The Transit in Surface/Transit

Surface/Transit Option (WSDOT)

The comment thread of this Dan Bertolet post reveals some confusion about the transit aspects of the deep-bore tunnel plan and the most recent iteration (December 2008) of surface/transit/I-5.

The Deep-Bore Tunnel Plan

  • WSDOT provides $32m in mitigation funds, allowing Metro to run some additional bus service in the corridor until construction is complete.
  • The County provides $190m in capital, plus $15m annually,  to add RapidRide and peak express bus service in the corridor; create a Burien-Delridge RapidRide line; “simplify” downtown trolley bus service, and make some transit-related street improvements, all funded by a new 1% MVET. Despite of signing a letter that vowed to “support efforts” for this revenue source, Governor Gregoire jettisons it at the first sign of trouble (three weeks later) and later goes out of her way to veto a much smaller vehicle license fee.
  • An unfunded commitment to examine the First Avenue Streetcar in the context of the Transit Master Plan.


The who-pays-for-what isn’t as well fleshed out in any document I can find*, but the spending components are:

  • $30m in construction mitigation.
  • $476m (plus $55m annually) for:

Transit improvements include more all-day service than the elevated hybrid scenario. This would include increased service on Metro’s RapidRide routes for Ballard/Uptown, Aurora Avenue and West Seattle and new RapidRide routes on Delridge Way and Lake City Way. The waterfront streetcar would be replaced with a new First Avenue line between King Street and Seattle Center. Park and rides would be expanded in Burien, White Center and Shoreline. The Rapid Trolleybus Network would be expanded with new connections such as Madison Park to Colman Dock, Queen Anne to Capitol Hill, and Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill. Moderate investment would be made in other express and local routes in Seattle.

Make of this what you will, but those are the facts.

* It is, interestingly, much easier to find info about unpopular alternatives like the Elliott Bay Bridge or retrofit than live ones like surface/transit or the rebuild. See this for one take from the 2009 Nickels campaign, a take which probably isn’t constitutional.

My evening commute, as a BASIC program

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’ve already posted this as a comment at Seattle Transit Blog, but it was fun to make so I thought I’d share here as well.

My commute is less than 3 miles long.  The 2x would take me directly from my work to my home, but is infrequent, packed, and slow.  Here is my actual commute, in the form of a pseudo-BASIC program, which will almost always get me home faster.

1 hop on the 11, 15, 18, 15X, or 18X

2  if either of the X’s, transfer at Denny to 15, 18, 1, 2, 8, or 13

3   if 1, 15, 18, or 8 get off at Seattle Center and walk to the Met

4    transfer to 2, 2X, or 13

5  else if 15 or 18 get off at Seattle Center and walk to the Met, GOTO #4

6  else if 11, hop off near 3rd and Pine and walk to the bus stop there

7   transfer to 1, 2, 2X, 3, 4, or 13

8    if 1, get off at Seattle Center and walk to the Met, GOTO #4

9    else if 4, ride to what used to be Blockbuster, walk home

10   else if 3, ride to Starbucks at the top of the hill, walk a bit further home

11   else, ride home

12 end

This took me a few months of commuting to figure out, and I have all of the bugs worked out.  But what if I needed to go somewhere other than home?  I’d have to take their version of an inefficient “one seat” route – if one even exists.  Why is our bus system this way?  Because bus planners probably think we all value a one-seat ride.  But one-seat rides make for terribly inefficient, complicated systems that doesn’t serve anyone well except commuters (and even then, only if you consider “serve well” to mean a one-seat ride). 

Using a transfer-based bus system is not only more efficient, but easier to understand. It would be something like: I take the 1st Ave line to the Counterbalance line. Done. Not only that, but the 1st Ave line could be a very frequent trunk line.

The State of car love.

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Our state created a great (if unoriginal) web site where you can suggest ways of fixing our state budget.  A while back I proposed tapping into the gas tax as a temporary measure, until we get back on our budgetary feet.  This idea did not do well (currently at -18 votes).  Looking through the list of other loser ideas for our state, we see:

Get rid of state highway system  -55  (Save money, by giving them to the counties/cities where they are located for them to maintain.)

Road tax -56 (Every vehicle should be issued a transponder and road tax collected for the mileage driven.)

For comparison: Sales tax on food is only at -50.  Close the entire state government is at -41.  Tax renters like homeowners is -30.  Auditing the Dept. of Ecology is at +68.  Taxing casinos is at +750 (can we even legally do that?).

Washingtonians love their cars.  In fact, people here would actually rather tax food than their roads.  Good luck even surviving in this state, transit.

What Makes a Transit System “Good”?

[UPDATE: Part 2 of Matt’s series here.]

In the DC transit blogosphere there’s a discussion on whether the Metro is “bad”, and if so, how bad. I grew up there and travel back quite a lot, and I adore it. Matt Johnson at Greater Greater Washington is trying a more systematic approach to answering that question:

Image from Greater Greater Washington

In this analysis, he’s comparing the 13 heavy rail operators in the U.S. It would be interesting to see a similar comparison of light rail systems; I’m guessing Central Link as a standalone would fare quite poorly because it doesn’t go enough places, and even then not the most obvious ones, but U-Link and the full ST2 buildout would do quite well. Once you get away from heavy rail, of course, headways and reliability become really important metrics.

Of course, the true utility of a system is largely determined by factors out of the transit agency’s control: land use policies, population of the metro area, chokepoints, competing highway capacity, resources of other interfacing transit agencies, and so on. There are three different questions you could try to answer with this kind of analysis:

  • Is a city/metro area well-suited to transit use?
  • Is the fixed investment of the system wisely designed and spent?
  • Is the current agency administration competent?

With older systems the third question is hard to answer with the above criteria; with newer systems the first is impossible to blame on the transit system.

TCC Fundraiser August 5th

There’s a “State Public Transportation Partnerships Conference” at the Westin Thursday afternoon, and Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC)  is taking advantage of that to have some bigwigs give talks:

Join us for Summer Party with our special guests William Millar, President of the American Public Transportation Association, John Robert Smith, CEO of Reconnecting America and Nick Donohue, Policy Director, Transportation for America for the latest on federal transportation policy.


WHEN:Thursday, Aug. 5th, 5:00-7:00pm
WHERE: 415 Westlake 415 Westlake Ave N, Seattle (between Harrison and Republican in South Lake Union). Less than 2 blocks from the Westlake Ave and Thomas Streetcar stop.

Suggested donation: $50. Includes drinks and heavy appetizers.

RSVP online and purchase tickets here (reference “Millar event” in the Comments section) or contact Jennifer Olegario at or 206-329-2336.

For those of you who don’t know, TCC is a nonprofit that shares this blog’s values. Unlike STB, they do the things that really require full-time employees: lobbying Olympia and providing a pro-rail, pro-transit, pro-density voice on various government commissions and task forces.

Reminder: Human Transit @ GGLO, Informal STB Meetup

[UPDATE: Commenter Mike Orr has a nice synopsis of the talk in the comments.]

This is a friendly reminder that the author of Human Transit, Jarrett Walker, is in town and will be speaking at GGLO’s offices tonight about conflict and debate within transit planning.  Here are event details from Great City, which is hosting:

As transit becomes more popular, many cities are having intense and often bitter quarrels about what kind of transit to build or operate. Working from his 20 years of experience as a transit planning consultant, Jarrett Walker examines some of the most common confusions that affect debates about transit, and that often lead to disappointing outcomes. He then suggests strategies for clarifying transit debates, by recognizing the unavoidable “hard choices” that arise from transit’s intrinsic geometry and costs.

The event will be from 5pm to 7:30pm at GGLO’s Space on the Steps (at Harbor Steps).  Even if you don’t read Human Transit (which you should), this will be a good one to make.

For those that don’t get their fill of sustainable transportation from the brownbag, Streets for All is having their kickoff party at Nector Lounge in Fremont from 7:00pm – 2:00am. The Mayor and members of the City Council should be in attendance.

*RSS readers: This was published prematurely last night (7/28), so don’t be alarmed.  The presentation is today, July 29th.  Apologies for the inconvenience.

Metro Needs Help from Eastside Community Members

RapidRide B - Downtown Bellevue to Downtown Redmond via Microsoft

Metro is asking for community members to help plan future bus service in Redmond and Bellevue as part of the introduction of the RapidRide B line. Here is the press release.

King County Metro Transit is considering changes to Eastside bus routes that currently serve parts of Bellevue and Redmond to prepare for the arrival of the RapidRide B Line in 2011.

The B Line is part of Metro’s new Bus Rapid Transit system. It will run between the transit centers in downtown Bellevue and Redmond via Crossroads and Overlake. As part of the planning for the B Line, Metro is forming a community sounding board that will provide advice about public outreach and what changes to bus service would be best for the local communities.

In order to maximize bus routes and avoid duplicating service, Metro will consider routing changes, schedule adjustments, or consolidation of approximately 20 existing routes, including: 221, 222, 225, 229, 230, 233, 240, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 253, 261, 265, 266, 271, 272, and 926.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “Metro Needs Help from Eastside Community Members”

Freight vs. Passenger Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Economist has a great article about the US plan for high speed rail and the problems this will cause with our current freight rail system.  Apparently we’re already running out of rail capacity near our cities, and without seperate rail lines we could hurt our thriving freight rail industry.  I absolutely think we should use California’s HSR as a model, damn the cost.  However, I recognize how tough this would be in WA with the current anti-tax attitude and our car-based spending models (not that CA doesn’t have a similar model, they just have had more money).  Maybe our improvements aren’t so bad after all, and if we ever do gather the political willpower for seperate rail we’ll be leaving our freight system in very good shape.

As a side note, I’m intrigued by the discussion about coal and rail.  45% by volume of material we move around in trains is coal (wow!).  Before the recession, the cost of shipping coal shot up along with the cost of oil, causing the coal industry to get nervous.  One big fear about peak oil is that it may cause an increase in coal use.  Coal has earned it’s reputation as enemy of mankind, as it has far more global warming potential than any other fuel.  But if the costs to ship coal around go up along with the cost of oil, maybe this won’t be quite as large effect as feared.  (unless, of course, we do something really stupid like allow coal powered engines back on the track…)

The Little Things That Keep Us Driving


We talk a lot on this blog about why people drive.  Frequent points are made concerning perceived freedom, the motorist’s willingness to “pay time to save money”, the undercapitalization of transit infrastructure, the low marginal cost of individual driving trips once a car is owned, the modal lock-in caused by low density development, etc, etc…

But I’ve been especially frustrated lately by 3 perverse incentives that don’t get as much press:

More after the jump… Continue reading “The Little Things That Keep Us Driving”

Othello Station Bazaar on Thursdays

Antiques dealer tent
An antiques dealer at the bazaar

Othello Partners, developer of two TOD projects across from Othello Station, is organizing a bazaar in the Citadel’s parking lot for the next two Thursdays (7/29, 8/5) from 11 am to 6 pm. Last Thursday was the second time it was hosted and featured antiques dealers, a coffee stand, and a cherry stand. More vendors are expected to participate in this week’s bazaar, possibly a vegetable stand and other crafts. Vendors are still wanted and the first time is free, then $25 per space. Details and contact information are in the Craigslist posting. Although the bazaar is scheduled to be held for only the next two Thursdays, the bazaar may be continued if successful, which would be a way of activating currently underused space and attracting people to the neighborhood.

As for other uses of the lot, parking is available at $5 per day or $50 per month. Othello Partners is looking for an investor to fund the construction a mixed use development of similar size to The Station at Othello Park.

Feds May be Warming to Tolling

Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has hinted the Obama administration may be warming to tolling highways as a way to raise revenue for the federal highway trust fund. That trust fund also pays for transit projects.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said a combination of current-level gas tax receipts, road and bridge tolling and President Obama’s proposed infrastructure fund could offer a way to fund a long-term federal infrastructure program without new taxes.

Appearing before a heavily attended conference in Washington, D.C., of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, LaHood vowed “raising the gas tax is not an option” to increase money available for federal transport spending.

Unfortunately, LaHood still reflects the Obama administration’s view that a gas tax increase is off-the-table. When even the hard-hitting editorialists at USA TODAY, one might wonder how far out-of-touch the administration is on gas taxes.

However, a stronger federal stance on tolling as a source of revenue would be welcome. Tolling represents one of the few ways to actually reduce congestion and ration access to roadways, and would encourage government to invest in transit alternatives.

Hat tip to the excellent Federal Transportation Issues blog that WSDOT runs.

News Roundup: Earmarks

"Ped Safety Gates", by Oran

This is an open thread.

ORCA Sometimes Feels Half-Engineered

Four ORCA cards. Photo by Oran.
Four ORCA cards. Photo by Oran.

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend lost my ORCA card that had about $20 in fare on it. No big deal, I thought, and ordered a replacement online. Going to the website and reporting my card as lost was easy. In a few easy steps, I paid a $5 replacement fee, my card was deactivated, and my new card was in the mail.

When my new card arrived, I was reminded of some of ORCA’s successes. The printed materials and the card itself are very well designed. Everything in the envelope is internally consistent and it’s clear there was some work put into the brand of ORCA and ensuring its ease of use. In other words, the physical aspects of ORCA feel thoughtful.

Few would call ORCA website thoughtful, though. On the technical side, the site suffers from rendering problems in modern browsers like Chrome, Safari, and Firefox as well as their mobile cousins that run on many smartphones. On the design side, doing something like setting up the auto-load functionality for your card isn’t accomplished by clicking a button and filling out details, but rather clicking a button and then finding a link in a long-winded paragraph of text.

The expectation that people are unoccupied enough to read paragraphs of dry transit-speak is poor design and is a poor compliment to the good printed materials in the ORCA universe. Good design is knowing that people don’t read anything. This kludge may be an explanation as to why adoption of the useful auto-load technology represents less than 1% of registered cards, according to data from the ORCA Quarterly Program Management Report.

Like any other person, I wasn’t unoccupied enough to read the wall of text when reporting my card lost, so I expected my replacement card to pay for my bus the next morning. Oops: “please allow 8 to 10 days processing time for your funds to be transferred from your lost card to your new card.” I don’t know how it is possible to do something that’s so technically easy so slowly.

While the card is pretty and the system works pretty well, sometimes I can’t help but feel the ORCA project was half-designed and half-engineered.

What’s at Stake in Thurston County

Thurston County, like everyone else, is conducting its primary election on August 17th. On the ballot, notably, will be a sales tax increase for Intercity Transit from 0.6% to 0.8%, just short of the statutory maximum of 0.9%. The tax would only apply to, and only be voted on by, the Public Transportation Benefit Area (PTBA) of Thurston County, basically the urban areas.

The revenue predicament of Intercity Transit should by now be familiar. Tax revenues are down about 13% from 2007 levels. The agency has already cut some nonessential programs and raised fares, and is now facing a 9% cut in February 2011 and a further 14% in 2012.

Likely 2011 cuts include, according to this handy fact sheet:

• Elimination of the Dash shuttle (Capitol Campus-downtown Olympia)
• Elimination of Rt. 42 (SPSCC-Family Court)
• Reduction in Rts. 13 (Tumwater-Olympia), 41 (TESC-Olympia), 94 (Yelm-Lacey-Olympia) and 620 (Olympia-Lacey-Tacoma)

followed in 2012 by:

Elimination of all transit service on Sunday [just like everyone else]
• Elimination of Rt. 67 (Tri Lake-Lacey)

If the measure passes, all current service while remain, plus a modest 4% addition:

Increased service for Rts. 41 (TESC-downtown Olympia), 68 (Lacey-Yelm Hwy.-Tumwater-Olympia) and 603 (Olympia-Lacey-Tacoma).

The vote is going to depend on turnout. If transit-dependent populations, in particular college students, mail in their ballots in bulk, it will pass.

A Rundown on East Link

With our extensive and ongoing coverage of East Link planning, we get plenty of confused comments about the background, alignments, and our commentary more often than we’d like.  So I’ve decided to create a “brief” rundown summary on where we’ve gotten with East Link, what is yet to be done and our thoughts on the more transit-friendly (or unfriendly) alignments (with many many links attached).  If you’re already an expert on the matter, you won’t learn much below, but constructive discussion is always welcome in the comments.

East Link, the extension of Link Light Rail to the Eastside to Overlake (Redmond), was passed as part of the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure in 2008.  The extension will run from International District Station east along I-90, across Mercer Island, and north up Bellevue Way and 112th Ave SE into Downtown Bellevue, where it will go east through the Bel-Red Corridor and terminate at Overlake Transit Center.  The entire alignment is divided into five segments, A, B, C, D, & E.  Planning for the segment E extension to Downtown Redmond was funded by ST2, but not construction.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “A Rundown on East Link”

Human Transit Visits Seattle

Jarrett Walker

I was remiss in discussing Jarrett Walker’s recent post without also pointing out that he will be speaking this Thursday from 5-7:30pm at GGLO, whose offices are on the Harbor Steps. We had a meetup there last year, if that helps.

Although he now lives in Australia, Jarrett grew up in Portland and has written a lot about Seattle’s transportation issues.

I think STB staff turnout will be good, so consider this our summer meetup if you like (this is actually a Great City event).

Rider Alert: Link Light Rail: Scheduled Track Maintenance: July 26th-30th

Sound Transit will be performing track maintenance near the Columbia City station from 10pm – 1am on July 26th through July 30th.

Link trains will operate every 25-30 minutes during this period.

The following station platforms will be temporarily closed during the scheduled maintenance:

  • Columbia City — Southbound platform will be closed on Thursday from 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.
  • Columbia City — Northbound platform will be closed on Friday from 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.

Please board all trains at the other platform during the times indicated.

MOA Postponed Till Next Year

Via the Seattle Times.

The Seattle City Council intends to postpone signing three tunnel agreements with the state until January or February, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw just announced. The council will vote next week on a resolution instead, showing its commitment to the tunnel and saying the city isn’t responsible for cost overruns.

A more complete rundown over at Publicola.

What Solves Congestion?

"Lots of buses stuck in traffic", by Oran

Jarrett Walker at Human Transit has one of those bookmark posts that he seems to generate about once a month — this time about why transit and road capacity don’t solve congestion, and what remedies actually will.

Congestion reduction is a common slogan in any transportation infrastructure campaign. Like many slogans, it suffers from some definitional vagueness. Of course, in an obvious and minimal way a person who switches from driving to transit, or adding more road space to fit cars, reduces short-term congestion in some sense. In the long term, either way the free car capacity is consumed by induced demand.

What’s frustrating about capital project debates is that the general public hasn’t generally been sufficiently exposed to the concept of induced demand. On one level in the media, the debate is how much a capital project will or will not reduce congestion. Meanwhile, a wonkier debate using other metrics is going on places like this one. Project advocates are stuck with a very unattractive dilemma: essentially mislead the public (“we’ll reduce congestion!”) or try to educate people that nothing will, thus running the risk of sensationalist headlines (“project supporters admit measure won’t solve congestion.”)

Not only does Walker tackle this subject, but he ties into a cogent summary of why transit service is important (see my thoughts on this). Notably, the most clearly palatable solution to congestion, pricing, is one of the stronger reasons to support quality transit service. It’s an excellent piece and you should go read the whole thing.

Sunday Open Thread: Vancouver’s Bike Lanes

I often wonder what advocates for more car infrastructure and less density in Seattle think about Vancouver. It’s about the same size, nearby, culturally similar, and is routinely ranked as the best city to live in the world. They seem to get by fine with families in dense housing, no freeways through downtown, and rail transit. Yet opportunities to mimic just parts of Vancouver’s success bring predictions of doom and gridlock.

(H/T: Erik Griswold)