Phoenix Adds Late-Night Rail Service / CC BY-NC 2.0

Less than a year into its operation, Phoenix’s light rail is extending Friday and Saturday night trains from 12:15am to 3:15 am, all funded by federal stimulus dollars.  This gives Phoenix the title for the West’s latest running train, surpassing Denver at 2:48 am.

Although every system in the nation except New York must shut down for part of the night for maintenance, staying open late weekends seems like a reasonable compromise, and one that would enhance public safety.  On the other hand, service increases cost money, and this blog’s demographic may skew the perceived importance of running at such a late hour.  Moreover, late night service means late night warning bells in Sodo and the Rainier Valley.

Phoenix is going to report on their experience after 6 months of this.  It should be an interesting read.

What are the parameters of the minimum late-night service that you think would be useful?  Should Sound Transit wait till U-Link opens?

(H/T: Lloyd)

Where BRT Works

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Nice piece in the NYT on BRT in Bogota and the opportunity BRT presents for the developing world. A cautionary note to BRT proponents here in the US: doing it right requires a staggering amount of right-of-way:

But with its wide streets, dense population and a tradition of bus travel, Bogotá had the ingredients for success. To create TransMilenio, the city commandeered two to four traffic lanes in the middle of major boulevards, isolating them with low walls to create the system’s so-called tracks. On the center islands that divide many of Bogotá’s two-way streets, the city built dozens of distinctive metal-and-glass stations.

News Roundup: 8 days

Video by css903

The initial peak headways are a little under 8 minutes.

Route 8 will serve all the Rainier Valley stations, and provide local service along MLK.

Everyone’s publishing their “anticipation of light rail” piece.  As the train becomes less theoretical (and the large costs remain abstract in most people’s minds), I think enthusiasm is building, at least among those who aren’t invested in hatred and/or distrust of Sound Transit:

Continue reading “News Roundup: 8 days”

Cities on the Short End of Stimulus

One of the worst bridges in Washington
The South Park Bridge received a 6 out of 100 in the Federal Highway Administration's safety rating, but no stimulus money went to repairing it. Photo by Jim Carson

This excellent New York Times article sums up what was wrong with the portion of the transportation stimulus bill that was passed back in February:

Two-thirds of the country lives in large metropolitan areas, home to the nation’s worst traffic jams and some of its oldest roads and bridges. But cities and their surrounding regions are getting far less than two-thirds of federal transportation stimulus money.

According to an analysis by The New York Times of 5,274 transportation projects approved so far — the most complete look yet at how states plan to spend their stimulus money — the 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money from the biggest pot of transportation stimulus money. In many cases, they have lost a tug of war with state lawmakers that urban advocates say could hurt the nation’s economic engine

The graphic, below the fold, specifically points out how Seattle got the short end from Olympia:

Continue reading “Cities on the Short End of Stimulus”

Light Rail: Getting There

I have a guest column up at the Rainier Valley Post on the various ways people can access light rail in the Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill.

The comment thread is degenerating into the usual stuff, but there are some good tidbits in the piece.  In particular, we’ve identified two pay parking lots within easy walking distance of a station.

Saving a Piece of Ugly Something for Something Beautiful

Preserve the green section? Image from MJC.
Preserve the green section? Image from MJC.

The continually outside-of-the-box hugeasscity blog posits an interesting thought: After all the hard work to ensure the remove of the heinous waterfront Alaskan Way Viaduct, perhaps a piece of it should linger. For history. For a park. For a big, beautiful sculpture. For a multi-story illustration of the welcome change to our waterfront:

[…] Buster Simpson, a public artist, and Jack Mackie, an architect, have proposed saving some columns and partial beams as an “urban ruin”. I would take this further and suggest preserving a section large enough to function as an elevated open space and viewing platform (think the NYC High Line, see below). Certainly tearing down the Viaduct has the potential to create an amazing waterfront public space, but the opportunities for increasing open views of the Sound and the mountains beyond are limited by the numerous privately held properties lining the waterfront. Having more elevated viewing opportunities may help address this fact. Victor Steinbrueck Park, and a couple spots in the Market, are among the few elevated public areas where people can take in views of the Sound.

It goes to a core question: Should a city reinvent its existence as the arc of time progresses? I say no, hold on to the history we have. When the World’s Fair ended, we kept our Space Needle and our Monorail. As our city expanded, we kept our Discovery Park and our Arboretum. Many fought to keep the essence of Pike-Pine alive. A nod to the past is perhaps the most pleasurable part of living in a real city, and one that the new generation urban enthusiasts hasn’t began to fully appreciate. We may learn that newness becomes devoid of impact without the old.

Is some part of this decrepit highway worth preserving and fashioning into our urban framework? Absolutely.

Metro Financial Policies

Committee Chair Dow Constantine (
Committee Chair Dow Constantine (

The last agenda item in the June 17 Regional Transit Commitee meeting was a review of Metro’s financial policies.  The report itself (.doc) was even more boring than it sounds, but there were some interesting comments and ideas from the committee afterwards.

The much-publicized $105m Revenue Fleet Replacement Sub-fund surplus could fund Metro’s deficit through the end of 2010.  Committee members seemed to latch on to that as meaning they could avoid any pain, but of course it merely postpones the day of reckoning.  Metro service volume will not recover to 2008 levels for the better part of a decade barring a permanent new source of revenue, as Chair Dow Constantine pointed out:

It is remarkable how much you can throw in, in terms of money transferred from fleet replacement, in terms of new revenues, and still not make a huge dent in the number of service hours we’re faced with potentially having to cut.

Continue reading “Metro Financial Policies”

Do You Have Link/Street Signaling Questions?

Photo by the Author

Link light rail runs at grade on Martin Luther King Jr Way S with street traffic and pedestrians crossing the track at regular intervals. Coordinating signals to ensure that trains and cross traffic flow safely with minimal delays is an ongoing process that will continue after light rail opens for service.

Do you have questions about how traffic signals work together with Link light rail signals? If you do, please leave them in the comments. I will be meeting with an SDOT signal operations engineer this Thursday and will try to have your questions answered.

Ray LaHood Gets It, Gregoire Doesn’t

Ray LaHood at Sound Transit O&M Facility
Ray LaHood at Sound Transit O&M Facility

Yesterday, an assortment of federal, state and local elected officials welcomed US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to Seattle. LaHood, who has been something of an unknown quantity when it comes to transportation, is maturing into what I believe many progressive transportation advocates have been dreaming for. This comes as a surprise, due to his background as a Republican Congressman from the relatively small city of Peoria, Illinois.

The first sentences out of his mouth praised Seattle for creating such a livable city and limiting sprawl. Unlike what the name of his official blog, The Fast Lane, suggests, he has been surprisingly vocal in his support of livable, walkable, and bikable communities as well as high speed rail and all modes of transit. Last month, under his leadership, the USDOT, EPA and HUD formed an interagency partnership for sustainable communities which will coordinate and align efforts of all three agencies to improve the livability of our cities.

All of this has attracted the scorn of Newsweek’s George Will after LaHood implied that the federal government should encourage and support less auto dependent lifestyles. Obviously, George thinks that’s a bad thing:

LaHood, however, has been transformed. Indeed, about three bites into lunch, the T word lands with a thump: He says he has joined a “transformational” administration: “I think we can change people’s behavior.” Government “promoted driving” by building the Interstate Highway System—”you talk about changing behavior.” He says, “People are getting out of their cars, they are biking to work.” High-speed intercity rail, such as the proposed bullet train connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, is “the wave of the future.” And then, predictably, comes the P word: Look, he says, at Portland, Ore.

Continue reading “Ray LaHood Gets It, Gregoire Doesn’t”

Recap: SP 4449 and Disney Train

For those that asked; I have uploaded photos of two trains: the Southern Pacific 4449 on its journey out to Spokane, Washington and ultimately to Train Festival 2009 in Owosso, Michigan, and Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” display train in Seattle. I was quite busy =P

Click on the photos to see the gallery!

SP 4449 by Mesa, WA by Brian Bundridge
SP 4449 by Mesa, WA by Brian Bundridge
The Disney Carolers by Brian Bundridge
The Disney Carolers by Brian Bundridge

No Service Cut Guidance Yet

tradeoffsAnother part of the June 17 Regional Transit Committee meeting was another round of discussion of Metro cuts.  Once again, the Committee punted on giving Metro firm guidance on service cuts, instead holding out hopes that painless internal cuts can close the gap.  The Metro presentation, which contains little new information, is available here.

Seattle Councilmember Jan Drago was something of an exception (43:00 in the video), as she read into the record a letter from the City requesting that:

  • service reductions should be treated as “suspensions” rather than “cuts”, so that they would not be subject to the usual subarea criteria;
  • emphasize ridership, transit-dependent communities, growth management goals, and slowed implementation of Transit Now, in that order.  Transit Now investments that leverage external funding would be retained.
  • Metro develop a “moderate ridership impact” scenario that falls between the high-ridership, pure-productivity approach and one that essentially cuts a bit from everything.

Drago remarked that the high productivity plan resulted in an “unacceptable” loss of 40% of Eastside riders, while the other plans were unacceptable to the West subarea ridership.

Both Issaquah Councilmember Fred Butler and Sammamish Councilmember Kathy Huckabay spoke in favor of higher fares to close the gap, in conjunction with various unspecified efficiency improvements.

The King County Council must decide on a cuts policy by September to allow them to go into effect by February, although there’s talk of delaying the decision to January 2010 and the actual cuts till June 2010.  By burning through more cash reserves this way, the Council might get more time to scrounge for cash, and, it must be said, postpone a decision till after the election.

Transportation 2040 DEIS

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

PSRC has released the Transportation 2040 draft environmental impact statement, which will be used to guide regional planning for the next several decades. There are several alternative scenarios considered (in addition to the “baseline scenario” – i.e. nothing):

  1. Emphasize efficiency
  2. Expand highway and transit capacity – add more HOV and HOT lanes as well
  3. Expand highway and transit capacity – using tolls only to pay for discrete projects (Level 2 tolling, in my previous ordering)
  4. Toll all freeways and spend some of the money on highways and some on transit (Parts of levels 3, 4 and 6)
  5. Toll all freeways and all city arterials (presumably through some sort of GPS system) and use the money for lots of transit expansion (Levels 5/6 — the most aggressive use of tolls)

Note that these are all just guidelines, and all the specific investments mooted are just a way of creating the scenario for accounting purposes. There’s nothing to suggest that we can’t mix and match.

Alternative 5 provides far and away the most transportation funding. Check out the description of the proposed expansion projects:

Alternative 5 Roadways
Alternative 5 would include limited investment in roadways.
Improvements would primarily include completion of HOV
lanes on I-5 and SR 16 and regionwide chokepoint and
bottleneck improvements.

Alternative 5 Transit
Alternative 5 promotes an interconnected transit system that
reaches beyond ST2 by building out the Sound Transit Long-
Range Plan. It would extend express bus and rail (both light
and commuter) service and increase core, connector, and
specialized bus services throughout the region. Light rail or
other high-capacity transit would connect Everett and Tacoma,
extend to downtown Redmond, and serve Ballard and West
Seattle. In addition, commuter rail would connect Renton and
Snohomish via the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe (BNSF) rail
corridor. Alternative 5 would invest in new passenger-only
ferry service to serve demand rather than expanding the auto
ferry system, and transit service to ferry terminals would be
improved. Investments in the transit system would stimulate
mixed-use development near transit centers and rail stations.
Cities would have funds for “complete street” projects to
support safe, walkable, communities.

Note that only Alternative 5 includes Ballard/West Seattle HCT. Again, that’s not to say that the only way to get light rail to Ballard is to toll 15th Ave NW and Leary Way, but that’s one way of getting the necessary revenue.

There’s a comment form open for the next week or so, so be sure to let your voice be heard.

(via PPB)

Second Cascades Train

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’m a bit late on this, but it’s great that the Canadians have relented and allowed a second Cascades run between Seattle and Vancouver. They’re calling it a “pilot” project through the 2010 Olympics, but I’m guessing it will stick around after that. I expect ridership will be quite high, and soon they’ll have created a vocal constituency for the 2nd train.

Martin at STB says it will leave Seattle in the evenings and come back in the morning. That’s much more reasonable. The prospect of catching a 7am train out of Seattle was never all that appealing to me. But being able to leave on a Friday night and come back either Sunday morning or evening? Brilliant.

Viaduct and RapidRide Update

Photo by citywalker
Photo by citywalker

Two tidbits from the June 17 Regional Transit Committee meeting, on which I’ll file a more full report later.  Go to 1:45:00 in the video to follow along at home:

  • When the Columbia and Seneca St. viaduct offramps are torn down with the rest of the viaduct in 2015-2016, the planned route for West Seattle RapidRide (and indeed, most buses from West Seattle) will follow SR99 until it reaches a new King St. offramp.  From there, buses will make their way to the 3rd Avenue “transit spine” by using some combination of Main and Washington Streets.  The city will upgrade the route with various transit enhancements, possibly signal priority, a transit lane, or queue jumps.
  • West Seattle RapidRide (the “C” Line) has long been scheduled for a September 2011 opening.  Now that tunneling details have emerged, Metro staff is concerned that opening the line then — when both SR99 and 1st Ave S are hosed  — would really harm the RapidRide brand by not at all being rapid.  While all the additional service hours would still appear on schedule, the branded elements of RapidRide (special paint jobs, fancy shelters, some off-board payment, arrival boards) may be delayed until 2012, when the Ballard line happens to be opening.

View the RapidRide C project page here.  An earlier reaction to the RapidRide project is here.

Second Vancouver Amtrak Run Enabled

Lots of people have been emailing us about the news that Canada’s government has agreed to fund the border guards to allow a second Seattle-Vancouver round trip, one that will go all the way to Portland.

It’ll leave here in the evening, and come back in the morning.

According to the Times, it’ll start next month.  The bad news is that the fix is temporary: it’s only through the Paralympic Games, which finish March 21, 2010.

I’m sure Brian will be back with more, but please resume your weekend merrymaking.

Station Architecture

Beacon Hill Station (Sound Transit)
Beacon Hill Station (Sound Transit)

Thursday’s photo of UW Station set up a barrage of complaints in the comments about how ugly the station is.  Art-hating barbarian that I am, my problem is much less the design of the station than the fact that it’s an isolated structure.

The quarter-mile radius around light rail stations are extremely valuable properties with which to do intensive land use.  There’s a somewhat less valuable band out to a half-mile, and of course that’s often further constrained by topology, etc.

I’ve already ranted about how Husky Stadium isn’t very intensive land use, but Sound Transit isn’t doing us any favors by falling in love with the plaza-in-a-park design.  You see this at Husky Stadium, Beacon Hill, to a lesser extent at Mt. Baker, and to a small degree even the other Rainier Valley stations.

I’m sure that promising to bring a plaza or a park is a much better selling point to the community than saying you’re going to bring a whole bunch more residents.  Nevertheless, I’d be all for incorporating stations into a much larger building built directly on top of, or immediately adjacent to, the station, as is done at many of the downtown stations.

Independence Day Special Events

SP 4449 by Brian Bundridge
SP 4449 by Brian Bundridge

This weekend, there are several special rail related events happening in the Pacific Northwest;

July 3-5; Disney’s A Christmas Carol train tour will be open for display Friday and Saturday 9am to 7pm and Sunday 9am to 4pm. The train will depart early morning to Spokane on July 6th.

July 3rd: The Southern Pacific 4449 steam locomotive will be departing Portland’s Union Station at 8am for it’s long journey to Michigan for Train Festival 2009. The locomotive will be away for about 3 months as it tours the Midwest. There are tickets still available for day trip segments if your interested (short notice) This is the first time this century that a privately owned steam locomotive has traveled outside of its home terminal. The last locomotive to make this trip was the ATSF 3751 in August and September 1992. Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the 844 and 3985 steam locomotives travel yearly to various locations across the United States.

July 4th: The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad will be having a party on both trains with free cake, flags, and live music on-board the trains.

Feel free to add on to the calendar!

Have a great and safe 4th of July!