Editorial: A Transportation Deal

Sen. Haugen

Reports last year explained that Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) singlehandedly killed the 2010 transit funding bill in order to keep transit advocates at the table for a 2011 package that would also address highway funding shortfalls.

The parallels to 2007 are strong. STB was founded for the purpose of advocating for the roads and transit package. Some writers thought the road projects were largely HOV lanes and therefore positive; in all cases, we saw that much light rail as a game-changer, essential to move forward at all costs. In the end, that wasn’t enough, as a coalition of environmental groups allied with rail opponents drove the measure to defeat.

In the end, voters (and leaders like Greg Nickels) vindicated the anti position by getting ST2 to the ballot in 2008 and passing it. Some people took away the lesson that compromise of this sort is never necessary. Personally, I think the composition of the electorate in 2008 was an under-appreciated cause of victory. I’d be sorely tempted by another game changer, like a large ST3 package, in exchange for roads.

Unfortunately, there’s little hope of anything so transcendent. Far more likely is a band-aid for Metro’s funding problems. And under those circumstances, there isn’t a lot of road for which transit advocates like me are prepared to vote. Since many highway supporters will also vote against any tax increase, the legislature will need the vote of moderate transit supporters, and should consider certain environmentally friendly features, in rough order of importance:

  • a complete solution to the funding woes of transit agencies around the state;
  • extreme emphasis on HOV and maintenance projects as opposed to general purpose capacity, particularly in areas where transit options are robust;
  • for the highway and ferry portion, near-total reliance on gasoline tax, which helps to correctly price the negative externalities of driving and constitutionally can’t be used for anything else anyway.
  • full funding authority for the transit portion of the deep-bore tunnel plan;
  • accelerated improvements to Amtrak Cascades; and
  • new local funding options for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Here’s to hoping the urban legislators in Olympia are making clear that these elements are important.

Correction: Clarifying the Bel-Red Design Options

A new design being considered by the council is far more walkable than the previous 177' option.

Monday’s notice about Bellevue’s open house for the future NE 15/16th Street arterial in the Bel-Red corridor didn’t go unnoticed by Bellevue planners, who’ve asked me to clarify the design options on the table for the arterial.  I’ve been a bit mouthy about one of the options, a 177-foot wide cross-section along NE 16th where Link would run along the center of the arterial in what is referred to as Zone 4 (PDF).  According to Rick Logwood of the Bellevue DOT, that option is no longer being considered, after recent council discussions.  Instead, a much narrower street is being considered, and one that I think is much more successfully scaled to pedestrians (see above).

Logwood also says that outside of the segment with center-running light rail,  the cross-sections are much narrower since Link will run off the street to the north:

Elsewhere, the typical section is much narrower.  The graphic shown has 177’ at the widest point in the entire corridor.  Where we are today in discussion is more on the order of 128’ – that is a significant difference – and will change public opinion.

The two perspectives (Alternatives: A, B) that do not show the LRT station are located between 120th and 124th Avenues NE.  As you can see the width is much less than what has been portrayed – where LRT is in fact in a different alignment.  The third is where the station is located, but reflects where the Bellevue City Council discussed reducing the number of travel lanes east of 124th Avenue NE to one through lane in each direction.

The other urban district in the corridor where light rail runs off to the north is referred to as Zone 2 (PDF) (the Spring District)– NE 15th Street between 120th and 124th Aves NE.  The two perspectives that Logwood mention show cross-sections with 4 travel lanes, 1 turn lane, and 1 parking lane.  The only difference between the two options is the addition of a cycletrack in Alternative B.

As far as the design options in Zone 2 go, their conduciveness to walkability can be debated.  Personally, I would like to see one travel lane in each direction for the entire corridor, but that wish usually never works out politically.

Testing in Progress for RapidRide Arrival Times

Next bus times a reality for RapidRide but not for Link
Next bus times a reality for RapidRide but not for Link

Up to the minute bus arrival times have been appearing on many of the message signs at RapidRide A Line stations with caveat message “Testing is in Progress”. The displays show times for the A Line and any other Metro route serving that stop, though other routes may not be accurate because they aren’t equipped with GPS yet.

I was watching the sign at S 176th St/SeaTac station. I arrived at the station seeing 5 minutes to the next bus and about 5 minutes later the bus arrived. The sign changed from “1min” to “due” as the bus became visible in the distance. It’s quite accurate, with buses arriving within 1-2 min of the predictions, though some stations showed an arriving bus as 2 minutes away. There was one case where it predicted around 3-4 minutes and the bus arrived 8 minutes after the previous one. I’m not expecting clockwork here, just a general idea of how long the wait is. One Bus Away seems to be using the tracking data as well.

So when will Link get better real-time information? The answer ranges from probably not in a long time to as soon as possible.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Neat site, which uses a map of the NYC subway to turn “the New York subway system into an interactive string instrument. Using the MTA’s actual subway schedule, the piece begins in realtime by spawning trains which departed in the last minute, then continues accelerating through a 24 hour loop. The visuals are based on Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 diagram.”

(via Subtraction)

Legislative Bills to Track

This started as a short post but obviously isn’t any more. For those unfamiliar with reading bills, like me a few weeks ago, the “Bill Digest” gives you an very simple overview of the legislation, and the “Bill Analysis” or “Bill Report” gives you a more detailed description if available. “Fiscal Notes” tells you what kind of financial impact a bill would have.

Important Bills:

SB 5416 –  This bill would limit the use of toll revenue in the same way that gas taxes are through the 18th Amendment. Senator Haugen, who is the Chair of the Transportation Committee is a sponsor of this legislation. If there is any bill you should fight it is this bill. It will set the exact opposite precedence that needs to be set. Tolls and transit are the keystone our transportation future and they must be integrated, not segregated.

HB 1536 – A temporary $30 dollar car tab tax we previously wrote about. This bill certainly is good but the timing of the bill has been troublesome for Pierce Transit’s Proposition 1. Agencies certainly need more money but there are so many morally imperatives needs this year in Olympia any new taxing authority is going to be hard to get.

HB 1382 – Moves forward with the implementation of High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on I-405. The end goal of this bill is a continuous one or two lane managed corridor on SR-167 and I-405 from Puyallup to Lynnwood. The bill essentially moves forward a two phase “Option 4”. Phase 1 converts the HOV lanes on I-405 north of Bellevue into HOT lanes in addition to one general purpose lane (existing and new and already funded by existing revenue) between Bellevue and SR-522 in Bothell. Phase 2 is a high capital, unfunded phase and fills in the gap between SR-167 and Bellevue with a two lane HOT system and direct flyover ramps between SR-167 and I-405.

Lots more after the jump. Continue reading “Legislative Bills to Track”

Ridership Predictions

photo by Zargoman

Every time we have a Link ridership report readers like to make predictions for next year. Blog comments are low stakes, so if that’s entertaining for people so be it. In the long term, there’s pretty good reason to think ridership will increase substantially because:

  1. People will naturally sort themselves so that those very interested in living near a train line will displace those not so inclined;
  2. Barring an absolute fiscal or engineering catastrophe, more stations will open and serve more trips, even on the existing segment; and
  3. Barring continued chaos in the finance and real estate markets, all those empty pits on MLK will be developed.

I’m personally confident that all those trends will emerge over the next decade or so. In the short term, however, those secular trends are likely to be totally swamped by variation in employment levels, fuel prices, tourist arrivals, Metro service levels, weather, and Mariners and Sounders attendance. These things are hard to predict and short term variations don’t have much to do with the long-term viability of Link.

In other words, no matter what ridership does in 2011, that’s not substantial confirmation or refutation of your beliefs.  If it comes back strong, it doesn’t mean that 2010 can be dismissed as an isolated blip below expectations. Similarly, if it’s flat or slightly declining, that doesn’t “prove” that Link’s future ridership growth is a mirage.

See also Zach on models.

Imagine a More Detailed Link Station Schedule, Part 2

Here’s another variation of my Link stem-and-leaf schedule. If you looked at that schedule closely, you will see a consistent pattern to the departure times. Trains are always spaced at scheduled headways (7.5, 10, 15 minutes), even at transition points between peak and off-peak. You will see that trains depart Westlake for the airport “on the sevens”, at 7, 17, 27, 37, 47, 57 minutes past the hour, during off-peak hours and almost all day on weekends. Since the schedules rarely change and are simple enough, they are easy to memorize and communicate to others.

Realizing that, elements of this design could be simplified further while providing more details than the current Sound Transit presentation. Though the template for this was the schedule book, I think this would be more suitable for station schedules. The schedule book needs to have the timepoint-based schedules in addition to the basic summary.

The schedule data for my mockups came from One Bus Away. That may soon no longer be possible, as commenter Tim, suggests:

In the future, expect One Bus Away to show headways instead of exact times. (If available) real time information will help decide what time to add the headway information to. Example: 08:00 and the line runs every 10 minutes. With no real time available, schedule will show 08:00, 08:10, etc. With realtime available, and assuming the last vehicle passed at 08:02, you’ll instead see 08:02, 08:12, 08:22, etc. That is assuming that the operating agency plans on keeping headways and not schedules.

Eventually Sound Transit and Metro will no longer supply schedule data for both RapidRide and Link.

Let’s hope that both of them get their real-time arrival information systems in working order before deciding on pulling the plug.