First Hill Streetcar: 11th Ave Couplet

The Stranger and Capitol Hill Seattle are reporting that all three of the alternatives will include a one-way couplet on Broadway and 11th Ave roughly between Madison and Denny.

The 11th Avenue segment would be:

* Northbound from Madison to Denny with the Two-Way Broadway option;

* Northbound from Union to Denny with the Boren option;

* Southbound from Denny to Union with the Broadway-12th couplet option.

I have a call into SDOT asking about the reason for the couplet as well as how it will affect travel time and if this means that the streetcar might enjoy some level of exclusive right-of-way. Later today I should be receiving detailed maps of the different alternatives so look for an update sometime later today.

UPDATE: Ethan Melone just got back to me. His response to my questions are below. I also just received maps and images for tomorrow meetings and I’m in the process of uploading them.

Q: Are the alignments the same besides the 11th Ave segment?

A: Yes, the alignments are otherwise the same south of Union or Madison street.

Q: Why 11th?

A: 10th does not continue through to the light rail station, because of Cal Anderson Park and Bobby Morris Playfield. 11th provides an opportunity to loop around the park to the terminus station. This loop has several advantages including:

  • simplest and most efficient turnback option for streetcar service;
  • easier to avoid bike conflicts with tracks in only one direction on Broadway between Madison and Denny (see proposed roadway section on forthcoming drawings);
  • improved reliability with only one direction of travel impacted by traffic congestion in this section of Broadway;
  • reduced construction impacts;
  • fewer utility conflicts.

Q: Does this mean there will be any exclusive ROW?

A: We do not see this as exclusive right-of-way from Denny to Union. It might be exclusive from Madison to Union or possibly Madison to Pike.

Q: How will this affect travel time?

A: The travel time is estimated to be the same as, if not shorter than, two-way on Broadway in this segment. We have not taken into account yet the travel time savings that might be possible if we provide signal priority at 11th & Pine and 11th & Pike (the latter would be a new signal).

11th Ave Streetcar

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Stranger notes the possibility of an 11th-Avenue alignment being thrown into the First Hill Streetcar mix. CHS helpfully draws a map.

Adam @ STB makes a pretty convincing case why 12th Ave is a bad idea, so I’m curious what his take is on this alignment. From my point of view, I like the fact that it runs very close to Broadway but on a street less prone to Broadway’s traffic (north of Union, anyway).

News Roundup: Rail Grinding

Video by Eric Jensen.

BRT in Clark County

This isn’t really new, but Clark County’s high capacity transit study concluded last year and advocated three BRT lines and other improvements by 2030,  with two of them running substantially in an exclusive lane.  The study did not include the controversial Columbia River Crossing in its scope.  According to spokesman Dale Robins, “One of the main assumptions of the Clark County HCT Study is that [light rail over the Columbia river] would exist as part of the region’s HCT system.”

He added:

C-TRAN is leading the effort to determine which HCT corridor of those identified in the Clark County HCT Study should be the first to be implemented. They are currently in the process of developing a 20-year transit plan, which appears to give priority to the Fourth Plain corridor [depicted above]. C-TRAN is seeking funding for an Alternative Analysis in their preferred corridor and hopes to get started on that process in the near future.

It’s not entirely clear what the revenue source would be, but last year the legislature passed SB 5540, which allows a Sound Transit-style 0.9% sales tax to pay for HCT corridors.  At the time we interpreted that as a bid to allow MAX expansion, but it may very well be used to extend lower higher-quality bus service further into Clark County.

If you read Section 2 of the law you’ll find all sorts of tax constraints that make this a bit more restrictive than the RTA law that authorized Sound Transit.   In particular, C-TRAN cannot go to the voters to fund this until July 1, 2012.  It’s also a one-shot deal; by law, they can’t go to the voters for part of the authority and then have a second measure to use the rest of it.

Estimated costs and ridership, from the Executive Summary:

clark hct

Federal Transportation Bill Moves Forward

The House and Senate have agreed on a conference report for the federal transportation budget. (You can read the summary online.) The bill needs to pass Senate and will probably be signed by the end of the year. The high-level overview, which contains plenty of transit and rail funding:

  • $10.7 billion for public transit, including $2 billion for new construction.
  • $2.5 billion for high-speed rail, well above the administration’s $1 billion request. This number will complement the $8 billion in high-speed rail dollars that are part of Obama’s stimulus and hints that Congress will likely have an on-going role in funding rail.
  • $1.6 billion for Amtrak, above the administration’s request.
  • Highways are still the big winner, with $41.8 billion in funding.

Also included $600 million in merit-based transportation grants modeled after the TIGER. Putting more money into competitive grants decided at the federal, and not the state, level is good news for urban areas. These grants can be spent on bike lanes and transit as well as roads based simply on which projects are the best.

In other federal news, the Obama administration is pursuing a staggering $50 billion in new TIGER money for a forthcoming jobs bill, and it would be good move if Congress honors this request instead of choosing to appropriate this transportation spending to the states after the unfortunate experience for transit with the stimulus. A large pile of money could allow for some interesting outcomes. With just $30 million in grant money, for example, Sound Transit could complete the South 200th street light rail station years ahead of schedule.

One thing the transportation appropriations bill didn’t include and isn’t on the immediate horizon: A national infrastructure bank that the Obama administration has requested. This bank would be able to give low-interest loans to municipalities looking to build infrastructure projects without resorting to often costlier privately-held bonds. The proposal is a good one, but may need to be defined outside of the appropriations process and within a new transportation authorization bill that may be authored next year.

Senator Murray Comes Through Again


[UPDATE below.]

According to Scott Gutierrez of the P-I, Sen. Patty Murray has included a provision in the transportation bill that reverses the Bush-era decision to effectively eliminate special event bus service to the Mariners and Seahawks.  It still has to get through a few votes and be signed by the President, but it sounds like more or less a done deal.  Press release here.

According to Metro spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok, a lot depends on when the bill actually becomes law.  Since the event organizers (ie, sports teams) must pay the cost of the service beyond farebox recovery, it’s ultimately up to them when such service returns. Nevertheless, she assures me that “the actual process of negotiating a contract for special service can typically be concluded within weeks, once discussions get underway between Metro and the requesting organization.”  So it would appear that Seahawks fans are out of luck this year, but there’s reason to be optimistic about the Mariners’ Opening Day.

The bill also includes money for local transit agencies:

Murray also secured $110 million for Sound Transit’s next light rail link to the University of Washington, as well as $3.1 million for the Central Link project. The bill also will include $600,000 to [help] purchase 15 hybrid buses for Metro’s planned RapidRide bus line in West Seattle, as well as $600,000 $360,000* to study the possibility of commuter rail along existing BNSF rail lines from the Auburn Sounder Commuter Rail Station to Maple Valley, Covington and Black Diamond.

The press release also mentions money for the RapidRide A and B lines, not just C.

The News Tribune says there’s also money in there for the Tacoma Intermodal Transit Center, 6 new buses for Pierce Transit, and money to move along Puyallup’s EZRA BRT project.  I haven’t run down each of these funding items, but I believe that in general this is not “new” money but the fulfillment of previous FTA commitments that don’t revise the budgets of the respective programs.

Note also that the commuter rail study covers an area outside the Sound Transit district and is not a Sound Transit project.  I have a call in to Murray’s office to see who actually gets the money. According to the Senator’s office, the cities of Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond are conducting the study with Maple Valley taking the lead.

* See correction.

Montlake Flyer Stops

Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

[UPDATE: Either people are skimming or I’m not writing clearly, so I’ll make the prescription shorter: A+, no flyer stop; create good 24/7 service from the Eastside to UW; pay for it with some specific revenue increments and by curtailing off-peak service from the Eastside to DT Seattle.  If you work through the permutations, you’ll see that all the connections still work out.]

There’s a lot of fear among transit riders that the loss of a Montlake flyer stop on SR520 will make bus service a lot harder to use in that corridor.  That fear is a reasonable one, in spite of the cost and the wider footprint that would have to be cut out of the neighborhood.   However, it would be a relatively simple matter to reorganize bus service to minimize the impact.  More after the jump.

Continue reading “Montlake Flyer Stops”

12th Ave Streetcar, a Bad Idea

First Hill Streetcar Alignments
First Hill Streetcar Alignments

(full size image here, pdf here)

With SDOT kicking off its public outreach effort on the First Hill streetcar line next week, I wanted to outline why we believe that the 12th Ave couplet is a bad idea. The 12th Ave alignment has four major flaws, all of which indicate that the Broadway or Boren alignments (or some variation of these two) is the best option. I have heard many impassioned arguments for the 12th Ave alignment from people that have the same core beliefs as myself but the facts simply make too strong of a case.

Reduced Area with Quality Service

The first and most fundamental problem with the 12th Ave alignment is the couplet. While the couplet increases total coverage of the streetcar, it dramatically reduces the quality of that coverage. By separating the northbound and southbound travel by 3 blocks, the area that is close to both a northbound and southbound station is reduced significantly. To prove my point I spent the day working on ArcGIS to give you the graphics above. Rather than using a 5 minute euclidean circular walking buffer, I used a technique that shows the actual “walk shed” experienced in real life (i.e you can’t walk straight through a building, you have to walk around both sides). This creates a walking shed based on Manhattan distance (this could be a whole other post).

As you can see, I mapped the walking shed of each alternative for 3, 5 and 7 minutes. These are the areas where users have access to both directions. Looking closely at the 12th Ave couplet, you can see how the coverage of the three middle stations is much smaller and of lower quality compared to both of the other alternatives. As I said before, this is an fundamental and intractable flaw of the idea that can’t be overcome.

More after the jump

Continue reading “12th Ave Streetcar, a Bad Idea”

Leasing Cars

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Chevy Volt actually looks even better than I expected. Apparently it rides well, too. I can’t imagine paying $40K for a car, though, unless (until?) gas hits $10/gallon. I just don’t drive that much.

I would consider leasing it, if the price was right.

The next few years will likely see a huge shift in the mobility industry. Already we’ve seen Zipcar and similar services move driving from an ownership to an on-demand service model for casual users.

With car technology changing so rapidly, ownership makes less sense. Why would I buy an electric car with a 40-mile range when one with a 60-mile range might come along in six months?

Cell phones solve this through a contract model not unlike car leases. The difference with cell phones is that they bundle minutes in the monthly fee. Better Place is working on this type of a model. They have fast charging stations where they swap out your battery with a charged one in less time than it takes to fill a tank.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if I could lease a car from Puget Sound Energy? I’m paying them for the electricity anyway. Plus, they benefit directly from having a fleet of cars connected to the grid as a back-up power source (or so I understand).

New possibilities abound. But I think we’ll see more of the Zipcar/Better Place type arrangements where auto transport is provided as a service, not separate products (car, gas, etc.).

Transit Marketing

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Nice video on LA Metro’s efforts:

LA Metro: Promoting Mass Transit from EMBARQ Network on Vimeo.

I like this campaign better than Metro or Sound Transit’s advertising.

Via The Cify Fix, which notes, “Metro is doing something that no transit agency in the country has ever done: it’s marketing its products and services as if it were a private company bent on turning a profit.”

Well, maybe. KC Metro and Sound Transit definitely market their services, as do plenty of other transit agencies. Not many are this good, though. This is a legitimate campaign.


News Roundup

Tukwila in the fog, by Mike Bjork
"Tukwila in the fog," by Mike Bjork

Op-ed: A+ is the Transit-Friendly Option for SR520



Our SR 520 Westside Design A+ is the transit friendly, financially affordable option and was recommended by the SR 520 State Legislative Workgroup by a vote of 12 to 2 (opposed by Reps. Chopp and Pedersen of the 43rd District). A+ is supported by Metro Transit, King County, the University of Washington, five major Eastside cities, the Eastside Transportation Partnership, and many north end Seattle Community Councils. We worked to reduce A+ costs by retaining the current interchange at Montlake Blvd and saving $100 million on the replacement of the Portage Bay Bridge.

One remaining decision is replacement of the Lake Washington Blvd. ramps at a cost of $98m.  Information on the overall impacts of the ramps, in or out, will be included in the WSDOT SR 520 Supplemental EIS, which will be available for Public Review after the first of the year. We need a city-wide public debate on how to make this a “Win/Win” for both improving the future Arboretum and SR 520 inter-modal Transit services. More after the jump…

Continue reading “Op-ed: A+ is the Transit-Friendly Option for SR520”

Regional Transportation Funding

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Transport Politic writes about some issues with Denver’s ambitious rail build-out, citing problems with funding, and especially, sub-regional equity:

Denver’s problems are illustrative of the complications faced by any transit agency attempting to plan at a regional scale and raise questions about how such organizations should operate. Notably, can denser areas make a claim for more transit access, when all parts of the region are paying into the budget? Is there any chance of losing the support of urban constituents if too much money is spent on the outskirts of town? Should transit be designed to serve long-distance commuting to and from suburbs, or should it focus on encouraging travel in the inner-city?

While Sound Transit is similar to Denver’s RTA in some ways, the much-maligned sub-area equity provisions actually keep these sorts of intra-regional turf wars to a minimum.

Still, we’re not immune. If you looked at a map of the Puget Sound region and said, “let’s draw a line connecting the densest neighborhoods with high-capacity transit,” the line you drew would almost certainly look nothing like this, would it?

No One Is Dragging Their Feet

West Seattle Bridges
West Seattle Bridges

Will at the Slog has a piece up today that makes me angry – so angry I’m posting from Portland, where I was trying to have a nice vacation. Will is blaming Sound Transit for not having a ready-made light rail plan for a mayor who hasn’t even yet taken office when the plan doesn’t even have a scope yet!

This seems to display ignorance of a system that we’ve been working for years to help people understand.

Sound Transit gets a certain amount of money each year, from sales taxes and MVET. They write a budget based on how much they’re expecting, and publish it. Usually, there’s some wiggle room – as projects are completed, surpluses are sometimes released, and there are funds available for unexpected administrative or legal expenses.

In the past – maybe last year, or the year before – Sound Transit might have been able to take on a planning project like determining alignment for West Seattle or Ballard light rail – a $12 million study. But Sound Transit is receiving less in sales tax revenue this year than they’d budgeted for, meaning they’re looking to cut costs wherever they can, not accelerating projects. Sound Transit’s plan for ST2 shows light rail planning for these corridors to be budgeted in 2015 – and it’s been that way since the Proposition 1 election in 2008.

Furthermore, no plan – not even a scope – has been released by the mayor-elect’s office (possibly because he’s not actually the mayor yet). No plan – or again, even a scoping document – has been released by Richard Conlin’s office. As far as I’m aware, no request has been made to Sound Transit by those offices or any other for light rail planning in these corridors.

During McGinn’s campaign, I urged his staff to talk to him about making light rail to West Seattle and Ballard a priority. I’m overjoyed that he’s doing it, and I look forward to that planning taking place – but there’s nothing for Sound Transit to do here. Even if they could find a way to fund a study (and don’t hold your breath), they’d have to know what to study within some range between streetcar and subway, and have some idea of how they’re going to pay for it. The ball is in the mayor-elect’s court to figure out what he wants. The Slog’s piece today is Sound Transit bashing at its worst.

Sloggers – you know better than this.

Is Spokane the Next in Line for Streetcars?

Early last year, we uncovered some dirt on a potential streetcar study for Spokane.  The Spokesman Review is now reporting that new information has come to light about the Lilac City’s most recent efforts to employ streetcars in its downtown transit network.  The Spokane Transit Authority (STA) is using $360,000 in federal and state grant funds to commission the study. As part of the plan, the agency is asking local residents to become part of its Sounding Board to help plan for what it calls a High Performance Transit Network, which could either be implemented via electric trolleybuses, streetcars, or other modes.

While light rail has been a hot concept in Spokane for several years,  the political effort was ditched in 2006 when STA disbanded a LRT planning committee. However, Susan Meyer, STA’s CEO, has raised the possibility of some kind of tram/light rail hybrid with an exclusive right-of-way for the Spokane Valley corridor[UPDATE: Commenter Bobby Bebar says that Meyer is referring to an electric trolleybus.]:

Along with other alternatives, Meyer wants the agency to study the possibility of electric rapid transit on separated traffic alignment, which can be accomplished for about 15 percent of the cost of light rail. That Spokane Valley corridor study would update work previously done for a light rail project.

In related news, the Idaho Statesman is reporting that Boise’s proposed LID (local improvement district) for its streetcar loop is getting mixed reviews, particularly from tax-exempt non-profit organizations who will end up having to chip in anyway.

Op-ed: What to Expect in Olympia

by ANDREW AUSTIN, Policy Associate, Transportation Choices Coalition


As the holidays quickly approach so does the 2010 Legislative Session. This year the legislature will be convene for a “short” 60 day session that starts on January 11th. Due to the State’s budget crisis it is expected to be a fast-paced session focused on filling a $2.6 billion (and growing) hole in the state’s operating budget. That said, Transportation Choices Coalition will be working hard on behalf of you everyday to ensure that Washington residents have the choices to take transit, bike, or walk in their community.

Transit Funding

Across the State transit agencies continue to face a financial crisis due to declining sales tax revenues. If new sustainable revenue is not identified in the next two years, agencies serving Anacortes to Walla Walla will be forced to make drastic cuts to their service, cuts that will hinder our region’s economic recovery, clog our roads, prevent us from reducing greenhouse gas emissions and leave transit riders abandoned on the side of the road.

As the 2010 legislative session approaches Transportation Choices will be working for you in Olympia to educate the legislative leadership on the transit funding crisis. We will be organizing this year to ensure that transit plays a central role in future transportation revenue packages. But we can not do it alone and need your help communicating with legislators about what transit cuts will mean to you and your local community. We will hold our annual transportation advocacy day on January 28th in Olympia and one of our major issues will be transit funding.

Transit Oriented Communities

Following up on last year’s transit oriented communities legislation we will continue to push for a combination of planning measures and incentives that promote transit-oriented development, particularly in rail transit station areas. We are advocating for grant dollars that cities can access for planning, infrastructure upgrades and affordable housing in “high performing station areas.” These high performing station areas are the ones that will make the most of their proximity to light rail and other high-capacity transit investments by zoning for walkable, mixed-use development, with a healthy mix of housing types in their station areas. (For more on these concepts, please see our new report, co-authored with Futurewise and GGLO, Creating Transit-Oriented Communities: A Blueprint for Washington State). Finally, we will also join Futurewise in continuing to push the legislature to require comp plan updates to factor reducing greenhouse gas emissions into future growth management plans.

Complete Streets

For many years TCC has been working with our city partners and the public health community to implement complete streets guidelines at the local level. We believe the state could do more to incentivize local governments to adopt complete streets policies, which means designing local roads with all users – including cyclists, pedestrians and transit users – in mind. This year we will attempt to establish the framework for a grant program for complete streets projects in cities to incentivize and reward complete streets programs around the state.

Reprinted with permission from the Nov. 30th TCC Newsletter.  See also Erica Barnett’s write-up of TCC’s report in presentation form.

Traffic Advisory: Stay Away From I-5 Tonight and Next Saturday Night

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


Crews will close all lanes of northbound I-5 from 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, to 8 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, between Boeing Access Road and Spokane Street. I-5 on-ramps in the area will start closing as early as 9 p.m. Crews will again close all lanes of northbound I-5 from 11:30 p.m. Dec. 12 to 8 a.m. Dec. 13 between Boeing Access Road and I-90.

The following ramps will be closed from 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, to 8 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 6:

Boeing Access Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. to northbound I-5
Swift Avenue S./S. Graham Street to northbound I-5
Corson Avenue/S. Michigan Street to northbound I-5

A signed detour will direct drivers to exit at Martin Luther King Way (exit 157) to Airport Way and back onto I-5 via Edgar Martinez Way/SR 519. Drivers should consider taking alternate routes like I-405 or SR 99 to avoid long delays and backups.

Plan accordingly.