2010 Route-Level Data

For those of you who just can’t get enough data, I have a present: Metro’s 2010 route-level performance data in Excel format. For ease of reference, I’m including it all here along with the same data for 2009 and, courtesy of Mike Shekan, similar data from 2008. If you don’t have anything that can read Excel files, open it in Google Docs and export it in the format of your choice.  Here’s a chart of of the top 20 routes by annualized ridership:

Per Metro’s policy, this performance data is annualized data based on the 3rd quarter of 2010, same as Metro’s 2009 data. This means the ridership in this chart is simply the number of riders for that quarter multiplied by four, rather than the true ridership; similarly with all other numbers in this spreadsheet. I have a couple of posts coming up where I’ll drill down into this data and compare it to prior years. Also, note that the 2008 data is formatted slightly differently, and the routes are broken out differently, so some care is required when comparing that data to 2009 and 2010. Enjoy!

Update: I’ve modified this chart to correctly include RapidRide A.

Why the Roosevelt tiny 10% upzone isn’t enough

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Several Roosevelt neighborhood plan supporters are claiming that Roosevelt’s new zoning will triple the existing population within 1/2 mile of the new rail station.  At first I was tricked – triple the zoning is at least a win for Seattle, and probably as much zoning as I would have asked them for.  But some of the numbers didn’t quite make sense. 

Architect John H. Adams ran a density study, which is where these numbers come from.  But even though that study seems to indicate a tripling of density, it still has numbers like 1,000 new units.  Can there really only be 333 units currently?  And then I saw it – Mr. Adams is comparing current population with future zoning – not current zoning vs. future zoning.  Reading into his study a bit, it’s clear that the new zoning only increases potiential units by 10%.

Why this matters is that we clearly won’t get anything close to the number listed in future zoning.  The only way to do that is to bulldoze the entire area to the ground, and build up a maximum number of units on every single property.  Except in major urban renewal projects (which is clearly not called for here), this doesn’t happen.  How development works is that over time inefficient buidings (say, a 1 story building in a 6 story zone) become worth less than the potential profit that comes by building up.  That new building still rarely comes anywhere close to the maximum number of units, because as a new building it’s generally marketed as high-end and includes large units.  Over time, most of the buildings that are widely different than their potential height are replaced.  But what about the 4-story units in a 6-story zone?  It would take a very high price per unit or very low construction cost to make money on bulldozing that building, since (profit) = (value of additional units) – (construction cost) and you aren’t adding that many new units.  So the end result of upzoning by 10% isn’t a tripling of units – it’s probably an increase by about 10%.

Ok, but how much upzoning does the Roosevelt area need?  I’d argue that Seattle needs to at least match WA’s rate of growth if we’re able to even keep up with sprawl, much less reduce it.  That means every single neighborhood is due for at least a doubling of their current zoned capacity, since WA’s population has doubled since the mid 70’s while our population has stayed roughly constant.  And that’s ignoring the fact that this is a light rail station, which should have a large potential for growth.  But doubling the zoned capacity should be an absolute minimum.

Subarea Equity

Subareas (globaltelematics.com)

There are a lot of engineers, both on stage and in the seats, so it’s not surprising that when I point out that ST’s subarea equity formula isn’t perfect, it spawns a couple of dozen comments trying to find the perfect formula.

Precise formulas are not the answer. In general, arbitrary divisions are obstacles to sensible resource allocation. A flexible policy is one that can better serve regional needs and win votes. And the point of my East Link post is that current policy is flexible.

In fact, a flexible policy within the framework of a subarea rule probably works out best in practice. Voters do seem to show little regional solidarity and resent dollars moving elsewhere. Furthermore, when ST3 rolls around subarea equity may guard against some cynical maneuvers that the ST board could try. It’s best to leave well enough alone.

More than a Monument is Missing


Seattle Waterfront Streetcar (Oran)

I’d normally vote “Yes” on the Deep Bore Tunnel for two simple reasons: the funnel shape of Seattle and the shortage of through transportation corridors. But on election day, I’ll certainly vote “No”, and get active on a voter initiative to amend the state constitution, for two more reasons.

One, I will no longer accept any state transportation project through my city without a major transit component specifically designed into it. And two, our constitution’s present definition of “highway uses” is fifty years out of date. Our dependence on automobiles is now our chief obstacle to personal freedom. Our fathers’ highway system- and their State of Washington-don’t’ work for us anymore.

Meantime, the entire politics of the DBT has one glaring omission: a serious effort to give public transit the place in the Waterfront project it desperately needs and hasn’t got. More after the jump.

Continue reading “More than a Monument is Missing”

DBT Adds 47,500 New 60W Incandescent Light Bulbs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Seattle PI reports that the DBT will use quite a bit of energy – specifically 25 million kilowatt-hours per year.  Running a quick calculation, that’s equivalent to 47,500 60W light bulbs burning all day long, every day.  That’s like every single Seattlite leaving an extra non-efficient light bulb on for about 2.5 hours a day.  47,500 is a big number and is hard to visualize, so I’ve done it for you.  Here’s what 47,500 light bulbs looks like.  I recommend dark sunglasses.

First Hill Streetcar Fearmongering

People fear change for many reasons. In the International District, unfounded fears have reared their ugly head again, this time in opposition to tracks for the First Hill Streetcar.

The City’s Charles Street Service Center, at 8th and Dearborn, is to be the site of the streetcar maintenance facility. Lead tracks will extend south from the line at Jackson to Dearborn. These will be the same as any other streetcar – downtown Portland, the South Lake Union Streetcar, and many others around the US and the world.

I could understand if this were an opposition, say, along a major cycling route – cyclists riding parallel to the tracks can catch a wheel in them. I could also understand an issue if there were fast-moving trains here. But – neither of these are the case. The Seattle Chinatown International District preservation and development authority, or SCIDpda, is “worried” and “concerned” that people crossing the street will trip and fall.

Now, when I first heard about this, I was given an example of a senior citizen catching a walker or cane in the rails. I can see that happening, as there’s senior housing right next to 8th – so I asked how often it happens. It turns out… it doesn’t. The city hasn’t found any instances, nor has the SCIDpda, or any other groups who have picked up on this claim. What’s more, SDOT went on to investigate in Portland, just to be sure – and heard back from Good Samaritan Hospital, located in the streetcar loop in Northwest Portland, and a retirement facility next door. They’ve never heard of a problem.

These groups say their concerns are being ignored – but they claim “hazards” and “risk” without any evidence at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if street safety improves – as crossings and sidewalks will be improved throughout this project. If there were ever a legitimate claim here, it’s lost in an unwillingness to accept reality.

News Roundup: Too Hot for Capitol Hill

Tacoma's New Commerce St. Station (Sound Transit)

This is an open thread.

Seafair is Here!

Seafair_LowRes-32 by ttstam

Whether you like it or not Seafair is here along with its associated traffic impacts. Below is all the transit related info riders need to survive.

Thursday, Aug. 4

9:45 a.m. – noon
1:15 p.m.-2:40 p.m.
I-90 bridge closed eastbound and westbound, mainline and express lanes – between Interstate 5 in Seattle to Island Crest Way on Mercer Island. All I-90 bus service will be rerouted to State Route 520 during the closures. From Mercer Island, bus riders can board a Metro connector to the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride to transfer to Sound Transit Express routes 550 or 554 across the lake during the I-90 closure.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Seafair is Here!”

2nd & Columbia

As we reported last week, Metro is contemplating permanent closure of the stop on Columbia just east of 2nd Ave. This stop, served by the 21X, 54, 55, 56X, 113, 120, 121, 122 and 125, is very well used, especially in the afternoon rush hour. Unfortunately, at that time of day, Columbia is typically backed up to 3rd Ave and beyond, as cars and buses queue to get on to the viaduct.

Photo from 3rd & Union looking north
June 9th, PM peak: Buses backed up to 3rd & Pike due to viaduct traffic. Photo by author.

Sometimes, accidents on the southern section of the viaduct bring traffic to a standstill, which, of course, reduces Columbia to a standstill and causes severe congestion on 3rd Ave. Even when such pathological road conditions do not exist, Columbia impacts travel times and reliability on 3rd. Were it not for the bus lane between 3rd and 2nd, and the bus signal at 2nd, I doubt buses would be able to get on the viaduct with any reliability at all. More below the jump. Continue reading “2nd & Columbia”

Interest Payments


[UPDATE 2: Dominic Holden strongly objects to my assertion that he is “implicitly comparing” the cost to other projects. I take him at his word and apologize for the error. In any case, my issue is with the frame of the PSN campaign, not Dominic.]

[UPDATE: This post is being taken as a broader attack than it is. A shaky financing plan, which might be the subject of a coverup, is a big story and an important issue. I have a very narrow objection, to the rhetoric that adding in interest cost reveals the project’s true cost, and then implicitly comparing that to other projects that don’t include the same interest payments.]

In the midst of a bunch of really damning facts about the DBT’s financing plan, Dominic Holden cites a new, inflated cost estimate for the tunnel: it’s $6.1 billion!

This is another one of those things that all project-oriented no campaigns do, and it sucks. The common way to price these projects is with year-of-expenditure or (my preference) current dollars — excluding interest. True, in some sense we’re paying the entire amount. But all of these numbers are so large that they mean anything only in the context of other projects — projects that are not priced to include interest.

I’m generally wary of household similes, but it’s like a house. No one includes the total cost of the mortgage when saying how much they paid for it, even though there are good mortgages and there are shaky ones. A shaky financing plan that leads to high interest costs is a problem, but we can only see they’re high if it’s compared to other projects.

The subtext here is that proponents have been hiding the true costs up until now. It was done to the monorail*, it was done to Sound Transit 2, and now it’s being done to the DBT. One of these projects is worse than the others, but the rhetoric is just as bad. The reject campaign is dealing with remarkably dishonest opponents, and this anti-tunnel point is not a lie per se, but it is misleading, and a misleading point used against good projects as well as bad.

* and that was a terrible financing plan, number games aside.

I’m Voting No on Referendum 1

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

When the decision came in 2009, somewhat out-of-the-blue, to replace the Viaduct with a deep bore tunnel, I was skeptical.  Still, I realized that the State was holding all the cards here.  Seattle could complain all it wanted, but at the end of the day it’s a State highway, the Governor wanted it, and the legislature likes roads and hates Seattle, so a tunnel it shall be.

One of the strengths of great leaders is that they know how to identify pressure points in the system and lean on them hard.    Mayor McGinn, on the other hand, likes to throw himself at brick walls, even (especially?) if he hasn’t found a pressure point.  The city doesn’t really have many cards to play here, and I don’t think this referendum will significantly change that.

My first instinct in this situation is to throw my hands up and declare there’s nothing to be done here. At least we won’t have that roaring viaduct through downtown, and maybe we can get on with some Seattle Streetcars and other important transit and pedestrian improvements throughout the city.  I’m perfectly happy to spend $150M of “Seattle’s” money on a tunnel through downtown Bellevue, which will at least benefit the thousands of Seattleites who visit and/or commute to the Eastside.

But then reason takes over, and there just isn’t enough lipstick in the world to make this pig of a tunnel look good.  Start with the EIS, which shows traffic getting worse through downtown as drivers avoid $9 round trip tolls and a tunnel with no downtown exits.  Then move on to the latest Federal Transit Administration letter, which warns of adverse impacts to transit in Seattle if the DBT is built as envisioned. And finally, consider the fact that WSDOT routinely over-estimates future car traffic.

As much as we might want the catharsis of building this f’ing thing and putting an end to the cursed “Seattle Process,” it’s hard to escape the fact that this project is a turd.

Oh, and by the way: the State of Washington is broke, if you haven’t heard.  Maybe the money for the new tunnel should go towards the new SR-520 bridge, which is still is still a couple billion short. Or maybe we should build the quieter 4-lane bypass viaduct and save a billion bucks.  Or maybe we should try this crazy Surface/Transit/I-5 option which seems to perform as well or better on every metric and cost less money than the tunnel.

So, I’m voting no.

2011 Primary Endorsements

Here are Seattle Transit Blog’s endorsements for the August 16th primary election. We focus on the races with more than two candidates. As always, our endorsements are meant to focus entirely on their transit and land use positions. Readers can apply other criteria as they wish.

Our editorial board consists of Martin H. Duke, Adam Parast, and Sherwin Lee, with valued input from the rest of the staff. We appreciate the help of the Transit Riders’ Union, which solicited our input for this candidate questionnaire and published the results. You can also consult the King County voters’ guide.

Please note, if we did not make an endorsement, we found no compelling reason to do so. We evaluated all primaries within King County with more than two candidates and some key races in Snohomish and Pierce county.

John Creighton

King County Council District 6: Thanks to his answers on the questionnaire, we know a lot about John Creighton‘s views on transportation, and they are largely in agreement with the editorial board’s. He has done some good things at the Port, supports further revenue authority for both Metro and Sound Transit, and will solidify the pro-transit majority on the Council.

We know less about Richard Mitchell. He supports the Congestion Reduction Charge and has an educational background that suggests that he understands transit and land use. Other media outlets indicate he would be a stronger opponent to Jane Hague, who has tentatively opposed preserving Metro service. It’s an assertion we’re ill-equipped to evaluate.

Joe McDermott

King County Council District 8: Joe McDermott has had a short but impressive term on the Council since he replaced Dow Constantine. His positions are similar to Mr. Constantine’s — solid support for preserving and reforming Metro service while proceeding with Sound Transit’s buildout. Mr. McDermott’s opponents don’t appear to have a transportation emphasis, aside from orbit.

Seattle Referendum 1: REJECT. We remain convinced by the argument that the deep-bore tunnel is a poor policy prescription from transit, land use, fiscal, and environmental perspectives; and that the surface/transit/I-5 plan is a viable way to move people if only given the chance.

Due the arcane nature of the legal text, there is a good chance rejecting this referendum does little but add a procedural step and embarrass politicians that support a poor policy decision. Although not a satisfactory outcome, there is little downside in sending a message that this plan does not have enough transit and draws on too many non-gas tax sources to subsidize roads. Here’s hoping that someone listens to it.

Many more endorsements after the jump.

Continue reading “2011 Primary Endorsements”

The Right Tool for the Job

Bike on LINK – Photo by Atomic Taco

One of the first steps into mature thinking about transportation is to remove undue necessity from transportation technologies – to talk not about what they are but what they do.  To fetishize a tool, rather than the utility the tool provides, is to make a fundamental category error.  Both autophiles and railfans make this error constantly.  What we need is not cars nor even transit per se, but mobility, whatever form that may take.

I have nothing against cars as tools (I find them necessary and useful about once a week).   What I have a problem with is the social costs imposed by the ubiquitous and even obligatory use of one tool for all tasks.  As transit advocates we get accused of making arguments about kind, as though the tool (Cars vs. Bikes!, Buses vs. Trains!) were the most important consideration.  The proper discussion is all about degree, the scale of transport required for our daily lives.

Car dependence doubly reinforces this error.  As ownership represents sunk costs – lowering the marginal cost of each individual trip – the incentives to drive soon overwhelm all other considerations.  As a result, one begins to see a car not as a tool well-suited for a particular task, but as transportation itself, appropriate (by definition!) to any trip.  To borrow an analogy from golf, car dependence puts you in the absurd position of driving, pitching, and putting with just one club (and your largest one at that)!

Though I concur with all the standard urbanist arguments, increasingly I find conservative arguments against car dependence the most compelling.  Specifically, my aim these days is to maintain a diversified portfolio of transportation choices instantly and freely available, and to use the least-intensive technology possible for each trip.  By contrast, car dependence poorly manages risk, leaves you badly overcapitalized and acutely vulnerable to price shocks, and forces you into an obligatory all-you-can-drive insurance model that is completely insensitive to usage patterns.  Such dependence actively prohibits you from scaling your life up and down as necessary, and as such it represents a considerable loss of freedom.

The familiar result is waste, as suddenly society must provide a parking space and a lane of road whether the task is as simple as a loaf of bread or as complex as hauling furniture.  We would scoff at someone who buys a $4.75 ORCA PugetPass when his/her daily commute costs $2.50, but we tend not to scoff at the pickup owner who hauls loads a handful of times a year, even though the principle is the same.

If at any given moment you can choose to walk, bike, take transit, taxi, or drive, you can properly match the tool with the task.  I would argue that this provides a liberating flexibility of movement, and a freedom of spontaneous adaptation, that car ownership actively stifles.

Family Transit Workshop Saturday

Carla Saulter and Family

As part of King County’s InMotion program, the blogosphere’s own “bus chick,” Carla Saulter, will headline run a “Family Transit Workshop” featuring tips on how to go car-free with kids.

Details: This workshop will be a casual, kid-friendly discussion group with healthy snacks provided. Free family Zoo passes (good for 2 adults and 2 children) will be given to the first ten families who arrive. All participants will receive a family transit guide to take home.
When: Saturday, 8/6, 10:00 – 11:30 AM
Where: Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP)
722 18th Ave, Squire Park

FTA: “Disappointed” with DBT, Has “Adverse” Impacts on Transit

In a pointed letter submitted to WSDOT in mid-December last year the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) criticizes the deep bore tunnel (DBT), saying it would do little to improve transit and would in fact likely have “adverse” impacts on transit “even with mitigation”. The letter, sent by FTA Region X Administrator Richard Krochalis,  a comment to the November 2010 Supplemental Draft EIS (SDEIS), states “… FTA remains disappointed [with] the Project’s impact on public transportation.”

It is normal for governmental agencies to submit comments to each other as part of the EIS process, with comments generally dry in nature and narrowly focused on refining the clarity of the document. This was only partly the case with this letter, posing many almost rhetorical questions, pointing out major gaps in the analysis, and calling the assessment of cumulative impacts “extremely optimistic”. The letter also take WSDOT to task for conveniently confusing language about transit investments which are identified in the EIS, but have no secured funding. This has been a disturbingly common meme of the pro-tunnel campaign.

While these comments are in response to the SDEIS and the details of the transit element of the plan have likely undergone some revision, the lack of secured capital and operation funds for transit investments and the large increase in surface street congestion are inherent and intractable problems with the tunnel as is.

Below are excerpts from the letter, emphasis mine:

F-004-005 We appreciate the work that went into the transit analysis. It appears to be advanced quite a bit from the previous SDEIS (e.g., assessing impacts to transit travel time). However in the broadest sense FTA remains disappointed that the Project’s impacts on public transportation are, from our perspective adverse, even with mitigation. In the short term, “Daily ridership growth between 2005 and 2015 with the 2015 Project would generally be similar to or slightly lower than ridership growth in the 2015 Existing Viaduct, depending on the screenline” (Appendix C p.222). Looking slightly farther out, transit share would grow between 2015 and 2030 due to “expanded bus and rail service, particularly Link LRT service in place by 2030, [and] higher automobile operating costs and higher parking costs.” (Appendix C, p. 224.) That is, transit share actually decreases by 2030 (SDEIS p. 215). The SDEIS ambiguously state that this decrease is both negligible and unacceptable (id.) FTA concurs that any project element that decreases transit ridership is not acceptable.

More after the jump. Continue reading “FTA: “Disappointed” with DBT, Has “Adverse” Impacts on Transit”

Endorsements Coming

I’m sure you’re all sitting there with your ballots waiting for STB to tell you what to do. Well, never fear: the editorial board is currently figuring it out. We’re shooting for Wednesday but it’ll definitely be out by Friday.

If there are any downballot races or candidates we should take notice of, let us know in the comments.

June 2011 Link Ridership

passengers crowded on a Link train
Outbound train on Monday, June 13th, 4:32 pm, an average June weekday

Central Link’s summer ridership surge continues. In June, weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 25,629/22,919/18,841. That’s up 9.5%/30.9%/35.4% over last year.

New revenue service ridership records were set on Friday, June 17th with 30,542 boardings, Saturday, June 4th, 26,089 boardings, and Sunday, June 26th, 22,922 boardings. Ridership broke the 28,000 mark for two consecutive days on Thursday the 23rd and Friday the 24th.

Sound Transit revised past estimates again. For unknown reasons, weekday estimates for March, April, and May increased by a few hundred, while April’s Saturday estimates jumped by 2,000.

For the big picture, I made a year-over-year summary of Link ridership.

Northgate Station Area Open House

Sound Transit

On Tuesday night DPD held an open house for its Northgate Station Area Community Design Study. As part of the North Link project, Sound Transit is scheduled to open an elevated station just to the west of King County Metro’s Northgate Transit Center around 2021; ST hosted an open house regarding the design of that station in May. Tuesday’s Open House was focused on future zoning, land use, pedestrian and transit connectivity, and public amenities in the areas adjacent to the station.

For those not familiar with the area, what constitutes Northgate is, like most Seattle neighborhoods, somewhat ill-defined, but is centered on I-5 and NE Northgate Way and invariably includes the Northgate Mall and Transit Center. The larger Northgate area, subsuming the neighborhoods and major institutions of Pinehust, Maple Leaf, Haller Lake, North Seattle Community College and Northwest Hospital, is designated as an Urban Center, one of only two outside the central city, and perhaps the only one that enjoys both a large amount of readily-buildable land and a favorable regulatory environment.

Northgate TC is well served by transit, but today’s built environment is not very pedestrian- or transit-oriented. The TC is surrounded by acres of surface and garage parking on two sides, with a fairly long and bleak walk to the mall or the stores on Northgate Way; to the west is I-5, forming an impenetrable pedestrian barrier with nowhere to cross between Northgate Way and 92nd St; to the south are single-family homes. The explicit goal of this community design study is to get from the status quo to the kind of vibrant, walkable, bustling place where people will want to live and work.

The Open House was structured as  a presentation followed by an informal workshop. The presentation began with a brief history of the area and DPD’s goals, then moved on to a great discussion of some basic principles of urban design, including the importance of street-level activation and landscaping to the perception of massing and height. The presentation touched on the evolution of urban design in area, noting the large, squat, widely-set-back single-use buildings typical of the 1980s and the evolution towards more pedestrian-friendly mixed use buildings of today, of which the “big-box” (actually small-and-tall box) stores on Northgate Way and the invitingly-landscaped Aljoya senior apartments and Thornton Place are good examples. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Northgate Station Area Open House”