Top 10 STB Posts of 2010

Google Analytics says these have the highest number of unique page views this year, for whatever that’s worth. I’m excluding some 2009 articles that people continue to access.

10. “Who’s to Blame for the Tunnel Attack?,” by Sherwin Lee (2/11). Video of a beatdown. Everyone has an opinion.

9. “Bus vs. Rail, Again,” by Martin H. Duke (1/9). Only in a city so far behind the rest of North America could this still be a question on the main corridors. This is one of Norman’s early appearances, and he’s usually good to roughly double the comment thread.

8. “New Data: Two East Link Options Look Good,” by Ben Schiendelman (2/8). Ben breaks down the two Downtown Bellevue options to make it to the end. Still a useful reference post, although I can’t see where the money for C9T is going to come from at this point.

7. “Metro Service Change Retires Route 194,” by John Jensen (2/6). This wasn’t a new report, so much as a way to observe its passing. Pageviews were clearly driven by the comment thread.

6. “Bikeability Analysis: Portland and Seattle“, by Adam B. Parast (4/20). One of our finest pieces of scholarship, linked to by everybody and making an impression in some corridors of power.

5. “On Bicyclist Safety“, by Adam B. Parast (10/19). The bicycle hordes on the internet strike again.

4. “Ride Link Without Pants This Sunday,” by Sherwin Lee (1/5). There is hard-hitting reporting on STB, and then there is this.

3. “Bellevue City Council in Chaos,” by Sherwin Lee (9/29). Everyone loves video of politicians losing their cool.

2. “Build the Waterfront Up, Not Down“, by Steve Thornton (Fnarf, 9/14). Linked to by Slog. I was proud to host such a good piece of writing, that also advanced a totally under-appreciated part of the debate. Not that we’re going to win this one.

1. “The Damaging Effects of Cul-de-Sacs on Walkability“, by John Jensen (6/22). This got some links from the national media.

So, message received: next year, nothing but comment cesspools, video of sex and violence, and bike stuff.

Thanks to all our readers. Without you, we’re just shouting into an empty room.

Security Response

A couple of weeks ago Jeff Welch had an informative piece about Metro security. He defends Metro security personnel and calls on passengers to take a more active role in policing behavior. That’s as good a prescription as any, because really no one is in charge of security on a Metro bus.

I found this tidbit about 911 procedures interesting:

Metro (and Sgt. Urquhart today on KIRO) encourages passengers to call 911 to report onboard incidents.  Problem:  911 tends to respond to such incidents DIFFERENTLY than if they were occurring at a fixed location.  In my experience (and it has happened), when a customer dials 911 to report an onboard incident that the driver may be unaware of, the response of the 911 operator is to contact Metro’s Control Center if they have enough information to identify the coach.  The Control Center then attempts to contact the Operator via radio to tell them that a passenger onboard is in touch with 911 and reporting an incident – asking in effect, “what’s up with that”?

Rather than waste time duplicating contact information or wasting time trying to get the (busy) driver to confirm the onboard issue, 911 should be in direct contact with local law enforcement (remember – Metro is County-wide and spans multiple jurisdictions), 911 operators responding to calls from passengers should immediately dispatch local law enforcment (as practical) to the bus’s location.

There really isn’t an easy answer to security problems because personnel cost money, and I think most people would be reluctant to give up service to pay for more patrolling. The best hope is probably more off-board payment systems like Link, Sounder, and RapidRide, which require fare inspectors. High-capacity vehicles like Link and Sounder also allow one guard to protect a larger number of passengers. I guess we’ll have to settle for that.

Metro Reroutes: Off 1st Ave

Construction Reroute By Oran

Due to demolition and utility work for the Alaskan Way Viaduct (AWV) Metro is rerouting some southbound buses off 1st Ave for the next month. In February Metro will completely reroute buses off 1st for the next few years to avoid construction delays and confusion related to the AWV project.

Metro’s press release after the jump. Continue reading “Metro Reroutes: Off 1st Ave”

Skiing and Transit

Skis on Amtrak – Photo by Karl Dahlquist (

(Update 12:30pm:  With a great sense of timing for this post, the Seattle Times reports that Crystal Mountain is turning skiers away for the remainder of the day because their parking lot is full.)

Though I mostly enjoy my car-free life, I do wish I skied more.  When I lived in Idaho I thought nothing of 100-mile drives to support my season pass at Schweitzer, and when I lived in Colorado there was always the Ski Train to Winter Park.  Our wilderness legacy in Washington has kept our spectacular mountains fairly well-preserved, with the caveat that the relatively few access points that do exist must be accessed by car.   Here we have resorts surrounded by emptiness (whether wilderness or clearcuts), whereas places like Colorado have ski towns, many of them served by comprehensive (and free!) transit service.  Though Washington has an impressive amount of rural transit, very little of this serves our resorts. Our decision to under-develop our mountains comes with environmental benefits that I genuinely appreciate, but this particular tradeoff – lack of transit access – frustrates my attempts to enjoy winter sports and still live car-free.

Though Zipcar, traditional car rental, and Craigslist rideshare are good options in a pinch, I thought I’d write a post laying out our options for getting to our ski resorts car-free.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “Skiing and Transit”

Charge more for express buses.

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Today there was a discussion on Seattle Transit Blog about the benefits and drawbacks of cutting off bus service from the south to downtown Seattle and instead shuffling everyone onto LINK trains.  The core of the argument is cost savings vs. speed, and considering KC Metro is going through major cuts it’s time for unpleasant conversations about where and how we’re going to degrade service.  The huge savings involved is what makes this particular cut attractive.

That discussion is interesting, but isn’t what caught my eye.  One compromise solution was to use some of the money saved and keep or add express buses to downtown.  But if the express bus was faster, what would get people to take the non-express to a slow transfer to the train?  The way we do things now we’d use capacity to limit supply – once more people can’t cram on the express bus, they’ll wait for th local.  But that’s not the logical market approach – we’re leaving money on the table.  We could be limiting supply using fares.  Bump up express service a few dollars, and we not only increase revenue but we also sort out the issue of limited capacity on express buses. 

Commuters that need to get to work quickly will pay the extra money.  More cost sensitive riders will take a bit more time to get around.  And let’s not just do this for south-end routes, but for routes throughout the region.  This will free up capacity on express routes, and we can use the added revenue to keep more service overall.

Even East Coast Mayors Have Snow Troubles

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Well, look at that.  Turns out that other mayors besides Seattle’s also have trouble snapping their fingers and making snow disappear:

As New York City struggled with huge snowdrifts left by a crippling blizzard the day before, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg acknowledged on Tuesday that the cleanup had been slower than expected and the impact worse than had been apparent when the snow stopped falling.

Keep that in mind next time you hear an ex-New Yorker (like, say, me!) complain that in a real city traffic never gets snarled by snow.

Selling Ads

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Via Brendan Kiley, I see that the state ferry system is going to start selling web ads.

I can’t say that I have a problem with this in theory.  Governments sell ad space on visually prominent physical and virtual spaces all the time.

However, I’m pretty skeptical that this is the answer to any serious budget problems.  WSDOT points to the visitor information site, ExperienceWA, as another government site that sells ads.  But a quick glance over there shows the only ads being run are for another visitor information website, Seattle Southside.  Making real money from web ads is incredibly difficult.

Who knows? Some state government web pages are, indeed, heavily trafficked, including the WSDOT ferry page and the highway traffic map.  With any luck, they’ll be able to raise enough money to pay for the hosting costs.

Now, let’s talk about advertising on bus shelters

New Years Eve Link Service

New Years Seattle #2 By Simonds

[UPDATE 2:29 – Sound Transit will be extending hours of operation. More updates as we get them]

[UPDATE 3:12 – ST will add two southbound departures, leaving from Westlake at 1:00am and 1:15am]

Yesterday Sound Transit sent out a press release reminding riders that all ST service New Years Eve (Friday Dec. 31st) will operate on the normal weekday schedule while service on New Years Day will operate on a Sunday Schedule. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that Sound Transit will not extend Link’s hours of operation beyond the normal last departure at 12:41 12:37 from Westlake, just 20 minutes or so after fireworks at the space needle ends. I find this absolutely ridiculous and an oversight on Sound Transit’s part.

First look at Metro’s core routes. Most of them will operate till around ~1:30am with the last trip of the night on high ridership routes like the 49 and 7 leaving downtown at 2:12am and 3:30 respectively. Even the monorail is operating till 1am. Or look at our neighbors to the north and south. Vancouver is extending skytrain operations by an hour to ~2:15am in addition to its extensive, easy to understand, and well branded night bus network. Not to be outdone Portland is running MAX untill 3am. And in both cities all night service is free!

And it makes perfect sense why Vancouver and Portland are taking these steps. First off New Years Eve is essentially the biggest and latest party night of the year, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people will be drinking, hundreds of thousands of people will be out watching firework displays and it will be essentially impossible to get a taxi. To me the the correct decision is obvious. In fact in a perfect would Metro would add late night runs to it’s routes as well.

My hunch is that last year when ST extended service not that many people took the trains, likely due to lack of knowledge, not demand. If Sound Transit announced service today, tied it to the fireworks at the space needle, points out the horrible traffic, got Mother Against Drunk Driving to encourage people to take transit, and made all rides after 8pm free I’m sure a few news sources would pick up the story and get the word out.

Sound Transit is building a multi-billion dollar regional mass transit system and it needs to complement that capital investment with an operational investment in the highest level of service.

I intended to write about late night transit service in more detail later.

Link Station Schedules Updated

The new design.

It’s a month late but it’s finally here. Sound Transit updated the design of the schedules posted at Central Link stations, both graphically and physically (example of old style). Many schedules were torn off by vandalism or left outdated. Some schedules date to before Airport Link opened. On October 7, Sound Transit via its Twitter account responded to a question regarding the missing and outdated schedules: “We’re working on a new signs. Old ones were too easily vandalized/ripped off. New ones up by Nov. Thanks for riding.”

The new schedules still show only headway and first/last train times but in a different format. The design is reminiscent of the style used in London. I made mockups of that style for the 70-series buses last year and recently for a headway-based timetable in One Bus Away. I’m not sure about the order they chose. It follows a natural sentence structure: the day, then “trains leave every”, followed by the headway, and then time periods. However, the way I typically read schedules is to look at the clock for current time, then find the time period on the schedule, and read the headway. Either way this is a minor issue. Another issue is the periods that span from a.m. to p.m. The weekend schedule shows trains leaving every 10 minutes from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., or is that from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m? Just add an “a.m.” behind the 8:00 to clarify.

The schedule is now printed on the same sheet as the fare table. The larger surface should make removal more difficult. Since the schedule is now integral with the fare table instead of a smaller add-on sticker, why not take advantage of the increased space? They don’t need to have a box any more. Perhaps in future iterations they will redesign the combined fare/schedule table. Overall, I see this as a small step forward.

Transfers at Rainier Beach

Photo by Oran

[Important note: this is not an editorial advocating anything. It is an attempt to quickly analyze some planning tradeoffs.]

When Central Link opened, Metro eliminated some redundant lines (194, 42X), but the bulk of I-5 routes from South King County continue to run into Downtown Seattle, at great cost and with a parallel Link line able to carry those people at nearly zero marginal cost. The best place to make a transfer from I-5 is at Rainier Beach Station, although that location has serious problems. What are the tradeoffs?

First, Google Maps pegs the driving time from Exit 157 (MLK) to Sodo Station as 10 minutes, vs. 3 minutes to MLK & Henderson. Link takes 15 minutes from there to Sodo, meaning that in the baseline scenario the transfer is 8 minutes slower. If you like, subtract a minute for buses being slower than cars.

To this time loss, one must add walking time. If Metro did the user-friendly thing and put the stop on the south side of Henderson, there’s a crossing of two not-crowded lanes. Experience at other stations suggest an easy jaywalk that might take a minute, more for those that insist on a signal. Moreover, there will be wait time: for bus to train, the average varies from 4 to 8 minutes depending on time of day; train to bus, typically 8 to 15 minutes.

On the other hand, the Rainier Beach run is essentially uncongested, while I-5 is often not. The gap shrinks with any delay on I-5. Also, the further north the destination, the smaller the gap is. Going north from Sodo, trains have signal priority and limited-stop advantages over buses, and in some cases a tunnel advantage as well. This adds up to between zero and 6 minutes savings to Westlake in the schedules.

Although in some cases time may be a wash, in general trips with this transfer will be slower and this will cost riders. Unlike the 194/Link tradeoff, all of these trips will still require a bus and won’t attract those that refuse to get on one.

On the other hand, by my count Metro runs 295 trips every weekday via I-5 and the busway, plus 179 on Saturday and 117 on Sunday. With a half-hour of savings per trip, that comes out to around 44,000 service hours, of which 26,000 are charged to the South subarea. For comparison, a draft service cut plan last year took about 45,000 service hours out of the South, and that’s before union concessions saved another 20% of threatened service hours. Alternatively, those hours could be redeployed elsewhere, even by roughly halving headways on routes like the 150.

Other fringe benefits include much improved connectivity between Southcenter and its transit-dependent customers in the Rainier Valley. At some operating cost, buses may terminate at Rainier and Henderson, where there is more bus layover space.

Restored service on the low-ridership southern end of MLK is canceled out by reduced connectivity at the Spokane St. busway stop.

Such a shift also frees up capacity in the busway and DSTT, which can provide a new route to West Seattle post-viaduct and improve reliability on Link.

There are also 198 weekday and 68 weekend trips on Sound Transit buses on the busway, all of which are charged to the Pierce County subarea. Sound Transit and Metro also run 84 and 6 weekday trips, respectively, and 62 weekend ST trips, that bypass the busway to go right into Downtown Seattle. I’ve omitted those from the analysis above.

Whether this kind of service change is worthwhile depends ultimately on how you comparatively value intra-South County service with respect to the quickest possible connections to downtown. Everything has an opportunity cost, and resources can be spent on expresses into Seattle or into reducing headways between suburbs. High capacity transit services like Link provide an option, albeit imperfectly, to avoid gutting one to emphasize the other.

Wednesday Snow is Possible

Photo by joshuadf

It shouldn’t be that severe, but you never know:

Current weather forecasts indicate if snow falls Tuesday night into Wednesday morning in the lower elevations of King County, it should be mostly in the form of snow showers with no significant accumulations. But, the snow could be heavier at higher areas in east King County or if a convergence zone sets up inside the county. Bus operations could change rapidly.

Metro will start updating their snow page at 4am Wednesday.

Consider this the snow day thread. If it were me, if at all possible I’d arrange my trip to involve as much light rail as I could, even if it were quite a bit out of my way. On second thought, I’d arrange to not make a trip at all.

Atomic Taco adds:

Metro’s radio system can be pretty interesting to listen to during the snow, and there’s a live feed up:


It’s my scanner that’s streaming, but if you put this in a post, please thank Rich from InterceptRadio for providing the hosting and bandwidth.

Federal Funds Come Early

It’s a slow news week, so I’ll dedicate a whole post to the news that ST is getting a $23m advance on federal U-Link funding:

The grants being awarded today will not increase the federal government’s overall share in the projects. Rather, a portion of the federal share for each project is being paid earlier than expected because of unallocated funds in FTA’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget for new construction.

“The advance payments being announced today will free up local funds that can now be used for other transit projects that will make it easier for families to get to work, to school, and to other important destinations,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. “These advances will also result in the savings of financing costs that local sponsors would have otherwise incurred.”

Whoo cash flow, whoo interest savings, whoo avoiding any possibility of Congressional Republicans messing things up.

Carrots and Sticks

Penna Turnpike Toll Plaza (wikimedia)

Zooming out from the viaduct debate, one of the fault lines
among the solid majority that supports transit in Seattle is between those that favor investment in all transportation modes and those that think we have to de-prioritize easy and cheap access for cars, often caricatured as a “war on cars”.

The former group is very much swayed by the easy-driving arguments we see in the tunnel and road diet debates. Businesses are worried that customers can’t get to the store. Operators of freight and emergency vehicles wonder how they’ll navigate the congestion. People may support others using transit but don’t see themselves abandoning use of the car. This line of thinking has a long an honorable tradition, including great friends of the blog like former Mayor Greg Nickels. Over the years, I’ve slid further into the “stick” camp based on some important realizations:

  • Emphasis on car access makes transit either worse or vastly more expensive than it needs to be. In a low-capital cost project like RapidRide, responsiveness to parking concerns means that the bus simply won’t get priority treatment. For a big-dollar project like Sound Move, it means Sound Transit rebuilds the entire MLK roadway rather than simply taking the ROW needed, which would have been much cheaper.
  • Most people make their mode decision, quite reasonably, on what’s easiest and cheapest for them, rather than any externalities they produce by driving. If driving and parking is cheap and uncongested, it will always be more convenient than taking transit and transit will lose, which is bad news for all those externalities.
  • At the moment, most Seattle households own cars. We’re in an equilibrium where the car is often the easiest way to get around, so everyone builds parking to accommodate most people, so land use is crappy for transit use, so everyone owns cars. To break out of the cycle, at some point residents must say enough and start allowing stuff that doesn’t assume most people will use cars to get around.

People with big transit dreams often fall victim to this death by a thousand cuts. Make enough concessions to preserve car access, and your project is no longer what it was.

The deep-bore tunnel is a case where we’re told that it’s simply “not practical” to limit our investment in car infrastructure, which is why it has provoked such deep splits in our community. In the viaduct replacement a total of $1.2 billion of non-gas-tax, non-toll money is being spent, not a dime of it on transit. Even the “surface/transit” option has hundreds of millions to improve capacity on I-5 and lots of street improvements.

$1.2 billion is in the ballpark for high-quality light rail to West Seattle or Ballard, or a Second Avenue transit tunnel to improve RapidRide now and rail in the future. All of these would have supported the same corridor that the DBT will. It’s a failure of vision by our leaders circa 2008-2009 that this approach wasn’t even on the table. And it’s sad to say that many Seattle voters and politicians that self-identify as pro-transit environmentalists today share those same failures.

Christmas News Roundup: Pedestrian Death Map

Photo by Atomic Taco

This is an open thread.

Capitol Hill Construction Update

On Wednesday, Sound Transit gave a brief media tour of the active construction site where the future Capitol Hill Link station will be.  So far, construction crews have excavated roughly 90,000 cubic yards of dirt, creating an enormous hole or “station box” which requires a conveyor belt for the removal of all the fill.  According to Rick Capka, ST construction manager, roughly 10,000 more cubic yards, or ten feet in depth, have to be excavated before crews will put in a ten-foot thick concrete invert slab at the bottom of the box.  The box will eventually be 80 feet deep, 80 feet wide, and 540 feet long.

The concrete slab will help the transition into the next phase of construction in mid-2011 when a TBM (tunnel-boring machine) will begin boring its way south to the Pine Street Stub Tunnel, roughly 3,800 feet.  Two more TBMs will also be tunneling toward Capitol Hill simultaneously from the University Station site.  According to Capka, crews haven’t encountered any significant delays apart from a few recent weather-related issues.

Thanks to Oran, we have a video of the tour above for your viewing pleasure.  You can also view pictures in our Flickr pool.

November 2010 Link Ridership

Travelers buying Link tickets at SeaTac on snowy Monday

November’s Central Link ridership slightly declined from October, at 21,913 per weekday, 9,933 per Saturday, and 13,112 per Sunday/holiday, on average. Niles has the full ridership breakdown.

Ridership on the Monday before Thanksgiving is the second highest on record at 29,351 boardings. It is unclear what effect snow has on ridership, with the snow storm coinciding with one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Airport Link did not open until December 18, 2009. Ridership on Thanksgiving Day was low as expected, similar to last year since most are staying at home or out of town. Sunday likely had many returning home to and from the airport. Ridership returned to average the following Monday.

Ridership numbers for Thanksgiving week:

  1. Monday, Nov 22: 29,351 (big snow day, Metro on snow routes)
  2. Tuesday, Nov 23: 28,504 (Metro on snow routes)
  3. Wednesday, Nov 24: 27,352 (Metro on snow routes)
  4. Thanksgiving, Nov 25: 9,385 (Sunday schedule Metro and Link, Metro on snow routes)
  5. Black Friday, Nov 26: 20,283 (Downtown holiday parade and Westlake tree lighting, Metro resumes normal routes)
  6. Saturday, Nov 27: 7,359
  7. Sunday, Nov 28: 17,333

ST 2010 Q3 Ridership

Photo by Mike Bjork

The 3rd Quarter Sound Transit ridership numbers are out. All year-on-year system boardings comparisons are overwhelmed by a full quarter of Central Link in 2010, which now makes up just over a third of total Sound Transit network ridership.

ST Express ridership was down overall. Notable was a 29% drop in boardings when the 566 replaced the 564 and 565, a huge increase in the 577/578 when the 194 went away, and a precipitous 30% decline in 560 ridership thanks to a big service reduction.

Central Link’s reliability numbers continue to be atrocious (79%) by the bizarre definition ST continues to use, although ST had a 90% success rate at maintaining headways. The 79% figure also includes trips affected by maintenance, which may or may not be appropriate to include depending on what you’re trying to measure.

Link’s operating cost per boarding ($6.53) has slipped  below that for express buses ($7.47) for the second consecutive quarter, as ridership numbers go in opposite directions.

North Corridor Alternatives Analysis, First Cut

We previously reported that Sound Transit is in the early stages of its North Corridor Alternative Analysis. In October Sound Transit held a series of public meetings to solicited public comment on the alternatives. At the time Sound Transit was looking at three corridors, I-5, SR-99 and 15th Ave NE, which I outlined here. ST was just awarded $2 million from the FTA to finance the study.

On December 16th Matt Shelden gave the ST Board a briefing (starting at minute 27:00) on the progress of the Alternative Analysis (lots of other good info in the video too). I think the slideshow above from that meeting or better yet video, speaks for its self but some highlights are below the jump. No action was taken but barring unforeseen events this recommendations will probably be approved by the board. The capital committee will discuss the recommendations during their January meeting.

Highlights after the jump.

Continue reading “North Corridor Alternatives Analysis, First Cut”