Transit Opponents Sue To Stop East Link

East Link, c/o Sound Transit
East Link, c/o Sound Transit

A laundry list of transit opponents have come together in a last-ditch attempt to stop East Link from being built on I-90. We’ve recently gotten word that a suit has been filed against the State over the use of the I-90 express lanes.

The petitioner list is almost entirely expected: Kemper Freeman, Jim Horn, Steve Stivala, Ken Collins, Michael Dunmire, Sarah Rinlaub, Al Deatley, Jim Coles, Brian Boehm, and the Eastside Transportation Association. Some of these people are also involved in the conservative Washington Policy Center, another transit opponent.

Their argument is simple: They claim that if the I-90 express lanes were paid for with gas tax money, they can’t be used for transit.

Unfortunately for them, there’s plenty of precedent for state highway right of way being used for transit (consider Link as it follows 599, 5, and 518). The independent analysis we discussed yesterday demonstrates that the discussion has moved far past opponents’ claims – I-90 was built for transit, and if the state used gas tax funds to pay for a transit facility, the analysis framed that as more likely their problem than Sound Transit’s. Some money may change hands, but the process for doing this is already in place.

What concerns me about this suit is that it could be used by certain state legislators as a reason to delay. “Let’s see how the lawsuit plays out” seems like an easy way to avoid doing their jobs. Fortunately, the valuation is on track, and I don’t think any particular legislators want to be called out for blocking progress when there’s a hard deadline in state law for the agreement being complete.

We’ll update soon with the text of the suit.

Bus Displacement

Photo by the Author
Photo by the Author

Nina Shapiro at the Daily Seattle Weekly makes the first journalistic attempt to figure out how Rainier Valley-Downtown Seattle bus service is competing with Link, and throws in a racial angle.  She also makes a fairly big factual error.

First the error:

One possible railway deterrent: It’s not free to transfer from train to bus, as it is from bus to bus.

This is simply not true.  From Metro’s website:

A valid transfer from Community Transit, Pierce Transit, or Sound Transit can be used as payment for a one zone fare on Metro Transit, regardless of how much you paid on the other system.

Going from the Rainier Valley to elsewhere in the city, as in the example this draws from, is a one zone fare and therefore a free transfer.  This took approximately 20 seconds for me to look up, and it’s a shame Ms. Shapiro didn’t bother to do the same.

Another point worth making is that attracting new transit riders is a good thing, and illustrates the “rail bias” that helps make rail transit’s long-term cost per rider more competitive than buses for high-ridership routes.

Finally, a lot of the minority population in the Rainier Valley is also an immigrant population, with limited English skills.  For many of them, it was labor-intensive to figure out how to get around in the first place, and it’ll take a bit more of a nudge for them to try out a new mode that may get them places faster.  After all, I’m both a fluent English speaker and a transit wonk, and I don’t pretend to fully understand all the intricacies of our interlocking fare systems.  Beyond that, there’s a ton of misinformation out there, as the Weekly piece shows, partly due to Sound Transit’s last-minute convergence on its fare policies.

That “nudge” will occur in September, when the 42 and 42X effectively cease to operate.

News Roundup

Vancouver Skytrain (Wikimedia Commons)
Vancouver Skytrain (Wikimedia Commons)

ORCA for the kids: good luck

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Seattlest beat me to this, but in summary: you can’t order children ORCA cards online, you have to bring their birth certificate to one of two locations downtown during business hours on the weekday. Score one for bureaucracy.

Ride Link to the Seafair Hydroplane Races!

Thinking of heading down to the Seafair Hydro races? Take Link! A free shuttle (with standard Link fare) will be running Friday, Saturday, and Sunday between Othello Station and Stan Sayres Memorial Park. More information is available on the Seafair website, which also mentions that the park isn’t too far from Columbia City Station.

It’s going to be a hot weekend, but we’ve heard the air conditioning on the trains is wonderful!

First Link Ridership Numbers

Link train at Tukwila platform, by l0st2
"Link train at Tukwila platform", by l0st2

[Update 1:09pm. Correction and further points below, in italics.]

Earlier, Ben took the position that it’s best not to get too worked up about ridership numbers at this stage, and I think that’s true whether the numbers are good or bad.

That said, Link’s first-week weekday boardings were just announced via press release as 12,000/day.  For reference, that’s slightly higher than the ridership of the 7 — Metro’s busiest bus route in the Rainier Valley and third-busiest overall, and one that serves a denser population.  Link would be second overall, slightly behind the 48.*   Of course Link has much higher capacity — vehicles are more frequent, much larger, and provide a longer span of service — so any individual train is likely to appear quite sparse at that ridership rate.**

There were 16,900 boardings on Saturday the 25th, and 16,100 on Sunday the 26th.  This was no doubt boosted by the many events last weekend, as well as first-timers who skipped out on opening weekend for one reason or another.

Sound Transit projects 21,000 daily boardings by the end of the year, as people figure out their commutes, bus service is realigned to better support Link, school starts, and some duplicate bus service is cut.  The 2010 figure (once Airport Link is open and the second round of bus changes happens) is 26,600.

There were 1,300 boardings on the airport shuttle bus per day, so about 10% of trips are airport trips.

And before you ask, boarding estimates are based on sensors that perform sample counts of people getting on the train, not on ticket sales and ORCA taps.

* Comparison is skewed somewhat by a lack of Link numbers for when school is in session.

** There are about 248 one-way trips per day, so the mean trip would carry just under 50 passengers, meaning about 1/3 of the seats were full on a 2-car train.

The I-90 Fight Continues, And The State Is Losing

Forward Thrust 1990 Travel Volumes - from Oran
East Link hasn't changed much since Forward Thrust... (from Oran)

To recap: Approved and funded by last year’s Proposition 1, part of the East Link expansion to Bellevue and Overlake will replace the current I-90 express lanes. Those express lanes were built after a 1976 Memorandum of Agreement signed by several parties, including the state of Washington, to reserve them for transit. They would be used for car traffic until a transit agency needed them.

In an amendment to the agreement in 2004, two things were added: one, the R8A project to build HOV lanes on the I-90 bridge outer roadways (from Seattle to Bellevue) was identified as a prerequisite for handing off the express lanes. Two, use of the lanes would be for light rail, assuming Sound Transit could get voter approval to fund the project (and as we know, they did). The state also signed this agreement (same link as previous). At that time, the state DOT was considered responsible for building these HOV lanes, as the prerequisite was never something required in the 1976 agreement — the capacity added by the express lanes was intended to be temporary.

During the last legislative session, the state essentially reneged on the HOV project, opting to fund huge highway expansions and strip most funding for R8A, failing to fund the paltry $24 million they committed to during Sound Transit 2 negotiations, in which Sound Transit agreed to fund an additional $90 million (PDF). In addition, Speaker Frank Chopp started making comments about Sound Transit paying $1 billion or more for use of the lanes. Given the growing number of concessions Sound Transit made (see that PDF above) to get use of a facility built for transit in the first place, this was outlandish and, in this blogger’s view, highly irresponsible.

After considerable wrangling, the House replaced $10 million of the $24 million, allowing design work to continue, and an agreement was reached to use a third party to determine the valuation of the lanes and how much, if anything, Sound Transit would have to pay the state for their use.

Here’s the new stuff: Last week, the independent consultant agreed to earlier in the year released their draft report, “An Analysis of Methodologies to Value the Reversible (Center) Lanes on Interstate 90…” (PDF). It has some interesting things to say, especially as the legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee will be meeting tomorrow in Seattle to discuss this. Several fantastic points from the report after the jump:

Continue reading “The I-90 Fight Continues, And The State Is Losing”

Brush Fire in Tukwila


[Update 4:38pm: P-I reports some more lanes are open, but traffic still looks ugly.  Apparently, this was all caused by a moron tossing a cigarette into a bone-dry median.]

Brian Bundridge, out at Tukwila station, has several items to report:

“due to the brush fire in Des Moines, buses are being rerouted to Hwy 99/Pacific Hwy”

“I-5 and Hwy 99 are complete gridlock”

“Parking at Tukwila station is COMPLETELY FULL. And there are 4 TVM’s”

“I’ve already been hearing that street parking several blocks away is stuffed, too.”

“and businesses have been towing people”

“I just got on board Link (got lucky to see someone pulling out) and it is almost standing…”

Nothing on any agency websites about the reroute.

If this persists, I’d take Sounder to go South.

News Roundup

Metros Mailbox, by Atomic Taco
"Metro's Mailbox", by Atomic Taco

The media blitz is settling down.

Rainier Valley, Charlotte, Copenhagen and London: Informing East Link Design

Bellevue's Bel-Red Corridor Vision
Bellevue's Bel-Red Corridor Vision

Bellevue needs to take a second look at its station area planning. Stations similar to those in Rainier Valley are what Bellevue currently envisions for the Bel-Red corridor. However, cities like Charlotte, Copenhagen and London are where Bellevue should really be looking for inspiration.

NE 16th St ROW

I like the Rainier Valley stations, and I think that Sound Transit did its best to make a primary arterial pedestrian friendly.  However, median island stations are not conducive to true transit oriented development and the associated public realm that makes them so attractive. Currently, Bellevue envisions a new NE 16th St for the Bel-Red corridor. This street would require significant ROW acquisition, running roughly halfway between Bel-Red and SR-520.

On page 20 of Bellevue’s Ordinance 5858 it says:

Discussion: The expansion of NE 16th Street is a lynchpin project for Bel-Red. The extended corridor will be the key east-west arterial connection, tying together much of the new Bel-Red land use. It is also the City’s desired location for light rail and high capacity transit, and for major new pedestrian and bicycle access across the Bel-Red area. The vision for the corridor is ambitious, incorporating all these transportation modes, and including a “linear park” series of open spaces spanning the corridor…”

While LINK needs ~25ft ROW or ~45ft with station platforms, the envisioned NE 16th St would need a minimum of ~96 ft. At intersections this could increase to ~140 ft, including station platforms and turn lanes. Both of these widths leave no accommodation for bicycles or parking, which would add another 24-34 ft. The “linear park” would I hope add at least another 30 ft. This is isn’t chump change, we are talking about a ROW with roughly the same width as the Alaskan Way Viaduct. This is hardly appropriate for pedestrian scale development and would create an unnecessary desert-like expanse of concrete between buildings. These types of intersections are nothing unusual for Bellevue, but that doesn’t make them acceptable.

While center-running light rail and island stations were the only realistic option for MLK, Bellevue is free to imagine to its heart’s content.  Yet its current vision is uninspired and painfully backwards, an exact copy of what was done downtown years ago. For a city that has done such a good job on the land use side of East LINK, this is extremely disappointing. Bellevue is missing a significant opportunity to create vibrant pedestrian oriented, or even pedestrian only station areas that are good for people, the city and developers alike.

Continue reading “Rainier Valley, Charlotte, Copenhagen and London: Informing East Link Design”

More Pay Parking

Diamond parking by smohundro
"Diamond parking" by smohundro

[UPDATE 10:25pm: A reader reports there’s a pay lot in front of the Safeway, one block west of Othello Station on Othello St.  The rate is $30/month, which is a good one.]

Two more Link parking opportunities we’ve identified:

  • Immediately west of Mt. Baker Station, there’s a $4/day Diamond lot.
  • The Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club, two blocks North of Columbia City, is offering monthly parking (24 hours, 5 days a week) for $175/month.  Call 206-436-1890 for more information.   That seems a bit steep, but it’s a good cause.

To review, the two we’d already found were:

  • Rainier Ave & S. Edmunds St. (3 blocks East of Columbia City) for $3/day, except Wednesdays.
  • Beacon Ave. & S. Forest St (a block south of Beacon Hill) for $1.50/hr, nights and weekends only.

And of course, outside business hours Residential Parking Zones are not in effect, so there’s plenty of free parking.

There are also rumors of a lot near Othello, as well as a $5 overflow lot near Tukwila, whose details we haven’t determined yet.  Feel free to provide those details (cost, hours, exact location)  in the comments.

The broader point I’d like to make is that this pay-to-park model is one that I’d like to see extended.  The Diamond Parking people are presumably going to find a market equilibrium price where the parking lots are nearly full.  People who can take a bus, walk, or bike are incentivized to do so, while those who really want to drive can do it also.  As a result, a maximum number of people have access to the station.  Meanwhile, there are far more likely to be a few spots available for people who show up in the middle of the day, resulting in less frustration.

Moreover, this all comes at no cost to the taxpayer, and when the time comes for the lot to be turned into TOD it will be more difficult for a determined group of people to stop the project.  If the city is wrong and there is massive demand for parking, there’s a private revenue stream ready to fund a garage.  It’s a win/win for almost all of us*.

* Not that we’ve been helped by the local media proclaiming that there’s “nowhere to park” near the stations.

It’s Going To Happen

Late last night, a man jumped in front of Link in SoDo. He climbed over the Jersey barrier south of Holgate. He went under the train, and did not live.

It’s disappointing when someone decides that’s their only way out. I feel sorry for the operator, too. I hope Metro offers a good mental health plan, and I hope the operator gets paid leave if they want it.

ORCA passes now accepted on SLUT

Seattle Streetcar, by Mike Bjork
"Seattle Streetcar", by Mike Bjork

The Seattle Streetcar official website welcomed the arrival of Link light rail and the ORCA smartcard. It announced that ORCA card readers will be installed on streetcar station platforms next year.

While ORCA e-purse users have to wait until next year to pay with their card, ORCA passholders can show their card as proof of payment. Funnily enough, an ORCA card looks the exact same whether it carries a monthly PugetPass or an e-purse… So draw your own conclusions.

Hopefully we can get ORCA readers installed into the streetcars themselves some day. Now that the South Lake Union Streetcar connects with Link, has anyone noticed an uptick in ridership?

Light Rail Commute Observations

Video by Flickr user Reverend Kommisar
I live two blocks from the Beacon Hill station and I use it as part of my commute each day, and the first week of Link has been an eye-opening experience.  Of course, I’ve seen the usual things: confused TVM users, intermittent outages*, etc., but it really hasn’t been at all what I expected, though not necessarily in a bad way. I’ve got a couple of observations to share, and I’m really interested in hearing about other Link Commuters experiences have. If you take Link to work or school, please share your experiences in the comments.

Each morning a couple of dozen people are waiting for the 36 bus at the stop in front of my house as I walk to the Beacon Hill station. I find this really surprising as Beacon Hill station is two blocks away: no more than 150 yards. Thursday morning I even counted more people at the stop in front of my house (23) than I counted boarding Link (13) with me four minutes later.

I don’t know exactly what’s going on here. These bus riders probably aren’t transferring from Link, as there’s a stop right in front of the station, so they aren’t Link riders at all. Some of these bus riders may be going places other than downtown (Amazon or Little Saigon are really the only possibilities). Still, it’s hard to imagine that of the dozens of people waiting at 8:30 am for a bus whose primary destination is downtown, none are going downtown. I think you can assume many of the would-be-Link-riders are either scared of Link or unaware (hard to believe, but they exist), but it seems to me that the Southeast Seattle Metro revisions can’t come soon enough. Clearly many of my neighbours need a little push to change their commutes to the more efficient option, and frankly, isn’t light rail a waste of money without riders?

The reverse of this phenomenon is present as well. In my (very) unscientific survey, I’ve found that 18 of the 34 commuters (53%) I’ve asked on the Beacon Hill platform or in the elevators didn’t previously use the bus as their daily commute option. There’s no way to say whether this will hold up, and obviously my sample set is terrible, but fewer bus riders on Link and more new riders coming from cars in concert show that-at least a week in-Link isn’t just cannibalising former bus riders.

Some random thoughts below the fold.
Continue reading “Light Rail Commute Observations”

Swapping Ferries for Buses

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I think Kurt Triplett’s on the right track here with his plan to take money from the proposed King County ferry district and apply it to Metro’s funding gap. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

I was bullish on the King County ferry district back in 2007, and skeptical back in February of this year, due to the same budget constraints that seem to be driving Triplett’s thinking.

Mt. Baker Walking Tour

by AMBER CAMPBELL, editor, Rainier Valley Post

[Ed. Note: This is the first of four guest posts by Amber, who is cross-posting this.  We know you’re looking for excuses to ride Link, so here’s something for you to do.]

Mount Baker is a charming Olmstead neighborhood created by the Hunter Tract Improvement Company in 1907 and perhaps best known for its elegant homes and abundance of trees and green spaces.

The Mt. Baker station hugger has a wide variety of restaurants to choose from with The Original Philly right at the base of the station, a Starbucks directly across the street, and several authentic ethnic restaurants like Thai Recipe, Jasmine Provencial Vietnamese and more. There’s even a Domino’s Pizza, if you like that sort of thing.

mtbakerbeachThe urban explorer will want to head east on McClellan for about a half-mile to Mt. Baker Park with its playground, public art and forested, quarter-mile path down to Mt. Baker Beach.

On the way, consider taking a quick detour (about a half-mile round trip) off McClellan to check out Franklin High School by turning south on 30th Avenue until you hit the “keys” right in front of the stately old building.

more after the jump. Continue reading “Mt. Baker Walking Tour”

Working Out The Kinks: Intraday Service Changes

Several people have commented here that they’ve been on peak-direction trains that have kicked them off at either Rainier Beach or Beacon Hill. I suspect I’m not the only person who’s followed up directly with Sound Transit.

What’s going on is when we go from 7.5 minute morning peak service to 10 minute midday service (or 7.5 evening peak to 10 and then to 15), some trains need to be taken out of service. Taking the train all the way to the end of the line and out of service there would result in the train having to run empty back to base, confusing passengers.

It seems like a good solution would be to only take trains out of service in the off-peak direction. So in the morning, instead of kicking everyone out at Beacon Hill, the train would go through to Westlake, and then come back with a SoDo Only sign and special announcements. People will still get kicked off, but a lot fewer of them.

Sound Transit staff tell me they’ve been following up with Link operations internally. This will improve.