Reflections on a Long-Distance Commute

Sounder at Freighthouse Square – Photo by DWHonan

(We generally try to avoid overly self-referential posts here on STB, but I hope you’ll indulge me on this occasion.)

I have impeccable urban elitist credentials.  I haven’t owned a car for 6 years, and I’ve been unduly proud of it.  Despite myself, I’ve slowly been becoming the “smug cyclist” that provides such lazy framing material for our city’s overblown culture wars.  Quite frankly, I have had to fight not to be annoying.  But these days I’m quieter, more circumspect, more patient.  Why the change?  My daily commute to the suburbs has relieved me of my arrogance.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “Reflections on a Long-Distance Commute”

Reduced Service for Presidents Day

If you’re going out via transit this Monday, Presidents Day, be sure to check schedules beforehand.  Metro will be operating a reduced weekday schedule with additional reductions for UW being out of session; specific route information here.  Also, both Vashon and West Seattle water taxis will not run, along with their connecting shuttles.

Sound Transit will operate a normal weekday schedule.  Pierce Transit will be on an increased Saturday schedule.  And Community Transit will be making some adjustments in commuter service.

Misconceptions About the Transit Master Plan

Estimated Non-Work Trips in Seattle, 2008 (click to enlarge)

It’s clear from the comment thread under Adam’s TMP breifing book post that people are laboring under the misconception, understandably, that the Transit Master Plan will be a comprehensive plan for transit in Seattle. Considering the role of Seattle in transit planning, however, that can’t be the case.

I sense some trepidation that the master plan doesn’t seem to visualize some sort of radical route reorganization. Of course, route structure is the domain of Metro and their masters on the King County Council. Seattle’s role in transit is capital investment in rights of way, construction and ownership of the streetcar network, and at the margins purchase of some bus service. The TMP serves as a to-do list for the city, and concentrating on telling Metro what to do is a waste of consultant and staff resources.

Moreover, it’s important to understand that the briefing book that hit the street yesterday is not a recommendation of transit investments; that will come in the fall. It is an assessment of our current state, an explanation of some basic principles, and a roadmap for how to generate the actual plan. The idea is that the consultants will identify a dozen or so high-demand corridors. A few of those will be designated for major investment, somewhere between pretty good BRT and full-blown light rail. The rest will get smaller-bore bus improvements like curb bulbs and queue jumps. Regardless what happens to routes over the next 20 years or so, there is definitely going to be a lot of service on corridors like the West Seattle Bridge, 15th Ave NW, and N 45th St, so expenditure on those paths is a good idea in any case.

Finally, the trip demand maps in Chapter 2 measure a lot of different things. Many of them depict total trips, not just transit trips. A lot of these results come from the Seattle Travel Demand Model, which uses methodology validated against real measurements but is ultimately still a model. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not perfect but I’m more inclined to trust it than whatever anecdote you might have.

Bellevue Neighbors Pursue New 112th Ave Design Option

A new idea would move the 112th crossing further south (image from Sound Transit)

[Update 9:03am (2/19)]: Below the jump, I’ve attached three renderings** that essentially show how the route will play out in the neighborhood.

One of the more compelling aspects to fly under the radar in Bellevue’s East Link debate is when residents who don’t necessarily feel strongly about Sound Transit one way or another, take on responsibilities that are really the City’s to shoulder.  In this case, plenty of Bellevue residents believe that City money would have been much better spent hiring consultants to perfect B2M instead of embarking on a wild goose chase for an alignment that the ST Board will have difficulty swallowing.

Private citizens and business interests are responding, however.  Over the past few months, a group of stakeholders along 112th Ave, including the Bellevue Club and area hotels, have come up with further modifications to the B2-C segment connector with the hope of lessening traffic and noise impacts, and cheapening the alignment cost.  On the outset, it is a NIMBY-oriented response, albeit one that smartly shows willingness to compromise, something that is clearly lacking with B7-Revised.

Continue reading “Bellevue Neighbors Pursue New 112th Ave Design Option”

Leisure Time Inactivity

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

As Seattle cuts school bus service, I thought I’d point out the upside.  Costal states – especially western costal states – seem to spend a lot less of their leisure time inactive than most of the rest of the country.  Maybe a bit of walking to school will help us keep ahead on the activity front. 

(the following map has been included for entertainment purposes only)

John Mica Comes to Washington


Fresh off of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s abrupt rejection of federal funds for the Orlando-Tampa HSR line, Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park, FL) will be visiting Vancouver WA this Monday to moderate a town hall on federal transportation priorities.  The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Listening Session will be held in Vancouver because it is home to freshman Representative and Transportation Committee member Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Vancouver).  The meeting is from 9-11am at the Clark County PUD.

Rep. Mica is one of the more interesting House Republicans on rail issues.  A vocal but narrow supporter of HSR projects, with a strong skepticism for most projects outside of the Northeast Corridor, Mica expressed anger over Rick Scott’s seemingly unilateral cancellation of the project.  Since the second hour of the Vancouver forum is reserved for public comment, it would be a great chance to tout the virtues of our rail work in the Pacific Northwest to perhaps the most receptive Republican ear in the House.

Due to the early start you’ll either have to drive down, take Cascades the night before, or suffer through a midnight Greyhound.  But if you care about rail in the Northwest and can articulate yourself well, it would be worth your time and effort to attend.

SDOT Releases Transit Master Plan Briefing Book

Seattle Transit Master Plan - Briefing Book

The Seattle Master Plan Briefing Book is a high level look at factors that interact with Seattle’s transit system. It assesses the state of transit in the city and lays out how the process will arrive at its recommendations. It includes the travel demand and transit market analysis information we previously wrote about.

The Introduction gives a good overview of the document and discusses the timeline for the remainder of the project. What I found interesting skimming the document:

  • Chapter 2 is the travel demand and transit market analysis.
  • Chapter 3 is land use and development. Nothing earth shattering.
  • Chapter 4 has interesting data on Metro’s ridership demographics (pg 21), a cool scatter plot of cost efficiency vs productivity by route (pg 28), and some good graphics of performance of the Urban Village Transit Network (UVTN)
  • Chapter 5 compares Seattle’s transit system to peer cities.
  • Chapter 6 explains how the process will compare modes.
  • Chapter 7 looks at best practices, focusing on issues that are relevant to the city. This section isn’t too in depth so it is only really interesting for novice transit nerds.
  • Chapter 8 is a stakeholder and public outreach summary. Tell me if you see anything interesting.

I would specifically like to see visionary, strong planning and decision making processes for improvements in the speed and reliability of transit service. A good example is the 8 on Denny. That corridor is never going to get grade separated transit service but in my opinion will become incredibly important for city center neighborhoods, especially with the opening of the Cap Hill Link station and Rapidride Line D and E. Yet Denny way is already ridiculously congested.

What happens then? Do we look at parallel streets that could become transit priority streets, something else, or just give up and call it good? There needs to be a system to deal with this situations like this. Maybe this falls into a larger structure of warrants and corresponding improvements designed to bring transit service up to a specific quality level.

Good To Go Transponders Available, $10 Dollar Bonus

Yesterday was the first day to buy 5 new types of Good To Go toll transponders. Purchase one before April 15th and get $10 dollars of free tolls per transponder. This is all part of the SR-520 tolling roll out which will occur sometime this spring. A specific start date has not been decided on because the legislature still has to authorized the tolls. You can sign up online, at some Safeways or Good 2 Go Service Centers, or over the phone. I’m personally getting the “Switchable Pass” which allows you to turn its readability on and off, which will be important for anyone planning to carpool in HOT lanes.

List and description of transponders below the jump. Continue reading “Good To Go Transponders Available, $10 Dollar Bonus”

Florida rejects HSR money, may come to Washington

This morning, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) announced plans to abandon the state’s high-speed rail project that would have linked Tampa to Orlando.  The cancellation means that $2.4B in federal money already committed to the project will be returned and likely doled out to other states pursuing inter-city rail funds.  Scott’s announcement parallels those from other fellow gubernatorial Republicans in Wisconsin and Ohio who’ve similarly killed HSR projects, from which Washington State has already benefited.

This morning, WSDOT announced that it plans to follow suit in vying for Florida’s money:

“I’ve said many times, if other states don’t want this funding, Washington state is ready to put it to work,” Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said. “We’ve been committed to expanding and improving high-speed passenger rail not just to increase convenience for passengers, but to promote Washington state as a great place to visit and live. These rail lines take cars off our roads while moving workers and tourists between Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C. These federal funds are an investment in our economy, and support hundreds of construction and operating jobs in our state.”

News Roundup: A Streetcar Plaza

McGraw_Square_pedestrian_plaza 068
McGraw Plaza, Photo by Allie Gerlach, SDOT

This is an open thread.

10 Destinations, 10 Places, 10 Things To Do

Running up to Thursday’s Central Waterfront kickoff event I wanted to share a video (H/T Ed Cox) that is a good primer on what waterfronts need to be successful. The videos was a presentation given by Fred Kent, founder for Project for Public Spaces, to a business group in San Diego. If you already know what place making is you can probably skip to minute 12:00. He touches on a lot of the issues that we have discussed already, most predominantly, ensuring an active waterfront, not just pretty open space.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“What you are beginning to do is thinking less about what the design is, but more about what you do in that place, and then bringing it back to how to design that place”

“Parks have become more open spaces, places to look at, but not be engaged in”

“Everywhere we look roads kill activity”

“Major destinations and active areas should have limited or no residential uses to allow evening uses”

“The best waterfront are 18 or 20 hours destinations”

“Parks should not be major destination, except in rare circumstances, because our idea of parks are very passive, not really the active kind of squares and plazas”

“Seasonal activities should be integrated into each destination”

Portland’s Federally Funded Rail System

Transit Map Anagrammed
Portland MAX Map Anagrammed Originally uploaded by Major Clanger.

Whatever you think of the system itself, it is obvious Portland has had huge success building light rail. In 25 years, they’ve managed to build 84 stations and lay 52 miles of track with a relatively small tax base. What may be a fairly under appreciated fact is that Portland residents have paid a small fraction of the cost of their light rail system. All told, Portland has spent just under $600 million on the six completed projects in their area, with the feds chipping in $1.7 billion, or nearly 74%. How has Portland been able to gain so much advantage from the Federal Transit Administration?

Continue reading “Portland’s Federally Funded Rail System”

Sound Transit Picks One Entrance for Brooklyn

Sound Transit

Last week’s CEO Corner spilled the beans:

Following recent outreach with community members, businesses and property owners, Sound Transit staff concluded that the agency will move forward with the “Single Entrance” design option for North Link’s Brooklyn Station in the University District. The design meets long-term passenger needs with lower construction impacts, risk and cost. North Link is currently in final design and the Brooklyn Station 30 percent design will be presented to the public later this spring.

Background on the options (and possibly the best STB comment thread ever) here.

I don’t feel equipped to say whether this is good stewardship of resources or excessive risk aversion. I do feel equipped to say it’s a shame. Two entrances means a bigger walkshed, which incorporates many more people  in a dense neighborhood. There will be zero bus trips that come right up to the station entrance, and several that involve walking couple of blocks and turning the corner.

No one wants to bring down the whole project with reckless risks, but like the Mt. Baker Transit Center, this configuration will provide minor inconvenience to riders forever due to short-term considerations. Incidentally, with 12,300 projected boardings in 2030, as many people should use Brooklyn (on or off) as the entire Central Link system today.

I suppose it’s possible the board could overrule staff, but that really would be a sign of poor governance and decision making.

I-405/SR-167 Express Toll Corridor

I-405 Tolling Option 4

This session the state legislature is looking at moving forward the idea of “Express Toll Lanes” on I-405 and SR-167. More commonly referred to as High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, HB 1382 would start a process of expanding the HOT lane system, starting at the north end of I-405 and working southwards, eventually connecting to the existing HOT lanes. This would create a continuous managed north-south corridor from Puyallup to Lynnwood.

The idea behind managed lanes is to preserve the travel time reliability of the HOV network while maximizing the throughput of those lanes. Transit and some carpools would continue to use the lanes as normal but solo drivers would be able to buy into the lanes. As the lanes fill up the price for solo drivers to enter the lanes increases.

A major change, that will certainly be controversial is a move away from 2+ HOV lanes to 3+ HOV lanes. This is necessary for the lanes to pencil out financial and for WSDOT to meet HOV performance standards in the future. Today many regional HOV facilities are already failing WSDOT’s 45 MPH, during 90% of rush hour performance standard.

While the SR-167 HOT lane pilot has been somewhat of a disappointment, especially with regards to revenue,  it has shown that a system like this is feasible and has potential. Last year the legislature directed WSDOT to complete a study of the idea, which they also had reviewed by an expert review panel. The proposed legislation builds off the expert review panel’s recommendation.

The expert review panel recommended moving forward with a two phase implementation of Option 4. They identified two generations of HOT lanes systems, the first which requires less capitol is targeted a maximizing the efficiency of the road system with second generation systems having an added focus on revenue generation to pay for HOT lane related capacity expansion.

Last week it passed out of the House Transportation Committee. It will be interesting to see where this bill goes.

Sunday Open Thread: What Developers Hear

What the Planners say What the Planners mean What the Developer hears / understands
“I like it.” I like it. They like it.
“Well done!” Well done! We’re done!
“I wish more projects had this feel.” “I wish more projects had this feel.” They like it so much maybe they’ll give us more.
“Lets review this” I don’t like it. It’s taken their breath away!
“Does this meet the regulations?” Can we kill it through technicalities? We’re OK, it meets the regulations…I think
“Well…?” We don’t like it, do we? They have some minor questions.

The rest here, via.

Transit Report Card: Toronto

Ossington Station, photo by flickr user tcp909

[This is part of theTransit Report Cardseries, in which writers generalize wildly based on short and limited experience with another city’s transit system.]

Segments ridden:
Yonge-University-Spadina (Yellow) Line: Glencairn – Union Station; Union Station – St. Clair
Bloor-Danforth (Green) Line: Landsdowne-Victoria Park
Various Street cars and buses.
Time ridden: Four days.

Scope: A-
The Toronto Subway has very good service where it does go, but that covers a fairly limited area. There are twomain lines, one that goes north-south in a “U” shape, and another east-west. There are also two short spur lines.

This Google maps overlay shows the area the subway covers. Each subway station has bus or streetcar routes that travel perpendicular to the line the subway station travels, forming a wonderful transit grid. This map shows the overall coverage, including buses and streetcars. If there isn’t a subway station or a streetcar line where you’re going, you’ll have find the nearest station, and then take the bus that travels perpendicular to the line and to your destination.

Service: A
Service is very frequent. Most buses had frequencies under ten minutes except late at night – many ran 24 hours – and the subway comes every few minutes.  Most stations had electronic signs to tell you when the next train was coming, but they were a mix of new LCD screens and some 30 years old or older, and many of the older models didn’t seem to work. Major bus locations also had next bus signs.

Routing: A
As far as I could tell (feel free to correct me in the comments), there are really only four major highways in Toronto (401, 427, 404 and “the Gardiner”), and those are mainly served by “bus rapid transit”, a service similar to ST express buses. Many of the rest of the bus lines are oriented around the subway, and the subway is mostly oriented in cardinal directions (N-S, E-W).

Grade/ROW: A
The subway is entirely grade-separated, and the streetcars have their own lanes in some places, as do some of the buses.

Downtown Toronto is a sea of modern skyscrapers, and there are many older, dense neighborhoods. Some outlying areas have become densely urbanized, such as North York. However, I was surprised single family homes with yards across the street from stations such as Ossington, just five stations from Bay station in the heart of downtown.

Culture: A
A surprisingly large number of people live in Downtown Toronto itself – apparently most of the over 2,000 skyscrapers in the city are residential – and the Toronto subway the beats the DC Metro for the 2nd most ridden rapid transit system in Anglophone North America at 910,300 people per day. The buses carry another 1.25 million, with streetcars carrying 300,000. Most commuters in the city either take transit or carpool. In the greater Toronto area, 22.2% of commuters take transit, according to the Canadian Census, compared to around 7.3% here in the Seattle area.

Continue reading “Transit Report Card: Toronto”

Light Rail Excuse of the Week

Nothing like a slow news Friday to do some self-interest blogging*. If you’re looking for a good and somewhat unique dining experience to pull you into the South end, I recommend St. Dames, a vegetarian place one block north of Columbia City Station.

I’m by no means a vegetarian, nor do I know much about other vegetarian places, but this place is pretty creative about tasty meat substitutes. If you’re reluctant to accept food criticism from a transit pundit, and you should be, here’s The Stranger‘s pretty good review. If you’d like to cancel out the health benefits of vegetarian cuisine, there’s also a full bar.

They’re open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and have an interesting brunch menu on weekends starting at 9am. I’ve tried both and have been impressed.

* My self-interest is in plugging a good restaurant in my neighborhood, so that I continue to have good restaurants in my neighborhood.

Stupidity is not an Explanation

I don’t think anyone who uses Metro or Sound Transit services doesn’t have some kind of complaint about how they run operations or allocate service. Sometimes that’s based on a selfish view that one’s service is needed while someone else’s service is obviously wasteful, but usually there are legitimate principles at stake.

The natural reaction is to assume that the agencies in question are stupid and/or ignorant if they don’t see it your way. However, a good general rule, on any issue, when critiquing the work of professional organizations that if you think it’s simple stupidity you probably don’t understand the forces at work.

There is a lot of change that I’d like to see. But the first step to realizing change is to properly assess the obstacles. The stupidity explanation really doesn’t survive initial contact with most agency planners. In reality, we have to look at the institutional incentives.

For instance, one continuing theme at STB is that there should be better service on key transit arterials even if it means a smaller geographic service area. This idea is not unknown to Metro staff, and its spirit is evident in documents like the Regional Transit Task Force final report. The fundamental obstacle is that you’ll get a much larger crowd of angry voters when you remove service, whatever its merits, than when you elect to not expand other service. And that goes back to a County Council that collectively will not back Metro when a few dozen people organize a complaint.

One way around that dilemma is to throw money at it: provide both the intensive and sprawling routes, and when the next round of cuts comes the interest groups will be more balanced. Of course, more funding is not a plausible course of action at the moment. The last good chance we had to do this was Transit Now, which included a lot for high ridership corridors but also spent significant resources on sending buses to even farther flung exurbs. Metro deserves some amount of credit for upholding RapidRide to the extent they have.

Why was service spread the way it was? The obvious answer is 20/40/40, which for the time being is still in place. Even in its absence, however, it’s arguable that voters wouldn’t have voted for a package perceived as disproportionately benefiting Seattle. Perhaps the true villain is the ability of many voters to see beyond narrow subarea interests. There’s plenty of that going around everywhere in the County.