Decision Time for Community Transit

Lynnwood Area in Alternative III

Community Transit is set to adopt its February 2012 service cut plan on September 1st. There were three original alternatives on how to cut 20% of the system. Based on public comment, they created a hybrid alternative, which has no Sunday service. Like alternative III, it aggressively restructures local service with emphasis on high-demand corridors and straighter routing. Like alternative I, it preserves the commuter one seat rides from everywhere to Downtown Seattle. There are some changes that appear in neither alternative, listed here.

Of course, you can’t get something for nothing: keeping all those different peak routes means less frequency throughout the system.

Is Route 4 Redundant?

Map of south sections of Metro routes 3 & 4
Map of south sections of Metro routes 3 & 4

About ten months go, Zach wrote a post asking whether the southern tail of Metro’s Route 4 is redundant in the context of Metro’s current bus network:

I have a distinct impression that it no longer serves any unique transit market and in fact diminishes the performance of Routes 3, 8, and 48, all of which serve unique destinations.  From 3rd/James to 23rd/Jefferson, the shared 3/4 provide 7-15 minute headways until 1am.  Once the 4 turns south on 23rd, it duplicates the 48.  From its turn at Dearborn it runs in a couplet on 24th and 26th, needlessly threading the needle between 23rd (Route 48) and MLK (Route 8).

In this post I’ll drill down into the stop-level data to answer a complementary question: Are people using the unique part of Route 4 to Judkins park and beyond? I’ll also examine stop-level data for Route 3, and suggest an inexpensive capital modification to the trolleybus network that could dramatically improve the reliability and almost double the capacity of these workhorse routes. Continue reading “Is Route 4 Redundant?”

Comments Restored

Although the timestamps and threading are not what they were, I believe I’ve recovered all the comments in various threads that weren’t about Disqus.

If you believe I’ve goofed and your eternal wisdom has been lost in the ether, let me know. Better yet, just write a new comment in the appropriate place.

You may resume regular commenting without fear of losing anything.

Update to Comments Changes

[UPDATE from Martin: Apparently we’re going to have to restore lost comments manually. It’ll take a while, but eventually most of your comments should reappear here, although timestamps and threading may be lost.]

Apparently Disqus isn’t quite ready for prime time on our blog, and was causing many people’s browsers to lock up. We’ve reverted back to WordPress comments.

RapidRide B Run Times

Chart by Atomic Taco

Atomic Taco posted this graphic on flickr based on the run cards. Blue is Bellevue to Redmond, Red is Redmond to Bellevue.

It’s no doubt an improvement on what came before, but RapidRide B is certainly quite far from a consistent end-to-end travel time.

Report: Eliminating Ride Free Area Will Hurt Tunnel

Photo by Oran

Long discussed by transit wonks, and prominently included in the recent $20 CRC deal, the elimination of the ride-free area is now just a matter of time—about 13 or 14 months. There are pros and cons to to the elimination of the RFA, but perhaps the biggest concern to many in the transit community is the effect on on travel times and reliability at the extremely busy stops on 2nd, 3rd and 4th Avenues and in the DSTT. Over the last year, Metro has simulated the increased boarding times due to RFA elimination in those locations, and the results of that study presumably fed into Metro’s decision to acquiesce to that demand. Earlier this week on STB:

“We tested this at several locations in downtown, including Third Avenue and it didn’t really create a serious problem,” Jim Jacobson, Deputy General Manager of Metro, said in an interview. “There are times when it creates problems, but that usually goes away after one signal cycle.” There will certainly be an increase in dwell times, Jacobson said, but there wasn’t much reason for alarm.

I have obtained an internal document from Metro that lays out the methodology and results of the study for 4th Ave and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), and includes a summary of the results for 2nd and 3rd Avenues, along with staff suggestions for mitigation of the increased congestion that will result.

According to the report, if the RFA were abolished tomorrow—without mitigation or service changes—bus operations on 2nd Ave, 4th Ave and 3rd Ave northbound would be slower but still acceptable; 3rd Ave southbound operations would be borderline acceptable, with no additional capacity for new service (such as the RapidRide C/D slated to start next year) and liable to tip over into failure in the event of DSTT closure or a traffic disruption downtown; and the transit tunnel would be hosed. From what the report says, Metro will have to deploy a suite of mitigation measures (suggestions include TVMs, better scheduling, lengthening bus zones, more traffic restrictions and enforcement on 3rd) on the surface streets and move some peak routes from the tunnel to 2nd/4th in order to make this work.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Report: Eliminating Ride Free Area Will Hurt Tunnel”

Changes to the Comments System

We have switched our comments system over to Disqus, a third-party comments host that supports logging in with Facebook, Twitter, and other services. Users can still post “anonymously” with the name of their choosing.

Disqus brings some unique features to the table. For example, commenters can now have avatars to show their faces. My favorite feature is that commenters can “like” comments and commenters with a Disqus account will now be able to edit their comments after posting.

One change we’re making is that instead of comments nesting deeply, they will only be able to nest one level deep, like comments on your Facebook wall. The goal is to make it so conversations are easier to follow and we hope that the commenting culture changes slightly to create new threads rather than having a deep reply chain. We hope to simplify things without hurting the ability to have the hardcore, nerdy conversations that make our comments work so well.

With change, there will always be kinks to work out. Please give our new comments system a chance and let us know what you think in this thread.

Update: We made it so the default sort order ignores “likes.”

When RPZs Attack

Photo by Oran

Sometime this month, the RPZ (restricted parking zone) permit rules will be put into effect for Zone 31 around the Rainier Beach Link Station.  To clarify, the RPZ and its rules have been there since 2009 when Link first opened, but residents will now have to start paying a $65 biannual fee for up to two permits (one for each car) per household.  The RPZ fees were waived for the first two years by the City to help neighbors transition into the RPZ.

If you want the negative slant on this, then you’ll want to see the article put out by the South Seattle Beacon, which, unfortunately, contains some inaccuracies worth pointing out:

This fee, enforced upon residents who live near the Martin Luther King Jr. and South Henderson St. intersection — or Residential Parking Zone 31 (RPZ 31) — will pay for the operating costs of the Henderson light-rail station.

The Henderson light-rail station has not generated the level of riders and revenue needed to operate, according to Sound Transit, since the city doesn’t have park-and-ride lots.

The Beacon notes that the enactment of the RPZ fee was initiated to help plug up funding for operating the Link Station, when in actuality, the money goes to fund municipal parking enforcement, not Sound Transit coffers.  There’s also no indication of the true nature of RPZ 31– an agreement publicly formed years ago after extensive public outreach, not some deal struck overnight.

Some of those quoted in the article imply that Rainier Valley residents are being unjustly singled out to bear the brunt of RPZ costs.  But not only are RPZs not just limited to the Valley, they’re prevalent across the city, even in neighborhoods that supposedly get the preferential rock-star treatment.  The Beacon also doesn’t any mention of an important component of the RPZ program–a discounted $10 permit available to low-income households — less than 2 cents a day over two years.

Both Adam and SDOT’s Rick Sheridan left some worthy comments on the story tackling more of the article’s misinformation, so I’ll let their words do the work.  It’s just unfortunate how many inaccuracies were produced by the story’s slant.  It needlessly creates a trap that a lot of community members and social justice advocates fall into by rhetorically alienating transit/social service providers like Sound Transit and the City, who, at the end of the day, would be doing a greater injustice by not the fighting hide-and-riders hogging parking in Rainier Valley neighborhoods.

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

News Roundup: Disastrous State

Photo by SD70MACMAN

This is an open thread.

Here Comes the Tunnel

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Well, I guess it’s all over but the shouting.  Barring a major upset, Referendum 1 is going to be approved and the deep bore tunnel will happen.  At least we’ll get a new waterfront out of it.  I’m sorry we couldn’t convince our neighbors here in Seattle that this project was a poor use of limited dollars. Unlike Matt, I’m not interested in continuing to fight this battle.

On the plus side, it’s great that we’ve moved the debate this far.  The battles of the past few years were about the legitimacy of mass transit in general and light rail in particular.  Those battles were, in a sense, easier, because they didn’t involve zero-sum tradeoffs. Light rail is funded primarily by new tax money.  The tunnel project, on the other hand, would have meant taking existing tax money and spending less of it on single-occupancy vehicles and more on other forms of mobility.  That’s a bigger deal.  So, no surprise that it lost on the first go-round.  But considering the tunnel lost 70-30 a few years ago and then won 60-40 yesterday, I’d say public opinion is still pretty flexible on the subject.  And that gives me hope.

Proposed Anti-Tunnel Strategy

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The tunnel debate is over.  Long live the tunnel debate. 

This week’s vote may have settled the tunnel debate for now, but that’s no reason for anti-tunnel advocates to give up.  No multi-billion dollar yet-to-be-funded-or-started project can be considered a done-deal until opening day.  Consider the Superconducting Supercollider, which started off as a $4.4B project and was finally cancelled once they were nearly finished but the price had risen to $12B.  Or the Monorail, which failed while shovels were hovering over the ground. 

Consider that the tunnel has to dig under a Federal Building, who’s owner has refused to let the state dig under their building.  Or consider the potential increase in the cost of borrowing now that the US has an AA+ credit rating.  Or consider the fact that this project is still not completely funded, nor are several other multi-billion dollar road projects in this state.  No, I’m not hoping for massive financial failure of this project – much of my resistance to it is because of how much it will cost us.  But if an unavoidable roadblock should occur, those that prefer no Highway 99 through downtown should be prepared.

Here’s my proposed strategy.  Have a campaign ready to go to the council, to the then-Mayor, and to the then-Governor.  The campaign message: let’s try life without the tunnel first.  Temporarily add more transit, close the thing down for a month, and see what happens.  Mayhem, madness, and gridlock?  Ok, you’re right – we will have to deal with whatever massive roadblock is in the way.  But if nothing happens, would you consider just tearing the thing down and saving billions?

North Corridor Alternatives Analysis Update

Performance Measures - ST AA Draft Results

Sound Transit is getting close to releasing the results of the North Corridor Alternatives Analysis (AA) and has started to brief partner agencies on the draft results. We wrote about the alternatives analysis previously. While bus options are being considered the most relevant question this analysis will answer is how different Link alignments, I-5 and SR-99 compare. Above is a table taken from a ST briefing given to the Edmonds City Council on August 2nd.

The draft results conclude that a SR-99 alignment would be 1.7 miles longer, require 10 additional trains for the segment, have a segment travel time of 4 more minutes, have 4,000 fewer daily riders, benefit new riders less and generally have the same environmental impacts beside impacts to properties.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “North Corridor Alternatives Analysis Update”

Seattle Sends $60 License Fee to Voters

As expected, the Seattle City Council put a 10-year, $60 vehicle license fee on the November ballot yesterday. I broke out the resolution in detail on Monday.

As far as I can tell, there was no change to the original text in yesterday’s proceedings, so my previous analysis stands.

In general, the stated plan assigns low priority to BRT or Rapid Streetcar corridors on Madison, Eastlake, or to Fremont and Ballard. However, the spending plan can be adjusted by a majority vote of the Council, and there’s still another $7m/year of authority on the table. So ultimately, it’s about electing good Councilmembers that will direct the money to the right kinds of projects. I hope you voted yesterday.

Streets For All Seattle had good things to say about the measure in a press release. The Mayor’s Office praised the resolution as a positive step, although it lamented not having “more flexibility to use vehicle license money to implement the Transit Master Plan, including the potential to connect more of our neighborhoods by rail.”

Game over: What comes next after tunnel debate?

Tunnel opponents (and I am one) have failed to make their case to the voters who cast their ballots in the election on Referendum 1, for all practical purposes an up or down vote on the deep bore tunnel. The question some of us find more interesting than parsing whether this means Seattle is becoming decisive all of a sudden, or if this was a referendum on the Mayor, is what do we talk about now. The answer, I think, is shifting our attention to the far more critical issue of appropriate land use decisions around light rail stations and the expansion of Transit Oriented Development beyond light rail station areas.

The Mayor has conceded that “he public said move ahead with the tunnel, and that’s what we’re going to do.” That doesn’t mean the tunnel is a good idea. And it doesn’t mean the tunnel is going to happen. The project has lots of problems.

But we do have a chance to shift our focus from the tunnel project to a broader range of more relevant and, in the long run, important issues. How will we get the density we need around light rail stations? What will we do to create sustainable financing for regional and local transit? What can we do to encourage regional governance? Is there a way to give Sound Transit the power to be a more powerful TOD agency? Can we get all these things done?

This is what the Mayor and all sides of the tunnel debate should start talking about. Putting the tunnel aside doesn’t mean acquiescence but pragmatism. The tunnel is truly a wasteful use of resources at a time when we’re seeing a decline in Vehicle Miles Traveled and when we have a policy agenda focused on transit and alternatives to driving. Nevertheless, the opportunities from shifting our discussions away from tunnel or no tunnel and toward these opportunities far out weighs the cost of the tunnel even with overruns and cut budgets.

2nd Cascades Train to B.C. Will Continue Indefinitely


All Aboard Washington has the scoop:

We’ve just received word that Canadian Minister for Public Safety, Vic Toews, announced in a CBC interview this morning, “Upon careful review of the business case and despite some significant financial constraints, the Canada Border Services Agency has decided that it will continue to provide publicly funded border clearance service to Amtrak’s second daily train.”

This is great news. Even after discounting the effects of the 2010 Olympics and the addition of the 2nd train, ridership has been growing faster to/from Vancouver BC than any other destination, up 24% in 2011 over 2010. Though capacity constraints are well-known and there is not much room for growth, it is encouraging to see the service being well-utilized.

Though Canada has perhaps the least rail-friendly federal government in the rich world, the staffing challenges presented by arrivals spaced 11 hours apart are not insignificant, and I hope in the coming years that Amtrak, WSDOT, BC, and Ottawa will work creatively to streamline service and clearance procedures so that these issues are minimized. Even rail advocates should recognize that the cost of CBSA services at Pacific Central station is a steep C$1,500/day. (Interestingly, until yesterday seats on trains 513/516 beyond October 1st were going for $83 each way, more than double the fare on 510/517. The fare has since returned to the standard $38.  Was Amtrak briefly considering passing the border fee onto passengers?)

Of course, most welcome would be a provincial partnership with ODOT and WSDOT for operations funding and capital improvements, but don’t hold your breath.  I have an email in to Laura Kingman at WSDOT for more information, and will update this post if any new info becomes available.

On Dow Constantine


[UPDATE: Ungratefully, I’ve already managed to take for granted successful negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union to accept a labor cost freeze that saves 130,000 hours a year of bus service. So make that three accomplishments.]

It’s time to recognize the quiet accomplishments of County Executive Dow Constantine. In his short time in office, he’s had two three significant transit-related political achievements: unanimous adoption of Metro’s new service allocation guidance, which banished the hated 40/40/20 rule; and a 7-2 vote in favor of a temporary tax increase to maintain Metro’s service level, avoiding potential failure at the ballot box and buying time for a long-term solution. For good measure, he also threw in elimination of the Ride Free Area, about which many transit reformers are cautiously optimistic.

To not only achieve these things, but obtain broad consensus for them, is a significant political achievement. The next battle will be in Olympia, and here’s hoping he’s able to match his local success there.

Improving Routes 10 and 12

Photo by Rob Ketcherside

In two previous posts on STB, I’ve discussed the possibility of improving Route 16 based on timepoint data showing unreliability on one problematic segment, and presented detailed stop-level data showing ridership patterns on Route 36. In this post I’m going to meld the two and suggest improvements to the Route 10/12 pair that would improve reliability and more closely match service with ridership, introducing savings by limiting service to 1st and 19th Avenues.

1st Ave

Routes 10 and 12 stand out immediately on a map of downtown’s bus service as they possess a unique through-routing arrangement: trips from the 10 come into downtown on Pine St, turn into 12s, head down 1st and turn left on Marion; similarly, 12s come in on Madison, turn in to 10s, and head out on Pike. (Two late-night trips on the 10 turn back on Pike St and head back to Capitol Hill; service on the 12 ends before service on the 10). Unlike typical through-route patterns, such as from Ballard to West Seattle, this does not have the effect of reducing bus travel time through downtown, or providing one-seat rides between popular destinations: surely no-one is going to ride from Capitol Hill to First Hill via 1st Ave. The main benefit is that it saves a short walk for some riders going to or from stops on 1st Ave.

As part of the regular pattern, Routes 10 and 12 serve four stops on 1st Ave: northbound just south of Seneca, and just north of University; and southbound mid-block between Union and University, and between Seneca and Spring. The Seneca/Spring stops are two blocks north of the nearest stops on Madison and Marion; the Union/University stops are about four blocks walk to 4th & Pike, which all service from Downtown to Capitol Hill passes through. If these stops were closed, it seems likely that virtually all current riders would simply switch to the nearest open stop, which for most people would probably be two to six minutes walk away.

Much more below the jump.

Continue reading “Improving Routes 10 and 12”