The Little Streetcar That Could

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


As South Lake Union fills up, so does the streetcar.

Speaking of ridership — ORCA’s now serving 200,000 riders a day. That’s half of Metro’s 400,000 daily boardings. Of course, not all ORCA holders use Metro, but it puts it in perspective. Not bad, considering institutions like UW still haven’t adopted it (but will soon).

East Link Alignment

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Kudos to the Bellevue City Council and Sound Transit for agreeing to a compromise alignment for East Link that brings the stops close to people, not pavement.

I still think we’re in for a bit of a show when the vast majority of folks who live along Bellevue Way south of Downtown (the ones who don’t get too involved in this stuff) realize what might getting built in their neighborhood (just like the residents of Montlake or the Rainier Valley), but still… onward to Redmond!

Link Service Spottier this Weekend For Maintenance

For anyone looking to travel on Link this weekend, be prepared for spottier service as track maintenance will reduce trains to single-track running between SODO and Columbia City stations.  Sound Transit is finishing the installation of switch heaters near the OMF (Operations and Maintenance Facility).  The heaters will allow switches to be fully operational when snow and ice bring pandemonium during the winter months.

Service will be reduced from normal 10-15 minute headways to 20-30 minute headways.  Single-track running also means that only one platform will be used for both northbound and southbound trains at Mt. Baker and Beacon Hill stations.  ST will have signage and staff on hand to direct riders.  The service disruptions are expected to last from 10PM tonight through 5AM Monday morning.

Rethinking Station Access (II)

Detail of the Bicycling Guide Map. Blue and Green indicate sharrows or better for bikes.

The philosophy behind the plans for Link stations in the Rainier Valley was that people would take “alternate” transportation — buses, bikes, and feet — to get to the train.  A couple of weeks ago, we looked how the bus side of that plan was working out.  Today, walking and biking:


Sound Transit invested a lot in improving sidewalks, along MLK in particular. However, MLK is a relatively undeveloped, low-density corridor by Seattle standards, and the density was further reduced by eminent-domain seizures for construction staging areas.  The walkshed, measured in people, is simply not that large.  West of the line, the steep and heavily wooded side of Beacon Hill further restricts the accessible area.

If walk-up ridership is to significantly improve, the most important thing is to upzone and aggressively encourage dense development, although sidewalk improvements are urgent in the places where they are needed.


Sound Transit was sure to put bicycle racks at each station, and more importantly trains are well designed to accommodate bikes.  However, the failure to put any sort of bike infrastructure on MLK itself  — just rebuilt for the train — is a huge failing.  A quick glance at the latest Seattle Bicycling Guide Map (pdf) shows the pitiful bike infrastructure around most stations.

Beacon Hill is served by sharrows, and Rainier Beach has an actual bike lane (thick blue) and bike trail (green) approaching it.  For the other three Valley stations, there are oh-so-inviting “unmarked, un-signed connectors” (yellow lines) in the rough vicinity of the station.  There isn’t even a signed bicycle route (dotted black line) that takes you directly to any of the five stations in the Southeast.

Building along the relatively sparse MLK corridor, with little to no parking, was a conscious decision to trade lots of ridership now for the promise of a more development, and therefore, more ridership, in the future. While that decision is defensible, it makes it all the more imperative that the City make minor improvements in pedestrian and bike access, as well as doing whatever is necessary to bring about the development that was the purpose of the routing in the first place.

Breaking: B2M and C9T is Preferred East Link Alternative

The Sound Transit Board unanimously moved to modify the preferred alternative for the East Link project as reported yesterday. B2 modified (112th Ave SE) and C9T (downtown tunnel) are now selected as the preferred alternative for the South Bellevue and Downtown Bellevue segments for East Link.

The Board also adopted a new fare policy and ST Express bus and Link light rail fare changes.

[Update from Sherwin:] Here is a press release (PDF) from ST that breaks down the meeting and motion.

Route 8 Stop Consolidation

Route 8 stop closures in red, new stops in green.

Metro is putting another bus on a stop diet. Route 8 is the latest to see some stops removed, after routes 28, 7, 16, 48, and 120 have all had some stops removed in the last handful of years.

The 8 currently services 70 stops, but 18 of those will be removed which will increase the average stop spacing to about 1,080 feet from 940 feet.

“The projected travel time savings is one minute per direction,” said Linda Thielke, a spokeswoman for Metro. “The exact operating cost savings won’t be known until more detailed scheduling work is completed.”

The 8 recently faced a major service change. Last September, to coordinate with Link light rail, the 8 was extended deep into the Rainer Valley and its frequency was boosted to 15-minute service all-day. These major service changes may have affected the route’s reliability, spurring Metro to evaluate removing some stops.

Just 6% of  route 8 riders will have to change their stop. Other bus routes affected by the stop closures include are routes 1, 2, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 18, 27, 36, 43, 81, 84, 106, and 107.

The list of affected stops is available from Metro’s website. Affected riders have until April 30th to comment on the changes, which will go into effect on May 16th.

Free Toilets!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Free or reduced-priced compact flourescent light bulbs have been a successful way for utilities to help customers reduce energy use.  In return, power companies don’t have to add as much power generation capacity thanks to the lower demand.  But what about water?  Building sewage treatment plants costs money.  Without fanfare or any media notice (except at QA View), Seattle Public Utilities began giving out brand new efficient toilets, delivered to your home and installed by a professional plumber – all for free.  You have to be fairly low income to qualify, and you have to have an old toilet and live in your own home, but other than that there aren’t any strings – just a shiny new piece of porcelain ready to save you around 24,000 gallons of water and $140 a year.

If this turns out to be as popular as their kitchen compost bin giveaway (more compost = less trash to haul down to Oregon), they’ll run out of toilets quickly.

Hey, toilets are infrastructure.  Sort of.

ST to Change Preferred East Link Alternative Tomorrow

The three alignments (B2M/C9T, B2M/C11A, B7/C9T), click to enlarge

Tomorrow, the Sound Transit Board is expected to modify its preferred alternative (motion: PDF) for East Link.  On Monday, in a surprise move, Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson voted with councilmembers Balducci, Degginger, and Chelminiak to sign a term-sheet that establishes the basic funding principles of financing a C9T tunnel.  With this non-binding term-sheet (PDF) now approved by Bellevue, the ST CEO Joni Earl will likely sign off on it as well and move forward to select B2 modified and C9T (downtown tunnel) as its preferred alternative.  C11A (downtown at-grade) will be chosen as a secondary backup alternative for the downtown segment.  These were all earlier recommended by ST’s Capital Committee on April 8th after it was found that Bellevue’s obligated funding gap for C9T was far more possible with a B2 connection.

While C9T is the alignment of choice for the vast majority of Bellevue residents, there will likely be discontent among neighborhoods that have eagerly supported pushing light rail away from the South Bellevue Park and Ride, and to the BNSF corridor.  This B7 route has been shelved by ST multiple times because of multiple concerns, including low ridership which wouldn’t justify its construction.  The Bellevue City Council voted 4-3 for B7, and 7-0 for C9T.

The board meeting will take place tomorrow, April 22nd, in the Ruth Fisher Boardroom at Union Station from 1:30pm-4:30pm.  Public comments will be taken near the beginning of the meeting (the agenda can be found here).  We’d encourage you to make it out and show your support to move forward on ST’s decision.

News Roundup: Tukwila Benefits

"249 and The Flowering Tree," by KDavidClark.

This is an open thread.

520 and Light Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


Now that I can actually spend some time blogging, let me make a few comments on the 520 bridge and light rail, a debate which seems to have come back into the fore, thanks to a last-minute protest from Mayor McGinn and several other Seattle-area politicians earlier this year.

[The current design is for 4 general purpose lanes plus 2 HOV/Transit lanes (HOV 3+). McGinn wants 4 GP lanes plus 2 transit-only lanes (bus now, light rail later). ]

If you haven’t been following the details, it’s important to note that the Governor decided back in 2008 to opt for a light-rail-free design. The environmental impact studies all proceeded from that assumption. Putting light rail back into the plans would require a new EIS and a delay to the project. How long? McGinn says 6 months. The State AG and the feds say 2 years. The project cost would certainly increase by several hundred billion dollars as well.

Serial Catowner has some serious qualms about the current design. I’m sympathetic. $4.5 billion is a lot of money to spend on oil-dependent infrastructure in the year 2010, when we know we have to seriously reduce our carbon output in the next 20 years.

A lot can happen between now and. say, 2040, when we might realistically see light rail on 520. Oil could be $20/gallon, all cars could run on electricity, and Microsoft could decamp for Bangalore, leaving its office complex in Redmond looking like the old GM and Ford plants in 2010 Detroit. All of these things will affect the 520 bridge.

It’s a lot to try to plan for.

So we’ve come, in 2010, after over a decade of discussion, to this messy compromise known as “Option A+.” It’s not perfect. In some ways, it’s kind of ridiculous. But it’s the result of a lot of messy compromises and stakeholder meetings that many people who are not me spent time attending and working with. Not having attended a single outreach meeting on the project, I don’t feel right complaining too much about the chosen outcome. Balancing the demands of the Arboretum, the UW, Microsoft the surrounding neighborhoods, and other interest groups can’t have been easy.

It is easy, however, for me to sit in front of my computer here at night, shake my fist, and demand my preferred design. But those groups I mentioned above have political clout, specifically because they’ve organized, and the project is a result of that organization.

This leads me to my next point: if there’s a better design, what’s the strategy for making it a reality? If you’re asking to delay the project by up to 2 years and add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost, you have a responsibility, I would think, not just to make an engineering argument, but also to make a political argument. How will you get your design implemented? Mayor McGinn is not exactly a political powerhouse right now. Quite the opposite, actually. And Frank Chopp and Ed Murray are voicing opposition because they know it plays well with their constituents, but they’re unlikely to try and seriously derail the project.

Finally, even if there is a political strategy, it comes with an opportunity cost. More effort and money trying to get potential light rail on 520 could reduce the amount of actual transit that gets built elsewhere. Not only that, there’s a case to be made, not by me, but by Sound Transit and many others, that buses are better on 520 from a transit perspective, because they can serve multiple destinations. So even if you somehow manage to delay the project long enough to get pontoons and a bridge deck big enough to maybe someday carry trains that no agency has plans to build, it’s not clear that it’s a better solution even from a pure transit perspective.

SLU Streetcar Ridership Increasing

By Mike Bjork

To parallel the recent increases in Central Link ridership, more trips are being taken on the South Lake Union Streetcar as well.  The latest data (PDF) shows that in March, there were a total of 1,347 daily boardings and 1,547 weekday boardings (when factoring out weekend ridership).  This is an improvement of 20% over the same time last year.  January and February numbers saw daily  boardings of 1,173 and 1,268, respectively.

The continuing increase may reflect the rising occupancy rates of properties in the neighborhood like  PATH, a non-profit in health research and medicine, which recently relocated 300 employees to a Denny office.  The numbers, however, likely do not reflect Amazon’s move into its new headquarters, which just began earlier this month. Considering the move, ridership will likely exceed the original 2010 forecast of 1,350 daily boardings.

Again, like we’ve said many times with our Link ridership reports, one shouldn’t draw too many inferences about ridership numbers.  While the streetcar is indeed two years older than Link, it was designed as a long-term investment for a neighborhood that is undergoing significant revitalization.  Amazon’s move and other signs of growth in South Lake Union are indicators that will help make the SLU streetcar a success in the future.

(H/T: Michael Arnold)

Kitsap Transit Adds Back “Limited” Paper Transfers

Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

After eliminating paper transfers in favor of ORCA last October, Kitsap Transit commissioners voted yesterday to allow for limited paper transfers through the end of the year.

The resolution places “paper transfers back on our vehicles until the end of the year,” said Laurie Talbert, public information coordinator for Kitsap Transit. “It is a limited transfer, because unlike an ORCA transfer which is valid for two hours in any direction at any location and between regional agencies, our paper transfer is limited to the next connecting Kitsap Transit bus or foot ferry and is valid only at our transfer centers.”

ORCA is a regional transit pass that automatically handles transfers, but it costs $5 to purchase a card, and that had some social advocacy groups questioning the equity of requiring cards to handle transfers.

The issue was put in front of commissioners “after input from social service agencies in our area that provide bus fare to their low income clients  “They have requested additional time to help their low income clients convert to the ORCA card.” In Kitsap County, cards are only available at a Ferry terminal, one Safeway store, and online. Other Safeway stores will begin to carry the cards later this year, according to the Kitsap Sun.

“Kitsap Transit offers a low income fare, but must obtain their initial ORCA card in person at our Customer Service Office,” Talbert explained to us. “The logistics of getting each of their clients to our office has been difficult and the elimination of our paper transfers and the implementation of the $5 card fee have made that trip to our office more costly for the agencies. The temporary return of our transfers will cut their cost to convert the remainder of their clients to ORCA.”

The lessons of Kitsap Transit will be instructive as other agencies begin to eliminate paper transfers. Thanks to reader Mike Fisher for the tip.

BREAKING: Suspicious Package Delaying Sounder

We’re hearing from local news outlets that a suspicious package on the BNSF mainline is holding up South Sounder trains.  From Chuck Taylor’s twitter, it appears that Southline northbound (reverse-peak) trains are being halted near Boeing Field and there are delays up to 35 minutes.  We’ll let you know when service resumes.

[Update 6:06pm:] According to Sound Transit, a second suspicious package has been discovered, prolonging delays out of Seattle.  Per an earlier mistake, it appears that all Southline trains are being affected, not just reverse-peak.

[Update 6:20pm:] The tracks are clear and all service has resumed.

Comment on the First Hill Streetcar Alignment

The Seattle City Council Transportation Committee wants to hear your thoughts about the proposed First Hill Streetcar alignment:

Thursday, April 22, 2010
5:30 p.m.

Seattle First Baptist Church
1111 Harvard Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122

It’s obvious from some epic comment threads that people have a lot to say, so take the time to say it to someone who can do something about it.  Show up early to get on the speaking list.

Bikeability Analysis: Portland and Seattle

Cycle Zone Analysis (top) vs. Bikeability Analysis (bottom)

In December 2008 the City of Portland and Alta Planning released an analysis they called a “Cycle Zone Analysis” (top two maps above). Although somewhat qualitative it identify the strengths and weaknesses of bicycling in different zone of the city. Myself and many other professions were very excited about this because it helped to fill a gap in non-motorized transportation planning and analysis.

Most non-motorized transportation planning is based on citizen input through needs analysis. Essentially someone will say “there is a need here”, like lack of sidewalk, or lots of bicyclist use this road, etc. This is an extremely important part of transportation planning, after all if you don’t know what is wrong how can you solve it. But stopping there, as many plans do, leaves you with distinct problems. First you aren’t able to easily compare how important a project is. This is especially important when identified projects far outstrips funds, sound familiar? Also this make it hard to quantify or understand from a long range planning perspective what your strengths and weaknesses are, and in turn how to best build off your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “Bikeability Analysis: Portland and Seattle”

Orphan Road User Accounts

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

As many of you have probably noticed, we’ve been experiencing some technical difficulties here for the past few weeks. There were actually two distinct problems: one, the site was periodically getting hacked, and two, new users couldn’t register for accounts.

I attempted to fix this by migrating us to a new installation of WordPress, but it didn’t help. The problems returned.

Tonight I’ve taken a slightly more drastic step, and exported-and-reimported the blog into a new WordPress install. The upshot is that, while I’ve preserved all blog posts and comments, most user accounts have been deleted.

I’m really sorry about this. It’s annoying to have to register to comment in the first place, but to have to re-register again is super annoying. So please accept my sincere apologies.

I’m trying to maintain this site in my off hours, and I haven’t been able to do anything fun like post about the SR-520 bridge debate (thanks serial catowner!) because I’ve been mired in technical issues. I tried for several weeks to find another solution, but all of them would have been even more disruptive. When the site was re-hacked this morning, that was the last straw.

So, hopefully this solves the problem. If you’d like to register for an account so that you can comment, please re-register here. You should be able to use the same username that you had previously.

Thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading (and commenting!). I don’t say it enough, but I really enjoy the discussion on this site. Hit me up with any questions or concerns at or [at] orphanroad [dot] com.

Bellevue Moves Downtown Rail Tunnel Forward

The Bellevue City Council voted 4-3 tonight to approve a term sheet that has agreed to offer up to $150 million in funding toward a downtown tunnel alignment with Sound Transit. The agency cannot afford the C9T alignment on its own and has said the city must provide funding if it wants a tunnel alignment. The $150 million is the most concrete step forward we’ve seen thus far on funding the tunnel alignment.

Without approval of the term sheet (pdf), the city would have committed nothing to a downtown light rail tunnel. That would have put the Sound Transit Board in a bind, and when it selected its preferred East Link alignment it would have been unlikely to move forward on the tunnel. While the Bellevue City Council overwhelmingly favors that alignment, during a contentious and late night meeting it seemed unwilling to move forward on the term sheet.

The C9T alignment.

But an unexpected “yes” vote from Mayor Davidson put a narrow majority in favor of moving forward with the term sheet. The Sound Transit board will likely move forward with studying both the C9T and C11A alignments for downtown. The C11A at-grade alignment is unpopular on the council because it would run light rail on city streets, but that alignment is within the current East Link budget.

Davidson admitted after the vote to putting out “feelers” and hints that he would vote no. He seemed to struggle with his yes vote.

Some on the council seemed anxious to tie the term sheet for the downtown segment to the B segment south of downtown, with some implying their “no” vote was a statement to Sound Transit that the board must support a B7 alignment which isn’t favored regionally because of its ridership and environmental impacts. Mayor Davidson had proposed an amendment that would tie the approval of the term sheet to early design on B7 moving forward, but that amendment failed because the city would have had to pay for the study. Some vocal communities in Bellevue have demanded that light rail run far away from their homes and a majority on the council support B7. That alignment does not serve the South Bellevue Park & Ride and would be costlier to connect to the downtown segment, and the Sound Transit board is unlikely to move B7 forward.

Some council members said that a week was not enough time to study the term sheet that was negotiated between city staff and Sound Transit staff. Some also argued that the Sound Transit Board will recognize the city council’s commitment to a tunnel even without a formal term sheet moving negotiations forward.

With these negative arguments, some councilmembers seemed resigned to a losing vote. Councilmember Balducci had asked the council just to get the vote over with since she could see how the “winds are shifting,” just minutes before she unexpectedly prevailed in the majority.

City staff recommended the council adopt the term sheet. The term sheet is not binding and a final alignment will not be selected until Spring 2011 when East Link’s environmental impact statement is finalized.

Bellevue Council to Vote on C9T Tonight

11:30pm: Shocker! The council approves the term sheet. See the above blog post.

11:08pm: The city council seems likely to reject the term sheet.

10:45pm: Davidson’s amendment failed. The underlying term sheet is may not pass tonight, which would mean that the Sound Transit Board may not move forward on studying C9T, meaning that Sound Transit may move forward on just an at-grade alignment (C11A) that is unpopular in Bellevue but fits within the East Link budget with no city contribution.

10:36pm: Davidson’s “compromise” measure isn’t finding popular support for his motion, meaning the underlying term sheet may not pass this evening. The term sheet is important because it clears the way for Bellevue city staff to offer $150mn funding for the tunnel. Without a financial commitment like that — which is still unbinding, but rather an advance in negotiations — the Sound Transit Board is unlikely to move forward on the studying C9T alignment when it selects its preferred East Link alignment.

9:46pm: Mayor Davidson puts forward a motion that has the city council approve the term sheet, but only if B7 is carried through preliminary engineering. However, the city would pay for that preliminary engineering which would cost about $2.2 million. This is a compromise plan from Davidson, since before now it looked like the council was going to vote down the term sheet. It’s a gambit to move B7 — a plan unpopular with the ST board — forward, along with B2M.

9:24pm: City staff is presenting a term sheet to the city council. City staff support the term sheet, which stipulates a framework to work with Sound Transit to work together on the alignment and fund the C9T tunnel alignment and other sections of East Link within Bellevue. It would direct Bellevue city staff to present alternative options be unbinding, with a final agreement with Sound Transit on the segment B and C alignments to be decided in Spring 2011. The term sheet would mostly describe a framework for continuing future negotiations.

Updated at 8:10pm: There is a live stream of the meeting online. The East Link vote is item 11a on the agenda (pdf), so the meeting may run very late.

We reported last week that Bellevue intends to support the C9T tunnel alignment through downtown. The Bellevue City Council will be voting tonight on a measure favoring the alignment (pdf) during a meeting that starts at 8pm, and promising $150mn in city contributions to the tunnel. The vote would direct the city staff to create a term sheet with Sound Transit regarding the C9T alignment.

However, we’ve learned to take nothing for granted when it comes to East Link. There is no assurance that the term sheet will actually pass the council. We’ll let you know what happens tonight.

Streets For All Seattle

Launched this morning, the Streets for All Seattle campaign aims to raise some $30 million annually from the City Council to help fund the bicycle and pedestrian master plans, as well as make transit infrastructure improvements.

I’ve been involved with this behind the scenes, and the way it’s shaping up looks fantastic. Improving sidewalks, adding dedicated and shared bicycle infrastructure, and potentially taking the next steps toward West Seattle to Ballard light rail are in the mix – although it’ll be up to the city council to determine exactly how they want to apportion funds.

In the next few weeks and months, we’ll have an opportunity to push our Council to make progressive, green transportation investments. Keep an eye on that site and here on the blog, and as there’s more news, we’ll have it.

Seattle Bike-Share, A Few Comments

Proposed Bike-Share Phases

The Bike-Share Studio in the UW College of the Built Environment released a feasibility report commissioned by SDOT. It’s a very good starting point for any future bike-share proposal and does a excellent job of outlining the possibilities but also limitations and obstacles that a bike-share system will have to overcome, especially with relation to policy. Publicola’s Josh Cohen has a good post on it so won’t spend time rewriting what he already wrote. I have included a few comments and thoughts that came to mind after reading the report.

More after the jump

Continue reading “Seattle Bike-Share, A Few Comments”