Metro Rider Communication Plus

Montlake Bridge
Photo by Voght

Last year I criticized Metro for not letting anyone know that boating Opening Day was going to create massive disruption to buses in the Montlake area.

That makes it gratifying to see that routes like the 48 now have the reroute listed under their alert page.  To further help things, they’re adding a shuttle every 20 minutes to get people from Campus Pkwy (where the 43 and 48 will cross the canal) to the University Hospital area.

Bravo Metro!  In a short time your new rider alert system has made it much easier to find out about service disruptions. In fact, it’s now Sound Transit that takes the hits for absent or uselessly generic information.

3rd Ave Getting Bus Bulbs, Bigger Sidewalks

Pedestrians on Third Ave. Photo by Oran.

If you’re wondering why Third Avenue has been under construction recently, we asked SDOT about the work and they told us that the corridor is receiving some great bus and pedestrian improvements.

The Third Avenue/Belltown Transit Priority Corridor Improvements Project is located on Third Avenue between Cedar Street and Virginia Street.  The project will create more attractive sidewalks and dedicated passenger waiting areas, while improving bus travel times in the corridor.

Specific Improvements to the Third Avenue/Belltown Corridor Include:

• Building concrete bus bulb/curb and sidewalk extensions to eliminate buses having to pull in and out of traffic at passenger loading zones.
• Making improvements to street lighting
• Building new curb ramps
• Installing new bike racks

We asked Bill Bryant, the Transit Program Lead at SDOT for more information on bus bulbs and he sent a detailed reply.

“‘In-lane’ bus stops prevent bus delays caused by the need for buses to swerve into and out of the parking lane to service bus stops. In-lane bus stops exist in many places in Seattle, primarily where no parking lane exists,” Bryant told us. “Where a parking lane exists, a bus bulb is often the best answer.”

Bus bulbs seem to be popping up all over the city recently, with more to come. “Locations exist on University Way, Alaskan Way, N. 45th St, Market St, Pine St, and others.  SDOT is currently constructing new bulbs at the six Third Ave stops in Belltown, and will soon begin construction of a number of bulbs along Route 7 on Jackson St and Rainier Ave. Additional bus bulbs are in design as part of SDOT’s Market/45th (Route 44) transit corridor project.”

More on bus bulbs after the jump…

Continue reading “3rd Ave Getting Bus Bulbs, Bigger Sidewalks”

Queen Anne Gondola

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Crystal Mountain has began installing a $5.3M gondola to bring more skiiers up to the top of its mountain.  With 18 cars it will bring 450 people up an hour, and has the capacity to add another 18 cars.  The total run is around 8,000 feet and will take a bit under 10 minutes.  

If Crystal (and Portland, for that matter) can do this, why can’t Seattle?  We’re full of hills that are hard to access.  Take a look at my proposed Galer Ski Lift route going up from Lake Union to upper Queen Anne.  This would be under 500 feet, so travel at 800 feet/minute would take less than a minute.  Currently it takes around half an hour to make this trip by bus.  Further, Queen Anne would then connect directly to the SLU Streetcar* and therefore downtown. 

Of course the Queen Anne Gondola would be much smaller than Crystal’s system.  It would be less than a 10th as long, would require very few towers, we could downsize the equipment and settle for a 2-3 minute travel time, and you don’t have to lug all of this equipment high in the hills – just truck it in from the port.  But even if it costs close to the $5.3M, that’s a tenth the cost of our South Lake Union Streetcar.  What we spend in capital costs may pay back in bus service hours, since this would replace quite a few commutes.  Plus we can pay for at least part of it with a LID, since this will surely increase sales at QA’s shops and will be a great tourist attraction.

It’s frustrating that it takes a half an hour to get downtown via bus from QA despite being just 2 miles away (that’s an average of 4 miles an hour), which is why I thought up this route.  Are there any other locations where this might work (perhaps West Seattle)?

*there’s a significant walk now, but it’s likely it will eventually continue up Westlake

State Proposes Changes to New 520 West Approach

"New Portage Bay Bridge looking east," image from WSDOT.

Update @ 2:55 pm: WSDOT has posted a web page detailing the changes.

Original Post: The Seattle Times has the scoop on changes to new SR-520 west approach to mollify concerns that the Seattle City Council expressed in a letter earlier this month. One change that Mayor McGinn proposed to afford the ability for light rail in the future is included as well. Some of the proposed changes are:

• A direct ramp from the Washington Park Arboretum to eastbound 520 would be dropped, and other approaches could be limited to peak hours only, said Clibborn. These moves are meant to reduce Arboretum traffic and are more dramatic than what City Council members requested.

City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, as well as Paige Miller, executive director of the Arboretum Foundation, have suggested extra tolls on cars that use the Arboretum to reach the floating bridge and other moves to calm traffic.

• The section across Portage Bay, from the Montlake Interchange to Interstate 5, would be narrower and perhaps have a 45-mph speed limit, Clibborn said, to reduce noise and provide “more of a boulevard feel.” Earlier, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a standard highway segment, with a new seventh lane for merges and exits.

• A second drawbridge would be included across Montlake Cut. King County Metro Transit needs those extra lanes to improve bus connections, but a plan for better transit flow has yet to be worked out, Eddy said. Seattle leaders also have called for room for new bike and pedestrian paths.

• An open-air gap would exist between new westbound and eastbound lanes at Foster Island, a change also promoted by Mayor Mike McGinn. If light rail is added someday, trains would exit from the middle and head directly toward the stadium station, presumably on a new Union Bay bridge.

We need to see more details on the changes to get a good idea of things, and we’d like to see a “better transit flow” plan sooner rather than later. Overall, though, the city council is likely to respond positively to these changes.

The gap described in the last bullet point would make future rail more viable if region eventually wants it. Even though I’m not supportive of light rail across 520 because bus service would do a better job for the foreseeable future, I’d support changes like the gap, to hedge my analysis, if the costs were low enough. WSDOT apparently feels the costs of that particular change are low enough to include without much prodding. (I should note that our coolness on light rail over the new span is not the straw man that “it isn’t in the plans” but rather that there is no concrete destination in the Eastside suburbia to run another light rail line toward, with Bellevue and Overlake already being served by East Link. There are arguments of merit, not of process.)

Vanpools are an Important Part of the System

Michael Ennis, of the right-wing Washington Policy Center, has a post extolling the virtues of vanpooling.  Although there are plenty of distortions in the piece, I actually agree with one of its points, which is that vanpools are a cost-effective solution to moving people on work trips.

Aside from that, though, his argument seems to be the following:

  1. People driving by themselves is awesome, since people choose it over other options.
  2. Vanpools are a cheap way to move people to and from work.
  3. Therefore, other spending on transit is wasted.

More after the jump… Continue reading “Vanpools are an Important Part of the System”

The Train that Doesn’t Stop

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Great concept video:

One of the tensions with High Speed Rail is balancing the desire for stops among communities along the route with the desire to keep the train moving to its destination. This resolves that tension.

News Roundup: % who take public transit

Image from The Infrastructurist.

This is an open thread.

WTA Tax Increase Losing in Early Returns

Whatcom Transit Bus (wikimedia)

Yesterday was the mailing deadline for an all-mail election in Whatcom County to raise the sales tax by 0.2%, in order to avoid a similar story of deep cuts to transit service.

Early returns indicate it is losing by 247 votes, or 0.58%.  You can follow this story as it develops by checking out Jared Paben’s Traffic blog at the Bellingham Herald.  Election results from the source are available here.

I don’t know enough about the jurisdictions to speculate on why Walla Walla would have a similar measure win by 50 points, but it would be so close here.  I don’t mean to suggest the areas are at all similar, but if anything I’d expect Walla Walla to be more conservative.

TIGER II Grants to Encourage Smarter Land Use

Streetsblog DC reports that the federal TIGER II grants will look at land use, hopefully encouraging transportation projects to be built with larger goals in mind:

Perhaps the biggest news in today’s announcement was the U.S. DOT’s intention to marry its decision-making on the new TIGER-esque grants with the process for allocating $40 million in land-use aid at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). If the two agencies can sustain that goal past the period of public comment on the new grants that begins this week, their move would take the cooperative ethos that has defined the Obama administration’s sustainable communities effort to the next level.

In its preliminary TIGER II guidance, published in today’s Federal Register, the U.S. DOT wrote that officially linking its grant decision-making with HUD’s would ideally “encourage and reward more holistic planning efforts and result in better projects being built with federal dollars” by recognizing the inextricable connection between transportation and local planning.

The U.S. DOT’s criteria for choosing TIGER II winners differ in several notable respects from those for the original program. At least $140 million of the new grants are required to go to rural areas, and localities selected to receive federal funding would need to provide a 20 percent match — a requirement that had been waived for the original TIGER competition in view of the economic downturn.

TIGER grants are competitively-awarded transportation grants that pit highways against transit projects, and roads against bike projects, and award based on a project’s merits rather than formula funding. $1.5 billion worth of TIGER grants were included in Obama’s stimulus package that passed early in his administration. (The Transport Politic has a great entry on this policy as well.)

A new jobs bill including yet another round of TIGER grants is on “life-support” according to WSDOT’s federal funding blog.

New Urbanism and Preservation

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ryan Avent tweets:

Preservation is often a good idea, but cities and citizens should recognize and face the real, high opportunity costs:

He links to an article in City Journal by Ed Glaeser, who writes:

It is wise and good to protect the most cherished parts of a city’s architectural history. But New York’s vast historic districts, which include thousands of utterly undistinguished structures, don’t accomplish that goal. Worse, they impede new construction, keeping real estate in New York City enormously expensive (despite a housing crash), especially in its most desirable, historically protected areas. It’s time to ask whether New York’s big historic districts make sense.

Glaeser overstates the case. The historic areas that he thinks have gotten out of control constitute less than 1% of Manhattan’s total area. But I do think there’s something to the argument.

I’ve written about this tension before — between New Urbanists and preservationists — in response to another piece by Glaeser revisiting the legacy of Jane Jacobs.

The Congress for the New Urbanism’s website has several positive articles on historic preservation, and indeed, preserving America’s pre-automobile, human-scale thoroughfares is an obvious thing to do when you’re trying to reduce car dependency. But at some point, doesn’t the desire to preserve urban areas for people outweigh the desire to save every run-down house in the neighborhood?

First Hill Streetcar Passes Council Committee

SDOT's Recommended Alignment: Two-Way Broadway
The First Hill Streetcar alignment.

The Seattle City Council Transportation Committee voted today to send Resolution 31207, authorizing the construction of the First Hill Streetcar, to the full council. Every member of the committee voted to move the resolution forward. The resolution will be considered next Monday by the full council, who is expected to pass it.

The resolution adopts the two-way Broadway alignment recommended by the city’s Department of Transportation. Construction would begin in 2011 and the streetcar would start operations in late 2013, three years ahead of the original schedule that was approved by voters as part of the Sound Transit 2 measure in 2008.

The resolution authorizes the city to seek funding for an extension, north to Aloha. This includes asking the Sound Transit Board for the use of money budgeted for the streetcar, but would be unspent if the initial streetcar line comes under-budget as estimated.

[P]er Section 1 of the Funding and Cooperative Agreement between Sound Transit and the City, SDOT should request the Sound Transit Board allow the City to use any excess capital funds provided by ST2 for the First Hill Streetcar Project for the purpose of extending the Project’s route north on Broadway.

For what it’s worth, we’ve heard plenty of push back on this idea from Sound Transit staff who are already concerned about the rest of ST2’s financial plan because of the economic downturn that came right as the agency began to collect additional revenue to fund projects across the region.

Vancouver, Seattle, and Bus Allocation

Vancouver Skyline (wikimedia)

Zach Shaner has a very provocative and well-researched post on the advantages of Vancouver’s bus service over Seattle’s.  The post is wonderfully quantitative although its central thesis is kind of squishy and subjective:

In Vancouver there’s just a real je ne sais quoi; I really feel like I can go car-free, put on my backpack, and walk anywhere I want and take transit anywhere I want without planning any of my journeys.  The routes are intuitive, frequent, and they just work.  In Seattle, even though I know I’m surrounded by options, they somehow seem indecipherable.

The key is that King County places more emphasis on peak-only commuter routes and geographic span of service, while Vancouver has more frequent all-day routes.  Shaner comes up with a bunch of good reasons, and there are several more good ones in his comment thread.  ECB at Publicola piles on some more.

I don’t have much more to add, but few rail corridors, a robust highway/HOV network, and at-grade light rail are a combination that will perpetuate this problem.  Unreliable buses create reluctance to transfer and increase demand for one-seat rides; freeway routes straight into the city mean that indirect routes are not competitive, time-wise, with driving; and although it serves many other objectives, rail routes that are on-paper slower than express buses make it hard to divert bus hours to serve rail stations.  That’s a shame, because as a rail advocate I’m really about having excellent service in a few key corridors rather than marginal service everywhere.

ORCA: One Year Later

'ORCA is Here!' by Oran

ORCA, the region’s new transit card, has been in service for a year and it’s been a mixed performance.

For the uninitiated, ORCA cards can store value (in an “e-purse”) as well as monthly passes. Both passes and e-purse balances can be automatically loaded with a credit card through, or in person in the downtown Seattle transit tunnel, at any Link station, and at a handful of locations around the region.

On the positive side, ORCA cards are flexible and much better than dealing with cash. For transit agencies, they can reduce verification of paper transfers and improve boarding speeds. For passengers, ORCA makes transferring between agencies (and paying the fare difference) much easier. Riders without monthly passes no longer have to work about having the exact fare on them. According to data from Sound Transit, 200,000 daily boardings are handled with ORCA.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “ORCA: One Year Later”

RapidRide Timeline and Display Coach

RapidRide on display at Westlake, by Oran.

For anyone hanging around Westlake last Thursday, you might have noticed a shiny new RapidRide bus on display. The coach was being showcased as part of Earth Day festivities.  Metro has also informed us that more coaches will be on display in various locations around the region during the summer.  Where and when hasn’t been finalized yet. A few STBers added several pictures of the display coach on our Flickr pool.

We’ve also received a timeline for the opening of the A-Line this fall as well as rough dates for the remaining five lines.  The original opening date was supposed to be during the February service change, but budget cuts have pushed that back to October, which we originally reported at the beginning of the year:

  • A Line – Pacific Hwy S. – Oct 2, 2010
  • B Line – Bellevue/Redmond – fall 2011
  • C Line – W. Seattle – 2011 (service adds only), 2012 (fully branded)
  • D Line – Ballard/Uptown – 2012
  • E Line – Aurora Ave N – 2013
  • F Line – Burien, Tukwila, Renton — 2013

“The A-Line will have 10 minute service during peak hours on weekdays and 15 minute service during off-peak hours (including weekends),” Rochelle Ogershok, a spokesperson for Metro Transit, told us in an email.  “Evening and overnight schedules will offer more limited service.   This A-Line schedule will more than double the current frequency of the Route 174.”

Next “Public Transit Adventure” May 7th

For a while now, Sound Transit planner Jim Moore has been putting together relatively informal “public transit adventures” where a bunch of enthusiasts go to some out-of-the-way place to experience some routes they might not otherwise interact with.  He’s decided to open these up to the general public.

The next one is May 7th, and will take riders to Stanwood.  If you’re interested, please contact in the next couple of days.  The full draft itinerary is below the jump.

Continue reading “Next “Public Transit Adventure” May 7th”

Teenager Walks in Front of Link Train

According to the Rainer Valley KOMO blog:

A 13-year-old girl using her cell phone stepped in front of a moving light rail train at the station at MLK and Othello and was hit on Friday afternoon.

The incident happened at around 3:45 p.m. The girl was not paying attention and didn’t see the train coming as it was pulling into the northbound station.  She suffered cuts to the face, but no other serious injuries.  She was taken to a hospital for treatment.  It isn’t known if she was talking or texting on her phone when the collision happened.

After some delays, service is now restored.

Marko Liias Speaks at the Meetup

For those of you who never had a chance to attend our meetups, this is a glimpse of what it’s like. After some mingling, Martin introduces the bloggers and other notable guests. In the last meetup, Representative Marko Liias of Edmonds, a champion of transit in the State Legislature along with Geoff Simpson, got to speak briefly on the last legislative session. He expressed the need for a “broad base coalition” to get the Legislature and Senate to help transit agencies in crisis.

Many thanks to punkrawker4783 for producing the video.