May Link Ridership Another Record

"Northbound Link Saturday Morning", by Oran

Last month’s weekday ridership (pdf) on Central Link was 21,774, up 8% over April and a new record.  The figures were 18,710 on Saturdays and 13,641 on Sundays, both records if you discount the large crowds on opening weekend.

Thanks to seasonal variations and other factors, it will be difficult to discern any trends until we have year-to-year comparisons for the entire Seatac-Westlake line, which should happen early in 2011. I’m not sure what else is to be said about these numbers that hasn’t been said in the monthly threads on the same subject.

Update by John Jensen: I thought I’d share a graph of the average weekday ridership thus far. Since the late December opening of the airport stop, we’ve seen a nice upward slope in ridership.

Cental Link's average weekday ridership has improved since the line's opening.

The Damaging Effect of Cul-de-sacs on Walkability

The walkshed of a neighborhood in Woodinville, a suburb on the Eastside, is on the left. The Ballard walkshed, on the right, has much more pedestrian connectivity.

Earlier this year, the Harvard Business Review blog briefly featured a study that compared a neighborhood of suburban Woodinville to one in urban Ballard. The blue lines in the graphic above illustrate the 1 kilometer reach of a pedestrian walking from the red dot in the center. This so-called walkshed is an important measure of ability from one to get from point A to B and helps us explain why one who lives in Ballard is more likely to walk to the grocery store or the local park than one in Woodinville.

The graphic also explains to us why transit ridership in Ballard is likely to be much higher than ridership in Woodinville, and why Woodinville has more driving. The study notes that those who live in communities like the Ballard neighborhood above drover 26% fewer miles than those in cul-de-sac-based communities.

Some cul-de-sacs are better than others, of course. Some suburban communities have cut-throughs that allow pedestrians and bicyclists to reach arterial streets and other roads efficiently. Most frequently, however, the paths available to pedestrians in suburban communities are the same twisty, maze-like roads that cars navigate. When developers don’t afford pedestrians an efficient means of getting around, it’s no surprise that many suburbs turn to auto-dependency.

We’ve spoke about the benefits of the urban street grid (and its political effects) before. Other reactions on the walkshed study are available at Infrastructurist and Human Transit.

Since You May Walk, Bike, or Ride…

We’ve already mentioned this in an earlier news roundup, but it’s a slow news day:

The city of Seattle has put together a brief online poll to measure the community’s interest in expanding pedestrian, bicycle, and transit access across the city. Some of our readers may want to give their thoughts so the Mayor can argue he has a mandate for his various green transportation initiatives.

Editorial: Fares, ORCA, and Low-Income Residents

Photo by Oran

One of the serious limits to fare increases is the impact on low-income people. Indeed, the current system for selling bus tickets to social service agencies will inevitably miss needy portions of the population. If the ticket program were ever radically expanded you’d almost certainly see a secondary market develop, as tickets are about as traceable as cash.

As a poverty-fighting measure, however, low Metro fares are a blunt instrument. First of all, they threaten the service that low-income people depend on. Secondly, a significant portion of the savings are recouped by middle-class commuters, employers (through transit subsidies), and the federal government (passes bought through employers are usually done pre-tax). More after the jump.

Continue reading “Editorial: Fares, ORCA, and Low-Income Residents”

Correction and Apology

It has come to our attention that Gordon Werner’s post last week, “BNSF, Washington State to Pioneer HSR Negotiations,” is substantially plagiarized from Fred Frailey’s article in Trains magazine.

I’ve pulled the offending text in the original post. Although we are not professional journalists, we take this kind of thing seriously and will conduct a short investigation to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.  We apologize to our readers, Trains magazine, and Mr. Frailey.

Upon further reflection, the recent post on extending the North Link tunnel, while it does cite the source, does not meet our internal standards for quoting other sources. It has been modified accordingly.

11 Months of Light Rail

Photo by Mike Bjork

Larry Lange has a long but neat meditation Central Link and the MLK corridor, almost one year after opening. It’s refreshingly non-hysterical.

He places special emphasis on development prospects in the corridor, which is appropriate. If we don’t see more Othello Partners-type buildings along MLK over the next couple of decades, the MLK alignment (as opposed to the regional light rail project as a whole) would be a failure in my opinion.

New proposal to keep North Link extension underground

Alternative North Link Portal Location. photo courtesy of Mai Ling via Maple Leaf Life

According to Mai Ling of Maple Leaf Life, Sound Transit unveiled an alternative to the North Link light rail line extension at the recent public meeting at Roosevelt High School:

University Link Deputy Project Director Ron Endlich introduced a new proposal to keep the light rail line underneath Interstate 5 farther than the current proposal, which has the trains beginning their rise to freeway level starting at Northeast 75th Street. Under the new proposal, they would rise above ground en route to the Northgate station starting at Northeast 85th Street…

“This will improve our overall construction schedule,” Endlich said. “We believe it will also have a lower net cost to taxpayers under this approach.”… According to a flier from the meeting, the proposal is expected to save $5 million to $10 million.

First Hill Streetcar Broadway Corridor Update

First Hill StreetcarSound Transit and the City of Seattle will be holding an open house at Seattle’s First Baptist Church on Saturday, June 26th to discuss recent developments and the next steps involved with constructing the First Hill Streetcar line connecting the Capitol Hill and International District LINK Light Rail stations.

The Seattle City Council has approved the route for the Capitol Hill and First Hill segments and will have new design concepts for Broadway available for viewing as well as guests involved with the project who will be available to answer questions.

In addition, Sound Transit and the City of Seattle will have an information booth set up at the Capitol Hill Pride Festival on Saturday, June 26th.

11:00 AM – 1:00 PM, Saturday, June 26 ,
Seattle First Baptist Church
1111 Harvard Avenue Seattle, WA 98122
For directions click here.

2:30 PM – 5:30 PM, Saturday, June 26
Capitol Hill Pride Festival
Booth #69 located at the intersection of Broadway at John St.

Update 1:20PM: I spoke with the folks at the Seattle Streetcar re: wonky station names and they replied that they have been monitoring the station name discussion on this blog. When they get to the point where the station locations are fixed, they will try to make the station names as obvious as possible to help guide people and avoid confusion. Furthermore they are open to suggestions.

For More Information: Seattle Streetcar (official site)

Actual route map: Click here

BNSF, Washington State to Pioneer HSR Negotiations

[UPDATE 6/21/10: It has come to our attention that the content of the original post here is substantially plagiarized from Fred Frailey’s article in Trains magazine.

We take this kind of incident seriously. For obvious reasons, we’ve deleted the text so that you now have to go to the origin to read the content.

We apologize to our readers, Trains magazine, and Mr. Frailey, and will discuss shortly what further action, if any, to take.]

Metro Tells Seattle: No Decision on Trolleys

Trolley study timeline.

King Country Metro has a message to the residents and politicians of Seattle: the bus agency has barely begun to study electric trolley buses, so please… Well, please calm down. “We’re just at the beginning of this process,” said Linda Thielke, a Metro spokesperson. “No decision has been made. All the options are still on the table.”

At a presentation before the Seattle City Council yesterday, Metro staff outlined some of the parameters of study that will be conducted over the next year and then presented to the King County Council around March, 2011. The County Council will decide by November, 2011 whether to purchase new electric trolley buses or move toward hybrid buses as part of the Metro biennial budget process.

Some blogs have accused Metro of trying to kill of the trolley buses with this study, but Thielke says it is being done “with a blank slate and open mind.” She said that recognizes that some benefits of trolleys — like quiet operation — aren’t strictly monetary savings. The study — called the “Trolley Bus System Evaluation” — is budgeted to cost $850,000.

An earlier audit of Metro estimated the county could save $8.7 million a year by buying hybrid buses instead of new trolleys when the current trolley fleet is retired in 2014. Some — including Metro staff — have accused the auditor of using optimistic numbers for hybrid costs, noting that trolleys were cheaper to operate than hybrids when deisel was expensive in the summer of 2008, according a report in the PI. Theilke says that Metro understands it can’t “go just by the price off the shelf” and must also study “oil prices over time.”

More after the jump…

Continue reading “Metro Tells Seattle: No Decision on Trolleys”

Metro Hosting Open House on Trolleybuses

Breda trolley on 3rd Avenue, by Oran

With the recent news going around that Metro’s aging trolley fleet will need to be replaced in a few years, the agency is hosting an open house about the Trolley Bus System Evaluation, a study which will examine alternatives suitable to replacing the trolleys on the current fourteen routes that use them:

This in-depth study will be limited to the current 14-route trolley system, with some variations as appropriate for each technology. The study findings will help the county make an informed decision about the best vehicle technology to use on these routes as the current trolley buses wear out.

The open house will be held at Plymouth Congregational Church on Tuesday, June 22nd, from 5 to 7 pm.  While not a public hearing per se, this is a chance to provide input for those of you who have been adamant about retaining electric trolley technology come 2014.  Last year, Metro’s audit to address the agency’s budget woes was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser for trolleybus supporters, as it happened to emphasize the costliness of ETBs over hybrids.  Still, some of us have been wooed by the marginal cost-benefits of trolleys.

Dump The Pump Tomorrow!

Thursday is Dump The Pump day – following bike to work month, this is your day to (if you don’t already) try out using public transit! Maybe you usually drive because taking the bus would be inconvenient – why not do it tomorrow?

Locally, Metro will have free refreshments at three transit centers – Northgate, Federal Way, and Bellevue. Sound Transit will staff the latter two as well. Go have a look! In the past there have been good pastries, and isn’t that a good enough excuse to ride the bus today?

News Roundup: $4.60 to Internalize the Externalities

Link train to SoDo. Photo by Oran.

This is an open thread.

Vancouver, Seattle, Portland Mayors Sign HSR Pact


On June 9th, Mayors Mike McGinn of Seattle, Gregor Robertson of Vancouver, BC, and Sam Adams of Portland signed an agreement to jointly pursue high speed rail funds between their three cities:

1. Affirm their commitment to bringing high-speed rail to the Pacific Northwest;
2. Prioritize their legislative agendas to ensure that high-speed rail advocacy becomes a centerpiece of their long-term transportation infrastructure planning;
3. Commit to meeting semi-annually to review progress, set agendas and share best practices;
4. Work to establish municipal and regional task forces on high-speed rail to coordinate outreach to key stakeholders, support local efforts, and achieve results toward high- speed rail and station funding, planning and construction;
5. Ensure transparency and accountability for each partner’s contributions to this Partnership and the results of our joint efforts.

McGinn’s office did not respond immediately to the question as to whether the agreement applied to Cascades corridor upgrades (up to 110 mph), or a whole new right-of-way for true HSR.


Station Names

Tukwila International Blvd. Station (Todd Hobert)

If Friday’s meeting announcement post didn’t seem like a fertile comment thread, you missed a pretty interesting discussion about station names.

For what it’s worth, I’m a big fan of short and unambiguous names. If I were in charge, I’d rename Tukwila’s Sounder station “Longacres” and change TIB to “Tukwila”; ID/C to “Chinatown”, “University St.” to “Symphony”, and “UW” to “Montlake”. We wouldn’t want newcomers to think that Montlake is the only stop serving UW, or heaven forbid that University St. is the way to get there.  But then, I’m someone that types these names a lot and so has to invent acronyms to avoid typing “Tukwila International Blvd.” all the time.

Buses Now Stop at Rail Crossings

Wondering why the 255 driver awkwardly and anxious stops the bus when he crosses the rail tracks just off SR-520? Well, in order to make sure the state will be eligible for federal funds in some cases, new regulations force buses to stop before crossing train tracks. Drivers are surely instructed to look both ways.

Upcoming East Link Workshops for B Segment

The three alignments (B2M/C9T, B2M/C11A, B7/C9T)

Back in April, the Sound Transit Board updated its preferred alternative for East Link after a number of new studies and alignments surfaced.  The preferred South Bellevue (B) segment, B2M, runs from I-90, serves the South Bellevue P&R, and up Bellevue Way and 112th Ave into downtown.  ST has moved forward on preliminary engineering for this segment and has been reaching out to area neighborhoods for design options and mitigation.

As part of this, there are three workshops and one open house coming up.  The workshops each have different content:

Community Workshops
All meetings will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Bellevue City Hall, 450 110th Ave NE.

June 15
Topic: Understanding 112th Avenue Options and Community Interests

June 29
Topic: Evaluating the 112th Avenue Options

July 7
Topic: Identifying Community Preferences on 112th

Open House

July 14
Topic: 112th Avenue, South Bellevue Park-and-Ride, and Bellevue Way
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Bellevue City Hall

Due to the structure of these meetings, we want to ensure we are prepared to accommodate everyone that wants to attend. Please RSVP for the workshops to or 206-398-5438. RSVPs are not required, but appreciated.

While this information is primarily targeted at our Bellevue readers, nothing precludes anyone else from attending.  I would, however, surmise that a strong showing will be made by people most affected by this portion of East Link, both tangibly and intangibly.

Preliminary Maple Valley Report Favors Buses over Rail


Six months ago we reported that the communities of Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond were looking at the possibility of commuter rail to connect themselves with the Auburn Sounder station.

Last month, WSDOT released ridership estimates using PSRC’s travel demand model.  These preliminary numbers suggest rail would draw 1,200 daily riders, while peak bus service using an “enhanced” 149 and 168, in addition to a “conceptual express route from Maple Valley/Covington to the Auburn Sounder Station” comes up with 3,800 riders.

It seems plausible that serving these low-density communities might not be economic for rail.  Meanwhile, Brian tells me BNSF is muttering about closing Stampede Pass, which would render this whole discussion irrelevant anyway.