The City of Boston has made a nice pros/cons infographic for center vs curb lane use in BRT. Of course, you would need a street wide enough to support either one, something most city streets lack. It’s interesting nonetheless.

This is an open thread.

69 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Center vs Curb Lanes”

  1. MOVING RIGHT ALONG: Playing with the ST 2012 SIP can be revealing as to how transit will look in 2017, until 2021 when Northgate opens. Most DSTT users will see little difference from today’s operations, except for more activity along the platforms…maybe.
    Central Link runs 2-car trains in the peak – 8 trains per hour, for a total of about 80k platform hours per year. The SIP for the first full year of U-Link in 2017 estimates that number will rise to 89k hrs, or an increase of 9k.
    Link currently runs about 90k annual train trips. Adding the additional 6 minutes for the extra 3 mile trip to Husky Stadium will cost another 9k hours per year. So, I would deduce the schedule remains the same at 8 trains per hour in the peak.
    But what about demand for more riders? Again, the SIP reveals that the peak load per direction is estimated at 2600 riders in the busiest hour. Peak load per car is shown as 148 riders during peak periods, so that would be 20 cars passing a point. Divide that by 8 trains per hour and you get 2.5 cars per train. In other words, adding 1 car during the peak periods (3 car trains) will likely be the outcome – which is consistent with the SIP estimate of ‘2 and 3 car trains’ after U-Link opens.
    The fly in the ointment is going to be how ST and Metro manage the joint use of the platforms. Currently, up to 60 buses an hour can operate with current train schedules. A slightly longer train in 2017 doesn’t change that. The game changer is if buses and trains start to back up at the platforms, with resulting bunching having a ripple effect throughout the system. If you’ve ever been on the fourth bus in a line going down Rainier, playing follow the leader (who BTW is still making every stop… Uhg!), then the Bunchocalypse ™ of all times will really excite you in 2017.
    I hope all the bugs are worked out on elimination of the RFA before U-Link opens. You can kill a lot of bugs in 4 years!
    Stay tuned. September isn’t all that far off.

    1. I thought Metro busses vacate the tunnel in 2016 with Ulink opens. Can someone confirm this? Adding a third or fourth train seems trivial if there are no busses in the way.

      1. I had understood that the changeover would happen with the opening of EastLink.

      2. I don’t think anything has been decided yet, but plenty of capacity exists for both trains and some buses until 2023 when E.Link opens. My guess is that there with us for at least another 10 years.

      3. I am pretty sure that they have determined that the frequency of the two lines (East Link / Central Link (Red Line / Blue Line)) will make it impossible to ALSO run buses in the tunnel … regardless … the only change with the addition of Capitol Hill and UW stations will be that the trains don’t leave Westlake empty … they may also be 3-4 cars long … but there will be nothing else operationally different than today.

      4. So I thought I had heard with the Pine street extension the existing signaling system that separates busses and trains would have to go. But, this isn’t correct according to ST’s own documents. From their Central Link Operations document dated 7/29/2008:

        The IS/AL [Initial Segment/Airport Link] will share the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) with hybrid diesel/electric buses operated by King County Metro. This shared use will continue until such time that increases in Link service and frequency requires exclusive use of the DSTT tunnel by light rail operations only.

    2. I don’t know which SIP mic was reading, but the 2012 SIP I read clearly states on page 98 that peak headway will be six minutes.

      Of course, that’s a preliminary operating plan and is subject to change.

      1. I’d actually be just fine with four-car trains and current headway if we have enough LRTs to do that. Some of the time savings from decreased headways will probably be blown in increased tunnel congestion.

      2. I read that also, but that would require an additional 18,000 platform hours to get 20% more frequency, which clearly is NOT in the SIP documents – either hours or operating cost. Eventually they will add frequency to 6 min, but why on earth would you do that when you have 45% spare cars sitting in the yard, and the ability to add them to the consist whenever you please?

      3. Perhaps they would do it because the peak of peak demand would justify 6 minute headways, if you’re running three car trains. Prior to the peak, you could add trains to reduce the headway, then after the peak take trains off. The SIP said nothing about how long the peak headway would be maintained, so you can’t make any inferences about how many service hours it would add.

        Adding and subtracting trains would be a lot easier than adding or subtracting cars.

      4. Sure you can. Without a published schedule and advertising set headways in both peak and non-peak time period, going from 8 trains an hour to 10 an hour has a set cost.
        It would be bogus and dishonest to add just a few trains 6 minutes apart, then say you have 6 minute headways in the peak.

      5. Because the train line splits into EastLink and Central Link south of downtown, maintaining 10 minute headways on the east and south branches will maintaining a minimum of 5 minute headways on the north branch.

      6. Mic, you don’t know for certain that the peak and non-peak service would be in effect for the same times that they are now. Therefore, you don’t know how much added service hours there would be.

      7. OK, I’ll give you that. But, I find it highly unlikely ST would reduce the peak period hours of operation in future years.
        The SIP we’re both looking at indicate the frequency of trains will remain the same, with only additional hours added in 2017 to account for the 6 minute trip to UW Stn. We can debate this more when the 2013 SIP comes out.
        My concern was that given trains and buses will likely share the tunnel for another 10 years, will Metro/ST take the steps to make it work smoothly. Right now, not so much. The RFA elimination could be the train wreck everyone wants to avoid. Metro is bust, so adding trippers for the extra runs needed downtown is not an option with todays budget shortfalls.

    3. I have a hunch some of those numbers from the 2012 SIP are cut and paste from previous years, without being updated. Take another look at Table B-3 on page 115. There are two columns for 2016, and only 44 consists planned for U-Link operation at peak. We may be counting angels on the head of a mis-paste.

      1. Someone didn’t change the year to 2017 at the top of the col. The numbers look right.
        It takes 119 minutes for one complete cycle per train, say 2 hours round trip. With 8 trains per hour, that would be 16 trainsets to fill the system during peak. 44 cars on the road, would be 12- 3 car trains, and 4- 2 car trains (which probably started very early to fill the system), so the mix of 2 and 3 car trains in the peak would be 44. That still leaves half the fleet in the barn each day. Mechanics love that!

    1. Melnea Cass exists within a remnant of a cancelled 1960s highway project, and as such is an extremely wide corridor. There is already a bike path immediately adjacent.

      Anyway, the silly thing about this is that the street is barely a mile long, and any “BRT” service on the Urban Ring is going to be stuck in so many bottlenecks in so many other places that it won’t matter a bit how fast they can make in on that mile. Eventually, the Urban Ring will need to be rail.

  2. I would take center-running. Bad memory of a concrete truck poorly parked, blocking The SLUT for a few minutes one time. (yeah I know, BRT vs Rail two different things)

    In all seriousness, makes me wonder how SWIFT would be if it was center running

  3. We can bring the buses down the middle, have signals controlled by buses (except when emergency vehicles override), kick the private cars out of the bus lanes, have an off-board POP system for ORCA users, have passive restraint slots, have three or four doors, be all low-floor, and even have routes that run more-or-less in straight lines, but still be accepting cash-and-change at the front door from half the riders forming a long and slow queue at each stop, and giving them paper transfers, out of pity that not everyone can afford the $5 charge for an ORCA card.

    Whichever politicians are blocking any effort to bring the ORCA fee down to size while defending paper transfers and “fare equality” need to have their cars booted and sentenced to ride the bus everywhere. (I’m not seriously suggesting that their cars be booted, but you get my point.)

    The politicians doing the most damage to Metro, btw, appear to be Democrats (or at least former Democrats). Of course, some of the damage may be from Kevin not having the courage to tell the council the truth about how they are ruining Metro.

    1. There’s a posse running around town with a Lower Lip Boot that has your name on it.
      Blasphemy I tell you, Blasphemy.
      Those parked cars and double parked UPS/FedeX trucks, along with all the beer delivery guys using the right lane for their own version of HOT Parking will surely silence you for that comment.
      Don’t go running to the Council for protection, as you pretty well wrote them off as a lost cause. Truth hurts.

      1. Maybe Ferguson’s tactic is to be so non-responsive on transit issues that we’ll vote him into the AG’s office just to get him off the council. (Just to be fair, I did get one of his form “I sometimes ride the 41” emails once, even though he is not “my” council member.)

        It bears repeating, until the council’s attention span can be gotten and they get it, that slow, infrequent transit service disproportionately hurts the poor, minorities, and all other categories of bus-dependent populace. Kow-towing to this or that vocal minority wanting favoritism within the transit system means everyone else has the quality and availability of their transit service diminished.

        IMHO, charging for ORCA and distributing paper transfers that encourage cash-and-change fumbling is a violation of Title VI.

      2. Well I think we should give out one free orca card to each person and also free replacements of damaged cards. Registered cards only.

  4. Link does this in MLK, so we can see how much of a burden it is to get to the curb. Not that significant, although the long traffic signals can be annoying. If Swift were to do this it would essentially be the same thing.

    1. I can’t recall a single trip from Columbia City station to Columbia City proper that hasn’t involved jaywalking.

      Seattleites: if the light is offensively long and there are breaks in traffic, please jaywalk. When others notice the sky not falling, they’ll learn to jaywalk properly as well. This will be a better city for it.

      1. The station works amazingly well for jaywalking too—you only need to deal with traffic in one direction!

      2. Guilty as charged here as well. Unfortunately my wife is from Seattle and freaks out over jaywalking so I usually end up just waiting at the other curb getting more and more pissed off.

  5. Here on “Open Thread” Sunday I’d be willing to engage in a public dialog with Ben Schiendelman ‏who just claimed as @BenSchie on Twitter about my presentation to the PSRC General Assembly back in May 2010 at that I’m “comparing one ways to round trips. And … overstating the one ways.” I’d like to understand why he thinks that.

    I know from my contacts that both Sound Transit and PSRC staff are aware of the discrepancy that I reported in 2010 about regional rail forecasts (Sounder plus light rail) but aren’t willing to bring it out in public: The PSRC rail ridership forecast in the approved Metropolitan Transportation Plan for 2040 of 164,400 rail trips per day is a 47% reduction from the Sound Transit forecast of 310,000 riders per day in 2030 that was a claim in the 2008 ST2 information mailer sent at government expense to every household in the taxing district. I understand that both numbers are one-way and comparable unless Ben has something I didn’t notice.

    What’s funny here is that the lower PSRC 2040 ridership forecast even includes the ST3 light rail to Everett, Redmond Town Center, and Tacoma Dome in the long-range plan that the higher ST2 forecast for 2030 does not. I suppose rail ridership might go down between 2030 and 2040, but I don’t think that’s a good interpretation of the ST and PSRC forecasts taken together.

    What’s Ben thinking?

    I was going to ask Joni Earl about this on Friday at the Transportation Choices Forum at ST HQ, but Rob Johnson ended the session 20 minutes early before I could ask the question, even though he knew I had the question!

    If I don’t get back here timely after Ben responds, please email me at

    1. In parallel with my invitation above to Ben Schiendelman, I wrote to him on Twitter, “I sure don’t mean to compare one ways to round trips! Exactly where do you think I am doing this, plus overstating one ways?”

      Ben has responded in “In your entire letter. Stop playing dumb.”

      To call me “dumb” would be an insult, but claiming I’m “playing dumb” is worse! I deny the charge.

      To repeat what I wrote above, the “letter” he must be referring to, actually the speech I gave in May, 2010 to the PSRC General Assembly of elected officials who approved the Metropolitan Transportation Plan that has regional rail rider forecast of about 1/2 of what Sound Transit forecasts, is posted at .

      Again, my invitation to discuss the matter in public here in STB stands.

      1. I’m not sure why Ben would pick a fight with John Niles, then refuse to discuss the matter in an open forum like this, but prefer to lob an insult to someone who has always wanted the same thing most of us do – a better functioning transit system for many times more people than currently use it.
        It’s even more disappointing that Ben, as one of the moderators would shy away from the legitimate question that John has asked.
        Would any of the other STB moderators care to stand in for Ben to answer the question.
        It’s rather important as to whether the PSRC or ST staff is right. Those are enormous differences in the ridership claims.
        Or perhaps Joni Earl could shed some light on the confusion.

      2. Mic:
        Last Friday I asked Joni Earl in writing to explain the discrepancy between the two forecasts. She said she’d get back to me.
        John N

    1. Yeah, that’s what I figured. Just can’t imagine why the 13 doesn’t suffice, or what they have going on at SPU over the summer that merits paying for a special shuttle service to LQA/Seattle Center. Do love the hand-drawn route map, though.

      1. I liked the hand-drawn map too. I wonder if any other routes have that. Does it mean that the route never had a printed schedule?

  6. Just picked this up on a Twitter feed:

    Follow up on Transportation Choices Coalition July 20 Friday Forum

    Following the abrupt end of the event, I went forward and handed CEO Joni Earl the remaining four questions in writing and she courteously indicated that she would answer them for me in the near future. It’s too bad that I won’t get a spontaneous response in a public forum from the Sound Transit boss instead of a staff-scrubbed written response. The TCC Executive Director was also handed the questions, and PITF hopes to see his answers or comments on the questions as well.

    Below are the five questions I prepared and brought to the TCC Forum.

    What’s the substance and timing of Sound Transit plans to bring the cost per passenger mile of Sounder commuter rail below the cost per passenger mile on existing parallel public bus routes? This requirement of state law was claimed during planning in the 1990s to be achievable. Is superior cost efficiency for Sounder over buses still considered possible, and does Sound Transit have a plan to get there? [Asked by JN and answered by the CEO – Sound Transit believes the market served by this route is not mature and is taking market research action to come up with additional activities to attract more riders.

    1. Thanks for noticing my new post at PITF about the TCC Friday Forum with Joni Earl and noting the one question I did get to ask out of the five I had prepared.

      The complete take of PITF on Sounder North going into Friday is at titled “Sound Transit’s Commuter Train Between Everett and Seattle Costs so Much that it’s Illegal” and subtitled, “Costs per passenger far exceed those for the bus service operating in the same corridor.”

      On Friday, I asked the ST CEO for a Yes or No answer to the question, does Sounder North have a cost per passenger mile problem, and she politely declined to answer directly with “no” or a “yes”, but did explain quite coherently that the market is not yet mature, a position similar to the agency position on the below-forecast ridership now seen on Link Light Rail to the Airport.

      Along with other things CEO Earl said and staff presentations I have heard to the Citizen Oversight Panel, I gather that the overall Sound Transit position on Sounder North is this: It passed the RCW legal test before it was approved by the voters, was approved by the voters in 1996, is in operation, shouldn’t be stopped, needs more passengers ASAP, and ST is working on getting it more passengers. Oh, and the market is not yet mature.

      1. Market not mature means there is a speculative investment.

        I assume this goes back to the old dream that one day the entire Puget Sound corridor will be a vertically dense NE style corridor with the ‘market’ that justifies rail over roads.

        My own projections are different.

      2. JB:

        Puget Sound Regional Council’s computer modeling of mode splits in 2040 indicates that road travel will trump rail travel by multiples even with ST3 constructed and in operation. Bus trips are forecast to outnumber rail trips by four to one. Car trips are forecast to outnumber transit trips by about 19 to 1.

      3. The big difference between Link and Sounder North is that Link provides real value in getting people where they want to go more quickly, while Sounder North doesn’t.

        Today, taking the Sounder North between Everett and Seattle is slower than the 510 bus unless the 510 bus gets stuck in traffic. Given that it gets to use both the HOV lanes and the I-5 express lanes, the 510 usually wins even on days where the traffic report indicates I-5 is congested.

        So that leaves trips to and from Edmonds and Mukilteo as the only trips where the Sounder North legitimately outperforms other existing forms of transit. But the number of people that use those stations is small considering the insanely high cost of operating the Sounder North. And, even for them, a non-stop shuttle that would connect with the 511 at Lynnwood TC, could yield travel times that are close enough to the Sounder, especially for people who work in the north part of downtown. When the 511 eventually gets replaced with Link, the north Sounder looks even stupider.

        So, kill the north Sounder, replace it with a non-stop shuttle between Lynnwood and Edmonds/Mukilteo plus additional peak 510/511 trips. The money saved can be re-invested in other ways, for example, additional ST bus service, accelerating the construction of Link to Lynnwood or as a down payment towards extending Link to Everett.

      4. Sounder North is a political animal. It was a bone thrown to Snohomish County for Sound Move to get them to sign on to the package.

        I don’t think you would be able to convince them to eliminate Sounder North at least until Link reaches Lynnwood TC. Unfortunately with the sunk cost in improvements to the line it may be politically difficult to kill the service in any case. Then there is whatever contract ST has with BNSF to consider. If ST drops Sounder North would ST still be on the hook for payments to BNSF? Though if the coal terminal in Bellingham happens BNSF may be willing to cut a deal for the slots used by ST.

      5. Someone needs to drive a wooden stake through the Sounder North engines to kill this blood sucking vampire.
        3/4mil per rider invested in the line to produce $32 per trip rides is INSANE. To keep doing it only defines the word for what’s going on every day.
        Man up Joni and Kill it.

      6. If Snohomish wants to spend their money on Sounder North, who are we to stop them? That’s the beauty of Subarea Equity no?

      7. Reverse argument for Sounder South.

        Could have run a shuttle/monorail from Seatac to Tukwila Station and provided fast rail into the City from airport.

      8. “Not mature” is a somewhat vague statement; it doesn’t just mean that people haven’t figured out the service is there, it also means that the service hasn’t reached target levels.

        I’m not sure what target levels were in the Sounder North corridor.

        In Sounder South, target levels of service include Lakewood Station, permanent Tukwila Station, and additional trains per day. Because people prefer nicer, better stations and additional trains per day, these things cause ridership to increase. Because costs don’t increase as fast as ridership, this causes cost per rider to go down.

        Sounder North has design problems, starting with no stops in Seattle north of King Street. But “subarea equity”… means it’s going to stay.

      9. John Niles: while one would expect car trips to continue to outnumber bus trips, and bus trips to continue to outnumber rail trips, PSRC’s computer modelling gives results sufficiently extreme — sufficiently pessimistic for rail — so as to appear bogus on their face.

        What are the inputs to their models? A model is only as good as its assumptions.

        Did they do something moronic, like assuming that bus is “just as good as rail” and failing to include a rail bias factor? (There is a rail bias factor in every city in the world, though its size varies.) Perhaps they assumed that gas prices wouldn’t go up?

        I just don’t believe most 2040 predictions; they look like “business as usual” projections to me, and what we know of peak oil, global warming, and preferences among the younger generation make “business as usual” projections invalid for 2040.

      10. Good God. I dug up some documents from 2007 during the PSRC’s model design. They explain that they are updating the model coefficients — the old model used coefficients from *1971* data and now they are using coefficients from *1985-1988* data. It then says that some constants are updated using *1999* survey data.

        In other words, the PSRC’s model is utter, utter garbage, with the newest data in it being 13 years old.

        PSRC uses very complicated models, but more complicated doesn’t mean better: it means *WORSE*. The low quality of the input data means that the complicated model can be tweaked to give any result whatsoever.

        It doesn’t help that all the models were designed to model cars, with mass transit added as an afterthought (this is quite explicit).

        I wouldn’t trust the PSRC model as far as I could throw it.

      11. So there’s your answer about the differing predictions, Mr. Niles. The PSRC model is very fancy worthless garbage. The Sound Transit model is simpler, but may also be wrong.

        The common-sense answer of “connect places with lots of people with rail service, run regular buses from there to places with somewhat fewer people, count the people” is probably going to give you better predictions than either of these models.

      12. Nathaniel, thank you for your observations on modeling. PSRC states that it coordinates its modeling work closely with Sound Transit.

        My own theory on why the PSRC model shows lower ridership is that the PSRC model assumes the imposition of road use fees on all regional expressways by 2040, resulting in the expressways producing less delay for cars, trucks, and buses than occurring today. The PSRC model also assumes a large increase in bus service that keeps bus ridership at four times rail ridership.

        But we need to hear from ST and PSRC staff on the discrepancy. It’s been over two years since I reported the difference between the two forecasts. No feedback yet, despite inquiries, the latest being to Joni Earl last Friday.

  7. Anyone know what the chances of route 169 becoming a RR line are? Or at least increasing frequency or capacity?

    Also extending the 155 from Southcenter to the Airport and maybe adding some early morning (2:30 , 3:30 , 4:00 AM) frequencies?

    1. I don’t know if the 169 has much chance of increasing frequency as is, but I think it would get more positive attention if its riders requested it to be coupled with a route going farther north (or extended to Rainier Beach Station), especially now that the 166 coupling is gone.

      I honestly don’t see much hope of extending the 155 during the day given its connection to the F Line. Have you written to Metro about these routes?

      1. Well when ever I ride the 169 it always seems to be packed full between 1 – 6 PM. Couldn’t even pay my fare because I had to enter through the back doors.

        The 155 to me is a pointless line. It would do a lot better if it didnt go to Southcenter every hour and if service didnt stop at 6. Almost every teenager and I have to take the 169+140 combo to get to Southcenter when 1 bus could do that. No I havent contacted Metro.

      2. I’d actually like to see the 155 finish the straight line to Airport Station. Straight lines are good. This one would give commuters from points north a faster trip to the industrial jobs south of Southcenter, as well as Valley Medical. The 156E needs to be euthanized.

    2. Ask again in a decade. The 169 route seems like an ideal corridor for RapidRide. But Metro has not identified any funding sources for RapidRide expansion. Kent and Renton could buy additional trips from Metro if they wanted to, as Seattle does to augment service.

      The night owls currently run at 2:15 and 3:30am, at least those from downtown. I think the 3:30am trips will be eliminated across the board in September. I don’t know if that’ll affect RR A and the 180, which have different night-owl schedules. But I wouldn’t expect night owl to be expanded when there are so many more urgent daytime needs.

      1. While getting Kent to subsidize extra service on the 169 is an intriguing idea (and a realistic one given their willingness to pay for their downtown shoppers’ shuttle), if Kent wants to invest money in transit, I think spending it on capital improvements to speed up the 169 is a better investment, that would enable more frequency without raising operating costs in perpetuity.

  8. Is it just my imagination, or does Sound Transit lay down pretty easily? They seem to be pretty pliable and suggestible for such a big, regional transit agency. And is that really the best way to create great transit, especially when it comes to light rail alignments? For example, ST wanted to run rail up 99, but Shoreline said they didn’t like that idea, so ST backed down. ST had an idea about how East Link should go through Bellevue, but Bellevue told them they wanted it to run it through the Bel-Red corridor, and ST acquiesced immediately. I’m sure there are dozens of other instances where ST backed down and compromised when they didn’t have to. Compromise can be good, but sometimes it’s the difference between something being great, or just mediocre.

    1. I dunno…this state seems to be passive aggressive. One day, as you say,you get Design by Committee. The next day its fiat power from the top.

      The concept of architecture of any value goes out the window in a consensus culture.

    2. You’re probably right. But consider the amount of hassle from Lakewood over a change which will not hurt them at all, the Point Defiance Bypass. It may be a serious and accurate decision that taking the route of “least political trouble” is the way to get stuff built fastest.

    3. The Sound Transit board is largely composed of mayors and county executives, so your question really amounts to, “Are the cities and counties risk-adverse in terms of transit innovation?” And the answer is, mostly yes, but fortunately not completely so.

  9. Anyone know of ongoing progress to stock local supermarkets and shops with ORCA loaders? The list of places is growing, but it’s still shamefully too small.

  10. There are several stories going online about ST’s plan to potentially start charging for parking at park-and-rides.

    The 8% are overwhelming the neighborhood riders with right-wing hate rhetoric on the news blogs.

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