BRT Primer

This morning I looked into my crystal ball and I foresaw an epic, week-long discussion about all things BRT. I could be wrong, but if I’m right I think it would benefit all of us to take a bit of time to refresh our knowledge. In this vein I created a list of articles I have been reading relating to BRT over the last few weeks as well as some scholarly reports and practitioner guides. Please share info you have as well but only if it relates to BRT, and is not a comparison of whether BRT or rail is better. Comments along those lines are off-topic. We can have that discussion later this week but please not in this post. Thanks.

So here is my list.

Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) is probably the most authoritative source on transit related research. Its mission is to aid practitioners in making informed and fact based decisions. TCRP has 3 relevant reports on this subject, all of which are worth a quick skim over. At the very least take a look at the tables.

More after the jump

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Swift Opens

Everett Station Terminal, by Oran
"Everett Station Terminal", by Oran

Four of us went up to Lynnwood for the Swift opening ceremony yesterday.  You can see some of the results in the Flickr Pool.

The festivities were very well put together.  First of all, the marketing machine was effective enough to draw perhaps 500 people out.  There were booths offering free hot drinks, cupcakes, and kettle corn.  There were other booths with information and games to distract the kids.  In all, it was a very festive atmosphere.

The speeches didn’t take too long, and the ribbon cutting, including a bizarre synchronized dance, was appropriately lighthearted.  It was nice to board a bus and check out the amenities.  Broadly, the reduced seating makes the bus seem a lot more open.

The frustrating item, however, was that the talking ended around 3pm but the system wasn’t to start running regularly until about 4:30pm.  Three of us had places to be and disappeared before getting a chance to ride.  Luckily, Oran and some Flickr contributors stuck around long enough to ride and get some good photos.  As for the ride itself, I’m sure Oran would stand by his media ride observations from last week.  Select photos by Oran after the jump.

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Westlake Streetcar Placemaking

Westlake Plaza
Westlake Plaza

We put out a blurb on the Westlake Hub Strategy about a month back in a news roundup, but I wanted to share some additional information I got from SDOT as well as bit of analysis.

The strategy is designed to help improve multi-modal transfers around Westlake plaza and help create a more attractive and lively pedestrian environment.  It includes a new pedestrian plaza in what is now Westlake Ave. This project takes big cues from NYC’s pedestrianization of Times Square. The expanded plaza will be created by closing the block between Stewart and Olive to all traffic except the streetcar, more than doubling the size of the existing McGraw Square and creating a public space that is actually functional and enjoyable.

More after the jump.

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Swift Opening Day is Here

Other transit agencies, take note: this is how you make your system accessible to newcomers.

The opening ceremony will be at 2pm today in Lynnwood, at Crossroads Station (the intersection of 196th St. SW and Highway 99).  Rides are free today with regular service beginning tomorrow at 5am.

The trip planner result to get there from Downtown Seattle is below the fold.  You can also follow us on twitter all afternoon.

Continue reading “Swift Opening Day is Here”

An ORCA Trick That Shouldn’t Work

Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

I often travel with someone who relies on a student pass. They recently lost it, and as none of the schools around here are yet on ORCA, that means they’re out of luck for the rest of the quarter. As a result, when we ride a bus, I typically pay for them out of my e-purse.

In order to do this, I have to ask the operator for a “group fare”. The operator takes the ORCA reader out of service, adds two adult fares, then puts it back into service – the next swipe uses my pass for one fare, and my e-purse for the other, automatically. The operator has to do this, you can’t just double swipe – the system assumes that’s a mistake or a “pass-back” (and that’s a good thing, it prevents double-withdrawals that users might not even notice).

Many bus drivers don’t know how to do this, though – so much of the time, the operator just hands out a free transfer. I encourage taking advantage of this – Metro needs a reason to improve their operators’ ORCA training. According to @VeloBusDriver, the button to do this on the ORCA console has an icon showing multiple people, but it’s so rarely used that operators sometimes forget about it.

There’s one more interesting point here. How does the second user (or third, or fourth) in a group fare transfer to Link? ORCA customer service doesn’t seem to know.

Neighborhood Street Fund

Lander Festival Street
Lander Festival Street

While poking around SDOT’s website after seeing the photo above, I found a nice long list of past and potential sidewalk and traffic calm projects  funded by Bridging the Gap, via the Neighborhood Street Fund. Over the past year I have seen many of the current projects, but didn’t realize they were the result of a specific, neighborhood led program. The photo above shows the Lander Festival Street, which will act as a continuation of the Beacon Hill station plaza. A ribbon cutting event will be held on December 5th. This is just one project funded by the program over the last year. I’m a bit disappointed that they didn’t use bricks or some other kind of non-concrete paving material material but I’m sure there is a long story behind that.

SDOT is working with the Neighborhood Councils to rank and prioritize the next round of potential projects. Thanksgiving is always a slow news day, so if you need a distraction from family stuff, take a look at the project list. There is a good number of them.

Which is your favorite? Which do you think is most necessary?

Columbia City Site Purchased By Developer

Columbia City Station Area
Columbia City Station Area

Today the DJC is reporting that the 6.25 acre site of Zion Preparatory Academy in Columbia City has been sold to development company JC Mueller for $5 million.

Across a small street from the station, this property is planned as transit oriented mixed use, including continued operation of the school. With expansion of the Rainier Vista community to the north, this bodes well for future Link ridership.

Snohomish County Service Change

[UPDATE: Commenters are referring to the same Everett transit site that I linked to below, as if I didn’t know about it.  However, it is NOT a list of changes, unless someone wants to go through each schedule route by route and compile the differences.]

On Sunday we’ll be tweeting from the Swift Opening, which we’ve already discussed.  However, Nov. 29th will also be the day of the next service change for Community Transit and Everett Transit.  Big changes:

  • Route 114 eliminated, with the trips moved to the 116.
  • Route 100 eliminated, cuts to the 101 (to be replaced by Swift)
  • Elimination of the downtown Everett loop.
  • CT 177 becomes ET 70X.
  • ET adds other routes, renumbers everything.  I wish they’d published a summary of changes somewhere.

Crosstown Traffic

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


In the comments to this STB post on McGinn’s solicitation of ideas, one of the readers links to the rapid trolley network, an idea that was commissioned as a possible component of the surface-transit alternative to the Viaduct replacement.

Matt Fiske wrote about this idea in Crosscut back in March (I could’ve sworn I wrote about it, too, but I can’t find any reference in the archives).

Obviously the buses are run by the county, but Seattle can still play a fairly significant role in getting transit through the city more quickly. Indeed, the report lists them out:

  • Business Access and Transit or BAT lanes allow transit coaches to operate in the outside lane shared only with right-turning traffic. BAT lanes can help improve operation speeds and reliability of routes.
  • Bus bulbs are another option to improve speed on trolley routes. Bus bulbs allow transit to stop in-lane, saving time necessary to re-enter traffic flow and provide additional space at bus stops for passenger facilities. Bulbed bus stops require less curb space than bus pullouts due to pull in and pull out distances.
  • Turn restrictions that focus on areas with heavy pedestrian traffic or where left turns may be unprotected or where right turning vehicles may be delayed by large pedestrian flows.
  • Transit queue jumps provide a lane or green time allowing transit to enter a signalized intersection ahead of general-purpose traffic.
  • Routing changes could go around congested intersections but may require new segments of electric trolley overhead.
  • Transit signal priority could provide trolley coaches with better speed and reliability through improvements in signal timing including adjustments to signal length and cycles. Transit Signal Priority allocates green time at signals to favor transit flow.

Almost all of these fall within the city’s domain and would be a huge boon for in-city transit. Sadly, none of them are included in the report’s cost estimates. *

In fact, if the network had any hope of being “rapid,” you’d have to invest significantly in the street-grid bottleneck between downtown and Capitol Hill. Almost all of the proposed rapid routes — much like the current routes between Queen Anne/Belltown and Capitol Hill/CD (2,3,4,8,10,11,12, etc.) — would waste a ton of time getting from one side of I-5 to the other, especially during rush hour. Finding a way to prioritize crosstown transit between, say, 5th Avenue and Broadway would be a big help.

* The report does calculate $142M in capitol costs for new trolley wire, improved stations, new fare collection systems, and a new electrical substation. Street improvements are outside the scope of the analysis.

Seattle Head Tax Repealed


The Seattle City Council gave final approval to repeal (only McIver against) the $25-per-employee-per-year “head tax” that funded $4.5m a year in transportation improvements, notably for bicyclists and pedestrians, and exempted employees who didn’t drive alone to work.

Although Council President Richard Conlin insists bike and ped projects won’t be harmed, there’s discontent among advocates for those projects, and understandably so.  That said, there may be less here than meets the eye.

There are two nice things about the head tax: one, it provides money for important projects, and two, it collects revenue in a manner that discourages socially destructive commuting.

Councilmember Sally Clark has a characteristically frank assessment of the revenue side:

The loss of revenue from the Employee Head Tax does mean we’ll have to shift some spending priorities. We’ll pay back bond debt over a longer period and, ultimately, pay more. Because the Commercial Parking Tax now generates more revenue than expected, I don’t expect the total volume of street projects completed will be any less than what was promised when Council adopted these taxes, but we’ll take on fewer “extra” projects in the coming years because we’ll use the unexpected higher revenue from the parking tax to pay off debt instead of revenue from the EHT.

One hope for further revenue is Nick Licata’s proposal to direct the Mayor to study diverting $15m in annual mobile speed van revenue to the pedestrian fund.   That passed in the budget today, and Mayor McGinn will have to report by March 1st.

The other issue is the deterrent to driving, and I don’t think that the head tax was all that effective for that.  Assuming the $25 incentive was even worth the staff time for the business to claim, the tax was entirely transparent to the commuter, the one that decides which mode he or she was going to take to work that day.

Ready to get rid of your extra car?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

If so, SDOT will give you a pile of free stuff.

If not but you’re a single occupant commuter, promise to change your evil ways for two months and they’ll still give you $60 in bus tickets and a discounted Zipcar membership.

Already doing the right thing? Well, no free stuff for you. But thank you anyway.

Swift Preview Ride

Swift bus at Airport Road (photo by author)
Swift bus at Airport Road (photo by author)

Community Transit conducted a dry run (simulated operations) of Swift BRT on Monday and STB was offered an opportunity to ride. CT is doing final testing and driver training before service begins on Sunday afternoon.

I boarded Swift with Community Transit representative Mike Allende at the Airport Road Northbound Station for Everett. The Swift bus pulled in really close to the curb and the doors lined up with markers on the platform called “welcome mats”. This process currently takes about 10 seconds but should be reduced as drivers get used to it. As to why no level boarding? CT considered it but decided to go with a slight step. One reason given was that roadway and vehicle conditions can vary, making it difficult to guarantee a level boarding every time. A fully loaded bus, tire pressure, ruts in the roadway, for example, creates a height difference. Combine that with the expectation of level boarding and people might trip when it isn’t truly level. The bus dwelled for 10 seconds and then we were on our way. Swift will make stops at every station like a light rail train. There are no bell cords but there’s a special request button for wheelchair users.

Continue reading after the jump…

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Editorial: Don’t Build a Train Station Next to a Highway

Painting of the proposed 'Vision Line'
A pretty painting of the "Vision Line" by J. Craig Thorpe

The “Vision Line” route for East Link proposed by Kevin Wallace is fantastical, but in the real world of building effective mass transit, that is not a good thing.

The plan offers plenty to roll your eyes at. From the circus tents that would provide protection from rain if only they wouldn’t be the first thing to be cut when going to design, to the mile walk to Bellevue’s shopping and entertainment core that would depress ridership, to a watercolor rendering showing a dense urban forest growing under a concrete, elevated light rail station next to a somehow nearly-empty I-405.

The watercolored amenities, of course, will disappear from design shortly after a more prudent tunnel is taken off the table by the Bellevue city council, which may be point of the proposal. Not included in Wallace’s lowball cost estimate is the centerpiece walkway nor the cost of moving the Bellevue Transit Center away from the downtown core, which he has proposed. Mayor Degginger has noted that creating an expensive walkway could bring total costs in line with tunnel estimates.

Wallace’s route misses the South Bellevue Park & Ride and loses north of 3,000 daily riders, which he says can be made up with transit-oriented development. But you cannot develop around stations that are cut, you cannot develop on top of I-405 which borders most of the alignment, and you should not sacrifice serving an established downtown core. Wallace argues that that the “cost per rider” metric is more important than just looking at ridership, but compares segment cost with total ridership rather than segment ridership. Using the more accurate measure for the impact on Bellevue make the proposal’s cost numbers less impressive.

Continue reading after the jump…

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Parking on Capitol Hill

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Great post from Josh @ CHS on Capitol Hill’s new parking regulations, and why it might be a good idea to raise rates for street parking. This, in particular, is fascinating:

The most important thing to understand about off-street parking is that it simply is not satisfying a market demand. While trying to find a spot curbside can be a nightmare to say the least, most parking garages in the neighborhood sit empty. In its most recent Comprehensive Parking Study SDOT found that in the residential area surrounding Broadway, off-street parking utilization rates peaked at 50%, with an average at just 40% (along Broadway itself it was 65% and 51% respectively). Even validated retail parking, such as the Broadway Market, was noted by SDOT as being “underused”.

That’s certainly my experience. I can’t remember the last time I paid for parking on the Hill (now, I live close enough that I’m rarely on the Hill in a car). I’ll circle forever before I pay. Rational? No way. But such is the nature of the human mind. Make it a little more expensive to park on the street, and I’ll probably change my mind.

Parking is one of those subjects (like congestion pricing) where normally decent-minded liberals freak out and turn conservative. (Hint: they’re usually making outlandish claims about what’s good or bad for “families,” as if all families can all be lumped into a single bucket.) What people often fail to grasp is that no one’s proposing taking parking away, but rather pricing it appropriately so that it’s used most efficiently. Clearly, 50% occupancy for off-street parking is not an efficient utilization.

Kevin Wallace Responds

Kevin Wallace (Wallace Properties)
Kevin Wallace (Wallace Properties)

We wanted to give Kevin Wallace a chance to address the many concerns that you had with his recent Vision Line proposal and to defend the premise behind his idea.  I had the opportunity to bring forth some of the questions that arose during our open question thread and hear more about Wallace’s reasoning for picking the controversial alignment.  Prior to asking him your specific questions, he briefed me on why he developed the Vision Line the way he did.

Wallace has four basic premises behind the proposal:

  • The minimization of impacts on homes, businesses, and roads.
  • An alignment within Sound Transit’s budget.
  • Rail that will enhance the city’s multi-modal transportation system and preserve city roads.
  • A system that provides potential for [transit-oriented] development.

More below the jump.

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Obama Admin. Moves to Regulate Local Rail, Buses


A week ago the Obama administration proposed to take over safety regulation over commuter rail, subway, and light rail systems nationwide.  Federal law currently blocks such regulation, but proponents claim safety oversight is lax in most jurisdictions.  It later came out that this authority would eventually expand to buses.

The reaction from the transit community has been cautious. The man on the street has been extremely funny, as usual.  Locally, Sound Transit did not return two of our requests for comment.

Although it’s good that federal money would be attached, I see this as a dangerous path.*  Safety regulation has obvious benefits, but it can also impose unreasonable restrictions on operations, especially when written at a national level and ignorant of local conditions.  (Consider the history of federal regulation of intercity rail, or the Bush FTA’s heinous decision to effectively kill special bus service to sporting events.)  Even well-intentioned rules can end up putting more people in cars and therefore get more people killed.

Moreover, as with any regulatory power, in the wrong hands it can actively be used to destroy that which it regulates.  Most Americans are entirely car-dependent, and there are going to be times over the coming decades where a transit-hostile administration is in power. Let’s not give them a very effective tool to strangle rail transit.

* To be clear, my colleagues largely disagree with me on this issue.

Curb the Congestion Club

I’m sure that everyone that reads here takes transit (right?), but if you have a friend or family member that commutes by car in Snohomish County you might be able to enroll them in the Curb the Congestion Club, a Community Transit program that chips in $54 in a bus pass or vanpool voucher in December.

By referring a driver, you yourself can receive a $25 reward.  The eligibility is kind of complicated so click over to the website to check it out.