Prop. 1 Fundraiser Next Week

Make me Rapid! (photo by David Seater)

Both I and a series of civically minded neighbors are putting together a fundraiser for yes-0n-Prop. 1 campaign. This measure will improve bus service, bike and pedestrian safety, and fix roads.

Prop. 1 won’t do everything that needs to be done, but it’s a building block to get us to a better city. I hope you’ll join us.

Event Details:
Date – October 20, 2011
Time – 5:30 – 7pm
Location – Watermark Tower, 6th Floor
1107 1st Avenue, Seattle

Suggested Donation $60

Let us know you will be joining us! RSVP to or call 206.321.7723.

Realigning the Fleet

King County Metro 331 near Northwest Hospital
King County Metro 331 // Photo by AtomicTaco

One of the details I noticed in King County’s proposed Capital Improvement Program budget was a reduction in the number of 30′ diesel buses planned for purchase in 2014. Metro’s 95 existing 30′ Gillig Phantoms, purchased in 1999, will reach the end of their service life in that year, and the CIP funds only 60 buses to replace them; 15 additional 40′ hybrid coaches will be purchased instead. The CIP states (PDF page 255) that “A segment of service requires a 30-ft bus to navigate certain routes”, then later that “Fewer [30′ buses are required] because Metro plans to reduce service on low productivity routes that require smaller vehicles”.

Continue reading “Realigning the Fleet”

Route Planning and the Transit Master Plan

Proposed Frequent Transit Network (click to enlarge)

I’ve expressed skepticism that formulating a City of Seattle opinion about route changes is a very good use of consultant time. And so I hope that not much was expended on Chapter 4 of the draft Seattle Transit Master Plan, which lays out priniciples to guide future service allocation.

It also sets priorities for the city to purchase more service from Metro should that one day be cost-effective. This has little direct relevance to this November’s ballot measure, which envisions no such spending due to the lack of matching funds from Metro or any other source, a decision with which I strongly agree.

Anyway, the principles expressed wouldn’t be out of place on STB or other like-minded sources. In fact, I don’t think you’d find much disagreement with them inside Metro’s service planning department.

News Roundup: Viaduct Contest

Photo by Atomic Taco

This is an open thread.

Defining Etiquette in a Transit “Community”

Quiet car, photo courtesy The Infrastructurist

Everyone knows what poor transit etiquette is– talking too loudly, eating when you’re not supposed to, plopping a bag on another seat when there are standees, looking the other way when an elderly or disabled rider comes aboard a crowded bus, and the list goes on and on.  But defining “good” etiquette begins to get into the murky realm of subjectivity.  One recurring theme that I see pop up constantly in planning literature and pro-transit documents is the idea that transit fosters community by bringing people together into a common space.

I realize there can be a number of interpretations for “community” but in context it’s generally agreed that it entails strangers interacting with one another, usually in a good way.  What this means, of course, is that some etiquette rules might be bent, namely the unwritten keep-to-your-own-private-space mannerisms that are conventional to our social behavior.  For the transit-riding populace, this can launch to both extremes– some people hate being talked to when on the bus, while others are perfectly content when conversation is struck up with fellow passengers.

To generalize that to a broader scale, there are some cultures that consider it extraordinarily rude to converse with a stranger casually (particularly in excess), whereas in other cultures, being friendly and talkative to other transit riders is a trait tolerated and even admired.  Thanks to our identity as the melting pot of the world, the cultural pluralism we find in America means that no matter where you go, you’ll find a nice balance of both.

Cultural attitudes regarding a sophisticated and subjective matter such as this are tied to much larger structural strata and tend to be extremely resistant to change.  And because of our pervading individualism, not one person is the same, which makes it rather difficult to issue a one-size-fits-all prescription for “good” transit, especially when talking about transit-fostered community.  Some transit agencies have had the creativity of designating “quiet cars” on commuter rail lines for their more introverted passengers.  But when considering a packed bus or train during rush hour, that strategy isn’t as plausible.

So, the question is this– is conversing with strangers aboard transit acceptable?  How far do you go before you draw the line?  And how do we approach the social paradigm of transit, knowing that we all behave differently, from one individual to the next?

S. 200th Station Open House Recap


S. 200th Station rendering

Last Wednesday Sound Transit held an open house (PDF) for the Central Link extension to S. 200th Street. Not much new was announced at the meeting; the 30% design has been completed and the project is being readied to be put up for bid. Because this will be a design-build contract, the contractor will finish the remaining engineering for the station.

One of the advantages of a design-build project is that the contractor can gain additional efficiencies by tailoring the design and construction processes to meet their internal flows. This echoes the Sound Transit’s mantra for the project of “save money, build quicker.” Proposals will be due in June 2012 and the contract will be awarded in August 2012. Construction is expected to begin in early 2013, with the extension opening mid to late 2016–the same time as University Link.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “S. 200th Station Open House Recap”

Station Area Zoning In Seattle: Legislation or Initiative?

The past?

It’s true. I am impatient. During the ongoing discussion and debate about land use around Sound Transit Link Light Rail stations, I have been thinking, “there ought to be a law!” Specifically, I’ve been dreaming of legislation that would substantially up zone around all light rail stations in the city of Seattle, and create options for innovative ways to create the density that makes light rail work. There are a lot of discussions about doing just that, but I decided I’d take a crack at writing the legislation myself.

There are a number of problems affecting light rail and land use in Seattle. First, there is the lack of market appropriate land use to produce more housing and commercial space next to light rail. Second, there are vested interests wanting to keep things just about like they are, willing to accept only incremental change. Lastly, the City Council, just by the nature of politics, always has to try to make everyone happy, and that’s tough.

More below the fold.

Continue reading “Station Area Zoning In Seattle: Legislation or Initiative?”

Metro’s New Route Performance Reports

King County Metro Route 38 // Photo by Oran

Within the last month, King County Metro quietly released the Fall 2010 route performance report, an annual public report that attempts to objectively distill the performance of a route down to a handful of numbers, reasonably understandable to the lay person. While the intent of this year’s report is the same as before, the metrics and categories used have changed significantly, and in this post I’m going to examine these changes in depth.

The simplest and perhaps most significant change is that the concept of “subarea” does not exist. Rather than the old East/South/West division, the performance tables are now divided according to whether a route does or does not serve the “Seattle core”, defined to include the CBD, First Hill, Capitol Hill, Uptown and the U-District. This does not imply that service is going to be allocated according to some arbitrary formula based on this criteria; rather, this division allows more reasonable comparisons and ranking among Metro’s many routes, as service that avoids the densely urbanized (and traffic-snarled) Seattle core will typically exhibit very different performance characteristics from other service, however well or poorly those routes are designed. Continue reading “Metro’s New Route Performance Reports”

Register To Vote Today

KC Elections

Today, Monday, October 10th, is the deadline to register to vote in the November 8th general election.* There are several races important to transportation. Eyman’s I-1125 presents its usual threat to sound transportation practices statewide. Locally, King County Council races are always critical to Metro’s future.

In Seattle, the big item is the $60 Vehicle License Fee, with money for road repairs, transit improvements, and bicycle and pedestrian safety. The specifics of how that money is spent will be controlled by the Seattle City Council, for which there are several contested races.

Other cities, including Bellevue, also have City Council races. Anyone paying attention to Bellevue politics over the last couple of years knows how important these races are.

There’s no excuse to not take a few minutes to register. In about a week we’ll release Seattle Transit Blog’s endorsements, which will share our viewpoint on which candidates and measures best lead to a future with more transit and more dense, thriving neighborhoods.

* Unless you value inconvenience and want to register in person.

Monorail Fares Increasing in November

'Cash only monorail' by Oran

KIRO TV is reporting that Seattle Center Monorail fares are set to jump in November, albeit modestly.  The increases are purportedly to generate more revenue for the Center.  From KIRO:

  • Adult one-way, currently $2, increases to $2.25
  • Youth one-way, currently $.75, increases to $1
  • Adult monthly passes, currently $40, increase to $45
  • Senior, people with disabilities and people with Medicare card fares remain $1
  • Senior, people with disabilities and Medicare card monthly passes remain $20
The rate increases are the first since Jan. 1, 2007 to generate additional revenue for Seattle Center.
The public is invited to comment on the fare increases via email: Neal.Erickson@Seattle.Gov or phone: 206-684-7117, through Friday, Oct. 21, 2011.

Though monorail integration into the ORCA partnership is an idea that’s garnered support here and there, it is worth mentioning that the privately-operated line recoups its cost entirely from the farebox.  A move toward a regional fare program built on subsidies wouldn’t really offer a direct financial incentive for the Monorail*.

*Technologically, the Monorail could emulate what WSF has done in the ORCA partnership: offer a monorail-only pass and accept E-purse but without inter-agency transfer credit.

Neal Stephenson on East Link, Innovation

Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson, source: wikimedia

My favorite Science Fiction author, Neal Stephenson blames the attitude of the likes of Kemper Freeman  and Tim Eyman for America’s “Great Stagnation“:

We’ve been talking about wind farms, tidal power, and solar power for decades. Some progress has been made in those areas, but energy is still all about oil. In my city, Seattle, a 35-year-old plan to run a light rail line across Lake Washington is now being blocked by a citizen initiative. Thwarted or endlessly delayed in its efforts to build things, the city plods ahead with a project to paint bicycle lanes on the pavement of thoroughfares.

The whole essay is worth reading, though not transit-related.

The Ballard Spur… As a Gondola Line.

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

There’s an idea going around (read the comments here) that a logical extension of Link in Seattle would be to just make a turn West at Brooklyn Station, and serve Wallingford, Phinney or Fremont, and Ballard.  This is a great idea, and a way of serving some high-demand routes with our new rail infrastructure.  However, there are some significant barriers to implementing this plan:  we’re out of planned train capacity in the downtown tunnel, it’s claimed Northgate needs all of this capacity, branching a major trunk is rarely a good idea, and there would be two deep (expensive) stations.  Conventional wisdom is to save our pennies and someday serve Ballard with its own light rail line coming up from downtown.  There are benefits and disbenefits to both strategies, and I don’t plan on settling the debate here.

But consider for a moment running a gondola spur line.  We can have high capacity, very high frequency transit without giving up train capacity in the downtown tunnel.  We provide future connectivity between the current and future light rail lines, if one is built.  We give at least 18,500 riders (the 44, 15, 18) a faster way around each day.  And we do it all for much less money than a light rail line.

Let’s run the numbers for converting this spur to a gondola line:

At 3.2 miles, if we use a single cable gondola (14mph)  that’s about a 15 minute journey.  That’s probably too slow.  So let’s pull out the big guns and go with a 3S system (two support cables, one drive cable, 24mph).  Now we’re looking at 8 minutes, plus time at stops, so about 10 minutes end to end.  That’s more like it.

Looking at capacity, a 3S system will have plenty.  We can get between 4,000 and 6,000 passengers per hour per direction (and possibly more).  That’s the equivallent to between 40 and 60 buses in each direction each hour.

Eastside Meetup Reminder!

Here’s a reminder about our next meetup, to be held on the Eastside at Rock Bottom Brewery (yes, the same venue as our last Eastside gathering) in Downtown Bellevue, next Wednesday, October 12th.  The restaurant is in the Bellevue Galleria on NE 6th & 106th Ave NE, just a block west from Bellevue Transit Center so it’ll only be a 550 ride away for Seattleites.  Feel free to drop in starting around 6pm.  We’ll have a slate of guest speakers, including a few candidates for important races on the Eastside so I expect a night of lively transit discussion.

Luckily, this is an all-ages venue so all are welcome.  If you haven’t RSVP’d already, please do so by leaving a comment in the old thread.  For that, I’ll be closing comments under this post.

Proposition 1 May Let Us Electrify Route 48

King County Metro 48 in Montlake
King County Metro 48 in Montlake / Photo by Oran

Several weeks ago, I discussed one way possible way the 48 could be split in the U-District without significant additional cost or layover space in the Montlake Triangle, allowing the inexpensive electrification of the southern segment of the 48. As if on cue (but a complete coincidence!), the Executive’s proposed 2012 budget for King County (enormous PDF of all capital projects) includes a line item (PDF page 309)  for filling in the missing 1.6 miles of overhead wire on 23rd Ave.

Unfortunately, before you stand up and cheer, there’s some bad news: this project is externally funded, and the funding is a moderately-long shot. The funding sources identified in the budget are a federal grant and the City of Seattle. For this project to happen, two things must happen: Metro needs to win a $6.9 million TIGER TIGGER grant, and the city must pass the $60 VLF to afford the $9 million local match. $6.9 million is at the high end of the typical range of TIGER TIGGER grants, but due to the excellent and long-lasting environmental benefits and shovel-ready nature of the project, this project should be very competitive. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Proposition 1 May Let Us Electrify Route 48”

Reminder: North Corridor Tech Talk Today

Sound Transit’s Tech Talk on the North make sure to email your questions to


Want to know how the project team got here? Join us for an online panel discussion.
Via live streaming, the project team will discuss and answer questions about the federal Alternatives Analysis process, how early public comment was used to develop potential alternatives, and criteria used to evaluate potential alternatives. If you are interested in technical aspects of project development, this is for you!

Log on: Friday, October 7, 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
To participate, go to

Bellevue Updating Downtown Transportation Plan

532 & B Line at BTC, photo by Oran

Over the next couple of years, Bellevue will be undertaking a significant upgrade to its Downtown Transportation Plan.  Last updated in 2004 as the transportation component of the downtown subarea plan, the current plan doesn’t reflect recent developments in transit over the last few years, notably the passage of East Link and the opening of the RapidRide B Line.  From the City of Bellevue news release:

Targeted for completion in early 2013, the new plan could set the stage for projects as big as new highway overpasses and streets and as small as lane modifications and tweaks in traffic signal timing. The plan is intended to be “multi-modal,” addressing needs not only for cars, but also pedestrians and cyclists.

The draft principles note that the plan will be consistent with the city’s overall vision for downtown, and acknowledge the need to leverage a variety of funding sources and collaborate with regional partners for projects. The principles also emphasize inclusive public participation, involving downtown businesses and residents, as well as surrounding neighborhoods and the city’s entire business community. The Transportation Commission will guide the process.

The plan will also include updates to regional factors, like updated growth forecasts through 2030, 520 tolling, and the Bel-Red redevelopment.  With road capacity nearly maxed out, it’s also predicated on a multi-modal strategy to drive up the non-SOV mode share, which is currently too low for significant growth to occur downtown in the future.  The plan’s website has a fairly comprehensive page on the technical scope of work’s guiding principles.

Despite the city’s long tradition of auto-dominance, I think the priorities here are right, especially with the emphasis on multi-modal capital-intensive improvements.  The public outreach strategy has been rather creative too, with recent bike rides hosted to solicit input from citizen bicyclists.  Whether or not the City might consider a public bus ride for transit users remains to be seen.