Just about every year, we keep a close eye on Olympia during the legislative sessions to see if anything promising ever comes out for transit. Usually little does, but it’s a stark reminder of how much hope we have resting on the State’s shoulders. Once upon a time, before Tim Eyman declared war on transportation funding, the State did have a much more proactive role in ensuring local transit remained strong and robust. Over the years, unfortunately, State involvement and help for transit, either direct or indirect, has been measly at best.
At last month’s meetup with Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, an attendee asked the secretary how important she thought the State’s role was in terms of supporting transit. While there was some mention of WSDOT-sponsored rail projects and hints of local funding options here and there, Hammond’s answer, much to our dismay, had strong emphasis on highway capital projects (i.e., HOV lanes, direct access ramps, etc.), which suggested a stronger obligation to fund “transit” projects if they also help cars, too.
Previously, I’ve written about one of Metro’s success stories, the 1997 Aurora corridor restructure, a change to the bus network that traded several infrequent routes for the Routes 16 and 358 that we know today. As I described at length in that post, during the day Metro was previously operating three separate routes on (or primarily on) Aurora Ave, each with different stop patterns, and two closely-spaced local routes in Wallingford; night service followed a quite different pattern.
In essence, this was a tradeoff of geographic coverage (in the form of closely-spaced routes, closely-spaced stops, and different route variants on one road) for improved frequency and a simpler service pattern on the remaining services. After an initial dip, the two remaining routes have outshone their predecessors in both ridership and rides per platform hour: a win for riders, taxpayers, and the environment.
In this post I’ll discuss another success story, the 2003 Ambaum/Delridge restructure, an analogous change to the bus network, this time focused on Southwest Seattle and Burien, with similarly excellent results, including today’s Route 120. Even better, most of this post is written for me, as I was kindly given a 2005 staff report from Metro analyzing the results of this restructure in detail; I shall quote and paraphrase at length from this report throughout the post.
Tolls started today at 5:00am but it will take weeks, or more likely months to get an idea of how SR-520 tolls will create a new “normal” for transportation in the central puget sound region. Regardless what was your experience like today?
How are you, friend and coworkers adjusting to tolls? Personally, I have become the commute trip advisor at my office in Totem Lake, where about a third of my co-workers live in Seattle. I expect transit ridership in the peak direction to grow but be constrained by Park & Ride capacity and I expect significant growth, as a percentage, in reverse peak transit ridership. Talking to coworkers I see reverse commute trips generally being much more “innovative” since transit service to employment centers on the Eastside is worse than to downtown Seattle.
This morning, Sound Transit released the specifics on the extended schedule for Link on New Year’s Eve. As was done last year, two extra trips will run from Westlake to accommodate late New Year’s revelers. Tacoma Link will also see extended service:
Sound Transit Link light rail and Tacoma Link trains will operate on extended hours Saturday, Dec. 31 to accommodate New Year’s Eve revelers. Link light rail will run two additional southbound trips from Westlake Station at 12:58 a.m. and 1:13 a.m.; the last northbound trip will depart Sea-Tac Airport at 12:20 a.m. and continue to Westlake.
The last northbound trip for Tacoma Link will leave the Tacoma Dome Station at 1:00 a.m.; the last southbound train will depart the Theatre District Station at 1:24 a.m.
The monorail will also be running its last trains until about 1am, so Link riders who will be celebrating in the Seattle Center area should have enough time to get back to Westlake to make their connection:
On December 31. 2011, the Monorail will be open until 1:00AM for the New Year’s Eve fireworks at the Space Needle. Due to regulations, the Monorail will carry its last passengers from Westlake Center to Seattle Center at 11:15PM. We will resume service from Seattle Center to Westlake Center once we receive the “ALL CLEAR” from the Fire Marshall (estimated to be 12:20AM).
It’s heartening to see accommodations continuing to be made for late evening service, but there’s plenty of precedent from other cities to do more. Many agencies across the country will run an extra service overlay on the evening of New Year’s Eve in addition to their regular Sunday frequencies, with some even offering fare-free service past a certain period, including neighboring Portland and Vancouver.
Obviously, with so many transit agencies under the ORCA umbrella here, there may be some policy complications to going completely fare-free for a certain time period, but from a technical standpoint, the ORCA system is capable of doing just that. With so many infrequent riders taking transit regionwide on the evening of the 31st, making service seamless would be a good step to leaving a lasting impression for our system.
This is a reminder that tonight, starting around 5-ish, we’re having a meetup at the Elysian Fields near CenturyLink Field. We’re expecting good turnout from Sound Transit employees getting off work, and one or two of them might speak around 5:30. The event is all ages.
I have a substantial post coming up later this week about the 2004 Ambaum/Delridge restructure, which lead to the creation of what is now one of Metro’s workhorse frequent-service routes, Route 120, serving Delridge, White Center and Burien. To whet your appetite, I’ve obtained stop-level data from this summer; analysis and discussion after the jump.
Zach’s criticism of the First Hill Streetcar last week was admirably selective about its target, limiting the criticism to the Jackson St. Segment that is duplicative with high-volume bus routes. He was, correctly, complimentary of the new connectivity between Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Little Saigon.
My complaint with the piece is that the stated purpose of the line is a good one — to connect the hugely dense, regionally important First Hill neighborhood with the regional Link spine, and to a lesser extent, Sounder. The line’s routing clearly implies that it is not intended to connect the downtown core with First Hill: as critics point out, there are lots of bus lines that do a semi-adequate job of that.
I contend that it will do a good job of meeting its goal. From the North, passengers headed from points north to Swedish Hospital or Seattle University will do best to utilize the streetcar. All Sounder riders currently face a two seat ride (or a long walk) to access First Hill; the Streetcar will make it one seat. Northbound Link riders could switch to the streetcar or continue on to Pioneer Square or University Street and face the slog on a glacial, overcrowded trolleybus. We’ll have to see how the relative travel times work out for a variety of First Hill destinations (and a more direct route around Yesler Terrace and Little Saigon would have been better), but there’s reason to believe the streetcar will be a better option. Furthermore, I think it has a better chance of getting priority treatments than those buses ever will.
It’s true there’s duplication with buses that are carrying people down Jackson, but we should view the First Hill Streetcar as one part of an embryonic network. When (if?) the streetcar is extended through downtown, segments of the 7 and 36 running from Little Saigon through downtown will be redundant with the streetcar network and Link, and those hours can be reinvested elsewhere.
It may be that Seattle would have been better off (with respect to some metrics) deferring Jackson St. until it can extend through downtown, and instead investing the money to get to Aloha St. However, I doubt adding a single streetcar stop is going to bring many more riders to Link or Sounder, which is what ST’s projects should be about. Moreover, I doubt that it’s actually better for the underserved First Hill neighborhood, or for regional connectivity. It may be planning by consolation prize, in Zach’s wonderful phrase, but why doesn’t First Hill deserve one?
If you’re planning on doing some local transit travel this holiday season or are plagued with the misfortune of having to work, be sure to check timetables before heading out. All major transit agencies will be running Sunday schedules on both the actual and observed holidays– tomorrow, the 26th, for Christmas, and January 2nd, for New Year’s. Unfortunately, that means no service for Snohomish County Community Transit on those days.
In the intervening period, Metro will be on a reduced weekday schedule, with some routes canceled entirely and others with only some trips canceled. Community Transit, Sound Transit, and Pierce Transit, on the other hand, will all operate regular schedules on the weekdays. Saturday schedules will be in effect for New Year’s Eve, with the exception of Tacoma Link and Central Link, which will run extra late trips to accommodate New Year’s revelers. The monorail will also have an extended schedule that day.
Part of the answer of why we can’t have this here is that Seattle isn’t New York: it simply doesn’t have the density, the transit system, or a population that has largely escaped the mindset that their car is the only way to get around.
But another part of it is institutions. Our local laws simply don’t allow political appointees these kinds of powers. There are lots of rules about process and a tendency to have an election for even minor positions. After all, in many ways, Ms. Sadik-Khan is a 21st century version of Robert Moses, if on a much smaller scale, and was spawned by a similar set of political structures.
In the spirit of the holidays, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to think about the sentimental value transit often offers us. To do this, a little digging is required, exercising our past memories to elicit those experiences we often had aboard, or sometimes off-board, transit. While I’m not that old and didn’t have the fortune of developing a nostalgia for things like the Interurban and the early streetcar trolleys, many of you, our readers, have had such experiences far and wide.
Many of my nostalgic memories around transit occurred in the early to mid-90s– the DSTT was new, Metro ridership was on the rise, the RTA was preparing to go to the ballot, and many questions were being asked about the future of rapid transit for the Puget Sound region. But what I remember most were the daytime trips my grandmother would take me on from her apartment in the International District to Seattle Center: a ride on a dual-mode Breda trolley through the bus tunnel, and a transfer to the Monorail at Westlake, with a chocolate ice cream cone on the 4th floor food court to boot.
Over time, it’s been the little things that have stuck out at me as I ponder my old perceptions (and misconceptions) of transit. Like many of you, I was particularly fond of being the one to pull the stop request cord; to hear a real ‘ding’ aboard a bus today is considered a novelty. And since I never continued beyond Westlake in the DSTT, I somehow wound up with the belief that the tunnel continued onto Vancouver B.C. with a station underneath the Seattle Center House.
I blinded myself with some other self-concocted myths over the years– when I was in middle school and didn’t care particularly for transit, I thought that Sound Transit bus drivers were far meaner than Metro drivers, only to discover a number of years later that they were all the same. And for the longest time, I would never board a Seattle-bound commuter bus at Eastgate because the long queue gave me the impression that riders had to have a special pass or eligibility to board.
What are your special memories of transit? Did you ever fabricate naive falsehoods that turned out to be wrong?
We’re having an informal get-together at 5pm till whenever on Wednesday, December 28th at the Elysian Fields, 542 1st Avenue South. No speakers, but word is a platoon of Sound Transit staff will drop by after work. I’m told it’s a single tab, so if you can bring cash that’s a plus.
Because no maintenance or preservation funds were provided for new lane miles created through these projects, deterioration will set in.
For every administration and for every legislator, the easiest way to pass a package that looks good to their constituents is to partially fund as many new projects as possible, and make them appear as cheap as possible. For a given dollar, it’s more politically viable to spend it on a new project – and be able to say to constituents that their needs are being met – than to spend it just to maintain an old project.
This is simply a reality of psychology, not meant to be an indictment of anyone, but it’s a real problem for legislators who only have so much power or political capital. King Street Station is a great example. The Amtrak Cascades station with the most use in the state is in disrepair, partially restored, and partially funded, after years of work. In the meantime, a barely used Stanwood station has been constructed from scratch – in the district of the chair of Senate Transportation.
Today, many of our highways are in the same boat. In 2003 and 2005, Olympia passed gas tax increases that finished some projects, but largely started new ones. A list of “Unfinished mega projects” in the brief speaks to these partial packages – full of new highway lanes, they were crafted to win public support through big-splash projects on I-405, I-90 and SR-99, largely ignoring the state’s maintenance needs – projects that aren’t exciting to voters.
Now, at the top of the priority list is a sudden need to do maintenance. We have roads and bridges crumbling! Only at the end of a road’s life, when it can be portrayed as a danger, can public opinion turn to new revenue to maintain it. But right below is a list of new highway expansions, with words like “economic development improvements”, “improved mobility” and “congestion relief”. But we know new lanes don’t improve congestion. More roads equal more traffic.
So the state’s task force has proposed “guiding principles” for a package. The middle of the three options (clearly the target, as it’s the only one anyone’s talked about), is $21 billion. Of that, after all that talk about how our maintenance needs are going through the roof, maintenance adds up to less than $6 billion – with $11 billion in “improvements in economic corridors”, also known as wider highways. $2 billion – less than a tenth! – is offered for transit, but given the state’s history of ‘transit funding’, that sounds a lot like vanpools.
Our economic centers don’t have room for wider highways. The task force is trying to do two things – frame low density, low productivity places as “economic corridors” (and say they’d be more productive with bigger highways!), and totally ignore the strong voter message they received when we shot down Roads and Transit in 2007.
If the state wants a transportation package to pass, they’ll have to work with us, not propose doing more of the same. We’re in a maintenance funding hole because of this kind of planning, and we need to get out.
The map above is striking. There’s clearly a core of Seattle — including Fremont, the University District, and Capitol Hill — that supported Prop 1, and for good reason.
I wonder: what would a Transportation Benefit District look like for one or more of the neighborhoods above. Prop. 1 would have raised on the order of $200M over 10 years. The South Lake Union Local Improvement District raised $25M to fund the Streetcar. Could the residents of the Hill & the Central District come together to raise, say, $30M over 10 years for transit, pedestrian, and bicycle improvements in the neighborhood? What would that buy us?
Financing such a thing would be tricky. A LID would be an option, but it could be a big tax on local businesses and residents. Without a single landowner like Vulcan to muscle it through, it might not pass. Car tabs would seem to be unwieldy given the small geographic area and the low car ownership rate in the neighborhood.
Every now and then, a big story revolving around transit comes up and captures the special attention of the local news media, either good or bad. Whether it was Prop. 1, King County’s $20 car-tab fee, Metro’s ad fiasco, or last year’s bus driver assault, big issues always manage to find their way to the front page, with some attention-grabbing headline to boot. Media portrayal of transit or any other hot-button topic is never completely unbiased– there’s always a tinge of opinionated framing at the discretion of the author or headline writer.
So it’s not terribly surprising when headline writers cook up a juicy title when they can, especially if it means eliciting strong reader reaction. Take this KING 5 headline, for example: Neighbors survey Light Rail neighborhood for robbery risk – a great example of correlation conflated with causation. While this strategy– making some connection with recent notable cases of crime occurring around a relatively new light rail line– might help sell views, it only reflects a mark of poor journalism.