World Cup in Seattle?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Soccer fans may know that Seattle is one of 18 cities that are part of the official USA bid to host the 2018/2022 World Cup.

Seattle lists 2 stadia as part of the bid: Husky Stadium and Qwest Field. Most of the other cities list one.

The reason I link to is is that the descriptions of the transit options around each stadium don’t include light rail! By 2018, if all goes as planned, we’ll have the perfect light rail system for this bid: Downtown, the airport, Qwest Field and Husky Stadium will all be connected by a single light rail line.

The bid committee must be made aware of this fact at once.

A Bike-to-Work Month Anecdote

Swift Onboard Bike Rack, photo by acencini

I sometimes get the sense that the debate over bicycling infrastructure and bicycling laws is polarized between people who ride their bikes long distances nearly every day, and certain motorists intensely aggravated by a slight impediment to their commute. I’d like to spare a (self-interested) thought for the commuter that uses a bike as a means of extending their transit commute.

I have a, uh, gap in bike ownership from Age 16 to two weeks ago, so I’m hardly an expert on this subject.  However, at the risk of generalizing too much from personal experience, I think I’m an example of how bicycling interests can reach out to transit riders, transit can reach out to cyclists, and cities can help the two meet.

One major impediment to transit ridership is the atrocious land use in many housing and job centers.  In my case, my usual workplace is so poorly sited that the two miles between it and the Eastgate Park & Ride adds as much as 30 minutes to my commute, through a combination of transfers, milk runs, and extended walks.  For years I’ve searched for a solution, and I finally overcame some hesitation about road safety to try the two-wheeled alternative.  It saves me about 15 minutes each way.  More after the jump. Continue reading “A Bike-to-Work Month Anecdote”

ST 1Q Ridership Up, Link Reliability Poor

Photo by Mike Bjork

ST’s new 1st quarter 2010 ridership report is out.  As ST was reporting monthly Central Link ridership through March, there’s no new information on that front.  For other modes, though, from 1Q 2009 ST Express ridership was basically flat, while Tacoma Link was down 5% and Sounder declined about 7%.  Overall, ridership was up 36% thanks entirely to Central Link.

However, Link’s on-time rate was a horrific 71% for the quarter, compared to an ST goal of 90%.  An on-time trip, as I’ve complained before*, is defined to be one that leaves its terminal station less than one minute late. ST spokesman Bruce Gray explains that the 90-day quarter had a total of 35 days of maintenance work (mainly for noise reduction and WSDOT work); thanks to the limitations of the measurement system, all trains that deviated from the printed schedule (or weren’t run at all) were counted as late. Gray adds that ST is “not happy with the 70% rate” and on-time results have “gotten a lot better over the last month or so” as a lot of that maintenance work has wrapped up.

What’s more, Gray added that even under these conditions, 90% of trains were spaced within three minutes of their published headways.  A maintenance delay that slowed everyone on the line, or truncated it at Sodo, didn’t necessarily mess up the spacing between trains.  Indeed, I’ve argued before that when headways are short this is actually a much better measure of reliability.

Maintenance doesn’t explain all the late trips.  The report also blames bus/train operations in the tunnel, which is unique in the world, and therefore a source of schedule risk.  Ben’s going to have a more in-depth report on reliability next week.

*In that post, I cited a 99.5% reliability report for Central Link’s 3rd quarter, although no number was available in the 4th quarter.  Gray wasn’t prepared to elaborate on the origin of the 3Q number, although he understands that what data was gathered in 2009 was not very reliable.  Indeed, public Link schedules didn’t even exist until the 4th quarter, so it’s not clear how these metrics were defined.

Unclear Metro Maps (II)

I was toying with doing a whole series on poorly designed Metro maps, but then in the comment thread you guys did a pretty good job of covering that subject.

However, I agree with a point made in the thread that the big missed opportunity in Metro’s system map is the use of color.

In the map, color is primarily used to distinguish who the service provider of each route is.  The problem here is that no one cares who is providing the service.  At most, it might allow you to compute the fare, but anyone able to do that with just a map also knows that you can get that information solely from route numbers.

A better idea can be found on the Utah Transit Authority’s otherwise user-hostile website.  On their system map, green lines represent 15-minute service, blue ones 30 minute headways, and red lines are UTA’s express buses.

The point of a system map is to quickly understand the options for getting around. Most users need the map when they’re in unfamiliar territory, which will generally not be a peak-hour trip.  The current map is nearly useless for this rider, as the routes he actually can take are hopelessly cluttered by ones that won’t run for hours.

For those really interested in the subject, Adam has uploaded an 18-page survey of Western European transit maps, in which we learn that Metro has chosen a “classic style” map, while I’m advocating for a “Scandinavian style” system map.  The report goes on from there, and people in related fields would profit from reading it.

Oran has also played around with presenting frequency information on a system map.  As always, Human Transit has map-related insights here and here[UPDATE: Try this version of Oran’s map instead.]

Analysis Questions Cost Advantage of Diesel Buses

Photo by VeloBusDriver

Trolleybuses generate a lot of passion, and that passion has created a number of independent analyses of their fiscal merits.  I started out somewhat lukewarm on trolleys, but this Central District News piece is pretty convincing that the operating cost of trolleys in considerably lower than that of diesels, including power line maintenance.

At current fuel price levels ($2.30 a gallon for diesel), the additional capital costs of buses overwhelm that difference.  However, annual fuel price inflation as low as 7.75% is enough to neutralize that disadvantage.  I’m not in the business of predicting fuel prices, but that hardly seems like an outlandish scenario. Moreover, there’s a substantial tail risk of a steep rise as in 2008.  That was a financial catastrophe for Metro then, and it would be nice to have an important segment of the system be immune to it in future.

There is one other factor not in the analysis that is pertinent to the budget: availability of capital funds.  For whatever reason, the federal government almost always funds capital costs rather than delivering a direct operating subsidy.  For that reason, it generally makes sense to assume a little more capital cost if it reduces operating expense.

Of course, there are also externalities (diesel pollution, street damage, noise, etc.), but those aren’t in Metro’s budget and perhaps it’s unfair to ask a cash-strapped agency to alleviate those problems.

News Roundup: Welcome Back Greg Nickels

Husky Stadium Station Under Construction, by Atomic Taco

This is an open thread.

Fare Evasion

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Erica Barnett notes the release of a Metro report on fare evasion, which apparently costs the system $62,000 per week. The whole report is pretty interesting, but I’ll sum up some of the main findings:

  • The number of evasions in the sample includes 53,000 non-payments and 35,000 underpayments
  • Metro’s fare evasion rate is 4.8% of boardings, which compares with Toronto (0.7 percent), Vancouver, BC (2.5 percent), San Francisco (3.3 percent), Los Angeles (5 percent), and Portland, (8.2 percent), though one assumes different methodologies may have been used to calculate the rate in all those cities.
  • The routes with the most evaders are the busiest routes (7, 15, 358, 3/4, 1, 36), though they’re all about average in terms of the evasion rate.
  • Leaving through the back door does not seem to be a significant method of fare evasion, which surprised me. I would have assumed otherwise.
  • The three strategies recommended by drivers for reducing evasion are: eliminating the Ride Free Area, providing more transit police, and eliminate fare confusion. You have to wonder how much of this is related to fare evasion and how much of it is transit operators’ general grievances. If I were a transit operator, I’d want all of those things done regardless of fare evasion.

Overall, we’re talking about only 2.5% of Metro’s farebox revenue, the report estimates. Still, $62K per week translates to $3.2M per year, which would go a long way towards, say, paying for new electric trolleybuses.

Raw Numbers on Trolleybuses

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Central District News has the raw data on the trolleybuses. The cost savings of diesel buses rely on the relatively cheap diesel fuel price of $2.30 per gallon.

They also include this bit of analysis:

The problem is that the core of the county’s possible decision to abandon the trolleys is driven not by operational costs, but by capital costs. The existing bus fleet will be worn out in 2015, and new trolley buses are much more expensive than diesel hybrids. The Seattle Times reported that it’s at least $280,000 more expensive per bus. That adds up to $44 million to replace all 159 trolley buses.

Making this long-term decision (the current trolleys are at least 30 years old!) based on short-term capital problems would be a mistake. Fortunately, the FTA recently announced a $775M federal program for upgrading bus fleets. One assumes this is on Metro’s radar.

Click over to the CD News post for a nice chart on the cost difference between electrics and diesel buses over time.

New Fare Evasion Estimate

Photo by Oran

PubliCola breaks down a Metro report claiming that 88,000 riders a week (4.8%) fail to pay their entire fare,  and over 60% of those pay no fare at all (Metro has about 400,000 boardings per weekday).  The annual cost is $3.2m a year, assuming that about 30% evaders would not ride if enforcement were in place.  Orphan road also has a (shorter) summary if you prefer.  More after the jump.

Continue reading “New Fare Evasion Estimate”

Point Defiance Bypass Report

New Projected Times
New Projected Times

The Washington State Department of Transportation, Rail and Marine division, held a meeting at Clover Park Technical College regarding the Point Defiance Bypass on Monday, May 17th. The meeting highlighted several key and important factors regarding the project, including the highly debated issue of the 10 grade crossings along the route.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), not the State of Washington, is requiring a project-level Environmental Assessment (EA) before Phase 2 of the funding can be made available for construction. The EA should be completed by the end of 2010 with the FRA issuing a finding in 2011. Construction of Phase 2 will start in 2012 with an estimated completion time of 2014. This will push back the 5th and 6th round trip of the Cascades to 2014/2015 as well. This does not affect the estimated start of Sounder service to Lakewood in 2013.  More after the jump.

Continue reading “Point Defiance Bypass Report”

The Itch

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Good post from Dominic Holden:

Seattle has an itch right now. We’re currently in a recession—a recession that came right after a boom, which brought new construction and wealth and glitz to the city—and it’s wracking the nerves of business managers and property owners and people who are small or frail or old. We want Seattle to be robust again, particularly downtown, which seems to be ailing while neighborhoods like Ballard and Capitol Hill seem to be doing, well, at least better. We need more jobs. We need to attract businesses. We need to fill up the one-fifth of downtown office space that’s vacant. The itch is real. But the the solutions being bandied around lately—convoluted tickets for the most desperate beggars, longer jail sentences for graffiti, and legal fights to banish Real Change from Pioneer Square—will not help us scratch that itch.

Snohomish County Upzones

Point Wells (

Last week, the Snohomish County Council authorized substantial upzones in seven urban villages, which may initiate a sequence that adds another station to North Sounder:

The ordinance allows for buildings up to 90 feet high, though a developer could build 180-foot structures by showing a need for more density…

There are six other urban centers: Highway 99 at the Mukilteo Speedway; Highway 99 at 152nd Street SW; I-5 at 164th Street SW; I-5 at 128th Street SW; 44th Avenue W. near the Mountlake Terrace-Lynnwood city line; and the Bothell-Everett Highway at Maltby Road.

Two of these are along Swift; three others will probably be served either by ST2 or ST3.  The other is about a mile from the Canyon Park P&R.  More good stuff below the jump.

Continue reading “Snohomish County Upzones”

Unclear Metro Maps (I)

click to enlarge

It took me quite a few minutes of staring at the map at right (and the schedule) to figure out the path that Route 102 actually takes.

Two things are frustrating about this kind of graphic design.  First, lumping a bunch of routes into one map makes a lot of sense from a printing-paper-schedules perspective, but not when done online.

Secondly, it’s been about two years since Community Transit — not exactly rolling in cash themselves — managed to produce exceptionally clear and attractive route maps.  In the original thread on this topic, commenter sachtu adds insult to injury by pointing out that CT contracted with King County‘s GIS deparment to produce those maps.   So it would be a matter of Metro metaphorically literally walking across the street downstairs.

New Glossary Added

Some of you have requested that we put up a glossary to help assist those less familiar with the many enigmatic acronyms that transit wonks like to use.  Transitspeak is complex, but fortuntely, the STB staff delivered and we now have a new Seattle Transit Glossary, which can be accessed from the sidebar at the bottom of ‘Best Reference Posts.’

Long hours were put into the making of this glossary, but even after about a hundred proofreads, the possibility is still there that we missed a few acronyms or terms you’re dying to know about.  If that’s the case or you find anything wrong (broken links, misplaced definitions,etc.), please let us know.

Spokane St. Viaduct Project Disrupts Buses


Beginning Monday, the 1st Ave S to Spokane St. on ramp will be permanently closed for demolition, with a replacement going up in late 2011. This will cause large disruptions in West Seattle service.  Routes 116, 118 and 119 get new schedules; 21,22, 56, 57, and 85 get reroutes; and 15, 18, 37, 54, 55, 113, 120, 121, 122, 125 will likely experience delays:

Passengers on these bus routes should plan for extra travel time, particularly during the afternoon commute. On trips heading west and north toward Seattle, these bus routes will probably have more normal travel times.

It’s going to be a bad decade to commute out of West Seattle.

Check out my roof.

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I normally wouldn’t post just a link to another story, but hey it’s about me.  Come tour my green roof.  Thanks what used to be a steep hill it’s just a few steps up from my back yard.

The Price of Oil

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill superimposed on Seattle.  Image from here.

The Economist advocates for more drilling. In a weird way their argument is sound:

So long as Americans do not reduce their consumption of oil, refusing to drill at home means importing more of the stuff, often from places with looser environmental standards. The net effect is likely to be more pollution, not less. Nigeria, for example, has had a major oil spill every year since 1969, observes Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation, a think-tank. Putting a price on carbon would eventually spur the development of cleaner fuels, and persuade Americans to switch to them.

There is no way to really eliminate this kind of thing without using less oil.

I try not to get in the business of directing epithets towards average people who believe climate change is a hoax. Although I believe they are wrong, like most of them I haven’t actually studied the peer-reviewed literature, instead relying on the judgments of people and institutions I trust. I reserve my scorn for the leaders who take advantage of that trust, ignore their responsibility to examine the evidence with an open mind, and go on to mislead their constituents.  In a way, what’s worse is leaders who acknowledge the gravity of the problem but don’t seem interested in doing anything about it.

Climate change aside, everyone understands that oil spills  are just one way in which petroleum use does large economic and ecological damage. It blows my mind that an increase in the gas tax — with revenues directed towards developing alternatives, mitigating oil’s impacts, reducing other taxes, or whatever your pet cause is  — is so unpopular as to be beyond the pale in American political discourse.