The Anti-Transit Argument

Photo courtesy

The whole Bellevue Link alignment dispute has inspired admirable inquiry into the sources of anti-transit opinions. There are obviously a multitude of reasons that people might oppose new transit projects, and some of them are easily refuted. I would never be selected as their spokesman, but if I were to make a charitable attempt to understand the mindset it would go something like this.

About 64% of King County households never ride the bus at all. This number is 44% even in the well-served Seattle/Shoreline area. Although some may be waiting for improved service, many others simply cannot imagine themselves voluntarily taking transit. This doesn’t mean they oppose the existence of Metro, but they do see transit as a social service for people who simply cannot drive. If you can’t picture yourself using the service, the externalities (like noise) are more significant it it’s coming to your neighborhood.

For virtually any social service, I think you’ll find that non-users are generally pretty disinclined to invest heavily to improve quality. You may support public housing, but probably would be miffed if they started building public housing with marble floors and gold fixtures.* In the case of Metro, they do an adequate job of getting you there, as the slogan goes; the route may be unpleasant, or circuitous, or slow, but it exists for the vast majority of King County homes and jobs. In this view, improvements in quality — better Metro routes, or the quantum jump to light rail — are frivolous spending.**

Needless to say, I don’t find this line of argument convincing. Quality transit can get people to use cars less, and that has various positive externalities. Moreover, a lot of us are interested in making cities denser; car-dependence is an obstacle to that and will not scale as well. However, I think it’s more valuable to understand this view of the world than casually dismiss concerns as racism or unfathomable ideology.

* There are some issues with the public housing analogy, but you get the point.

** Viewed this way, faux advocacy of BRT is not so much insincere and cynical as an attempt to bargain rail fans down, i.e., “yes, the train is nice, but would you take half as nice for half the price?”

Service Gaps

Photo by Atomic Taco

A perfectly natural reaction to a service map like Oran’s is to see the gaps — “there really should be more buses here” or “this proves that service to my neighborhood is lousy.” I think that’s the wrong takeaway from a project like that.

No matter the level at which the region funds transit, there will always be areas that get something less than frequent service on multiple routes — even areas that are walkable and have a bit of density. A lot of us would like to live car-free lifestyles, but if so we have to find a neighborhood with the necessary characteristics, not expect Metro to come to us.

That’s not to say there aren’t inefficiencies in the system, or that the marginal transit dollar can’t be well spent making a new high-quality connection. Indeed, one theme of the blog is to create more of these routes at the expense of more dispersed service. Ultimately, however, less dispersion means more areas with infrequent service. Resistance to this move actually creates fewer well-connected neighborhoods, not more.

A service map like Oran’s has two great purposes: first, to allow ad hoc navigation of the system without long transfers; and second, to allow people to make intelligent decisions about where to live and work.

SDOT Releases Waterfront Concepts


On Wednesday SDOT released initial concepts for the new seawall. These plans don’t actually program the “public space” that James Corner Field Operations is designing, but they do set the parameters for it by defining the waterfront’s contours, and whatever attractions may exist beyond it.

See especially the “Virtual Open House” page. There is a ton of information to sift through and I’ve only scratched the surface. My overall sense is that there’s a strong emphasis on restoring a lot of the waterfront’s ecology and providing vantage points for people to interact with it.

I’m resigned to being a curmudgeon on this project, but for me the crucial question is what will bring people here on a crummy day in February. The waterfront is a pretty bustling place on a touristy day in August, Viaduct notwithstanding. 300 days of damp abandonment a year would be a shame given the large investment. I think the answer is commerce, even if it’s just food carts, but more creative minds may have a different solution.

Anyhow, share your impressions in the comments.

Next Meetup February 8th

Our next meetup will be more informal than the last one: no reserved space, no guest speakers. Just transit enthusiasts getting together to enjoy each others’ company.

Tuesday, February 8th, 6pm – whenever. (Being old and lame, I will probably be gone by 9:30)

Columbia City Alehouse, 4914 Rainier Ave S. Reachable by 7 and 9, with 8 and Link a few blocks away.

You must be 21 or older to attend this event.

News Roundup: The Lawsuit Phase

Photo by Mike Bjork

This is an open thread.

As Cascades Sets Another Record, A Plea for Reliability

Photo by Dave Honan

Amtrak Cascades set another ridership record in 2010, boarding 838,251 passengers.  This represents an 8% increase over the previous record set in 2008 (774, 531).  Economic recovery, the 2nd daily train to Vancouver BC, and the Vancouver Olympics all drove the increased ridership.  It was also an active year on the policy front.  Washington won a battle with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) regarding customs fees for the 2nd train, and the federal government increased Washington’s HSR stimulus funds by 32%, from $590M to $782M.

Directly gauging the impact of the 2nd Vancouver BC train is difficult. WSDOT only began publishing station on-off data in February 2010, so year-on-year comparisons will be possible beginning next year.  Rather, increased ridership must be inferred from ridership growth on Trains 513 and 516. The first graph below shows a clear spike in ridership when the 2nd train began on August 19 2009, and that this year-on-year growth sustained itself through August 2010. The 2nd graph shows Vancouver BC now assuming its expected place as the 3rd most popular station, overtaking Tacoma.

As a frequent Cascades rider and supporter, I should be elated by these ridership figures.  Yet my enthusiasm is muted by the fact that service levels remain too infrequent, on-time performance remains poor, and reliability in the winter is awful (service north of Seattle has been cancelled 14 of the last 39 days due to mudslides).  While I appreciate that living in a lush, rain-fed region comes with the risk of mudslides, it is disappointing that WSDOT’s Amtrak Cascades Long-Range Plan makes almost no mention of mudslide-related reliability issues.  Though I welcome our push for higher-speed rail, I propose a simple rule-of-thumb for project prioritization:  fix the bad before improving the good.

Still, long term, be bullish on Cascades.  When the stimulus funds have done their work, when King Street has been fully restored, when the Point Defiance Bypass has traded scenery for needed reliability, and when we start to see those extra frequencies, we will at last have some of the best rail services in the country.

Eyman Goes After Toll Revenue

Toll Plaza (wikipedia)

Five new Tim Eyman initiatives were filed with the state this month, including one (PDF) which would drastically limit the uses of toll revenue and the way tolls are imposed.

Section 40 (commonly referred to as the 18th Amendment) of the Washington State Constitution has limited the use of fuel excise taxes to highway construction, operation and maintenance since 1944. Eyman’s initiative would limit toll revenue to the same purposes – in fact, even more stringently, to only construction and capital improvements of the highway, bridge, or street on which the toll is collected.

It would also remove the state’s ability to impose variable tolls, and require that tolling end once construction of a structure is paid off – today’s law allows tolling to continue for operations and maintenance, as well as performance management. This would eliminate congestion pricing, HOT lanes, and even simply higher rush-hour tolls.

A final section specifically changes language regarding tolling on Interstate 90. Current law directs WSDOT to work with the federal highway administration toward authorization of tolling on the I-90 bridge – revenue expected to help fund 520 bridge replacement, and to prevent I-90 from becoming even more of a parking lot when 520 is tolled this year. The initiative would specifically (and perhaps redundantly) restrict I-90 toll revenue to capital improvements on I-90.

It’s worth mentioning that this final section could amount to nothing but a shell game – I speculate that toll revenue on I-90 could, with legislative action, replace gas tax revenue used for projects elsewhere in the corridor, and an equivalent in gas taxes could be moved to 520.

With a transportation package on the table in Olympia this session or next, the rest of the initiative could have major implications. Tolling has been increasingly under consideration as an option for congestion reduction, and as a potential revenue source for transit improvements. Without it, the options for transit in the legislature would look even more slim than they already do.

Transportation Advocacy Day February 10th


Once per legislative session Transportation Choices Coalition organizes a day where ordinary citizens go down to Olympia to push for better state transportation policies. This year, it’s Thursday, February 10th.

With the pending budget crisis it will not be an easy year in Olympia, that is why your voice is more important than EVER! This session we will focus on a wide range issues from preventing more draconian cuts to transit service to making our streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Please join us for Transportation Advocacy Day on February 10th in Olympia to ensure that your voice is heard. You can sign up for Transportation Advocacy Day by CLICKING HERE:

WHEN: February 10, 2011, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
WHERE: United Churches, 110 11th Avenue SE, Olympia

Similar to years past we will meet as a large group in the morning and spend the afternoon meeting with legislators.  This year we are going to dedicate more time to breakout sessions in small groups so you can get all the detailed information you need to successfully lobby on our 2011 priorities.  Additionally, we will be offering a Lobbying 101 role-play opportunity at our breakout sessions to prepare you for your afternoon meetings with legislators.

There is TOO MUCH at stake this year and that’s why we need YOUR HELP to fight for Transportation Choices on February 10th in Olympia.

Read up on TCC’s one-page 2011 legislative agenda, which I wholeheartedly endorse.

King 5’s Up Front covers light rail in Bellevue

Last Sunday, KING 5 TV’s Up Front with Robert Mak discussed the East Link debate in Bellevue, covering things like conflict of interest accusations, B7-Revised, the I-90 lawsuit, and Build a Better Bellevue’s “expert-written” report alleging that Sound Transit jacked up the costs of B7.  For the most part, the program does a fair job of bringing more exposure to the issue.  Nonetheless, you can still detect a pretty shallow understanding that doesn’t reflect the deeper dynamics of the debate, like how a significant portion of South Bellevue residents actually oppose B7.

If you missed the show, I’ve attached the video of the full program above.  Some thoughts below the jump.

Continue reading “King 5’s Up Front covers light rail in Bellevue”

Seattle Frequent Transit Map

Click to enlarge

[There is a newer edition of this map.]

[UPDATE 10:11 am: Oran has applied some fixes to the pdf for download.]

It has been two years since I first released my Metro Frequent Service Network map. The map highlights all corridors that have transit service at least every 15 minutes during most of the day. It was inspired by the maps produced by the transit agencies in Portland and Minneapolis. Today, I give you a brand new version of the map for your enjoyment and benefit. You may download it as a PDF for high quality printing (8.5 x 14 inch Legal size). The map reflects Metro’s February 2011 service change (tentatively) and Sound Transit’s June 2011 service reductions.

This map takes a very different approach from my previous maps. It covers only the city of Seattle, where most of the frequent service is. Gone is the “one-color-for-one-line-for-one-route” French style map. Instead, colors are assigned to the modes: bus, rapid rail, and streetcar. It is a diagram, not a geographic map, but the major water bodies remain to provide some clues and the lines follow the street grid to an extent. Other features include a table showing the time and days when frequent service is provided, a street index for downtown routes, a list of through routes, neighborhood labels in the background, and icons showing connections to Sounder and the ferries. If so desired, thinner lines can be used to depict routes with less frequent service (every 20-30 minutes).

It has been said before by many but I’ll say it again. I think Metro should promote the frequent service network. It is as significant an asset as RapidRide is and it is service that is already out there. At the very least, show it on the timetable covers and on the system map with a simple yellow highlight. In the long term, the network itself should be restructured to provide more frequent service in more places and be more comprehensible to the average user.

To Joel Connelly: Try Google

P-I Columnist Joel Connelly whines about new transportation spending, and in the meantime displays a pretty shocking lack of due diligence:

“What did you do with the money we gave you?” A few years back, Seattle voted for Bridging the Gap, a transportation levy topping $350 million that was the largest in the city’s history…

…Still, the city needs an accounting of how Bridging the Gap bucks have been spent. Voters need to see what higher taxes delivered — or didn’t deliver.”

I’m not sure why it takes a not-even-part-time transportation blogger to invest the two minutes to go on the internet and find the Bridging the Gap website, which has last April’s Annual Report on BTG progress. It’s written to be really accessible to the layman.

With a few clicks, I can find that the report covers the first three years of a nine-year plan. 70% has been spent on maintenance, 22% on pedestrian/bike safety, and 8% on transit. The reports gives lots of details about crosswalks painted and so on.

I realize that’s it’s not in the style of newspapers to break down semi-wonky documents, particularly if they put a pretty happy spin on what’s happening. Nevertheless, if Seattle voters don’t know what the progress of BTG is, there’s only one group to blame and it isn’t the government.

Eastside 520 Design Detail will have Big Implications

Click to Enlarge

Alert reader Carl Stork attended an SR520 town meeting and makes a great observation:

While they are considering three different designs for the half-interchange at 84th Ave NE, NONE of the designs will permit a bus route that uses the interchange from serving the Evergreen Point freeway stop. The on and off-ramps are all located on the outside of the freeway and the merge point is relatively close to where the freeway station begins. The freeway station is in the center. From the drawings it will not be possible for a bus entering or exiting at 84th to serve the center freeway stop.

This matters because 84th is where the 271 gets on 520. The 271 is the only route that provides all-day service from the Eastside to UW. When the Montlake Flyer Stop is eliminated, the only possible place to switch from downtown-bound bus (255, 545) to the 271 is at Evergreen Point, which as Carl points out will be impossible in this configuration.

In the peak, there are enough routes from everywhere to everywhere that this won’t be a huge imposition. In the off-peak, there are two ways to fix this without any changes to the roadway:

  1. Have downtown buses get off at the Montlake exit, drop people off on the lid, and then get back on the freeway to downtown using the GP on-ramp.
  2. Dramatically improve UW service on the 540 and 542; if necessary, cut service on the 255 and 545 to pay for it, and expect people to transfer to Link at Husky Stadium or take East Link all the way in.

Both of these involve time penalties.

Bellevue Hosting Open House for B7 Revised

A-2 Station, image from KPFF

At long last, the City of Bellevue has decided to host an open house on its new B7-revised alignment.  You know, the one they’re spending around around $600K studying.  This represents the first publicized effort on behalf of the City to reach out directly to the neighborhoods that would be affected, which, unfortunately, did not come before the council decided to authorize spending for the study.

Considering that the new B7 Revised displaces 12 very large single-family residences in Enatai, it will be interesting to see how some of the homeowners who’ve opposed B2M for running near them will respond to this monstrosity.  For people sick of poorly-done freeway-oriented transit only designed to stray far away from homes and businesses, this will be a good meeting for you to make yourself heard.

The open houses will take place on Tuesday, January 25th from 5 to 7pm at Bellevue City Hall in Room 1E-108.

KING 5’s Up Front to discuss East Link debate

East Link

On Sunday, KING 5 TV’s Up Front program, hosted by Robert Mak, will be covering the East Link debate in Bellevue and will be centered on recent claims made by the pro-B7 Build a Better Bellevue group which allege that Sound Transit deliberately made B7 look worse.  In response to the claims, ST staff have prepared answers/rebuttals which will be released in the Final EIS next spring.

You can watch Up Front this Sunday on KING 5 at 9:30am or 11:30pm (if the Seahawks are more important), on KONG 6/16 at 11am, or NWCN at 8pm.

[Update 5:14pm:] Commenter Joshua Kelley says that another broadcast is on KONG 6/16 at 10:35pm so looks like you’ll have chances to watch it day round.

Sounder Station Access Open Houses

"Sounder arriving Puyallup station," by DWHonan

A lesser known part of the Sound Transit 2 package is a “station access study” for South Sounder. Beginning next week, there will be open houses.

Possible improvements the agency is studying include increased parking, pedestrian sidewalks, crosswalks and bridges, bicycle commute options, and transit facility enhancements.

All of the events occur from 4-6pm and are listed after the jump. Here’s to hoping the public shows up with something more than “build more free parking”. I’m no expert on these areas, but charging for parking would be a start.

Continue reading “Sounder Station Access Open Houses”

Live: 2011 Seattle Parking Rates

[UPDATE: PubliCola has a summary of the meeting. Here’s a link to the report and a link to the archived press conference. From the Executive Summary:

Policy Objective: To set rates to achieve approximately one or two open spaces per block on average in a neighborhood business district

2010 citywide paid parking study results:
• Out of the approximately 13,500 paid parking spaces in the city, almost 60%, or 7,800 spaces, were included in the study. All neighborhoods with paid parking were studied, although some were sampled.
• Several neighborhoods, such as First Hill and Commercial Core, were quite full; several had low peak parking occupancy

New 2011 neighborhood paid parking rates
• A target occupancy range was projected so that a neighborhood’s parking rate could be increased, stay the same, or decreased to achieve the policy objective of one or two open spaces. This range works out to be 58% to 78%.
• Generally, if an area’s parking occupancy was higher than the target occupancy, than the rate needed to increase; if an area’s parking occupancy was below the range, than the rate needed to drop.
• With the new data‐driven approach, nine areas will see increased parking rates, nine areas will have the same rate as 2010, and four areas will have decreased rates by $0.50 per hour. Compared to current rates, 62% of paid spaces will see the same rate or a decrease in 2011.

Next Steps
• Rate installation rolls out beginning February 1 and concludes by March 30. Rates are set to change only once in 2011.
• Evening paid parking is expected to roll out starting in April 2011 and continue through September 2011.
• SDOT’s work on the variable pricing feasibility analysis is underway to potentially establish 2012 rates for different parts of day, for rates that change as frequently as on a quarterly basis, and for rates on a finer grain within a neighborhood.
Another citywide paid parking study will occur this summer to monitor the affects of the rate changes.

Hooray for market pricing!

Original post after the jump.] Continue reading “Live: 2011 Seattle Parking Rates”

Metro Revises Eastside Route Proposal

All-day two-way routes. Click to enlarge (pdf)

Metro is going through the process of revising its routes throughout Bellevue and Redmond to take advantage of RapidRide B opening in October 2011. The first draft of these changes came out last October, and yesterday Metro released the latest iteration. Random observations:

  • The proposal trades peak commuter service for all-day service, a principle that I strongly support. Peak routes 225, 229, 247, 256, 261, 266, and 272 are all gone. Many all-day routes are lengthened; the 271 would join the ranks of 15-minute headway frequent routes, which in East King County are currently only the 545, 550, and what will become RR B.
  • It’s a great website. Route maps and system maps, plus explanations of each route that concisely explore the tradeoffs.
  • In the system map above you can see the tension between a simple, direct, gridded network and hitting the key nodes. The north side is sort of like a grid if you squint hard enough, but the south is spaghetti as everything gets funneled through Bellevue College, where the demand is, and Metro tries to serve winding suburban streets.
  • In retrospect, there are lot of problems with the placement and layout of the Eastgate Park and Ride.
  • If these are your routes, you should attend a meeting or take the survey.