U-Link Progress Report

I just found this nifty little widget. Given all the things that can go wrong with tunneling, I’ll feel a lot better once all these machines punch through to the other side. That’s not to say tunneling is never worthwhile or that it’s even likely that something will go wrong. It’s just one of the larger technical risks in a project of this nature.

Want to Save Transit? Try Better Land Use

Sky Train, Expo Line: Great transit needs lots of people in one place

There was some good discussion generated from the summing up of my reading of the land use code at Crosscut. One thing I learned from reading the code is that we should take the simple rules of supply and demand seriously and apply them when land use decisions get made. When it comes to land use and transit that lesson tells me that along with pushing for $20 car tab fees and $60 Vehicle Licensing Fees, advocates of bus service and light rail also need to push for better land use decisions that reflect basic and sound economic principles.
When our land use policies diffuse housing supply the demand for that housing will usually follow that supply, especially when it is kept cheap by externalizing the cost for transportation infrastructure (roads and buses). But that diffusion of housing supply to the ‘burbs, also means disaggregated demand for transit which drives up its costs, forcing it to rely on flaky King County Council politics and fickle voters at the ballot box.

The greatest offender when it comes to making bad land use decisions that negatively affect transit has been the Seattle City Council, a city that should be leading the way on showing the region how to grow. The Council’s worry about developers making a windfall from up zones has made them do something that doesn’t make any sense: make it harder to develop housing in the city. The more they worry about developer profit the more rules they impose (take incentive zoning, for example), which limits supply. Again, the simple rule is that if you limit supply and demand stays constant or goes up, you’ll increase prices, making housing by the usual standard “unaffordable.”

As people look for housing in our region they run up against limited supply in the places we most want people to live, the city. If it’s easier to build new single-family housing or sell that housing out in the ‘burbs, the supply out there will be greater. Seattle’s hesitant attitude toward up zones to create Transit Oriented Development not only keeps housing prices high, but also means that costs for maintaining transit service to far flung reaches of King County will go up too.

Among the many great things density does (lower emissions, more efficient energy use, less impact on water), it also aggregates demand for transit. Lots of demand for transit in one place makes it less expensive to supply. It’s as simple as visualizing a bus stop on Third Avenue versus a stop somewhere in Maple Valley, there’s going to be a lot more people, more fares, and fewer operating costs. Density is good for transit’s bottom line in King County. More people in a smaller space can mean more efficiency.

The more that Seattle resists density, the more expensive it is going to be to operate transit. We talk a good talk about sustainability but our land use policy is in direct conflict with it. So when Seattle constrains housing supply, it’s actively pushing up the operating costs for Metro and stretching subsidies to the breaking point. Meanwhile County politics dictates more and more of that subsidy go to keep bus service cheap where it is most expensive, a pathological cycle of codependence and inefficiency. Seattle’s land use policies drive up the price of transit, forcing local governments to pay for the City Council’s mistakes with extraordinary revenue from more fees and taxes.

This is why transit advocates have to be just as enthusiastic in their support of up zones as they are for subsidies through tax and fee increases. And those subsidies should be seen as a bridge to keep transit viable until we get our land use right. Then, maybe, the subsidies can largely go away. I know that the idea of a transit system paying for itself is kind of like Eldorado. But if demand is aggregated with good land use policy the idea that transit could be self-sustaining is not as farfetched as it is today.

ST 2Q 2011 Ridership

Sound Transit’s quarterly ridership report is out, now with 300% more color. Total system ridership was up 10% year on year. ST Express (led by explosive growth in Snohomish County) and Central Link were right about there; Tacoma Link was up 16%, and Sounder was flat.

Over the same period, CT was down 3%, PT down 11%, and Metro up 4%.

Serving South Lake Union

Photo by Mike Bjork

With the big boom in South Lake Union, I’ve heard mutterings about transit service in the neighborhood, particularly from employees asking if there’s a more direct bus route up into SLU.  Since many of the north-south routes that serve downtown terminate somewhere around the northern edge of the ride-free area, riders coming from points south and east often have to make a connection to a 70 or the Streetcar to get to where they’re going.

One suggestion I’ve heard tossed around is extending the termini for many of these existing routes further north into the neighborhood as to avoid the inevitable connection that has to be made under the current network.  I see a few problems with this idea, including lack of adequate layover space and real evidence that a significant number of riders would be continuing on past the downtown core.  Making these extensions wouldn’t be cheap either.

Between the 70 and the Streetcar, there’s  a strong case to be made against this idea.  However, I would acknowledge that the transfer penalty is sufficient enough to deter some SLU employees from taking transit altogether.  What it may ultimately come down to is improving frequency and reliability to these existing connecting routes to minimize that penalty.

[UPDATE 11:59AM – My mind slipped on the 4th/5th connector, which could dramatically improve these kinds of trips.  However, unless the $60 VLF passes or some other funding is found, this is what we’re left with in the meantime.]

The Bus Network We Could Have

Queen Anne / Downtown / First Hill / Madrona Restructure Map
Queen Anne / Downtown / First Hill / Madrona Restructure // Map by Oran

[Clarification: “Driving buses around almost-unused streetcar turnback loops” is an example of institutional inertia rather than political interference by the council. The canonical recent example of council interference is the continuation of Route 42 after Central Link entered service and Metro staff proposed its abolition.]

Ever wonder why I write so much about reliability, simplicity and efficiency in our bus network? It’s because much of our bus network is terribly designed, and it’s costing us in money, ease of use, service frequency, and ridership.

The map above distills the information contained in an internal Metro spreadsheet STB has obtained, which provides a fully costed-out schedule for a budget neutral restructure of bus service on the extremely busy Queen Anne / Downtown / First Hill / Madrona corridor. I alluded to this in last week’s discussion of Route 4.

It illustrates a point I’ve made in previous discussions, namely that Metro knows how to build good bus networks, but due to a combination of institutional inertia and political interference by the King County Council, Metro is still driving buses around almost-unused streetcar turnback loops from a century ago. What’s missing is not the smarts to redesign these routes, but the leadership to implement the necessary changes.

This schedule was developed as part of the internal deliberations for the potential 600,000 hour cut scenario that has been avoided thanks to the passage of the $20 CRC. This funding reprieve must not cause Metro to lose its new-found zeal for efficiency restructures such as the one described above, that are overwhelmingly in the interest of riders and the taxpayer, but are certain to draw organized protest from the small number of people for whom the current configuration happens to work very well.

Over the course of the next week, I’ll present the spreadsheet and get into the nuts and bolts of how and why this schedule works, along with other improvements that this restructure would enable.

For readers unable to read the map, a textual summary of its contents after the jump.

Continue reading “The Bus Network We Could Have”

Burien Park and Ride Open, Festivities Tomorrow


The Burien Transit Center, once equipped with a mere 385 spaces, is now up to 505, thanks to Sound Transit 2 and the Federal Transit Administration. Drivers have been enjoying these spaces since Saturday. The best news is that the $20.5m new garage means that part of the old footprint will be available for TOD, enough for at least 80 housing units, 4,000 sq. ft. of retail, and “sufficient off-street parking.” (!) It’s all part of Burien’s ambitious redevelopment plan for the area.

Prior to construction, in 4Q 2009 about drivers utilized 278 spaces, on average down from 354 in 2006.

The celebration is tomorrow at 9.

DSTT Travel Time Data


Several months ago I obtained travel time data for the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) which Metro used for performance analysis of the tunnel. With the elimination of the ride free area (RFA), a key component of the bi-partisan compromise to pass the $20 dollar CRC, this information is now much more relevant.

The data includes DSTT travel times during the AM and PM peak for both northbound and southbound travel which was generated using archived data from Metro’s vehicle tracking system. Three data points, fall 2008, fall 2009 and spring 2010 were included. The data, which was provided to me in PDF format, was post processed to create the graphics in the slideshare above (download ppt here).

The first four slides show the percent of peak trips that took equal to or less than that amount of time to travel through the tunnel. So for example in fall 2008 71% of AM southbound trips took less than or equal to 8 minutes, dropping to 56.1% in the fall 2009 and rebounding very slightly to 56.5% in the spring of 2010.

The next four slides compare the data points (fall 2008 to fall 2009 and fall 2009 to spring 2010), which gives you the percent change in trips which took equal to or less than that amount of time to travel through the tunnel. From the pervious example this means 14.9% few trips were completed in less than or equal to 8 minutes between fall 2008 and fall 2009, and .4% more trips were completed in less than or equal to 8 minutes between fall 2009 and spring 2010.

Below are some observations after looking at the data:

  • AM service in both directions degraded with the introduction of Link but has not seen additional degradation since then.
  • PM service in both directions degraded with the introduction of Link, with this trend continuing in a significant way between the fall 2009 and spring 2010 data points. The spring 2010 service change eliminated the route 194 (4 buses per hour southbound and northbound) and added the 76, 77, 216, 218 and 316 (roughly 10 buses per hour northbound and  7 buses per hour southbound in the PM peak) to the DSTT, increasing the number of buses in the DSTT by 6 buses per hour northbound and 3 buses per hour southbound.
  • PM southbound travel is the slowest with only 57% of trips being completed in equal to or less than 9 minutes. Holding all else equal it appears that the addition of Link had roughly the same impact on travel times as the spring 2010 service changes.
  • PM northbound travel has seen the most significant degradation of  service, partly because it initially had very good performance and partly because of the addition of the out of service security sweep of Link at Westlake. Travel times are now more in line with those of PM southbound travel.

All this data jives with my personal experiences and the internal report Bruce reported on last week. The introduction of Link certainly increased travel times for buses in the DSTT, but the addition of buses in spring 2010 also had a significant impact on PM travel times.

Bus Brands

Photo by Atomic Taco

One important usability enhancement for transit services is branding. Indeed, a difficult-to-quantify benefit of rail is that it immediately communicates to the average North American frequent, limited-stop, all-day service, and dedicated right of way*. Conversely, buses mean indeterminate service hours, frequency, and operation in traffic. For all the differentiation that one can achieve between buses, for people who aren’t paying attention, any sort of bus stop is a totem of service uncertainty.

That said, it’s worthwhile to help out people who are paying attention, and proper bus branding can tell people a lot without requiring encyclopedic knowledge of the bus system. Los Angeles County has a complex but clearly defined hierarchy. Here in King County, we have basically three bus brands**:

  • RapidRide: all-day frequent service, limited stops, fare inspection. Other once-promising aspects (off-board payment, especially) have been significantly diluted.
  • Sound Transit Express: Limited-stop, long-haul, freeway based, (generally) all day. For the most part, not particularly frequent.
  • Metro: Everything else. It might be more frequent than RapidRide or come by twice a day.

I think there are a lot of problems with the way this is set up. For one thing, ST and Metro seem more concerned with getting credit for what they’re paying for rather than establishing service levels with their brands. So, for instance, the peak-only, largely freeway-based 555/556 is an ST route while the peak-only, freeway based 212 is not.  The 255 and 550 have very similar character and yet are served by different agencies. I’m open to persuasion as to what service threshold should split the brands, but basing it entirely on the revenue source is nearly useless to the customer. It’s not totally useless due to different fare policies, but that’s a whole different rant (and off-topic for this thread).

At the same time, there are occasional proposals to add still more bus brands. There are quite a few routes in the Metro system that are just a fare inspector away from the RapidRide level of service. A few years ago, there was talk about separately branding the trolleybus network. There are mutterings that Seattle’s pending investments in priority bus corridors should spawn a new brand to highlight the new level of service. And the frequent transit network would be another good basis on which to highlight certain service.

What do you think? Have we reached a saturation point with bus brands? If not, what should be the service level definitions?

* The resurgence of streetcars may dilute some aspects of this brand; we’ll see.

** Leaving aside Community Transit, private lines, and other randomness.

Seattle Weekly: Bike Lobby, The New KKK

Copenhagen Winter Cycle Chic by Colville-Andersen

Update 5:02 – An update from Mike Seely’s piece. “Smith called back to say he regrets the KKK analogy. He feels, in retrospect, that it was over-the-top and obscures some of his more substantive points. “It’s the thinking about special treatment and blaming others that’s the issue. The violence is simply beyond comparison,” he says.”


The back and forth between Mike Seely at The Seattle Weekly and Tom Fucoloro at the Seattle Bike Blog about the 125th St rechannelization just went there.

David Smith, who is an advocate for “vehicular cycling“, a belief that over the last 5 or so years has been complete pummeled in the cycling community as ineffective at increasing safety, cycling rates and is suitable only for hardcore and fit “cycle jocks” was quoted saying;

“What we have now is, in my opinion, a full-blown, ripe, mature segregationist movement,” he continues. “Instead of white’s-only drinking fountains, we now have ‘bikes are good, cars are bad.’ We’re getting bike lanes painted into the streets that are a systematic violation of the rules of the road. Bike advocates, which have taken control of the mayor’s office and SDOT–it’s a national movement, so I don’t just want to pick on Seattle here–they use the same ways of thinking as the Ku Klux Klan used: ‘We are the good people; you are the bad people; we deserve special treatment; and if anything goes wrong, it’s all your fault.’ Isn’t that how we treated African-Americans at one time?”

Two things. First off the anti-bike facility commentary has completely gone over the top and in this case I find completely offensive. Talking about the KKK adds nothing to the discussion. Nothing.

Second Mike Seely does a disservice to his readers, intentionally distorting his reporting by only interviewing people that agree with him. He has shown he obviously doesn’t like the bicycling community. David Smith’s belief that vehicular cycling is superior has lost out because it just don’t jive with reality and represents a small minority of the cycling community. Most people simply aren’t interested in, willing to or even physically able to ride in traffic like a vehicle. David is right, the push for cycling facilities like those in Copenhagen has taken a hold in the US and around the world, but that is because it works.

$400k = 20+ Ticket Machines

Front of a Swift TVM
A ticket machine for Swift BRT, photo by author

One mitigation measure suggested in Metro’s No Ride Free Simulation Study is “implementing ticket machines and/or ORCA readers at high boarding locations along Second, Third and Fourth Avenues.” The goal is to have passengers pay before they board the bus like on Link light rail or Swift BRT. When combined with a proof-of-payment (POP) system, the all door boarding benefit of the Ride Free Area can be retained.

The introduction of RapidRide C, D, and E Lines in the next two years would presumably bring ORCA readers and some kind of POP to the busiest Downtown Seattle stops. Ticket machines would allow cash payers to pay before boarding.

How much would the ticket vending machines (TVMs) cost? The $400,000 per year that the City of Seattle pays Metro for the RFA is enough to buy at least twenty Swift style ticket vending machines. That’s enough to equip every RapidRide stop within the RFA* with a TVM and for six other busy stops downtown.

I say at least twenty because I’m assuming a total cost per TVM of $20,000 based on Community Transit’s costs for Swift’s TVMs including spares, the management system, taxes, and contingency. The TVMs themselves cost $9,000 (accepts coins and cards) to $13,000 (accepts coins, cards and bills) per unit. I think there is potential for cost savings if Metro leverages the City of Seattle’s existing infrastructure which supports over 1,600 parking pay stations and off-board TVMs on the South Lake Union Streetcar.

I’m not suggesting that the city spend all $400,000 on ticket machines but merely pointing out how much that amount could buy. It’s not an insignificant amount. It isn’t a new concept either, hundreds of stops in Central London’s “cashless zone” have ticket machines for fare pre-payment since 2003.

*According to Metro’s maps there are 14 RapidRide stops in the RFA. Stop pairs are on 3rd Ave at Yesler, Cherry, Seneca, Pike, Virginia, and Bell. For C & D lines there are another two stops, on 2nd & Seneca and 2nd & Columbia. I’m not sure why the E Line (358) doesn’t have a stop at 5th & Jackson.

**Disclaimer: The author is currently employed by the City of Seattle. However, all opinions expressed in this article are completely his own and may not reflect the views of anyone else.

Dow Constantine wants your wasted heat

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

You turn on a shower.  Your hot water heater takes water that’s the same temperature as the ground (roughly 50F, depending on the season) and heats it up to around 120F.  The water runs in pipes through your walls (losing some of this heat to the outside), then you mix it with some cold water to bring it down to 105 or so (an unnecessary increase of entropy, which wastes energy), it runs by your body once, then you dump almost all of that beautiful, expensive heat down the drain.

But King County Executive Dow Constantine, working with the FreeHold group, wants to take some of that heat you’re wasting and heat other buildings with it.  They are also using ground source heat pumps, adding a smart grid, supplying district heat and cooling, recovering methane from landfill waste, harvesting rainwater, and even want to add a new Sounder station at Interbay.  The entire Interbay project will be mixed use with offices, retail, and industrial all sharing the same campus and sometimes the same building. 

Check the project out (PDF of features here, sales PDF here).  Want to save some of that wasted heat yourself?  Consider shower heat recovery.  It’s just a coil of copper tubing around your shower drain, and pays back quickly for new construction, and in a reasonable number of years for many retrofit installations.

Bus Driver of 2010

Federico “Fred” Banzuela

Yesterday Metro had a  surprise event to award Federico “Fred” Banzuela the title of driver of the year (2010). Congrats Fred!

Metro’s press release below.

A U.S. Army veteran with a long history of service to his country and his county was chosen today as the King County Metro Transit Operator of the Year for 2010.

Federico “Fred” Banzuela, 61, is the latest in a long blue-and-teal line of bus drivers who demonstrate safe driving skills, exceptional customer service, and an outstanding overall work record. It is a peer award, with the winner selected by other Metro drivers.

“Fred is somebody who always has public service in mind,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “He served our country in the Army, including a tour of duty in Iraq six years ago. At Metro, he continues to distinguish himself every day in the level of service he provides to his bus riders and his co-workers.”

More after the jump. Continue reading “Bus Driver of 2010”

News Roundup: Shrink the Service Area

Photo by Zargoman

This is an open thread.

Loop, Exchange, or Transit Center?

Federal Way TC, by Atomic Taco

Some of you may find this trivial, but nomenclature can often play a big role in defining how a transit system is marketed and ultimately how it’s communicated to its customers.  Take our transit center, for example– loosely defined as a hub where connecting services converge upon each other to serve one geographic concentration.  Yet, you wouldn’t be able to easily extract this definition from the term itself.

To a non-regular rider, a transit center could convey something entirely different.  In fact, a planner from Ottawa I recently spoke to was confused by our use of the term and wasn’t fully aware that it simply means a place where a lot of transit connects.  Canadians will use ‘transit loop’ or ‘exchange’ to describe exactly the same thing.  The latter is a term I’m personally a fan of because it literally describes movement from one medium to another.  Ask someone what they think of when they hear the word “exchange” and they’ll likely say something about the NYSE or a marketplace of sorts.

Let’s be clear here– transit riders aren’t commodities to be shipped from route to route, they’re people.  But they’re also customers that can cognitively capitalize on the utility of our nomenclature.  If a “transit exchange” can convey things “transit center” can’t, then that’s the better card to play.

Fall 2011 Service Changes Details

On May 31st the County Council adopted the fall service changes which we’ll see shortly. Included at the end of the press release was a handy summary of the service changes, detailing the change in service hours and how it relates to other changes.

The largest changes are coming to the Eastside with the launch of RapidRide B Line and the associate restructuring. Other changes include increased mid-day service on the 54 (RapidRide C Line as of next year), additional service across SR-520, and some TransitNow partnership service.

Check out the table below the jump. Continue reading “Fall 2011 Service Changes Details”

Ridership on Route 42

Photo of Route 42 bus interior, completely empty.
Route 42 -- Photo by Oran

In a recent post, Martin made the case — based on his own experience, and the 2009 route-level data — for abolishing the underperforming and almost entirely redundant Route 42. I think that post and the subsequent discussion demolished any reasonable argument in favor of the 42 based on mobility (“mobility” meaning the idea that transit agencies should attempt to provide some service within walking distance of every urbanized part of their service area). In this post, I’ll discuss more recent stop- and route-level data.

Continue reading “Ridership on Route 42”

The Delridge TMP Corridor

Now that I’ve beaten to death Seattle’s options for its three high capacity transit corridors (plus two in the center city), it’s time to look at what the other 12 corridors might look like in the Transit Master Plan.

SDOT and Nelson/Nygaard have not completed the plan, but they did brief the City Council on an example treatment, West Seattle’s Delridge corridor (slide 14). For a mere $1m in capital costs and $5m in annual operating costs, these street improvements could bring 2030 ridership to 6,600 per weekday, for a net increase of about 1,000.*

The cumulative changes save about 1.7 minutes on a typical trip end-to-end.

* Note: Nelson/Nygaard confirms the slide from which I got these numbers has a typo. The “annualized capital cost per ride” is not $35, but about 10 cents.

The New Ferry Fare Proposal


Photo by AdonisPhotos

Many companies practice price discrimination, charging different customers different prices for the same good or service to maximize revenue. Think of coupons, matinee movies, senior or bulk discounts. The Washington State Ferry System practices price discrimination. For instance, they charge senior passengers half the adult fare, and raise most vehicle fares in summer in response to increased seasonal vehicle demand.

When WSF had growing ridership, they charged school aged children half the adult fare, just like seniors. During several fare changes since 1998, WSF reduced the youth discount – as well as the bulk discount on the 10-ride passenger pass – to its present level of 20% off.

According to the Office of Financial Management, 16.2% of Washington’s children live in poverty compared to 7.7% of seniors and 11.7% of adults. Yet a child (age 6 to 18) pays 60% more than a senior (even non-residents) for the same ferry trip. It costs over 20% more for an adult to take a child roundtrip on the ferry than it costs that adult to take a motorcycle (non-peak, Cross Sound roundtrip). The youth discount is far too small. Increasing the youth discount could increase ferry fare revenue since families could better afford to take the ferry instead of driving around.

Instead of increasing the youth discount, WSF’s new fare proposal decreases the youth discount and the 10-ride pass discounts, while it maintains the senior passenger discount and actually lowers fares for some vehicles. Drivers of small vehicles (< 14’) will pay less than their current fare, and supersize vehicles (20’ to 22’ long) will pay less than half their current round trip costs if they use the multi-ride standard vehicle pass next summer ($21.14 versus $45.60 today). As of Fall 2012 October 2013, a senior driving a small vehicle Cross Sound westbound in winter will pay only 90 cents more than an adult walk-on passenger. This fare proposal will further discourage families from using the ferries while making ferry use cheaper for small vehicles and 20’ to 22’ vehicles – especially for senior and commuter drivers.

The ferry system has lost over 15% of its riders since 1999. Couldn’t the disproportionate fare increases on tickets purchased by families be a cause of those declines? The relationships between the fares matter. They influence rider behaviors, the mix of vehicles versus passengers, fare revenue collected, as well as the demographics of ferry dependent communities. Our government must fix the state’s ferry fare structure. The new plan makes it worse.

[Editor’s Note: The Washington State Transportation Commission is holding their final meeting on this subject Wednesday, August 24th, at 1pm in Belltown.]

Ms. Dasch serves on the Anderson Island Ferry Issues Study Committee. Anderson Island is served by Pierce County Ferries, not Washington State Ferries, although PCF tends to use WSF fares as a guideline.