Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran (Click to Enlarge)
  • The Seatac Station pedestrian bridge is now in place (see above).
  • The SLUT is having money trouble, but Mayor Nickels is seeking a loan to keep it afloat.
  • Mountlake Terrace Park and Ride is not yet packed, but it did just open.
  • John Stanton, of anti-light-rail fame, gives $700 to Joe Mallahan.  That’s the maximum.
  • Seattle Business Monthly notices TOD.   Luckily, some projects are still afloat in this economy.  (via HAC)
  • Portland’s temporary “cycle track” installation.
  • A very wonky primer proposed changes to on the Growth Management Act (GMA): Part I and Part II.
  • The MAX Green Line opens Saturday, which should bring daily boardings from 100,000 to about 125,000 by the end of the year.
  • SOV drivers annoyed our minimal attempts at BRT aren’t open to SOV drivers.

63 Replies to “News Roundup”

  1. So howizit streetcars are less expensive to operate than buses if the SLUT singlehandedly swallowed up most of Metro’s expansion money for Seattle, displacing several bus improvements in southeast Seattle?

      1. By agreement between County and City, starting Sept. 19th Metro will cover 3/4 of the SLUT’s operating costs. Metro’s going to pay for it with about half the hours freed up by cutting back the 42.

      2. From the article: “Metro Transit was supposed to pick up 75 percent of the operating costs for the line once it made bus route changes connected to the opening of light rail.”

        The SLUT, as I understand, was built with Seattle money but will be operated with Metro money. That sucked up most of the money Metro was going to use for bus expansions in Seattle, particularly the connector routes for Link. Thus the Seward Park-Othello bus will be running something like every 60 minutes and not after 7pm. Apparently one streetcar line costs as much as several bus lines to operate. I don’t see how to reconcile that with your claim that streetcars cost less per passenger than buses. So I’m afraid that if Seattle gets several streetcar lines as Nickels has been pushing for, the result will be a net reduction in transit routes.

      3. The problem is the base is of small capacity. Build more streetcar and you need more bases. Especially if First Hill is built without connecting to South Lake Union.

      4. Yeah, I bash Ben often about the streetcar taking hours we need for buses right now… but a good comparison of this is to look at the initial costs per passenger of running Sounder trains vs. what it costs per passenger now with North and South operating and multiple trains on each side of Seattle. There’s a pretty HUGE difference, as one might expect.

    1. Via very bad timing due to the economy and light rail opening, which confuses the rail-vs-bus issue even more. I like the SLU Streetcar and use it fairly regularly, but it’s pretty hard to justify its 15 minute headways this year, especially when operators could in theory be driving routes that feed Rainer Valley light rail stations instead. In practice Metro doesn’t move that quickly though, and as Amazon opens those streetcar hours will be well used. Bah, what we really need is enough funding to expand service everywhere. :(

    2. Why do you assume that the operating hours for the streetcar came at the expense of bus hours in southeast Seattle? Couldn’t they have come from anywhere within Seattle? Seeing as how Seattle is paying Metro for increased bus service in the city through the Bridging the Gap levy I think it is a little disingenuous to claim that operating the streetcar is coming at the expense of southeast Seattle residents. The 2005 operating agreement between the city and Metro called for Metro to allocate to the streetcar some of the additional hours already being allocated to Seattle by Metro for expansion of bus service. In 2008, the Bridging the Gap levy started paying for an additional 44,000 hours of bus service per year in the city. In other words, no existing bus service was cut to operate the streetcar, and a whole lot of bus service is being added with Seattle money.

      And for comparison, according to Metro the streetcar cost $160 per hour to operate, and an electric trolley bus cost $130 per hour. Fully loaded an Inekon streetcar can handle 150 passengers, a Gillig ETB can handle around 60. I’ll leave the math to you.

      1. This why streetcars only make sense when they can generate consistent ridership greater than the capacity of a bus. In the case of SLUT the 1,300 daily riders works out to an average of about 10 people per trip. Even after Amazon opens it will only bump up to a bit over 30. The big problem is that it’s so expensive to add peak demand service with a streetcar. One of the things that killed them in the first place. It can really only work when used to replace an already existing high demand all day transit route. This can be created, much like ridership for Link, by shortening existing routes and forcing a transfer. For example if you ran a route from the Center down 3rd to Jackson you could by shortening routes that used to go downtown eliminate much of the bus traffic on 3rd an decrease transit times through this congested corridor. Decreasing transit times are key because it directly reduces the cost of labor.

      2. Yes, I agree with you about streetcars ideally replacing high ridership bus routes, but streetcars can also be used to influence development and therefore generate high ridership routes, as is the ambition in SLU. Unfortunately the SLUT, as Ben pointed out, is burdened by the operation costs of a base that serves only the SLUT and a miserable economy which is hampering and will continue to hamper the development of SLU and prolong SLUT’s low ridership. Perhaps a different route would have been better to re-introduce streetcars to Seattle, but the LID in SLU made it pretty irresistible.

      3. Well it’s low ridership outside of peak but it’s standing room only every time I’m on it within an hour of peak times. Once Amazon comes in, peak ridership will go up a lot and off-peak and weekend will go up a little, and once the SLU Park expansion and MOHAI in the Armory open in a couple years, ridership will go way up off-peak and on weekends.

      4. 50% off of something you don’t need is not a good deal. The $25M in capital funding is nice but for this to have been a good deal for the City (and now the County) in should have included covering at least half of the on going operations and maintenance loses. I just don’t see Public Transit as appropriate spending to line the pockets of companies like Vulcan and Wright Runstad. Downtown Bellevue has become a dense development without any streetcars. I think Belltown has seen more housing built than SLU; again with no streetcars. Development will follow zoning. The reason the ridership will increase after Amazon opens is because of the 60% non SOV rule by the City Council not because people join Amazon to ride a streetcar. Buses can easily be scaled to follow the development and if and when the economics warrant rail then it can be put in at that time instead of guessing where it will be needed two decades from now.

      5. No way. It is impossible to have sky skraping density without streetcars. Everyone that blogs here knows that streetcars magically create density and without streetcars (or light rail) density doesn’t exist. Yes, developers in downtown Bellevue know light rail will come some day, but they built now long before there ever is light rail. Perhaps all we need is The Professor Hill (The Music Man) “Think Method.” Think Rail and Density will naturally follow. No need to really build it. That seems to have worked well in Ballard (Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!).

      6. Nice straw man. No one said density is “impossible” without rail; however, it does seem that virtually all the walkable neighborhoods in Seattle were laid out along streetcar lines. Meanwhile, in the bus era Seattle has built pretty much nothing but sprawling single-family, parking-intensive development, except in those existing streetcar neighborhoods.

        And the 42 really did wonders to redevelop MLK, while the first big commercial projects in generations are now sprouting there. What a coincidence!

      7. This is why I am a supporter of streetcar as a mode, but have been opposed to much of the planning for a network in Seattle. It’s being used to push development goals of the city and not transportation goals. It’s particularly annoying when City folks push the proposed streetcar lines as a response to the failed monorail project — which was about rapid, grade-separated conduct from one neighborhood to another and not transit within neighborhood business districts.

      8. Zed,

        It’s true service hours are fungible, but on the SE Seattle Metro sounding board it was presented to us as no net loss to service hrs in the SE with the exception of rte 42 hrs going to the SLUT. This requirement is really unpopular with planners, so maybe it’s just trying to make the city look bad, but there’s a new service requirement in the West subarea and it’s being paid for out of the old 42.

      9. You are mistaken. The agreement was reached PRIOR to Transit Now and was tied DIRECTLY to service changes resulting from Link being put into operation. I’d like to see someone post the Memo of Intent signed by Nickels and Sims to substantiate what it says (I no longer have a copy).

      10. I didn’t mention Transit Now in my comment, did I?

        The bus hour reduction due to Link would have happened with or without the streetcar. The streetcar being operated with those hours did not cause a reduction of hours in southeast Seattle. Which is why I think it is disingenuous to blame the streetcar for a (perceived) reduction in bus service in southeast Seattle, it is obviously being painted that way for a political purpose.

        Now, in a fair world, there would be a reduction in bus hours in southeast Seattle due to Link coming online and those hours would be redistributed evenly to the rest of the city. So, if anything, people in north or west Seattle should be complaining about the streetcar taking service hours from them.

      11. ???

        The reduction of hours in southeast Seattle as routes are reconfigured to serve Link was supposed to result in some number being used to either create new feeder routes to Link or increased frequency on existing routes.

        If a large number of those hours now get applied to the streetcar, how is it “being painted that way for a political purpose”? That’s been the understanding of many folks for quite some time…

    3. A lot of topics here. My main interest is the long-term impact of adding streetcars vs doing something else. I agree with most of the STB about adding light rail: the “pre-metro” configuration (stops every 1+ miles, mostly grade-separated) gives Seattle a transit option that’s been missing: something faster than buses, frequent, and making trips feasable that weren’t before (e.g., southeast Seattle to Sea-Tac without transfering at Southcenter, Spokane Street, or Downtown). That justifies the capital costs to me, and I’m swayed by Ben’s argument that LR will become relatively cheaper compared to buses as gas prices rise.

      Streetcars are a different ballgame, and I’m still undecided about them. My initial reaction is negative because I’ve heard from several places that they’re more expensive to operate than buses (both trolley and diesel). If Zed is right that a streetcar is $160/hr vs $130 for trolleybus, then maybe the difference is insignificant and the issue is more the route than the mode (i.e., is this the most-needed route). The higher capacity of streetcars is only a factor where such high demand is likely.

      My main concern about the SLUT is not the past (how many bus expansions it displaced) but what the impact of more streetcars would be. In that I’m still not sure if I can agree with the STB majority (more streetcars, and streetcars over buses), hence my question.

      Zed: “The 2005 operating agreement between the city and Metro called for Metro to allocate to the streetcar some of the additional hours already being allocated to Seattle by Metro for expansion of bus service.” That’s what I’m taking about. It’s not disingenuous to point out that these hours were slated for bus expansion but were diverted to the SLUT. No matter which government agency caused the change (and it was clearly the city rather than Metro), the net result to users/taxpayers is the same: a streetcar in SLU (of minor benefit) and less feeder expansions to Link (which would have really showed people what LR+feeders can do for a region).

      1. My point is that the changes to bus service in southeast Seattle would have been the same whether or not some of the freed-up hours were diverted to the streetcar. There was never a decision to scrap feeder service to Link in favor of the streetcar and it is not fair to say that the streetcar caused Metro to reduce service in southeast Seattle because it is simply not true. There could be a great feeder service to Link if people in the south-end weren’t so scared of having their bus route changed or having to, gasp, transfer.

      2. Metro had a pool of hours in the Southeast with which to maintain existing service and create new service. They took the SLUT hours right off the top.

  2. The woman complaining about the lack of parking at Ash Way P&R and the difficulty of getting to South Everett Freeway Station seems to have forgotten about Mariner P&R and McCollum Park P&R. Heck, she should be glad she doesn’t “have to” drive to Everett Station.

    1. So I’m fairly familiar with the configuration of the South Everett Freeway Station and it still took me a couple minutes to figure out what she was really complaining about.

      She is basically complaining that she can’t actually use the HOV facilities to access the P&R in ADVANCE of actually becoming an HOV. She’s is saying, “Well I plan on becoming an HOV sometime in the future, so why can’t I use HOV only facilities now even though I am still an SOV? Crazy…

      Simple answer: If you are an SOV then access the P&R via 112th. Otherwise use a different P&R or access your HOV some other way.

      It just isn’t that hard…..

      1. Absolutely. But I think this points to a general flaw with separating lanes of road and pretending that’s equivalent to building a railway: drivers *hate* seeing bits of road that they technically can use but are not allowed to. This lady isn’t some outlier – there will be continuous pressure to open those HOV lanes up to all road users, and it only takes one Rossi term for it to happen.

    2. Actually, I believe the article mentioned she lives in Marysville. So she passes by Everett Station – and with a brand new parking area too.

  3. If you take the 577 from Federal Way to Seattle, then transfer on a 550 to Bellevue, is that still a 2-zone $2.50 fare? I’m used to the UPASS so I’m confused on zones.

    1. Yes, each trip is a 2-zone trip, so you transfer from one 2-zone trip to another 2-zone trip, and shouldn’t have to pay more. The ORCA, for instance, doesn’t know anything about *which* zone you’re in, just how much you’re being charged.

      1. Hmmm that’s what I thought..but I just did a trip planner on sound transit’s website and the fare said $3.00. Will the second driver accept your two-zone transfer from the first leg? Or will they want an extra 50 cents?

  4. I wonder if the authorities at Seatac have considered allowing someone to operate a “taxi” service to ferry people via an electic cart from the station to check-in?

    1. They already have that. But I think they made the access too narrow for the carts to pass each other. They’ll still work but but if two meet going opposite directions with a crowd of people it’s going to be a traffic jam.

  5. I know they scale back the the original design due to cost issues but does anybody know if the vertical V dip will still be part of the final design for the bridge that connects Link Airport Station to the new kiss and ride lot?

  6. recently rebuilt for $20 million… is operating at less than half of its capacity.

    The garage and surface lot now hold 880 vehicles, compared to 387 before the project.

    A five-story parking garage seems like major overkill. That’s over $40k per added space. Even if the new lot was full every weekday for the next decade it works out to almost $9 a day to park if it was to pay back just the cost (no interest).

    1. Montlake Terrace Link Station is going to be at the parking garage, so I’m sure they’re hoping that it will pay off to build it now instead of in 10 years.

      1. And how about make all of these park and rides actually pay off by charging people to use them?

      2. Some of the P&R lots should definitely be charging. I really can’t see building multi story garages like this (Redmond’s another example) unless there’s sufficient demand to at least recoup part of the money. Instead of the 5 story behemoth they could have built a much more modest structure on the portion left as a surface lot and still been able to expand later. Link is limited in it’s expansion by the rate of funding. It would be terrible planning to build garages now and push out the completion of the rail with the idea it’s cheaper. If you build the rail sooner it will be cheaper.

  7. Martin, to clarify, those links are not primers on the GMA itself but I am pleased to see that you’ve linked to them. They are wonky explanations of proposed administrative changes to the GMA, as proposed by the Department of Commerce. If anyone wants to provide comment, they should do so soon since the public comment period ends October 2nd.

  8. In other big, peripherally-transit-related news, Russell Investments is moving to Wamu Center. I feel sorry for Tacoma, but it’s probably a good move for Russell in the long run.

    1. If Russell had decided to stay in Tacoma the vote of confidence would probably have been quite the boost for Downtown Tacoma.

      Someone else would have bought Wamu Center soon enough and new tennants would have been found. But Tacoma was just barely getting back on its feet after all of these years.

  9. I wonder if the City of Seattle would consider a cycle track as part of an Aurora Avenue rebuild?

    1. Aurora is quite an awful bicycle and pedestrian environment… It would be much nicer to have something like that on a different street.

    2. Why ride down Aurora when you can ride down Fremont Ave N, which the city calls its first Bicycle Boulevard. Fremont Ave N and Linden Ave N, signed as ‘Interurban North’, connects to the Interurban Trail through Shohomish County. It’s safer and less stressful.

      1. As a fairly avid cyclist I don’t see this 7′ wide cycle track on one side of the road as a good idea at all. Parallel alternatives to heavy traffic roads is the best. Center cycle lanes sound weird but they work great on Ravenna. As a cyclist (and having many many motorcycle miles) visibility is the primary concern. Hidden by parked cars looks like a disaster.

  10. As a guy that uses his car in a single-occupant capacity about once a week…

    It would be nice if HOV exit/entrance ramps which didn’t have SOV lanes as well (such as in Kirkland at 128th St) would allow SOVs to use the lanes during non-peak hours.

    Otherwise, it’s just annoying having to go at least a mile out of your way, when you wouldn’t be bothering anyone if you used the nearly-empty lane.


    1. While I see the benefit to SOV users… I really don’t feel the need to benefit SOV users! Can you use the bus or something?

      1. The 1 day a week is when I’m carrying ~ 40 pounds of bulky goalie equipment to a game (usually around 9pm).

        As an example trip: Getting out of the Kingsgate arena at 11pm, the Kirkland -> MyHouseInWallingford trip is a 3-bus, 4-hour-and-34-minute ride, which goes via Renton.

        So, Bus Fail… Anyhow, I don’t really care that much, ’cause at 9pm there’s not really any traffic, so a mile goes by pretty quick, but it seems silly not to be able to use a perfectly good exit ramp where I wouldn’t be inconveniencing anyone else at all.


      2. Isn’t there a full interchange at NE 124th st? That is hardly a mile from 128th. Besides the 128th ramps didn’t even exist as of a few years ago they were put in to serve the Kingsgate P&R as well as the Totem Lake Transit Center.

      3. Yeah, I live around there. If you’re going to SB 405 just continue down 116th and bear left across 124th on to 405. They gave I-405 traffic 2 turn lanes! Only one lane for right and thru traffic. My 255 usually gets stuck at that light.

        But I suggest going up 132nd, left on 160th and getting on 405 by Brickyard P&R. It’s more direct and shorter.

      4. SOV’s HAVE had the advantage and convenience for more than 3/4 of a century – an extra mile? Time to yield.

    2. If the State had funded that ramp, I’m sure it probably would be open to SOV between 7 PM and 5 AM. However, since the ramp was funded by Sound Transit, it’s restricted 24 hours per day.

      1. Last time I looked the HOV lanes on I-5 were restricted 24 hours. In order to use the HOV ramp an SOV would have to get in the HOV lane, which would be illegal.

      2. Zed,
        You are correct. I had thought that WSDOT had changed virtual all HOV lanes to allow SOV use 7PM to 5AM. It appears the HOV rules are about as convoluted as Metro pay as you enter, pay as you leave except after 7 and on Tuesdays if you have a Royal Fizbin. I was initially opposed to opening HOV access evenings and early AM but now I realize it makes a lot of sense. Some access may have safety concerns that warrant transit only and I can see that being restricted to 24 hours a day but if it’s HOV access then off peak it should be open. Why would SR-16 be 24 hour restricted and not 520? If anything I would thing the reverse since 520 is on the outside and creates hazardous merge conditions.

  11. When ST built the direct-access ramps near my house at the Eastgate P&R, they promised during the public comment period that the ramps would be for buses only. Then, after the ramps were nearly complete, they changed their mind and decided to allow HOV access. Now, from my observations, about half the cars using the ramps are cheating SOVs. It’s fun to stand there when the State Troopers are doing enforcement and watch all the drivers slam on their brakes and swerve back onto the roadway when they spot the police. I even saw one woman do a u-turn on the ramp and head back to 142nd when she spotted the trooper half-way down the ramp.

      1. What exactly are the ST Police? I saw ST Police doing traffic control for some piss ant repaving project down in Lakewood a couple of weeks ago. I’m pretty sure ST had nothing to do with the funding. Do these “cops” carry guns? Do they drop traffic control if there’s a bank robbery? I guess my question is are they police officers or just public security guards or something in between? And why are they doing traffic control for weekend re-striping of turn lanes?

      2. They are a bona fide police department comprised of sheriff’s deputies, sergeants, detectives, and officers, real cops with real guns and police powers. Sound Transit contracts with the King County Sheriff for their services. The Seattle Times ran a story about them.

        I have no idea what they’re doing down there. Lakewood Station? Lakewood Transit Center? I don’t think ST Police primarily deals with bank robberies although they might assist local police if the suspect attempts to escape via transit.

  12. I have no idea what they’re doing down there. Lakewood Station? Lakewood Transit Center?

    No, this was out on Custer. It was a real piss ant flagging job. It was the first time I’d seen an ST cop but it’s not unusual to see overtime cops hired to do this duty. I guess they were cheaper than Pierce County Sheriffs. Lakewood and Pierce County have been a bit odd for decades with the “Pumpkin patrol”.

  13. For anyone going to the MAX Green Line opening on Saturday…

    Be sure to pick up the free Portland Tribune this week. There is an 80 PAGE guide to the Green Line and lists the events going on at the grand opening. The Portland Tribune is a weekly paper and just came out today and is available until next Wednesday.

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