Transit Hikes: Shaw Island and Friday Harbor

Shaw Island – Wikimedia

If you really want to leave it all behind for a night or two, you can hardly do better than Shaw Island.  The least populous and least-visited among ferry-served San Juan Islands, Shaw is a quiet, wooded treasure.  The island has only one commercial establishment, the Shaw General Store, famously operated by nuns until just a few years ago.  San Juan County Parks operates the lone public campground, charging $12-$16 per night for one of 11 tent sites.  The campsites rest on a cliff above a sandy, south-facing beach with great views of San Juan, Canoe, and Lopez Islands.

If you strap on a backpack with a small tent, or better yet take a bicycle, you can have an easy car-free loop, 2 nights of quiet camping, a late lunch in Friday Harbor, and a scenic cruise back to Seattle…while still arriving back in Seattle for a full night’s sleep before work Monday morning.  Here’s a sample itinerary, below the jump.

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A Workshop for Technically-minded Transit Geeks

Photo by Atomic Taco

APTA’s annual Multimodal Operations Planning Workshop will be held here in Seattle next August from the 15th through 17th, a three-day event consisting of workshop sessions, panels, and technical tours.  Unlike larger conferences like Rail~Volution, the Multimodal Workshop is much more technically-oriented and typically draws a clientele of transit planners and schedulers from around the country.

While geared more toward professionals in the transit world, the workshop is open to the general public, albeit at a higher price for non-APTA members.  Topics include service scheduling, route design and structuring, facilities planning and more.  Attendees will be treated to a luncheon on the workshop’s first day with guest speaker Jarrett Walker, author of Human Transit.  There will also be four technical tours of various systems in the region, including a joint operations tour in the DSTT.

Registration information can be found here.  Though there’s no set cap on how many can attend, there is limited capacity at the Red Lion, where the workshop is being held.  If you plan on attending, please RSVP in the comments below and register as soon as possible so that APTA and Sound Transit, the host agency, can get a sense of how many will need to be accommodated.  A pre-workshop technical tour will also be held in Portland the weekend before, which does not require workshop registration but does have space limitations so RSVP for that ASAP if you’re interested.

Cascades Ridership Breaks Another Record

Cascades at King St Station
Photo by Jim Wrinn – Editor of Trains Magazine – Original Image HERE

2nd Quarter 2011 ridership on Amtrak Cascades set an all-time quarterly record, with 231,194 passengers.  Ridership was up 8% on Q2 2010, the next highest year.  Since 2007 Q2 ridership has grown by an impressive 25%.  As opposed to Q1 (mudslides, 2010 Olympics, etc…) Q2 ridership is broadly indicative of annual trends, so these numbers are solid evidence of the growing popularity of the service.  Good news!

Cascades has always drawn most of its ridership from Seattle and Portland, and as ridership has grown major cities have only increased their relative share of riders. Comparing May 2010 to May 2011, ridership is up 8% in Seattle, 9% in Portland, 9% in Eugene, and up another 24% in Vancouver BC. Smaller cities lost riders, however, with 5% fewer passengers in Tacoma and 15%  fewer in Bellingham.   It’s clear to me that Vancouver BC deserves a 3rd train. More below the jump.

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TMP HCT Analysis (I)

Siemens Rapid Streetcar Vehicle, Budapest

[UPDATE on streetcar operating costs, see below.]

Seattle’s Transit Master Plan process selected 15 corridors for investment throughout the city, as well as a separate focus on circulation in the center city. It also designated four of these corridors through the highest-demand areas as good candidates for high capacity transit (HCT). The modal analysis for those corridors will be transmitted to the council today.

Those corridors are Ballard/Fremont/Downtown, Eastlake Ave, Madison St from the ferry dock to 23rd Ave, and 1st Ave from Seattle Center to Pioneer Square. It also breaks out the cost of just connecting the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars via 4th and 5th. In each corridor, Nelson/Nygaard looked at up to three options:

  • A “rapid streetcar” with higher-capacity vehicles, significant dedicated right-of-way, priority treatments and so on. Think “Portland MAX” more than “South Lake Union.” Madison St. did not get this option, as the grades coming out of downtown preclude it.
  • A BRT option with exactly the same treatments as the rail option (right down to the trolley wire), but with buses and asphalt instead of streetcars and rails.
  • “Enhanced bus,” which is pretty much what it sounds like.

Nelson/Nygaard computed a host of ridership, efficiency, and greenhouse-gas metrics for each mode in each corridor, and the results are in some very pretty graphs that I’ll post next week. They’re worth taking some time to actually digest and understand before making knee-jerk reactions, and you’ll get a chance to that in upcoming posts. A whole bunch more below the jump.

Continue reading “TMP HCT Analysis (I)”

A Tale of Two Streets

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In the US our streets started out slow and safe before cars existed, and have become increasingly dangerous.  We’re lucky in Seattle in that much of our roads were built before modern road standards.  These standards have pushed roads to be wider for visibility and to fit large fat fire engines, remove stop signs in favor of signals prioritizing the faster road, and provide gentle curves in order to accomodate faster speeds.  Let’s look at two streets.

This is in one of Seattle’s many “streetcar suburbs”, built over 100 years ago around streetcar stops before cars were much more than a toy.  There’s one lane for cars, shared by both directions, two lanes for parked cars, two areas for trees and plantings, and two sidewalks.  A car driving here can go around 5mph and feel very safe, and at about 8mph they start feeling in danger of hitting an opening car door.  As a result, there’s little car noise and streets are very safe.  Even if an accident occurs, the car is travelling a maximum of 10mph.  There’s an alley between streets for garages and garbage (and playing soccer, or learning to ride a bike).  There are turning circles every few blocks.  Yes, it takes a while to get around at 5mph, but in the city you aren’t often travelling far.  Arterials are built for 30mph, but I think we would be better off with narrower arterials as well.

This is a suburban street in Atlanta.  I’ve had to zoom out a bit because it’s not very interesting up close.  This street was designed for cars.  Your car can get from your driveway down the street at 30mph, and onto the main road where you can drive 50mph until you hit the freeway and drive 70mph.  It’s also just a few blocks from where a local woman and her children were hit crossing the road – that wide one on the left.  Charges were dropped on the drunk, medicated, partially blind driver that killed her son and injured her and her infant.  But she was charged with vehicular homicide for jaywalking and is facing three years in prison.  There were no crosswalks within half a mile of her bus stop, and her home was across the street.  She was tried by a jury of her “peers” who only drive cars and don’t take transit.

When you build sprawl you necessarily move destinations further from origins, and car trips become longer.  When car trips are longer the logical decision is to design roads to speed up these trips.  But speed kills.  Which road would you prefer to cross with your children?

10,000 Petitions to Save Metro

Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce Charles Knutson and Councilmember Larry Phillips

Yesterday, the Metropolitan King County Council received 10,000 petitions from citizens urging them to save Metro bus service by enacting the temporary Congestion Reduction Charge (CRC). The petitions were delivered at an event organized by Transportation for Washington (T4WA), a state-wide coalition of pro-transit advocacy groups, against the backdrop of a packed South Kirkland Park & Ride at 3 pm, to symbolize the cars that would be on the road if transit service is cut. The petitions represent citizens from all over King County and 30 major environmental, business, student, and social justice groups (including this blog) and were collected online.

County Councilmembers Larry Phillips and Joe McDermott, Senior Vice President of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce (GSCC) Charles Knutson, and Kirkland Councilmember Dave Asher were present to speak of the importance of Metro bus service and why they supported the CRC.

Asher said the a 17% cut in service would “directly impact everyone that uses our roadways” by adding 15,000 car trips that switched from transit and would “restrict access to thousands of jobs” for those who rely on transit. Asher said leaders should have the “moral courage to hold back drastic cuts” using the tools given only to King County by the State Legislature.

Knutson, representing 22,000 member businesses in the GSCC hopes the CRC can be enacted with a supermajority to avoid the million dollar cost of placing it on the ballot and thinks people will be paying more in transportation costs if Metro service is cut. 1,400 of those businesses buy bus passes for their employees.

Phillips reiterated that employers rely on Metro to get their employees to work. He says the temporary fee is “worth the cost” to maintain mobility for families on a limited budget, and for people who have no other option like low-income people, students, and people with disabilities.

McDermott reminded that Metro has cut costs and increased efficiency (saving $900 million out of a $1.2 billion shortfall) while raising fares on passengers by 80% to fill the gap. He believes that the other non-committed councilmembers can be persuaded to support the CRC.

When asked on the issue of avoiding a public vote on the CRC, Phillips said that every permanent tax increase for funding Metro was voted on, it’s appropriate for a temporary measure like this to be enacted by the council. McDermott adds that both he and Phillips are up for reelection this year and it’s important to lead on this issue. Brock Howell from T4WA notes that transit funding reform at the state level is needed for a long-term solution.

News Roundup: Hallelujah

Orion Bus Controls, by Punkrawker4783

This is an open thread.

Last CRC Hearing TODAY

As if you didn’t need reminding already, today is the last hearing on King County Metro cuts and the possible $20 CRC (congestion reduction charge) to put them off for two years.  If you can, we’d strongly recommend you show up to at least counter the misinformed anti-tax crowd that might show up, if anything.

Thursday, July 21st at 6PM
Burien City Council Chambers
400 S.W. 152nd Street
Burien, WA 98166

This hearing is primarily for South King residents. PubliCola reports that seven of nine Councilmembers will attend, including key swing vote Jane Hague.  Video and recap from the Seattle hearing.

The Shame of the Bellevue Tunnel

Photo by rutlo

Personally, I don’t have a terribly strong opinion, on the policy merits, as to how Light Rail gets through Downtown Bellevue, as long as it actually goes through Downtown. There are obvious pros and cons to both a surface and a tunnel option, many of them addressed in our open letter on the subject from last year. Notably, the tunnel adds enough delay to push opening day from 2022 to 2023.

The fact that North Seattle is getting a tunnel is not one of those legitimate concerns. Regardless, it’s notable that the entire Bellevue City Council — including both those generally sympathetic and generally unsympathetic to Sound Transit’s preferences in Bellevue — prefers the tunnel option. That should count for something.

The issue, of course, is money. It’s an excellent sign of good faith that Bellevue has offered to fund much of the cost: in 2010 dollars, now about $160m of $276m after significant value engineering by Sound Transit. It’s really a shame that this came up in a time of austerity; in a time of bursting tax collections, it might have been easily possible to make everyone happy. Furthermore, even the surface option faces a $33m projected shortfall due to collapsed revenues. In either case, ST is going to have to look for economies.

Sound Transit staff has a standard toolkit for bringing a project budget into balance:

  1. Reduce project scope: defer stations, shorten the line, reduce parking, etc. No word on what would be on the chopping block in this case.
  2. Local contributions: Bellevue has already committed a lot.
  3. Pursue Grants
  4. Delay the Project: having already slipped delivery by a year and maybe two, the ST board seems pretty uninterested in further slippage.
  5. Pursue a public/private partnership: there may be opportunities to do this with developers in the Bel-Red corridor.

According to spokesman Geoff Patrick, ST staff is working these angles to close the financial gap. Assuming that it does, and ST and Bellevue are able to revise the “term sheet” (like this one) to capture an agreement, at the July 28th meeting the ST board will likely approve a “contingent action” to approve a downtown tunnel. Contingent, that is, on binding agreement between the parties and final FTA approval this Fall.

Minor Changes to the South Bellevue Link Alignment

Click to Enlarge

As the Bellevue City Council begins to accept that light rail will run down Bellevue Way and 112th Ave SE, the focus of negotiations is turning to mitigation of the neighborhood impacts. The biggest one is associated with the three at-grade crossings that exist in the preferred “B2M” alignment. There are two street crossings at SE 4th St and SE 8th St; these have bells and crossing gates, disruptive to cars and pedestrians as well as generating noise for safety signals. Where light rail will cross from the east side to the west side of 112th Ave, there is a traffic light and warning bells.

In response to these concerns, Sound Transit came up with revisions to eliminate all the at-grade crossings. The crossing of 112th will move down to SE 15th St and use a flyover, eliminating the at-grade crossing of 112th and also no longer crossing SE 8th at all. At SE 4th, Link will dip into a retained cut, eliminating traffic conflicts. If there’s a tunnel through downtown the stop at SE 8th will have to move to a below-ground location near Main St.

According to ST spokesman Geoff Patrick, this will have the salutary side effect of making the entire East Link alignment grade-separated from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to as far as Hospital Station if the downtown tunnel is built. Due to some curves in the track, trains will average around 45 mph through the B segment, but will exceed the street speed limit. It also means that trains in this segment are only limited in frequency by sharing space in the DSTT with Rainier Valley trains, rather than by the limitations of at-grade signaling.

The bad news is that this will add to project cost, although ST staff hasn’t worked out the precise numbers yet. This aggravates the value engineering that ST is already doing to match costs to revenues. These changes may be approved at the July 28th Sound Transit board meeting.

Free Parking & ‘Bad’ Transit

'Pay Parking at Othello Station' by Oran

I think it’s a travesty that something as trivial as expensive downtown parking can make such sensationalist headlines in the local paper, especially when considering that parking is nothing more than a good, which can be bought and sold.  It’s telling of the cultural attitude our society has towards non-auto modes when there’s such outrage over a phenomenon that’s framed according to market principles.

Luckily, people like Jon Talton get it:

But even “free” out in the suburbs isn’t really free. The externalities, such as environmental damage and climate-altering emissions, of big surface parking lots, wide streets, extensive car use, etc. aren’t priced in to conventional studies or public policies. Much of this is an artifact of a moment in history when energy was very cheap and debt low. Not for nothing are many suburbs suffering worse from the recession and its aftermath than center cities.

While Jon’s last point isn’t as simplistic as it sounds, there’s a reason why the Seattle/North King subarea always seems to outperform its peers in terms of sales tax revenue.  A lot of the lowest-density suburbs in the county that are subsidizing free parking (both public and private) also subsidize and encourage the kind of low-density development patterns that weaken the local tax base and reduce justification for strong frequent transit service.

It makes me chuckle when I read comments in Seattle Times articles about how people are driven to prefer the malls with free parking over the “expensive” downtown retailers, supposedly giving suburban businesses a big economic advantage.  As we’ve seen, that’s not the case— a sad reminder that free parking is almost always subsidized at the expense of transit, either directly or indirectly.

Tonight: Transit Advocates for Claudia Balducci

Here is another last minute heads up.

Please join us to support the re-election of Bellevue City Council Member Claudia Balducci – a smart, effective leader for Bellevue!

As a public safety official, mom, neighborhood leader, and transportation advocate, she’s fought for balance in City Hall: coordinated economic growth balanced by a strong emphasis on communities and neighborhoods.

Please join us in support of Claudia’s re-election campaign and keep King County moving in the right direction!

Suggested Donation Levels: $50/$100
All donations are greatly appreciated!

Time: Tuesday July 19th (today) 5pm – 7pm
Where: 101 Stewart St. Suite 1200 Seattle, WA
Claudia Balducci has been an amazing champion for transit and East Link on the Eastside. Her voice on the Council and ST Board are critically important to the future of Bellevue, the Eastside and the region. Facebook event here. If you really want to ring up some transit karma hit up this event and then head down to TCCs office and do some phone banking.

CTAC III Report Done


The Citizens’ Transportation Advisory Committee III (CTAC III, pronounced “Seatac”) presented its findings on Monday to Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District board, technically a separate organization but actually just the city council. The TBD tasked CTAC III with figuring out how large of a vehicle license fee to ask for on the ballot (up to $80, on top of the $20 the Council already approved on its own authority) and how that money should be split up among the many needs of each transportation mode.

The committee recommended the full $80. Combined with the existing $20 that hasn’t been allocated yet, that amounts to $34m in revenue each year for SDOT. The report included a matrix that explains in detail the kinds of projects that apply to each pot of money.

The headline allocation levels are 43% for transit, 32% for road preservation and safety, and 24% for bicycle and pedestrian projects. If the $80 measure didn’t pass, the transit portion would be hit the hardest and bike/ped would fare well; the latter is about all that’s affordable on $7m per year.

The categories blur a bit so it’s best not to get to wrapped around those percentages. The infamous “road diets”, where four lanes become three and a turn lane, are actually safety projects, but they have fringe benefits for bikes and pedestrians. Road repairs are not just pothole-fixing, but also the “complete streets” program.

The “transit access” portion of the transit bin sounds like it includes lots of pedestrian and bicycle improvements. In fact, “only” $10.7m (out of $14.7m) of the transit fund is dedicated to Transit Master Plan projects, which are traditional rail, speed, and reliability improvements on major corridors. The remainder seeks innovative ways to serve people who live well away from those corridors.

The City Council will ultimately determine how large of a measure goes on the ballot and how the ordinance will allocate resources between various types of projects.

Metro CRC Phone Bank Today

Update 9:17: TCC will also be doing phone banking tomorrow 12-2 and 4-6 at their office.

Tonight Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) is hosting a phone bank at their office downtown to ensure a strong turnout of transit riders and advocates at this Thursday’s CRC public hearing in Burien. Please thinking about stopping by and helping out, especially if you haven’t been able to make it to any of the public hearings to testify. Facebook event here.

Time: Tuesday, July 19 · 6:00pm – 9:00pm

Location: 811 1st ave, Suite 626 Seattle, WA

S. 200th Update

My photo

A few followups to my report on the new S. 200th station plan:

  • The staff report about the changes is here.
  • In addition to the pocket track, the project includes a “tail track” that is essentially a $5m down payment on the next station in the line.
  • Increases the overall project budget from $365m to $383m (year of expenditure dollars).
  • Firms up a delivery date of September 2016, instead of 2020 as suggested in ST2.

But Tolling is Good!

Winning a political campaign requires leveraging whatever political alliances one can forge, so I understand why Protect Seattle Now is making a big deal about $5 tolls in the deep-bore tunnel.  However, one of the best things to like about the DBT is it’s being partially funded by tolls, the second-best funding source behind gas taxes.

Tolls are an excellent way to deter driving by raising its costs. They work best, of course, when all alternative driving corridors are similarly tolled, and that isn’t going to happen here. The result will be congestion, of course, but we’ll have congestion in any case; it’s a question of where the equilibrium point is.

Furthermore, congestion both deters driving and is good for pedestrians. One bizarre argument for the tunnel is that gridlock on Alaskan Way would be bad for pedestrian access to the waterfront. The opposite is true. Cars travelling at the speed limit is bad for access; a virtual parking lot means pedestrians rule. Congestion is especially harmless if a tolled, uncongested option works for people that truly have no other choice.

Put another way, if the Feds came up with $400m and obviated the tolling, that would make this a worse project. You’d just increase the long-run car capacity and have another congested roadway, and no uncongested route for users with no good alternatives to driving.

It also helps, of course, if people are given good alternatives through investment in transit, something that the DBT plan commits $0 to. And the government is going to spend about $1 billion extra in a doomed attempt to alleviate congestion, $1 billion that could fund a lot of those alternatives.

No Such Thing as a Transit Project

Cost breakdown for three viaduct replacement options (image by Zach, costs in millions)

There are people who would like to try to solve congestion problems by providing lots of highway capacity. There are people who prefer an option other than the deep bore tunnel (Nick Licata is a good example) but believe that WSDOT cannot be moved off the DBT plan. I can understand, and in a way respect, those positions.

The way some pro-transit, pro-tunnel proponents square the circle is to claim the tunnel is a transit investment. As Adam suggested, that’s just silly. The reasoning appears to be that although no bus currently connects the relevant markets, one could in the future.

By this definition, any new highway project is also transit project. The R.H.Thomson Expressway or the Cross Base Highway or I-605 would all quicken trips between hypothetical buses traveling between their endpoints. To call the DBT a transit project strips the term of all meaning.

Wonkier reasons this is bogus are below the fold.

Continue reading “No Such Thing as a Transit Project”

The Case Against the 42

ACRS from the bus stop (Photo by the Author)

I feel funny criticizing the much-maligned 42, because it’s a bus I’m on two or three times  a week. It’s the most direct link between the I-90 freeway station and the MLK corridor. On the other hand, having the region’s most prolific transit blogger on board is not in itself a reason to save a route.

The first time Metro tried to kill the 42, there were three basic groups of objections. The first group had reservations about taking the train, because they thought it was going to be too hard to use or much more expensive. ORCA issues aside, this was basically unfounded. The second group was clustered around MLK and Graham St., or south of Henderson, too far to walk to a station and reluctant to transfer to the 8 or 107. The final group was the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), a non-profit organization with a shiny new facility at MLK and Walden St. They put on a parade of testimony to the King County Council, a fine example of how to move the council on small-bore issues.

My map, via Google. Eat your heart out, Oran.

The basic argument was that vulnerable populations needed a one-seat ride to the doorstep of their facility. Metro relented by not deleting the route entirely, instead cutting it down so that it could be served by only one bus, running hourly between Pioneer Square and downtown Columbia City. Cleverly, the new 42 also provided a nice connection between downtown Columbia City and its station for those disinclined to walk.

Although everyone wants to give good options to the mobility- impaired, the entire point of Access paratransit is to provide service to people who can’t walk a few blocks. Although it costs around $38 per ride provided, running a bus 10 hours a day costs at least $1000, so it’s likely that in strict terms of serving the elderly Access is more cost-effective.

For everyone else, there are three pretty good options to reach ACRS from downtown*:

  • Take Link, walk less than 1/2 mile to the ACRS front door.
  • Take Link, walk less than 100m, ride the 8 (15 minute headways) for one stop.
  • Take the 7 from downtown, walk three blocks to ACRS.

Frequent STB commenter Bruce Nourish has obtained the numbers:  there are about 167 boardings per day, or 8 per trip, at a cost of about $6 per rider. There’s no telling how many of them are visiting ACRS, although my anecdotal observation is “few if any,” and many riders (like me) have plenty of other almost-as-good options. At least a seventh of these riders would have to be mobility-impaired, and headed to or from ACRS, to make the 42 cost-effective vs. Access.

We simply cannot construct a sensible system where everyone is within a block of a one-seat ride to downtown.

*Incidentally, that spanking new ACRS facility has its entrance oriented towards its parking lot, as far as possible from the bus stop. See the photo at top. A bad signal about how much the organization really cares about transit access.