We’re liveblogging from AIA Seattle’s Designing for Livability: Sustainable Cities conference today. Part 1 and Part 2 were posted earlier today. This is the last post from the event.

The afternoon sessions here were breakout sessions of smaller groups, with each session having a handful of presenters (usually experts in the field or government officials).

The first session I saw was Integrating Bus Rapid Transit in Neighborhoods which actually focused more on defining the type of arterial BRT that both Swift from Community Transit and RapidRide from King Country Metro represent. On the continuum of BRT, this type of BRT lacks its own right-of-way and instead has to use a variety of techniques — jump queues, business access and transit lanes, traffic signal priority — to give buses priority on busy city streets.

More after the jump…

Community Transit’s Swift — opening last next month — is largely focused on reducing dwelling time, said June DeVall, Manage of Strategic Planning at Community Transit. With three extra-wide entrances, off-board payments and ORCA readers, on-board (rather than front-loading) bike racks, and marked locations at each station indicating where the bus entrances will be — it seems like Community Transit actually has gone to great lengths to reduce dwell times. In fact, it’s slightly more impressive than Metro’s RapidRide which won’t feature off-board payment at all stations, will retain front-loading bike rikes, and will lack other amenities of Swift. On the other hand, RapidRide will have up to six lines whereas Swift is just one route.

This blog hasn’t been wild about BRT. Particularly the fact that it is more of a continuum than a clearly defined type of service compared to alternatives like light rail is disheartening. And it’s clear that with certain levels of ridership, the right-of-way of rail is a necessity for substantial service. But it’s also clear to me that some of the neighborhoods that won’t get light rail for decades could use RapidRide as a stop-gap. Anything that represents a service increase along arterial corridors and creates a sense clarity in where a bus goes is an improvement.

BRT is only the enemy of light rail in the hands of those who are against real investments in transit. In a region that is already building up our light rail network — and hopefully won’t slow down for a very long time — transit proponents should see RapidRide as a complement to rail service. Community Transit is obviously very exicted about Swift. Metro, represented by Victor Obeso, happily acknowledged that RapidRide is more like “BRT-lite” and echoed the benefits of having frequent services along arterials, even without the exclusive right-of-way you see in light rail or traditional BRT routes.

Seattle’s Transit Program Lead, Bill Bryant, highlighted some of the current accomplishments of Seattle’s transit network. Light rail connects nearly all of the urban villages in South Seattle and Metro’s “key bus routes” connect the rest of the city’s urban villages. He then spoke about bus improvements that the city can make to help improve the frequency of routes, mostly focusing on transit signal priority (he noted that he wished there were more examples across the nation of more aggressive TSP projects — the SLUT is more aggressive than most) and small improvements like bus bulbs that remove the need for buses to pull in and out of traffic.

The last talk of the day, Transforming Single-Family Neighborhoods, focused on cottage projects to keep the concept of a single-family neighborhood with the benefits of higher density and perhaps lower-cost homes. Andrea Petzel from Seattle’s planning department spoke about city council legislation which will hopefully allow cottages to be built across the city. Eric Shields, from Kirkland’s planning department, spoke about a project in the city from The Cottage Company which fit 8 cottage units on two lots. That’s four times as many families in the same space, while still retaining the amenities of single-family living such as privacy,  porches, and — yes — even parking. But it’s still a much better vision of sustainable living for those who don’t want to live in multi-family dwellings. We’ll focus more on “retrofitting” suburbia in future posts.

That’s it for our coverage. Thanks to Seattle AIA for the press invite.

28 Replies to “Designing for Livability Liveblog Part 3”

  1. Why bike racks and no onboard bikes on Metro’s RapidRide? Aren’t they using the same bus models as Swift? Sounds like some easily achievable low hanging fruit for speeding up RapidRide…

    1. That’s a question I have too. I wish Metro would actually put information about the project on their site.

    2. I think I heard the deal was that the only offboard payment would be with an ORCA. And if you’re at a stop (not station) then I guess you’d tap your ORCA on board… What’s the point of RapidRide?

  2. OK, this might be a little off topic but I just stumbled upon what I think is a pretty cool website. 6:58PM and Seattle is 53% open. But 100% of the tattoo shops :=

    Livability, as in “life outside the home” depends on public places being open. It’s interesting how the lit up areas seem to correspond to bus routes. At least I think they do? It would be very enlightening to be able to look at this map on a county wide basis.

  3. Regarding TSP. If buses controlled signals would it make sense to put the stop before the light and generate an automatic red? As it is now along routes like 148th Ave NE in Redmond the buses often stop for a light, then proceed through the intersection only to stop again on the other side. This has the effect of narrowing the road to a single lane right at the time there is the most demand (i.e. light just turned green and all the cued up traffic is trying to get through).

    Or, if there is a bus pull out zone after the light, hold the light green for the bus and then switch to red when the bus is ready to pull out. Of course the timing of the lights needs to be coordinated with the traffic grid as a whole so it might be difficult to achieve in many instances.

    1. If the intersection is heavily backed up it’d be best to get the bus and other vehicles through it as quickly as possible. TSP can extend the green a little longer for the bus. Putting the bottleneck before or at the intersection is worse since you choke how many vehicles can pass through it during a green light. A single lane after the intersection doesn’t impact flow as long as sufficient space is given to merge. Drivers can move accordingly when they see the bus turn on its flashing signals indicating a stop. It’s more difficult for stopped vehicles stuck behind a bus to merge into the other lane that’s flowing.

      If bus dwell times were more predictable, TSP would be easier. What happens when the wheelchair ramp/lift needs to be deployed? Or bike rack used? Or pay-as-you-leave? That’ll add 30 seconds to 3 minutes to the dwell time.

      Placing stops on the far side improves pedestrian safety in a few ways. It has the effect of not having people cross in front of the bus and eliminates the problem of drivers trying to make right turns from the inside lane around the stopped bus and hitting peds crossing the street.

      With regard to TSP, there’s a case study of TSP on Vancouver’s 98 B-Line found that nearside bus stops cause more delay and farside bus stops work better with TSP as it reduces the influence of variable dwell times.

      1. SWIFT also has a fast loaded backward facing wheelchair feature which should speed up wheelchair loading. Also wheelchairs do not have a use a lift, just a simple flip out ramp, because the stations are elevated close to the door height. Swift mechanics designed in inside bike racks, I have seen them and they are awesome. Seems like they might be able to lend the design to metro for little additional cost.

      2. Also, having the stop on the ‘near side’ of the intersection forces drivers to go around the bus, then make a quick right turn in front of the stopped or just starting to go bus.
        Another bad reason for nearside stops is that it’s confusing for right turn drivers. If they get caught behind the bus, that backs up traffic, eventually clogging the lanes for following buses, or the cars try to ‘cut-in’ front of other traffic to get around the bus.
        Far-side stops are much safer, using an extended green cue to get the bus through the intersection.

  4. Okay, I know this is probably not the place to post this…but, I just saw a Hutchinson tv spot and it basically scared the crap out of me. She said something like “I will only fund transportation projects that reduce congestion.” Isn’t that code for more roads and vanpools only? Not that her philosophy is breaking news… hella scary stuff to transit supporters with her “let them take cabs!” mentality. However, this is what I want to know: can the county executive change Sound Transit in a way that would realign its priorities or halt light rail expansion (even with it’s passage in the last election)? I know that the executive can appoint members to the ST Board…but, if she did change it’s composition, could they revisit already decided upon things? I live in King County and should never have to worry about these sort of things…maybe in the details of rail alignments, but not in the overall philosophy of government since this is one of the most progressive/liberal counties in the country.

    This effin sucks.

    1. Yes, the county executive appoints 10 of the 18 boardmembers, and if she can control them, she could stop light rail.

      1. Sure. She could delay them, or make decisions to undermine them, quite easily. All it would take to stop East Link would be for the board to determine the project is unfeasible based on, say, a very high valuation of I-90.

      2. Oh joy, a small vocal minority will get to control our destiny! I bet Kemper will be the first new board member appointed. At least University Link is under construction…probably hard to stop that one. Maybe the board should make their positions elected rather than appointed before the election. Hopefully the electorate will surprise me in November.

      3. Take a deep breath. The charter requires that the board be appointed from elected officials and assures that Seattle will have the largest representation.

      4. Elected officials like Licata, Carr and Albro, for instance? She can do plenty of damage.

      5. Albro definitely not. As Port Commisioner he wouldn’t fit the criteria of a locally elected official (the exec is the county wide representative and the Port has no geographical boundaries). Highly unlikely a City Attorney would be appointed; there is no precedent for that. Pretty much guaranteed the City of Seattle board member will be who ever you elect as mayor. The county executives appointments are subject to the approval of the county council plus there’s the requirement that half of the appointments in each county must be elected officials who serve on the local transit agency governing authority.

        So, you’re really talking about only being able to change the mix of County Council Members (who’s pool isn’t changing) and substituting mayors from different suburbs. Licata to replace Conlin is a possibility. I don’t see Licata views being that different than McGinns. Someone from Bellevue, likely Grant Degginger to replace Kirkland Council member Burleigh definitely. I don’t see finally putting someone from Bellevue on the board as being damaging. I see it as long overdue.

      6. City representatives don’t have to be mayors. It appears each sub-area gets 3 representatives too. It would be hard to put together an anti-transit majority on the ST board given all of the constraints. Still I’d rather not have her trying to sandbag Metro and ST at every opportunity.

        Ben, I’m not sure Carr really has a position on transit, if he does I expect he’s on our side as an avid bike rider. As Bernie said it would be a bit odd to appoint a city attorney to the ST board in any case.

        Not that Albro would be eligible for the ST board but I don’t think he’s anti-transit. He’s genuinely an infrastructure geek and was really excited about light rail and the new airport station when I talked to him.

      7. By controlling board appointments, Hutchison could theoretically grind the whole rail project to a halt. However, she’d have trouble finding enough qualified appointees to actually take that course of action, especially in light of the recent vote.

        Nevertheless, there are two problem areas: one, East Link still has a lot of political enemies, and there are technical issues like the I-90 crossing that could be used to gum it up. You can also count on the B7 alignment.

        Also, if ST has another meltdown, you can be sure she won’t go to the mat to save it the way politicians did this decade.

      8. That sounds great in theory, but why do they have to be qualified? Couldn’t she just appoint any staunch light rail opponent she wants regardless of qualifications? People would rightfully complain, but she could take the typical “screw-you” approach used by many modern day republicans.

      9. They have to be elected officials from prescribed county and city positions. It’s actually a pretty good system despite the fact Bellevue has apparently never had any representation on the board.

      10. Bernie,
        That is rather strange, though maybe being afraid of Kemper’s influence might have had something to do with it or maybe nobody in Bellevue city government was a friend of Ron. Certainly it is time a council member or mayor of Bellevue was on the ST board. Especially with all of the East Link decisions coming down the pike.

  5. Has any RapidRide construction started yet? It took about a year to build Swift, so if there’s no construction for it along the 99, I’m guessing A Line won’t open in February.

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