Ridership Patterns on Central Link

Chart of Ridership Patterns on Central Link
Ridership Patterns on Central Link

Update: Two clarifications: This data is per-train, and based only on weekday ridership.

I’ve had a number of requests to “do one of your charts for Link”, and so I’ve worked with the folks at Sound Transit to assemble the required data, and here’s the result. STB has presented similar data before, but this is more recent and more detailed. What I see in the data, after the jump. Continue reading “Ridership Patterns on Central Link”


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Within the first few minutes of Urbanized, the new movie from Helvetica director Gary Hustwit, a voiceover lists the various forces that shape urban design, including architects, planners, zoning laws, and citizens.  That last one is accompanied by a visual of an elderly woman ostensibly making a public comment at some sort of community input session. I saw the film earlier tonight at a screening in Seattle, in a theater full of designers and architects, and there was an audible snicker when the woman came on stage.  Anyone who’s been in those input sessions can relate, but the snicker was interesting because in the end, Hustwit ends up more-or-less on that woman’s side, in favor of maximum community involvement in any urban project.

Urbanized, like Objectified before it, tells the story of the city through a series of vignettes in various cities.  There’s a project to reduce violence in a Cape Town slum through urban design, new architecture in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, New York’s High Line, and several more. Some of these will be familiar.

The project that comes in for the most unsympathetic treatment is Stuttgart 21, an effort to build a new high-speed rail line through Stuttgart.  It’s bracing to watch protesters getting beat up and sprayed with water cannons for opposing the project.  Alex Steffen, who moderated a Q&A with the director afterward, compared the Stuttgart project to Seattle’s deep-bore tunnel project.

How could a new high-speed rail project be so hated in a film that’s otherwise a paean to all things urban and non-automobile? The answer, I think, is that the Stuttgart project is presented as an example of elite-driven, top-down approach to planning, which Hustwit seems to eschew in favor of an organic, bottom-up approach that draws on the wisdom and distinct natures of the communities in which they are involved. The protesters are the bottom-up story, fighting to preserve the 100-year-old train station and the 200-year-old trees around it.

The top-down vs. bottom-up argument surfaces repeatedly. The High Line story, for example, focuses on how the two men who spearheaded the project were just two guys living nearby who wanted to do something, and rallied the community around it. Brad Pitt’s efforts to build houses in New Orleans, by contrast, are treated skeptically as the work of an outsider.

This is something that many of us in the transit community should take to heart: listen to your community.  Work with them.  Approach grand projects with humility.  Build grassroots support.  Don’t rely on planners in ivory towers to create a perfect, rational design and expect it to get implemented. That concerned citizen in the community input session is a potential ally, or at least a rich source of information and local knowledge.

That said, there’s something simplistic about the way Hustwit approaches the top-down vs. bottom-up dichotomy.  I wish he’d honed his film here a bit more.  The bottom-up stories don’t seem to involve serious trade-offs.  They’re either about providing new infrastructure to communities that have no money and no political power (in the slums of Santiago and Cape Town) or preserving things that already exist in wealthy communities (the High Line, the old Stuttgart train station).   What we didn’t see was an example of a bottom-up, grassroots effort to take something away from a relatively powerful or wealthy* community.  I have no doubt that such examples are few and far between.  But that in a nutshell is the dilemma for the modern new urbanist: they always seem to be taking things away from first world people and communities: parking spots, highway lanes, cars.

Is it possible to engineer a bottom-up, grassroots effort to re-prioritize the urban fabric of a developed nation away from cars?  That’s the question I’d love to see answered.

* when I say “wealthy” I simply mean “lives in a house with running water and electricity in a country with where they have the right to vote and organize.”  In other words, a citizen of a developed nation.

RapidRide B Line Opening Day Ride

B Line testing at BTC, photo by Oran

In honor of our spirited tradition of gathering to ride RapidRide lines on their inaugurations, we will be hosting an informal group ride to try out the B Line this Saturday.  The B Line will actually be fare-free all weekend, the first day of revenue service starting on Monday.  If you’d like to join us, we will be meeting at Bellevue Transit Center at 10am, this Saturday, October 1st.

Keep in mind that this is pretty informal so there won’t be a venue or speakers or anything like that.  Depending on general sentiment, the group can get off for a food/coffee stop – in other words, there’s no itinerary either.  Anyone coming from Seattle can board a 550 at International District Station at 9:32a, which gets you to BTC at 9:56a.  Try not to be terribly late because last year, the group ended up being split between two coaches.

News Roundup: Pierce Transit Armageddon

Photo by Oran

This is an open thread.

Streets For All: Ongoing Volunteer Events

For those that would like to get involved in the Streets For All Campaign (Yes on Prop. 1) here are two weekly events that will help out the campaign and get you plugged into the campaign.

  • Phone banks four nights a week (Monday through Thursday) from 5:30pm to 8:30pm at the Futurewise office (814 2nd Ave, Suite 500) from now until Election Day. Anybody is welcome to attend and refreshments are provided.
  • Volunteer happy hour at Fado Irish Pub (801 1st Ave) from 4:30pm to 6:30pm Friday. Come check in about the campaign, share stories, and blow off steam. Everybody is welcome, including those that haven’t yet volunteered. This is a good opportunity to get involved and meet others that are working hard for a better transportation future for Seattle.

Phone banking can be nerve-racking at first, but once you’re in the grove it’s a very effective use of your volunteer time. If you haven’t done it for a campaign before I would strongly encourage you to try it. It’s the bread and butter of campagins.

Also, today from 5:30 to 7:30 the campaign is hosting another volunteer training event at the SvR Design office (1205 Second Avenue, Suite 200 Seattle). This is a great opportunity to learn how to effectively tell your story about why approving Prop 1 and funding transportation improvements are important to you.

The Future of the D2 Roadway

D-2 Roadway (Sound Transit)

At last week’s Sound Transit Board Meeting (video here), one of the more interesting reports was the staff analysis of the D2 roadway, which runs between I-90’s Rainier Freeway Station and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. There are also PowerPoint slides.

No matter what, these lanes will be closed to all traffic during track construction later in the decade. But afterwards, Sound Transit has always assumed that the 554 would terminate at either Mercer Island or South Bellevue Station. Metro has five peak-only routes that serve the I-90 corridor: the 212, 214, 215, 216, and 218, which together amount to about 18 trips per hour in the peak, that it might prefer to keep running into downtown. In 2010, these added up to about 1 million rides a year, or about 4,000 per day*. For these routes, there are four main options:

  • Run joint operations on the roadway, as is currently done in the DSTT. This doesn’t necessarily mean buses would still run in the DSTT itself, but will create similar reliability and schedule impacts to both buses and trains. This is the baseline assumption in the ST budget.
  • Run trains only on the roadway, forcing buses to access downtown via Rainier Avenue and S. Dearborn St. This speeds up the trains a bit but makes the buses slower and much less reliable. It saves on capital costs but Metro will pay more to operate buses.
  • Terminate Metro buses at Mercer Island or South Bellevue. This creates at least some transfer penalty for bus riders, but keeps trains fast (carrying the bulk of the riders) and saves Metro about 15,000 service hours annually, or around $1.5m, that could be invested in more service on these or other routes.
  • Squeeze the tracks on one side of the roadway, allowing a one-lane busway for peak-direction trips. ST staffer Ric Ilgenfritz testified that this is likely cheaper in capital expense than the joint operations option. See the illustration, along with some discussion, below the jump.

Continue reading “The Future of the D2 Roadway”

SLU / UW Ferry

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

FYI: There’s a mini-ferry running between South Lake Union and the University District (near Agua Verde).  The trip is $5 and takes 20 to 25 minutes.  They leave UW on the hour and SLU on the half hour, every day from 8am to 6:30pm, with an extra three hours on Fridays and Saturdays.  The boat carries 14 passengers and two bikes.

They’ll run the ferry through October (weather permitting), and will start back up next year in May.  They’re also planning on connecting SLU to Fremont.

(via The Sun Break)

To Deviate or Not to Deviate?

Edmonds Station site plan

Deciding whether or not to have a bus deviate into a transit center/park & ride loop or simply keep the route on a main arterial can often be a thorn in the side for transit planners.  On one hand, you’d eliminate transfer penalties for people connecting from route to route by turning into these transit hubs, and on the other, you’d lose any savings that you can get from keeping your buses from making all those slow turns.

There are cases when one approach will seem more advantageous than the other but sometimes there do come across opportunities for reconciliation that don’t always get taken advantage of.  Other times, they do.  A real simple and basic example of implementing smart deviation procedures is at Edmonds Station*, where, in the fall, CT routes 110 and 116 will pull into the station loop, but routes 131 and 416 won’t:

  • Having the 110 and 116 deviate into the station is really a wash in terms of net changes to operating costs, because Edmonds Station hub is the terminus for both routes anyway, which means no increase in travel times for through travelers because there aren’t really any.  The one true caveat, in this case, is that there will no longer be service to neither route will serve the Edmonds Senior Center down the road, so anyone traveling to or from the center will either have to transfer to a 131 or walk to the station.  The big benefit, of course, is that riders connecting from local service to Sounder will have but a few hundred feet to walk to catch a train.
  • Having the 131 and 416 continue by the station on Railroad Avenue, on the other hand, is the better option.  The 131 is a through-route that goes through Edmonds on its way to either Edmonds CC or Aurora Village, so a deviation could increase through travel times and operating costs.  The trade-off is roughly a 1000-foot walk for connecting Sounder riders from the stop on Railroad to the station platform.  And because the 416 is a peak-direction only commuter route, there’s no real advantage to pulling into the station bays.

While this case certainly isn’t reflective of a solution for much more complex situations in other locations, it’s encouraging to see agencies like CT move in the direction of evaluating route-specific trade-offs for this kind of thing.

*[Update 9/29 – 8:38am] In this case, I’ve learned that the Edmonds Station deviation saves time since buses won’t have to contend with the rail crossings and ferry traffic.  So while the opposite is the better bet for CT in this example, the question is still one to be asked, especially of other park-and-rides were costly deviations sometimes occur.  

UW Students: How to Ride the Bus


Happy first day of school to all the UW students out there! If you haven’t taken the bus before the video above will give you a good rundown of how it’s done, with fare payment being a notable exception (see below). UW Commuter Services has reference information here and for anyone that rides or is planning on riding the bus on a regular basis OneBusAway, created by UW students no less, is a must. It can be used online, by phone or SMS and of course smart phones.

For new and continuing students please note that all Husky Cards now have an embedded ORCA chips in then, no more quarterly U-Pass stickers. This means that you now have to “tap” your husky card on the bottom half of the ORCA card readers when paying your bus fare.

How to Propertly "Tap" an ORCA Card

A proper “tap”, seen in the photo above, involves holding your card centered over the bottom half of the machine until it beeps and a green light comes on. Don’t wave it in front of the reader, tap the upper part of the reader, or very quickly tap the reader. It won’t work and you’ll have to do it again. For those of you that rather not take your card out of your purse or wallet you can usually just push them against the reader and it will work assuming the card comes close enough to the reader and you don’t have other contact-less technology cards like security badges (although it might still work).

Please leave any other helpful tips in the comment thread below.

High Rise Buildings Are Sooooo Expensive

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

One issue that comes up frequently when discussing “towers” compared to shorter buildings is cost.  Yes, taller buildings cost more.  But not much more.  And what you spend on construction can come back in saved real estate costs (since you can build more units with the same land).

Here’s some typical cost data from the 2011 RS Means*:

Apartments, Low Rise 1-4 story, $84/sf, $95,000 per unit

Apartments, Mid Rise 5-7 story, $107/sf, $118,000 per unit

Apartments, High Rise 8-24 story, $116/sf, $115,000 per unit

Don’t get too excited that the High Rise unit is actually cheaper than the Mid Rise, it’s clearly a smaller unit.  The per sf number is more important.  But either way, that’s a very small difference in price.  And let’s compare that low rise number.  It sure sounds cheap, but let’s run some numbers.  Let’s compare 3 buildings: a 4 story, a 7 story, and a 24 story, each on the same piece of land – let’s say a 15,000sf piece of land (around 3 SF homes) that cost $4M to buy and clear.  Let’s assume each unit is 1200sf.

4 story: $4M land cost, $5M construction cost, 50 units = $181,000 per unit.

7 story: $4M land cost, $11.2M construction cost, 87 units = $175,000 per unit.

24 story: $4M land cost, $41.8M construction cost, 300 units = $153,000 per unit.

Even at a higher per sf construction cost, the tall building wins.

*”The cost figures… were derived from aproximately 11,200 projects… they include the contractor’s overhead and profit, but do not generally include architectural fees or land costs.”  These are also national averages – Seattle has a location factor of 105, so 5% should be added to any number.

Rear Door ORCA Readers Cancelled

Metro won't be doing all-door boarding but San Francisco's Muni might do it next year.

King County Metro’s 2010-2011 budget (p. 28) set aside $5.5 million to implement ORCA card readers at all doors to speed up boarding but the project has been cancelled due to issues with implementation under Metro’s complicated fare structure. The readers would have saved about a hundred daily service hours. The funds from the cancelled project will be available for projects in the 2012-2013 budget that weren’t previously funded or which require additional funds.

Metro’s explanation:

Determination has been made that rear door ORCA readers are not feasible at this time given Metro’s varied zone and special fare structure which require operator interaction with ORCA equipment to provide exceptions and correct fare categories for different riders. This continues to be an area of interest, but there is no solution currently identified and funded. Metro also continues to look for ways to increase the number of ORCA card users and off-board fare purchase.

Metro’s problem lies with the zone system and how one would pay the correct fare without driver assistance. Metro will have to face the same problem when the RapidRide E Line (Route 358) begins service in 2013. It is the only RapidRide line to cross a zone boundary. Metro has not decided on how off-board payment on that line will work but it is being discussed.

There are a few technical and policy solutions to this elaborated after the jump.

Continue reading “Rear Door ORCA Readers Cancelled”

Vehicle Miles Travelled are Bad

Aron Levy makes a case against using passenger-miles travelled as a measure of a transportation projects’ values:

Passenger-miles don’t vote. They’re not a unit of deservedness of subsidy. They’re one unit of transportation consumption. They’re like tons of staple as a unit of food production, or calories as a unit of consumption. We don’t subsidize food based on cents per calorie.

Even as a unit of consumption, there are flaws in passenger-miles as a concept, when it comes to intermodal comparisons. The reason: at equal de facto mobility, transit riders travel shorter distances than drivers. It’s very obvious when comparing total passenger-miles in transit cities and car cities (see e.g. page 36 here). Transit is slower than driving on uncongested roads, but has higher capacity than any road. In addition, transit is at its best at high frequency, which requires high intensity of uses, whereas cars are the opposite. The result is that transit cities are denser than car cities – in other words, need less passenger-miles.

This is true, using passenger-miles to compare transportation projects will make transit and walking projects compare less favourably to driving. It’s not true just that passenger-miles should not be the goal of a transportation project, something I’ll call but that passenger-miles are actually undesirable!

Of course freedom of mobility is good and allowing people to live where they want and work where they want is great, but most people would rather not spend large amounts of time travelling. And with motorized transportation, most other people sharing the mode with you do not want everyone else travelling as long a distance as possible. That’s how congestion comes about, or how you get to the video above.

Now obviously, the goal of a transportation system shouldn’t be to simply reduce travel, but a policy that included transportation and land use that worked toward a goal of people spending less time in vehicles would be a good thing.


Transit synergy, land use, and the glue that holds us together

Wide geographic coverage AND intense corridor-level density? Impossible!

Within the transit world, there seem to be two types of transit advocates — there are those who are strong believers in efficient grid-based networks meant to emphasize anywhere-to-anywhere geographic coverage, and then there are those who favor implementing high-capacity transit between urban centers to spur dense growth and land use in these corridors (let’s call them Group A B and Group B A, respectively).  There’s a lot of grey area where these two camps mix, but ultimately it shouldn’t be forgotten that both are on the same side.

Often, there gets to be a pretty weird dichotomy that plays out between both factions. All of a sudden, you start characterizing the latter, Group A, as the pro-density pro-rail long-term visionaries in contrast to the former, Group B– pro-bus pro-efficiency short-term pragmatists.  For a slightly clearer example, Human Transit highlights a good quote demonstrating this split in the context of Tampa’s Tallahassee’s recent bus network restructure (emphasis mine):

This quote from Scheib was interesting:

“If you talk to a land-use planner, typically they would want you to keep … service focused more on the downtown because they want more people to live downtown, in that dense environment. I’m all for that, I’m all for urbanization, I’m all for denser places,” Scheib said. “But the reality is that people need to get to work. And you’ve got to go where the jobs are.”

I can assure you that this change won’t damage downtown.  I was hanging around Portland’s TriMet in 1982 (in the indispensible role of teenage transit geek) when they totally restructured the inner city bus system, creating a grid pattern with many crosstowns that don’t go downtown at all.  Several of those crosstowns are now among Portland’s most productive lines.  But downtown Portland survived, to say the least.

The bottom line is this: if we focus on efficiently structuring our network that tends to follow land use instead of shaping it, does it hurt our ability to promote high-density growth using transit as a catalyst?

Continue reading “Transit synergy, land use, and the glue that holds us together”

Apply for the Bellevue Transportation Commission

Photo by KDavidClark

Bellevue’s Transportation Commission, which advises the Council, has a vacancy for the term expiring next May, and possible appointment to the subsequent four-year term.

The Transportation Commission advises the council about transportation issues in Bellevue. The seven-member commission meets the second Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall.

Candidates must be Bellevue residents. Residents in newly annexed areas are particularly encouraged to apply.

Residents can apply online or pick up an application from the City Clerk’s Office or the Service First desk in City Hall, as well as in the Bellevue Regional Library, the Lake Hills Library or Mini City Hall at Crossroads Bellevue. You can request an application be faxed to you by calling 452-6466.

I have no idea who is on the commission now or what they believe, but it’s always good to find people who won’t veto anything that could possibly inconvenience a car. Moreover, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit in Bellevue, as they’re only now getting a proper frequent bus service network that deserves real investment in priority treatments. See especially my piece on improving bus travel through Bellevue College.

Getting People to Use the Back Door

RapidRide brochures encouraging faster boarding

The impending end of the Ride Free Area, by October next year, should end the debate on the much maligned back door use policy. Seattle will finally operate like all the other big city transit agencies in this country where there’s almost no question on which doors can be used to exit. But old habits are hard to change and passengers will need to be encouraged to use the back door to exit whenever possible to speed up everyone’s trip.

Metro updated the decals inside buses to reflect current door use policy. The decal above the back door now reads “In Ride Free Area, Use Front Door Only, 7 PM – 6 AM”. This is to cut down on fare evasion caused by people unaware of or ignoring the RFA’s 6 am to 7 pm hours. From my observations, many people are already using the back door to exit after 7 pm, following the natural desire to use the fastest way out.

There are many ways to inform. Some Sound Transit buses have a big “EXIT DOOR” sign above the back door. TriMet buses have a giant sticker on the ceiling pointing towards the back. Muni buses automatically announce “Please exit through the rear doors” everytime a stop is requested. That may be annoying to hear but it works. How about one of Metro’s APTA award winning signs with tips for a faster ride?

I’m sure that when Metro figures out the specifics on phasing out the Ride Free Area, there will be a strong public awareness campaign backed up with strong enforcement.

Background on the policy change below the jump. Continue reading “Getting People to Use the Back Door”

No Bus Hours from the VLF?

Delridge TMP Corridor Plan

There are certainly voters in Seattle who don’t see road conditions as particularly dire, and don’t really care about better transit and bike and pedestrian safety. There are  others who simply prioritize low taxes over all other infrastructure and public services. Those people simply have different values than most Seattle voters, and I wouldn’t expect them to support a $60 VLF under any circumstances.

What I find bizarre, though, is the assertion that this plan is bad because it doesn’t buy any bus hours. This seems like the wrong way to look at things. This isn’t Bridging the Gap, where Metro was offering matching funds. For instance, Seattle could write a $1m check to Metro to buy about 10,000 bus hours. That’s about a 30 bus hours a day, somewhere in the city, for a year. At the end of the year, you cough up another $1m or you’re back to square one.

Or, Seattle could do a corridor improvement project like the Delridge TMP improvements. For that same $1m you could save an average 1.7 minutes on each and every peak period trip. There are dozens of trips per day that realize those savings, hundreds more off-peak, and they realize them forever. In some cases this “merely” improves speed, reliability, and the overall experience of riders, and trips are perceived as faster because they are given priority. It’s hard to say for sure without access to Metro’s scheduling software, but on some of these corridors, a few minutes of time savings may be enough to take a single bus off the road, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings every year.

Bellevue Planning Bike Rides

Photo by Rob Ketcherside

Bellevue has a creative way of getting bicyclist input: bike rides with planners through areas of focus to gather their input. The next round starts tomorrow:

Saturday’s ride, geared toward Bellevue residents, will be 9 to 11 a.m. Traveling at a leisurely pace, participants will follow a three-mile route, starting at Top Pot Doughnuts, 10600 NE Ninth Pl., and visiting Bellevue Downtown Park, the Regional King County Library, Old Bellevue and City Hall.

The second ride, intended for bicycle commuters to downtown Bellevue, will be 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 28.

Riders will meet at Compass Plaza at Bellevue Galleria (106th Avenue Northeast, between Northeast Fourth and Eighth streets) and break up into three groups. One group will head northwest toward the SR 520 bridge, one will ride northeast toward the SR 520 Trail, while the other heads south toward the I-90 trail. Each will loop back and finish at Compass Plaza.

All rides are free, and all abilities are welcome. Helmets and lights are required and the ride will be cancelled in the event of heavy rain. Please RSVP to hayley@bellevuedowntown.org.

The Center of the Universe

Photo of painting that reads "Welcome to Fremont -- Center of the Universe"
Welcome to Fremont

One idea that arose from the discussion of the possible Queen Anne-Downtown-First Hill-Madrona restructure that I blogged about a few weeks ago has been mentioned before in other threads, namely the possibility of extending the Queen Anne trolleybus routes up to Fremont. The case for making this change is evident just from looking at a map: the terminus of the 13 is about half a mile from the Fremont Bridge, a gap which is currently filled only by the infrequent daytime-only route 31. This short extension seems to offer the possibility of tying together two city neighborhoods with frequent service.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Such a route entails negotiating the Fremont Bridge — the most frequently-raised drawbridge in Seattle — along with the traffic around the bridge, which can be terrible (especially on the north side). To me, the cost in terms of schedule time and reliability outweigh that advantage, so I’ve always argued against it. Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for this any more, because I have obtained timepoint data make the situation clear, after the jump.

Continue reading “The Center of the Universe”