Light Rail Excuse of the Week: Franklin Arts Festival

Franklin High School (wikimedia)

Lots of stuff going on in Mt. Baker this Saturday:

  • Franklin Arts Festival, 11am-3pm, at the High School. Performances, plus crafts and plants for sale.
  • From 9am-3pm, the Mount Baker Neighborhood is holding an organized yard sale. Pick up maps at 2811 Mt Rainier Drive S, about a quarter mile from the high school.
  • For the kids, the new Fire Station 30 is across the street from Franklin and is having its open house from 11-1.
  • If you’re willing to venture a little farther from the train, Orca K-8 school is holding a plant sale the same day from 10-3. (5215 46th Ave S). Take the 7 or bike 2 miles from Mt. Baker.

The idea behind the “excuse of the week” series is that there are a bunch of Seattle-based rail fans out there that would love to use Link for something but don’t have much occasion to go to Seatac or the Rainier Valley. Is this an accurate assessment and a useful service?

News Round Up: Light Rail Two Steps Forward…

Tempe Town Lake Light Rail Bridge
Tempe Town Lake Light Rail Bridge, photo by Gregory Taylor

[UPDATE: The bullet about light rail to Wallingford was incorrect. See the story a couple of posts down for more.]

This is an open thread.

Pierce Transit Looks for Smarter Cuts

Photo by Atomic Taco

Last month Pierce Transit announced the contours of the looming 35% service cut — 20% cuts on June 12th, and a further 15% on October 2nd. Disappointing for those in favor of a focus on good service in a few places over bad service everywhere, the plan incorporated the deepest cuts to core routes 1, 2, and 3, which according to T4W carry 60% of all system ridership.

It’s not immediately clear how that would be split between June and October, but the Pierce Transit Board is looking at ways to redirect the October cuts using productivity metrics:

Additionally, the Commissioners are exploring an alternative plan to implement the final 15% reductions, which will be implemented as close as possible to the originally scheduled October 2nd, 2011 service change. They asked staff to develop a plan that uses ridership and cost information to determine which routes and trips would help the most riders. A public hearing will be held on this new proposal at the June 13, 2011 board meeting, with possible adoption at the July 11, 2011 board meeting.  Staff reductions are expected to occur no later than the end of this year.

When a system withers enough, it’s appropriate to give up on winning choice riders and focus on providing skeletal service to the transit-dependent. It’s not clear that PT is at that point, and it’s reassuring that the board doesn’t think so.

Transit Master Plan Corridors Selected

Click to Enlarge

Seattle’s ongoing Transit Master Plan process* is designed to provide a list of transit spending priorities for the City of Seattle and should conclude in September 2011. In general, Seattle’s role is to fund capital projects like bus lanes, streetcars, and queue jumps; the TMP is not an attempt to redesign Metro’s route structure, and building infrastructure for routes that Metro is unable or disinclined to serve with high-frequency service would be silly.

The first step of the study, just completed and briefed to the Council’s Transportation Committee yesterday, established the quantitative criteria for scoring dozens of potential investment corridors**. Criteria were focused on current and potential ridership, current and future density, and social justice considerations. Overall, my personal impression was that corridors that connected dense and walkable neighborhoods generally tended to score the highest.

Stage I of the study selects the top 15 of these corridors for further analysis. Depending on how the precise corridor ranking plays out, the study will evaluate the most promising five or so of these for high capacity transit like BRT, streetcars, or light rail. The remainder will receive smaller-scale investments that can make buses work better. The 15 finalists are depicted in the map at right.

In a separate part of the study, Nelson/Nygaard will analyze circulation in the downtown core, hoping to make the system more usable and legible. The map below (the jump) indicates the areas of focus, fairly congruent with the inner parts of the trolleybus network.

Continue reading “Transit Master Plan Corridors Selected”

Rail (and Bus) on the Hill

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I loved Zach Shaner’s radical plan for re-thinking bus service on Capitol Hill and the CD once light rail opens. Basically we’re sacrificing some direct routing for better and more frequent connections, with no net new service hours. It’s elegant.

I have two quibbles. First, I would have liked to have seen East Link figured in here. It will open a few years after U-Link, yes, but the link station at Rainier & Massachusetts will be a useful southern anchor for this grid.

Second, as Jarrett Walker has argued, grid systems are wonderfully efficient, but they work best when there’s an anchor at both ends:

Anchoring means designing a line so that it ends at a major destination, so that there will be lots of people on the vehicle all the way to the end of the line. A line with strong anchors at each end will have more uniform high ridership over the whole length of the line, and a much more efficient use of capacity overall.

How do we do a better job of anchoring the East end of the grid? We have small neighborhoods like Madrona and Madison Park, but the grid will really sing as more development occurs along 23rd Ave and MLK Way. I’d expect this to happen in the next development boom, as development in the last boom crested at about 17th & Madison.

Tomorrow Night: Protect Seattle Now Campaign Party

For the last couple of months, I’ve been putting my time and money where my mouth is, and volunteering for Protect Seattle Now, the campaign to stop the tunnel and build the I-5/Transit option that stakeholders and government agreed was the best solution for replacing the Viaduct.

As I’ve engaged with this group, I keep learning more that amazes me. Basically, through a stakeholder process and actual study, everyone had already come out in support of the I-5 improvements, street grid improvements, and transit investment option. The Downtown Seattle Association, the Governor, WSDOT, all have strong quotes on record supporting this option.

Then something changed. It’s hard to know what really happened. A backroom deal was made to switch to a tunnel – with lip service to transit, but of course no funding. There’s no transparency at all, no reasoning that holds up under any scrutiny.

This isn’t how we do things. The public process was flipped on its head. There’s no evidence for a tunnel – every new study (a new one from UW today) says it offers little benefit, and shows that the I-5/Transit option that was already the consensus is still best. Even the Port commissioners know this is a waste now.

Seattle has fought highways before, and won. We joke about the Seattle process, but it’s resulted in an incredibly livable city – one where we build transit, parks, schools, and libraries, not huge freeways. These are our values – talking things through and understanding them, then making an informed decision. The state is telling us it knows best – but we’re learning they’re wrong. So we fight, and they’re telling us they don’t want democracy, they don’t want us to have a say. That in itself is worth fighting.

We collected nearly 29,000 signatures in only a month. That is unprecedented for any city campaign. And we’d like to have a celebration to kick off the real campaign.

Please join me tomorrow night and toast the fact that we’re smart, we’re involved, and more than ever, we’re right to fight this – dare I say it? – boondoggle. Come learn about our legal fight, meet the campaign, even sign up to help out!

When: Wednesday, May 11, 7:00 to 10:00 pm

Where: Havana, at 1010 E Pike Street on Capitol Hill

I look forward to seeing you there!

The Wisdom of the Cloud

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Martin on Seattle Transit Blog posted a priority list and spreadsheet about how Metro is planning to potentially cut service, given the current funding problems.

I love how this group just dives right in and lists 174 (and counting) long comments describing how they’d improve on the experts’ work.  We can do this because we’re all experts – so are you if you ride a bus with some frequency.  I’d be willing to bet that this group can come up with ideas that a room full of transit experts would have never thought of.  Don’t get me wrong – the real experts add value as well, and they’re needed.  But I think the collective knowledge of a large group of people, whatever their expertise, has a great potential to find solutions.

I’m still rolling with creating a build a gondola system in Seattle campaign, and when I get a bit further I plan on using the collective power of the Internet (specifically those on the Internet in the Seattle area who are interested in transit) to come up with some initial routes.

Link Q1 Ridership Graphs

Weekday Riders Per Hour, Courtesy Sound Transit

I’m a big numbers nerd, and when I came across these graphs of Q1 Link ridership data I felt had to share them. It’s pretty interesting to see what time rush hour is for Link and that Friday is the line’s busiest day. Make sure you read Martin’s “how to understand ridership numbers” post before drawing wild conclusions from these.

Continue reading “Link Q1 Ridership Graphs”

Link Fares on Their Way Up, Too

Photo by Sherwin

Not only will ST Express restructure fares next month, but Link fares are going up on June 1st too:

Starting June 1, 2011, adult Link fares will rise 25 cents.  Link tickets for adults will start with a base fare of $2.00 and add five cents to the base fare for every mile of your trip.  See the chart below.

Starting June 1, 2011, all youth Link fares will become $1.25, for all one-way trips on Link light rail.

All reduced Link fares will remain 75 cents, for all one-way trips on Link light rail.

This means fares will vary between $2.00 and $2.75 depending on distance. The cheapest ride of  Metro, Link, or ST Express varies with who you are and time of day.

No Mudslide Relief in Latest Intercity Rail Grants

Vancouver WA Amtrak – Wikimedia

Today Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood announced $2B in intercity rail funding.  This 3rd round of intercity rail grants – likely the last money to be available for quite some time – drew on funds rejected by Florida.

While perhaps the money was spread too thinly, many worthy projects received funding.  Acela trains in central New Jersey will travel up to 160 mph by 2017, much more 110 mph track will be built on the Chicago-Detroit and Chicago-St Louis lines, and California will be able to extend its HSR starter segment to Fresno and the future wye where trains will alternately serve Sacramento and San Francisco.  Good news all around.

Washington, however, fared poorly in this latest installment.  WSDOT will receive $15 million for grade separation and congestion relief around the Port of Vancouver (WA), but will not receive the funds it had sought to combat mudslides and to replace the trestle leading into Tacoma Freighthouse Square.  While disappointing, our total share of ‘HSR’ funding ($781 million) remains impressive relative to our population size, and it speaks well of WSDOT’s preparedness in seeking these grants over the past three years.    Even if we lost out on this round, it is encouraging to see substantial federal investment in both the Northeast Corridor and California’s true HSR line.

As usual, The Transport Politic has an excellent summary.

Details of Potential Metro Cuts

Metro via PubliCola

Erica C. Barnett unearths a very informative Metro report on how, using new service reduction policies, they would cut up to 600,000 annual service hours over the next few years.

However, this set of policies is not yet enacted into law. According to spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok, the strategic plan is still in the Regional Transportation Committee, far from going before the full Council.

Nevertheless, the report is thought provoking. Ms. Ogershok was kind enough to forward this Excel spreadsheet, which goes into even more route-by-route detail. It’s a pretty painful document; in my own case, 2 of the 4 buses I use regularly would be eliminated*. To point out one other theme, a number of Southeast Seattle buses (7X, 39, 106) are truncated to become Link shuttles.

We’d best get this emergency transit funding bill signed, and the tax approved by the Council and/or voters.

* As well they should be; they’re unproductive routes.

Potential Relief for Mt. Baker Transfers

Seattle DPD

There’s been a lot of attention to height limits in the draft North Rainier Neighborhood plan update, but from a transit perspective a more interesting element aspect is a traffic revision that might dramatically improve bus-rail transfers at Mt. Baker, one of the worst design aspects associated with Central Link.*

The “bowtie” concept would turn both MLK and Rainier Ave. in this area in to one-way streets, northbound and southbound respectively. SDOT models expect this to improve traffic flow (by eliminating the need for left turn signals and suicide lanes), provide space for bike lanes and wider sidewalks, and ease pedestrian crossings. It eliminates a horrific intersection at Rainier and MLK.

Even better, the diagram at left indicates that there will be one northbound lane on Rainier for buses. The current location of the Mt. Baker Transit Center would become a regular street with bus layover space; the geometry of Rainier would change so that the stops could be directly aligned with the Link station’s entry plaza, basically where you see the large crosswalk in the picture.

Not only are good intermodal transfers important in their own right, but with Metro looking for efficiencies, this would make it much less painful if some Rainier Avenue buses have to stop running downtown.

At Thursday night’s meeting, the bowtie was somewhat controversial because it might divert traffic to other streets. There was also skepticism about the models. With some more outreach, hopefully DPD and SDOT will address the concerns so this project can move forward.

* I’m not pointing fingers here. I’ve never gotten a good answer on who is to blame.

Impressions of a Zoning Meeting

Mount Baker Community Club (wikimedia)

As I hinted yesterday, I showed up to the Mt. Baker Community Club’s forum on the city’s revised North Rainier Neighborhood Plan. The crowd was mainly from the Mt. Baker neighborhood; my understanding that this not the actual station area or potential upzone, but instead an area dependent on its services and close enough to enjoy (or suffer) whatever impacts arise. There’s actually a pretty nice piece of real transit news that I’ll save for a follow-on post.

Till then, here are some impressions. If you want or read about the draft plan itself there’s a pretty good webpage. Obviously, I’m a partisan in this debate but here I’m trying to articulate the real causes of opposition so that we can resolve them. The truly core objections are, I believe, are (1) more residents, particularly if they create concentrations of poverty; and (2) traffic and parking changes that will make it harder to get around by car.

More detail below the jump.

Continue reading “Impressions of a Zoning Meeting”

Port Commissioner Holland is Open to Surface/Transit/I-5

Rob Holland

In Wednesday’s news, Port Commissioner Rob Holland has come out in favor of putting much of the Port of Seattle’s $300 million contribution to the viaduct replacement project into a streetcar project, instead of into road construction.

Considering that the so-called “tunnel plus transit” option the state selected doesn’t have any funding for transit – his proposal could actually be within the project plan. I called him yesterday afternoon for details, and the conversation took a different angle.

It turns out that two things happened. First, Holland read the Nelson/Nygaard report which points out surface traffic – meaning most of the freight at the Port – would be just as bad with a tunnel as without. Second, he’s been riding the Seattle Streetcar, and as he says, watching it fill up. He went on to point out that a transit user represents a car off the road, and the streetcar shows him that people are clearly willing to take transit.

The result? He’s open to the $700 million cheaper surface/transit/I-5 option, saying that with some creativity in freight management, it could work. He detailed a few options, such as running trucks at night, and using staging areas, that could mitigate the impact of the lack of bypass.

He said that while he’s on record supporting the tunnel, he’s “an environmentalist at heart,” and in light of the changes we need to make in the next decades, he said he wants to support building more transit – and we shouldn’t be building more roads.

DSTT History Tour

Seattle Downtown Transit Tunnel
Photo by Nathan Pachal

[UPDATE: Link fixed.]

Historic Seattle is presenting a DSTT history tour May 22 at 9 am:

Bus tunnel team leads May 22 tour

Leaders of the design team for the Metro bus tunnel will explain how each station was developed during a Historic Seattle program from 9 a.m. to noon May 22.

Phil Jacobson, Mark Spitzer and Jack Mackie are presenters at the event, which begins at the Klondike Gold Rush Historic Park auditorium, 168 S. Jackson St., Seattle.

The cost is $25 for the public, $15 for Historic Seattle members and $10 for students.

The tunnel opened in 1989, and represented the largest collaboration of engineers, architects and artists in Seattle’s history, according to Historic Seattle.

Register here.

Mt. Baker Planning Meeting

The Mt. Baker Community Club is hosting a meeting tonight about the new neighborhood plan, which involves (surprise) more density around the Link station. The MBCC tells me some DPD folks will be there to talk about the plan and solicit comments.

DPD, via Rainier Valley Post

Word has it that the usual NIMBY suspects are organizing, complete with Facebook page with the usual scaremongering. As if “pawn shops” and “payday loans” are the only possible businesses (and jobs, by the way) that come with density.

If you live nearby (as I do) I’d encourage you to show up tonight at 7, at 2811 Mt Rainier Drive South.


ST Express Fares are Changing

ST Express Proposed Changes
Changes to ST Express bus fare.

Beginning on June 1st, there are no longer three separate fare zones in King County for Sound Transit Express buses; all King County trips are now one price, with a higher fare only for trips that cross a county line.

The youth and senior/disabled fares are, broadly speaking, going down. In another change for ST Express buses, if you’re using a medicare card as proof of age, you have until June 11th to get yourself a Regional Reduced Fare Permit, or to simply your life and get the ORCA version.

American Infrastructure Falling Apart

The Crumbled Road
Crumbling road in Paso Robles, California. Photo by flickr user Nonnygoats

The Economist has a feature-length piece about the sad state of American infrastructure and the collaspe of infrastructure investment as the transportation systems we have begin to crumble around us.

America, despite its wealth and strength, often seems to be falling apart. American cities have suffered a rash of recent infrastructure calamities, from the failure of the New Orleans levees to the collapse of a highway bridge in Minneapolis, to a fatal crash on Washington, DC’s (generally impressive) metro system. But just as striking are the common shortcomings. America’s civil engineers routinely give its transport structures poor marks, rating roads, rails and bridges as deficient or functionally obsolete. And according to a World Economic Forum study America’s infrastructure has got worse, by comparison with other countries, over the past decade. In the WEF 2010 league table America now ranks 23rd for overall infrastructure quality, between Spain and Chile. Its roads, railways, ports and air-transport infrastructure are all judged mediocre against networks in northern Europe.

Continue reading “American Infrastructure Falling Apart”