Rail Advisories: No Sounder to Mariners and Superliners

P42s leading the Coast Starlight by author
P42's leading the Coast Starlight by author

Sound Transit wants to remind everyone that there will not be a Home Run train to Safeco Field, Saturday, October 3rd, 2009. This is mainly due to the low projected attendance for the last remaining games.

Amtrak and WSDOT would also like to remind those last minute travelers to Vancouver BC or Seattle, WA on trains #510/517 will be substituted with Superliner equipment for about a week. The FRA will be doing tilt testing using one of the Talgo’s using the P32 and P42 locomotives. This will be done late at night so it does not bother with normal daily traffic. The purpose of this test is to allow the P32 and P42 (and P40s) the ability to travel at the posted Talgo speed limits instead of following standard passenger train speeds in the curves.

Stanwood Station may open just before Thanksgiving weekend. The project has been delayed due to lead contamination at the station site delayed the early November opening.

Hundreds of people turned out for the opening of Leavenworth Station. The train arrived on-time to a large crowd on the platform. While the complete station will be finished later this year, Leavenworth opted to open the station now to support the upcoming winter months. Snow is expected to hit Stevens Pass this weekend with the cool temperatures. May be a good time to take the train there!

Editorial: Stand Behind Your Agency

RV Boys & Girls Club (northshoresheetmetal.com)
RV Boys & Girls Club (northshoresheetmetal.com)

[UPDATE 9:10am: Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielke writes to inform me that there has not been a net cut in SE Seattle Metro service.  Chart is below the jump.]

[UPDATE 2: An explanation of the numbers below is at the end of this post.]

On Tuesday the 20th I attended a very small portion of a Seattle City Council Town Hall at the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club.    Because the event was held on the second working day after a major service change that removed entire routes, the dominant emotion was anger at Metro’s “inequitable” decisions.  Fortunately for the attending politicians, an entirely valid response was to say they’d look into it and otherwise pass the buck to the King County Council.

I bring this up because the County Council is going to try the same thing, at the same place, tonight at 6pm.  This may be too much to hope for, but it’d be nice if the Council listened respectfully, but stood behind their staff and raised a few good and important points:

  • There are sins on all sides in Metro debates, but let’s not conflate the addition of a transfer, especially when one route runs every 8 minutes, with a total loss of service.
  • For every person demanding that their service not change at all, there’s a different Rainier Valley resident asking for a connection to the Link station.  In a world with finite resources you’ll have to take away some existing service to make the new connection.
  • Metro had a massive outreach program that I saw up close.  There were at least three mailers sent to every household, dozens of open houses, internet outreach, advertisements in foreign language media, and so on.  People will still miss all that, but there’s not much else Metro can do besides knock on each door individually with 7 interpreters in tow.
  • It’s true that in terms of Metro service the Rainier Valley saw a net loss. However, it makes no sense to look at Metro in isolation. Specifically, there’s a light rail train that already is the most productive route in the system and is still growing.  Before there were any service changes, something like 7,000 round trips were subjectively improved, because people chose to take the train.  More would probably like the train but were afraid to try, or couldn’t get to the station.  Those 14,000 boardings were about four times that of the 42; other routes that were cut (32, 42X, 126) had trivial ridership.  So, from a utilitarian perspective it’s clear the overall transit situation in the Valley has objectively improved.

All that said, Metro was really strong on outreach pre-decision, but now people are actually paying attention.  It might not hurt to have a few (multilingual) open houses in conjunction with Sound Transit where experts work out for people how their commutes will have to change.

UPDATE: Here’s the chart I got from Metro, below the jump: Continue reading “Editorial: Stand Behind Your Agency”

Density, Carbon Emissions, and the Built Environment

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

You go to battle climate change with the built environment you have, not the built environment you might want or wish to have. Choices made decades or even centuries ago with respect to street layout and such are still with us today. Which is why an abandoned military base becomes the perfect car-free suburb, or why transit works much better in San Francisco than in nearby San Jose.

Changing land usage patterns is a long-haul effort, as Clark Williams-Derry at Sightline argued last week, but one that’s worth making if we’re going to blunt the impact of climate change.

I feel like one thing that gets lost in the debate over density here in Seattle is that the city isn’t uniform. The built environment is going to affect our options regarding density, as it should. What works in some neighborhoods won’t work in others. It’s more important, I’d argue, to pick and choose your neighborhoods, and then figure out how to make them densify gracefully, rather than haphazardly sprinkle 4-pack townhomes in predominantly single-family neighborhoods.

One of my favorite streets in the city is 17th Avenue, South of Union St. It starts with gorgeous, 3-story apartments and co-ops:

View Larger Map

Then, a block South, it’s turned to basically a full block of townhomes that all make sense together, and all open right out onto the street, and finally, a block South of that, it’s single-family homes. The overall effect is that the neighborhood seems cohesive.

One reason it seems to work is that there’s an alley behind the townhomes that provides parking access, so that the homes don’t have to have the typical 4-pack design. Let’s work with Seattle’s built environment to build the kind of density that works with the street (and alley) grid that we already have.

First Hill Streetcar Funding Agreement

Councilmember Licata

I’m watching the Seattle City Council’s Transportation Committee meeting on the Seattle Channel right now. This morning, they’re setting up the city half of the agreement to accelerate the First Hill Streetcar. The City of Seattle will do an environmental assessment next, followed by Sound Transit signing off on providing the city funding. Sound Transit already gave Joni Earl, their CEO, the right to sign off, so it shouldn’t even require another Sound Transit board vote.

This is one of only a handful of times I’ve watched City Council talk about transportation, but I’m struck by one thing here: Licata does not like this streetcar. He’s interrupted a number of times asking about how the City can get out of the agreement, whether Sound Transit can get out of the agreement, and whether we can run a trolley bus instead. He was reminded, of course, that the ST2 vote says streetcar. The money can’t be used for a trolleybus.

Essentially, Sound Transit will start providing money in payments to the city sometime in 2011, such that the streetcar could be running as early as late 2013. Sound Transit has funding to operate the streetcar in perpetuity, despite the City being the actual operator. The agreement today will provide that funding for the city through 2023.

There were some small changes made to the agreement today that would give the City Council more of a role – basically, make their role here identical to their role in the South Lake Union line.

The transportation committee passed the agreement, 4-0. It still has to go to the full Council, and it may also need to go back to the Sound Transit board to approve changes the Council made.

2010 City and County Transportation Budgets

Kurt Triplett
Kurt Triplett

I want to dive into these some more later, but for now, both the Seattle and King County executives have released their 2010 budget plans.  In both cases, these budgets will be overseen by a new executive.

Anyway, the City’s six-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) .pdf is most interesting for the beginnings of a tunnel funding plan.  It’s not crystal-clear from the document, but  Scott Gutierrez says $600m of the $930m City responsibility is programmed, and some of it would use the same City MVET authority that Mike McGinn hopes to dedicate to building light rail.

At the County level, Kurt Triplett released his  Transportation Budget (pdf).  There are no huge surprises for anyone who read our series on Triplett’s Metro plan.

I speculated that the audit might point out some savings that could avoid some of the originally scheduled cuts.  However, the suggested audit savings were either extremely unpalatable, or positioned a few years into the future.  Thus, there was no change to the previously proposed 310,000 hours of suspensions over the next two years.  These suspensions amount to a 5% cut from a baseline of the planned service level in 2010-11, and therefore are smaller cut from the 2009 service level.  The other 4% from the Triplett plan’s headline 9% cut come in 2012 and 2013, and may be avoided thanks to audit savings.

Two other exciting tidbits:

  • $34m for a RapidRide “F” line (Burien, Tukwila Link, Southcenter, Tukwila Sounder, S. Renton P&R,  Renton TC).  (see page 33) Design work to start in 2011.  Previously planned lines are A (Pacific Hwy S), B (NE 8th St, Bellevue/Redmond), C (West Seattle), D (Ballard), and E (Aurora).  I’ll post more when I get it.
  • $5.5m to get ORCA readers for all doors on all Metro coaches (p.25), greatly speeding loading and unloading.

The next step for both budgets is to be deliberated on by the respective councils.

Weekend News Roundup

CT DE60LFA 29700, by wings777
"CT DE60LFA 29700", by wings777
  • Dan Bertolet at HugeAssCity offers an articulate defense of embattled Seattle DOT head Grace Crunican.
  • The SunBreak interviews Metro GM Kevin Desmond about ORCA, Twitter, and unions.
  • A bunch of local newspapers worked together to create a very extensive “Navigate King County” transportation special report.  We’ll try to digest it and discuss further later.
  • SOV market share down in DT Bellevue and Factoria, slightly up at Crossroads and Bel-Red.
  • Kemper Freeman-backed Bellevue City Council Candidate Kevin Wallace has commissioned the engineering study to get Link pushed out to I-405 through Bellevue.
  • Two more Central Link vs. car collisions, the usual illegal left turn.
  • Not to be outdone, Tacoma Link takes out a BMW.  The TNT has a great photo.
  • Link noise declared a public health emergency, apparently a technical move to allow expedited procurement to solve the problem.   Stupidest quote in the Times article:  “We can’t have the light rail be more of a pollutant — with the noise, you’ve canceled out the carbon reduction.”
  • Dave Ross loves his Orca (skip to 31:30).
  • Jesse! helps out a homeowner waiting for Sound Transit to fix his yard.
  • City of Snohomish looks at a tourist train.

New Bellevue Tunnel Option?

Tunnel Station (by the author... I think)
Tunnel Station (by the author... I think)

Sound Transit is looking at a cheaper option for a tunnel through Bellevue.

The new tunnel would go under 110th instead of 108th, meaning the main station would be one “superblock” away from the Bellevue Transit Center, at 110th and 4th. This tunnel would also be about half the length of the preferred tunnel alternative – cutting costs significantly.

This alternative also appears to avoid cutting off access to Meydenbauer Center and the adjacent buildings’ loading dock, as the C2T option had before. It would turn east underground and run through the northern half of the City Hall site before crossing 405.

There’s an additional upside and downside here. The upside is that it’s likely the next station could be on the other side of 405 – where Bellevue City Council wants more development. The downside is that the Bellevue Transit Center station would be farther from the residential development north of NE 8th.

Overall, it cuts the length of tunneling from 5000′ to about 2000′.

Fred Jarrett: Redo Metro Route Criteria

State Sen. Fred Jarrett
State Sen. Fred Jarrett

State Senator Fred Jarrett, who recently ran for King County Executive, had a very thoughtful piece in Crosscut yesterday attacking County Executive Kurt Triplett’s plan to cut all routes proportionally, as well as the current 20/40/40 service allocation policy:

King County can take one of two paths to deal with excessive costs, looming service reductions, and the outdated policy of regional equity. It can “spread the pain” and make simple broad-stroke across-the-board budget cuts and service reductions. Alternatively, it can view the situation as a strategic inflection point — that time in the life of an organization when circumstances force it to adapt to new reality — and use the crisis as an opportunity help shape the future we want. To date the Metro debate has focused on the first path. I hope that King County will step back and take a broader look at the situation.

There are a number of strategic and tactical steps Metro can take to use the crisis as an opportunity to shape the region’s future. First, the failed “20-40-40” service allocation formula must be scrapped.

He proposes, instead, primary opponent Ross Hunter’s idea to tie bus service to density and zoning:

More interesting, though, is putting buses where we want them to work. For 20 years, we’ve had a regional strategy of growing “centers” with density sufficient to be successful transit markets. Current plans identify 27 such centers in 18 cities in the county, and propose “prioritizing transit funding” to encourage investment in those centers. The state’s Growth Management Act supports this prioritizing by requiring “concurrency,” a policy prohibiting cities and counties from permitting development where necessary infrastructure investments supporting the development haven’t been funded. In principle, concurrency focuses our scarce public resources on these designated centers.

We’ve said nice things about this idea before.  Regionally, we almost all agree that more density has to go in somewhere.  However, local jurisdictions control the zoning process and are often captured by NIMBYs.  A policy like this one would give the County both a carrot and stick to help policy reflect the wider interest.  Areas that desire an urban level of transit service should accept an urban development footprint.

In the past, I’ve pushed back against the self-serving Seattle view that boardings per service hour are the only thing that should drive Metro planning decisions.  Jarrett proposes three metrics more definitive than the current mush but more broad than a strict boardings perspective:

Focus should move to peak market share, cost-per-mile and cost-per-passenger.

I think there’s enough in there to make sensible decisions without cutting off half the county’s population from bus service.  By including passenger miles as a metric, there’s a framework to support long-haul commutes that dramatically reduce VMT.

Dow Constantine, like all Executive candidates, also said bad things about 20/40/40 in his recent “Reforming King County” release.  There’s less policy meat than in Jarrett’s piece, but he went out of his way to say nice things about the Jarrett column in yesterday’s KUOW interview.

The Hutchison campaign did not answer a request for comment.

Metro Transit »

King County Metro bus.

(King County Metro)

The coming Metro Transit cuts are a rare opportunity

Instead of following arbitrary political allocations, let’s shift to a philosophy of putting bus service where it’s already working and where we want density to go.

The King County Metro bus system is at a critical juncture. The direction county leaders choose for the regional transportation agency will have profound long-term impacts on our economy and environment.

King County can take one of two paths to deal with excessive costs, looming service reductions, and the outdated policy of regional equity. It can “spread the pain” and make simple broad-stroke across-the-board budget cuts and service reductions. Alternatively, it can view the situation as a strategic inflection point — that time in the life of an organization when circumstances force it to adapt to new reality — and use the crisis as an opportunity help shape the future we want. To date the Metro debate has focused on the first path. I hope that King County will step back and take a broader look at the situation.

There are a number of strategic and tactical steps Metro can take to use the crisis as an opportunity to shape the region’s future. First, the failed “20-40-40” service allocation formula must be scrapped.

Followup on Nightlife and Transit


I asked the McGinn campaign whether his support for transit service till 3 am would be funded by the City, or merely a case of him advocating with Metro and Sound Transit.  Here’s what he said:

Both Metro/Sound Transit and city funds are needed to improve late night transit service.  Clearly the city cannot afford to go it alone, nor are excess Metro or Sound Transit resources available in this economic climate.  I would seek to leverage these limited dollars by first offering them as matching funds for affected businesses that contribute toward late night service.  I would also work with Metro on scheduling existing service.

As the the economy improves, it will be easier to fund additional service.  My main point is that we cannot have arbitrary service schedule cutoffs when we know there is demand.  Even if we can only start with limited weekend frequencies immediately after clubs and bars close, we will be making our streets safer and our communities more livable.

He also mentioned giving the best casino bonuses. As a followup, I asked if the business contribution would be negotiated with neighborhood business associations or directly with businesses, where there would presumably be a free rider problem:

We need to engage both.  There appears to be a pretty strong awareness of the problem, so it might not be as big of a problem as you might think getting businesses to do their part, but we can’t expect them to shoulder the whole load, either.

A great start for internet blackjack. The Mallahan campaign did not take an invitation to state their position on this issue.

Weekend Ridership

Phoenix Metro Light Rail (wikimedia)
Phoenix Metro Light Rail (wikimedia)

From last weekend’s New York Times, Phoenix’s new light rail line is grudgingly praised by former opponents, and has very high weekend ridership by people with a new excuse to go downtown.

We’ve seen the latter phenomenon here, where the mid-August ridership numbers showed more boardings on Saturday than the average weekday.  More anecdotally, while riding the train and walking along MLK I can say that there are a ton of people on the train on any given weekend afternoon.  Sometimes that’s sporting event traffic, sometimes not.

Weekday ridership will catch up, as more people figure out how to commute with the train, weekend light rail tourists go away, and the winter brings fewer events downtown.  Nevertheless, I think this is an example of how rail is able to capture riders even when the drive downtown isn’t all that expensive or unpleasant.

Two Sound Transit Reports

Sound Transit recently released their Second Quarter Ridership Report.  Overall boardings were up over the same quarter last year, as usual, partly due to ever-increasing service levels.

Pierce County and South King buses and trains experienced a general decline in ridership, aside from Tacoma Link.  As these subareas make up the vast majority of Sounder ridership, Sounder boardings overall took a hit.


The final version of the 2009 Service Implementation Plan (SIP) has hit the street.  It details all the planned service changes through next February, as well as provisional changes through 2013.  It’s also the most thorough data source about each route that I’ve seen released by any transit agency.

A cursory glance at the ridership numbers tells you something about the transit market in various corridors.  Specifically, the 545 and 550 together carried 10,112 people a day in 2008.  Not every 545 rider will end up on East Link, but then I’m counting nothing from the 554, 555, or 556, nor all the Bellevue/Redmond traffic on Metro.

The anti-transit Eastside Transportation Association slams East Link and prefers BRT on I-405 instead.  Somewhat less ridiculously, Eastside Rail Now wants to emphasize the BNSF North/South rail corridor.

So let’s add up the riders.  The 532, 535, 560, 564, and 565 feed Bellevue and Redmond from a huge area, Everett all the way down to Federal Way.  Total ridership on these routes? 6,171.*

Dedicated believers, if they’re so inclined, can always dismiss ridership projections as biased by the agency that released them.  But they can’t as easily dismiss the empirical data from Sound Transit’s ongoing experiment of connecting Eastside jobs to both densely packed residents in Seattle and widely dispersed residents to the North and South.  Add in the fact that you have even more traffic passing in the opposite direction — Bellevue and Redmond to transit-optimized locations in DT Seattle — and it becomes a no-brainer.

* There are also a few Metro and CT routes in this corridor.

Save the Date

[UPDATE: I believe we’ve identified a venue, which we’ll announce shortly.  Thanks for your recommendations.]

Our next meetup will be Thursday, October 8 from about 6 to 10 pm.  We’ll have guest speakers and will be putting it together in conjunction with our friends at the land-use site northwesthub.org.

We’re still working on the venue, and if you suggest a free, quiet, yummy location for about 40-50 people south of Capitol Hill and north of Renton, we’ll listen.

Comment from Ben: Be sure to stay past 9.

News Roundup

Mt. Baker TC Bay 2, by Oran
Mt. Baker TC Bay 2, by Oran

McGinn Proposes More Late Night Transit Service

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fabio_eniac/ / CC BY-NC 2.0

In releasing his plan for night life & the music scene, Seattle mayoral candidate Mike McGinn has one interesting item related to transit: “To help cut down on drinking and driving, transportation choices such as light rail, taxi service, and buses need to be accessible until at least 3 a.m.”

More details on his plan on Line-Out.

Metro to the Mariners Once Again?

Safeco Field (Wikimedia)

Streetsblog Capitol Hill (the one in DC) has a piece on the new transportation spending bill – or one curious part of it.

Our Senator Patty Murray happens to be chair of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, and she’s inserted language in the bill that would roll back a rule we’ve written about before – a rule preventing public transit agencies from providing (subsidized) bus service to special events when a private charter can provide it.

Amusingly, it would only roll back the language for Washington State. This makes sense – she can provide us a benefit without having to negotiate with conservative Senators from other states who might not want this rule reversed. Cross your fingers – we could get our $3 bus to the Mariners back.

New Sound Transit Map

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

I’m gratified to see that the newish Sound Transit system map, which has been at Link stations and major transit centers for a while now, is now being distributed in publications like the schedule book.  It’s a graphically very appealing map that, I believe, owes something to a few of Oran’s earlier efforts.

Interestingly, the station version includes the SLUT and the Monorail, while the booklet version does not.

Not every ST Express bus stop is included on the map, which says something about how many there are.  Without getting into the weeds of evaluating individual stops, it would be nice if our “express” bus system eventually got the stop count down to a point where presenting them all on a map like this was feasible.

The Trolley Argument

Seattle Trolley Bus, by Oran
Seattle Trolley Bus, by Oran

We asked someone to make the case for trolleys, and Orphan Road delivered.

First, Serial Catowner in three parts (1, 2, 3).  Catowner is a bit of a poet and I’m a bit of a bean counter, so I found Matt the Engineer’s breakdown of the audit a bit more to the point.

My thinking on this subject is still evolving, but some bullet points on my current position are below the jump.
Continue reading “The Trolley Argument”