Disposable ORCA Card Coming?

MARTA Breeze Ticket, photo by Oran
MARTA Breeze Ticket, photo: author

Low-income transit riders and tourists may not have to pay $10 to get an ORCA card if a disposable, low-cost version is offered. According to an article by Krista Kipp of the Seattle Jobs Initiative in the November 2009 issue of the ATU Local 587 News Review, a disposable card was planned to be offered when ORCA was being developed, but it was dropped due to security concerns. Kipp writes that the ORCA transit agencies are bringing this option back. It is currently under development and won’t be available after mid-2010, at the earliest.

A 2004 press release from Phillips, the vendor providing the MIFARE smart card technology for the ORCA project, reveals more details about what the disposable ORCA card would’ve been like. The disposable card is “specifically aimed at the collector, tourism and human service program application areas” and “will have specialized graphics and be pre-valued with a set amount of money (e.g. $20), a set number of rides (e.g. 10), or a set period of time (e.g. 7 days after first use).”

The article also mentions King County Metro’s efforts to mitigate the impact of ORCA on low-income residents by extending the Commuter Bonus Voucher program for human services agencies and allowing those agencies to purchase ORCA cards for $3 with a $3 minimum load. The vouchers can be exchanged for bus tickets, which will continue to be sold.

Low-income transit riders and tourists are affected by the transition to ORCA because of the initial cost of acquiring the card and new fare policies. Inter-system transfers and intra-system transfers on most agencies except Metro and Pierce Transit will require an ORCA card beginning January 1, 2010. After January 31, an ORCA card will cost $5 and $5 is the minimum value that must be loaded on the card at purchase, for a total cost of $10.

An example of a disposable smart card is MARTA’s Breeze Ticket, which costs 50¢, expires after 90 days and has limited functionality.

TOD in Seatac

The 2006 version of the plan (click to enlarge)

The Highline Times had an interesting pair of articles on Monday about development in Seatac.  The first mention’s the City’s plans to create a “downtown entertainment district” around the light rail station, specifically its plan to buy a surface parking lot and replace it with a garage that would improve car access to the neighborhood.   Great, except that the current owners would like to build a multi-use development there instead (see the next article).

The second one is about “a moratorium on applications for building and development permits in the station area.”  Apparently developers are unhappy with some of the requirements the City has enacted.  Seatac planning director Steve Butler says “the proposed standards would upgrade ground floor space requirements, establish a new street grid and increase design regulations for parking structures.”*

There’s an open house (with a flyer) about all this on Monday night:

Date: 12/7/2009 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Location: Holiday Inn Conference Center
17338 International Blvd.
SeaTac, Washington 98188

It’s times like this I wish NorthwestHub still had paid reporters to sort it all out.  Perhaps HugeAssCity can break this down for us?

*this quote from The Highline Times.

The illustration can be viewed in this 2006 City of Seatac report.

News Roundup: Keep Grace Crunican

Dan Corson's Oscillating Field. Photo by The Stranger.
Dan Corson's Oscillating Field. Photo by The Stranger.
  • Grace Crunican, the director Seattle’s transportation department, is looking for a job in Oregon since she might be forced out by the McGinn over last winter’s snowstorm. Many smart people argue the Mayor-elect should keep her on. We agree: McGinn should consider keeping her.
  • The First Hill Streetcar will break ground in 2011 and open by 2013. The City has three public meetings this month about it to discuss the possible alignments. And a minimalist web page.
  • The feds announce some more funding for streetcars and trolley buses.
  • SDOT begins work this week on Aurora bus platforms. RapidRide buses will eventually run along the corridor.
  • Seattle Metro area transit usage up 13.4% between 2006 and 2008, well behind several sun belt cities — and Detroit. Traffic congestion down, mostly due to the economy.
  • King County Council backs SR520 A+ option.  That pits them against Richard Conlin, Frank Chopp, and others, but with the legislative working group.
  • The Stranger art critic looks at the public art piece — above — temporarily occupying the future home of Link’s Capitol Hill stop.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “News Roundup: Keep Grace Crunican”

Smartly Disallowing Park & Rides along Central Link

Othello TOD Rising by Oran
'Othello TOD Rising' by Oran

Back in October, on a Sound Transit 554 Express to Issaquah, I overheard a conversation between an elderly passenger and the bus driver.  The older gentleman praised our bus system (in comparison to MTA in Los Angeles) and lauded the ease of traveling between Issaquah and Seattle.  After a few minutes, the conversation shifted to Link Light Rail, where the passenger further expressed content with the region’s efforts to expand rail.  The driver had an interesting response: “You know what’s really dumb, though?  They didn’t build any park and rides along the line!  How are you gonna take the train if you can’t even get to the station?”

With the exception of Tukwila/Int’l Blvd. Station, the decision not to add park and rides along Central Link’s initial segment has touched off this fiery debate among transit proponents: should parking be added at rail stations?  This issue has been a bigger point of contention when it comes to low-density suburbs, like South Bellevue.   However, the absence of park and ride facilities in the case of the Rainier Valley segment was probably a wisely measured decision by Sound Transit.   Most importantly, we should remember that the benefits of disallowing parking at rail stations aren’t generally realized in the short-term.  Rail and real estate development, being long-term investments, yield tremendous return when done right in the present.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Smartly Disallowing Park & Rides along Central Link”

Editorial: The UW Land Bridge? Not So Great.

The ST UW Station Plan (Sound Transit)
The ST UW Station Plan (Sound Transit) - not the one Ben is talking about

Last night I attended the University Link open house at the Museum of History and Industry. Construction is about to start on UW Station at Montlake, so there was a presentation explaining exactly where construction will take place, what sort of mitigation there will be, and what will go on. I’m not the first to post about this – Alper of Alpertopia covered it today as well.

The big takeaway from the Sound Transit presentation was that they’ll be using largely the same (very successful) noise mitigations they used for Beacon Hill, and they’ve provided for bicycle, pedestrian and vehicle access to UW facilities while construction takes place. They had conclusive answers to each question asked.

The end of the meeting was much more interesting. Prior to the presentations, I had a moment to speak with Andy Casillas, the UW’s project manager on their Rainier Vista project. He explained that contrary to their latest published design, the university has indeed dropped pedestrian bridges from their plans (not the one pictured above). The hospital side bridge was dropped because it would require expensive support structure construction in the basement of the hospital – he suggested transit users could use the existing underpass, but users are already cautioned against using that underpass at night without an escort.

The station side bridge reasoning was less clear. At some future date, he suggested a project might be undertaken to grade separate Montlake Boulevard, dropping it below pedestrian level, but this project is unfunded and unmentioned in any of the documents he presented.

During his presentation, he offered no quantifiable benefits to the land bridge design past the slightly shorter walking distance and additional layover space for Metro buses – but Metro isn’t being asked to help fund the project. He said the land bridge required an additional year of design time, but didn’t say how that might impact University Link’s schedule. He was unable to quantify impacts to pedestrian mobility or traffic – despite the walking distance decrease, this adds wait time at a new Montlake crossing light, apparently planned for 30 second intervals.

Most of the questions asked at that point were about the safety of a crossing for thousands of new users. Yesterday, I was willing to accept this with the assumption that the plan would be to build pedestrian bridges later. With those bridges apparently off the table, I see little benefit to the new plan and significant drawbacks, and no reason to support the additional expense to SDOT or Sound Transit. The existing Sound Transit station and pedestrian bridge design has already been approved by the UW Board of Regents as well as the Sound Transit Board – opening this agreement up for debate again would be foolhardy.

“Vehicle Miles Traveled” Tax Dead

Sen. Haugen (Senate Democrats)
Sen. Haugen (Senate Democrats)

Gas tax revenues, an important part of how we fund highways, have been declining along with fuel consumption.  Officials wondering how to plug the gap have floated the idea of “vehicle miles traveled” tax, which would basically charge you for each mile of road you use.

Andrew Austin reports that Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) has declared that idea dead for now.   And that’s good news.

The point of a VMT tax is that it raises revenue while discouraging driving.  But consider:

  • A gas tax also discourages driving.
  • A gas tax encourages use of fuel-efficient vehicles
  • A gas tax requires no new bureaucracy to implement.
  • A gas tax does not require the government to track your movements with a transponder.  I’m not really into tinfoil hats but this seems unnecessarily intrusive.

It may be that the revenue isn’t adequate, but there’s a simple solution: raise the gas tax.  It may be that in the far future most vehicles won’t burn gasoline.  But I’m not holding my breath, and we can address that problem if and when it occurs.

On a related note, USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood agrees with me.  More on the meeting that spurred this comment after the jump. Continue reading ““Vehicle Miles Traveled” Tax Dead”

Legislative Preview

[UPDATE: Erica Barnett has written up the briefing.]


If you’re a transit advocate, following the happenings in Olympia can be a pretty masochistic exercise.  Nevertheless, the Transportation Choices Coalition is probably the one organization most closely aligned with the principles of STB.  The man they send to Olympia to take all the bullets is Policy Director Bill LaBorde, who will be giving a preview of what’s to come, and exactly what kind of defensive crouch you should use:

FRIDAY FORUM: 2010 Legislative Preview
December is here and the 2010 Legislative Session is almost upon us. With a short session and the State’s budget crisis worsening, expect the legislative session to be fast-paced and focused on filling the $2.6 Billion and growing hole in the state’s operating budget. That said, Transportation Choices Coalition will be working hard on your behalf everyday to ensure that Washington residents have the option to take transit, bike, or walk in their community. Find out what’s on our legislative agenda with a special sneak preview this Friday.

As always, feel free to bring your lunch.

WHAT: 2010 Legislative Session Preview with Policy Director Bill LaBorde
WHEN: Friday, December 4, 12 – 1:30 pm
WHERE: Downtown YMCA, 909 4th Avenue, Seattle

I wish I could go.

Sound Transit to Reduce Light Rail Noise

Link train from Atomic Taco
Link train from Atomic Taco

Sound Transit has identified a handful of ways to reduce noise from Link light rail, which in sections has exceeded federal standards. To help address the problem, ST is doing or has done the following things:

  • Later this month, ST will be grinding rails along most of the alignment to “create a smoother running service.” This work will take place at night starting on Monday and run through the end of the month, according to a rider alert.While the work is active, headways at night will be reduced from 10 minutes to 15-20 minutes and sometimes you’ll have to board your train at the opposite platform than usual. Sound Transit thinks that this may be related to the high-frequency noise from the trains that some have complained about.
  • Next month (January 2010), track lubricating devices will be installed where Sound Transit has identified that wheel squeal is a problem.
  • Over the next few months, two switch crossings in the Rainer Valley will be modified to have a smoother running surface which ST expected to reduce the “ka-thunk” sounds heard now.
  • The volume of safety bells on trains and at pedestrian crossings on MLK, Jr. Way have been reduced, and train operators will no longer ring bells as long.
  • Station loudspeakers have had their volume lowered, and they are now turned off after 10pm for all stations in the Rainer Valley.

It should be noted that rail grinding will have little effect on “hunting” (the left-right oscillation sometimes noticeable in faster sections in Tukwila). Phoenix’s light rail is experiencing the same issue, and it may be a combination of vehicle maintenance and track alignment.

UW Triangle: Safety and Directness

I have long thought that ST’s current bridge design was a mistake. Although I think that ST’s current design does a mediocre job of directly connecting to UW’s main campus it does a very poor job of improving access to the medical buildings as well as riders that are transferring to buses on Pacific.

Station area pedestrian improvements should have two objectives. Increasing safety and accessibility of the station. Since ST doesn’t have some futuristic technology to reduce distance the major way ST can improve accessibility is to improve directness of access by reducing the perceived effort or ‘impedance’. Safety is increased by grade separating pedestrians from cars. This is pretty obvious. Directness is improved by creating straight and direct links between the station and major destinations, in this case the main campus, medical buildings, and bus transfer points. This is exactly what ST’s current designs don’t do, especially for riders that are transferring to buses.

The three plans

Continue reading “UW Triangle: Safety and Directness”

PSRC Survey

click to enlarge

Last month “on ramp” linked to a PSRC poll on attitudes to transportation in our region (pdf).  Although it’s important not to read too much into polls, the findings are pretty encouraging to transit advocates, and there’s some useful information on messaging:

  • “Addressing climate change” is highly important, but doesn’t resonate as well as “protecting waters” and “ensuring clean air”
  • Expanding transit is top transportation priority
  • “Moving traffic and people safely” and “Reducing traffic congestion” are highly important (but not as “intense” as some environmental priorities)
  • No funding alternatives are “popular” but a vehicle emissions fee is least offensive

Those highlights merely scratch the surface; check out the presentation.

Central District Light Rail?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

A post on the CD News blog makes the case, noting that “adding more buses won’t really help – the #3, #4, and #48 routes are already running about as frequently as you can on our narrow roads and in traffic, as evidenced by the way the buses will bunch up together at peak times,” and that “Otherwise we’re going to keep adding 200 unit apartment buildings and other infill development and suddenly find that there’s no capacity for people to get around.”

I’m sympathetic to both of those points. On the latter, I think there’s more of a chicken-and-egg phenomenon than the author allows. True, we saw a lot of 200-unit buildings go up in Capitol Hill and the Central District in the boom years, but my guess is we won’t get many more (beyond the ones already in development) until it’s easier to get to and from the neighborhood.

And while I’d like light rail there as much as the next guy, I think solving the crosstown traffic problem with better bus right-of-way and signal priority is a good interim solution.

First Swift Ridership Numbers

Photo by Wings777
Photo by Wings777

When talking about Link ridership, I’ve said time and time again that monthly ridership totals are basically meaningless.  We won’t have meaningful information till the end of 2010 at the earliest, and preliminary conclusions about the line’s “success” or “failure” can’t be made for at least a decade, when development has had a chance to occur.

But people love the horse race, so for entertainment purposes only, 1,526 people rode Swift on Monday.  That’s compared to a daily SR99 corridor bus ridership of about 4,500.  Ridership probably wasn’t helped by the fact that there are no paper transfers between Swift and regular CT service — it’s ORCA, or pay twice.  Regardless, CT spokesman Martin Munguia says “street teams are reporting more people riding Swift than at the same time yesterday.”

As always, the real test will be what kind of construction occurs in the coming years.  The land use in this corridor is a total disaster — think strip malls behind massive parking lots, all the way up*.  Will Snohomish County residents and developers accept a different principle on which to organize their communities?  Is a BRT line enough to spur that?  We’ll get to find out.

*with apologies to Central Everett, which isn’t like that.

UW Station Meeting

Sound Transit
Sound Transit

Tomorrow evening Sound Transit is holding a meeting about the UW light rail station:

December 02 , 2009
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI)

McCurdy Gallery

2700 24th Avenue East
Seattle, WA 98122

Sources tell me there will be a little bit of news at this meeting, so show up if you can.

Edit from Ben: The news is likely that UW Station will undergo a design change, as was reported by the DJC (go here for an illustration). Instead of the pedestrian bridge Sound Transit has currently planned, the design may be closer to UW’s “Rainier Vista” plan (PDF) – without pedestrian bridges, but with a street crossing in the middle of the east side of the Pacific/Montlake triangle, and a land bridge built to connect the triangle to UW campus without a street crossing.

The new design would offer much better pedestrian access to the hospital, as well as increasing crossing safety by placing the crossing adjacent to the station. The land bridge is expected to cost $18.7 million, $12 million over the cost of the pedestrian bridge alone, with the additional cost split evenly between the city, UW, and Sound Transit.

Want to Shape Pedestrian Planning?


I really wish Adam was in town to participate in this.  SDOT is soliciting three new volunteers for the Pedestrian Advisory Board.  From the press release:

SEATTLE – Mayor Greg Nickels is seeking three volunteers to serve on the Pedestrian Advisory Board. Residents are invited to apply to serve on a volunteer committee that plays an influential role in implementing Seattle’s Pedestrian Master Plan. The board advises the mayor and City Council, participates in planning and project development, evaluates policies and makes recommendations.

Board members serve a two-year term, with an opportunity to serve a second term. The volunteers are frequent walkers of a variety of ages, levels of mobility and walks of life, and from areas throughout the city. Members must be Seattle residents and may not be city employees. The group meets the second Wednesday of each month from 6 to 8 p.m. at City Hall, located at 600 Fourth Ave., James and Cherry streets.

People interested in serving on the board are encouraged to submit by Dec. 16 a resume and cover letter explaining their interest to:

Brian Dougherty, Seattle Department of Transportation,
700 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3900,
P.O. Box 34996, Seattle Washington, 98124-4996,

or via e-mail to brian.dougherty@seattle.gov.

For more information, call Brian Dougherty at (206) 684-5124, or e-mail him at the address above.

These advisory boards are really interesting if you’re into a subject because you learn a lot about the process and the constraints that planners deal with.

The Conservative Case for Rail

Wholly aside from my own ideological inclinations, I really have a soft spot for heretics on both sides.  On the national stage, I always find Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan, and Mickey Kaus difficult to categorize and therefore interesting to read.

So it’s no surprise that I’m somewhat obsessed with pro-transit conservate William Lind, above and beyond the fact that he agrees with me.  The modern conservative coalition largely consists of rural interests that are never going to be pro-transit, but there’s really no good reason that urban conservatives and libertarians should be anti-rail and anti-transit*.

The effort to win this argument is an important one; the nature of the system is that parties alternate in power, and decades-long infrastructure projects can’t survive administrations that alternate between supporting and sabotaging them.

See also this recollection of Lind’s coauthor, the late Paul Weyrich.

*I fear Lind’s comparison of rail and road subsidies may not be apples-to-apples (are capital costs in that highway figure?), but without easy sourcing it’s hard to say.  On the other hand, things like wide arterials, density restrictions and parking mandates are undoubtedly car subsidies but don’t show up in his figures.