s new web tools.
“Eye on Your Metro Commute” will operate Monday through Friday from 6 a.m.- 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.-7 p.m. The pilot will run through the end of 2009 and may be extended following an evaluation of the service.

So, despite the fact that it’s hosted on WordPress, it’s not really a blog, per se, but more of an alert service. I guess we shouldn’t expect any pictures of LOLcats to be posted at 3am. A nice use of free tools, in any event, and I’ve added the feed to the news feeds on the right.

77 Days

Hopefully I’ll be more accurate with this one!

Last year, Salt Lake City’s UTA ordered 77 vehicles from Siemens, reportedly the largest light rail vehicle order ever in the US. I don’t know if we’ll beat that – I think it depends on whether we order all of our 2020 vehicles at the same time.

1977 marks the year that the Washington State Department of Highways became the Washington State Department of Transportation. Thirty years later, they still mostly build highways.

Initiative 348 also came in 1977 on the heels of the creation of WSDOT and the implementation of a 2 cent per gallon gas tax. It was basically an early version of I-912, the Eyman attempt to roll back the 2005 Transportation Partnership Account (the 9.5 cent gas tax).