NE 130th Added to North Corridor DEIS

Sound Transit Board Meeting (See minute ~2:00)

Last Thursday the Sound Transit board approved alignment and station locations to be included in the Draft Environment Impact Study (DEIS). Like East Link, Sound Transit has identified 3 different segments:

  • Segment A – Northgate to NE 185th St
  • Segment B – NE 185th to 212th St SW
  • Segment C – 212th St SW to Lynnwood TC

Each Segment has several variations of station locations and guideway alignment. While ST2 initially identified four stations, five stations appears to be a possibility if the cost and ridership benefits of the stations outweighs the ridership lost due to the additional travel time and additional costs incurred by the station. Continue reading “NE 130th Added to North Corridor DEIS”

Will Beer and Big Ideas Lead to ‘Big Development’?

Tomorrow evening is the second installation of the City Builder Happy Hour. Like at the first event, the hosts want to hear about people’s “audacious ideas” to support more growth and sustainable development in Seattle. Last time it was the idea of a gondola from Capitol Hill to Seattle Center. This time you are invited to send your idea in on the back of cocktail napkin. I’m going to put my ideas here, in this post, instead.

When I last wrote about the happy hour, I talked about the “myth of Big Development,” and somebody has done a great job of running with that idea, creating a great visual image. I’m still withholding judgment about whether a happy hour is going to get us where we need to go. “What could it hurt?” you ask.

In my opinion, we’re rapidly approaching the time when doing nothing but talking about things is going to be harmful, even if we have a few beers while we’re doing it. I’ve about had it with meetings, however well intentioned, that don’t lead to creating the political momentum behind the ideas that will fundamentally change our approach to land use in Seattle. Having said all that, here are some “audacious ideas,” parts of which I’ve shared before.

Continue reading “Will Beer and Big Ideas Lead to ‘Big Development’?”

The Tragedy of the Infrequent Route

Harbor Island, Google Maps

Among Metro’s routes that head downtown, we’re about to lose the worst performing bus, the #35.  This will cut off Harbor Island, leaving an over 1 mile walk for the dock workers on the north end.  If you care about system efficiency, it’s hard to argue that keeping a service with 1.4 passenger miles per platform miles is a good use of resources.  Passenger miles per platform miles means when you count all of the time the #35 is running there’s an average of 1.4 people on board at any given point.

Although not a perfect case, the #35 does bring to mind an important point.  Details matter.  When you cut a bus service down below a frequent schedule, some people find it inconvenient to have to wait so they find other ways to travel.  When that schedule drops to a few times per day other riders find there’s not enough of a backup plan in case they miss the last bus, so they start driving to be sure they can get home.  And when these few buses arrive at strange hours of the day (the #35 arrives at 3:39 and 4:09 in the afternoon, and that’s it), it may drop almost all of its ridership since there are far stronger factors that affect work hours than just a bus schedule. Continue reading “The Tragedy of the Infrequent Route”

A Problem Many Cities Would Like to Have

Seattle, Matt Gangemi

People love Seattle.  So what do we do about our popularity?  Here are our choices.

1. Allow additional housing capacity throughout Seattle (how and where to do this is open for debate), allowing people that want to move here to move here without kicking those with less money out.

2. Keep our restrictive zoning that only allows a small rate of growth, and allow affordability to plummet as rents go up to match demand.

The housing crisis won’t last forever.  We can ride the next building boom, or watch as the suburbs do it for us.

ST Covering Old PT Route

Mayor Dave Enslow

Now that a large of chunk of Pierce County is no longer in the Pierce Transit district, where they paid taxes, received service, and voted down a ballot measure to maintain PT’s service level, a large area in Eastern Pierce County is solely served by Sound Transit.

Yesterday, the Sound Transit Board followed the proposal of Board Member and Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow and created Route 596, a replacement for PT 496 and connecting parts of Bonney Lake, Buckley, and Enumclaw to the Sumner Sounder station.

ST Express Route 596 will function as a fast, limited-stop service for passengers making long-distance regional trips, with direct connections to commuter rail and other transit modes. The route serves 290 boardings each day and will be timed to meet morning and afternoon Sounder trains…

[The 596] resurrects a previously-operated connector bus route that voters approved in the 1996 Sound Move ballot measure. Known as ST Express Route 582, that service operated between Bonney Lake and Tacoma. It was gradually phased out when Pierce Transit began operating Route 496 service in 2007.

It will begin running June 11th, the first workday after PT wraps up the 496 on June 8th. The $253,000 operating cost for 2012 will come out of the Pierce subarea reserves.

News Roundup: My City is Better Than Yours

Seattle Planet from the Space Needle by Serio Bonachela

This is an open thread.

Five Years of Seattle Transit Blog

Seattle as seen from the air
Photo by Jeff Wilcox

Five years ago I moved back to Seattle from the Bay Area and realized that public transportation in Seattle was in a very bad way. There was discord over light rail and Sound Transit’s future. There was confusion about buses – unfortunately this continues, as Bruce Nourish has so well documented. Life-stealing and welfare reducing congestion was rampant, with no clear plan to deal with it in sight. The viaduct replacement project was a mess. Worse yet, there was the failed monorail project, which cast a dark shadow over public transportation and our city’s make-it-happen-attitude. I started the Seattle Transit Blog in part because there was no obvious place to discuss these issues online – and I wanted there to be.

I like to think that the blog has had a part in the greater discourse in our community on this topics- and I don’t think that it is untrue or unlikely. Certainly, not all of these have gone the way the members of the blog would have like them to have gone – and many of them have split the blog staff itself. We have often disagreed with each other and argued with our readers. But I’m comfortable speaking for everyone who has written here to say what we are most proud of is the level of discourse and the knowledge of our commentariat.

For the blog’s longevity, we can only thank Martin Duke. Mr Duke has worked to put an organization in place to ensure the blog’s – and hence the discussion’s – long-term survival. He’s worked diligently to ensure there’s always a place for the voices of both the fresh and the weary.

Looking back, what I see the top stories of the last five years: Continue reading “Five Years of Seattle Transit Blog”

Delridge Open House Report

Delridge Open House Attendees
Delridge Open House Attendees

Last night, I dropped by Metro’s open house for the proposed Route 120 speed and reliability improvements, and chatted to Metro staff and neighbors. Much of the public feedback consisted of fairly predictable requests by neighbors to save their favorite stops, but I noted a couple of items of information or concern:

  • Whether the northbound queue jump rechannelization near Andover will work. Currently, the north end of Delridge Way provides two general purpose lanes in the northbound direction. Local residents were concerned that the loss of a general purpose lane at that intersection would make traffic congestion significantly worse and provide little benefit, as, in the morning rush hour, Delridge is often gridlocked north of Andover. They proposed shortening the bus lane so that the bus would merge south of the intersection.
  • The 125’s detour to serve the Chelan & Spokane stops under the viaduct will likely go away. This detour is classic Metro: sending a bus a minute out of its way to save a very small percentage of riders a five-minute walk; getting rid of it puts the 125 on the same alignment as the 120, and is a big win for most riders.

Metro’s Have a Say website has all the details about the proposed changes, along with contact information and a survey for feedback; comment deadline is this Friday, April 27th.

Route 120 Improvements Open House Tonight

Tonight, King County Metro is hosting an open house to present information and get public feedback about proposed speed and reliability improvements to Route 120. The improvements include stop consolidation and signal priority throughout the route, a northbound queue jump near Andover, a bus bulb on the Westwood Village deviation that will likely be approved by the council as part of the Fall ’12 restructure, and minor stop improvements throughout the route; the link above provides lots of excellent information.

This kind of service quality improvement is exactly the kind of investment that we need to see from Metro throughout the frequent-service network. Even better, these improvements are being paid for by a state grant, and (per Metro) are being done with an eye towards potentially making the 120 a RapidRide route in future, an improvement that this corridor emphatically deserves.

The open house is tonight, from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM, at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center.

May 6th: Bus Sightseeing and Steam Plant Tour

Georgetown Steam Plant Placard (Wikipedia)

On Sunday, May 6th, transit enthusiast Heather McAuliffe, and Metro planner Ted Day, are hosting a bus tour of and the Georgetown Steam Plant. This event is designed to introduce new riders to transit, showing them that transit can be easy to use, and take them to interesting and fun places around the city. Everybody is welcome, including families with kids, and the only cost is bus fare for one or two Metro bus trips.

The itinerary is as follows:

  • Meet at Pike Street and 4th Avenue at 1:25 p.m.
  • Route 49 depart Pike/4th at 1:31 p.m., arrive Broadway/Pine at 1:38 p.m.
  • Route 60 depart Broadway/Pine at 1:50 p.m., arrive Georgetown at 2:18 p.m.
  • Tour steam plant for about an hour.
  • Route 131 depart Georgetown at 3:26 p.m., arrive 4th/University at 3:45 p.m.

The Georgetown Steam Plant is one of Seattle’s hidden gems of industrial history. From Wikipedia:

The plant was originally built by Stone and Webster in 1906. One of the first reinforced concrete structures on the U.S. West Coast, it originally provided power for the Interurban Railway between Seattle and Tacoma; it also provided both direct current for Seattle’s streetcars and alternating current for Georgetown, then an independent city. They purchased General Electric steam turbine technology, based on patents originally held by inventor Charles Curtis. At the time, this was cutting edge technology, and the Georgetown Steam Plant “marks the beginning of the end of the reciprocating steam engine” as the dominant mode of generating electricity on a large scale.

RSVP isn’t required, but if you plan to attend, it would be helpful to say so in the comments, to get some idea of the level of interest. Please forward this to anyone you know who might enjoy such a tour — especially if they don’t currently use transit.

Land Use and Education: Adding Schools to the Mix is the Answer

Is there a school in there?

Regardless of income, there are fewer things are more important to young families than being close to good schools. The folk wisdom of the day is that urban schools aren’t as good or safe as suburban schools. I’ve suggested before that this is why urbanists of all persuasions need to make improving the quality of urban schools as no less important than land use and transit policy. But what role can land use policy play in improving educational outcomes? A recent Brookings Institute study offers an answer.

The study suggests that a major reason for the disparate academic performance between poor and wealthier students is linked to land use policies that, in effect, exclude affordable housing near good schools. If more “affordable” housing near high performing schools were allowed, that academic performance of poor students would improve. But it’s a conclusion that doesn’t seem to follow from the evidence in the study or from the practicalities of how land use policy gets made

The study anchors basis its conclusion on the theory that poor, underperforming, students of color do better when they go to school with wealthier, better performing, white students. Since, the argument in the conclusion of the study goes, zoning rules tend to exclude certain types of affordable housing from areas where there are high performing schools, relaxing those rules would allow more poor, students of color to attend better schools; disparity problem solved! Continue reading “Land Use and Education: Adding Schools to the Mix is the Answer”

U-Pass Turns Twenty

A cake for the U-Pass

Last Friday, the University of Washington threw a birthday party for its U-Pass program, which turns twenty this year.  In its inception in the early 90s, the U-Pass was one of the first university-wide transportation demand management programs of its kind, and has become a model for similar programs nationwide.  A few notable speakers attended the anniversary celebration, including Metro GM Kevin Desmond, UW Transportation Services Director Josh Kavanagh, and former Seattle city councilmember Heidi Wills.

Wills, who was president of undergraduate student body during the time of the U-Pass inception, spoke about the controversy originally incited through the program– which earned the ire of the campus libertarians and many others who objected to the idea of paying for another’s commute.  Wills’ response to the opposition was one familiar to all of us– those who don’t take transit still benefit from the people that do.  From that mantra grew one of the most successful TDM programs in the country: while the University community is 30% larger than it was in 1992, traffic volumes in the U-District today are lighter.

The most significant change that the U-Pass has undergone in recent years was last year’s decision to switch to a universal model, in which students can no longer opt-out of the program.  While earning its own share of controversy, the new funding model has decreased costs while increasing participation rates, which took a precipitous decline after the U-Pass doubled in cost in 2008.  Despite any past misgivings, the program will likely remain on this track into the foreseeable future, helping sustain the city’s transit future.

Happy birthday, U-Pass.  Here’s to another twenty years.

Tracking the Bus Tracker Problems



There has been considerable concern expressed about the declining reliability of bus arrival information provided by OneBusAway (OBA) over the past seven months. As the managers on both ends of the data stream, we’d like to provide a little more insight into why those errors are happening and what is being done.

Last summer, OBA and the other tracking applications appeared to be working reasonably well. But, users probably weren’t aware of how much work it took behind the scenes to make that happen. Metro and University of Washington researchers led by Dr. Dan Dailey had 15 years of data debugging invested in the stream going out to developers like Brian Ferris, who created OBA. On the receiving end, Brian was making adjustments to the data and code to make OBA present the most accurate predicted-arrival information possible.

The data and its presentation in the tracking programs has never been 100 percent accurate, but the errors coming from Metro’s legacy system using Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) were well understood, allowing for better correction and filtering by both Metro and the app developers.

Then, last October several things happened: Continue reading “Tracking the Bus Tracker Problems”

September Service Change Hearing Report



The King County transportation committee held a public hearing last Monday on Metro’s proposed September 2012 service changes. Around thirty-five people spoke. Metro first proposed these changes last year, and in two rounds of public feedback it withdrew some proposals and adjusted others. STB reported on the evolution of these proposals, most recently on April 3rd.

The final list of proposed bus route changes, and how they differ from previous rounds, is in the Neighborhood information sheets at Metro’s Have Your Say website.

Interestingly, less than half of the speakers even mentioned the bus route changes. The rest spoke out against ending the Ride Free Area, and they said even more people would have signed up to speak about the RFA but they left when the registration lady told them it would be off-topic for this hearing. Two other people spoke about their dissatisfaction with ORCA cards.

I asked the Council to pass the package of changes, and to tell Metro it expects to see more extensive reorganizations next year. I praised the 18 and 50, which provide new crosstown service between Ballard and Fremont, and across West Seattle and Rainier Valley. I lamented the failure of the Queen Anne reorganization, which would have made the 13 frequent. I said that Metro needs the Council’s support for reorganizations, because when people speak up for the status quo, they’re often thinking only of themselves, while the people who would benefit from the reorganization often don’t realize it until it’s in operation, so they don’t know to speak up beforehand. I said the VA hospital driveway detour should be eliminated. However, I said the Fremont and Yesler-Jackson changes had less obvious benefit than the others, so it’s not as big an issue that they were withdrawn. Continue reading “September Service Change Hearing Report”

Bellevue and ST East Link Open House

On Thursday April 26th from 4pm to 7pm at Bellevue City Hall, Bellevue and Sound Transit will be co-hosting an open house to get feedback on the latests design and cost saving ideas. Press release below:

The City of Bellevue and Sound Transit will host a joint open house to share the latest design options and cost-saving ideas for the East Link light rail project, and to get feedback from the public.

The open house takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, April 26, at City Hall, 450 110th Ave. N.E. Sound Transit, which is building East Link, and Bellevue, earlier this year launched a unique collaborative design process intended to reduce the city’s financial contribution for a downtown light rail tunnel, and lower overall project costs.

 Attendees can learn about concepts for the portion of the project in Bellevue. The goal is to review the merits of the ideas and learn from the public what other considerations need to be addressed as the concepts are developed. There will also be information about cost-saving ideas that were considered and rejected, the status of the project, and the latest schedule.

In November 2011, the city council signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Sound Transit. The agreement provides details about the project’s scope, schedule and budget, evaluation of cost-saving ideas for the six miles of light rail line in Bellevue, city contributions for a tunnel and design modifications to minimize impacts on neighborhoods.

For the past three months, Bellevue and Sound Transit have been involved in the collaborative design process, aiming toward final design of the light rail line and the six stations located inside the city’s boundary. East Link will run from Seattle, across Lake Washington on Interstate 90, through Bellevue to the Overlake Transit Center in Redmond.

After the public weighs in, the cost-saving concepts will undergo further design work based on recommendations from Bellevue and Sound Transit. The ideas potentially could be incorporated into the final design phase of the project.

Bellevue will continue to work closely with Sound Transit and there will be additional opportunities for public input as the project progresses. Before construction begins in 2015, Sound Transit must finalize the route design, stations, art installations, construction methods and mitigation. East Link is projected to begin service in 2023.

News Roundup: Blast From the Past

1962 Seattle Worlds Fair Space Needle by Douglas Coulter
This is an open thread.


Enlarged View, Matt Gangemi

A conversation over at the Utility vs. Fun post reminded me of an idea I had years ago.  Note that this post is for fun only, and we live in a world that’s far too serious to ever implement such a plan. 

Spinland would be a completely constructed city, built on a body of water.  In this case I’ve chosen the north end of Lake Washington, as this will also provide a new pedestrian means of crossing the lake.  The inner portion of the city will float and turn using power from incoming water (additional hydro power can likely be generated).  It will turn very slowly, specifically three times per day (around 0.4 mph at the edge for this size city). 

Residences will be located outside the spinning area, and clustered together.  Businesses will be located on the spinning disk, and will also be clustered together.  A cluster of offices will pass a cluster of homes at 8am, and again at 4pm.  There will be clusters of retail areas, schools, and other services also located on the disk.  Continue reading “Spinland”